Take Another Road

Take Another Road


By brooklinegirl

Summary: Ray stared out the front windshield, wishing he had never heard of road trips, or Ray Kowalski, or Benton Fraser, for that matter.





Thank you to my wonderful betas, ldthomps and lynnmonster, who went through this and helped it make a lot more sense.

Thank you to justbreathe80, who is a goddess and did the final read-through of this thing, brilliantly as usual.

Thank you to brynnmck, who was the very first person who read this thing before I'd even fixed the typos, and told me it was worth keeping.

Thank you to mrsronweasley, who listened to me talk about this for months and months and was more help than she knows.

"Change the station."

"It's not a station. It's a tape."

"Change the tape."

"It's a great tape, Vecchio."

"It sucks, Stanley." Ray reached forward and jammed his palm against the eject button, and the tape popped out. Ray grabbed it out of the player before Kowalski could get to it. The label was worn, and had scrawled on it - in blue ballpoint pen, in Kowalski's serial killer handwriting - The Best of the Rest of It: Summer '77. Ray held it up with two fingers, gingerly. "It's a high school mix tape."

"So?" Kowalski shrugged one shoulder and reached into his pocket for the cigarettes he kept forgetting he'd quit over a month ago. "Better music then than now."

Which was maybe true, okay, but beside Ray's point. This was about road trip respect. "Whatever. We're not listening to your crap music for this whole trip."

Kowalski gave him a sideways glance. "Yeah, well, we're not listening to your Sinatra mix, either."

Ray gave him a withering look and tossed the mix tape out the window of the car.

The wheels screeched as Kowalski cut across two lanes of traffic, grinding to a halt in the dirt beside the highway as Ray clung to the dashboard, cursing loudly. "What the fucking fuck…"

The door slammed, and Ray wheeled around in his seat to watch Kowalski striding off back down the road, cars whizzing by beside them on the highway. "Jesus Christ, crazy fucking Polack."

After several minutes of Ray staring incredulously out the back window as Kowalski hunted through the dirt on the side of the road, Ray turned back around and stared out the front windshield instead, wishing he had never heard of road trips, or Ray Kowalski, or Benton Fraser, for that matter.

The driver's side door was flung open and Kowalski got in, the tape grimly clutched in one hand. He started the car. "No talking," he said, pointing one finger at Ray without actually looking at him.

"No music," Ray responded.

"Fine." Kowalski leaned across Ray's lap to thrust the tape in the glove compartment, Ray pulling back to get out of his way. Kowalski sat back up – elbowing Ray a little as he did so - and pulled back onto the highway, raising a cloud of grit and dust behind them. "Just shut the fuck up and be quiet."

Ray stared out the window for a few minutes. "This whole thing is Fraser's fault, you know," he pointed out finally, unable to keep quiet.

"I am very fucking aware of that," Kowalski said grimly.

"Well." Ray shifted to get more comfortable. "Just so we're on the same page."

"No talking."

"Whatever." This was going to be a long goddamn drive.

Ray had gone six months without hearing word one from Fraser. Not one word and then out of the blue he calls at five o'clock in the morning. Tried to chat with Ray - asked how he'd been - asked how Lieutenant Welsh had been doing – and only after that does he offer the fact that he has found himself in what he describes as, "A small situation which I could use your assistance in resolving. It will only take a day or possibly two, I'm certain."

Which Ray pretty quickly translated to Fraser being in some fucking deep shit, because Fraser didn't ask for help. Add to that the fact that he was calling from an American number, and then rattled off the name of some dive motel in Baltimore, for fuck's sake, and ended the call with, "Ray – Ray Kowalski, that is – might be of some help here, as well, due to his particular –" and there Fraser paused, apparently grasping for some polite words to describe Kowalski. "…his particular skill set," Fraser finished, sounding pleased with his choice of words.

"His 'skill set' is kicking people in the head, Fraser," Ray pointed out, sitting there on the side of his bed, his heart still pounding from the adrenaline of the phone jerking him out of a sound sleep.

"Well, yes."

"Fraser, what the hell is going –"

"I'm really sorry, Ray, I must go. Please keep your cell phone on. I'll call when I can. Goodbye."

Then there was just the dial tone in Ray's ear, and he'd sighed, and clicked off his phone. He laid back for a few seconds to stare through the early-morning dimness at his ceiling before heaving himself up and calling Kowalski's cell on the way to the shower.

Having the necessary conversation with Kowalski before the guy was even awake was okay. It was good, even. The guy was more compliant when he was half-asleep. Ray was out the door – leaving a note for his mom saying that he'd be gone for a few days and not to worry, even though he knew she would, of course she would, because it was what she did.

And less than half an hour after the phone call, there Kowalski was leaning against his car outside Ray's house, blinking in the weak March sunlight and shivering in his leather jacket, clutching a steaming coffee to his chest. There'd been a short argument about which of their cars to take (not a fist-fight type argument. This was more about getting it resolved now: which car was going to do best with the wear and tear, the mileage, the comfort over many miles. Usually these sorts of arguments had to do with each of them arguing on behalf of their own car. This time, both of them were sort of cautiously edging around, trying to get the other one to offer up the vehicle. Even without Fraser along, long road trips were hell on classic cars.)

Some cagey back and forth ("The Riv gets better mileage," Kowalski said grudgingly.

"The GTO has better shocks," Ray allowed.

Kowalski nodded reluctantly. "But the Riv has good – brakes."

Ray narrowed his eyes. "The GTO has more comfortable seats."

"The Riv is more – green," Kowalski said lamely, then sighed and gave it up as Ray raised his eyebrows. "Fine."

"GTO it is," Ray said smugly.

"You're paying for the detailing after," Kowalski informed him.


"Deal." They shook on it.)

After all that, they got on the road, and it had been okay for a while. They hadn't even told Welsh they wouldn't be in yet. Kowalski had reasoned that if they called from a hundred miles away, Welsh couldn't very well argue too much, and so they were going to drive first, explain things later. Add to that the fact that Ray didn't have a way to get in touch with Fraser at all – the number he'd been calling from was a pay phone that didn't go through when Ray tried it again – and Ray was nervous. This was Fraser. Just because he'd been polite didn’t mean he didn't have guys there with guns to his head. It took a lot more than that to stop Canadian civility.

Kowalski didn't seem to be worried, though maybe that was because after the initial bout of arguing, he seemed to be essentially still half-asleep. He'd listened to what little information Ray had, nodded a few times, looking a little bit grim, and that was…that. It was strange and it was off – Kowalski never missed an opportunity to rant, and this right here was prime ranting material. But no, nothing, though it had never occurred to Ray for a second that he might refuse to go. This was Fraser. Like Canadian civility, Fraser trumped pretty much everything.

A couple of hours into it, Ray called Welsh on the cell phone, hoping like hell he'd miss him.

"Vecchio." Welsh sounded calm, which was just never, ever a good thing.

"Yes, sir." Ray straightened in his seat without thinking of it. "Sir, there's been a bit of a situation."

"A situation, huh?" Still with the calm, and Ray shot Kowalski a glance. Kowalski gave him an uncomfortable shrug back, and gave him a rolling gesture with his hand. Fat lot of help there.

"Uh, yes, sir, with Fraser."

"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Welsh said dryly.

"He's a man with limitless ability to amaze," Ray offered, and Welsh snorted. Loudly. "Uh, yeah, so we're in Indiana."

Silence on the other end.

"It will only be a couple of days. Three at most," Ray added hastily.

"Three days," Welsh said dangerously. "Does this three days worth of leave have anything to do with, oh, the job I pay you for?"

"Of course," Ray said, assuredly.

"Even though it's outside of what can be very strictly defined as, oh, your jurisdiction?"

"…of course?" Ray said faintly. He looked at Kowalski again, who merely hunched his shoulders and drove a little faster away from Chicago. "Uh, sir, you're breaking up, here…"

"Oh, am I?" Welsh sounded well and truly calm now, where "calm" stood for "infuriated."

Ray, at a loss, moving on instinct, cut the connection and tossed the phone in the backseat. Kowalski looked over at him. Ray smiled weakly. "He said he'd call back."

"Right." Kowalski eased them up to eighty-five.

"I think he's fine with it," Ray offered.

Kowalski didn't even acknowledge that with a look, just kept his eyes on the road.

So there they were, heading out on the open road. The fact that they'd made it nearly to Gary, Indiana before the tape got tossed out the window was pretty good, actually, and Ray sighed softly and settled back into his seat. At least it was quiet. Bright sunshine, brisk late-March morning where everything looked brittle and sunlight glinted off every surface. Too cold to have the car windows open, but they both had them cracked anyway, because spring was a ways off, but the early scent of it was in the air, and it felt good to be heading off, winding through the close Chicago streets before making their way to the highway.

One thing you could say about Kowalski is that he knew when to crank it, and he did, waking up some once they hit the highway and taking full advantage of the late weekday morning lack of traffic. He wove the GTO – and it was some fucking car, Ray admitted to himself – easily in and out between the slower drivers (and everyone was slower than they were this morning), the car moving so smooth that you'd have no idea how fast you were going unless you glanced at the speedometer, if only to admire how easy the engine made it to ninety.

It was pretty fucking okay.

The seats in the GTO were more comfortable, and the car was like the Riv, where the bench seats made the vehicle feel like it was a mile wide, like you could stretch out your arms and your legs and just live there, with the crisp wind biting at you through the window, with every song that came on the radio better than the last. Where you didn't know where you were going, but you weren't that that fond of where you'd been, so it was good, it was all good. You'd just go with the flow, and Kowalski was maybe not that bad of a partner, was maybe even a great partner, because he was feeling it too. Ray knew he was, just from the easy way he held the steering wheel, the smooth way he changed lanes, the way he slouched back in the seat, sunglasses on, leather jacket creaking a little when he moved, one with the car and the road and with Ray himself.

Yeah, they were working together.

Then this little thing Ray liked to call reality set in, and you know, nothing good ever lasted, did it? Kowalski leaned forward and changed the station, and the music started sucking. When he sat back, he'd lost the easiness of his slouch and the creaking leather of his dumbass leather jacket started being annoying instead of comforting. Ray shifted on his seat and leaned forward to close the window, the air coming through seeming suddenly icy instead of brisk, and things went rapidly downhill from there.

By the time they pulled off the highway for lunch, they were in Cleveland and Ray was irritated beyond belief. Kowalski, however, was light-hearted and amused as all get-out, which Ray could only believe was his own private method of making Ray even crankier. "What?" Kowalski asked, getting out of the car and shoving the door shut with his hip. Ray, who had wrestled his own door open before Kowalski had even fully brought the car to a stop, stood there, eyeing the less-than-glorified stripmall that served as a rest stop with distaste.

"This is lunch?" he asked. "We've been driving five hours without a break and this is lunch?"

Kowalski leaned on the roof of the car with both forearms, leather jacket riding up over his skinny-ass wrists. He tilted his head down to look at Ray over the top of his sunglasses. "We are only five hours into this thing," he informed Ray. "You are not allowed to be this much of an asshole yet."

"We're not even supposed to be doing this," Ray said, straightening his own long coat and brushing at the folds that came from sitting on it for so long. It wasn't meant to be sat on for so long. It was a crime to wrinkle nice fabric like that.

Kowalski snorted, pushing away from the car and coming around to Ray's side. "Since when are you worried about what Welsh thinks?" he asked, sounding genuinely curious. "You were all gung-ho about this when we started out."

"Yeah, well." Ray ran a hand over his eyes, tired all of a sudden. "We crossed the state line a while back."

Kowalski nodded a little, rocking back on his heels and studying the McDonald's Playland, standing barren in the chilly wind of the rest stop. "So what."

"No jurisdiction."

Kowalski shrugged, and slung one arm over Ray's shoulder. "Buck up. It's not the worst thing we've ever done." He started tugging Ray in the direction of the food court. Ray could smell the fried food from here, and it turned his stomach.

"Right," he said gloomily. "There've been international incidents."

"Exactly!" Kowalski opened the door to the food court with a flourish, letting out a blast of over-heated, sour-smelling air. "This federal jurisdiction stuff? Peanuts."

"Sure." Ray nodded his head, gesturing Kowalski to go inside first, which Kowalski did, heading immediately for the McDonald's, which of course had the longest line for the worst food. "Right." Because, Ray figured, once you've filled out the paperwork to handle the explanation of why the Chicago PD was involved with a Russian submarine, well, nothing else seemed quite as complicated, did it?

He trailed along behind Kowalski. Maybe the guy was right. Maybe a Big Mac and some undercooked fries really would make everything seem better.

Welsh didn’t call back until they hit the Pennsylvania line. Kowalski's cell rang, sudden and loud in the silence of the car (a fight over which radio station to listen to had ended with Kowalski turning it off with the palm of his hand and both of them had maintained a stony silence since). Ray jumped, but Kowalski didn't. He didn’t answer the phone, either, just pulled it out of his pocket, glanced at the display, and tossed it onto the seat between them.

It rang for what seemed like a long time, and when it stopped, Ray let air out through his nose, waiting.

His own phone went off ten seconds later. He already had it in his hand and looked at the display for a long second before tossing it down to join Kowalski's on the seat. Kowalski glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, and Ray just looked at him. Kowalski nodded, increasing their speed a little bit, and – with just the smallest of shrugs – reached over and turned on the radio. Whatever station they picked up was playing a Stones song, and without a word being said, the tension between them eased up.

Ray relaxed a little against the seat, and looked out the window. Mountains were nice this time of year.

They'd meant to make it to Baltimore that day, but a messy accident left them cooling their heels in traffic for a ridiculously long time, getting more and more snippy with each other as they inched their way closer to the city. By that time Kowalski was squinting tiredly at signs, even though he'd fumbled his glasses on hours before. Ray didn’t even offer to take over – it was Kowalski's GTO, and he knew there'd be no sharing. There was nothing to do but pull in for the night.

The first motel off the highway in western Maryland – which was basically Kentucky, and basically kind of scary - was a Red Roof Inn, eighty-five bucks a night and a rip-off at that. Ray was too damn tired to argue – almost too tired to get out of the car. He ended up being the one checking them in a credit card that said "Sandburg." (It was leftover from Vegas – yeah, the Feds had given him the initial undercover gig, but you made connections in Vegas, and Armando had had about ten different cards under ten different names, and Ray had slipped out of Vegas with one of them as his own personal sort of back-up).

Kowalski tilted his head at Ray and nodded approvingly once they were back out at the car. "Good thought," he said, like Ray had been planning ahead for just this eventuality.

Ray nodded tiredly as Kowalski pulled the car around to the room at the rear of the building.

The room was – well, tragic. Ray made it a rule not to compare things to the way they had been in Vegas – Vegas was a different world, a different guy, a different life altogether, too distant and different and fucked up to compare it to anything - anything - Ray Vecchio had ever or would ever do in life. The fact that he'd spent two years of his life living in luxury hotel rooms – rooms so beautiful they'd make a grown man cry – rooms with beds the size of Montana and Jacuzzis built into the middle of the floor and room service that would bring you food that – well, wasn't as good as your mother could make, but incredible just the same – that didn't compare. It couldn't compare. Not to his life here, his real life. He was Ray Vecchio now and Ray Vecchio enjoyed the finer things in life, but nothing that came with that kind of price.

He'd stayed in better hotels on spring break in college, for Christ's sake. This was the bottom of barrel. But it was a barrel with beds that had no bugs, and a shower that was clean, even though the foot of the curtain trailed inside and was growing with a mold the likes of which Ray didn't really want to think about.

All he wanted was a shower and a flat surface. He dropped his bag on one of the beds and dropped his head, massaging the back of his neck. "You want the shower first?" he asked Kowalski. He had no energy - none - for arguing. Fuck it.

Kowalski was sitting on the end of the other bed, his jacket lying haphazardly on the useless desk crowding the already tiny room. He looked up at Ray sideways. "You go." He sighed and let himself fall back, sprawling on the bed, eyes closed, hair limp. He looked – older, here, in the dim light from the grimy hotel lamp. Long day –long day in a series of long days – and the fine lines of wrinkles stood out next to his eyes, his laugh lines next to his mouth more prominent.

Ray stretched tiredly and shook himself. Shower. "Right."

He rinsed off in water as hot as he could stand it, but did it quickly – after shoving the shower curtain outside the tub with a shudder – leaving some hot water for Kowalski. It did little enough to ease the tension in his shoulders, but he felt clean, at least, and looked somewhat less the worse for wear when he wiped the steam from the mirror and watched himself as he brushed his teeth.

God, he was going to sleep like the dead tonight. He ached – and that didn’t make sense, it was just a car ride, but sometimes that did you in, the endless landscape racing past, the relentless series of miles getting eaten up under the wheels, but never ending – and he just wanted to be prone.

When he opened the door from the bathroom, towel around his waist, steam spilled out into the room. Kowalski was in the exact same position Ray had left him, flat out on the bed and out like a light. Ray pulled his pajamas on, then nudged at Kowalski's knee with his own.

"I'm up," Kowalski said instantly, without opening his eyes.

"Shower." Ray watched him for a second, curious to see if he was, in fact, actually awake. "You'll feel better."

Kowalski cracked open an eye. "I sincerely doubt that." But he rolled to his feet with a groan, stumbling to the bathroom.

Kowalski was in the shower for a long time and Ray flipped through the TV stations twice before saying, "Fuck it," and leaning over to shut off the bedside lamp. He laid back, his whole body aching with tiredness, his eyes feeling like lead. The mattress was lumpy and the pillow was flat and it didn’t matter at all, because sleep was going to come no matter what.

He was just about there when he dimly heard the shower go off. He squeezed his eyes shut more tightly, anticipating the glare when Kowalski opened the bathroom door, but he must have thrown the switch before opening it, because Ray heard the squeak of the hinges, but there was no light. He expected Kowalski to bitch about the dark, or stumble over things trying to find his clothes, or flip on the TV. Ray's firm and final plan was to ignore any and all of these things.

But Kowalski padded through the room near-silently, even though he must have been night-blind from the bathroom lights. Even though he was short-sighted as it was. Ray heard the rustle of his bag, and then the slight sound of covers being turned back, but that was it. Kowalski moved so smoothly in the dark it was like he wasn't even there. Bizarre. The guy had lived up there with Fraser too long. Had been partnered with Fraser too long, to be so good at this, still.

Ray turned over – he seemed to make much more noise that than Kowalski had in getting into bed – and pulled the covers up to his shoulders. The room was so quiet all you could hear was the hum of the heat cycling on and off. "Night, Kowalski," he said quietly.

Kowalski, though, must have been out already, because he never got an answer.

By the time they hit Baltimore the next day – after a late start and even more fabulous traffic heading into the city - there'd been no call from Fraser.

It was past four – traffic had been fierce all afternoon and he and Kowalski weren't even speaking to each other anymore. They still hadn't eaten a meal that hadn't come out of a paper bag, Kowalski still hadn't let him drive the car, and they were in Baltimore too late to accomplish anything at all. They followed a winding exit off the highway that led to the not-too-promising sounding destination of the Baltimore Travel Plaza.

"Maybe it's nice," Kowalski offered doubtfully, as he pulled into a parking lot full of haphazardly parked cars, more than you'd expect on a random Thursday afternoon.

Ray shot him a look.

Kowalski shrugged one shoulder. "It could be. And we don't have much of a choice, so –"

"Fuck it." Ray sighed heavily and shoved his door open. "It can't be worse than the Red Roof Inn."

Apparently, it could be worse than the Red Roof Inn. This place was – there was something wrong with this place. On the surface, it looked like your average – okay, somewhat less-than-average – hotel that you'd stay at when there really weren't any other options and you weren't too picky about, you know, hygiene. But you walked inside, and there was this vibe to it that made Ray uncomfortable. And the thing was, he'd been inside some pretty damn seedy hotels in his time.

This was different. It wasn't that there wasn't staff – there was, they just didn't seem to care very much about checking people in.

"Room for the night, please," Kowalski said shortly to the woman with the vacant eyes, who was chewing gum with her mouth open at the front desk.

She looked at him. The only sign that she'd heard what he'd said was that her chewing slowed down as she seemed to try to parse the meaning of his words.

Kowalski looked at Ray, then back at the woman. "A room? We'd like to rent a room for the night."

She paused mid-chew. "The two of you?"

Ray watched as Kowalski closed his eyes. "Yes."

"A room?"

"Yes," Kowalski said.

"For…tonight?" She sounded baffled.

"Yes." Kowalski very carefully put his head down on the counter

The woman sighed. "O-kaaay," she said doubtfully, turning to the computer in front of her and poking vaguely at the keys.

Kowalski kept his head down. Ray turned around and leaned back on his elbows on the counter, surveying the lobby in front of him. It was vaguely ragged and the few patrons wandering through looked either dejected or furtive. "Fabulous," he said. "Seriously, this is a fabulous place."

"Not my fault," Kowalski said, his voice muffled.

"No," Ray agreed. "No, it isn't. It's the fault of one Benton Fraser. Who –" Here he paused, and ostentatiously pulled his cell phone from his pocket to squint at its screen. "Who still has not called us, and here we are in Baltimore –"

"- probably jobless," Kowalski cut in from the counter.

"Probably jobless," Ray agreed, "and with no real reason for it, other than 'well, the Mountie said he needed us.'"

"Which Welsh might not actually argue about," Kowalski said, turning his head so that his temple rested against the counter.

"He might not want to have a conversation about it." Ray agreed. He glanced at the girl behind the counter. She was still inquisitively poking at keys, occasionally squinting up at the computer screen as though it held ancient secrets. Ray sighed and slouched further back against the counter. Yet another giant tractor trailer pulled into the parking lot with a loud wheezing noise, and slowly circled around the back. "What the fuck are we doing at a truck stop Best Western in Baltimore?"

Kowalski was watching him from his vantage point on the counter. "Slumming?"

Ray raised one eyebrow, and Kowalski shrugged tiredly and shut his eyes, turning his head so he was facedown on the counter again.

Ray looked over at the girl. "Think we might be able to get a room today?"

The girl looked up at him. "What?" She had the slightly stunned look of a deer in headlights.

Ray sighed. "Nothing," he said, and pushed off the counter to go see what the free Baltimore Gazette display had to say about the area.

Forty-five minutes later, they had a room. "Forty-five minutes," Ray said to Kowalski as he shoved the door open.

"You keep saying that. I get it," Kowalski said.

"Forty. Five. Minutes. It took her to check us in." Ray shoved the door shut behind him hard, but the closing device slowed it down and it shut with a sigh instead of a slam.

"Look." Kowalski spun around, and for a second – just a second, and Ray tensed himself, ready for it – he thought Kowalski was going to go for his throat. "We have a room, right? Look. Room." He gestured around wildly with one hand. "It has beds." Again with the gesturing.

Ray nodded grudgingly.

"Okay?" Kowalski said. "Room. Beds." He stomped across the room and kicked the bathroom door open. "And a – huh." He stuttered to a stop, gazing into the bathroom. "A Jacuzzi," he said finally. "Room. Beds. And a Jacuzzi."

Ray walked up behind him to look inside. "With mirrored walls."

"Huh." Kowalski scratched at the back of his head, all the anger seeming to have drained out of him with this startling new development.

"Huh," Ray echoed, and pushed past him. One thing he learned in Vegas: never pass up a Jacuzzi.

Ray popped the battery on his phone and put it back in. Still no call. It was charged and all, still with a couple of bars, but he plugged it in anyway. When he looked up, Kowalski was watching him.

"Worried?" Kowalski asked. He was lying on one of the double beds the room boasted, thin pillow folded in half behind his head as he idly flipped through the channels on the television.

"Well, yeah," Ray said. "With anyone else, maybe not. With you, definitely not."

"What, you don't worry about me, Vecchio?" Ray asked without taking his gaze off of the television, amusement thick in his voice.

Ray snorted and sat down on the foot of the other bed to take off his shoes and socks. "You? I worry about you going off and kicking some perp's head in. I worry about you driving like a lunatic and killing both of us in your car. I don't worry about you not returning phone calls."

"That's because I never return phone calls." Kowalski squinted at the TV, watching a dancing bear try to sell him a car.

"Right." Ray sighed and eyed the bathroom with trepidation. "I'm going to try to take a shower."

"In that?" Kowalski sat up and turned off the TV. "It's got, like, three showerheads. And no shower curtain."

"I know." Ray sat there, taking off his shoes and socks and watching as Kowalski got up and padded to the bathroom, gazing into the Jacuzzi with interest.

"Not to mention the mirrored walls," Kowalski called back over his shoulder.

"I know," Ray said irritably, getting up and undoing the buttons on his shirt as he walked over to the bathroom.

Kowalski had his arms crossed over his chest, shaking his head slowly as he looked at himself in the mirrored walls. "There are steps up to get into the tub. You have to climb down in."

"So?" Ray looked curiously into the tub.

"That's gonna give you some angles of yourself no one ever needs to see."

Ray paused for a moment. "Good point." He could live without a shower.

"Aren't you going to even try it out?" Kowalski sounded disappointed as he trailed Ray out of the bathroom.

"I'm all set for right now." Ray settled back onto the bed with a sigh, half-heartedly flipping through the guest services book on the bedside table, thinking about food.

"Yeah." Kowalski pulled out his own phone, flipped it open to see the screen.

"Worried?" Ray smirked.

"Yeah," Kowalski sighed, tossing the phone onto the bed and sitting down on the edge facing Ray, massaging the back of his own neck with his fingers.

"Seriously?" Ray blinked at him. Not that he thought the guy didn't care about Fraser, but he hadn't been acting particularly anxious through this whole thing. Ray figured – he didn't know what he figured. That when Kowalski left Canada, he sort of cut ties. Gave up his governing interest in the situation, and yeah, sure, he was here, sure he'd shown up to help Fraser out, but Ray'd just never really considered the fact that Kowalski was as involved in this as Ray himself was.

Which didn't actually make a whole lot of sense. Kowalski had been the one to go on the adventure. Kowalski had been the one up there living the life with Fraser. Just because he'd left didn't mean he hadn't cared, or that he didn't care now. Ray had left, too. Leaving didn't erase a whole lot.

He looked at Kowalski with new interest, but Kowalski still had his head hanging down, his fingers now laced behind his neck.

"Yeah, I'm worried," Kowalski finally said quietly. "I – yeah." He looked up at Ray, and his face looked old. "Why'd he call? Why now? Why us?"

"If not us, then who?" Ray asked with surprise. Of course Fraser had called them. It had never occurred to Ray that, well, Fraser would have anyone else to call.

Kowalski looked at him for a handful of seconds. "Never mind." He got up heavily, patted his pockets. "I'm going out for a smoke."

"No, wait." Ray moved forward to put a hand on his arm and Kowalski exploded and socked him one, high on his cheek. Hard enough to hurt, yeah, but Ray'd taken plenty of punches before and hadn't rocked back a step. It was more surprise than anything else that sent him sprawling back on the bed, stopping himself with one hand out behind him before he hit his head against the headboard. "You hit me," he said, one hand up to his cheek, staring at Kowalski with sheer astonishment.

"I –" Kowalski was standing there, fists still clenched. He looked down at them like he didn't recognize his own hands and let them fall open, drop. "I'm sorry, I didn't –" He stopped. "I'm sorry, Vecchio." His voice was rough and he moved again to stride towards the door.

"No way, no fucking way." Ray was across the room in two seconds flat, grabbing onto Kowalski's arm again, but this time ready for a swing, ready for anything, because he didn't know what the fuck might be coming his way from his apparently fucking crazy partner. Kowalski didn't fight him this time, though, and Ray's momentum spun Kowalski around and slammed him against the door he'd only managed to open a crack. His head hit the door with a hollow thud.

Ray pinned him there with his forearm across his windpipe, but Kowalski wasn't struggling. He was tense against Ray's body, like he was ready to spring, but wasn't actively trying to get away.

"What the fuck was that?" Ray asked breathlessly, feeling out of control, like things were upside down, adrenaline surging through his body. "What the fuck was that?"

"I said I was sorry," Kowalski said tightly.

"I don't fucking care if you're sorry. I want to know why that just happened." Ray pressed Kowalski harder for a second, enough that Kowalski closed his eyes as Ray cut off his oxygen. He held him there for just a second before he released him, shoving him hard against the door again as he backed away. Ray pressed the back of his hand against his cheek, where it didn't hurt yet, was just a dull, far-away throb.

"I don't know." Kowalski's voice was flat and his eyes were dull. The guy didn't even look angry. He didn’t look like anything, just like he wanted to go. Maybe get the fuck out of there and never come back, was all.

"I didn't even – that wasn't even –" Ray had said worse - much worse – things to Kowalski without anything even close to that reaction. All he'd said was – he couldn't even remember what he'd said at all.

"It's not you, Vecchio." Kowalski was still leaning against the door where Ray had shoved him, like he was still being held there.

"If it's not me, then –" It came back to Ray then, as he echoed what he'd just asked Kowalski, the thing that had sent them into this spiral of punches, fighting - all this fucking confusion. If not us, then who?

That was it. That was all. Just – what the hell was the deal here? "Kowalski," he said slowly, falling back a step as the pain in his cheek rose to the surface, sharp and sudden. "Kowalski, what –"

"Don't," Kowalski said then, hollow and desperate. "Just –"

"Talk to me, Stanley." Ray used the sharp tone he used with scared perps, to get them to take him seriously, to spill and get this over with.

"Don't." Kowalski was tight, his face, his body, his voice, everything strung tight enough to snap. "You’ve got to just –"

"What the fuck, can you just –" That was as far as he got. Kowalski pushed off the door, and Ray was ready for it, he really was. He knew Kowalski was going to try to go out that door and Ray was braced to stop him, but –

Kowalski surged forward, grabbing onto Ray and propelling him back towards the bed. Not fighting, though it felt like it at the start, and not wrestling, not really, just shoving at him until he fell backwards and then Kowalski's weight was on him, hot and heavy, pinning him down, one knee shoving between his legs, pressed up against him hard.

Ray had no air to speak, and wherever he moved, he was pressing up harder against Kowalski; wherever he put his hands, he was touching him. Kowalski's breath was hot and damp against Ray's neck, against his temple as Kowalski struggled to hold him down, pin him there.

Ray could have gotten away. He could have done it, knew half a dozen ways to do it, but all of them would have hurt Kowalski bad. Maybe Ray didn't know what was going on here, but he knew it was something fucked up, and he wasn't going to find anything out by breaking Kowalski's arm. He eased up under Kowalski, until Kowalski didn't have anything to fight against. He had Ray pinned down by the wrists, Ray's hands wrenched up by his head.

"What's this, Stanley?" Ray asked quietly, forcing his body to relax.

Kowalski took a breath, blinking, his eyes coming into focus at Ray beneath him. "I –"

Ray shifted under him a little, see if he could roll Kowalski off of him now. Tactical error. Kowalski tightened his hands around Ray's wrists, tight enough to hurt, though Ray didn't let himself even blink. Kowalski was looking at him, curious, now – sharp and wondering.

"Stanley – Ray, listen to me." Ray's tone brooked no dissent, but Kowalski wasn't listening to him – could hear him, sure, but didn’t care. The wheels were turning in his head, and Ray was braced for what came next.

Which was when Kowalski kissed him.

And it was like when you were combing over a file, looking for clues, for evidence, for a goddamn break, and you weren't finding anything at all. Because you'd read it too many times, you'd seen everything there was to see, and there was nothing there to be found, you were sure of it, you were done.

Only the clues were there all the time. Right in front of you, only you were too tired, too caffeinated, too fucking dumb to see them right in front of your face. Because right then, Kowalski was kissing him, hard and harsh and breathless. There wasn't anything smooth about it, nothing suave, nothing even close to making sense, and Ray didn't know what the fuck was going on, because he'd never, not once, seen even one of the clues.

But now Kowalski was hard up against him, holding his wrist in a crushing grip, panting against his face, and – Jesus Christ - working his hand between them, going for Ray's pants, like this was something that was really going to happen.

And fuck it if he broke Kowalski's arm in doing it, but Ray didn’t – did not - swing that way, no matter how bad Kowalski needed it. He pushed at Kowalski as hard as he could, and Kowalski gave, all of a sudden, like he had been expecting it, like he had access to every clue in the world that Ray himself did not. He rolled over onto his back, and Ray's momentum kept them moving, the two of them going off the bed in a fall that was in no way controlled, landing on the floor hard enough that Kowalski had the breath knocked out of him, and Ray – not planned, not controlled, not a clue in the world – punched him in the face.

You'd think that would cool a guy off, but if you were talking about Stanley Kowalski, you'd be wrong. He was grinning, even with a bloody nose. Like this was fun for him, good times all around. He lay back – finally – and ran his hands through his hair, taking a deep breath. "All right," he said mildly. He winced a little, and licked at the cut on his lip. "All right."

He pushed himself up on his hands, got to his feet. "I'm going to see about some food," he said. "You want some food?"

Ray was still on the floor. He just looked at Kowalski. What the fuck was going on here?

Kowalski shrugged, and said, "Back in a bit," and he was out the door, leaving Ray right there where he was. Ray stared at the door for a few seconds, but it stayed shut. Slowly, he just lay back on the floor and laced his hands over his stomach, staring up at the ceiling.

Looking for clues.

Kowalski didn't come back, and after a while, Ray pushed himself to his feet, took a precarious shower in the curtainless Jacuzzi and headed out. The front lobby, when he got down there, was deserted. No customers, and no staff either, the whole place serenely silent and unguarded. There was a restaurant off of the lobby, but that, too, was deserted and unstaffed, though the place was brightly lit and the tables were set with silverware on paper napkins.

Ray wandered further through the hotel. He had it half in his mind to go check to see if Kowalski had taken the car – maybe abandoned him in this godforsaken place – but he wasn't going to panic until he had made a thorough check of the place. Kowalski might be an asshole, but he wasn't a really bad guy.

There was a buzz of sound coming from down what looked like a service corridor. Going down it, Ray emerged into a crowded and brightly lit food court. Through the window, a huge tractor-trailer was just pulling into the parking lot outside, and there was a hubbub of activity as various plaid-and-trucker-hat-clad patrons elbowed for room at the various fast food counters offering heart attack specials at a reduced rate.

Ray blinked. This was, apparently, the social hub of the Baltimore Travel Plaza.

He was gazing around when he spotted Kowalski, planted at a slightly-askew table (which was, in turn, fastened to the none-too-clean floor), talking on his cell phone. Ray made his way through the tables, and Kowalski, spotting him, held up one finger. "Right," he said into the phone, jotting down notes on a paper napkin in front of him. Ray watched him scribble, but his handwriting was indecipherable. "Got it."

He hung up and looked up at Ray. "Have a seat," he said, gesturing grandly at the molded-plastic chair. Ray frowned, and sat down gingerly, carefully keeping his arms away from the sure-to-be-sticky table.

"Nice place you found here," Ray said. Kowalski was leaning back in his chair, watching Ray like he was expecting something. Ray just eyed him back. "Classy clientele."

Kowalski cracked a grin at that, nodding at a sign on the wall that let the patrons know that the food court was patrolled by undercover police officers regularly. "Nice, huh?"

Ray shook his head. "What was that?" He nodded at Kowalski's cell phone.


Fucking finally. "He called you?"


"What did he say? Where is he?"

"Well, middle of nowhere, right now, but he's heading to Boston."


Kowalski shrugged. "I don't get it either," he admitted. "He couldn't talk, he said. Just that he'd meet us in the city tomorrow night and he'd be able to explain things then." He pushed the note on the napkin towards Ray. "At the Boston Radisson."

"You buy that?" Ray asked, studying the indecipherable handwriting.

Kowalski shook his head. "Not really."

"But it's not like we have much choice."

"Nope." Kowalski had his chair tilted back, his hands tucked in his jeans pockets, watching Ray.

"So what do we do now?" Ray asked, finally.

Kowalski shrugged and let the chair fall forward, getting smoothly to his feet. "Get drunk."

Ray was silent for a moment, then shrugged. "Good call."

They looked for a bar, but the restaurant was still abandoned, and the front desk clerk nowhere to be seen. The next best bet seemed to be a tiny liquor store in the shopping area across the way, where the bottle of scotch they bought was dusty and the guy at the counter grinned at them a little too long when they paid.

But regardless of the quality of the rest of the motel, the room they had was nice – newly renovated, looked like, clean and pretty big for what they were paying for the night. Not to mention the Jacuzzi. Kowalski took the paper lids off the glasses placed neatly by the bathroom sink and poured them each a generous couple of fingers of scotch.

Ray picked up his glass and toasted Kowalski wordlessly because, well, fuck it. They were in a truck stop in Baltimore, Fraser was in Boston, and they had scotch. What the hell. He was weary, and too damn old for this, and the only thing Scotch could do was make it better.

A few hours later, the bottle was hovering around half-empty, and Kowalski was flat on his back on his bed, boots still on, singing along to some song on the bedside radio. Ray himself was on the floor between the two beds – but still sitting up, mind you, he had stamina. – with his feet bare, his shirt unbuttoned halfway, and his head swimming in that really nice way that made you want to keep going. "That," he informed Kowalski, "is the real problem with alcohol. You can't keep that balance. You just keep getting drunker." He shook his head. "It's very inconvenient."

He had problems with inconvenient. It was like it had too many syllables. Or maybe not enough.

Kowalski didn't seem to notice. The radio changed songs – something old and bluesy that, if Ray had been able to simply maintain how drunk he was and not just keep getting more drunk – he would have remembered the name of, and Kowalski rolled off the bed, landing somewhat surprisingly on his feet.

"What?" Ray demanded, rolling his head back to see what was going on.

"Jacuzzi," Kowalski said by way of explanation. He made his way over to the bathroom and only walked into one wall on the way. Moments later, the sound of water running came from the bathroom. Kowalski came out, and sat on the end of one of the beds, pulling one foot up to start working the boot off.

Ray watched him with interest. "You're not serious."

"It's a room with a Jacuzzi." Kowalski seemed to have trouble with the word this time. "Of course I'm serious."

"You're drunk," Ray pointed out, and took another sip of his own drink to punctuate the point.

"That too." Kowalski succeeded in untying the boot and pulled it off with both hands. He let it fall to the floor with a thump, and looked down at Ray. Ray, with a little bit of effort, got to his knees and leaned on the edge of the bed to peer up at Kowalski.

Kowalski, leaving the second boot on, was pulling his t-shirt off over his head. Only he'd dug his glasses out at some point to read the back of the bottle (out loud. To Ray. In carefully articulated tones.) and still had them on, so the neck of the t-shirt got caught, and he was half in and half out until Ray leaned up to help tug it off.

Kowalski looked down at him and grinned a crooked grin. "Come on, Vecchio. You seem like a Jacuzzi sort of guy."

"Do I really?" Ray asked doubtfully.

"Well." Kowalski studied him for a moment. "Kinda?"

Ray regarded him solemnly, and Kowalski grinned some more, then cracked up laughing.

"What?" Ray demanded, getting to his feet only a little bit unsteadily. "What"

"Nothing." Kowalski, who had fallen back onto the bed, waved a hand weakly in his direction. "Nothing, just – I keep picturing you. All – seventies. With – long hair! And gold chains! And Barry White on in the background as you try to get some unsuspecting stewardess into the hot tub with you." He was shaking with laughter now. "It's just so vivid in my head."

"Thanks," Ray said sourly, looking down at him. "Thanks a lot, Stanley."

"You're welcome." Kowalski was still lying back on the bed, giggling. "I – oh man, it really is an awesome image."

"Shut it." Ray crawled up onto the bed to sprawl next to Kowalski, and Kowalski companionably shifted over to make room for him. The bed was soft. And big. They fit really well. The water was still running in the bathroom, for the Jacuzzi. It really would be a shame to waste it.

Kowalski's arm was somehow stuck underneath Ray. Which meant that Kowalski's hand was on Ray's back, and Kowalski was sort of tracing up and down it with his fingers. Ray looked down at him sternly, because that was kind of queer. "Stop it," he said, and Kowalski said, "Okay," and stopped, and then Ray was kissing him. Or Kowalski was kissing Ray. It was kind of hard to tell, and maybe it didn’t matter so much who was doing what, because now Kowalski had one foot hooked over Ray's legs, dragging him down closer, and man, Stella had been right, Kowalski could kiss. What had happened before - that was fucked up, and didn't hardly count, but this was something else entirely, and it was all Ray could do to just keep up.

Ray was drunk, but it was the kind of drunk that brought everything into sort of a sharp focus, and he was aware of everything – of Kowalski dragging him closer, of Kowalski's tongue in his mouth, of the sharp curve of Kowalski's hips under Ray's own hands. Ray hung on, pushing Kowalski down against the bed, pressing his tongue into Kowalski's mouth.

"Come on," Kowalski said, and tried to flip him, trying to get on top, like he was the one in charge here, like he was the one running things. "Come on," he said again, his voice all breathless and hot, and Ray grinned against his mouth.

"What, Kowalski?" Ray asked. "What do you want, huh?" This was fun. This was more fun than Ray had had in far, far too long.

"Your cock," Kowalski said, and he said it like he meant it, like he needed it. Desperate. Fierce. "My mouth."

Ray groaned and let Kowalski flip him onto his back.

Kowalski didn't waste any time at all – he wasn't the sort of guy who would. He pushed against Ray on the bed, shoving his shirt up and undoing his pants quicker than Ray would have ever guessed a guy who'd drunk as much scotch as Kowalski had could. It left Ray panting up at the ceiling as Kowalski dragged his cock out of his pants and sucked it into his mouth. "Jesus," Ray said weakly, because – "Oh, Jesus" – it had been a long time since he'd gotten any action at all, and this was unexpected - entirely unexpected - truck-stop Best Western action, and it was almost more than he could take.

And Kowalski – maybe this wasn't something Stella could have ever known, or maybe she knew and just hadn't told Ray– but Kowalski sucked cock like nobody's business. Ray had had professionals in Vegas, and those girls were good, but they couldn’t hold a candle to Kowalski. Maybe it was because it was a business to them, when to Kowalski, it was a pleasure – a very real, very serious, very necessary pleasure, judging from the way he was going at it. Like he needed it the way Ray did, like he wanted it just exactly the way Ray did.

Kowalski's hands were under him, urging up onwards and upwards, swallowing down his cock, lifting up his hips from the bed to get every last millimeter of it, and the sounds he was making as he went at it were just ratcheting every single aspect of this whole goddamn experience up ten notches. He wanted it and he loved it and Ray fucking wanted it, he wanted to fuck Kowalski's very talented mouth forever, could do this for the rest of his life and never regret a second of it.

His hands were somehow tangled up in Kowalski's hair, his pants down around his thighs, as Kowalski dug his fingers into Ray's hips. Kowalski was half off the bed, using his one booted foot for traction on the floor as he dragged Ray close and sucked him down deep. Ray couldn’t breathe, couldn't move, could only hang on and shove his hips up as far as he could while Kowalski swallowed him down.

And god, fucking Christ, this was better than it had any right to be, and Ray was drunk and losing it, fucking losing it, moaning out loud for God and everyone to hear as Kowalski's tongue did wicked things to his cock. Ray jerked up and came hard and long right down Kowalski's throat, one of those endless orgasms that held you and shook you until you thought you might fall apart before it ever had a chance to end.

Afterwards, Kowalski slid up on top of Ray, undoing his own jeans with fumbling hands and sliding up against Ray's stomach, slick with come, again and again, until Kowalski came, too, digging his teeth into Ray's shoulder and moaning helplessly against his skin.

Kowalski collapsed on top of him, for a handful of seconds, pressing his mouth into Ray's shoulder, before sliding to one side, heavily. He wasn't passed out – Ray was sure of it, he'd seen it enough times – but his eyes were closed, his breathing heavy. Done for the night, or wishing he was. Ray lay there for a bit, tingling and still turned on, sorting back through everything that had happened. Looking for clues.

He got up, finally, gently pushing Kowalski's arm off of his middle, and pulled the comforter backwards off of his side of the bed to cover Kowalski.

Ray went to the bathroom, then, and shut off the water still running into the empty Jacuzzi. Kowalski had never plugged up the drain. Ray looked at himself in the mirror as he zipped himself up, and washed his face. He thought about brushing his teeth, but went back out to the room, poured himself another slug of scotch instead.

He held it in his hand, taking a sip as he flipped off the overhead light. He regarded Kowalski for a long moment, watching where he lay under the covers, contemplating taking off his remaining boot.

In the end, he just left him – figuring the chance of waking him up, if he really was asleep, wasn't worth the comfort value. The guy would have to wake up eventually, if only to go take a piss, and he'd take care of the boot and the jeans then.

For now, Ray just tiredly stripped off the rest of his own clothes, finished the scotch, and crawled under the covers of the other bed. Morning wasn't going to be a very long time coming.

It was seven hours from Baltimore to Boston, but that didn't count getting lost. It also didn't count oversleeping by about five hours and not leaving the Baltimore Travel Plaza until almost noon, hungover and unshaven and not looking at each other very much. What it boiled down to was the fact that, essentially, it was ten o'clock at night, they were somewhere in the vicinity of Hartford, Connecticut, and Kowalski's car didn’t come with a map.

"Do you even know where we are?" Ray asked tensely.

"There are signs, Vecchio," Kowalski said tiredly. He still had his sunglasses pushed up on top of his head from earlier in the day, when it was light out, and things hadn't seemed quite so grim. "I know how to get from Baltimore to Boston."

"Do you really?" Ray snapped. "Because the fact that we're in your car, on a road with no lights, with no hotel in sight –"

"No houses in sight, even," Kowalski agreed.

"Right. Then I'd say we're pretty well fucked, wouldn’t you?"

"I would, yeah." Kowalski slowed the car down and edged it off the road. The road was lined by trees and the spot they pulled into was a little worn-down turnaround spot, apparently, tucked in among the trees. Ray stared at him in the dark car.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing, Stanley?"

"Look." Kowalski rubbed at his eyes. "I'm tired. We're lost. You have no night vision. It's, like, two a.m. Let's crash here for now and get going again after a few hours sleep, when it's light out."

"I –" Ray flailed silently in the car for a handful of seconds before settling back, one arm on the door, fuming. "This is insane," he said flatly. "I never did this even with Fraser. I sure as hell don’t want to be doing this with you."

Kowalski flinched at that. Just barely, but it was there. Ray sighed and gave him a sharp sideways look. "Sorry, Stanley," he said.

Kowalski waved it away. "Hey, Fraser would be the guy who could save you from the crazy guy with a hook who comes out of the woods. Me, I'm just gonna sleep through it."

"Fabulous." Ray sighed, and shifted in his seat, looking into the back. "How do you want to do this?"

"It's just a few hours." Kowalski gestured into the back. "You stretch out back there."

"Fine." Ray eyed the door for a second, then just climbed over the back seat, awkwardly and with a little bit of cursing.

"You could just get out," Kowalski suggested, grinning as he maneuvered his way over to the passenger seat, stretching out his legs over to the driver's side.

"We're in the woods." Ray was settling back in the backseat, tucking his coat around himself somewhat primly. "There could be animals out there."

"We're on the highway," Kowalski pointed out.

"This?" Ray nodded at the two-lane road outside. "This is not a highway. This is a hunting ground for serial killers and escaped lunatics."

"Then you should fit right in."

Ray sat forward to look over the front seat. Kowalski was slouched back, his long legs stretched out in front of him, his arms crossed over his chest. He looked comfortable, if that could be believed.

Ray snorted and lay back, trying to get comfortable. His legs didn’t fit, and his head was resting uncomfortably against the molded plastic of the door. He was too cold to take his coat off to use as a pillow, and finally, he just turned over and squished himself up, using his hand under his head instead. The car was silent, but the woods were not. The outside was dark as pitch, dark like it got up in Canada, and he could hear every crackle of leaves, every branch swaying. When the wind gusted all of a sudden, everything out there rattled like there was a storm. Ray resolutely kept his eyes closed and tried to ignore everything.

Till a branch snapped right outside - right outside – the car door. Ray was sitting up, heart pounding, gun in his hand, before he could even think about it. Kowalski was in the exact same position, gun in his hand as well, gazing around wild-eyed. They couldn’t see anything. The outside was pitch black, and they looked at each other, then both went for the door locks at the same time. Just checking, and they were all locked, but it didn't feel safe at all – at all.

Ray looked at Kowalski. "So which one of us do you think the serial killer will go for first?" he asked conversationally.

Kowalski was still sitting up, his arm hooked over the back seat. He'd holstered his gun, but was still keeping that hand loose, ready for action. "There are no serial killers in Connecticut," he said firmly.

Ray looked at him with wide-eyed disbelief. "Are you kidding me? You've been to Connecticut. We're in Connecticut right now. All I want to do is kill people."

Kowalski hesitated. "Well, okay, if there were serial killers, they wouldn't be in the woods, would they?"

Ray – who had not holstered his gun – gazed witheringly at Kowalski. "You don't know that."

"Well, I mean – " There was another crackle from outside, this time from behind the car, and they both whipped around. Kowalski had his gun in his hand again, quicker than the eye could follow. Ray was crouched low, looking out the window from behind the relative safety of the seat back.

"Do you see anything?"

"I –" There was a scuffle of sound and then Kowalski slithered over the seat, trying to keep low, and landed with a soft oof beside Ray. They both peered out the back window, but you really couldn't see anything but dark and more dark. After a few minutes of that, barely breathing, Kowalski finally sighed, and turned around to sit on the seat. Ray stayed put on his knees, looking out the window. "What are you doing?" he hissed.

"There's nothing out there, Vecchio." Kowalski pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. "Seriously. What are the odds?"

Ray groaned and reluctantly slid around to sit down heavily beside Kowalski. "The number of times I've used that logic and been proven wrong…"

"Yeah, well." Kowalski eyed him. "What choice do we have?"

"Keep driving?" Ray offered hopefully.

"Come on." Kowalski shifted a little on the seat beside him. "We're, like, really lost. We're not finding anything tonight."

"Fine." Ray sighed and tucked his hands in his pockets, letting his head fall back, contemplating the car roof and trying very hard not to listen to any noises from outside. "But tomorrow – and hand to god, I'll kick you in the head if you fight me on this one – tomorrow, we –"

"Shh." Kowalski clamped a hand onto Ray's thigh, and his hand was hovering near his holster again, though not yet drawing the gun.

Ray listened tensely for a handful of seconds. "What-"

"Shhh," Kowalski hissed again, tightening his hold on Ray's thigh. And Jesus, just – who did that, who went for the thigh when you were going for silence, huh? And Kowalski's hand – his fingers tight there, right on the inside of Ray's thigh, really tight, and high up, and it was a spot for Ray, okay, it was a zone, if you wanted to put a fine point on it, and it wasn't – it didn't have anything at all to do with Kowalski himself. Nope. It was the – tension. It was the adrenaline. It was Kowalski's goddamn hand, touching him there where he had no right to touch him.


"Shut it." Kowalski was still peering shortsightedly out the opaque windows.

Ray took a deep breath in through his nose, counted to ten, and then, "Stanley, get your hand off my leg."

That got Kowalski's attention off the rear windshield. "Touchy," he said, a slow grin spreading across his face. His hand moved, but not off - up. Ray shoved it away hard. Kowalski's grin got wider. "What?" he said. "Problem?" He moved closer beside Ray on the seat.

"Listen, Stanley," Ray said, but Kowalski wasn't listening to him at all. His hands – cold hands, at that – were sliding under his jacket, over his side lightly, tracing these lines that made Ray shudder. Kowalski was lifting his chin at him, and his hands were just everywhere. Ray grabbed one of his wrists, tight enough that he knew it had to hurt, but Kowalski didn't even flinch. He just flashed him a grin, right up close.

"You like it rough, Vecchio?" he said, his voice pure sex, offering everything. And Ray didn't like it rough, and didn't like it with guys – last night not withstanding - and sure as hell didn't like it with Kowalski. But his cock was hardening – beyond that, was hard, hard and ready, like this whole side of the road, possible serial killer, no bed to sleep in, no place to hide, was some sort of twisted foreplay.

"Fuck you," Ray said tightly, but his hand was still looped around Kowalski's wrist, and he wasn't letting go. And when Kowalski gave him that half-grin again and said, "Sure, okay," and let himself fall back on the seat as best he could, Ray groaned out loud and just – climbed on top of him.

Dumb idea, so fucking dumb, couldn't be dumber – this was the point in the horror movie where you started yelling at the screen for the dumb blonde girl to stop blowing her boyfriend and start looking around for the guy with the ax – but fuck, Ray was the dumb blonde girl here and Kowalski was underneath him on the bench seat, hard as a rock and ready to go.

Fuck. Fuck.

Ray was the one who kissed Kowalski then, because Kowalski was still half-grinning at him with that mouth, and last night hadn’t been a fluke - Kowalski could kiss like nobody's business. Ray was up against him on the seat there, and couldn't stop kissing him, didn't want to, and sure as hell didn't care anything at all about serial killers at this point. He couldn’t hear any more snapping branches, couldn't hear anything except the two of them panting, going after each other like animals.

Kowalski shoved him backwards, just enough to get his hands between them, and Ray straddled him haphazardly, one knee on the hump between the seats, the other jammed between Kowalski and the seat back. Kowalski was undoing his own pants, tugging the buttons open with one hand as he looped the other up around Ray's neck, trying to drag him back down.

Ray was trying to get his own pants open, his cock so hard it hurt. He got his belt undone, the button open, and then Kowalski yanked on his neck, and brought him down, pressing his tongue into his mouth and making this sound of sheerest relief as Ray rocked against him. "Jesus," Ray said as Kowalski pulled away – again, god, the guy had ADD – and mouthed his way down Ray's neck, sucking at his skin, sending shudders down his spine.

"Come here," Kowalski said, panting hotly against Ray's neck. "God, come here."

"I am." Ray shoved against him, trying to reach between them for Kowalski's cock. "I am." His knee slid off the hump onto the floor and he lost his balance entirely, ending up pretty much in the foot well there on the floor. Kowalski, gasping, reaching for him, his cock out of his pants, hard as a rock and looking just – it was right there and it was just – Ray reached for it, wrapping his hand around it, and not leaning in, not really, just maybe –

Kowalski's hand wrapped around his, both of them holding onto his cock. "Do you want to?" he asked, still breathless, but serious, like he was holding back, here, like he didn't expect Ray to say anything like yes.

"I –" Did he do this? He hadn't before, sure, but –

Kowalski's eyes were dark. "Do you want to?"

"Yeah, I –" It was out of Ray's mouth before he could stop himself, and it wasn't until he heard it that he really thought about how much he very much did want to. His hand was still wrapped around Kowalski's cock, Kowalski's hand surrounding his warmly, and he just – "Yeah," he said again, thickly, and leaned in.

"Oh Jesus." Kowalski's hands flailed as Ray licked at the head of his cock – that was it, just a lick, and Kowalski was reaching for something to hold onto. And it didn't taste bad, it wasn't that bad at all. Ray took a breath, and braced himself with one hand on the back of the seat, leaning forward over Kowalski's body and sucking the head of his cock into his mouth. Kowalski wasn’t a small guy – maybe not as big as Ray himself was, but not small - and this was just –

Kowalski's hand fluttered and settled on the back of Ray's neck, not pulling him in, not forcing anything, but more like he was feeling him, riding him through this. He was breathing hard and making these low keening noises, his hips occasionally jerking up like he was having a hard time not just letting go and fucking Ray's face for all he was worth.

And that wasn't hot, shouldn't have been hot, should have been the furthest thing from hot. It was never anything that Ray thought he might want, but it was just – getting someone going like that, where they lost control, or wanted to – nothing was as hot as that, nothing was ever as hot as that, and it got Ray going something fierce. He tugged his zipper the rest of the way down and had his hand wrapped around his own cock, jerking himself as he blew Kowalski, and yeah, maybe it was like walking and chewing gum at the same time – kind of impossible to keep the rhythm, and it was messy and rough, but hot, so fucking hot.

At one point, he had one hand anchored around Kowalski's cock, sucking in as much as he could, because Kowalski was shoving up with his hips, so fucking close to losing it. Ray was jerking himself unevenly, couldn’t get a rhythm going as he tried to keep up with Kowalski, but it didn't matter, Christ, he didn't think he'd need anything at this point; he thought he could maybe come just from the sheer hotness of the sounds Kowalski was making as he thrust up into Ray's mouth.

"I – Vecchio, you –"

Ray blinked his eyes open for a second. Kowalski was holding onto the top of the backseat in a death grip, and he was open-mouthed, gasping for breath, and his hand was tight around the back of Ray's neck as he said, "Oh fuck, ohfuck, you –"

He shoved Ray away hard with one hand, the other one coming up to wrap around himself, jerking his cock once, twice, before coming all over his stomach.

Ray, gasping in the foot well, was outraged - outraged - and overcome. He climbed back on top of Kowalski, cursing at him. "Fuck, you asshole, you think you can just –"

"Didn't want you to have to-" Kowalski's hands were sliding up the back of Ray's shirt, still frantic, looking for skin.

"I wanted to," Ray gasped out, and tried not to think about it, couldn’t think about it, couldn't think about anything but how fucking good the skin of Kowalski's stomach – hot and smooth and slick – felt against his cock, and how he felt like he'd been on the edge of coming for forever, and felt like when he did come, he might actually die from it, he needed it so bad, needed it so fucking bad -

Kowalski's fingers dug into his back, and one foot hooked itself up over Ray's calf, holding him down close. Ray buried his face in the crook of Kowalski's neck and came all over his stomach.

"Jesus." Kowalski sounded stunned. Sounded just like Ray felt. Which made him feel both better (he wasn't the only one shocked by this here) and worse (fuck, neither of them was in charge of the situation). "Jesus. I –"

"Nrgh." Ray lifted his head slightly from Kowalski's shoulder, but the logistics of moving and putting himself back together seemed impossible just now. He let his head drop back down. He felt Kowalski's hand on the back of his head, but only for a second before Kowalski pulled it away.

"All right," Ray said, muffled against Kowalski's neck. "I'll just – all right." He took a deep breath, heaving himself back, and Kowalski quickly scrambled to get his feet out of the way. They sat there next to each other, each awkwardly buttoning up, both of them a mess. The entire car reeked of sex, and hey, the cast of the new series, Serial Killers of Connecticut, could be surrounding the whole car by now, looking on with interest, for all they knew, because the windows were entirely steamed up.

Ray's coat was twisted half around him – probably wrinkled beyond repair and he hadn't noticed or even cared - and he awkwardly tried to straighten it. Not looking at Kowalski, who was not looking at him, and this was either completely fucked up, or the best thing that could have happened to the both of them. Ray didn't really want to think about which.

The two of them stumbled into Boston the next morning, far the worse for wear. The night in the car – fantastic sex notwithstanding – hadn't done either of them any favors, and Ray, stretching gingerly as he got out of the car in the parking lot of the hotel where Fraser had said he'd meet them, thought that maybe two guys pushing forty shouldn't attempt even sitting that long in a car, let alone sleeping or – well, anything else.

He glanced over the roof at Kowalski, who had disappeared from sight, only to pop up from where he had bent over, apparently stretching his back, to bend way back, arms behind his back, his sunglasses on, groaning softly. Ray watched him until he looked Ray's way, and then kept his eyes on him for a long moment. Kowalski held the gaze for a handful of seconds, still stretching, before finally stopping and leaning his forearms on the top of the car and giving Ray a hard look. "What, Vecchio, you want to do me right here in the parking lot?"

Ray let the silence hold for a handful of seconds before giving Kowalski an easy shrug. "Nah. I can wait." He turned to head into the hotel.

An hour and a half later, they were still sitting in the hotel lobby. Ray had read all of the courtesy newspapers left there on the low table between the uncomfortable couches. He was reacquainted with how very much the Bruins really sort of sucked, and knew far too much about the best places for romantic weekend getaways near the city. What he didn't know was where Fraser was. No call, no show, and he'd like to say that wasn't like the guy, but it was starting to seem like it was very much like the guy, at least lately.

He'd have thought Kowalski would be a lunatic, a bundle of frustrated energy by now, but Kowalski had, instead, settled back onto the couch easily, closed his eyes, and apparently fallen peacefully asleep, fingers laced over his chest. Ray rubbed his own eyes and then stared at Kowalski, wondering how the hell he could sleep like that, knowing his own neck would be destroyed if he tried it himself.

They were nearing the two-hour mark when the pretty brunette receptionist came around the front desk and headed over to them. Ray looked up at her, and she gave him a smile and handed him a neatly-folded piece of paper.

Ray frowned. "What's this?"

"A gentlemen left it for you."

"When?" Ray demanded, and the girl's eyebrow went up.

"Last night. He left it at the front desk and described the two of you – in detail."

"You're just giving it to me now?" Ray sank back on the couch, not even mad, just weary.

"My shift just started," she said archly, and turned to head back to the desk.

"Thank you kindly," Ray called after her without much sarcasm.

"You're welcome," she said, turning back around on one heel and grinning, before swinging back around and heading off.

Ray watched her walk away. That had been a nice grin, and this was a nice view. So, hey, at least the trip hadn't been a complete waste.

He sighed and started unfolding the paper.

"So?" Kowalski hadn't changed position, but had his eyes open on the couch, looking at Ray from under his lids.

"Yeah." Ray studied the note. "It's Fraser. He's not here. He had to leave last night – suddenly, he says – and apologizes for not calling." Ray read further, then looked up at Kowalski. "He says the written word is becoming a lost art form and he thought we might appreciate a letter."

Kowalski rubbed his eyes and sat up slowly. "That's fabulous, Fraser. Really." He looked at Ray. "He's feeling guilty. The man reverts to Emily Post when he's feeling guilty."

"No kidding." Ray sighed, and folded the note back up neatly. "He wants us to meet him in Canada."

Kowalski didn't even blink. "Of course he does." He got to his feet slowly. "I'm not going to Canada tonight."

"No," Ray agreed.

"Let's get a room."

"All right."

"And then let's get a beer."

"Even better."

There was a decent bar within walking distance of the hotel, and nothing seemed like a finer idea. The bar was nice – old Boston, a nice level of dim, with a smooth wooden bar, and stools to sit on. It smelled good, too, like a bar should – like fresh-tapped beer and pretzels. There was a game on the TV over the bar, but not turned up loud – overlaid with the music from the honest-to-god jukebox in the corner, mostly older stuff, mostly 60s. Comfortable. Comforting. Sort of just exactly what Ray needed just about now.

That, plus a nice glass of beer – the glass had been chilled, he liked this place – with a half-inch of head on top, was essentially, perfectly what the doctor ordered. He took a long sip, sighed happily, settled in on the stool, and didn't think about Kowalski. Didn't know where the guy had wandered off to; didn't care. He was here to have a beer – to have several beers, if he had his way – and Kowalski could do…whatever it was that Kowalski did.

Which was, apparently, work the bar. Who knew? Kowalski was as worn-out and frustrated as Ray himself, but put a beer in the guy's hand, and put him a room full of people who were also very much enjoying a well-earned beer, and, well – the guy worked it. He started with the bartender – leaning on the bar as he asked for one of the beers on tap, giving her a brilliant smile and what Ray could have sworn was a wink, though that wasn't possible – no way the girl (who was far too young for Kowalski, by the way) would have gone for a wink, right?

But she gave him a smile, and a beer, and leaned forward over the bar to touch his hand as she said something to him in a low voice, and then they both laughed, and man, it was like Ray had never met this guy before, this Kowalski who had manners and charisma, who had charm, for god's sake.

There were a lot of words Ray had used to describe Ray Kowalski since they'd met. Charming? Had never been one of them.

Ray was too startled to even be put out by it. He just sat there and drank his beer and watched Kowalski. It never got any less surreal. Here was Kowalski, in his jeans (that, Ray noticed for the first time, he wore just on the good side of tight), in his t-shirt (which Ray had always considered wrinkled, but somehow, in the light of the bar, looked rumpled, and good), in his leather jacket that he took off and slung over the barstool next to Ray as he followed a girl with long brown hair onto the dance floor.

Ray halfway turned on his barstool to watch as Kowalski moved around the girl and managed not to look like a schmuck on the dance floor, managed to look good, as he slid one hand around to the small of her back, moved her across the floor in a way that looked – well. Ray looked away for a moment. Looked like they could put some privacy to use, if they had the opportunity.

The thing was, though, Ray couldn’t stop looking. Kowalski drew the gaze – and not just Ray's, it seemed. More than one head turned to watch, even as the song ended, and he pulled the girl close, then grinned at her and gave her a spin. She laughed, and he brushed her hair away from her ear, whispered something, and then – let her go.

She looked as surprised as Ray felt. She was a real pretty girl. But Kowalski – Ray didn’t know what Kowalski was on the look-out for tonight, but he hadn't found it yet.

He danced with another girl – a short-haired redhead this time – and let her go just the same way, before bellying up the bar and ordering another beer. The pretty bartender was busy with another customer, but Kowalski gave the same sort of smile to the guy who was taking his order. And the guy – who Ray would have sworn on his mother's grave could not have swung that way – looked startled for a second, then helplessly smiled back as he slid the bottle over the bar to Kowalski.

Kowalski turned around, leaning back against the bar as he tilted the bottle up and took a long swallow. Ray stared openly. Kowalski lowered the bottle and surveyed the bar. "What?" he said conversationally, not looking at Ray.

Ray shook his head slowly. "Not a damn thing, Kowalski."

Kowalski tilted his head to the side and looked at Ray out of the corner of his eye. "Good," he said, and the look in his eyes was hot. He pushed away from the bar, bottle dangling from his hand, heading across the room. Probably to break some other girl's – or, hell, guy's – heart. Ray carefully turned back to the bar and finished his pint in one long swallow. He gestured to the girl bartender for another one, and she gave it to him with a sympathetic look, and pushed the ten he offered her back across the bar. "Buyback," she said, but her gaze was across the room – at Kowalski, Ray just knew it.

He considered getting offended for a second, then sighed, and picked up the beer. He couldn’t argue with the sympathy – Kowalski had the whole bar in the palm of his hand, and there wasn't a soul there who didn't know it.

Ray had a feeling they might be in for some trouble tonight. Best to keep drinking, he thought, and took another sip. It seemed like a fine plan, still.

There wasn’t any trouble, as it turned out. None at all. There was rather a lot of beer, but nothing Ray couldn’t handle. And Kowalski was drinking, sure, and doing it steadily enough, but you never saw it on him that night, not like Ray had the night with the scotch and the Jacuzzi and – yeah. Kowalski seemed more together this time around, and maybe that was all the night was about. Letting off steam. You could chalk this whole thing up to that and move on, and that would be it.

Ray kept telling himself that the whole walk back to the hotel. Kowalski was ambling along beside him, neither of them sober, but not weaving or anything. Ray's hands ached from the cold, made him wish he'd brought gloves, but the cold air felt good on his face and they really weren't that far from the hotel.

And it was funny, how normal it all was, how they weren't talking, but how they weren't not talking. Just two guys headed back after a night out and there was nothing weird or off or wrong about it. The elevator ride was quiet but sort of comforting, Kowalski rocking back on his heels as he watched the numbers go by. When he headed out, he brushed against Ray's shoulder with his own. It was okay. They were okay.

It was fine. Only Ray couldn't stop thinking about that thing that he may or may not have seen. And he kept not thinking about it after they got back to the room, and as he brushed his teeth, and as he climbed into bed. Kowalski was already sprawled out in the other bed, facedown, unwashed, and down for the count. And Ray, as his eyes adjusted to the dark, watched him as he breathed slowly and tried very, very hard not to think about it.

About how Kowalski had worked that room, and gotten everyone's - everyone's - attention at one point or another. About how Kowalski only danced with the girls, but didn't seem to mind too much about whose eye he caught. Which Ray maybe wouldn't have particularly noticed, that much, only when he turned around to watch Kowalski work the dance floor, Kowalski was nowhere to be found. A quick scan of the room, Ray poised to get up to go find him if need be, found Kowalski tucked back in a corner, talking closely with some guy. The guy was a little taller than Kowalski, with dark hair, and was leaning in towards Kowalski, his whole body tilted forward like Kowalski was the fridge and the guy was the magnet. Kowalski's body language was – well, slutty. The way it had been the rest of the night. The two of them were sparking off of each other like nobody's business.

Certainly not Ray's business. He turned back to the bar and took a long sip of his beer. Not his business. Not his problem. He could leave right now. Should, probably.

But when he turned back around, his eyes sought out Kowalski. Who was working his way across the floor and disappearing into the men's room. As the door swung shut behind him, Ray glanced back over to the corner where he had been. Where the (tall, dark, good-looking) guy he'd been talking to finished his beer, put the bottle down, and made his slow, casual way over to the men's room as well.

Ray stared until the door swung shut behind the dark-haired guy, and then abruptly turned around in his chair, resolutely facing the bar. The bartender – the guy, this time – came over to him with a new draft that he hadn't gestured for, and Ray finished his beer in one long gulp and accepted the new one with a nod of thanks.

That was pretty much it. Not a whole lot to tell, and that was fine, that was good, that was goddamn terrific. Ray grimly drank beer at the bar, and Kowalski came out of the men's room a while later, by himself, and pulled his coat off the chair. "Ready?" he asked Ray as he shrugged into it.

And Ray – Ray just said, "Sure," and finished his beer, and left a tip on the bar that was far more than the beers he'd drunk called for.

Pretty much it, yeah. Only now – lying there, so fucking wide-awake, with Kowalski sleeping the sleep of the just-got-blown-in-a-bar-bathroom, Ray thought he might actually be losing his mind.

Because he couldn’t – could not - stop thinking about it. No matter how hard he tried, every time he closed his eyes, he got vivid images of it all happening. In fucking Technicolor, in 3-D, from every angle imaginable, he got images of this thing that he did not see and could not possibly confirm.

And yet. He saw it when he opened his eyes, too, tattooed over every curve of Kowalski's prone body. The image of Kowalski pushing that guy back into a stall in the bar bathroom, throwing the latch behind them, and giving the guy a wicked, wicked look before dropping to his knees.

Ray shut his eyes tight enough to see stars and determinedly turned over in bed to face away from Kowalski. No problem, no big deal, it didn’t even matter whether Kowalski had or hadn't – what did Ray care? Not much at all.

But – Ray squirmed around onto his back, staring at the ceiling once more – what if he had?

Because Kowalski – Ray was sure of it – Kowalski would. Kowalski would have no problem being on his knees in a filthy bar bathroom. Kowalski would shove that guy against the wall of the stall and not even care if anyone else walked in, not even care that they'd be able to figure out what was going on, just from the view from under the stall door. Kowalski would just get the guy's pants open, grinning up at him, all hot and promising, the whole damn time, and suck his cock into his mouth as soon as he had it out. He would blow that guy like it was his goal in life to get the guy off as hot and as good and as quick as he had ever had it. He'd pin the guy to the wall with a strong arm across his hips and belly, hold him there and suck him hard, and god, the guy wouldn’t be able to keep quiet, no way, would have his hand jammed in his mouth just to keep from begging for more.

God. God. Ray turned his head to press his hot cheek against the cool softness of the pillow. This was crazy. He was the crazy one here, not Kowalski, not Fraser, not anyone but him. He was lying there, thinking about this. Kowalski was snoring softly in a bed not two feet away from him in the dark hotel room, and Ray was hard as a goddamn rock, so turned on it was all he could do not to gasp out loud from it. He wanted to die; he wanted to jerk off. He wanted to not be lying here listening to Kowalski breathe and getting turned on by it.

He flipped over again, pressed his other cheek against the pillow, and looked at Kowalski across the narrow, dim expanse between their beds.

Maybe that wasn’t how it had happened. Maybe it was different.

Maybe Kowalski pushed the guy into the stall, sure, all tough and sure of himself, but maybe the guy was the one who kicked the door shut behind them, threw the lock, and then pressed Kowalski hard against the metal wall and kissed him like he'd been waiting to do it his whole entire life. Put his tongue in his mouth, and Ray would bet money that Kowalski just opened up for him. Let the guy push against him, let the guy get all the way in, wanted it, loved it.

And when the guy went to his knees on the bathroom floor there, Kowalski would fucking lose his mind over it. Let the guy pop the buttons on his jeans until his cock came out, hard as a rock and leaking all over the place and ready for it.

Jesus. Ray had his hand wrapped around his own cock under the covers, stroking it slowly, urgently, trying not to, but not actually trying that hard.

Across the way, Kowalski snored quietly.

The guy would take Kowalski in all the way, and Kowalski – god, he'd have his head thrown back, his throat a long, tan line, sweat gathering at the base of it as he tried to gasp quietly for breath as he wrapped his hand around the back of the guy's neck and tugged him in, fucking his face so slow and sweet that it was like making love.

Ray's hand was moving faster around his cock, and he sucked in a breath, trying hard to slow it down, make it last, because fuck, he was close, he was so fucking close.

In the other bed, Kowalski snorted in his sleep and turned over onto his back, one arm flung out, half off the bed.

Ray froze for a handful of seconds, then tightened his hold on himself and started moving slowly again.

In that dirty bar bathroom, his back braced against the cool metal divider, Kowalski would have his feet spread as far as they could go, his mouth open wide as he tried not to moan, his hips thrusting forward as he drove himself deep, deep into the guy's hot mouth. The guy would have his hands anchored on Kowalski's hips, his thumbs at first drawing circles over the soft skin there, later just holding on as Kowalski thrust forward, his breath coming in soft gasps as he got closer and closer, his hand clenching hard on the back of the guy's neck as he gasped, and gasped, and came, spurting into the guy's mouth over and over again…

Ray was biting the edge of the pillow as he jerked himself off there under the covers, shaking and coming so hard that it felt like he was falling to pieces. It hit him hard; he couldn't move or catch his breath for minutes afterwards; just kept his hot face turned into the pillow, his hand wrapped around his softening cock. His chest was heaving and he was shaking; he was making too much noise but couldn’t do one damn thing to stop it.

When he got himself together – when he managed to open his eyes, swallow, and take a breath – Kowalski was still breathing steady there in the next bed, limp and sprawled, not a care in the world, not a sign that he'd heard a thing.

Ray cleaned himself up, turned over, and tucked the pillow under his cheek. He fell asleep quickly, and he dreamt about nothing at all.

Ray thought that he was getting used to starting the day thick-headed and slow, which was maybe indicative of a problem. Kowalski was pretty much the same – the two of them stumbled out of the hotel into the sharp early-morning sunlight, Kowalski fumbling for his sunglasses while Ray just ducked his head against the sun and made a beeline for the car.

They stopped at Dunkin Donuts a couple of blocks away, Kowalski live-parking the way everyone in this city seemed to do, while Ray ran in and got them both large coffees, light and sweet in a way that you only seemed to be able to get in New England. When he got back to the car, Kowalski was slouched behind the wheel, arms crossed over his chest, eyes closed behind his shades. He looked up when Ray got in, and gave him a sincere grunt of thanks as Ray handed him the warm Styrofoam cup.

Still, you know, it wasn't that bad. This weekday travel worked out well, and they both generally perked up once Kowalski hit the turnpike and was able to really open it up. There was that moment – it had happened often on this trip – where the caffeine kicked in, and the road was smooth in front of them, and they whipped by all the other cars, the engine purring smooth as anything you could dream of.

Ray looked over at Kowalski, whose face looked young and unlined in the morning sun. "This is a sweet car. I'll give you that."

"Damn straight." Kowalski never took his eyes off the road, but his shoulders twitched with pride.

Fraser hadn't called by the time they had woven their way through Buffalo to the Peace Bridge over Grand Island. They hit a fair amount of traffic leading up to the border. They inched their way forward, the sun setting now, stark red against the horizon, visible in increments behind the booths of the border patrol.

Finally it was their turn and Kowalski breathed a sigh of relief as the GTO surged forward to stop next to the guard's window.

"Citenzenship?" The guard was an old white-haired guy, looking sternly down at them.


"Where are you going?"

"Canada," Kowalski responded.

Ray – he couldn't help it, he was over-tired – laughed out loud. Kowalski glared at him. Ray made a valiant effort, but as the guard looked down at Kowalski like he was a slow child, Ray just couldn't stop. Kowalski pressed his lips together and lowered his head slowly to rest it against the wheel. He banged it lightly there a few times.

Ray leaned past him to look up at the guard. "Toronto. To visit a friend."

"Pleasure visit?" The guard was talking exclusively to Ray now, clearly having dismissed Kowalski as a lost cause.

"Yep." Sure.

"How long are you staying?"

"As short a time as possible," Kowalski mumbled under his breath.

Ray smacked him on the thigh. "Couple of days," he said to the guard, who now just looked tired instead of suspicious.

"Okay." The guard stepped back into his booth, looking past them, clearly anxious to get this particular set of crazy Americans out of the way. "Go ahead."

"Thanks, officer," Kowalski said, putting the car in gear.

"Uh-huh," the guard said dryly.

Vecchio gave a wave as they crossed over into Canada proper. "Jesus, Kowalski," he said, leaning his head back against the seat, still laughing a little.

"Shut it," Kowalski said.

"Canada," Ray said. "I think he might have figured that out."

"Shut. Up."

"He maybe could have extrapolated."

"I mean it."

"What with being in this little booth. You know? On that place between two countries. I think they call it the border."

"I hate you."

"The border into Canada, I'm pretty sure."

"A lot." Kowalski sounded sincere.

"Oh, Stanley. You are a special guy."

"Yeah," Kowalski said glumly as he steered them towards Toronto. "I get that a lot."

Ray kept shooting Kowalski glances across the seat, as they rolled into Canada. He couldn’t stop thinking that last time Kowalski was in Canada, he was with Fraser. Last time, well, he was being pushed out of a plane by Fraser, and maybe that made a difference – maybe it was okay, because Kowalski was in control here, comfortable behind the wheel of the car he loved with all of his heart, and Fraser was, yeah, the reason they were doing this, but Fraser was nowhere in sight. Fraser was as much a ghost as anything else.

Ray knew as well as anyone that Canada was a trigger for Kowalski. That he'd stopped watching hockey after he'd come back from the adventure, that he walked away at any mention of the country, that he got strange and tense and quiet at any (albeit rare) mention of First Nations, or inukshuks, or curling, and he didn't even think it was funny, at all, when Ray found that article about the Inuit sculpture of a weasel being able to kill a caribou by crawling in through his anus, even though it sounds just exactly like some story Fraser would tell that could not, could not possibly be true, had to be a joke.

(Ray had thought it had maybe been long enough, that Kowalski could at least see the humor value there. But – too soon, apparently. Kowalski just shrugged one shoulder and said, "There you go, then." He sounded both hollow, and a little bit like Fraser, and the combination was unsettling.)

This wasn't anything, though. Proceeding into Canada was a non-event. Kowalski bitched amiably about the traffic into the city, about the crazy-assed cab drivers, about kilometers verses miles, and about the signs in both French and English.

But other than that – nothing. He just steered the car gracefully through the Toronto streets and didn't look upset or pissed off or anything. He wasn't checking his cell phone a lot, either – neither was Ray, like it was past that, like they weren't doing this for a reason anymore, like they were on this adventure just for the sake of being on it. Like, why wouldn't they go to Canada, you know?

Fraser wasn't in Toronto. Fraser wasn't going to be in Toronto until tomorrow. He'd gotten sidetracked, helping someone or fixing some problem, or being some kind of goddamn superhero. He'd called Ray just after they'd checked into a cheap hotel (they'd expected it to be crappy, but once you got inside, the rooms were actually really nice – cozy and clean).

"All right," Ray said to him. "All right. We'll see you tomorrow. Yeah, we'll be here, Fraser. Where else would we be?"

Kowalski, who had been sitting on the wide windowsill overlooking downtown Toronto, didn't even turn to look at Ray as he snapped the phone shut, instead just kept looking out the window, his face calm. "It's barely Canada, you know?" he said.

Ray looked at him, then down at the phone again, then got up and walked over to peer out the window over Kowalski's shoulder. "Well. It's sure as hell not the Northwest Territories."

Kowalski shot him a crooked grin. "Not even close. Look. Modern amenities. And not one person is driving a snowmobile."

Ray nodded solemnly, still looking out the window. "None of the buildings are even made out of logs."

"And I don't see a damn wolf in sight," Kowalski said agreeably.

"It's like Canada light," Ray offered, and Kowalski broke into laughter, ducking his head down as he cracked the hell up.

Ray clapped a hand on Kowalski's shoulder. "Come on," he said. "Let's go out and see how the civilized half of Canada lives."

"Right behind you," Kowalski said.

Ray knew how it started. He knew how it happened. He had all the facts in hand, had been there, seen it, done his part. But now, as he slipped the card into the lock of their hotel room and nudged the door open, standing back to let the girl, then Kowalski, go in first, he was still confused as to how it had all added up to this.

Kowalski didn't seem confused. Kowalski seemed focused. He followed the girl in – Nina, that was her name, she'd told them back at the coffee shop – and was standing close to her, leaning in, saying something quietly as he tucked her hair behind her ear. Then he leaned in and kissed her.

Ray leaned back against the closed door. He wished he was drunk. This might seem more logical drunk.

Nina had her arms around Kowalski, was pressing up against him, and looked pretty damn happy to be doing it. She was in her 30s, Ray thought, with short spiky hair that would have looked kind of like Kowalski's, only it was so dark it was almost black, and a little longer than his. Kowalski had his hands in her hair, holding onto her as he kissed her. Ray was still leaning against the door with sweaty palms, like this was high school, like he didn't know what he was doing. Like all of this hadn't seemed like a good idea at the time.

(It hadn't. Even back at the coffee shop, with Nina looking back and forth between the two of them and giving them a smile that said yes, it hadn't seemed like a good idea. Sure, it wasn't something you'd pass up – you didn't say no to a girl like this, a girl who was hot, and pretty funny, and seemed open to just about anything – but still, Ray had felt his stomach get tight when Kowalski grinned at her, then shot Ray the same exact grin, with the same exact promise he was giving Nina.)

Nina pulled away first, her lips all red and wet from the kissing, her hair crazier than ever from Kowalski's hands in it. She turned her head and looked at Ray, her eyes hot and dark. She looked good. She looked really, really good. "You joining us?"

Kowalski's hands were still on her waist, and he was looking at Ray, too, his eyes locked onto Ray's face, every line of his body inviting Ray closer.

Ray tucked his hands into his pockets, leaning back where he was. He lifted his chin at them, and gave both Nina and Kowalski his best suave smile. "You go ahead," he said, and his voice came out a little hoarse. "I'm watching."

Kowalski narrowed his eyes at him, but the girl got it. She turned back to Kowalski. "He's watching," she said. "C'mere." Kowalski was still looking at Ray, but Nina was the one who pushed her hand into Kowalski's hair this time, pulling his face down to hers. Funny - she'd looked formidable in the bright light of the shop, sure of herself as she indicated she was up for it, but here in the light of their nice hotel room, Ray realized how small she was. She was up on her toes in the scuffed black combat boots she was wearing (with skulls, Vecchio suddenly realized, stitched into the sides in a sort of pattern), angling her head to kiss Kowalski as he gave into it and put his hands up under her leather jacket, pushing it backwards off her shoulders onto the floor.

Ray watched, the picture of calm, loose there against the door, like he didn't have a care in the world, like this was something they were doing for him. It was a pose he'd perfected in Vegas, but inside, here, now, he was losing his goddamn mind. Watching the two of them together – she had pulled Kowalski onto the bed now. He was on top of her, her legs spread around him, her jeans tight around her hips as she pushed up against him – it was too much. Ray couldn't breathe right, and his throat felt too tight to swallow. He wanted to leave; he wanted to get on the bed with them. His cock was hard as a rock, but he didn't do anything, just leaned there, and watched.

It was funny, how she wasn't like anything either of them ever went for. Exact opposite of Stella, dark-haired and punk rock and easy, when Stella was none of those things.

Kowalski didn't seem to mind. Maybe Kowalski was a been-there, done-that kind of guy. Looking for the next best thing. Ray closed his eyes for a second, knowing that wasn't Kowalski at all; not even close. He just didn't know what the fuck was actually going on here, because from what he knew, Kowalski wasn't this kind of guy, either.

When Ray opened his eyes again, just a few minutes later, the scene had changed. Nina was straddling Kowalski's hips, rocking up against him as she looked down at him, grinning. Kowalski was breathing hard as he worked open the top button of her jeans, tugged down the zipper as best he could. She tightened her thighs around his hips, pushing down hard, and he gasped out loud.

Across the room, Ray felt a shot of heat through his whole body. Watching it was like feeling it, and god, that had to feel good. When he managed to drag his gaze up from the spot where Kowalski had left Nina's jeans open, she was watching him. Kowalski was, too. Ray swallowed, and relaxed his shoulders, slouching back there and nodding at them, like he was egging them on. Encouraging them. Getting off on this, just this, like this was all he was here for.

They were still working each other – Kowalski had slipped his hands into her jeans, around the sides and to the back, pushing them down slightly, revealing the soft skin of her back, dipping down to the (really fucking fantastic) curve of her ass. And that was great, it was terrific, it was terrific even to just watch, but Ray was fixated on Kowalski's fingers, how long they were as they traced their way inside Nina's jeans.

"Vecchio." Kowalski still had his gaze half on Ray, but his eyes kept fluttering closed as the girl rocked against him. "You still just watching?"

He said it like a challenge, and Ray just gave him a small, careful nod. "All right, then." Kowalski looked up at the girl, his gaze so hot Ray thought he might catch fire from all the way over here. "You up for it?"

Nina flashed him a grin, leaning back to strip her black t-shirt off. She was wearing a tiny bra underneath, and she arched back to undo the hook, shrugging out of it and tossing it to the side. Her breasts were small but perfect, filling Kowalski's hands as he slid them up her body to cup them. His thumbs traced over her hard nipples, and she moaned lightly. "C'mere," Kowalski said, trying to draw her down to him again, but she shook her head no. She shifted backwards, opening up his jeans, thumbing open the buttons one by one, being careful because Kowalski was clearly, seriously, hard. She left the jeans opened, and slid her hands up under Kowalski's t-shirt, pushing it up as she went, and hey, Kowalski's nipples were hard, too, and sensitive, seemed like, from the way he moaned as she traced her short fingernails over them.

She pushed the shirt further up, and he helpfully pulled it the rest of the way off over his head and tossed it aside. Nina grinned at him, kissed him lightly on the lips, and then hooked her hands in the top of his jeans, tugging them down and off as she moved backwards off the bed.

Ray took a deep breath and pushed off the door, moving to sit in the big, soft chair near the bed. His legs weren't going to hold him up any more, and he was so hard he felt a little lightheaded. He wasn't breathing right, and the way Kowalski looked, sprawled out on the bed there, so turned on he was panting for it, wasn't helping anything at all>.

Nina, standing at the foot of the bed, bent to quickly take off Kowalski's boots, then stripped off her jeans and then her little black panties, standing there naked for a handful of seconds, looking just gorgeous there in the dim light of the hotel room. She was watching Kowalski as she stood there, and kept watching him as she moved to climb on top of him.

Ray sucked in a breath as she moved up Kowalski's body, and when she wrapped her hand around Kowalski's cock, Ray reached down and undid his own pants, finally, finally pulling out his cock and wrapping his hand around it.

Nina was stroking Kowalski's cock as she leaned forward to kiss him.

"Jesus," Ray said under his breath. The two of them together on the bed there were beautiful, or hot, or profane. Maybe all three. This wasn't something Ray should be watching, but it wasn't something either of them should be doing – something any of them should be doing – and it was far past the point where Ray could stop it, or would want to.

Kowalski was ready, rock hard beneath Nina and rocking up against her, both of them moaning now, both of them wanting it, neither of them oblivious to Ray – he could feel it, feel their attention, their awareness of him through all of it - as Nina angled her body to fish the condom out of the tangle of her jeans on the floor, as Kowalski panted as she slid the condom onto him deftly, as Nina lifted herself up and slid down onto Kowalski.

Ray was slouched back, and he had his hand around his cock, but he wasn't moving, was hardly breathing. All he could do was watch, because what should have been sordid, downright dirty, was just sort of – beautiful. In its way. The way Kowalski's hands moved on her, touching her – not delicately, but fiercely, hanging onto her like he needed to anchor himself there.

And Nina – she wasn’t just along for the ride here. Ray couldn't take his eyes off of the curve of her back, the way she rode Kowalski, sure of herself, yeah, but that wasn't what drew the eye. She was in this – it was a pick-up, and it was, yeah, probably dirty, but she wasn't blank-eyed, wasn't drunk, wasn't doing this to hurt herself, or them. She was leaning down now, whispering in Kowalski's ear as his hands tightened over her hips, dragging her closer. She never stopped moving against him, and Ray watched with open lips as Kowalski drove up into her, wanting it, taking it.

Nina lifted her head, tilting it to look at Ray as she took Kowalski in deep, his fingers digging into her hips as he moaned and shook and came underneath her. Inside her.

Ray was looking into Nina's dark eyes and drawing uneven breaths.

She sat back on Kowalski, who was limp, spent, and, as she slowly slid him out of her and got up, he turned his head against the sheets to look at Ray as well.

And you know, naked girl walking towards you, all hot and sweaty and she just fucked your partner and all signs are pointing towards her coming to fuck you now – well, you pay attention to that, right? That was a no-brainer. The thing was, Ray had to keep dragging his eyes away from Kowalski. Because Kowalski was fucked-out on the bed, and Kowalski was watching him, with heavy-lidded eyes.

But just – fuck that. Fuck that. Kowalski had probably – no, definitively - blown some guy in a filthy bar bathroom not even twenty-four hours ago. Kowalski didn't matter, here. What mattered was Nina – Ray pulled his eyes back to her, and she was watching him, still with the crooked half-smile on her face. "Hey," she said to him softly, and she was naked, here, in front of him, naked and turned on, the nipples on her fantastic breasts hard, her breath still coming fast, the edges of her hair wet with sweat. All that from fucking Kowalski in front of him.

"Hey," he said, all gravelly, and tried to clear his throat, only here she was dropping to her knees in front of him. He sucked in a breath, and focused on her, kneeling there with her hands – man, she had little hands – resting lightly on his thighs. "You don't –"

He wanted to say, you don't have to do this. He wanted to give her an out. Only – that wasn't it, exactly. He just didn't really want her to – "Listen, you don't have to –"

She raised an eyebrow at him, a practiced move. "I'm not doing this because I have to." She lowered her head, and he could feel her hot breath against his dick. His dick didn't care what he wanted, or what she wanted. At all. "I don’t do anything because I have to," she said, and then she had his cock in her mouth, all the way down, swallowing him.

Ray's hands clenched on the arms of the chair, like he had to hold himself in place as she took him in. He was shaking, a little, and sweating a little, and his breath was coming fast and tight. Kowalski was on the bed, turned onto his side, watching them like they were TV, watching them like he was going to take notes on it later. Watching them like he couldn’t take his goddamn eyes away.

Ray shut his eyes and bit his lip, shoving his fingers into the spikes of Nina's hair and holding on as she sucked him, so hard and so good that if he kept his eyes shut tight enough – god. God. This was good, this was so fucking good and right and jesus, she was so smooth at this, sucking him down and – he could feel her working her hand between her own legs as she did so. Getting herself off as she sucked him, and she really didn't need either of them, not really, did she? This was something beyond Ray, and beyond Kowalski, and probably beyond Nina herself, if she'd ever admit it.

Ray held on as long as he could, finally gasping out a warning so she could pull off. She stroked him through it, one hand still between her own legs, panting against his thigh and coming herself even as he came all over his own stomach. Ray kept his eyes focused on her, watching her watch him. She had gorgeous eyes, she really did.

Afterwards – afterwards wasn't as weird as it maybe should have been. He'd touched her face, and she'd smiled, leaning her cheek against his thigh for a few seconds before pushing herself to her feet and padding over to the bed to grab her jeans. "Thanks," she offered, as she shimmied into them, then tugged her black t-shirt on over her head. "I gotta get going."

"Do you need money for a cab?" Kowalski asked quietly, as she sat down on the edge of the bed near him to pull her boots on, lacing them up quick and sure.

"I'm good." She ran her fingers through her hair, which was sticking up even more wildly than before, but looked good like that. "But thanks." She looked down at Kowalski for a second, her hands stuck into her back pockets as she studied him. "This was fun," she said finally.

"It was," Kowalski said, and he still had that sleepy, sated look – not on guard, not fronting, Ray didn't think. He didn't understand that, but Kowalski was acting like everything about this whole deal was fine.

"Mm." She leaned in, Ray thought maybe to kiss Kowalski, but instead she ran one finger over the edge of the tattoo on his bicep. "Champion," she said, then took her hand away. "Nice ink."

"Thanks." Kowalski was watching as Nina turned towards Ray.

"Fun?" she asked him, and Ray – his pants re-fastened, feeling a little more on his game – nodded and gave her a winning smile.

"Fun," he said.

"Mm," she said again, and leaned down, kissed him, hard, on the lips. "You sure?" she said, close to his face. He could see the eyeliner around her young eyes, a little blurred.

He nodded unevenly, and she kissed him again, quickly, and turned away. "Right." She hesitated by the door, her gaze traveling between the two of them. "Good luck," she said, and then she was gone.

Ray had his eyes on Kowalski, but Kowalski watched as the door closed heavily. "Right," he said, and laid back on the bed, the covers spread haphazardly over his naked body, his arm over his eyes. "I – yeah."

Ray stayed were he was for a handful of seconds, looking at Kowalski. "You good?" he asked finally.

"Me?" Kowalski said hollowly from under his arm. "Me, I'm great, Vecchio."

"Mm," Ray said, and heaved himself to his feet to go take a shower.

By morning, Fraser wasn't in Toronto any more, though how the hell either of them were supposed to have known that was beyond Ray. It was a sad set of events when it became normal to get up in the morning, from yet another hotel bed, find out that yeah, Fraser had once again moved faster than they had, but had left – of course – a note asking them to please, please be patient and please, please show up at some other place that was not where they were now. (Fraser was heading to Buffalo, it turned out. Who the hell ever went to Buffalo on purpose? But that was Fraser for you.)

Then they got in the car, and they drove. Because this, apparently, was what they did. It felt like they'd been doing this forever, and would be doing this forever. No end, no beginning, just endlessly chasing their tails. Or the Mountie, as the case may be. Same old, same old.

Midmorning, they stopped for coffee at a vast highway rest stop, mostly empty on this – what day was it again? Ray couldn't believe he had to think about that. Tuesday, maybe? – Tuesday morning, the wind rushing through the parking lot, sweeping trash and rubble in its wake. They'd put off making the daily phone call to Welsh till now (they'd shot fingers for it; Kowalski'd lost). Ray went in for coffee and doughnuts, while Kowalski leaned against the car and glumly dialed his cell phone. By the time Ray got back, Kowalski was still talking to Welsh. Not a good sign. Ray rested the cardboard cup on the hood of the GTO and crossed his arms, listening.

"No. No. Yeah, I do – Yeah, we both - we just – yes, sir." Long pause, and Kowalski had the fingers of one hand pressed against his eyes. "Yes. Right. I hear you." He pulled the phone away from his head with a sudden movement, and Ray could hear the tinny echo of Welsh's voice. Not screaming. Just loud in the way he had that was like no one else.

Ray winced in sympathy, and Kowalski rolled his eyes, shaking his head as he brought the phone back to his ear. "Yes. For you. We work for you." Long pause and then, "Yeah. We will. We are. We're going to. Right. I –"

He stopped talking, clearly cut-off mid-sentence, and snapped the phone shut with a gloomy sigh. "Fuck me," he said. He threw open the door on his side of the car, then kind of just lost all energy, crossing his arms against the frame and letting his head sag down against it.

"Hey." Ray pushed off the car where he'd been leaning. Kowalski didn’t move. Every line of his body radiated defeat. "Come on. This isn't the worst thing we've ever had to do for Fraser's sake."

"Did you like your job, Vecchio?" Kowalski asked, his voice muffled against his arms. "I liked my job." He paused. "Sort of. Most of the time."

Ray stood there, staring across the windy parking lot, with his hands tucked into the pockets of his long coat. "Do we still have jobs?" he asked carefully.

Kowalski made a sound that was half-laugh. "Right now? Yes. If we're not back with our asses in Welsh's office in a pretty short amount of time?" Kowalski shoved back off the car and turned around, leaning back against the frame with a sigh. "It's anyone's guess. God knows I wouldn't necessarily blame Welsh for canning us."

"We're good cops, Stanley." Ray studied him, leaning there, looking gray and tired.

"You think?" Kowalski looked at him. "From the way we can't keep up with Fraser – "

"Who the hell ever could keep up with Fraser?" Ray moved closer.

Kowalski made that tired laugh sound again. "Not me."

"Me either." And without even thinking about it, Ray was crowding Kowalski up against the side of the car. Kowalski's hands came up, as though he was going to shove him away, but as Ray kissed him, Kowalski moaned, and his hands clenched against Ray's shoulders. They stayed like that for what seemed like a long time, Kowalski's hands eventually moving down from Ray's shoulders, slipping under his coat and around his waist, his hands cold through the fabric of Ray's shirt.

Ray made himself pull back finally, shivering as Kowalski drew his hands out of his coat. Ray looked at Kowalski for a long second, then did a quick scan of the parking lot, still mostly deserted. Kowalski just slouched there against the car, color high in his face, looking a little amused. "Let's just go, yeah?" Ray said. "While we still have jobs. Buffalo isn't that far."

Kowalski gave him disbelieving eyes, but he pushed off the side of the car. "Yeah, it is." He fished the car keys out of his pocket.

"It's practically on the way," Ray offered, moving around to his side of the car.

Kowalski, one foot in the wheel well as he made to step in, snorted incredulously. "On the way to where, Vecchio?" he asked, then stepped out of the car again, tossing the keys in Ray's general direction.

Surprised, Ray still caught them deftly.

"You drive." Kowalski made his way amiably around to the passenger seat, nudging Ray out of the way as he went past. "I'm not going to be the one who gets us to Buffalo."

Ray wrapped his fingers around the keys. They were still warm from Kowalski's pocket. "You just want this whole thing to be my fault."

"Yep." Kowalski slid into the car, shutting the door behind him. "Well." He leaned over to look up at Ray through the open driver's door. "Yours and Fraser's. Of course."

"Of course." Ray got behind the wheel. "This is a sweet-ass car, Kowalski. You know that, right?"

"I do know." Kowalski grinned as Ray slid the key into the ignition, giving a small moan as he turned it, the engine turning over beautifully, beautifully, purring like a kitten. "You're gonna love this."

"I already do," Ray murmured as he put the car in gear and eased it forward, out of the parking lot and onto the open road.

Buffalo was everything Ray thought it would be, which was really not very much at all. Buffalo in March was as dim and dreary as you might expect, and everything looked closed down, shut off, defeated by the long, dragging winter, the heavy snows and the blasting winds. Buffalo in March had surrendered to the weather.

Ray felt like Buffalo looked.

Kowalski was sacked out in the backseat. He'd crawled back there an hour or so ago, using his coat as a blanket, pulled up over his head as he lay there. Ray didn't mind - he liked the quiet, actually, and he felt like he was getting a chance to think for the first time since they'd left Chicago.

Though, mostly what he kept thinking about was that he really, really hoped they'd find Fraser here. Because if this kept going - this endless cycle of hotel rooms, bars, beer, and…Kowalski - Ray didn't know if he'd end up keeping his sanity. He remembered, not that long ago, when his life was just being partnered with Kowalski on cases. When, yeah, they did work for Welsh, and he sort of wanted to get back to that life.

Though - he glanced over his shoulder to where Kowalski was dead asleep in the back seat, his face hidden by the collar of his coat - he was uneasy about that, too. Because what happened when they got back? Would things just shift back into place, the same way they had so quickly and alarmingly jolted out of position when they started this thing?

In the end, the way it played out was surprisingly simple, as these things go. Sure, there were shots fired, and yeah, the guy Fraser was chasing had a rolling suitcase full of explosives, not to even mention the surprise Uzi he had tucked inside his coat, but hey, Ray and Kowalski had managed to catch up to Fraser – finally, finally - just as he had the guy cornered in some public park over on the edge of town and was very intently and engagingly asking him for the Uzi, the explosives, and his family history.

The guy was giving up the history – some ancestor of his had fought in the War of 1812, apparently, and this guy still resented the shit out of the Americans - all Americans – for invading. And, you know, winning. This guy wanted to show Americans how it was done – stage his own invasion, via these explosives, to start some sort of international incident.

Only it was harder than he'd thought it would be, and he wanted to know how Fraser had figured it out anyway.

"You have to be careful about the company you keep, son," Fraser said to him steadily, from where he stood directly in the sights of the Uzi.

Ray gestured at Kowalski that he was going to head around the tool shed where the guy was standing, to outflank him, and Kowalski nodded, never really taking his eyes off of Fraser.

"They talked?" The guy's grip on the Uzi wavered, and Fraser took a careful step forward.

"They always do, I’m sorry to say." Ray had worked his way forward through the treeline, far enough to see that Fraser's face had a moue of compassion, like he really meant it, and hell, maybe he did. He shot a quick look at the guy's face – the kid looked ready to cry.

"They said they would help me."

"People say a lot of things for money. You paid them quite a lot, didn’t you?"

"Yeah." The guy stared glumly down at the rolling suitcase beside him.

Fraser moved forward, shaking his head. "Money doesn't buy loyalty."

"That sucks." The Uzi was pointing at the ground now, and Ray was close, but Fraser was closer, and took it out of the guy's hand before he could even blink.

"It does indeed," Fraser agreed, one arm firmly on the guy's arm, while he passed the Uzi back with his other hand, not even looking but somehow knowing that Kowalski was right there to take it.

Ray watched as Kowalski slung it over his shoulder, and grabbed the guy's other arm. "You have the right to remain silent," Kowalski offered, sounding congenial as he handcuffed him.

Ray sighed, and took hold of the handle of the suitcase, rolling it and its unsteady contents carefully back to town as Kowalski finished reading the kid his rights and Fraser stood tall and proud, giving both Ray and Kowalski a grateful look.

Even in shitty little cities, these things take time, and it was late by the time they wrapped things up with the sheriff. In the end, they stayed the night with Mrs. Milner – this sweet, gray-haired old lady with a mouth like a truck-driver. It was interesting to see Fraser's respect for the elderly completely trump his aversion to cursing – he didn't even blink as she cursed at the stove for not heating the water for tea fast enough. She was really nice, though, and they were tired enough not to argue about the lodgings.

"I met Mrs. Milner yesterday – she let me use the attic in order to view the goings-on in the barn next door." He smiled down at her, and she winked - winked - at him and patted his hand.

"Constable Fraser asked so nicely, I couldn't say no. How the hell do you refuse this face?" She reached up to pat his cheek with one wrinkled hand.

"It is extremely accommodating of you," he said to her. "I appreciate it very much."

"Don’t be ridiculous." She peered up at him. "I'm not going to let you sleep at some goddamn overpriced motel when I've got bunkbeds in the boys' room, and a perfectly usable couch."

"You are too kind," Fraser said, while Ray looked over at Kowalski, who was sitting uncomfortably on the couch. Bunkbeds? he mouthed, and Kowalski shrugged one shoulder. He looked tired. He looked completely worn-out, actually, even though today hadn't even been that bad, as days with Fraser went. There were only one or two gunshots and zero hospital visits. Ray counted that as a win.

Fraser glanced over at them. "I'll take the couch," he said valiantly. "You two should get some sleep. We'll need to leave early in the morning."

Kowalski nodded, yawning hugely even as he got up from the couch. "No problem. You sure about the couch?"

Ray looked at the horsehair monstrosity, which looked about as comfortable as Mrs. Milner's wood pile out back. Fraser, however, was nodding enthusiastically. "Of course, Ray."

"You're good boys," Mrs. Milner said, clasping her hands in front of her. "You make an old lady feel safe."

Ray and Kowalski thanked her, as she pointed them up the stairs to what had been her sons' room, probably about twenty-five years ago, from the dates on the baseball trophies and the posters of Brooke Shields on the wall. Mrs. Milner kept it dusted and immaculate, however, and the beds were neatly made. Ray eyed the top bunk wearily, but Kowalski gave him a wave as he sat down in the scarred wooden desk chair and pulled off his boots. "I'll take it. It's okay."

"Thank Christ." Ray didn't argue it, sitting down on the bottom bunk and toeing his shoes off. "I don't think I could take climbing after today."

"Don't you get used to it eventually?" Kowalski asked with a tired grin, standing up to stretch.

"I guess." Ray scrubbed his hands over his face, then turned his head to watch as Kowalski stripped off his pants and slowly climbed up the ladder at the foot of the bunk beds in his t-shirt and boxers. The bed creaked overhead as Kowalski settled himself. Ray got up and took off his pants and his shirt, laying them neatly over the back of the desk chair.

Kowalski was on top of the covers in the upper bunk, face down, head buried in the pillow. "Light," he said, muffled, and Ray nodded to himself, and flipped the switch, sending the room into darkness. He felt his way over to the bed, his hand sliding along the edge of the top bunk before he sighed and slid into the bottom one. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he looked up at the springs above him and listened to Kowalski's breathing. He was probably asleep. Almost definitely. He'd looked half dead, and when it came right down to it, who could blame him after the day they'd had?

Ray didn't remember falling asleep, and he didn't remember waking up. All he knew was the sound of the door closing, like someone trying to do it quietly. The latch catching into place was loud in the darkness, though, and Ray was suddenly, stridently awake. He lay there for a few minutes, waiting for Kowalski to come back, but there was no sound except the squeak of the stairs.

Every nerve in Ray's body was thrumming as he got out of bed and eased the door open. Sure, the stairs squeaked, but Ray had grown up in an old house – he knew just how to ease his way from step to step in the quietest way possible. The lights were all off downstairs, still, but there were soft voices coming from the living room.

Ray made his way quietly to the doorway of the living room and stood there with his back to the wall, listening to the muted conversation. Kowalski was talking softly, intensely, and for a handful of moments, Ray couldn’t even hear him over the frantic beating of his own heart.

"…and you don't know, Fraser, you have no fucking idea how things went down –"

"I'm sorry –"

"You should be," Kowalski said stiffly. "You fucking should be, okay? You can't do that. You can't call like that and not tell me – not tell us a goddamn thing."

"It just never seemed quite timely –" Fraser sounded contrite in that not-quite-true way of his, when he was kind of judging you for not understanding.

"Fuck timely." Kowalski's voice rose. "You were yanking my chain. This isn't what we do. Not anymore."

"Ray," and here Fraser just sounded so sad that Ray nearly went in. "That wasn't my intention."

"You just don't get it at all, do you? I was settling in, Fraser." Kowalski was silent for a long moment. "I was getting – past it." There was a whole world there in his voice, and Ray found he was holding his breath. "And then you called." He laughed, shortly. "You called Vecchio."

"I didn't think it through," Fraser said softly. "I thought it might make it – easier."

"You were wrong."

"I'm sorry, Ray." And the thing was, this time Fraser meant it for real. Ray could hear it in his voice. "I didn't realize - things happen very quickly sometimes."

"Around you, yeah. I remember." There was quiet rustling, and Ray took a breath, held it, and tilted his head just enough to peer around the wide living room doorframe.

Kowalski was on the floor next to the couch, with his knees up and his head bowed. Fraser was sitting up on the couch in the middle of his covers, looking down at the back of Kowalski's neck. He looked sorry. He looked – lonely. "I suppose calling you was just – instinct."

"You knew I'd come." Kowalski rubbed the back of his neck tiredly.

"I suppose," Fraser murmured, sounding a little guilty. As Ray watched, he reached out one hand hesitantly, but pulled it back before he actually touched Kowalski.

Kowalski tilted his head to the side, looking up at Fraser. "I missed you."

"I missed you, too." It sounded like it hurt him to say it.

Kowalski bent his head to either side tiredly, cracking his neck, then rubbing it with one hand. "Things are good up in the great white north?"

Fraser nodded, still looking down at Kowalski in the dark. Ray slowly pulled back till he was leaning against the wall again, outside the living room. He was going to head back upstairs any minute, he really was. He needed sleep. They all needed sleep.

Fraser was talking quietly about things up there, referencing people and places that Ray had never heard of, but that Kowalski clearly knew pretty well. Kowalski was asking questions about neighbors, stores, all sorts of things that only someone who had lived up there – really lived up there, done it whole hog, just the way Fraser did every day – would know enough to ask about.

Ray leaned against the wall there for a long time, listening to the quiet conversation, before heading upstairs, taking the same care in going up as he had coming down. The sheets on his bed were cold when he got back in and he shivered, pulling the thick plaid blanket close around his shoulders. It took him a long time to fall asleep, and Kowalski wasn't back by the time he did.

He woke up all at once, to weak, early morning sunlight barely filtering in around the shades. Kowalski was kneeling next to his bunk, his hand on his shoulder, shaking him awake. As Ray blinked his eyes open, confused, half-asleep, slow, Kowalski leaned in close, saying, "Vecchio, you –" and then pressed his lips together, shook his head fiercely, and leaned in to kiss Ray.

Ray sank back against the pillow as Kowalski slid half on top of him, kissing him like he couldn't stop, so hot and desperate that Ray didn't know if he was asleep or awake. Kowalski's hands were clutching at him, and he was freezing, his hands so cold Ray could feel it through the covers, his nose pressing cold against Ray's cheek. Ray's hands came up to hold on, pull Kowalski in, and Kowalski moaned into his mouth.

"Shh," Ray said, trying to pull back, but Kowalski shook his head determinedly, and pulled him into one of those mind-numbing kisses again.

Ray was gasping when he pulled away, and hard. "Stanley," he said hoarsely. "What the fuck."

Kowalski was looking down at him, so close Ray could feel the heat of his breath against his mouth. "Nothing," he said. "I just – it's late."

"It's early," Ray said dryly.

"It's five AM," Kowalski allowed, yawning hugely. "Go back to sleep." He pulled away, leaving Ray chilled and confused. He watched, perplexed, as Kowalski's hairy legs scaled the ladder and Kowalski settled heavily on the top bunk.

"You woke me up," Ray said accusingly to the springs in the top bunk.

"Are you complaining?" The springs squeaked as Kowalski shifted.

Ray frowned, adjusting his hard-on in his shorts. "Well. Yes." He shivered, cold under the covers all of a sudden, when he'd been perfectly fine before.

"Sorry," Kowalski mumbled sleepily.

"Lot of good that does me," Ray said, then realized he was very likely talking to himself here, as Kowalski was breathing deeply, clearly having fallen asleep. The guy was like a kid, running himself ragged until he was out like a light.

Ray kicked at the covers and turned over, yanking them over his head to block out the sun lightening the window. He hated Kowalski. He was pretty sure he hated Fraser, too. And he definitely hated bunk beds. He fell back asleep, sullenly.

Returning to Chicago was a non-event, as weird as every other goddamn thing on this road trip had been. It was surreal, as the two of them wound their way through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, heading slowly but inexorably towards Chicago. It was a long trip – tons of traffic, more than they'd run into all week, and after all these days in the car, it was as though they'd run out of things to say to each other. Kowalski kept the radio on the whole way – not loud, but enough to break up the silence that seemed to have settled over them.

It wasn't a bad silence – Ray preferred it to the forced conversation they'd had over Mrs. Milner's breakfast table, and to the too-hearty goodbyes in her front yard. They'd left Fraser in Buffalo – he was catching a ride to the border with a – "well, a rather good friend of a neighbor of mine in Inuvik, who happened to be in town gathering supplies for a – well, that's not important, but what is important is that he is more than happy to transport me to the border, and rather than asking the both of you to backtrack, as it were, I thought it might be prudent – "

By that point, Kowalski had his head resting on the roof of the car and Ray gave Fraser a rather too-hearty clap on the shoulder to shut him up. "We get it, Benny."

"Ah. Well, good, then." Fraser looked nothing if not relieved, and if Ray were to be completely honest with himself, that was how he felt, too.

And now they were crawling into the city, and shouldn't rush hour be over by seven at night? Where were all these people going, anyway? Why weren't they home with their wives and children, having a home-cooked meal with their shoes off? It didn’t make any sense at all. None of this fucking thing did.

"You know Welsh is going to kill us, right?" They were idling at the longest red light in the history of forever. Which was all right with Ray, because at this point he had pretty much accepted that he was never going to see his home and family again, that the rest of his life was going to be spent crawling though traffic in the less savory parts of this fair city. And hey, if you had to do it, the GTO was the place to be, so really, who was he to complain?

"Yeah," Kowalski said shortly, looking out the window at the vacant glow of the arc-sodium lights, flickering in the darkness.

The light changed – would wonders never cease – and Kowalski palmed the wheel through a wide right turn as he slouched back in the seat, a toothpick in the corner of his mouth. Ray felt Kowalski glancing at him from the corner of his eye, but Kowalski didn't say a word, just pressed down on the gas as he guided them through the streets of this city Ray knew like the back of his very own hand.

He shut his eyes, the glare from the streetlights suddenly giving him a headache for no reason at all, and he laid his head back against the leather headrest, listening to the smooth hum of the engine as Kowalski shifted gears.

When he opened his eyes, as the car glided to a stop, they weren't at his family's house. They weren't at Kowalski's place, either, and they weren't at the precinct. They were nowhere Ray would have thought, and when he turned to give Kowalski a sharp look, Kowalski was already getting out of the car, slamming the door shut behind him.

Ray ducked his head, squinting out the window. They were parked in a dim alley, near the back door of a bar that was nowhere near his place, or Kowalski's place, or the precinct, for that matter. Kowalski was already disappearing through the thick security door in the back, giving the guy manning it a handshake and probably some cash as he went through.

Ray got out of the car with a sigh. He was tired, and he needed sleep. And a meal. And a bed. But more than that, he needed a drink, and here was where Kowalski came in handy – few enough explanations, but sometimes, none were needed. Ray approached the back door cautiously, but the guy nodded, his arms crossed impassively over his chest, and Ray just let himself in.

The bar was just right – not too quiet, not too noisy, and the music hadn't been made in this decade, which was more than all right by Ray. The bar was thick wood, the stools were rough leather, and by the time his eyes had adjusted to the darkness and spotted Kowalski's spiky hair across the room, there was a nice thick glass of whiskey sitting on the bar in front of the empty stool next to Kowalski.

So, hey, you know, things could have been worse.

And maybe that was where the evening spun out of control. The simple moment of Ray getting out of the car, because he didn't want to go home. It was all he had been thinking about for six days straight now, and just – now that he was here, he didn't know what he'd do with himself if he had to walk in that door to his mom, his sisters, his same old room with the same old bed that he'd been longing for for days now. He just – didn't want that. Not now. Not yet.

Instead, he got out of the car. Instead, he walked into this bar. Instead, he sat down on this bar stool next to Kowalski and picked up this drink.

Any of which – maybe all of which – led to everything that happened later. Led to this. Led to Ray shoved up against the wall in this bar bathroom stall, Kowalski pressed up against him with his tongue in Ray's mouth and his hand down Ray's pants, humping up against his leg and Christ, Kowalski was going for it, here.

"Jesus," Ray panted against Kowalski's cheek. "Just – come on, Stanley, - " Stop, he had been going to say. Fucking stop this. They weren't on the road anymore, and this wasn't – they didn't – it was so fucking stupid to do this here, now, it wasn't –

"Come here," he said, because all of a sudden, all he could fucking think of was how Kowalski had kissed him that morning – Christ, had it only been that morning? – in the muted morning light, in the fucking bunk bed, kissing him so hot and fierce and leaving Ray awake and wanting more. He'd wanted more, and now he fucking had more, he had all of it, he had everything. He had Kowalski up against him, wanting him so bad he would – was going to - do him right here in the bathroom, where anyone at all could walk in at any time.

And Ray wanted to argue, wanted to walk out, but – "God, fuck, yeah, just –" He pushed against Kowalski, reversed them, slamming him up against the metal partition so hard it shook from floor to ceiling. He took a quick second to thank god the room was empty, then kissed Kowalski fiercely. All day – all fucking day long – Ray had been sitting beside him in the passenger seat, the car thrumming underneath them. Through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, he'd just rode it out and done nothing – nothing - so you know what? He was making up for it now. He had Kowalski's jeans opened, one-handed, the buttons popping, and he shoved his hand inside Kowalski's shorts, wrapping it around Kowalski's cock as he kissed him. Kowalski moaned into his mouth so loud that Ray finally tore away, slamming his other hand over Kowalski's mouth so hard his head hit the partition.

"Shut up," he hissed in Kowalski's ear, still working his cock. "Shut up, you have to be quiet, I'm going to stop doing this -" Like he would. Like he could. – "- if you don't shut the fuck up, okay? This is stupid." He dropped to his knees, dragging Kowalski's jeans down to his thighs as he did so. "This is so fucking stupid," he muttered again, and took Kowalski's cock in his mouth.

And you had to give the guy credit, because he stayed quiet. His hands were clenched on Ray's shoulders and he was fucking Ray's mouth like the end of the world was fucking imminent, but he was quiet, sucking in his breath and holding it, hanging onto Ray's shoulders like he was going to fly to pieces if he let go.

Ray, for his part, swallowed Kowalski's cock down and thought dizzily that he was maybe the happiest he'd ever been, down in his knees in this perfect Chicago bar bathroom, making Kowalski lose his mind up above him there. Kowalski's hips were thrusting into Ray's face, and Ray took it, he took it all, and did it happily, because this was perfect, this was all he could ask for, here, and Kowalski was giving it to him. Was giving him every-fucking-thing.

"Fuck," Kowalski said softly, frantically, breathing it out and making every nerve in Ray's body sizzle. "Oh, fuck, oh fuck -" And he was so quiet about it, but his hips were tense under Ray's hands and he was shoving into Ray's face like he couldn't help it, and maybe it was a warning, but Ray didn't care, could not have possibly fucking cared less for love or money. He pressed Kowalski against the wall harder, his thumbs digging into Kowalski's hips like he was trying to hold him there permanently as he sucked his cock in deep, deeper, and Kowalski said, faintly, "Vecchio. Vecchio. Fuck, just – fuck, Vecchio."

He sounded lost up there, and he shook like he was falling apart as he came in Ray's mouth.

Afterwards – whatever. Afterwards was afterwards. Kowalski hauled Ray to his feet, grabbing his arm in a firm grasp and pulling him in for a hot, hot kiss. He reached for Ray's pants, and just his fingers brushing against Ray's cock through the fine fabric made Ray gasp, but the door opened just then, and they froze against the partition, Ray's hand taut around Kowalski's wrist, both of them holding still, still, still until the other guy used the urinal and then left.

That was close enough for Ray, and the two of them scrambled out of the stall, paid their tab without making too much eye contact with the bartender, and left through the same back door they'd come in by.

Ray was suddenly – deeply – tired. His bones ached. His eyes ached. He felt like he could hardly lift his feet, and he was in no shape to drive, and hoped like hell Kowalski was. He was making his way over to the passenger side, concentrating on not tripping over his own feet, when suddenly Kowalski was at his elbow.

"Hey," Kowalski said, still quiet. "Hey." And then he was pressing Ray back against the side of the car, kissing him in this way that was – slow and sweet and hot, everything and nothing to do with sex, kissing him like he always had been kissing him, always would be kissing him. And Ray – tired, shot, done - just let it happen, kissed him back, and he was dizzy when Kowalski finally let him go.

"Get in the car, Vecchio." The corners of Kowalski's eyes crinkled as he unlocked the door, pushed Ray in with a gentle hand on his arm. "I'll take you home."

"I don't want to –" Ray shut his mouth, shut his tired mouth. It didn't matter what he wanted.

"Don't worry." Kowalski pushed the door shut beside him, and in the sudden silence of the car, in the moments it took Kowalski to make his way around to the driver's side, Ray felt alarmingly on the verge of tears. Just for an instant, then Kowalski yanked the door open, and Ray blinked in the suddenly bright interior light.

"Don't worry," Kowalski said again, and his hand rested warm on Ray's knee for a second before he pushed the keys into the ignition and the car started with a smooth roar.

"Right," Ray said faintly, as Kowalski guided the car out of the alley.

"Right," Kowalski confirmed, as he looked both left and right before pulling out. "I got it." He guided the car steadily away from the Vecchio homestead and Ray felt some tension in his stomach ease up.

"Sure thing." Ray leaned his head back and shut his eyes. Kowalski had it. That was for damn sure.

And the thing was, things went back to normal. This was Chicago, not Toronto (or Baltimore, or Boston, or Buffalo for that matter), and things just fell back into place. Ray got up in the morning, kissed his mother goodbye, and headed out to work the same as he'd pretty much always had. Sure, there'd been some flack from Welsh for their sudden disappearance, but the thing about Welsh was, he cared more about good detective work than he did about procedure. A few weeks - more like a month, really - of the two of them getting every shit case that came across his desk was the only real punishment. They solved the cases, too, every damn one of them, which went a long way towards assuaging Welsh's temper.

So, it wasn't that bad.

None of it was bad, really. It was sort of just the way things went. Fraser was up in Canada, Ray was back in his own bed, and Kowalski was just his partner and nothing else. The way it should be. Because road trips were just that - off the beaten path of the everyday life, and if Ray Vecchio ever gave a blowjob in a bar bathroom, well, it wasn't this Ray Vecchio.

It wasn't at all hard to convince himself of that. Ray Vecchio had never killed anyone in Vegas, either. Not this Ray Vecchio.

It was the way it always had been. It was good. He went to work every day, and if he and Kowalski didn't work better together since the road trip, they didn't do any worse. If he was pressed, Ray would have to say that he essentially hadn't had very many problems with partnering with Kowalski even beforehand. If he was really pressed, he'd admit (not to just anyone, but still) that a lot of his bluster back at the start was just for show.

When he wasn't working, he was home, like always. Eating dinner with his crazy family (made crazier by Frannie's virgin-born brood, but still, nothing new under the sun in the Vecchio household), falling asleep watching TV sometimes, sometimes staying up long, long past when the rest of the family went to bed, drinking slowly and quietly on the couch, staring up at the ceiling and making a point to not finish off the bottle of scotch at any one go, no matter how much he wanted to.

Same old.

Ray Vecchio had friends - buddies, guys to hang out with, guys to drink with, sure. The thing was, he'd lost touch with a few when he was partnered with Fraser for such a long time - who wanted to hang out with the two of them together, with Fraser offering obscure facts about the American buffalo ("Bison, actually," Fraser corrected him, "It's a common misnomer, given that both bison and buffalo are part of the family Bovidae. However, the term 'buffalo' actually refers only…" And that was pretty much where Ray stopped listening.). And that was not to even mention the two of them smelling like some sewer they'd crawled through or garbage bin they'd landed in more often than Ray really would have liked.

He'd lost a few more when he disappeared to Vegas. Friends didn't stick around (unless they were Fraser, which you had to admit was a special case) when a blond Polack with an attitude took your place, and he wasn't really surprised to find out that friends didn't come back to you when you returned from a couple of years doing who knows what in Vegas.

That made the few people close enough to know about it twitchy, and Ray couldn't argue that that was anything other than rightfully so.

So, it left him with his family, who he loved, but god help him if they became his sole social outlet. And it left him with Kowalski.

Who Ray had to admit he wasn't very anxious to invite for a drink anytime soon. It would make it a whole lot more difficult to forget everything that had happened last time.

So where was he, then? In Chicago. Sleeping alone in the room he'd had since he was a kid. Good job, good car (…great car), best friend in the world up there in Canada, and, here in the city, a pretty damn good partner who he was afraid to have a goddamn beer with.

Where Ray Vecchio was, then, was a pretty sad place.

Which is why - blowjobs be damned - he ended up asking Kowalski out for a drink after work.

Kowalski looked up, surprised. "Sure."

"Good." Ray tilted back in his desk chair, studying Kowalski.

"What?" Kowalski demanded.

Ray made himself shrug smoothly. "Nothing. I just wasn't sure you'd want to."

"Why wouldn't I want to? We're going to a bar. There's beer there. I like beer." Belligerent. His hair going in all directions. Glasses slightly askew on his loud-mouthed face.

Ray grinned and tilted back further. "I knew you liked beer. Wasn't sure if you liked me." He was half-holding his breath, going for lazy, careless, possibly annoying, definitely indifferent.

Kowalski glared at him. "Maybe I just like beer more than I hate you."

Something eased up inside Ray's chest and he dropped his feet to the ground, getting up smoothly. "I can live with that." He walked away from Kowalski's chest, happy adrenaline surging through his veins. He could feel Kowalski's eyes on him as he walked away.

So later they had that drink, and Ray paid for the first round, Kowalski belligerently not reaching for his wallet. "You asked me to come here." He took a long sip of his beer. "Wasn’t my idea. You pay."

"Am I arguing?" Ray asked mildly, sliding back into his seat, setting his own beer neatly on the napkin on the small corner table. The small corner table that Kowalski had been the one to choose, leading the way back there, avoiding the main bar area altogether. Kowalski sat with his back to the rear wall, and Ray, who couldn't ever really sit comfortably if he couldn't see the door, just turned his own chair sideways, so he could keep an eye on Kowalski and the door, both. "I'm not arguing."

"Just making sure." Making sure of what, Ray had no idea, but he sort of really liked the idea that he'd thrown Kowalski so off-balance just by suggesting they go out for a beer. Kowalski had been way more belligerent than usual all night, which was saying something. But he'd said yes and he'd shown up, which were two things Ray hadn't been sure of at all. And he really did seem more relaxed than he had in the weeks since they'd gotten back to Chicago – even if, for Kowalski, relaxed was this guarded, suspicious stance he'd taken.

Still. Ray took another sip of his beer. Kowalski seemed to at least be enjoying his bout of guarded suspicion, so that was something.

"What's this about, anyway?" Kowalski said finally. "If you want to talk about –" He waved one hand in a violent gesture between the two of them.

Ray held up his hands in a pacifying gesture. "Hey, I'm good. I don't have ulterior motives, Stanley." He was good, that was true. But he did have ulterior motives. He did want to talk about everything that violent gesture between them entailed.

"Right." Kowalski snorted. He was halfway through his beer already.

Ray tilted his head, gave Kowalski a curious look. "There something you want to talk about? Because me," and here, he spread his arms wide in what he thought was a particularly amusing expansive gesture. "Me, I'm all ears, here."

Kowalski stared at him unblinking for a handful of seconds before getting up. "Christ, I need another beer." He stalked off towards the bar, bringing his still half-full glass with him.

Ray didn't grin to himself, but that was only because he was a well-trained officer of the law. He sipped his own beer slowly and didn't go after Kowalski. Not yet.

Later, he finished his own beer, and made his way over to the bar to order another one. Kowalski wasn't at the bar, but across the room – pretty much as far away as you could get from the tiny table in the back that Kowalski himself had picked out – Ray could see his spiky head bent low over a pool table as he angled for a shot. Ray sipped his beer at the bar, half watching Kowalski get beat by a pretty girl in tight jeans who apparently played a damn good game of pool and half watching the Cubs on the television mounted above the bar.

The bar had good beer on tap, at least. Ray finished his second beer just a little bit after the girl beat the pants off Kowalski and headed out of the bar with a grin and a wink. Kowalski stayed by the pool table, and Ray shrugged, and enjoyed his very good beer.

When the bartender came over and wiped down the bar in front of Ray, asking, "Another?" Ray said, "Two of the same," and waited, getting up to lean back against the bar on his elbows as the bartender drew his drafts.

When Ray wandered over and set the beer down on the table near where Kowalski was playing pool by himself, clearing the table with clean, concise shots, Kowalski didn't even look up. "Thanks," he said, though.

When he'd sunk two more balls, he stood up, letting the cue slide down through his hand to rest on the floor against his boot and reached for the glass.

Ray, sitting neatly on a stool with his own glass, gave him a solemn look. "Good game?" he asked.

Kowalski shrugged. "Better than the last one." His lips were curving up a little, almost smiling but not quite, as he crouched down by the table, studying his options.

Ray waited until Kowalski was taking careful aim. "She kicked your ass."

Kowalski shot cleanly, sinking the five ball with a satisfying thud. He stood back, surveying the table, and reached behind him without looking to snag the glass of beer again. "She did at that."

Ray grinned, and stayed quiet as Kowalski cleared the table with three swift, perfect shots in a row. Kowalski stood up, stretched out his back, and finished his beer. "What are we doing here, Vecchio?" he asked.

Ray gave him a curious look, but his heart was beating fast. "Drinking beer. Playing pool." He nailed the tone, he thought, but Kowalski was just standing there, leaning on his cue and looking at him, beer forgotten in his hand.

"I don't think that's what we're doing at all," he said quietly.

Ray shrugged, but maintained eye contact with Kowalski. It took a stupid amount of energy to do that, and keep breathing steady, keep it together, keep it cool. But Ray – Ray had had practice at this, had played it calm and cool in much, much tougher situations. Kowalski, he could handle. He set down his beer and drifted closer to Kowalski like it was nothing at all.

Kowalski didn't move away. He didn't even twitch. His hand tightened around the glass of beer, but it was a subtle tell, and one Ray only noticed because he'd been trained, and trained damn well, to notice every little fucking thing when he had to, and right now, he really felt like he had to. Everything felt important; everything felt – fraught.

His mouth was dry, and he couldn't catch his breath, but he didn't do anything other than look at Kowalski straight on, calm as anything. "Well?" he asked in that slow, careful tone that felt like Vegas, that felt too fucking much like Vegas.

If Kowalski felt it, too, he didn't show it, wasn't looking at Ray with any fear at all. Ray felt something ease up inside.

"All right," Kowalski said finally. He moved and put the cue away carefully in the rack.

"All right," he said again when he was done, and the whole time Ray was just waiting, waiting with perfect patience, like he had absolutely nothing on this earth better to do but to stand here, relaxed, hands in his pockets. Waiting.

He maintained it, too, this front of calm, as they made their way out of the bar, into the cool darkness of the evening. Everything seemed sharper than normal – the heavy tread of Kowalski's boots on the pavement, the jingle of his keys as he tugged them out of his pocket. The sound of Kowalski opening the driver's side door seemed loud enough to crack open the night and the light pouring out would have made Ray wince if he had let himself.

But when they slid in on their respective sides, the doors closing seemed solid, instead of sharp, and the darkness was a blessing. Ray didn't stop once he got in, just kept moving across the seat until his had his hands on Kowalski, Kowalski's mouth up against his. Kowalski made a low, needy sound in his throat, turning towards Ray like this was something he'd been preparing for since they got back to Chicago all those weeks ago, or maybe since before they even got in the goddamn car on the way to Baltimore to pull Fraser out of the fire.

Not that they'd ended up doing that much. He wasn’t actually very sure that Fraser had even needed help from either of them. Maybe before, sure, back when he was the innocent Mountie, but here? Now? He'd have been just fine without them, Ray was willing to bet.

Ray had his hands in Kowalski's hair, holding onto him, kissing him long and deep, until they were both breathless and so fucking lost in this that Ray thought he might never come back from it. He let Kowalski go slowly, watching as Kowalski blinked his eyes open, taking a little while to focus in on Ray in the dark of the car.

Ray struggled to keep his voice steady. "This is what we're doing."

Kowalski stared at him, his eyes black. "Yeah," he said, and he wasn't even trying, his voice rough and breathless, completely shot, like he didn't care what Ray saw or knew or wondered. "Yeah," he said again, and shifted, shaking his head and fumbling his glasses out of his pocket.

Ray moved smoothly back to his own side of the car and put his seatbelt on neatly as Kowalski turned the key and the engine roared to life. His heart was pounding a mile a minute, but he sat calmly as Kowalski put the car in gear, and guided them out of the parking lot, smooth and careful. Ray waited until they got to the first red light, then reached over and put his hand high up on Kowalski's thigh. "Hurry," he said, and then, "Okay?" giving it over, giving it up, and it came out like it felt, hurting his throat to say.

But Kowalski just sucked in a breath, glanced in both directions and, gunning the engine, blew the light. "Yeah," he said as the city raced by on either side of them. "Yeah."

Ray hadn't set foot in Kowalski's apartment once in the weeks since they'd returned from the trip. It didn't look any different from that morning, when he'd woken up in Kowalski's bed, Kowalski sleeping like he lived, all wild and messy, one arm flung haphazardly over Ray's shoulders as he slept, heavy and warm.

Tonight, they barely made it inside – Kowalski was around to Ray's side of the car by the time he'd stepped out. He pushed the door shut, then pinned Ray against it, kissing him so fucking hot and sweet that Ray couldn't do anything but take it.

Up the stairs, Ray was doing fine, just fine, totally together, until suddenly he had Kowalski pressed against the wall, sliding his hands down deep into Kowalski's back pockets as he pressed his tongue into Kowalski's mouth.

They started like guilty teenagers at the sound of a door opening several floors up. "Move," Kowalski said, fiercely, and Ray did.

Now the door to Kowalski's apartment was shut and locked between them and the rest of the world, and Kowalski didn't even turn on any lights. He pushed his own jacket off, the leather falling to the floor with a heavy thump. He advanced on Ray, sliding his cold hands around Ray's waist under his own long coat, pressing them into the small of Ray's back, dragging him close.

Ray had his hands up under Kowalski's shirt, the two of them breaking apart just long enough for Ray to shove the it up and off over Kowalski's head, tossing it aside as his hands traced over the soft, hot skin of Kowalski's back. Jesus. Jesus. This was going to be enough to kill him.

They were somehow on the couch – Ray had been sure he'd been pushing them towards the bedroom, but Kowalski was fumbling with the button on Ray's pants, his own cock hard against the denim of his jeans, and then they were half-on, half-off the couch. Kowalski was all smooth skin and rough denim, up over Ray like a wet dream, his eyes dark and his lips wet, panting and finally, finally getting Ray's pants open, his hand circling Ray's cock. "Fuck," Ray chanted, running his hands down Kowalski's back, sliding his fingers through the loops of Kowalski's jeans just to hang on to something. "Fuck, fuck, just - fucking Christ, Kowalski, I –"

"Vecchio," Kowalski said, and his name sounded like pure sex in that tone. "Come on. Come on."

He was dragging Ray up off the couch, and Ray wasn't one to argue with good ideas. And this was a good idea, it was the best idea. He was stumbling as Kowalski pulled him down the hall towards the bedroom, having to brace himself against the wall as he got to the door, to get rid of his shoes, his socks, fuck, why the hell was he still wearing his coat? It billowed to the floor as he shrugged out of it, landing on the floor in a pile and he couldn't care less about it. He managed to get his shirt unbuttoned before Kowalski – who had by this point stripped himself of the rest of his clothes – had his hands circling Ray's wrists, pulling him down on top of him as he sprawled back, completely and totally and wonderfully naked against the sheets.

"Come here," Kowalski kept panting, even though Ray was as close as he could possibly get. Ray's pants were open, his shirt still on, though it was unbuttoned and hanging back off of one shoulder, because he could not, could not take his hands off of Kowalski long enough to take care of things. "Come here."

"Yeah," Ray panted, and Christ, he was so hard he couldn't breathe right. "Yeah, Kowalski, I'm here, I'm here." He couldn't stop kissing Kowalski, his mouth so goddamn sweet. Kowalski's hands were shoving his pants down as far as they could go, and finally Ray pulled himself off, rolling over onto his back and shoving his pants and shorts off with one quick, frantic move. He got one arm out of his shirt before Kowalski, impatient, was on him, his mouth on Ray's neck, sucking and biting and making him crazy. "Fuck," he hissed, his hands clenching against Kowalski's back, his hips lifting up of their own accord. "Fuck, Stanley, just - jesus." Kowalski released his neck with one last stinging bite, and moved down, skimming Ray's chest with his wet, hot mouth, licking at his nipples, his hard cock dragging down the length of Ray's body. Christ, Ray wanted to suck his cock, couldn't remember ever wanting to do anything this badly before in his entire goddamn life.

But Kowalski wasn’t letting up, had Ray pinned down with hands and hips in addition to having him mesmerized by his mouth, so hot and wet everywhere it touched. He didn't hesitate when he got to Ray's cock – not that history had shown he ever would - just swallowed it right down, as far as he could go, not pulling back even when Ray's hips jerked up, every bit of him wanting to get into that smooth, wet, heat. "Jesus," Ray said, and there was nothing left of the cool pretense, it was shattered. "Oh, Jesus," he said again, and his voice broke, his hands clenching in Kowalski's wrinkled sheets, hanging on for dear life as Kowalski swallowed him down like it was the only thing he ever wanted to do.

By the time Kowalski lifted his head, letting Ray's cock slide out of his mouth, and looked up at him with wet, swollen lips, Ray had been riding the edge so long he couldn’t even think straight. "Ray," Kowalski said, on his hands and knees over Ray, his own dick so hard between his legs. "God, turn over, okay? Let me –"

He didn’t finish the sentence, his fingers firm on Ray's hips, urging him over, and Ray – Ray Vecchio, formerly of Vegas, historically of Chicago, and always, always a tough guy – Ray rolled over for him. Rolled over, and liked it. Liked that clench in his stomach of not knowing what was going to happen, but his whole body shot through with surety that it would be good, it would be so good. He knew it like he knew his own name, and that was fucked up, it had to be fucked up, but Kowalski's hands on his hips urging him up from the bed, felt right.

Kowalski's mouth pressing hot kisses to his back felt right, too, and Ray had to squeeze his eyes shut tight, panting like crazy and digging his fingers into the sheets as Kowalski moved his mouth lower, holding Ray open, licking him in places where Ray wouldn't have thought even Benton Fraser would put his tongue.

It felt like nothing on this earth and even the parts of his brain that wanted to argue were lulled by the rhythm of Kowalski's tongue.

When he pulled away, Ray groaned out loud without even meaning to, and lost his precarious grip on the bed, sliding flat and pressing his aching dick against the sheets.

"Christ." That was Kowalski somewhere back over his shoulder, and when Ray managed to blink his eyes open, Kowalski was leaning over him, hard dick sliding against Ray's side as he scrambled through the mess in the bedside drawer, finally pulling out a tube and a condom.

"Vecchio." Kowalski was back somewhere behind Ray's shoulder again, and his hands were on Ray's hips, urging him to his knees. Ray moaned – he didn't know if he even could get up, but he managed it, finally on all fours, his head hanging down between his arms, waiting for this. Wanting it, and trying not to think about that very much at all.

"Hang on," Kowalski was saying from somewhere really far away, and Ray was hanging on, he was, his cock so hard, his whole body just a livewire of need. Kowalski's hand was firm on his hip, and his finger – slick and warm – was stroking right where his tongue had been not that very long ago. "Breathe," Kowalski demanded, and Ray did, sucking in a breath and letting it out slow and relaxing, relaxing, careful and easy. He was good at this, he was good at it, and when Kowalski slid one finger inside him, gentle and smooth, Ray gasped, but held on. Held on and breathed.

"That's it, you got it, you got it." And who knew Kowalski could be so patient, this guy who couldn’t make it through a commercial without having to flip the channel, this guy who punched walls with impatience, who drove Ray crazy with being so twitchy? But Kowalski opened him up so slowly that Ray was losing his goddamn mind by the end of it. He was gasping and sweating, down on his elbows on the mattress, his forehead pressed against the pillow, wanting to beg for it, but instead managing in this harsh voice that he barely recognized as his own for Kowalski to do it, do it, do him, now, now, now.

"Fuck. Yes." Kowalski was holding onto his hips very tightly. Ray took a breath, and let it out slow as Kowalski pushed inside him. "Jesus." Ray was the one getting fucked here, but Kowalski had this stunned tone in his voice, sounding shaken and fucked up. "Jesus, hold on, hold on," and Ray wasn't moving here, was holding on, head pressed to the mattress as Kowalski sank into him slow.

Kowalski didn't shut up as he fucked him – and he did fuck him, fucked him so good and smooth, doing it right, making Ray shake underneath him, muttering in his ear the whole time, things about, "Okay, it's good, we're good, you're so fucking good," and "Jesus, you – I can't believe – you've got to let – " Only half-saying any of those things, like he was afraid that if he said it out loud, Ray would suddenly realize it was actually happening, that Kowalski was fucking him, and ask him to stop, please, because he wasn't that kind of guy.

It was enough to make Ray laugh, if he could have, but all he could do – Kowalski shifted his hips to a new angle, and Ray gasped, mouthing the sheets, and pushing back into it – all he could do was breathe, and breathe.

Because he was that kind of guy. He was so, so that kind of guy. This kind of guy, who wanted it, wanted it bad. Kowalski trusted it a little more now, was going at it harder, or maybe it wasn’t trust, maybe he just couldn’t hold back. His cock was rubbing so good against the sheet – he'd lost it, sprawled flat under Kowalski, and Kowalski had just gone with it, following him down and fucking him so good, so good, so good.

"I –" Jesus, Kowalski was slamming into him now, and it was fantastic. He was so close, he – "I – fucking –" He moaned, turning his face into the sheets as he came, shaking hard through the whole thing, losing his mind here as he came with Kowalski still pushing into him, not losing a beat, riding him through the whole thing. Ray wanted to give him a goddamn medal for it. Maybe a Nobel Prize.

"Fuck," Kowalski panted, plastered up against Ray's back now, slamming into him with shorter strokes now, close to losing it himself. "Fuck, Vecchio, you're so -" He dug his teeth into Ray's shoulder, and god, that just felt perfect, grounding Ray in this, the perfect sharp pain in his shoulder as Kowalski moaned incoherently and came, collapsing against him.

"Jesus," Kowalski managed thickly, several moments later, and pressed his lips against Ray's temple. "Jesus Christ."

Ray would have nodded agreement, but he was pinned so fully against the mattress that he couldn't move. Not that he exactly minded, really, but Kowalski kissed him again and, taking a breath, drew out of him carefully (Ray winced, but only a little. He was too fucked out for the soreness to feel anything but good), and rolled heavily to the side.

With an extreme effort of will, Ray pushed himself up slightly, meaning to balance himself on one elbow. His muscles were spaghetti, though, and instead he only managed to drag one pillow down under his cheek enough so that he could look at Kowalski.

Kowalski, who was sprawled out next to him, his chest still heaving, his eyes closed. He was a mess, and he looked fucking edible. Still.

"This is what we're doing, then?" Ray asked, and yeah, there it was, he had his voice back. It came out smooth – not quite smug, but sure. He waited, heat curling in his belly as he watched Kowalski breathe next to him.

"Yeah." Kowalski waved one hand weakly in agreement, his eyes still closed, but his tone fervent. "Hell, yeah, this is what we're doing."

Ray smiled against the pillow. Hell, yeah.

"Put down your goddamn weapon and put your fucking hands behind your fucking head!"

It wasn't exactly standard procedure, but Kowalski had it close enough. Ray took a breath, his back flat against the wall, and inched out to peer around the corner. A bullet went whizzing by close enough for him to practically feel the fucking breeze from it, and he jerked back, cursing.

"I'm going to rip your face off and decorate my living room with it, fucker." Kowalski sounded strangely calm – conversational, even, like he was just keeping this guy informed.

"Fuck you, pigs!" Pigs? Was it the seventies? The guy's tone was wild, high-pitched and frantic, and he was waving that gun around way too crazily, from the quick glimpses Ray had seen. He was plastered against the wall, just near the back door of the liquor store. Kowalski was up front, behind the counter, where he had dived after the guy took a series of shots at him as he barreled through the front fucking door. (Kowalski'd been partnered with Fraser too long. Clearly. Ray almost expected him to ask the guy to hand over his weapon and surrender, just because it was the right thing to do.)

There was another series of shots and the sound of breaking bottles as the bullets took out a – Ray took another quick peek, from low-down this time – whole shelf of liquor from the wall behind the cash wrap. Ray didn't have a clear shot, and wasn’t actually entirely sure that Kowalski was still on the floor by the register anymore. Though, from the direction of the shots – another quick peek showed that the loser with the cheap-ass gun was pivoting wildly, trying to keep them both covered – the guy thought he was, too.

"Put it down, kid!" Ray yelled out from his spot behind the wall.


"Hey!" Kowalski, from, yeah, the floor behind the register from the sound of it, sounded annoyed.

"What?" The guy asked, confused. Ray peeked around, trying to get a bead on him, but there was a pile of wine cases blocking his sight.

"How about you give me your weapon and fucking surrender, huh?" Kowalski called out.

Ray sighed and tiredly banged his head against the wall.

"Why the fuck would I do that?" The guy sounded as bewildered as Ray felt.

"I don't know! To be nice! To make up for that really fucking good scotch you just shot to pieces!"

"I wasn't aiming for the scotch," the guy confessed, stepping a little closer to the register. Ray slid around the corner, crouching low behind one of the endcaps. "I was going for the novelty Three Stooges beer."

"You wasted that scotch for nothing, then!" Kowalski still just sounded peeved. "It's all over my jacket. I smell like a wino."

"I'm sorry." The guy actually looked contrite. He fiddled with the gun.

"Give up the gun, kid."

"Why should I do that?" The guy straightened, like he'd suddenly remembered he was the one in charge again.

"Because it's late." Kowalski was conversational again. "Because I'm tired."

The guy was bringing the gun up and slowly advancing on the register.

"Because you forgot about me." Ray had his gun pressed against the guy's temple with one hand, disarming him with his other hand easily enough. He kicked behind his knees, getting the guy down on the floor and cuffed in a matter of seconds. When he looked up, Kowalski was walking out from behind the cash wrap, brushing ineffectively at the damn expensive scotch soaking his jacket.

"You want to help out, maybe? Call this in or something?" There were sirens in the distance, already, but Ray was pissed off and Kowalski was acting like this was a day at the fucking park.

Kowalski looked up. "You seem to have it under control." He poked at the guy on the floor with his boot. "You ruined my jacket."

"Sorry," the guy mumbled against the floor.

"Yeah, well." Kowalski looked annoyed.

Ray was just staring at him. "How about you go outside and wait for the back up?" he said tightly.

Kowalski looked up at him, surprised. "How about you blow me?" He shook his head, but went outside.

After Ray handed over the guy to the uniforms who showed up, and gave a quick overview of what happened, saying they'd meet them down at the station to do a real report, he went back out through the back door to the rear parking lot. Kowalski's car was parked at the same crazy angle where they had left it, and Kowalski was leaning against it with his jacket off. He looked up as Ray approached. "If I put this coat anywhere near my car, the scotch smell is never going to come out of my upholstery," he said gloomily.

"Is there something wrong with you?" Ray asked, tightly calm. "Was there some sort of brain injury I don't know about?"

"What?" Kowalski looked up, surprised.

"Were you dropped on your head as a child? Is that it?" He kept his voice soft, now, gentle, because he really was on the edge of losing it.

"What the fuck got up your ass, Vecchio?" Kowalski still sounded more surprised than annoyed.

Ray tightened his lips, and stopped real close to Kowalski, right up in his face. "Stanley," he said gently. "You think maybe you're the Mountie? Is that it?"

There was the anger, flashing to life in Kowalski's face. "Shut the fuck up, Vecchio."

"No, really, you can tell me, because I need to know these things. Do you need a hat? We can get you a hat."

"Get out of my face." And Kowalski gave him a shove backwards, and that was all it took. Something inside Ray snapped, and he punched Kowalski in the face, hard.

Kowalski was good – he rolled with the punch, even though it took him off his feet, and by the time he hit the hood, he'd gotten his balance again. One hand went to his face for a second, then he shook off the shock and his fists came up. "What the fuck?" he said, but he was already moving as he said it, and even though Ray saw it coming from a mile away, the punch still connected, sending him back, but only one step. He didn't even need to shake it off, just grinned at Kowalski, hard and mean.

Kowalski blinked, and then he was launching himself at Ray, and they were wrestling, neither of them able to get a real punch in. They struggled there, hitting the side of Kowalski's car and then going down hard on the pavement, Kowalski on the bottom. Ray got in a glancing blow that banged Kowalski's head against the ground. Kowalski acted like he didn't even feel it, baring his teeth up at Ray as he growled and punched him hard, knocking him back. Ray went sprawling, landing on the ground with an, "Oof," the air knocked out of him.

He lay there, struggling for breath, trying to brace himself for the attack he was sure was going to come from Kowalski. When he managed to turn his head, Kowalski was lying on his back, too, panting up at the clear blue sky. "Ow," Kowalski said, and pushed himself up. It took two tries for him to get to sitting. He pulled one leg up under himself, then lost the momentum and just sat there, one hand cupping the back of his head. "Fucking ow, Vecchio."

Ray lay on his back in the liquor store parking lot and laced his hands over his chest. "You really do reek of alcohol, Stanley," he said tiredly.

"You think I don't know that?" Kowalski said, getting slowly to his feet, wincing the whole way. "Jesus, but you can pack a punch." He pressed the heel of his hand to his mouth, checking for blood as he pulled it away.

"Listen, do me a favor?" Ray asked, squinting up at him.

"Sure." Kowalski looked down at him, waiting. The sun was behind his head, making his (newly dyed platinum) hair kind of glow.

"Don’t get shot in the head on purpose, okay?"

Kowalski looked down at him for a handful of seconds. There was already what was going to be a splendid bruise showing up around his right eye, and maybe his lip wasn't bleeding, but it was definitely puffing up. Ray himself hurt in pretty much every part of his body, and he felt what he was pretty sure was a trickle of blood down his cheek where he'd scraped his temple against the cement. His fists ached, and now that the adrenaline was draining out of his system, he could feel the pounding ache of the spot where Kowalski's fist had connected high on his right cheek.

"Okay," Kowalski said finally, simply, agreeing with him without a fight, and wasn’t that a miracle? "I won't."

Ray held up one hand, and Kowalski grasped it, pulling him up from the ground. Ray stood there for a second right in Kowalski's space, and, with a quick glance around, leaned in and pressed one quick, soft kiss to Kowalski's lips.

"Ow." Kowalski winced as Ray pulled away, but he was giving Ray that sideways grin that Ray liked so much. "You're crazy, you know that?"

"Sure," Ray allowed, as they both limped around to their respective sides of the car. "But you knew that."

"Yeah," Kowalski said as the both got in, slowly and carefully. Fuck, they were getting kind of old, here. "Yeah, I did know that."

Old, maybe, crazy, definitely, but even so – Kowalski gunned the engine as the pulled out of the parking lot, and they were both grinning as he took off for the station house, the tires squealing.


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