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Happily Ever After

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Ray woke up gasping for air, heart pounding so hard it was almost going to punch out of his chest. He was hot, too hot, and dizzy, and the walls of the apartment swam around him. For a second there was the added anxiety, ‘did I wake Stella, be quiet, be quiet’, but then he remembered she was gone and it was almost a relief. He could let his breathing come out harsh and ragged, he could let the tremors in his arms go, and he didn’t have to worry about waking her. Jeez, why did it always feel like he was dying?

*

“And you’re sure it’s fine?” Fraser asked.

“Quit worrying, I said it was good, it’s gonna be good. You, me, Kowalski, it’ll be great,” Ray said, into the phone.

“We could always get a hotel.”

“Quit it,” Ray said. “You’re not getting a hotel. And anyway, bit late for that, don'tcha think? You’re flying in tomorrow.”

“Well, yes. And we wouldn’t impose...but the Dawsons…”

“I know, I know, it don’t feel right kicking them out, you told me.” Ray rolled his eyes, glad Benny couldn’t see him.

Sure, what a great guy Kowalski was, what a nice guy, letting an indigent family stay at his place for free while he'd been away. Ray could hardly object on the principle of the thing, but it was galling to admit that Ray Mark II was actually a decent guy. And then there was also the way Benny said it, as if Kowalski lit the moon and hung the stars. Yeah…even if Fraser hadn’t told him they were together, he could have picked it up himself no problem.

“Hey, it’s cool Benny, no rush. Let them stay ‘til they get on their feet,” Ray said.

“Thank you, Ray,” Fraser said in a soft voice, and Ray felt bad for rolling his eyes. “How are things in Chicago?” Fraser asked.

“C’mon, you don’t wanna hear about me,” Ray joked. “You’re an old hand at Chicago now Benny, Chicago’s just the same as always. I wanna hear what’s new in Iglooduckduck.”

“Ray,” Benny complained, but Ray could hear the laughter in his voice and Fraser launched off into a story of ice, and snow, and adventure.

And for a moment Ray could forget he was standing next to a lime green wall, in a shitty Chicago apartment, by himself.

*

Fraser and Kowalski's connecting flight from Detroit was delayed, and Ray ended up waiting in the airport for four hours. He wandered round the stores. Bought himself a coffee. Bought himself a pair of nice Armani sunglasses, because hey, what was the point in having retirement pay if you couldn’t spend it? He stuck them on and it helped, because he was pretty tired, and the longer he stayed awake, the more the light made him squint.

When Ray finally spotted Fraser and Kowalski walking down the concourse, his first thought was that they were a real mismatched pair. Fraser was doing his whole, ‘sixteen hours of travel barely touch me’ thing, bright-eyed, jeans and a nice shirt that didn’t even have one wrinkle. Kowalksi, well, Kowalski looked like Ray felt. His hair was a weird gelled up mess, weirder than normal, it looked like he’d spilled coffee on his shirt at one point, and he walked like he was walking through mud.

Ray could tell when they spotted him because Fraser’s face lit up with a smile, wide and bright...the kinda smile that could make people do stupid things, like jump onto moving trains…or decide to go undercover for the Mob, just because. But as the pair drew closer, Ray could see Fraser’s smile falter, and yeah, he was pretty sure he knew why, ‘cause sure, the glasses might hide the bags under his eyes, but they couldn’t hide the weight loss, the new lines on his face. Ray stuck out his hand for a handshake, but to his surprise, Fraser pulled him into a quick hug.

“It’s nice to see you, Ray,” Fraser said.

And it was stupid, but Ray almost felt himself tear up. He wanted to hold on tight and not let go, but there was no way he was going to let Kowalski see him blubbering. So instead, he just gave Benny a few manly pats on the shoulder.

“Yeah, it’s good to see you too,” Ray said.

When Fraser pulled away, Ray held out his hand to Kowalski, who’d been hanging back. Kowalski took his hand, but thank God, didn’t try to pull him into a hug. Ray wasn’t sure if he could handle that right now. But despite Kowalski’s tiredness, Ray could see something sharp in the guy's eyes too, like he was reading Ray the same way Benny had, taking in every little thing about him.

“Come on. We’ll have to skedaddle if we want to make family dinner,” Ray gestured to them.

“Thanks, sounds good man,” Kowalski said, and Ray started walking them out in the direction of the Riv. Well, not the Riv, but a Riv, at least.

“We’re grateful that your mother has agreed to cook for us,” Fraser said.

“Oh yeah, I love your ma’s cooking, Vecchio,” Kowalski smirked.

“Hey, shut it, Kowalski.”

*

All together the rebuild of the Vecchio home wasn’t a bad job, but it always gave Ray a mild sense of vertigo. Everything about it was just a little bit off. The floors were the wrong colour. The dining room was a little bigger than it had been. The stairs were at a different angle, not much, but Ray had been up and down them all his life, he could tell. Sure, he was glad they’d managed to get the place rebuilt, and the work all seemed good, but it wasn’t quite home, not anymore.

The rest of the family were already seated at the dining table when Ray arrived with Fraser and Kowalski, which was fair, given the delayed flight. Ray knew he should be hungry right now, and the food should smell good, but it was hitting his stomach weird, and instead just made him feel kind of nauseous. Tony and Maria passed various dishes along to him and Ray loaded his plate, but he still found himself picking at the food. It was good, it always was, but his stomach was still turning over, probably the tiredness, and eating even half of it was a struggle.

*

Afterwards, they headed into the living room for coffee, and Ray relaxed back against the couch, watching his niece Violetta dancing with Fraser. Her hands were in his, and they moved in a shuffling step backwards and forwards.

“Ah, so what you’re saying is, I move my feet like this?” Fraser said, pulling his knees up high as if he were marching in a band.

“No!” Violetta objected. “No silly, it’s duh duh duh.” She nodded her head emphatically in rhythm, stepping backwards and forwards.

Fraser met Ray’s eyes over Violetta’s head, amused, and then he turned back to Violetta. “Oh, so you mean like this?” Fraser started turning his legs up and outward again.

“No!” Violetta protested, and this time Ray couldn’t help the chuckle.

To his left, out of the corner of his eye, Ray could see Kowalski extricating himself from Ma, and heading over.

“Ray!” Ma beckoned him over to dance, but he shook his head and waved her off.

“I’m tired Ma, why don’t you go dance with Tony?” Ray gestured at where Tony was resting against the wall, and Tony froze, a deer in the headlights, as Ma immediately turned to him.

Kowalski hovered next to the empty seat on the couch and shook his head at Ray. “You’re too tired? You? I’ve been on 16 hours of flights today with Mr Perfect over there, and you’re the one who’s too tired to dance?”

Ray let his eyes fall shut for a moment. “Hey, not my fault you let Ma sucker you in with ‘oh, just one dear’.”

Kowalski threw himself down on the couch, leg jittering, foot tap tap tapping in Ray’s ear. Ray knew he should open his eyes, but the couch was soft and he was comfortable.

“You really are tired,” Kowalski said, surprised.

Ray cracked one eye open and looked over at him. “I literally just said that Kowalski.”

“Yeah yeah,” Kowalski said. “Look, maybe we should head. We’ve said hey. We’ve done the dancing thing.”

Fraser had been watching them, and he disentangled himself from Violetta and came over. “I’d be happy to leave. Though we need to pick up Dief on our way back, if that’s okay with you Ray?”

“Yeah, sure, I’ve missed the wolf,” Ray said. “Okay, maybe it’s time to hit the road.”

*

“We can-,” Fraser started.

“No. No way. You guys are not taking the couch so don’t even think about it, Benny. Number one, there’s two of you and only one couch, number two, Ma would kill me.” Ray turned the key and stepped into the apartment.

“But-,”

“I’m on the couch. You guys are in the bedroom.”

“Well perhaps-,”

“No,” Ray said, and dropped his keys onto the countertop as Dief barrelled past into the apartment. “You ain’t winning this one. The only thing you gotta do is get used to it.”

“Ah, well, thank you then, Ray,” Fraser said.

“Did the sheets this morning, so feel free to get set up in there.”

Fraser took the bags out of Kowalski’s hands and headed towards the bedroom, leaving him and Kowalski standing in the doorway looking at each other.

“So...how long you got this place for?” Kowalski asked, shoving his hands into his pockets.

Ray shrugged casually. “Two months left, twelve-month lease.” That had been the plan. Twelve months here in Chicago, get everything sorted. Buy the bowling alley, get their stuff moved, live happily ever after. That was how it was supposed to go.

“Huh,” said Kowalski, wandering out into the open-plan apartment, through the kitchen area and into the living space.

Ray shut the front door, keeping one eye on Kowalski, as Kowalski wandered past the couch, the windows, and then started poking at Ray’s coffee table, and his small collection of CDs.

“Do you have to do that?” Ray snapped, moving to rest against the kitchen countertop.

“What?”

“Poke at my stuff.”

Kowalski rolled his eyes, but finally quit poking at his things. “So, what you gonna do when the lease is up?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Back home with Ma and Frannie?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Kind of nice having my own space.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Kowalski said, and then settled down on the couch. “Man, this thing is uncomfortable.”

“Yeah, it is,” Ray said. He pushed himself off the countertop towards the couch, but as he did, his vision blurred for a moment, the tiredness, and he almost stumbled over a corner of the rug. Luckily he didn’t fall, but as he sat down on the couch, Kowalski’s eyes were on him, gaze sharp.

“What?” Ray barked.

“Nothing, nothing.”

“Didn’t seem like nothing,” Ray said, putting a little of the Vegas edge into his voice.

Kowalski held his gaze for a moment, and then looked away. “Okay, okay, it was just Fraser said...you know, but I kinda didn’t want to believe him. It didn’t really fit. But it’s okay, I get it.”

Ray just stared at Kowalski. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Maybe we should-,”

“What did Fraser say?” Ray said evenly.

Kowalski shrugged, almost casual, but for the look in his eyes. “Just…that maybe you weren’t doing so hot.”

“Well, I’m fine. Absolutely fine,” Ray said.

Kowalski snorted. “Clearly.”

“And anyway, you guys’ve only been in town a day. How could you tell something like that after a day?” But even as he said it, Ray realised it was Fraser he was talking about.

But Kowalski was already shaking his head. “No, no, coupla days ago.”

Even then. Shit.

Next to him, Kowalski yammered on, resting a hand on the coffee table. “He didn’t mean it like that, like it was bad, he was just trying to get me to-, and it doesn't have to be a thing, I was just surprised, you know? I read your file, I was trying to be you for years. And then when we met, at first you were just like all those guys I used to know...but then it was like 'hey, you know, he’s not actually so different’. But when we went away...I think I kinda forgot again.”

“I don’t know what you mean. I’m fine,” Ray said, and crossed his arms over his chest, ignoring Kowalski’s look of disbelief. “And anyway, what does it even matter?”

“Come on,” Kowalski said, with a waspish smile. “It matters to Fraser. You know Fraser’s like your number one fan, right? Fraser said…”

The door to the bedroom opened and Fraser poked his head out.

“Ray?”

They both jumped.

“Is, ah, is everything okay? I thought I heard voices.” Fraser looked as if maybe he was going to have to be disappointed with them, like he was the principal of some school, and they were the naughty kids.

“Sure, everything’s great,” Ray said, and Kowalski nodded.

Fraser didn’t look convinced. “Well, I’ve finished unpacking.”

“Did you see the towels? Ray asked. “Shelf in the closet. You guys wanna wash up or use the shower, go ahead.”

“Thank you Ray,” Fraser said, and Kowalski levered himself off the couch and headed into the bedroom.

Fraser stood in the doorway for a moment after Kowalski passed by, just standing there looking at Ray. “Thank you Ray,” Fraser said again, and then pulled the bedroom door closed.

*

As Ray set himself up on the couch, straightening out the blankets and sheets, he could hear the faint murmuring of Fraser and Kowalski talking in the bedroom. He couldn't make anything out though, and if they were talking about him, he didn’t want to know. Sure, it made sense that Fraser might talk about him with Kowalski, after all, they were together now. That was how it was with couples, Ray knew that.

Ray had just finished putting on his PJs when the door to the bedroom opened and Fraser walked out, a towel around his waist. Ray did the polite thing, averted his eyes, but then Fraser paused.

“Look, I think there may have been a misunderstanding-,” Fraser started.

“Look, it’s okay, it don’t matter. Let’s just get some sleep.”

“But I-,” Fraser took a few steps forward towards Ray, looking worried and earnest.

“Tomorrow, okay.”

“But-,”

“Look, maybe let’s not do this right now!” he exploded, which was immediately followed by a hot flash of shame. “Shit, I’m sorry Benny, I’m sorry. Tomorrow, when I’m a bit more rested, and you’re actually wearing clothes, okay?”

“Oh,” Fraser said, and looked down at himself, like he’d only just become aware that he was half naked. Fraser tilted his head, studying Ray.

Ray put on the best poker face he had.

“I see,” Fraser said. “Of course Ray.” Fraser reached out and put a hand on Ray’s shoulder, warm and solid through his pajama shirt. “Tomorrow.”

*

It was still dark when Ray woke up with a start, heart running a mile a minute. For a moment he wasn’t sure where he was, and then it clicked, oh, couch, living room. He was hot and sweating, burning up and before he could think better of it, he ripped his shirt off over his head and threw it to the side. And...shit shit shit, how could he forget, Fraser and Kowalski were in the other room. Ray focused on keeping his breathing quiet, like he’d done in Vegas, listening for any signs of movement from the bedroom.

He was listening so intensely, that when something wet brushed up against his hand, he almost jumped out of his skin. But when he looked down, it was just Dief.

“Jeez, don’t do that, you trying to give me a heart attack?” Ray whispered.

Dief sat there, looking at him, and then bent his head and nuzzled Ray’s leg.

“Look, I’m sorry I woke you, okay?” Ray said. “It wasn’t-, it wasn’t on purpose. But it’s fine. Don’t worry, go back to sleep.”

Dief barked once.

“Shhhh, you have to be quiet,” Ray said, and Dief jumped up onto the couch and settled himself alongside Ray. He was heavy, but not too heavy, and warm, and soft across Ray’s feet. “What are you doing? You have a real nice comfy bed over there.” Ray gestured to the bed Fraser had set up in the corner.

Dief wuffed.

“Look, come on, you don’t want to do this,” Ray said. “I can’t be trusted with-,” Ray felt all the shitty feelings coming up in his throat and he had to swallow hard. “Didn’t Frannie tell you about her hamster?”

And Ray had officially gone off his rocker, but he could hear Dief’s reply, loud and clear.

Ray rolled his eyes. “Okay, okay, so you’re half wolf, you can take care of yourself. You’re not a hamster. But that doesn’t mean you should-,”

Dief shifted and then rested his head down on Ray’s leg, looking up at him. Ray fell silent. Jeez, that was not playing fair at all. But it was true, Dief could take care of himself, he wasn’t some hamster.

“Okay, sure, I guess you can stay,” Ray whispered and reached his hand down to run it through Dief’s fur. He couldn’t believe he was actually arguing with a dog. “But don’t think this is going to get you donuts, because it ain’t. No coddling here.”

The sweat on Ray’s forehead had cooled, and he was starting to feel cold, so he pulled the covers up over himself and just lay there for a moment. After a while he started carding his hands through Dief’s fur, and he found himself slowly relaxing. Gradually, he let his eyes slip closed.

*

When he woke it was to the sound of Dief barking, just once, and then Fraser’s voice.

“No, no, it’s fine, I understand. You stay there if you want, I’ll be back in a bit,” Fraser said, and then the door opened and closed.

Ray opened his eyes and tilted his head to look around. Dief was heavy over his feet, and across from him, leaning against the window, was Kowalski, shirtless, holding a mug of coffee in his hands. Kowalski looked good, maybe a little heavier than he had been before, but then he’d probably needed it up north, keeping warm.

“Morning,” Kowalski said.

“Morning,” Ray struggled up onto his elbows. Dief looked up from where he was curled protectively over Ray’s feet, and then launched himself at Ray’s face, licking his cheek.

“Aaahh.” Ray slumped backwards, waving his arms helplessly, and when he looked across, Kowalski was snickering. “What’s so funny, asshole?” he grumbled.

“I’ve been there,” Kowalski said. “Sometimes the slobber is just too much.”

Ray pushed himself onto his arms, covers slipping down, and it was only then he remembered that he wasn’t wearing a shirt. He thought he saw Kowalski’s eyes scan over his chest, but then the look was gone and the whole situation took on a strange quality, both of them there half naked.

“Did Fraser go out?” Ray asked, trying to avoid staring at Kowalski’s chest.

“Yeah, he went for bagels.” Kowalski shook his head, but he wasn’t quite meeting Ray’s eyes either. “It’s so stupid you know, cause he gets all, ‘eat your vegetables, sustenance Ray!’, but then when we knew we were coming back here, he mentioned this place at least once a day. He really wanted those bagels.”

“I guess Chicago rubbed off on him,” Ray said, and he could see Kowalski winding up for a dirty joke. Ray rolled his eyes. Grow up.

Kowalski looked like he was maybe gonna say it anyway, but then he paused, visibly changed tack, and in the end just said, “Yeah, I guess maybe it did.”

*

Ray got up and dressed, and by the time he was done, Fraser had returned with breakfast. The three of them ate together at the kitchen table, and it was nice to be eating a proper meal, rather than choking down coffee whenever he could. Once they were done, Kowalski headed off to the bedroom to get dressed, which left him and Fraser sitting next to each other in silence. Ray could feel Benny working himself up to say something.

“It’s fine,” Ray said, swirling a spoon around in his coffee. “Whatever you’re going to say, you don’t need to say it.”

“I have to.” Fraser paused, and his mouth twisted.

“You don’t.”

“I want to. It was...I know you and Ray have not always had the most stable relationship. I wanted Ray to-,”

“Take it easy on me?” Ray supplied, raising an eyebrow.

“I wouldn’t have used those words, precisely.”

“And I mean, sure, I appreciate it, you know, but it’d take a lot more than Kowalski to rattle me. He ain’t such a bad guy.”

“No, he’s not. And I know you don’t need anybody to take it easy on you. You’re very capable, you always have been, but...” Fraser paused, and then said quietly, “...I wanted to anyway. But I shouldn’t have said anything and I betrayed your trust. I’m sorry.”

Ray rolled his eyes and he almost wanted to laugh. That was what Fraser thought of as a betrayal? Damn, it was just Fraser all over. “It’s fine Fraser.”

Fraser took a deep breath, and then closed his eyes. “When I heard that you and Stella weren’t going to be together anymore, I wanted to come back and make sure you were alright. But the Northwest Territories are a long way from Chicago, we were out sledding, and you know how spotty communication can be. By the time we’d heard, it’d already been a month.”

“Honestly Benny, me and Stella wasn’t so bad. Never really got off the ground, my fault really, I kinda rushed it.” Ray sighed. “I just wanted so bad to be gone, to not be Langoustini, that it seemed just crazy enough to work. Like if I could just go be a bowling alley guy in Florida, that would fix everything.”

“Yes,” Benny said softly.

“Yeah. And Florida, even if we’d done the whole thing, I don’t think it would’ve helped, not really,” Ray said.

“When you turn the corner; and you run into yourself; then you know that you have turned; all the corners that are left,” Fraser said under his breath.

“What?”

“We never really said goodbye,” Fraser said, opening his eyes and looking down at his hands on the table. “When you left two years ago. And when I left with Ray after Muldoon, a few months ago. I mean, I know we spoke, but at the same time, it still felt like something was missing...I missed you Ray. When you were away, all that time.”

Ray thought back to all of the lonely nights in Las Vegas. All of the lonely nights in his apartment here. “Yeah, I missed you too,” he said, and then tilted his head to rest up against Fraser’s shoulder.

Fraser slowly unclasped his hands and brought his left arm up to wrap around Ray. “And it was fine, when I knew you were happy,” Fraser murmured above him. “Getting married to Stella, having the life you wanted to have.”

“Well, at least one of us is, right? You’ve got it with Ray?”

“Yes,” Benny said. “Yes, I have it with Ray.”

“Well, you should. If he’s good to you, then you should get to have that Fraser. You deserve it.”

“He is good to me.”

“I’m glad Benny, I’m really glad,” Ray said, though something twisted inside him, bittersweet.

*

The days seemed to slip through Ray’s fingers, no matter how much he tried to slow down and enjoy them. The three of them went out for beers together, or in Fraser’s case, water. They went to the movies. They watched a Hawks game together, and Kowalski got popcorn everywhere, after a particularly good play.

Fraser made noises about taking the couch every other night, but Kowalski would start moaning that he wasn’t sleeping on the couch, which shut Fraser up pretty quick.

Ray tried not to think about what they might be doing in his bedroom, but it was difficult. At night, all sorts of dirty fantasies popped into his head, but in his defence, there’d been nobody since Stella, and that had been months ago. Added to that was the fact that he hadn’t jerked off in a while either, because sure, while his dick might be interested in the idea of Kowalski and Fraser walking in on him, in real life, no. And also, Dief was listening. And also, the bathroom was kinda small, and with Fraser’s nose around the place...easier just to wait. Or it had seemed easier at the start of the thing, but with Fraser and Kowalski walking by shirtless all the time, it was getting more and more difficult.

Fraser also kept trying to give Ray money for rent, but Ray kept fobbing him off; it wasn’t like he needed the money. So instead Fraser had fixated on chores, insisting that he and Kowalski do their fair share. Which hey, Ray wasn’t gonna argue with, but that was how he found himself just sitting there, watching Fraser cooking at the stove, doing absolutely nothing to help. Oh, he’d offered, Kowalski too—felt wrong just sitting there when Fraser was cooking Italian for goddamn sake—but Fraser’d waved a wooden spoon at them threateningly. Well not really threateningly, not like his Ma might’ve, but threateningly enough for a Canadian.

So they’d retreated; him to the dining area, Kowalski to Ray’s stereo in the corner, flipping through his CDs. Eventually Kowalski chose some music, and as Ray rocked back on two legs of a dining chair, Kowalski started dancing around the kitchen area. It was hard not to stare, the way Kowalski’s jeans clung to his ass, the way his hips shifted, basic samba step, backwards and forwards.

There’d been lots of dancers in Vegas, and when you were in those clubs night after night after night, something kind of dulled you to it. The girls around you, or the guys, became part of the scenery, faces and bodies, not people, not really. Women who could have been his sisters, men who could have been…just bodies, moving parts. It was like all the fun he’d used to have from dancing, the enjoyment, being up close with someone, had vanished off somewhere.

But here, with Kowalski dancing, it wasn’t like that at all. Maybe it was the homely atmosphere, anathema to Vegas, maybe the fact that he hadn’t jerked off in weeks, but Ray couldn’t drag his eyes away. He was so distracted that he didn’t notice when Kowalski moved into a turning step and before Ray could school his expression, Kowalski was looking right at him. Shit.

Kowalski's eyes widened slightly but his face didn’t change at all, and God, the guy must be good undercover if he really tried for it, rather than whatever he’d been doing as Ray. Kowalski completed his turning step, facing away again, but then his hips slowed and he stopped. Ray held his breath.

“So, anyone else wanna join me?” Kowalski said, looking over his shoulder.

“I, oh, the sauce requires very careful stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn,” Fraser said. “Otherwise I would, of course.”

Ray met Kowalski’s eyes, amused. Yeah, Kowalski must know Fraser’s dancing too.

But then Kowalski settled on him, assessing. “Vecchio?” Kowalski tilted his head to the side in challenge.

“Nah. I’m good here.”

Kowalski moved over to him, shifting his hips in time with the beat, and all of a sudden Ray was so hard he could hardly breathe, and he almost lost his balance. Kowalski shot him a wicked smile and this time Ray did lose his balance, the other two chair legs coming down with a thud.

“You sure?” Kowalski said, holding out his hand.

Ray felt trapped between Kowalski and the wall behind him so he looked over at Benny, but Fraser just gave a minute shrug, ‘go ahead’. Oh God, this was a bad idea, but when Kowalski’s tongue came out to wet his bottom lip, Ray couldn’t remember why. Whatever.

“Okay, sure, if you need me to show you how it’s done,” Ray said, and got up out of his chair. “I’m not dancing with you though,” he said, looking at Kowalski’s outstretched hand.

“Why not?”

“Well,” Ray cast around for an excuse, “I mean, you’re with Benny. It wouldn't be right.”

“Oh, I don’t mind Ray,” Fraser said, helpfully.

“I don’t know how to follow,” Ray warned, hoping Kowalski would drop it. No such luck.

“That’s okay,” Kowalski said. “Trained both ways, back when me and Stella used to do classes. You can lead. Now come on.” He waggled his fingers at Ray.

“Okay, okay, fine,” Ray bit out, taking Kowalski’s hand, warm and dry in his.

He tried to keep some distance between them, but Kowalski just pulled him in closer, hips almost touching, into a weird bastardised latin hold. Ray fumbled and managed to get his other hand on Kowalski’s shoulder, and then they were moving in time to the music, backwards and forwards. Every so often Kowalski would spin out for a turn, like he was a girl or something, but Kowalski didn’t seem to mind and Ray didn’t have much time to dwell on it. They were moving fast, but Ray managed to keep up, just—thanks Stella—and Kowalski smiled, cheeks flushed. Kowalski probably hadn’t danced like this in a while, no way Benny’d be able to move like this. Ray could barely move like this himself.

Over Kowalski’s shoulder, Ray could see Fraser leaning against the countertop staring at them. It was the sort of gaze Ray’d always imagined focused on him, but in his imagination, it’d been just him, alone. Ray almost stumbled—they were moving too fast for him to get distracted like that—so he quickly fixed his eyes back over Kowalski’s shoulder. They weren’t quite cheek to cheek but it was close; he could smell Kowalski’s aftershave, and feel the heat radiating from him.

The song ended and moved into something slower, but Kowalski didn’t let go, and they moved from side to side, catching their breath. Ray tried to get himself under control, calm the hell down, slow his breathing. He really should pull back from the…embrace, because that was what it was, an embrace…but in the moment he couldn’t remember why. Kowalski’s arms were steadying and Ray revelled in the closeness.

But they’d only been, essentially slow dancing, for a few seconds when Fraser exclaimed, “Damn it to hell,” and when Ray looked over, Fraser was clutching his left hand.

“Shit,” Ray said, and stepped back from Kowalski. “What happened?”

Fraser was silent for a moment, staring at his hand, but then he said, “Just a small burn I think,” and moved over to the tap, turning the cold water on.

“Why’d you do that?” Ray asked, unthinkingly.

“Well obviously I didn’t mean to,” Fraser said, flush creeping up the back of his neck, as he turned the stove off with his free hand. “I’m afraid I was distracted.”

“By…” Me and Kowalski? Ray couldn’t finish that sentence, but the arousal he’d been trying to tamp down flared up, hotter and brighter than ever.

Fraser turned off the tap, and pressed a towel to his hand. “Yes. Yes. You are both very talented dancers,” he said, not looking at either of them. Something about his tone made Ray look down, and jeez, Fraser was hard right now, turned on from watching them.

“Let me have a look,” Kowalski said.

Kowalski walked over to Fraser and then peered down at Fraser’s hand, running his fingers over the burn. Fraser swallowed and then looked up to meet Kowalski’s eyes, but he also looked kind of miserable.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Kowalski said, stroking Fraser’s fingers. “I mean, I know you’re attracted to me, for good reason,” Kowalski gave a flirty smile, “and I know you were with Vecchio before, I get it, s’okay.”

“What?” Ray said, raising his eyebrows.

“Oh no,” Fraser said. “No, ah, Ray and I have never-, I, er, that is-,”

“What, really?” Kowalski’s eyes narrowed, and then turned to Ray.

“What the hell are you talking about Kowalski?” Ray said.

“Huh.”

“What, you thought me and Benny were doing the tango before?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.” Kowalski shrugged, and then looked back at Fraser. “I mean, I could understand it, you guys have a thing, and Vecchio’s not bad looking.”

“Well, gee, thanks a lot,” Ray said, stepping forward.

“Okay, okay, I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Why did you think that?” Fraser asked, looking at Kowalski.

“I dunno,” Kowalski said. “Gut feeling.” But then turned to Ray, gaining confidence. “You saying you ain’t attracted to Fraser?”

For fuck’s sake. Ray knew anything out of his mouth right now was just going to damn him further, so he glared at Kowalski and took another few steps forward.

Kowalski didn’t look convinced, in fact he looked as if Ray had just proved his point. “Yeah, exactly.” Kowalski waved a hand in emphasis. “And of course Fraser ain’t exactly the most loco-, locomotive, about relationships.”

“Loquacious,” Fraser murmured.

“Yeah, that,” Kowalski said. “It coulda been a thing.”

“That’s ridiculous. Me and Benny were never together.” Ray was aware that his voice was slowly creeping louder.

“Well, I know that now! But you don’t need to act like it’s so crazy, because it clearly ain’t!”

“Er,” Fraser said, and they both turned to him. “Maybe we should all take a step back, some space?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, you want to take a step back Vecchio?” Kowalski said, with a grin, moving even closer.

“Not on your life Kowalski. If anyone’s stepping back here, it’s you.”

“You wish, Vecchio.” Kowalski was vibrating in front of him, all pent up energy

“Okay, well I guess we’ll just be stuck here forever then,” Ray said, spreading his arms wide.

“Hey, asshole-,” Kowalski started, but then he launched himself forwards. For a second Ray thought he might get hit, but no, that was Kowalski’s lips pressed up against his, and his hands coming up to fist in Ray’s shirt. Jesus.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Ray said, around Kowalski’s lips. “Watch the shirt. It ain’t some ten-dollar tee.”

Kowalski pulled back, but didn’t let go. “That’s all you have to say? You’re worried about your stupid shirt?” Kowalski shook his head, and stuck out his jaw belligerently. “You care so much about it?”

Ray felt something hot go through him, a mix of anger and arousal, and he wanted to lean in again, kiss all the energy out of the guy, but shit, Fraser! But when Ray looked over, Fraser was just staring hard at them, biting his lip. Okay, so not bothered...or at least not the kind of bothered that would get Ray a punch to the face. Not that Benny was likely to do that anyway.

“Do you want…” Ray said, not sure what he was asking, not sure who he was asking, looking between them.

“Yes,” Fraser blurted out. “Yes.”

Ray turned to Kowalski, and raised an eyebrow.

Kowalski rolled his eyes, but he was already moving closer, body speaking for him. “Okay, okay, yes,” he said, and then ‘mmppphhf’ as Vecchio dragged him in for another kiss.

When they pulled back this time, Kowalski’s eyes were kind of glassy, and he reached up a shaky hand to run it through his hair, breathing hard

“Oh,” Fraser whispered, to the side of them, and then leaned forward and started licking Kowalski’s neck, mouthing kisses along the underside of his jaw.

Ray ran his hands underneath Kowalski’s t-shirt, feeling the soft skin of his belly, as Kowalski’s hands came up to grip Ray’s waist, crumpling the fabric there…and did the guy ever listen? But before Ray could say anything, Fraser turned to him and started mouthing at Ray’s neck, kissing his way up Ray’s collarbone, his jaw. Ray felt his knees go unsteady.

“We should...we should...take this somewhere else,” Ray gasped.

“Yes,” Fraser said, and then, “Oh wait, let me just-, we need to-, the spaghetti...” Fraser gestured at the pots that were going cold.

“Seriously Benny?” Ray couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I’m Italian and I’ve never said this before in my life, but fuck the goddamn spaghetti!”

*

They really should have gone to the bedroom, Ray thought, as they tumbled onto the couch. It would’ve made a lot more sense, but the couch had been right there in eyeline, and they’d been shedding clothing as fast as possible. Which was how Ray found himself sitting in the middle of the couch, springs digging into his bare ass through the sheets, Kowalski on one side, Fraser on the other.

Kowalski was halfway on, halfway off the couch, mouth sealed around Ray’s cock, and on the other side Fraser was mouthing Ray’s neck hungrily, scratching his nails down Ray’s chest. It had been way too long, and there was no way that Ray was going to last.

“Hey...hey, I’m gonna-,” he said, but Kowalski just kept sucking, Fraser gave him a hot, open-mouthed kiss, and that was it, Ray was gone. When Ray came back to himself, Kowalski was wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Well, that was fast,” Kowalski said.

“Hey, not like I’ve been getting any recently!”

“You were beautiful Ray,” Fraser said.

Kowalski snorted, and rolled his eyes at Ray. “Like that’s any kind of excuse, I mean, tell me about it.”

“You mean you didn’t...?” Ray asked, and nodded towards the bedroom.

“It would have been disrespectful, Ray,” Fraser said earnestly, which was also really weird, because at the same time, Fraser was guiding Ray’s hand to his own cock. But hey, Ray wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

“Yes,” Fraser murmured, resting his head back against the edge of the couch, taking these hot, stuttering little breaths, as Ray’s hand moved up and down.

Kowalski rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, so disrespectful,” he said, gesturing at their current situation.”

“Well, we didn’t...know that Ray...was interested...at the time,” Fraser managed to get out.

Kowalski laughed. “Maybe you didn’t.”

“Okay, that’s it,” Ray said, rolling away from Benny, who gave a rumble of complaint.

“Sorry Benny,” he said. “But this guy,” he jabbed a finger at Kowalski, “is getting sucked off right now.” Ray stood up. “We’ll see just how long you last.” He looked at Kowalski, right in the eye, and Kowalski swallowed.

Fraser’s eyes flickered open, but he looked a lot less put out than he had a minute ago.

“Kowalski?” Ray said.

Kowalski shrugged, as if it was no skin off his nose, but Ray could see his cock twitch. “Okay, sure, if you want to, I guess,” Kowalski said.

Ray grinned and got to his knees, running his hands up Kowalski’s thighs, while Fraser shuffled closer into Ray’s old spot on the couch. Ray gave Kowalski’s thighs one last squeeze and then started pressing butterfly kisses up the inside of Kowalski’s leg until he was almost nose to nose with Kowalski’s cock. Ray paused there for a few moments, and when Kowalski groaned, it was hard not to smile.

“Hey, I thought this was going to be quick Vecchio?”

“Oh? Did you want something?” Ray said.

“Asshole.”

“How’s that for asking nicely?” he grumbled.

“Fine. Will you pretty please suck my cock, Vecchio?”

Ray felt his cock twitch, body giving a valiant effort at getting him back into the game, but no dice.

But it wasn’t just Kowalski that was impatient now, so Ray moved up until his mouth was millimetres away from the tip. Kowalski’s breathing sped up, and jeez, that was very close to an actual whine from the guy.

Ray looked up at Kowalski through his lashes, hoping to God that it made him look hot, and not like a complete idiot. “It’s not Vecchio,” he rebuked. “Ray. My name is Ray.”

Kowalski made a sound like he was dying. “Uh, fine, will you pretty please suck my cock, Ray?”

“Well, since you asked so nicely…” Ray grasped the base of Kowalski’s cock in one hand, and then took the rest into his mouth.

Ray closed his eyes and relaxed into sucking Kowalski’s cock, groaning a little just because he could, and Kowalski’s hands came down to rest on his head. The times Ray had done this in the past had been quiet affairs, noise not an option. But, for once, this was his own private apartment, and they could make whatever noise they wanted, within reason. And he didn’t have to try and be somebody else right now; right now he was Ray Vecchio, and if Ray Vecchio wanted to make some noise, he damn well could.

Kowalski’s hand came down off Ray’s head, and traced the side of his face, feeling the hollow of his cheek. “Shit, oh shit,” Kowalski said, “You’re so good at that,” he said, and Kowalski started making wordless noises, like he just couldn’t help it, like they were being dragged out of him, like Ray was a champion porn star who’d been giving blowjobs his entire life, rather than a guy who hadn’t done this in a while. But hey, it was flattering, Ray would take it.

After a few minutes Ray could tell by the shifting of Kowalski’s hips that he was almost there, so Ray took his mouth off Kowalski’s cock, and started jerking him off with his hands, while Fraser circled Kowalski’s nipples. Kowalski bucked and then came hard all over his own chest, slumping backwards, boneless, breathing hard.

“What, no swallowing?” Kowalski said, when he’d caught his breath and why, why, why had Ray thought the guy would get less irritating post orgasm? But somehow it didn’t bother him like it might’ve. Mainly ‘cause Kowalski sounded like a guy trying real hard to hide how embarrassingly happy he was.

“Maybe next time,” Ray said, though he realised he wasn’t sure if there would be a next time. “What can I say, I’m outta practice. Wouldn’t have gone well.”

Ray looked over at Benny, who was leaning up against Kowalski, still hard. “How are you still going Benny?”

“Resolve. Self control. Mental discipline,” Fraser said dryly.

“Self discipline ain’t always a virtue Benny.”

“No it ain’t,” Kowalski said.

“I’m not sure I quite understand,” Fraser said. “Perhaps one of you could espouse your views in a more practical demonstration?”

Nobody should be able to remember a word like espouse when they were that hard, Ray thought. “I got it,” he said. “Alright Kowalski?”

“Yeah, yeah, go ahead.”

Ray shuffled over and settled between Fraser’s legs

“Only…,” Fraser trailed off.

“Yeah?” Ray said, ‘cause didn’t Fraser know that Ray would give him any goddamn thing he asked for?

“No teasing? Please?”

Well, that was easy enough. “Of course,” Ray said, and set about sucking Benny’s cock, as Kowalski’s hand came up to Ray’s head, no pressure, just feeling him moving up and down.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Kowalski said to Fraser. “You’re almost there, aren’t you? You were close already, from watching us.” Kowalski brought his hand up to brush Fraser’s hair back from his forehead, though Benny's hair wasn't that long.

“Yes,” Benny said, eyes closed.

“‘Cause me and Ray, we’re hot, right?”

“Oh-, yes-,”

Fraser speechless was a sight to see, and Ray stopped sucking and started jerking Fraser off with his right hand, rolling Fraser’s balls in his left, brushing down a little and back up.

“Oh-, oh-, that’s it,” Fraser said, and then his face contorted, he threw his head back, and came all over Ray’s hand.

Ray coulda stayed there for hours looking up at Benny like that, though maybe not super practical with his knees, so it was good that Kowalski was tugging at his shoulder insistently, pulling him up. Ray ended up half slumped between them, Kowalski’s arm slung across his shoulder, Benny’s hand on his thigh. They were silent for a moment, but then Ray’s stomach rumbled, breaking the ice.

“Oh. We never ate,” Fraser said.

“We could get pizza?” Kowalski suggested.

It sounded like a good idea to Ray, but not to Fraser, of course.

“There’s no need, I’m sure the meal will be fine after a quick reheat, there’s no need to be wasteful.”

Ray and Kowalski eyed each other, but Fraser was already getting up, and heading over to the stove, butt naked, jizz all over him.

“As I suspected, perfectly salvageable,” Fraser said, peering into the saucepan.

Kowalski and Ray both sighed in unison, looked at each other, and then cracked up. Ray was laughing so hard he could barely stop.

And that was how they ended up sitting at the table, half dressed, smell of sex in the air, eating plates of some of the worst Italian food Ray’d ever had. But also, at the same time, it kinda felt like one of the best meals of his entire life.

*

Of course, it was just his luck that the first night back in his own bed with Fraser and Kowalski, he found himself gasping awake at three in the morning. Fantastic.

Ray stared up at the ceiling of his bedroom, vision blurring, willing his breathing to slow down, praying for his heart to stop bursting out of his chest. When he came back to himself, he could feel Benny lying next to him, breathing steady, kinda comforting. But the other side of the bed was empty, and when Ray turned, Kowalski was leaning up against the bedroom window, looking out at the street, shifting from one foot to the other. If Kowalski was awake, then he must have heard Ray for sure, but he hadn’t turned, he hadn’t said anything.

Limbs heavy, feeling exhausted, Ray untangled himself from the blankets and pulled on a robe.

“Hey,” Ray said, walking over.

Kowalski looked over at him. “Morning.”

“Up early?” Ray said.

“Yeah,” Kowalski sighed. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Wanna talk?” Ray offered, though he never really wanted to talk himself, when he was feeling crap.

“Nah, not really,” Kowalski said, and fine, but then Kowalski just barreled on. “But it’s like, sometimes I was being you for so long, it all ends up going round and round in my head you know?”

“Yeah.”

“And it’s like, who even am I? What am I doing here? And...I tried to put the whole thing off, jumping right into the whole ice adventure, being with Fraser, but was still kinda there.” Kowalski ran his hands over the windowsill, fingers drumming softly in rhythm.

“What was it like on the adventure?” Ray asked.

“Weird. Like a whole ‘nother planet. Out there you’re really just a pair of guys, and Chicago...it feels like it barely exists. No cops, no criminals, you’re just some guy, out there with another guy, doing what it takes, you know?”

“Sounds kinda terrifying.”

“Yeah. Great too, but terrifying, yeah.”

“Vegas was like another world,” Ray said. “You wouldn’t think so, ‘cause it’s still a city right, how different could it be? But the summers are way too hot, and it’s so bright out all the time, even at night.”

“Never been,” Kowalski said.

“Not worth it.”

“No?”

“Nah. It’s all people trying to scam you, take your money, get you drunk. Not that Chicago ain’t that too, but Vegas is just more, worse. If I don’t have to ever go back there, that’d be fine.”

“Fair enough.” Something about the non pressured way Kowalski said it seemed to invite confidence.

“Looks like I’m gonna have to though, the trials, you know?” Ray added. “But other than that, think I’m gonna stick around Chicago for a while.”

“Yeah, me too,” Kowalski said. “But…”

“What?”

“You were planning to move to Florida though, weren’t you?” Kowalski asked.

“Yeah,” Ray sighed. “Not like I’m ever against moving, you know, but it wasn’t the right time. And Stella, well, maybe it coulda worked if we’d met different, but I kinda rushed it.”

“Yeah, I kinda do that too sometimes, the rushing,” Kowalski said. “Going all in. And sometimes I wonder if this is a rush, me and Fraser. ‘Cause I’ve done that before, and I was thinking, wait, you know, I kinda just ran away to Canada for the guy. But I don’t think...I hope not. I’m thinking this one, maybe this one really is for keeps.”

They both looked down at Fraser lying in Ray’s bed, hair mussed, snoring slightly.

“I mean, when you know what you want, if it’s something you really want, then the time don’t matter so much. Sometimes when you know, you just know,” Ray said.

“You really think so?” Kowalski met his eyes.

“I used to, for sure. Ma and Da had this thing, this cheesecake…anyway, it’s different now, but, well, I gotta hope that’s still true.”

“Me too,” Kowalski brushed his shoulder up against Ray’s. “So, what are you going to do now, now that you’re retired?”

“I have no clue,” Ray said. “What about you?”

“Well, back to the CPD when my leave is over. Move back to my place eventually, I think the Dawsons are almost back on their feet,” Kowalski said, with a shrug and a laugh.

Ray looked away, ‘cause yeah, of course it was going to happen, Fraser and Kowalski were going to leave, but he’d been trying really hard to ignore it. “Oh yeah? How’s that going?” he asked.

“I never thought they’d be there so long,” Kowalski confessed. “But hey, I wasn’t using the place, it seemed right at the time. And then when I even suggested them moving out before they were ready, Fraser would just look at me all disappointed, like…” Kowalski turned to Ray and looked at him. Really looked at him. And...oh shit.

“Or you know,” Kowalski said slowly, “Me and Fraser were talking...thinking about looking for somewhere bigger too, more space. We might do that.”

“What?”

“Maybe you’d wanna come? Not long left on the lease for this place.”

“Thanks, but third wheelin’ ain’t exactly my idea of a good time,” Ray said, though even as he said it, part of him just wanted to say yes, yes to anything.

“Who says it has to be third wheelin’? Or maybe kinda third wheelin’, but like we’re all wheels, like we’re supposed to have three wheels, you know? Like a trike or somethin’.”

Ray felt his eyes almost pop out of his head. “A trike? Like for little kids?”

“C’mon, you know what I’m talking about. You. Me. Fraser. Apartment.”

“Why would you...did Fraser say something?”

“Na, ‘course not.”

“Then how’d you know he’d even want something like that?”

Kowalski rolled his eyes. “C’mon. The guy’s still half in love with you, it was obvious on his face every time he called. Even if you weren’t actually doing the tango before.”

“I don’t think so,” Ray said. “Fraser loves you.”

“Yeah, he does.”

“You love him.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“So why?”

“What, like you can only love one person at a time?” Kowalski shrugged. “You’re hot. I like you, Fraser definitely likes you. I like us together. An’...we both know that Fraser, he don’t ask for what he wants, not about stuff like this. So if anyone’s gonna do the asking, it’s gotta be me.”

“Look, not that it’s not...I’m just not the sorta guy you want to be with right now.”

“You seem alright to me.”

“Yeah, but I’m not-,” Ray said, and ran his hand over his face. “Vegas...I mean, Florida wouldn’t have fixed anything, how is this-,”

“Who said anything about fixing anything?” Kowalski said. “C’mon, it doesn’t have to be so complicated. You. Me. Fraser. Doing what we’ve been doing the last few weeks. Hopefully with more sex. And a bigger bed.”

Ray focused on the street outside, watching the street lamps. “Sometimes I wake up at night, like this,” he said, gesturing between them.

“Yeah, I thought maybe some nights I could hear you. When I was up too, you know?”

“It bugged Stella that I couldn’t talk to her about it,” Ray admitted. “She wanted to help. But I was kinda in a worse spot than now.”

“S’okay,” Kowalski said. “We got time. If you ever do. But not like I can really throw stones myself on the sleeping thing, and if you think Fraser would say no to you for that, you don’t know him at all.”

“I-,”

Kowalski’s face started to fall. “I mean, if you really don’t want to, you don’t have to. I mean, I know it was Benny you wanted, I’m not exactly-,”

“Okay, okay.” Ray rolled his eyes. “You got me, I’ll do it. Now stop with the pity party, Kowalski.” But he brushed his shoulder up against Kowalski’s, softening the words. “You’re a catch, a sexy guy, no need to put on the woe is me.” Ray put his arm around Kowalski, pulling the guy in.

“You really want to do it? You mean it?”

Ray sighed. “I mean, this is crazy...but given Fraser’s usual style of crazy...”

“Yeah, not that crazy,” Kowalski said. “It’s like once you meet Fraser, everything’s different.”

“Boy do I know that.”

“And...you too, you know? Ever since I first saw you standing there in that hotel room, that stupid turtleneck...it’s been different too. Not just Fraser.”

“Yeah, I know,” Ray said, and leant forward and kissed Kowalski. “Me too. Now, we should at least try to get back to bed. It is three in the morning,” Ray said.

“Yeah, you’re probably right about that.”

They both turned and looked at Fraser lying on the bed.

“He ain’t gonna see this coming,” Ray said.

“No.”

“You got a camera right? For when we tell him?”

Kowalski chuckled quietly. “Yeah, think I got one somewhere.”

*

Kowalski got into the middle of the bed and Ray shuffled in behind him, pressing up close; he pretty much had to, or one of them, namely Ray, was gonna fall off the bed. But it was still pretty nice. Kowalski rested his hand on Ray’s arm, and Ray smiled at him, before settling back against the pillows and ten minutes later, Kowalski was snoring beside him.

Another ten minutes later, Ray heard the bedroom door squeak on its hinges, and the pitter patter of claws on the hardwood floor. When Ray looked down, there was Dief, looking up at him.

Ray reached down and Dief licked at his hand. “Hey,” Ray said.

Dief tensed for a moment, coiled energy, and then sprung up onto the bed. Ray knew he should make Dief go, the bed was definitely too small for the four of them...but ah, what was the point? Dief turned in circles for a bit, and then settled down across Ray’s feet.

“So,” Ray whispered to Dief. “What do you think about this?”

Dief looked up at him, and then nuzzled Ray’s leg through the blankets.

“Yeah, okay.” Ray smiled.

Dief shot him a pleading look, and jeez, half wolf when it suited, but when it came to donuts, you’d think Dief’d never hunted a day in his life.

“And...okay, one. One donut, next time we’re out,” Ray said.

Dief’s ears pricked up.

“But only one. You know they ain’t good for you.”

Ray leant back and closed his eyes. Vegas was supposed to be the ultimate luxury, and there were some out there who’d kill for that kind of thing. Three guys and a dog-, shit, sorry Dief, half wolf, in a bed that was way too small...definitely not luxury. But Ray knew for sure where he’d rather be.