Chapter 1: Prologue
His fridge was empty again, why was that? When he'd been with Stella the fridge always seemed to be fully stocked, how was it that he couldn't achieve the same feat? Maybe it was just because he didn't want to, couldn't see the point of anything without Stella.
Stella. It hurt to think about her and yet every other thought was about her, go figure. They had so much history between them, how was he ever supposed to get over her? He still wasn't entirely sure as to why their marriage had fallen apart. He'd got lost somewhere between the ‘I do’ at the church and the screaming at the lawyers' office. Not that Stella had done much screaming, she never did, she never had to. He would have done anything to make her happy, all she had to do was ask. So why wasn't it enough? She hadn't stopped loving him. She'd told him that on the courthouse steps and torn his heart in two.
Automatically he reached out for a beer. Alcohol, it was the only thing that deadened the pain and when Stella had thrown him out that last time he had spent all night drinking. In some dive of a bar where the only thing to recommend it was that as long as you had money they'd serve you, no matter how drunk you were.
Trouble was, drinking to dull the pain was starting to become a habit and people were beginning to notice, his lieutenant in particular. How many mornings now had he stumbled in late and hung-over? Too many to count, he almost smiled at the thought, but it wasn't funny. Do this too many times, he'd been warned, and you'll be suspended. He couldn't let that happen. Without Stella the job was all he had left and yeah, it stank, but it was his. Sometimes he could even convince himself that he was actually okay at it, but take that away and what would he have left exactly?
Ugh! Ray suddenly realised that he'd drunk half the beer without even noticing, not good. What was the point of life anyway? Most people, he realised with a shudder, are born, live and die and no one even notices. Pointless little lives, and I'm just one more.
"I'm just one more." Jeez, had he said that aloud? Maybe he should get a cat, at least then he could kid himself he wasn't actually talking to himself, wasn't actually going insane without Stella. What sort of cat would he get? A pedigree, or perhaps he'd just pick up the scrawniest moggy he could find at the animal shelter. Yeah, if he was gonna have a cat it'd have to be scrawny and kinda sad looking, there was no way he'd be able to bear being around anything or anyone too cheerful at the moment.
It might be a good thing, a pet that is, perhaps not a cat, something easier to look after, something that wouldn’t mind when he came home late. Give him something else to think about, something else to concentrate on.
This morning he'd been in the middle of shaving when he'd stopped to look at his razor blade, wondering exactly how sharp it was. Ray shook the thought off, it wasn't healthy and certainly wouldn't get him anywhere other than locked up in a loony bin, but despite that he couldn't let go of the thought entirely. In a strange way it was comforting to know that he could turn his back on life as easily as he did on his fellow cops when they were hassling him. That just reminded him of the terrible day he'd had and he grabbed another bottle of beer out of the fridge, drinking down a quarter of the contents before he'd even made it out of the kitchen.
He sat down, sprawled out in his favourite chair. Stella had always hated it, tried to throw it out several times. It was too quiet in his apartment, all the music he owned reminded him of Stella, kissing Stella, dancing with Stella, making love to Stella... so many memories.
Ray closed his eyes, fighting back the tears, and then the telephone rang out in the stillness of the room. His heart leapt. Stella, please let it be her! He knew it wouldn't be even as he simultaneously prayed it would be, and so he let the answer machine pick up the call.
"Stanley?" His heart sank into his boots, it was his mother. "Stanley? Son if you're there pick up." He ignored the plea in his mother's voice, didn't want to talk to her, didn't want to talk to anyone unless they were Stella. "Well when you get this message call me." The machine fell into silence and Ray reached across to hit the message erase button.
He closed his eyes again. It had been a tough day. For some reason Jackson, the biggest jerk in his district, had decided to spend all day winding Ray up and he had succeeded pretty well too. Ray had been about ready to punch him in the head when a small sliver of sanity had prevailed and instead he'd stormed out. The lieutenant he knew would have a thing or two to say about it later but it was that or starting a brawl in the middle of the squad room. Normally he wouldn't have thought twice before jumping in with both fists but it would cause too much trouble, trouble he didn't need. So he'd run out, ignoring the mocking calls that had followed him and jumped into his car, foot rammed down on the gas pedal as though all hell's demons were after him.
Twenty minutes later the car was spluttering to a halt, the gas tank empty. Dammit! He'd intended to fill it up on the way home and now what was he going to do? Groaning, hardly able to believe his bad luck, he swung the door open and climbed out. Just his luck to end up in a part of the city he didn't know. He needed to find a gas station. Ray put his head down, stuck his hands in his pockets and started walking.
"Hey, you!" He heard the shout and realised that he'd wandered into a shadowy back alley. Clever, Kowalski, he berated himself, real clever.
"Talkin' to me?" He turned round slowly, one hand reaching for his weapon.
"Hands up!" Both of the huge men approaching him had guns, and both were trained on his heart.
"I'm a police officer," he called out as they continued their cautious approach, hoping this might discourage them, it didn't.
"That don't mean nothing to us." The men were by his side now, frisking him with expert hands. They took his gun, his cellphone, his badge, what little cash he had on him and his car keys, much good they might do them.
"Down on your knees!" The command startled Ray, he'd thought all they wanted to do was mug him. "Hands behind your head."
Ray did exactly as he was told, any minute could be his last and as he knelt down in the garbage-strewn alley his mouth sketched a single word, "Stella." He closed his eyes.
A gunshot rang out and then Ray realised he wasn't dead, he cautiously cracked open one eye and then the other. The two goons were lying some way from him and stooping down over them was a man, his face lost in the shadows. He looked up at Ray but he didn't come any closer.
"I suggest you call for back-up and take these two into custody." Then he was gone and Ray had hauled himself shakily to his feet.
Ray shook himself back into the present and finished his beer. The hands on the clock were creeping round so slowly, it was just gone ten. Nevertheless he dragged himself up, time to go to bed. Anything was better than staring at the wall. Besides if he went to sleep he'd dream about Stella and for a few hours at least it would be as though the divorce had never happened. But his last thought before he fell asleep wasn't of Stella but of the man he'd seen in that alley, there had been shadows across his face but there was just something about him... Ray drifted off to sleep.
In his dream he was back in that alley, there were no unconscious goons there this time, just himself and the stranger.
"Who are you?" It was queer, everything was so intense it was like he was actually back in that alley again but he was at the same time fully aware that it was all a dream.
"That's not important," the voice was as cool and calming as he remembered. "What is important is that you're all right."
"Thanks to you."
"You needed help." The stranger replied simply but the subtle curling of those sensual lips showed that the gratitude was appreciated.
"Thanks," Ray muttered again, taking a step closer to the man, then another and another, but even standing so close to the stranger that he could feel the man's breath on his face, the features were still shrouded in shadows.
Awkwardly he waited and then a soft pair of lips brushed against his own. Had he started dreaming about Stella? No, he could feel the scrape of stubble against his face and the scent that he inhaled was definitely masculine. There were hands in his hair and when the next kiss descended on his lips it came complete with tongue.
Sweating, his groin aching with desire, Ray sat up in bed. He could still feel the stranger's lips lingering on his own even though they had never actually been there. Ray lay back down again, inhaling, exhaling, he controlled his breathing, and stared sightless into the dark wondering if he would ever see the stranger again.
Chapter 2: Something Unexpected
'It was time for a change, that much was obvious, recent events had merely confirmed it, but was this really what he wanted to do? Did he really want to become someone else? Did he really want to be paired up with some Canuck called Benton Fraser?'
Ray leant back in his favourite armchair and closed his eyes. The cup of coffee in front of him was already cold but, nevertheless, he stretched his hand out and drank it down with barely a grimace as the bitter liquid flowed down his throat and into a stomach that hadn't seen food for two days. There was nothing in his fridge, hadn't been for a long time, and the enthusiasm to actually go out and buy some food was nowhere to be found.
It had been over a year now since Ray had almost met his death in an alley on the other side of the city, over a year since his divorce from Stella, and the wound still throbbed with a pain that he thought would never stop. It was time for a change, that much was obvious, recent events had merely confirmed it, but was this really what he wanted to do? Did he really want to become someone else? Did he really want to be paired up with some Canuck called Benton Fraser?
Jeez, Ray's eyes flew open, what the hell kind of a name was Benton anyway? And another thing that worried him was the fact that no one had seen fit to inform the mountie of what was going on. He was apparently hundreds of miles away in the wilds of Canada doing whatever mounties do on vacation and no one seemed to care what might happen when Fraser came back to Chicago to find his partner and friend had vanished and been replaced with some scrawny-assed cop from the wrong side of the tracks.
But all these musings were purely academic since Ray had already agreed to take on the assignment, where would have been the point of saying no? Not that he had felt Lieutenant Jack Cleeves had given him much choice, even while Ray had been sitting in the tiny office turning the pictures of Ray Vecchio and Fraser over in his hands, Cleeves had been talking like Ray had already made his decision. And when finally Ray had nodded in agreement the lieutenant had leapt to his feet and clasped the younger man's shoulders and then hustled him out of the office to get some celebratory food.
That had been Ray's last meal two days ago, he hadn't made it into work in all that time, and the reason why still made him shake. Not with fear either but with desire, and Ray just couldn't get his head round that one, he never would have thought that he was like that, that he would ever appreciate the caresses of another man. The whole idea was inconceivable, or at least it had been.
Cleeves had driven Ray back to his apartment block, he barely spoke a word in all that time but Ray made no moves to start a conversation. Ray had a lot of respect for his lieutenant, the man had made Ray see that there was light at the end of the tunnel after his divorce, twice he had rejected Ray's resignation, always offered after a heavy night's drinking.
"I know this isn't what you want." Cleeves had told him the second time, sympathetic brown eyes meeting Ray's unfocused blue.
"How do you know what I want?" Ray had slurred defensively, one hand raking a path through his disordered hair. "Dammit, Cleeves, I want to resign."
Cleeves had smiled and slowly ripped the letter that Ray had scrawled awkwardly at five that morning up. "Go home," he advised gently, paternally. "Take a shower, get some sleep and I'll see you tomorrow morning."
But on this particular evening when Ray had reached out a hand to open the passenger door Cleeves reached across him, took the hand and drew it back. Then, carefully, as though not wanting to startle Ray, he bent his head down and to one side and let his own lips brush those of the young detective.
"Wha..." Ray drew himself back but Cleeves had one arm around his shoulders and simply pulled the man closer.
"I can't believe it." Cleeves's eyes were shining and this time when he lowered his head for a kiss Ray reciprocated fully, unable to help himself, he could taste the alcohol on the lieutenant's breath and he savoured it, so this was what it was like to kiss a man, mind-blowing.
"What don't you believe?" Ray asked, when he surfaced to catch his breath.
"That you're mine, that you're finally mine. It's been so long since... since I first realised I wanted you."
"What took you so long?" Ray could hardly believe that he was asking that question, that he was still in this car, that he hadn't run screaming, metaphorically of course, the minute Cleeves had taken his hand.
"You were married and you're under my command."
Ray glanced down at the pallid mark on the ring finger of his left hand, he had only taken the gold band off two weeks ago. "I'm still under your command."
"Only for a week," Cleeves reminded him. "And I just couldn't wait that long. Why do you think I pushed so hard for you to take the transfer?"
And then Ray had started shaking and found that no matter how hard he tried he couldn't stop. Hysterical laughter bubbled up from his lips, but he just kept right on shaking.
"It's okay," Cleeves sounded concerned. "I realise this is a lot to take in. Go on, go home. We'll talk about this later."
It was with an effort that Ray managed to climb out of the car and he very nearly didn't make it to his apartment at all. But once through the front door he had collapsed into his armchair and had barely moved since.
And in all that time, forty-eight hours worth, no one had called, no one had checked up on him. "I could be dead in a ditch somewhere," Ray muttered to himself, looking at the empty cup on the table. No, he shook his head, his nerves were already jangling from too much caffeine and he didn't think his body could stand anymore.
"Ray? Ray Kowalski?" Jeez, it was Cleeves, Cleeves outside his apartment door, he could hear the jangling of the landlady's keys and the man talking to her in a low voice. "He hasn't shown up for work in two days..."
The keys jangled a bit more and Ray leapt to the door and pulled it open. "Cleeves? Good to see you, sir." He pulled the lieutenant inside and smiled sweetly at his landlady before closing the door in her face. Then, before the older man had the chance to say anything Ray kissed him, driving his tongue into the cop's mouth, kissing him with a ferocity that left both men gasping for breath.
"Why didn't you come sooner?" Ray demanded angrily. "It's been two days, sir."
Cleeves smiled and clenched one hand in Ray's hair. "You missed me, huh?" His kiss was almost brutal and he drew away before Ray could respond. "I had to give you some time alone. Time to think, make up your own mind."
"So tell me, Kowalski," Cleeves's grin told Ray that the man already knew the answer to his question. "Have you come to any conclusions?"
"I want you." Three little words but they were enough and suddenly Cleeves's hands were tearing at his clothes, pulling down the jeans that covered too thin legs, tearing the t-shirt from his back.
Ray had never experienced such an intense rush of emotions at one time before and he hardly noticed that he was being pushed to the floor, or that Cleeves was ripping off his own trousers, but as the two men became one Ray cried out and wrapped his arms around the lieutenant as though he would never let go.
"The 27th's a good district," Cleeves murmured once both men's breathing had slowed sufficient for him to draw breath to speak. "You're going to like it there."
"It won't be me though."
"No it won't, but it's not forever, besides you're getting to live another guy's life, how many people ever get to do that?"
"Well me and Vecchio certainly do," Ray drawled, twisting round in Cleeves's embrace. "I can handle it."
I know you can." Cleeves smiled warmly and pulled Ray close in order to kiss him and as he felt Ray's body melt against his own Cleeves reflected that he had handled matters extraordinarily well.
His first day at the 27th and Kowalski was nervous, clad in his usual work clothes of jeans and sweatshirt he felt wildly uncomfortable. Vecchio was a suit man but there was no way Ray could bring himself to wear an Armani suit, even supposing he could afford to buy one, it would look out of place and surely the most important thing here was not what he looked like. Hell if it was they would have hardly have picked him for this assignment, it was his attitude that was the all-important thing and the only way to get that right was to feel as comfortable as possible. So why did he feel like someone had poured a nestful of ants down his pants?
He hadn't heard from Cleeves for a few days now and that wasn't helping his nerves any either. Cleeves had stayed with him for twelve hours and the two men had divided their time between having sex, and sleeping with their bodies twined around each other. Then Cleeves had torn himself away and left Ray alone, telling him he needn't bother coming back to work. Ray had taken him at his word but he was surprised not to have heard from the lieutenant, okay so he'd heard that his old district were tied up investigating some big corruption in the mayor's office but he still would have thought that Cleeves might at least have phoned him.
"So you're the new Vecchio." Lieutenant Welsh appraised Ray with a twinkle in his eye. "Can't be any worse than the last one. That was a joke, detective," he added, when Ray scowled at him.
"So um where's the mountie?"
"Still on vacation. He'll be back in a week. Time enough for you to get settled in here."
"I've heard some strange things about him."
"They're all true," Welsh assured him, "But he's a decent upright guy, you couldn't wish for a better partner."
Ray nodded but refrained from replying, he was fully determined to make up his own mind about Benton Fraser.
"Your desk," Welsh said, climbing to his feet and guiding Ray to the office door, "is over there. There's a coupla cases Vecchio was working on still outstanding. You need any help go to Elaine."
"Thanks," Ray nodded distractedly and wandered across to Vecchio's... no his desk, and sat down. He could feel eyes on him, watching him, drawing conclusions about him, but as soon as he looked up all the other detectives in the squad room seemed suddenly fascinated by the paperwork on their desks.
The morning dragged by, the two cases Vecchio had been working on seemed pretty straightforward. There were constant comments scrawled in pencil on the untidily typed sheets, all of them along the lines of 'Benny thinks' or 'Benny is sure'. Ray closed his eyes and groaned, reaching up to massage his neck, he was getting the distinct impression that Vecchio and Fraser had been joined at the hip.
His phone rang, first call of the day, Ray smiled. "Vecchio." What he heard made him frown and he glanced up to see Welsh watching him with the vaguest of frowns on his face. Jeez, this was all he needed, the first day as Vecchio and Internal Affairs were all over Detective Kowalski's ass.
"Sort it out, Vecchio." Welsh was looking distinctly unhappy. "Then get back here. You've got responsibilities now."
"It's nothing to do with you," the silky smooth voice at the other end of the line had informed him. "We just want to ask you some questions about your lieutenant."
Except, Ray reflected, as he got into his car and reluctantly started the engine, he's not my lieutenant anymore, he's my lover.
As Ray pulled out into the traffic bearing east out of Chicago he realised with a shudder that if his relationship with Cleeves got out then he would find himself the subject of an enquiry and there was no way he wanted that to happen. What the hell did Internal Affairs have on Cleeves anyway and why did they want to talk to him? He was hardly the most senior detective at the district nor the one who worked the closest with Cleeves, in fact until a week ago he had always seemed to be the one that Cleeves was bawling out for having committed some minor indiscretion.
The familiar district car park was packed and the space that Ray had always considered to be his own was occupied. He growled under his breath, forgetting for a moment that he was now merely a visitor, and pulled into a vacant space close by. The desk sergeant grinned at him as he walked in but Ray barely acknowledged her greeting, he was far too worried about what he was going to find waiting for him inside Cleeves's office.
Inside he found two IA officers and Lieutenant Cleeves looking, Ray had to admit, guilty as hell.
"What's this all about, sir?" He glanced down at Cleeves, playing the subordinate officer for all his might.
"Sit down, Kowalski." The older of the IA's gestured at a hard backed chair and Ray obediently sank into it. "Now you are no doubt aware of the corruption that this district has been investigating."
"Yes, sir, but..."
"Allegations have been made concerning your Lieutenant and that rather than trying to expose the crimes that had taken place he was actually using the investigation to cover up his own crimes."
Ray leapt to his feet indignantly. "No, there's no way he'd do that."
Ray did as he was told, glancing sideways at Cleeves who refused to meet his eyes.
"You've worked for Cleeves for a long time." The younger investigator, whose identity badge said his name was Wilson, fixed steel grey eyes on Ray. "If anyone had noticed anything suspicious it would have been you, right?"
Ray shook his head. "I've got nothing to do with this case."
"Cleeves." Wilson stood up, glowering down at Ray, "Has embezzled a rather large amount of taxpayers money. Taxpayers that you as a detective are sworn to protect. Now this investigation can and will continue without your input but we would greatly appreciate any help you could give us."
"I'm sorry." Ray didn't even bother to glance at Cleeves this time. "But I just don't believe it. Lieutenant," he was careful to stress the title that Wilson had been missing off, "Cleeves just wouldn't do something like that. He wouldn't use his position to personal advantage. He's one in a million sir. He's the greatest cop I know."
Wilson seemed less than impressed with Ray's heartfelt litany but he did at least let the detective leave.
Ray couldn't shake the feeling that the vultures from Internal Affairs had had a point. He knew Cleeves well enough to have seen the glimmer of fear deep in his eyes and he couldn't stop thinking about what he had been told. Was it true? Could Cleeves really have been involved in the very corruption that his district was trying so hard to uncover? The question troubled Ray deeply and the fact that Cleeves had been keeping an obvious distance from Ray for some days now also troubled the man. But what troubled him the most was the fact that he, Stanley Raymond Kowalski, had fallen in love for only the second time in his life and that this love, complicated by the fact that he was in love with a man, was quite possibly as doomed as the first had been. But as Ray looked up from his desk and realised the clock on the wall was showing seven p.m. and that most of his shift had already gone home he decided that he didn't care. Cleeves wasn't guilty no matter what was said. How could the man who he loved possibly do anything wrong?
Slowly, his head aching, Ray pushed the door of his apartment open. All he wanted to do was get a shower and sit down in front of some baseball on the television. The day had been tiring, so many new names and faces to take in and the strain of remembering that he was Ray Vecchio not Ray Kowalski was quite a lot to bear.
It was Cleeves and Ray gaped at him, his tired brain trying to get a handle on the situation.
"Your landlady let me in." Cleeves stood up and Ray rapidly closed the distance between them, fastening his lips to the older man's with a hunger that brought a gasp of surprise from Cleeves's lips.
"Tell me you didn't do it," Ray said eventually, one hand already around Cleeves's cock.
"You should know I didn't do it," Cleeves protested, pulling away from Ray. "I can't believe that you, of all people, would doubt me."
"I'm sorry. Of course I don't doubt you." Ray took a deep breath. "I love you."
For a moment Cleeves looked like he was going to laugh and then he drew Ray close to him. "You really do don't you." Then Cleeves kissed him and smiled, a smile which Ray eagerly returned. "You're a good kid," Cleeves muttered, letting his hand play across Ray's chest. Then before the young detective could respond Cleeves moved away, pulled open the front door and let himself out without saying another word.
Ray watched him go, his heart aching, his love squashed underfoot and, as his confused mind tried to make sense of what had just happened, Ray found himself collapsing in tears, crying with an intensity that not even Stella's betrayal had brought forth.
Chapter 3: Burning Down the House
'Of course today he had bigger problems. Today the Canadian, Vecchio's erstwhile partner, Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who had first come to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father, was coming home from vacation.'
It had been hard but he'd done it. He couldn't very well had done anything else, not if he wanted to keep his job anyway. Why was it that the same shit kept happening to the same guy? First Stella and then Cleeves, okay so he'd only been close with the lieutenant a coupla weeks but he'd known him for a long time before that, known him and admired him and falling in love with him hadn't been such a big step to take.
How could he have known how Cleeves would have reacted? How could he have known that his mentor, his lover, would kick him in the guts like that? The pain was so raw he couldn't deal with it, his body, his brain, every part of him operating on auto-pilot, every part but his heart. That organ had been trampled all over far too many times for Ray's liking and he wasn't about to let it happen again. No, sir, next time someone, anyone came along he was gonna treat them just as badly as he'd been treated, let someone else carry all this pain for a change.
Of course today he had bigger problems. Today the Canadian, Vecchio's erstwhile partner, Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who had first come to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father, was coming home from vacation. It was part of the job, part of the deal of taking on Vecchio's life, covering for the guy while he went undercover with the mob.
Yeah he could handle it, he was nervous he admitted that but his apprehension was entirely tied up with the thought of Cleeves. Everytime the phone rang Ray leapt a mile, his answer machine was most definitely out of a job. He just couldn't believe that the man was gone for good, was sure that Cleeves would get in touch, ring him up, say he was wrong, that he loved Ray every bit as much as Ray loved him and he was sorry for running out the other night but it had all been so unexpected. That he was sorry and he wanted to work things out, please could they try again? But the phonecalls were never from Cleeves and it was killing him and worse, thoughts of Stella were starting to flow through his head, thoughts that he felt sure had been exorcised by Cleeves's touch and now he wasn't even sure who he wanted more - Cleeves or Stella? Stella or Cleeves?
It wouldn't be a problem - all he had to do was get through the day, deal with the Mountie, jeez, he might even have a go at dealing with the ever increasing pile of paperwork on his desk if he could get a spare five minutes to himself. Lieutenant Welsh he was glad to find was treating him just as he had treated Vecchio, or so Detective Huey had informed him, and that was good cos the last thing Ray needed right now was a repeat of what had happened with Cleeves. Things would be okay, Ray told himself with a determined lift of his chin, as he slid his lithe body out of Vecchio's Riv, he had a good feeling about today.
He'd never been more mistaken in his life, Ray reflected as he climbed out of the car and held the door, my God, he was actually holding the door, for Fraser's wolf! It had been quite some day and Ray was just glad it was over.
Mind you, here the mountie still was. He'd accepted Ray's invitation of coffee, although he had added that he didn't really drink coffee but a cup of herbal tea would do just fine thank you kindly, with alacrity and in just the same manner with which Ray had accepted the mountie's earlier invitation to get something to eat. That meal had been a little awkward, but they'd got through it okay. Their conversation had been light, inconsequential, neither revealing too much about himself.
Understandable, Ray shrugged, they were both a little nervous around each other, both wondering about the other, how far could they each be pushed. Ray knew that the mountie had trusted Vecchio implicitly, that they had both trusted each other implicitly, that sometimes, and this from Elaine and okay so it was obvious that she had the hots for the mountie but she was nonetheless level headed enough that her opinions could be trusted, they had seemed more like one man than two.
The weirdest thing was, well the weirdest thing after the fact that he actually believed that the cop and the mountie had been practically joined at the hip, was that he was jealous. Somehow Ray doubted that he'd ever have that closeness with Fraser, he couldn't bring himself to call the man Benton, besides Fraser suited him better. Sure Fraser would try to appear as close to this new Vecchio as to the old, his friend's life depended on it after all, but it would never be more than an act and Ray was surprised by just how much that thought hurt, almost as much as trying to live without Cleeves. Ray bit his lip, he could still feel the man's touch, it just wasn't fair.
"Ray, are you all right?"
The concern in the mountie's voice made Ray's eyes open wide in surprise and then he realised that as usual he'd allowed his emotions to show plainly on his face, had always been a problem with Stella, being a district attorney she was well used to keeping her true feelings hidden.
Kowalski dragged his thoughts away from his ex-wife and forced himself to concentrate on the man in front of him. Fraser really did look concerned, jeez, even the wolf was staring at him.
"I'm fine, Frase." Ray forced a smile and locked the car door. "I'm just a little tired I guess, it's not every day that someone tries to blow you and your car up, or that you then have to drive said car into Lake Michigan."
"No, it's not every day." The mountie sounded thoughtful and Ray winced, wondering if Fraser were about to go off into some long-winded exposition about one of the many cases he and Vecchio had solved together. Not now, Frase, he silently begged the mountie, I don't think I could cope with it right now.
"Thanks, by the way, for helping me out there..." Ray let his voice run out, embarrassed, too proud to admit to his new partner that he couldn't swim, thank goodness the water hadn't been too deep or he would have really have been in trouble. Fraser moved away from the car, towards Ray's apartment block, letting his hand linger unconsciously on the bonnet for just the briefest of moments. Cleeves had had the exact same mannerism and suddenly the excitement of the day's events vanished as Ray was hit by a crippling wave of longing for his old lieutenant.
Fraser found himself watching the slender blonde-haired man intently as he strode towards the apartment building. He noted the way Ray held himself, yes there was arrogance in his stride but a certain diffidence caught and held Fraser's attention. This man, for all the overpowering brashness he liked to display, was at heart a sensitive soul, and Fraser was touched by the way he had tried so hard to conceal his pain from the mountie.
Something, or more likely someone, Fraser observed accurately, had hurt Ray badly, so badly that it showed in every movement of his long graceful limbs. He longed to know what it was, what had put such hurt, such mistrust into those soulful eyes, but he would not ask. If Fraser didn't ask, perhaps in time Ray would trust him enough to want to tell him, to volunteer the information to the sympathetic ears of his friend.
Fraser almost stopped breathing, his friend. Was it possible that he would ever be able to call this man his friend? He'd seen the hurt on Ray's face when he'd thought Fraser was rejecting him. He hadn't known that Fraser had no idea who he was or what he was doing claiming to be Ray Vecchio so he must have felt mortally wounded by the way Fraser had been acting towards him all day. The mountie groaned, he might just as well have turned round to Ray and said, you're not good enough to be my friend, right to his face, he doubted that it would have changed the wounded puppy dog look that had been on the man's face for most of the day.
But that smile, Fraser would give anything to see that smile again. Who would have thought that a simple invitation to dinner would have produced such a radiant response. Yes, he would do anything to see that smile again and that was why he was here, standing patiently, waiting for Ray, was that really his name, to find the keys to his apartment and let them both into the old building.
There were, Fraser told himself sternly, other things to think about. Where he was going to spend the night for one, worry for Ray Vecchio was there as well even though there was nothing he could do about that. And yet all these things faded into the background when he looked at the man now leading him up a narrow flight of stairs and along an even narrower corridor.
Fraser tried to push the feeling fast rising in his gut away, not totally unexpected it still frightened him a little. If he was honest he'd admit that it frightened him a lot. It was one of the reasons why he'd always been the first one to volunteer for any assignments that meant spending long periods of time on his own and soon that, but thankfully not the reason for it, had become part of the legend. There had been a couple of men he'd been close to but the relationships hadn't lasted long. His job was too dangerous, too time intensive for him to make a full commitment to either of those men, no matter how much he had loved them. Fraser didn't want to face the fact that the real reason behind his lack of commitment was fear, fear that someone would find out about him, find out who he really was and worst of all tell the father whose approval he was so desperate for.
Then he had come to Chicago and met Ray and wondered for a short time whether he could start something there but no, when he looked into the eyes of his partner all he ever saw was the regard for a friend and then of course Victoria had exploded back into his life, bringing with her all the feelings he'd felt before. All the feelings of fear, of loneliness that had made them cling to each other all that time ago, all the feelings that had made Fraser sure he was in love with her. Wasn't that what men did? Why should he be so different?
"Hey, Frase, you gonna sit down or what?"
They were inside the apartment and Fraser let his legs collapse under him and for once the keen scrutiny he normally turned on everything failed him and he took in no details of the room where he sat. All he was aware of was the man standing before him twisting his hands uncertainly as though unsure what to do next. He was beautiful, there was no denying that fact and undoubtedly straight as well, Fraser didn't allow himself to have any delusions on that score.
"So, Frase, can I get you something to drink?" Ray sank down next to Fraser, so close that the mountie could smell the man's shampoo and he fought to control himself.
"I..." Fraser turned towards Ray to explain that he wasn't actually thirsty and then stopped. Two pairs of eyes stared into each other for what seemed an eternity until Ray suddenly pulled himself back, painfully aware that he had been about to kiss the mountie.
"So, do you reckon Dief's thirsty?" Ray glanced over at the wolf who was lying resignedly across the entrance to Ray's cubicle-like kitchen.
"I'm sure he wouldn't say no." Fraser glanced across at Diefenbaker, carefully avoiding Ray's gaze and the cop mentally kicked himself. Look what you've done, he chided himself, he knows who you are and he doesn't like it.
"Right," Ray spoke out loud and edged towards the kitchen, careful to keep a reasonable distance between himself and Fraser. "Well, I'll see what I've got."
Searching his cupboards for a suitable dish to present Dief's milk in Ray couldn't believe his own stupidity. Practically throwing himself at the Canadian like that was not smart. Way to go Kowalski, keep this up and he'll start avoiding you all together and that's not going to help Vecchio's cover any. And that was the crux of the matter when all was said and done, that Ray's job was to take over Vecchio's life and from all he'd heard Ray was pretty damn sure that Vecchio would never have even considered doing the horizontal lambda with Fraser, neither of them would have.
Finally he settled on a large soup plate, it was a hideous piece of china, white with brash wild flowers rioting across its surface and Ray hated it. It had been part of a set of china given to Stella for her eighteenth birthday by an ancient aunt and Ray had broken every single piece of it, every piece but the soup dish, one night coming home drunk after a celebration following the successful closure of a case. Stella had given it to him after their divorce and Ray had accepted it for the rebuke it was meant to be. For the first six months he had kept it in full view and even now when he had found the courage to shut it away he still couldn't quite bring himself to throw it away. It represented something, all the times he'd done something stupid, all the times Stella had thrown her arms up in disgust at his behaviour and banished him to sleep in the spare room and now it represented something else, his almost having made a move on the mountie - now that really did have to qualify as the stupidest thing he'd ever done.
"Jesus!" Ray jumped half a mile and the soup dish flew almost gracefully out of his hand and smashed against the fridge. Ray couldn't take his eyes off the pieces on the floor, it was some kind of sign he felt sure, he just didn't know what it was a sign of exactly.
"Ray, are you okay?" Fraser was staring at his partner with startled blue eyes. He should have known better than to touch the blonde detective.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Ray turned to smile at Fraser and the mountie relaxed a little, crouching down to gather up the shattered pieces of pottery. Ray crouched down next to him and their hands closed simultaneously over one of the larger fragments and once again Fraser found himself being drawn into Ray's blue eyes and, to hide the need that was threatening to consume him, he coughed and rubbed one nervous finger across an eyebrow.
"I hope it wasn't expensive."
"Naw, I never liked it." Ray responded with a quick grin that faded as soon as he met Fraser's eyes.
"Good, I'm glad I didn't... didn't..." What was wrong with him? Fraser didn't normally stammer and stutter like this, he was never usually short of something to say. "You know, perhaps it's time I left. We've both had a long day after all." Was that a look of relief he saw on Ray's face, relief no doubt that Fraser was going to leave and the cop would no longer have to worry about fending off a pass. "I'll be going then." Fraser picked up his hat and Diefenbaker obediently raised his head, watching his master, sensing as surely as Ray must be Fraser's uneasiness.
"See you tomorrow?" Ray asked casually, moving towards the door, obviously anxious to see Fraser out of his apartment. But as Fraser was searching for some non committal answer the phone rang and Ray turned away to answer it. Fraser watched intently, he saw Ray's hand shake as he went to pick up the receiver, saw the look of hope on his face as he raised it to his ear and suddenly Fraser wanted out of the apartment, that must be Ray's lover on the phone, probably even the woman who was responsible for the pain on his face, he didn't want to have to face this part of his new partner's life, not least because he wanted his partner for himself.
"Oh.. hi, Mom." Fraser couldn't help but notice the way Ray's face dropped as he identified the caller. "Yeah sure, could you just hang on a moment?" Then Ray turned to Fraser. "See you tomorrow?"
"Of course." Fraser nodded, put his hat on his head and let himself out of the apartment. He closed the door behind him and stood for a few moments listening to the quiet murmur of Ray's voice, then reluctantly he tore himself away, and with Diefenbaker at his heels walked slowly downstairs and out into the Chicago night.
Chapter 4: A Complicated Situation
'It felt kinda weird but since Fraser had appeared on the scene Ray had found himself thinking less and less about Cleeves, and when he did think about him the gaping chasm that consumed his mind at those times was practically non-existent. Fraser was fast exorcising his demons, every demon but his lust for a certain man who liked to spend a lot of his time dressed in red serge.'
Ray sat up in bed, he was once again soaked through, even the sheets were wringing wet. He lay back carefully and fixed his eyes on the ceiling that he couldn't see but nevertheless knew was up there somewhere. He'd been having the nightmare again, the one in which the thugs forced him to kneel down and then put a gun to his head. But it had been different this time, this time instead of the face of his rescuer being lost in the shadows he had found himself staring into the blue eyes of Constable Benton Fraser who had leaned forward to kiss him, tasting him, feeling him... Ray pushed the thoughts out of his head. He couldn't think like that, not about his partner, it wasn't fair. The two had been working together for a week now and still knew relatively little about each other. The one thing that Ray was painfully aware of however was that every time he found himself holding eye contact with the mountie just a little longer than was usual Fraser was always the first one to tear his eyes away, almost as though he could see Ray's longing and it disgusted him.
Ray sighed and swung his legs out of the bed, he needed a hot shower, things always looked better after a hot shower, never mind that it was only five a.m. he'd just have to be early for work for once. Ray grinned, Welsh would think he'd been body-snatched or something. Yeah, it was definitely worth getting into work early just for the look on Welsh's face.
Dressed and with the first strong cup of coffee inside him Ray felt a lot better. As he climbed into his car he reflected that today might not be so bad after all. Fraser he knew was keen to spend the day apartment hunting which would give him some time to catch up on all that paperwork that Lieutenant Welsh seemed to think was so important.
Of course Ray had offered to go with Fraser, that was what a friend would do, more importantly that was what Vecchio would do, but Fraser had turned him down, no doubt anxious to spend as much time as possible away from his lovelorn partner as possible.
It felt kinda weird but since Fraser had appeared on the scene Ray had found himself thinking less and less about Cleeves, and when he did think about him the gaping chasm that consumed his mind at those times was practically non-existent. Fraser was fast exorcising his demons, every demon but his lust for a certain man who liked to spend a lot of his time dressed in red serge.
It was only with that thought that Ray realised the car had ground to a halt. Ray swore loudly and glanced through the windscreen at the gradually lightening sky outside. The car was a heap of junk but after trashing the Riv he hadn't been given much choice in a replacement, not that the Riv had been any better mind you. Shivering, he climbed out and half-heartedly kicked one of the wheels, he was still twenty five blocks away from the 27th, oh well, might as well get walking.
It was cold, the chill air of the morning ate straight through Ray's clothes and into his bones. Involuntarily Ray shivered, stopping to pull up the hood of his sweatshirt and then he moved on. Dammit, but he couldn't stop thinking about Fraser, he still knew so little about him and the tantalising glimpses of the man behind the uniform were all too few and far between. Most of the time Fraser appeared to be Mr Perfect Upright Mountie but Ray knew there had to be more to the man than that. Most people treated him as though the front was really him, Elaine, Welsh, Huey and especially Ray's 'sister' Frannie but Ray refused. He was going to draw the man out, find out what he was really like if it killed him. "And if Frase ever finds out exactly what kinds of thoughts I've been having about him," Ray muttered wryly. "Then he'll probably kill me."
The thought wasn't encouraging and Ray started to stride out as though he could leave his thoughts behind him when the sound of a gunshot ringing out stopped him dead in his tracks. An instant later Ray's own gun was in his hand and he was sprinting towards the corner of the street. Too late, all he saw was a figure running away leaving a broken and bloody body behind.
"Dammit!" The cop swore and tucked his gun away, leaning down over the body to check for a pulse, nothing. "That's what you get for harbouring immoral thoughts about your partner," he berated himself as he groped inside his jacket for his cell phone.
The crime reported all Ray could do was wait for his fellow police officers to arrive. He paced intently, taking note of where the bullet had lodged itself in a wall, the pattern of blood across the concrete, the one blurred footprint where the killer had been hiding. There was something lying on the ground, fluttering, a scrap of paper. Almost without thinking Ray pocketed it, tracing his steps back alongside the building just in time to see a squad car pulling up near by.
"Vecchio." Huey leapt out. "What the hell happened here?" But Ray couldn't answer him, his attention was completely claimed by the pair of legs climbing out of the car. It was Fraser.
"Frase?" Ray moved towards the mountie as though drawn by an invisible string and oblivious to Huey's presence he reached out and touched the man's red serge clad shoulder as though to ensure himself that it really was his partner.
"Good morning, Ray." Fraser smiled brightly, all the time conscious of Ray's hand touching him and anxious to do anything to prolong the contact, the only trouble was he couldn't think of anything. All he did do was to lean into the almost-caress and breathe a barely audible sigh when the contact ended.
"What are you doing here?" Ray sounded impatient and Fraser smiled, he was fast getting used to the ever-changing moods of his new partner and he found them quite fascinating.
"I was having difficulty sleeping," Fraser explained, adding silently to himself, because I couldn't stop thinking about you. "So I wandered along to the 27th, I thought you might be there." Fraser scowled as he noted the wistful tone his voice had taken on and immediately pulled himself straight. Ray's presence was intoxicating but there had been a crime committed here and surely his first responsibility was to the law. The mountie clearly saw the hope in Ray's blue eyes but it died away as soon as the scowl appeared on Fraser's face and the Canadian drew himself back, all too aware of his partner's eyes on his back as he moved towards the body.
"Did you see anything?" Huey asked Ray, pulling a notebook out of his jacket.
Fraser listening with one ear while scanning the murder scene, running his fingers over the uneven ground, he didn't bother trying to dig the bullet out of the wall but he noted the angle with which it had entered the wall, the small amount of dust that had gathered on the ground below and almost without noticing he was talking out loud he turned and said, "So, the shooter was over there."
"I didn't see much, by the time I got here the perp was too far away for me to get a clear look at him." Fraser could hear Ray's voice rising, the man was obviously becoming agitated by Huey's insistence that Ray must have seen something that would give them a clue to the killer's identity.
"Come off it, Vecchio..."
Fraser could hear the slight stress on the detective's assumed name and he winced, crouching down next to the body. Well-dressed, the man must have been on his way to work. His wallet was still concealed in his jacket and his watch was still on his wrist so the murderer hadn't been looking to rob the victim. What then? Fraser had never come across a murder without a motive of some sort. Then something caught his attention, it was a small piece of cloth, a different colour from the suit the victim was wearing. Fraser carefully peeled it away from the brick on which it had become caught and rubbed it thoughtfully between thumb and forefinger, raising it to his nose, letting his delicate olfactory senses help with the analysis. "Hmm."
"Frase," Ray sounded mightily pissed off and obediently Fraser raised his head, anxious to avoid having any of Ray's anger directed towards him. "Time to get going." Ray shot a quick glance at Huey who pretended not to notice. "File a report, get a cup of coffee, stuff like that."
Fraser didn't argue, it was obvious that something had happened between the two detectives but it wasn't his place to interfere. Except that hurt little-boy-lost look had crept back into Ray's eyes as he turned to climb into the squad car and Fraser couldn't stop himself from reaching out to the man, just a hand on the shoulder but the spark that flew between them at the contact made him yank it away again.
It was all Ray could do to keep the car going in a straight line, Fraser's hand on his shoulder that was all he could think about. He even forgot about the small scrap of paper he had pocketed at the murder scene. His heart was thumping so hard he was sure Fraser could hear it and he kept stealing little looks at the mountie seated beside him but Fraser's expression never changed, almost as if the man were wearing a mask. Perhaps he had misinterpreted the gesture, perhaps it had just been a sign of partnership, a sort of unspoken 'whatever you say, Ray', that was one way to explain it. Perhaps he had imagined that moment of connection with the mountie but it had felt so real, so good like when they finally remove the plaster from a broken leg and you get the chance to actually scratch the limb for the first time in weeks.
But was that all this was, an itch needing to be scratched? He was still in love with Cleeves, Ray's eyes fluttered with sudden grief and he felt an unexpected tear creep down his cheek. That was the truth, how could he even think of trying to deny it and if he were still in love with Cleeves then what exactly did that make his obsession with Fraser? Did he really feel anything for the man or was it all just classic rebound stuff like what had happened after Stella had left him when he'd fucked anything that moved? Ray just didn't know. The only thing that he was sure of was that he should keep himself as far away from Fraser as possible until he sorted his head out, it wasn't fair on the mountie to do it any other way, wasn't fair on either of them. Ray stopped the car, still a couple of blocks away from the 27th he just couldn't go any further.
"Ray? Ray? Ray?" Fraser couldn't tear his eyes away from the cop slumped in the driver's seat, blonde head hanging limply just above the wheel. He'd seen the tear and it had made him wonder exactly what thoughts were running through the man's head but it wasn't his place to ask.
"I'm fine, Frase." But Ray didn't look at his friend when he answered and Fraser had to bite his tongue to stop himself from there and then confessing everything he felt for his new partner. His inquisitive eyes could see that there was some kind of a battle raging inside Ray but he couldn't have guessed at what that battle was. "I'm gonna go home." That was a shock and Fraser instinctively reached out to stop Ray from unbuckling his seat belt.
"What about your statement?"
"What statement? I didn't see anything."
"But you should go to work."
"I'm sick," Ray retorted quickly, the fire in his eyes telling Fraser that arguing would not be a good idea. "Tell Welsh... tell Welsh," Ray threw up his hands in disgust. "Tell Welsh whatever the hell you want."
Fraser nodded. "All right, Ray. Do you want me to come with you?" There was no way of hiding the concern in his voice, he didn't actually want to.
"Naw, I'll be fine." And then Ray was gone, striding away from the car as though all hell's minions were after him.
Now it was Fraser's turn to slump in his seat, what had just happened? It seemed pretty obvious that Ray couldn't wait to get away from him and Fraser gasped as the icy cold stake of rejection drove through his heart. He wasn't sure what to do next, there was little point in returning to the 27th now Ray was no longer with him and so Fraser resolved to go back to the consulate. Diefenbaker at least would approve of his plan, the wolf had been none too impressed when Fraser had informed him that he was going out and that the wolf was not invited along. Truth be told Fraser had desperately wanted some time alone to think about Ray without having to suffer all those little knowing looks that Diefenbaker so loved to throw at him.
As he walked Fraser couldn't help but let his mind run over the events of the morning, it was a process that happened almost without his having to think about it but right now he noticed because there was something about this whole situation that bothered Fraser. He believed that Ray hadn't seen anything, that the cop had been taken by surprise by the whole shooting incident but something felt wrong and he just couldn't work out what it was exactly.
"So when are you going to tell him?"
"Dad!" It was the last thing Fraser wanted, advice from his father. "Can't you go away, I'm busy."
"You don't seem very busy, son."
"Appearances can be deceptive."
Fraser Sr just smiled and continued to walk alongside his son, effortlessly keeping pace.
"And when am I going to tell who what?"
"I think you know."
"Let's assume," Fraser spat, annoyed by the condescension in his father's voice. "That I don't."
"The Yank," Fraser Sr's voice took on a long suffering tone. "When are you going to tell him how you feel?"
"I have no particular wish," Fraser explained patiently, "To see how fast Ray can run."
"What makes you think he'd run away?"
"Dad!" Fraser exclaimed in disgust but his father had vanished and with a sigh Fraser turned his footsteps towards the consulate once more.
Ray sat in his apartment not moving a muscle. He was still wearing his outdoor jacket, still struggling to come to terms with the thoughts whirling around in his head. Then he remembered the piece of paper he had found earlier that morning and more out of idle curiosity than any other emotion he pulled it from his pocket. It was a relatively small piece of paper and had obviously been torn from a notebook, there was something familiar about the feel of it between his fingers and Ray grinned as he realised that he was starting to think like Fraser. The grin soon vanished when Ray saw inscribed across the paper in a spidery script that was horribly familiar, his phone number. Ray closed his eyes, shook his head violently enough to start his temples throbbing and then took another look at the paper. It still bore his phone number written out in Cleeves's handwriting and that meant that Cleeves was the perp, Cleeves who had stood and shot a man in broad daylight.
Ray started to shake, his whole body convulsing and it took a considerable effort to pull himself to his feet and stagger over to the kitchen. A box of matches lay beside the hob and he reached out one hand for them hardly able to credit what he was about to do, destroying evidence. Ray started shaking again - there was really nothing else he could do. His other hand stretched out for a cereal bowl that had been set to drain next to the sink and in a dreamlike trance Ray moved out of the kitchen and sunk down onto the sofa again.
There was no other choice. Quickly, afraid that even a moment's hesitation would enable him to reflect on what exactly it was that he was doing, Ray dropped the scrap of paper into the cereal bowl and threw a lighted match down next to it. He didn't move again until the ashes had turned cold and then he leant his head back and closed his eyes.
A hard rapping on his front door roused him, he didn't know how much later, and staggering slightly the blonde cop moved across to the door.
"Fraser." He should have been pleased to see his partner, at any other time he would have been but now? What would the straighter-than-straight mountie say if he knew what Ray had done?
"Ray." Fraser deliberately manoeuvred himself around his friend, noting but totally misunderstanding the guilty look on Ray's face. "I was..." Fraser realised he couldn't finish the sentence, knew nervous fingers were clutching convulsively at the brim of his Stetson and he forced himself to breathe, willing himself to calm down, to relax. "I came to check you were all right," Fraser paused his gaze falling onto the coffee table and the bowl lying there, "You seemed... distracted earlier."
"I'm fine." Ray hesitated. "Thank you. I just wish I could have done something."
Fraser nodded, he'd expected this. He'd read Ray's file after all, knew exactly how often his partner had placed himself in the line of fire to defend another. "You can do something, Ray." quizzical blue eyes prompted Fraser to continue. "You can help bring the killer to justice." Impassively the mountie watched the conflicting emotions criss-cross Ray's face. "You're a good policeman, Ray," Fraser's brow furrowed as he realised that nothing of what he was saying was getting through.
"Ray..." but Fraser broke off whatever he had been about to say when his nose picked up a familiar and yet elusive scent. Moving closer to the table Fraser knew that the smell was rising from the bowl of ashes, but as he was stretching one hand out towards it he saw Ray's face twitch and suddenly he remembered where he had smelled that particular aroma before.
His face carefully blank Fraser moved away from the sofa not quite sure what to think. Why would Ray destroy evidence? Fraser had no doubt whatsoever that whatever those ashes had been had come from the scene of the morning's shooting. What should he do? Had Ray somehow been involved in the shooting? No, impossible. Fraser shook that possibility from his mind. Ray was a good cop, more than that he was a good man.
The ring of the telephone made both men, caught up with their own thoughts, jump and Ray stretched out a hand to answer it. "Vecchio." Watching intently Fraser saw an almost helplessly longing look appear on his partner's face and heard the quiver in the voice as the identity of the caller was confirmed. "Cleeves. I didn't, I wouldn't... Yeah, sure come round now, I..." but the phone went dead in Ray's hand.
But the mountie was already backing towards the door. "I have to get back to the Consulate, Ray. I'll see you tomorrow." Fraser closed the apartment door behind him and hastened down the stairs. Once outside however he concealed himself in a shadowy corner, waiting, needing to know who the man Ray had been talking to was.
Twenty minutes later a sleek dark car with a powerful engine drew up outside the apartment block and an elegantly suited man, possibly around ten, fifteen years older than Ray climbed out. He glanced around himself almost nervously and then moved towards the door. As he strode past Fraser's hiding place the mountie noticed that one corner of the very expensive jacket was torn and so, with a thoughtful expression on his face, Fraser settled back to wait and watch.
Cleeves didn't give Ray a chance to speak. His hands were all over the younger man, tearing at his clothes.
"I," Cleeves growled in a voice that made Ray's knees go weak. "Am going to fuck you like you've never been fucked before."
The two men didn’t make it to the bedroom. Cleeves pushed Ray down onto the floor of his lounge and, without waiting for any sign that this was actually what Ray wanted, he forced himself on the man. Ray could barely breathe, sprawled on his stomach with Cleeves on top of him, thrusting into him, ignoring Ray's whimpers of pain, ignoring the fact that his one-time subordinate was struggling to get away from him.
Eventually Cleeves shuddered and came. As he withdrew he let his fingernails bite down into Ray's backside making the younger man cry out in pain once more. "So." Businesslike already, Cleeves pulled Ray into a sitting position and fixed his cold brown eyes on the pale face. "You were there this morning."
"Sir?" Even after everything that had happened the habit was just ingrained too deeply to be broken.
"You saw me," Cleeves said. "This morning."
"I'm not sure what I saw," Ray stammered. "I don't know who shot that man."
"Just as long as that's understood." Cleeves smiled, it had been worth coming here after all, he should have known that Ray’s infatuation with him wouldn't die away over night and now he'd found a way to use that. "Well time to go."
Cleeves stood up and pulled his pants closed while Ray stared at him wildly. "You're leaving?"
"Don't worry, Kowalski, I'll be back," Cleeves almost purred as he pulled Ray closer towards him and saw the light of infatuation in those blue eyes. "I'll definitely be back."
Cleeves let himself out of the apartment but he failed to see Fraser watching him as he pulled away.
It hadn't been hard tracking the lieutenant down but knowing what he was going to say when the man appeared at his door was another matter entirely. Fraser wasn't entirely sure that he should be here but a crime had been committed and so it was his duty to speak to those involved. Fraser would never admit it to himself but there was of course another motive entirely to coming here. He had seen the look on Ray's face when he'd taken the phonecall from Cleeves. Knew that the two men must have been lovers, knew that it was Cleeves who had left that expressive face so full of pain that Fraser, normally so calm and in control, could feel his hands clenching into fists.
"Yes?" There was a sparkle of interest in Cleeves's eyes as he contemplated the mountie standing at his door.
"May I come in, Lieutenant Cleeves?" Fraser kept his voice calm, he must not give this man the upper hand.
"I'm afraid I'm rather busy at the moment."
"I'm a friend of Ray's." This information elicited a response just as Fraser had been sure it would and Cleeves stood to one side, allowing Fraser into his apartment.
Cleeves watched the mountie moving into his apartment and suddenly something clicked. "You must be the mountie, Benton Fraser, Vecchio's partner."
Fraser nodded. "I came round to see you, Lieutenant, because I wanted to ask why you visited Ray today."
"Well that's an easy one, I fancied a fuck and knew Ray would oblige."
The sentence raised a number of conflicting emotions in Fraser. Anger that this man could talk about his Ray so casually, and jealousy that Cleeves had succeeded where Fraser had not even dared to step foot.
"So, you didn't want to talk to him about this morning then?"
"This morning?" Cleeves was feigning ignorance but the mountie could see the anxiety and fear in his eyes.
"You were both at the scene of the shooting."
"How do you know I was there?" Cleeves demanded.
"I found this." Fraser produced the scrap of cloth he had retrieved. "And the corner of your jacket is torn."
"You think you're so smart," Cleeves growled. "That's no proof that I pulled the trigger."
Fraser smiled. "I'm well aware of that, sir, but I just needed to confirm that it was you that Ray saw this morning."
"Get out." Cleeves was shaking with rage, his face turning purple. "Get out and take your accusations with you."
"As you wish." Fraser turned and left the apartment, he was convinced now that Cleeves had been the killer, of course he had no real proof but at least now he could understand why Ray had acted the way he had. But as the mountie emerged out into the sunshine he pushed away the other piece of information that he had learnt, the news that Ray was in some sort of relationship with this man. It meant nothing after all, it certainly didn't mean that Ray was going to want to jump into bed with him.
Ray was just putting the finishing touches to a cup of coffee when a hard demanding knock came on his front door. Maybe it was Fraser, Ray thought hopefully, as he dropped the last of the candies into his mug, and hurried over to answer the door.
But it was Cleeves instead, a livid enraged Cleeves, who pushed Ray out of the way and practically slammed the door behind him.
"You told him, didn't you?" Despite his obvious anger Cleeves's voice was controlled. "You told that mountie that I was in the alley, that I shot that guy."
"No, I swear I didn't." Ray was backing away from Cleeves, shaking his head. What was going on? What had brought Cleeves back to his apartment so soon and in such a temper?
"Don't lie to me, Ray. I know when you're lying to me." Cleeves regarded Ray who was now backed against a wall. "I'm going to have to teach you a lesson, aren't I? Teach you not to go around blabbing to strangers."
"I didn't..." Ray protested, but it went unheard as Cleeves had already closed the gap between them and was reaching out for Ray.
But what really made the blonde man shake was the way all Cleeves's rage seemed to drop away and he was suddenly totally in control. "Do you want me to hurt you?" Cleeves asked. "If I hurt you will that teach you to keep your mouth shut?"
Ray was shaking his head but Cleeves's first blow had already landed, knocking Ray off his feet, and the blows kept coming. Ray tried to defend himself but he couldn't get away from Cleeves. He could feel the blood, thick and warm trickling down his face, taste it in his mouth and the almost metallic flavour made him want to gag. By the end of just ten minutes Ray was so bruised that he hardly felt Cleeves's forced entry into his body. He could feel consciousness fading away and he fought to hold on to it, using the pain that swept through him each time Cleeves thrust deeper into him. And so it was that he faintly heard Cleeves mutter, "Remember this, Ray, remember that I'm the one in control here," before he slipped into the blessed darkness that awaited him.
How long he lay there he didn't know. All he did know was that when finally he forced his swollen eyes apart it was to see Fraser's concerned face bending over his.
"What happened, Ray?"
Ray shook his head, mustn't tell Fraser. "Nothing," he muttered. "Nothing happened. I think I must have fallen."
"Was it Cleeves? Did he do this to you? Your landlady said she heard a struggle and then saw him leaving."
Ray tried to pull himself upright but Fraser was holding him down and he was so horribly weak. "Cleeves... he was only trying to make me see something."
Fraser's eyes were cold. "And he had to beat you and then rape you to do this?"
"You don't understand," Ray gasped. "My fault... Cleeves... I love him."
Ray cried out, half in pain, half in fear, as Fraser dragged him to his feet and half-carried him to the bedroom where he stood Ray in front of the full-length mirror on the closet door.
"Look at yourself," he entreated. "Ray, would a man who loved you do this to you?"
But Ray couldn't focus on the mirror, couldn't see how badly Cleeves had beaten him, couldn't see the blood caking his face, the blood on his legs or the concern on Fraser's face.
"You need to go to a hospital." Fraser let Ray gently down onto the bed.
"No. No hospitals." Ray was adamant, they'd ask too many questions, make him think about things.
"Then will you at least let me clean you up?" Fraser asked gently, all he really wanted to do right now was go out, find Cleeves and make him pay for what he'd done, but Ray needed him more right now. The emotion was startling. Fraser had almost forgotten what it was like, this intense personal need to protect, hadn't felt like this since... but no, that had been another time.
"Cleeves, I need him." Ray stuttered out the words, all feelings for his new partner had been obliterated by the lieutenant's visit.
"He hurt you, Ray," Fraser spoke slowly, wondering was there possible some kind of concussion here that would help explain Ray's mumblings.
"My fault, wouldn't do it again. Not a violent man."
There was a lump in Fraser's throat. "Ray, sometimes people who like to hit, they just like to hit."
"Go 'way, Fraser." Ray was starting to sound angry now. "I'll be fine. Go back to your wolf and I'll see you tomorrow."
There was steel in Ray's voice and so Fraser obediently turned and left, what else could he do? Later he would wish that he had stayed but now he found himself reluctant to push himself on this man who was so very obviously still in love with someone else. As he walked down the street Fraser's heart sank, how much longer was this likely to go on? How much longer could he work with a man that he so desperately wanted but could never have? Yet even as these thoughts ran through his head Fraser realised he couldn't back out of this now. Even if Ray never changed his mind, even if Ray never stopped loving the man who had beaten and abused him in his own home, Fraser would be there for him, always.
Chapter 5: Eclipse
'Fraser clenched his fists and tried to drive the feeling of hatred for Cleeves from his mind. This wasn't helping. He had a job to do, he had to find Ray, Vecchio's reputation and that of the whole 27th rested on his tracking down his erstwhile partner.'
Fraser sat staring wistfully up at Ray's apartment block. He couldn't help but think that Ray should be living in the Vecchio house, after all it was Ray's house, but he somehow knew that the new Ray wouldn't feel comfortable there. Closing his eyes he recalled Ray's words during that first meal they had shared.
"I'm still me y'know. Well I guess you don't." A pause. "Undercover's cool. I'm good at it but it's lonely." There was a wistful look on the blonde detective's face and Fraser had to restrain himself from putting his arms around the man.
Lonely. Fraser knew what that felt like. Without his friend Chicago felt so much bigger and yet at the same time so much smaller. But Fraser didn't feel he was lonely when he was with Ray, the new Ray. The man had the power to light up a room just by being in it and when they were together Fraser couldn't take his eyes off him. In his mind's eye the mountie conjured up a picture of Ray and then frowned. It was blatantly obvious that Cleeves, Ray's ex-lieutenant and on-off lover, was still using Ray as a punch bag. Only a few days before the cop had been sporting new bruises and was walking more stiffly than usual. Fraser clenched his fists and tried to drive the feeling of hatred for Cleeves from his mind. This wasn't helping. He had a job to do, he had to find Ray, Vecchio's reputation and that of the whole 27th rested on his tracking down his erstwhile partner.
What a day. Fraser had learnt so much about his new partner and he was still reeling from it all. The information that Ray had been married had surprised him less than he thought it would. Ray, or Stanley Kowalski as he now knew him to be, was after all the faithful type. It was obvious that Ray still loved Stella and look at his relationship with Cleeves. There was a man who needed to be married.
A rueful smile crossed Fraser's face - marriage would never be an option for him and although he hid it well he was lonely. Ray. He had felt a flicker of something when he had met his new partner but Ray was hurting. Fraser knew it and therefore would not allow himself to declare his feelings for the man. He would be Ray's friend that was all.
"Earth to Fraser. Hey, come on, Benton buddy. We're home." Fraser turned to look at Ray whose blue eyes betrayed his amusement. "Almost lost you there for a moment."
They were outside the consulate Fraser realised and his heart sank. So this was home now. Officially he was looking for an apartment, unofficially he knew he would remain at the consulate. It was fitting after all, his whole life had been thrown into disarray by Vecchio's departure, this was just one more thing.
"Goodnight, Ray," Fraser swung the car door open. "I will no doubt see you tomorrow."
"Thanks for the party, Frase. I... I know it wasn't really for me but..."
"No," Fraser interjected. "It was for you, Ray Kowalski."
Ray's smile lit up his face and Fraser felt his heart flip over. "Thanks for the dreamcatcher too."
"I hope it helps." Fraser let his hand rest briefly on Ray's shoulder before climbing out of the car and holding the door for Dief. Then man and wolf stood and watched in silence as Ray drove away.
"Why the hell did I ask if he found me attractive?" Ray mused as he pulled up outside his apartment block. "I as good as threw myself at him." Shaking his head Ray climbed the stairs only to have all thoughts of Fraser driven out of his head when he saw Cleeves leaning up against his front door.
"Hello, Ray," Cleeves moved aside to let the younger man open the door and despite himself Ray felt his insides go weak as he breathed in Cleeves's scent. The lieutenant followed Ray inside and the younger man turned to face him, tossing his precious dreamcatcher onto a chair nearby.
The first blow caught him by surprise and Ray dropped to his knees. Was it always the same when Cleeves came to see him? Did it always start the same way?
The second blow was expected but it still drove the air from Ray's lungs. At least now he could deal with the pain, detach his mind from what Cleeves was doing to his body. Fraser. He concentrated on the man's face, the broad shoulders, the.... and now Ray was crying. He would never be worthy of Fraser.
"Ray?" Cleeves was asking for his attention. "Can you feel this? Tell me why I'm doing this."
Another blow and Ray cried out. "Because I deserve it." Ray croaked out the answer he knew Cleeves wanted. "Because I want it."
"I don't believe you." Cleeves bent down to peer into Ray's eyes and then he saw the dreamcatcher. "What's this?"
"A birthday present." Ray was struggling to get to his feet. He didn't want Cleeves laying his hands on such a precious gift.
"It's not your birthday." Cleeves was studying the dreamcatcher and Ray's face alternately. Then something clicked." Did he make it? The mountie?"
Ray didn't answer but his eyes gave him away and Cleeves tore the dreamcatcher apart.
Ray cried out and snatched at Cleeves's hands but a vicious blow to the side of his head knocked him back.
There was murder in Cleeves’s eyes and Ray stumbled backwards, crashing into furniture. If he could get to the bathroom he could lock the door, hold Cleeves off.
But Cleeves kept coming and Ray couldn’t move fast enough. The man raised his fist, brought it down on Ray’s head and the last thing Ray saw before he lost consciousness was Cleeves unzipping his pants.
He'd been sitting at his desk staring at the papers spread out before him but he couldn't concentrate, his mind still assimilating all the information he had learnt today. The phone rang and automatically Fraser reached out a hand to answer it.
"Canadian Consulate... I see... thank you kindly." Fraser's eyes were steely as he reached out for his hat. The phonecall from a hospital told him that a man with extensive injuries had been admitted and that Fraser's number had been given as a contact.
As the taxi cab travelled through the night Fraser found himself having to fight back tears. What had that man done to Ray now?
"Hi, Frase," Ray's voice was barely audible and he looked so vulnerable lying in a hospital bed.
"What happened." The voice was clipped, unemotional.
"I fell..." Ray's voice faltered, why lie? Fraser knew what had happened.
Ray closed his eyes and one bandaged hand reached out imploringly. How could he explain to Fraser, to the perfect mountie, that he needed Cleeves, needed to know that Cleeves wanted him, that Ray would rather die than face a life alone.
Shaking his head Fraser went to talk to the nurse who was hovering in the doorway.
"Who brought him here?"
If the nurse was surprised by the abruptness of the question she didn't show it. "I don't know. We found him sitting in the ER. We don't get many cases like this." The woman's face twisted with both pity and disgust. "I think it was the brutality of the attack that shocked us most and he won't say who did it."
Fraser turned his head away, fighting the nausea rising up inside him. The calm exterior he always worked so hard to maintain was deserting him and when he went back to Ray's bedside there was murder in his eyes.
"The dreamcatcher, Frase." Ray was slurring his words and at first Fraser didn't hear him. "The dreamcatcher." Tears were falling down Ray's battered cheeks. "He destroyed it. I deserved it."
"Nobody deserves to be beaten," Fraser said quietly and he reached out to touch the man's face. "Get some sleep. I'll come back in the morning."
Fraser knew exactly where he was going when he left the hospital. He had to finish this. The taxi-cab dropped him off close to Cleeves's apartment.
"Could you wait?"
The cabbie nodded. "Ain't got nothing better to do."
"Thank you kindly."
The walk to the apartment and the journey in the lift, these things did not register in Fraser's mind. The first thing he saw was Cleeves's face sneering at him.
"I want you to leave Ray alone."
"Don't you think that's up to Ray."
"Nevertheless I want you to leave Ray alone." Fraser was seething but he would not allow Cleeves to see that.
"And if I don't?"
“Then I will hand over my evidence to the relevant authorities and make sure you’re charged with assault and rape and murder.”
“Ray won’t testify against me.” Cleeves was putting on a good front but Fraser could see the doubt in his eyes.
“If you tell me you will leave him alone then no, he won’t.” Fraser held eye contact with the man and he was actually pleased when Cleeves looked away.
“Okay, it’s a deal.”
“Good.” Fraser turned and walked out of the apartment then, and his stomach churned. He had made a deal with the devil it seemed, and yet if it kept Ray safe it would be worth it.
Chapter 6: Healing
'“Friends? I like that.” Ray swallowed and looked away. “It’s a good place to start.”'
Fraser had done his best to clean up the apartment before he brought Ray back from the hospital. He’d actually done quite a good job. He had righted all the furniture, luckily none of it had been broken. Most of it, he realised with a deep rage growing inside him, must have been pulled over by Ray in his futile struggle to escape.
He found that the smaller bloodstains were easy to eradicate, but he could do nothing about the largest bloodstain. Fraser stared at it for a long time. This must have been the spot where Cleeves had managed to subdue Ray long enough that he could rape him.
Fraser’s stomach churned. If only he’d been here he could have protected Ray, he should have protected Ray.
He sank down onto the couch, still unable to take his eyes off the bloodstain. Being here in Ray’s apartment brought up all his feelings for the man that Fraser had been struggling with since he had first met him. Those feelings didn’t matter anymore. Of course they were still there and probably always would be, but in themselves they weren’t important. Ray, Ray was important. A friend, he would be Ray’s friend, as long as he was allowed to be.
Fraser looked at his watch, it was time to go to the hospital.
Before he left he paused to pull a heavy rug across the stain, it was the best he could do.
“Do you need a drink?” Fraser asked as he closed the apartment door.
Ray shook his head. He didn’t move away from the door but his eyes roamed everywhere.
Watching, Fraser wondered what Ray was thinking about. Was he remembering what had happened the last time he had been here? Of course he must be, how could he not.
“I could make you something to eat,” Fraser offered. “I got you some groceries.”
Ray shook his head again and finally he took a step or two away from the door. His eyes were fixed on the rug that Fraser had moved.
“Ray.” But it was no good, there was no point trying to dissuade Ray once his mind was made up.
The man flipped over the edge of the rug but he didn’t say anything and eventually he let the rug fall back into place. “I like it better there.”
Fraser watched carefully as Ray moved around the apartment. He stopped by the tank and then turned to look at Fraser.
“When I moved in here I thought I might get a cat, but then I realised that long hours and late nights wouldn’t be fair on it, so I got a turtle instead.”
Fraser nodded. “Having a pet has been proven to have substantial health benefits, decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol levels.”
Ray grinned, but it didn’t last long. He sank down on the couch, sitting cross-legged like a child.
Fraser sat down next to him, their legs touching, would the contact worry Ray?
“That thing we’re not talking about.” Ray’s eyes strayed to the rug and then he turned to face Fraser. “Well, I still need to say thanks, for coming to the hospital, for being a friend.”
Fraser bit his lip. Now would not be the time to unburden himself of the guilt he felt over what had happened, maybe one day. Maybe one day he could talk it through with Ray, but not now.
“A detective came and saw me at the hospital.” Ray’s face twisted and Fraser, unthinking, reached out and put a hand on Ray’s leg. Something else he should have been there for. “A nurse reported the... the...” Ray looked helplessly at Fraser.
Fraser had no idea what to say but he squeezed Ray’s leg, just a little.
“I told her I didn’t know who did it, that I had no real memory of the event at all.” Ray closed his eyes. “Life goes on, right?”
Ray looked up at Fraser and there was so much pain in the detective’s eyes that Fraser’s heart ached.
“Do you want me to go?”
“You’ve got things to do.” Ray nodded. “Consulate type things.”
“Actually no.” Fraser had told Inspector Thatcher that he needed a few days off. When she had asked him how many he had replied, ‘as many as Ray needs’. He wasn’t doing very well here though, had never dealt with a situation quite like this before. “What do you want, Ray?” It seemed like the best thing to say, to let Ray’s needs guide him.
The tears had started falling, streaking Ray’s face. “I want for none of this to have happened. I wish I’d never met Cleeves, never let him worm his way in, never let him treat me like I was worthless.”
There was a storm of crying and Fraser sat, silent, waiting for it to pass.
“But I am worthless and what Cleeves did, I deserved it.”
“No.” Fraser reacted without thinking about whether Ray wanted bodily contact. He reached out and wrapped his arms around Ray, holding the shuddering body as close to him as he could.
“You are not worthless and you didn’t deserve what happened, you didn’t deserve any of it.” His shirt was growing wet but Fraser clung onto Ray, maybe this would help, maybe.
Slowly the tears subsided but Ray didn’t pull away from Fraser, not for a long time. When he finally did Fraser didn’t say anything. Ray needed to have the control in this situation, nothing else would work.
“You don’t think I’m worthless?”
“No.” Fraser made sure to look directly at Ray. “I don’t. I think you’re a good man and I am honoured to call you my friend.”
“Friends? I like that.” Ray swallowed and looked away. “It’s a good place to start.”
Fraser smiled, and he didn’t resist when Ray reached out and took his hand. “It’s a wonderful place to start.”
Chapter 7: Twenty Years Later
Twenty years later old memories resurface.
Walking into the room Fraser could see that something was wrong. True, Ray was seated at the desk with his back to him, but the tension in his body was unmistakable.
Unbidden, a memory resurfaced in Fraser’s mind, this day fifteen years ago, Ray’s last suicide attempt. There had been another, soon after their ill-fated voyage on the Henry Allen, when all the tension that Ray had been holding inside suddenly flooded over. Somehow he had got Ray through, holding him, telling him over and over that he was wanted, that he was loved. That had been the start of their romantic relationship, tentative at first, both afraid of hurting the other, but it had been a good start.
Their Canadian adventure had, Fraser thought at the time, exorcised all of Ray’s demons, but the return to Chicago had not gone the way he had hoped and when Ray tried to kill himself the second time, Fraser had felt his own soul giving way under the strain. He had barely made it to Ray in time and he still had nightmares about that. Afterwards Fraser had insisted on counsellors and he had also insisted on moving the Fraser-Kowalski household to Canada. A fresh start, he’d said and Ray had seemed eager for the change.
It had gone well. No more suicide attempts, far fewer nightmares and Ray, for over a decade now, had been calmer and happier than Fraser had ever known him to be.
What had happened?
“What is it?” Fraser asked the question but he hung back, could he really do this all again?
When Ray turned towards him, he could see the man’s face was white.
Fraser obediently moved closer to the laptop screen. He pushed his reading glasses onto his nose. There was an obituary notice on the screen and Fraser, after reading the headline, reached out and grasped Ray’s shoulder.
“I haven’t thought about him for years.” The look on Ray’s face was scaring Fraser. “After... after that last time when he... when he... he just disappeared. And now.” Ray gestured at the screen.
Fraser put an arm around his husband, for once he had no words. He had been trying now for twenty years to keep Ray safe, never sure that Cleeves wouldn’t be waiting around the next corner, never being able to forget the deal he had made for Ray.
“Reading this.” Ray was doing his best to smile. “He sailed through the rest of his career, don’t know why I thought he wouldn’t.”
“You miss him?”
“No.” Ray’s tone was absolute. “He was a mistake, a glitch, a...”
“Yeah.” Ray grinned. “One of those. I’m glad he’s dead.”
Fraser released his hold on Ray and then reached out and took the man’s hands. “I think there’s something I need to tell you...”