Thanks to Kellie Matthews for the speedy read-through . . .
. . . and to Whoopi Goldberg and Ray Liotta (in Corrina, Corrina) for inspiration.
by Beth H
(c) February 2003
Two seconds before he walked out the front door of Kelsey's Bar, Ray felt an itch between his shoulder blades that made him turn around and take a quick glance back at the table where he'd been sitting.
Two seconds after he shrugged and let the door close behind him, it struck him that everyone at the table had been staring at him.
It took Ray fifteen minutes before he figured out why they'd been staring.
It was Friday. Five minutes after the day shift's work week had come to an end, and most of the regulars from the 27th had already staked out places at their usual table.
Old, wobbly, and battle-scarred from years of being used as an ashtray when asking for a real one would have taken too much of an effort - the table had two things in its favor: it was within shouting range of the bartender, and it was out of the flight path of all but the most inept darts players. At Kelsey's, that was like hitting the trifecta - or it would have been if the table'd had a third thing going for it.
Apart from Fraser (who in a rare display of being 'one of the guys' was nursing a Molson's), everyone at the table was already on their second beer, except Ray. He was waiting for a call from Sergeant Matsuko to let him know when the guy he'd pulled in on the Kerrigan assault got done talking to his lawyer.
Ray wasn't holding out much hope that he was going to get anything much out of the guy - Harding's lawyer had shown up at the station even before his client arrived, which was the kind of coincidence that usually meant Ray'd be dealing with a mute - but it was worth a shot, and if he did get the go-ahead, it probably wouldn't be a great idea to show up for phase two of the interrogation smelling like a brewery.
Instead, Ray'd asked Tom Kelsey's wife, Katie, for a glass of water and was currently conducting an experiment to see if he could get a quarter to float if he added enough salt to the water.
"I didn't know you were interested in theories relating to surface tension, Ray."
"Oh yeah. Science is my middle name. Just call me Bill Nye." Ray slipped a pretzel to Diefenbaker, who was lying under the table, then looked at his watch . "What the hell's taking so long over there? Harding's had time to tell Lo Presti his whole life's story by now. Twice."
He started to drum his fingers on the table top, until Fraser reached over and put his hand on Ray's wrist. "Patience, Ray. I'm sure it won't be much longer."
"Yeah, yeah . . . I know. Just drives me crazy to have to wait to talk to this guy, especially on a Friday night. It's like him and Lo Presti timed this to kill my weekend."
Dewey, who was trying to win a bet with Tina Rodriguez and Frannie by peeling the labels off Huey's and Pierson's beer bottles with his teeth in under five minutes, looked over at Ray and snorted. "Yeah, Mr. Society Page, I'm sure you had lots of plans for tonight."
Ray scowled. "I've got plans."
Okay, so it wasn't like he had a date or anything. He was just sharing a pizza with Fraser and then watching a hockey game on t.v. like every Friday night, but he bet it was more of a plan than the rest of these jokers ever had.
"Yeah, right," Dewey muttered, as he picked bits of gluey paper out from between his teeth.
Lieutenant Welsh's sudden appearance at the table was all that kept things from degenerating into a half hour of "I do too" and "You do not."
"Good evening, Lieutenant," Fraser said. " I wasn't expecting to see you here tonight. I was given to understand that you were paying your father a visit."
Welsh removed his coat and draped it over his arm. He looked at Frannie, who refused to meet his glance. "I see the Vecchio wire service is active as always." He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Yeah, Constable, I'm going over to see the old man. Just . . . not yet."
"Understood." Fraser nodded, then scanned the bar. "Sir, let me fetch a chair from one of the other tables."
"I'll take Kowalski's chair. He's leaving." He looked down at Ray. "Matsuko flagged me down as I was heading out. He says your guy's ready to talk."
"Yeah. Looks like Lo Presti wants to get a deal on the table. Get over there and make it happen, Detective."
"On my way." Ray stood up and held his chair out for Welsh, then slipped his leather jacket on.
Fraser put down his beer. "Would you like me to accompany you?"
Ray placed his hand on Fraser's shoulder. "Nah. Finish your drink. I'll meet you and Dief back at the apartment later. Shouldn't take too long."
Fraser nodded. "I'll see you soon, Ray."
"Yeah, see you soon."
And then Ray leaned down and kissed Fraser on the mouth before heading for the door.
"What the fuck did I do?"
The only thing that kept Ray from saying this out loud was the fact that he was sitting across the table from Harding and Lo Presti, pretending to listen as the lawyer droned on about Harding's clean record and strong community ties and whatever else he could pitch that had nothing to do with the reality that a half dozen eye witnesses had already called the station offering accounts of the way Harding and his boys had worked Kerrigan over earlier that day.
If Ray'd been alone, it would have been another story - one probably resulting in sore knuckles and yet another hole in the wall of interview room one.
But he wasn't alone.
Not yet, at least.
Once he got this case sorted out, oh yeah, then he was going to be alone. Just him and an extra-large frozen pizza that he wasn't going to be able to choke down by himself and a hockey game that was going to suck without Fraser there to watch it with him.
What the hell had he been thinking?
He hadn't, of course. He hadn't been thinking.
The only explanation he could come up with was that when he left Kelsey's, he'd been on auto-pilot or something, like when he was still married to Stella and got called into the station in the middle of dinner.
Except it wasn't the same when he had to cut out on Stella, because not once in all the time they were together did she just nod and say she'd see him later like Fraser did. No, with her there was always a frown like he'd willed the phone to ring using one of his secret powers.
All of which had nothing to do with the fact that he'd kissed Fraser. On the mouth. In front of his Lieutenant and all five of the five biggest gossips at the 27th.
" . . . so do we have a deal, Detective Vecchio?"
"We, um . . . ."
What was he about to agree to? Immunity from prosecution for the rest of Harding's life, which he couldn't arrange even if he wanted to? Which he didn't.
He looked down at the notebook in front of him and saw notes. Lots of notes. With check marks next to every request that wasn't going to fly no matter how much they worked it.
Jesus. Auto-Pilot Man strikes again.
He underlined the last point on the list. "You're giving me the names and addresses of your two friends?"
Harding glanced at Lo Presti, who nodded. "Yeah . . . because, um, it wasn't my idea, right?"
"Yeah, yeah. It's never anyone's idea. Sometimes a pair of boots just decide to stomp someone all by themselves." Ray shook his head, then pushed himself up from his chair. "Okay, Mr. Not Your Idea: let's get you checked in to your free weekend accommodations here at Motel 27."
"Lo Presti," Harding hissed, "you said he'd . . . ."
"Tom, shut up." The lawyer extended his hand. "Detective, it's always a pleasure working with the CPD."
After Lo Presti left the station, Ray had one of the uniforms take Harding down to the cells, and he settled in to get a start on the paperwork.
Twenty-three minutes and four ruined carbon forms later, Ray gave up. Fifteen years of being a cop, and now it looked like he couldn't even type up an arrest report anymore without Fraser standing over his shoulder.
He lay his head down on the desk and closed his eyes, just for a second . . . .
. . . and sat up again. Frannie. Okay, was this better or worse than having someone else who'd been over at Kelsey's - maybe Dewey, for example - walk into the squad room? Had to be better. Maybe.
She dropped his red wool scarf on the desk. "You left this at the bar. I'd have given it to Fraser, but . . . . "
"Well, he left. Right after you . . . " She bit her bottom lip and waved her hand in the general direction of Kelsey's. ". . . right after you left."
"Oh." Fraser took off. That was that, then. Ray picked up the scarf and put it on, wondering for a second how tightly he'd have to wrap the scarf around his neck before it cut off the flow of oxygen to his brain and let him pass out. "Okay. Um . . . thanks."
Frannie nodded, then took a step back and crossed her arms over her chest. "You could have let me know, you know," she said quietly.
"If I'd known, maybe I would have," Ray muttered.
"Never mind. Listen, I'm going to head home. You want me to drop you somewhere?"
"No thanks, bro. Adam and Tina and I are going to go get something to eat, then maybe see a movie." She sat down on the edge of the desk and sighed. "You know, I thought it'd be great having the house to myself this week, what with Maria and the kids visiting Tony's sister, and Ma helping out with Cousin Theresa's new baby, but . . .well, you know."
"Kind of empty, huh?"
He knew about empty. Knew how a place could be your home one day, and the next day - just . . . not. After Stella walked out, the apartment felt like Mort's morgue, empty and cold, no matter how much junk Ray crammed into the place.
For the past few months, his apartment hadn't felt like that. Hadn't felt empty and cold. But he had a feeling that was about to change.
Ray zipped up his jacket and walked out the door.
What were the odds that both of the elevators in his building would go out of service at the same time? Ordinarily, Ray'd have said the odds were pretty slim, but tonight? He should have known it would be a sure thing.
He opened the fire door and started climbing the stairwell, the sound of his boots echoing with each step he took.
When he reached the third floor landing, he stopped.
He wasn't alone.
Something - someone - was in the stairwell with him. He couldn't hear any movement, but he knew he wasn't imagining things, knew someone was there.
He slid his gun out of his shoulder holster and turned the corner.
Ray leaned his head against the smooth concrete wall and closed his eyes. Just for a couple seconds. Just long enough for his heart to start beating again.
His voice sounded muffled and strange to his own ears, although that might've had more to do with the fact that he still had his face pressed up against the wall than with, well . . . than with any other explanation he could come up with at the moment.
He pushed himself away from the wall and re-holstered his gun, then looked up at the top step, where Fraser sat, his hands resting on his knees.
"So, um, you just happened to be . . . in the neighborhood?" Ray asked, a wave of his hand indicating the stairwell.
His question drew a flicker of a smile in response, but also something else - something that Ray couldn't quite read but that he could almost see, buried under the blandness of Fraser's expression.
"I was under the impression that we had plans for the evening, Ray."
Not quite a statement, but not quite a question, either. Maybe they weren't going to talk about . . . that thing that they weren't talking about. It was up to Fraser. His call.
"Yeah, we did." He started to climb the remaining stairs. "Um . . . sorry that I took so long getting back here. Harding was . . . anyway, we've got the other names now, and . . . so . . . we can still watch the last two periods of the Hawks game if . . . ."
As he reached the top step, Fraser reached out his hand and put it in front of Ray's knee, then waited until Ray looked down at him.
Fraser licked his bottom lip, then took a deep breath and held Ray's gaze in place with his own. "I don't think I'm interested in the game tonight, Ray."
It was his turn to lick suddenly dry lips.
"You're not, huh?"
"No." Fraser stood up and leaned with his back against the wall, leaving just enough space between them so that Ray could pass if he wanted to.
Ray stayed where he was.
"Okay, so . . . what do you want to . . . ."
"You kissed me, Ray."
And there it was.
A statement and a question - and Ray wasn't sure how to respond to either, except he knew all at once that the one thing he couldn't do was apologize for what he'd done, because he wasn't sorry at all.
Stick to the facts.
"I . . . yeah, I did."
Fraser nodded. Took another deep breath.
"So then was it . . . would you say that the kiss was offered as a simple, though admittedly uncommon, indication of fraternal regard? "
Last chance. Fraser was giving him an out.
Ray shook his head, but kept his gaze steady. "'Fraternal regard?' I don't . . . you may do things differently up north, but down here . . . no, I've never kissed my brother on the mouth, Fraser."
"Then what . . . ."
"I don't know, okay?" Ray could hear frustration building in his voice. How could he explain when he didn't understand it himself. "It's just . . . we're friends, partners, all that, right?"
"Okay, right, so . . . it wasn't something I planned. It just happened. It felt natural, like . . okay, it felt good, dammit! But I swear to God, Fraser, I never would have kissed you like that if I'd been thinking."
Ray closed his eyes for a second.
When he opened them, Fraser was looking at him as if this was the first time he'd seen him.
Good? Bad? He didn't have a clue.
"If that's truly the case, Ray, then I'd say it's a damn good thing for both of us that you're prone to operating on instinct."
He stared hard at Fraser for a minute, not trusting his instincts alone this time.
He ran through the facts: Fraser was here, he'd said 'damn' and 'good' in the same sentence, the Canadian equivalent of a shit-eating grin was starting to appear on his face.
"Ray, stop thinking."
Fraser's voice was low and soft - almost a whisper. He reached out and lay his right hand against the side of Ray's face.
Okay, there seemed to be more than enough evidence.
If Ray hadn't been completely focused when he first kissed Fraser at Kelsey's - if it had been all instinct and no conscious thought - then he was damned well going to make up for it this time.
He leaned into the touch of Fraser's hand, then buried both of his hands in Fraser's hair and slowly drew him closer. He saw Fraser's eyelids flutter shut, heard him sigh as Ray stroked the soft curls at the base of his neck, felt the heat of Fraser's skin warm his own face a moment before their mouths met.
For all Ray's best intentions, there was almost no time to explore, to tease, to taste before need and passion and arousal took over.
Eventually, though, even Fraser had to come up for air, and for a moment they simply leaned against each other - forehead to forehead - catching their breath.
"It would appear our . . . plans for the evening have changed."
The words were pure Fraser, but the voice that spoke them was raw, ragged, almost hungry. Ray'd never heard his partner sound like this before, but he liked it. He wanted to hear more of it.
Ray pulled back and took a long look at his partner. Looked at his flushed face, the sweat-dampened hair stuck to his forehead, the denim shirt - unbuttoned and slipping off one shoulder.
He liked the look. Wanted to see more of it.
But maybe there was a better place than the stairwell.
He reached out and straightened Fraser's shirt, but kept hold of the edges.
"I was thinking maybe we don't really have to change our plans."
Fraser raised an eyebrow. Waited for him to continue.
"Because, you know, hockey . . . there's probably still a period left to go in the game, and pizza, well, the pizza's frozen . . . ."
"It can be heated up any time."
Fraser nodded, then placed his hand on Ray's chest. "And . . . if we wanted to make an alteration to our regular plans? Perhaps, add a missing component if we discovered that . . . hockey and pizza weren't sufficient?"
Still holding the edges of Fraser's shirt, Ray pulled him closer. "I'd be all over that." He leaned in and kissed him one more time. "So? The apartment?"
"Sounds like a plan, Ray."
Chit chat, Critiques, Gratuitous Praise: Beth H
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