Oh, The Places You'll Go

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

Notes: Written for the Giving Thanks Festival at ds_raysquared. It's very possible I'm obsessed with fairy-tales. Thanks to my beloved beta slidellra for not telling me I was completely nuts and for being 100% more American than me.


It was a dark and stormy night.

No, wait. Scratch that.

It was a mild, overcast evening. It should have been a dark and stormy night. Lightning splitting tree trunks in two, thunder drowning out the roar of the crowd at Wrigley Field. There should have been howling werewolves and two-headed sheep but Lincoln Park Zoo had been closed for renovations so they were fresh out of portents.

There should have been something, though.

Something to indicate that Ray was about to meet his Fate.

But there was nothing.

Nothing but the satisfaction of a beer well-earned. It had been a weird few years, that was for sure, but Ray had fought hard (himself mostly, Fraser some, and two out of the three therapists he'd been forced to see after the elf incident) to become his own man. And now Fraser was off leading some crazy-assed expedition across the Arctic to look for giant robots or something, and Ray was cool with that. Sure, he missed the big, red freak but there hadn't been enough yin in the yang and Ray had gotten kind of philosophical about the whole thing — when he could remember how to spell it, that was.

Nope, nothing at all.

There was a knock at the door.

Ray grumbled as he got to his feet. It was Tuesday; he didn't order pizza on a Tuesday. Or Chinese. Or Thai. Or Indian. And the Friday night poker game tended to be on a Friday — the clue was in the name — so it wasn't the guys. This was unexpected. Surprising and unexpected. Good for hiccups — less good for Ray's temper.

The knock came again.

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, pulling back the chain and wrenching open the door.

"Fuck," he said, smacking his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Always check the fish-eye first."

There in front of him stood Detective Ray Vecchio, First Grade, reluctant partner to an unwilling Ray, ex to Ray's exes but not quite ex enough in Ray's opinion. Looked like he was getting there, though; he was soaked through and shivering, water dripping from the hem of his long coat and making little puddles on the floor.

"Stay there," said Ray and went back into his apartment. Tuesday. Of course. Weird shit always happened on a Tuesday. And for some reason, a whole lot of it seemed to centre around Vecchio, only he'd never ended up at Ray's place before. Ray pulled up a blind, looked out, frowned, looked again, dropped the blind and returned to the silent Vecchio.

"What the hell?" he said, grabbing Vecchio by the shoulder and hauling him over the threshold. "It's not even raining."

The guy just stood there. Ray thought he heard him say something, but realized it was his teeth chattering.

"Stop dripping on my floors, Vecchio. It's the wrong kind of stain." He pushed Vecchio through into the bathroom, rummaged in the closet and threw him a towel. Vecchio made no attempt to catch it, instead shaking his head so that droplets flew off the end of his nose. Ray glared at him and received a tiny shrug in return. So it was going to be one of those nights, was it? Peachy.

"Aww, come on, Vecchio. Help a guy out, here. You catch pneumonia in my house and then I'm gonna have to take you to Emergency and the smell of hospitals makes me want to puke. Do you want that on your conscience? Do you?" Ray picked up the towel and made a few half-hearted swipes with it across Vecchio's fuzzy scalp. Vecchio drooped submissively. He didn't appear bothered by the pneumonia question. Ray rolled his eyes and sighed.

Vecchio made no move to stop Ray undressing him, which would have pinged alarm bells if it hadn't been for the slight hitch when it came to unbuckling his belt. Ray found himself dodging a swing that never came, but he mumbled something non-threatening — chosen from his mental Victim file — and before long Vecchio was in shorts and a T and settled between the sheets in Ray's bed, only the tips of his ears and the top of his head showing out of the comforter.

"One night," said Ray from the doorway, flipping off the light. "If you're still alive in the morning put the coffee on before you leave."

He turned to go, then stopped. "Lake?" he asked.

"Lake," came the muffled reply.

His movie was half over, so Ray turned off the TV, pulled the throw from the back of the couch and settled down to sleep.

Ray couldn't tell if it was five minutes or five hours later that an intense silence invaded his dreams, making him feel uneasy. Half-awake he turned onto his side, hunching his shoulders, trying to ignore the feeling. But it didn't disappear. Reluctantly, Ray opened his eyes and lurched violently, falling off the couch in shock.

He looked up to see Vecchio staring down at him, puzzled face outlined in the dim light. "Christ, Vecchio. You going for Stealth Man of the Year?"

"Can't sleep. There's something under your mattress."

"You're joking, right?" said Ray, scrambling to his feet. "I mean, it's a crappy joke but lake water on the brain. So." He lay back down, one hand scrabbling for the throw. "Go back to bed."

Vecchio did not move.

"I can do violence," Ray offered. "I'm good at violence. If it'll help you sleep."

"There's something under your mattress," repeated Vecchio. "It's digging in my back."

"So lie on your front. Plenty padding there." Vecchio half-turned away and Ray had to admit that he wasn't exactly telling the truth. No iron-hard abs, that was for sure, but the guy was in good shape for someone closing in on the wrong side of forty. Ray's gaze wandered downwards before he slammed on the brakes. Whoa, there, Kowalski! Nothing to see, move along.

"Kowalski," said Vecchio, voice all deep and sleep-graveled. And damn, if Ray wasn't off of the couch in a split second and heading into the bedroom.

"I'll lift, you look," said Ray, putting the action to his words.

Beside him Vecchio scrabbled under the mattress. It was to take his mind off the strain in his arms that Ray allowed his gaze to travel down the length of Vecchio's back and over the curve of his ass where the worn flannel clung in all the right places. And if he kept telling himself that then he would be just dandy.

There was a weird, strangled sound that Ray took as triumph and then Vecchio was upright again, red-faced but smiling for the first time since he had arrived.

"Look," he said and unfurled his fingers. There on his palm was a pea-sized ball bearing. "Told you."

"That was keeping you awake? That? What are you ñ a princess?"

"Lot of royalty in Italy," said Vecchio. "Every third person's some kind of Contessa or Duce or something." He placed the ball bearing carefully on the bedside table. "You can put the mattress down now, Kowalski. I got that you're strong, now I want to get some sleep."

Oh, thought Ray. That's why my arms hurt. The mattress hit the frame with a dull thud.

"Yeah, so, sleep well, princess," he said and wondered where his snappy comebacks had gone.

"That's the plan," said Vecchio and climbed back into bed, pulling the comforter right up and tucking it in around himself, like he was in a cocoon.

There was a couch with Ray's name on it.

"Kowalski?"

Ray stopped. "Yeah?"

"Thanks."

I was waiting for you to crawl back where you came from. That was the comeback he'd been after. Stupid no-coffee brain.

"Welcome."

Ray was asleep the second his eyes closed. He dreamed of winds whipping up white waves on the lake, of feather mattresses piled twenty high and of fine Italian royalty.

When he woke in the morning Ray saw his bed was empty and the apartment smelled like rich Italian roast.

***

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well, it was dark, being as how it was midnight. One out of two wasn't bad.

Ray had been Vecchio-free all day and he'd had enough going on what with the sudden proliferation of horse-drawn carriages all over the city with people dressed up even fancier than Fraser hanging on to the back of them to be concerned as to the wayward Italian's whereabouts. It wasn't Tuesday any more. Not Ray's business. Nu-uh. He wasn't feeling a single twinge of guilt in kicking him out without finding out what was going on. Not. One. Twinge.

He hung backwards off the couch, blond spikes collecting dust from the floor. Someone had said it was good for sinuses — Frannie, he thought — and he'd been having these pains. Plus, the TV was more interesting upside down. Even infomercials.

There was a knock at the door.

Ray straightened up fast, narrowly missing a collision with the coffee table and stood up. The blood rapidly draining from his head made him feel dizzy and he staggered over to the door, leaning his forehead on the cool wood for a second before opening it.

"Vecchio," he said. "I had this hunch."

He took in Vecchio's appearance. On the dry side, so that was a bonus. But he was dressed in the oldest, dirtiest clothes Ray had ever seen him wear and ... Ray blinked. Did dizziness make things disappear?

"You have one shoe."

Vecchio followed Ray's eyes downwards. One highly polished, black oxford, lace neatly tied in a double bow, one narrow, long-toed foot with neatly clipped nails. He shrugged and dug in the pocket of his paint-spattered windbreaker, pulling out a miniature pumpkin. He handed this to Ray as he shouldered his way into the apartment.

Ray stared at the small, orange object lying on his palm. Yeah, his life was not like other people's. He followed Vecchio inside.

"Where've you been?" he asked as Vecchio made himself comfortable on the couch.

A confused expression crossed Vecchio's face. He shook his head. "Don't know."

"What do you mean, you don't know?"

Vecchio raised his eyes to meet Ray's.

"I mean, I. Don't. Know. I left here this morning. In clothes appropriate for a man of style such as myself, I might add. I went-" he waved his arm around vaguely, "-somewhere. And then it was tonight and I was at your door. Minus my dress sense and one shoe."

"You got nowhere better to go?"

Vecchio dropped his head. "No. I. No."

And now Ray felt like a heel. Great.

"You want a sock or something? You gotta be cold."

Vecchio looked at his foot as if the thought hadn't occurred to him. "Yeah." He nodded slowly. "Yeah, a sock would be good. Thanks."

"Hey, it's no skin off my nose. I'll incinerate it when you're done."

Vecchio looked ready to bristle but instead relaxed, leaned back into the couch and grinned. Despite his natural urge to scowl, Ray couldn't help but grin back. What could he say? Vecchio was infectious. Like TB. Or syphilis. He put the pumpkin down on the table and went in search of a sock.

Funny, thought Ray, pulling open a drawer. That box wasn't there before.

He lifted the dark blue, silk-covered box out and shook it by his ear. It made a very dull rattling sound, as if something large was in there. Puzzled, Ray put the box down on the top of the chest and pulled off the lid. It clattered onto the wooden floor.

No. Way.

Inside, nestled on a light blue satin cushion was a shoe identical in every way to the one Vecchio was wearing. Except his was left and this one was right. Ray poked it gingerly with one finger as if he expected it to go off. Nothing happened, except he got a smudge on the fine leather upper. Picking it up, Ray rubbed his sleeve over the smudge, feeling somehow that it should be kept perfect.

Back in the living room Vecchio had his feet — shod and unshod — up on the coffee table and was studying them intently. Ray dropped down onto the table next to Vecchio's bare foot and hauled it into his lap. Vecchio frowned a question at him.

Ray waved the shoe at him, grabbed Vecchio's heel and shoved the foot into the shoe. He tied the lace with a flourish and then looked hard at Vecchio.

"It fits," he said. "Though I'd've sworn Ugly Sister, myself. Now tell me how the hell you got it into my drawer."

Vecchio's jaw dropped. "My shoe was in your drawer?"

"Duh."

"How?" Vecchio looked genuinely horrified.

Okay, so maybe Vecchio didn't know. Which meant what? Some random person had stolen Vecchio's shoe and then snuck into Ray's apartment without breaking any locks and left it in his drawer? Why? Why would anyone do that? Ray had chased his fair share of insane criminals in his time but this was pushing the limit of crazy into la-la-cuckoo-land.

"Vecchio," he said, bending Vecchio's knee and placing his re-shoed foot on the floor. "Life is weird."

"I'll drink to that," said Vecchio, hope sparking in his eyes.

"Right with you," said Ray, heading to the fridge and the sweet oblivion of too much beer.

When he woke in the morning, Ray was smiling and clutching a pillow that smelled indefinably of not-him. Vecchio was nowhere to be seen. Ray sat up quickly and the hangover hit, stabbing behind his eyes. His good mood evaporated.

***

It was a dark and stormy night.

Really.

The clouds had been gathering all day turning the sky a bruised yellow and the air was so charged with static Ray's hair would have stood to attention product free. The storm finally broke as the dull grey of dusk finally gave way to the sodium-tinged black of night. Rain battered against the windows of Ray's apartment and the wind screamed up the street over and over again as if it was on some particularly punishing circuit training. Lightning lit up the room as clear as daylight and thunder added an inappropriately loud extra layer of percussion to the quiet music Ray was trying to listen to.

There was no knock at the door.

Ray waited. Vecchio would show up; he didn't have any other place to go. And Ray wanted to be awake to let him in. What kind of guy would he be if he left him out there in that storm? The CD finished and he didn't bother getting up to change it. Where was Vecchio now? Why had he disappeared in the morning? Ray hadn't threatened to kick him out. This time.

Once the beer had run out they'd shared Ray's special occasion Scotch which was the equivalent of bread and salt as far as Ray was concerned. At some point the night before, Vecchio had dropped a syllable from unwanted guest: turned out he was good company and Ray wasn't in a position to throw that away. Didn't want to either.

There was still no knock at the door.

As Ray waited, a huge crack of thunder shook the window and he leapt to his feet. How was he supposed to hear someone knocking in these conditions? He should check. Just in case.

Ray opened the door. No sign of Vecchio. He peered up and down the corridor. Nothing. Only Mr. Padapapolou's broken bicycle, same as usual. He closed the door.

Wait.

He pulled open the door a second time and looked down.

"Oh. Oh no. Oh no no no no no no no." Ray threw up his arms and turned away, then back, away and back again before grabbing the door frame with both hands and leaning out into the corridor.

"Har de har har, Vecchio," he yelled. "You can come out now."

There was no movement. No sound either unless you counted the little squelch at Ray's feet. Ray didn't count that.

"I'm serious. Get out here now!"

The door opposite opened a crack and a baleful eye stared out.

Ray ducked his head. "Sorry, Mrs. P. I'll keep it down."

The eye blinked once and the door closed. Ray cast one more look up and down the corridor and then dropped to a crouch.

"You have got to be kidding me," he said and laid his hand palm up on the welcome mat.

A large, sleek, green frog hopped onto it.

"Ribbit," it said, sounding just like a bored, Italian-American ex-cop frog would sound. Not that Ray had much experience with frogs.

"Come on," he said, getting to his feet. "I can maybe find you a fly or two. You can bunk in with the turtle."

"No turtles," croaked frog-Vecchio.

"You can talk?"

The frog shrugged. Ray wasn't sure that was anatomically possible, but he saw what he saw. He kicked the door closed.

"Sure. Why not? I'm already a damn frog, might as well be a talking frog."

Ray put Vecchio down on the kitchen counter. "So, there's no point me asking what happened, right? You got nothing."

Vecchio's tongue flicked out in agreement.

That was one hell of a long tongue, Ray thought. Imagine if it was proportionately that long when Vecchio was human. The things he could do.

"Hey," said Vecchio, annoyed. "Focus. I'm a frog. Fix it."

"How?"

"I don't know," croaked Vecchio, sounding on the edge of tears. But then, he was a frog, everything he said sounded like he was going to cry.

Ray shuffled from foot to foot. He wanted to help, he really did, he'd never seen such an unhappy-looking frog but he had no idea what to do. "Here," he said, tapping the frog's back with one gentle finger. "It's gonna work out, okay. We'll get through this."

"And what then? I leave again and then turn up the next night with a spinning wheel and a half-ton of straw? I can't do this any more, Kowalski."

Ray's tapping turned into a stroke. "No straw," he said. "There's a by-law. Vecchio, man, I'm sorry. If it's any consolation you're one good-looking amphibian."

Vecchio's tongue flicked out again. "Not really," he said, but Ray saw his chest puff out anyway.

"TV?"

"Sure. It's not like I'm otherwise engaged."

"You want a bowl of water to sit in or something?"

"Nah, I'm good."

"Coolness."

If anyone had ever told Ray that he would spend an evening bitching at TV with a frog and like it he would have pointed them towards the nearest mental health facility. But it turned out that though Vecchio was one hundred percent physical frog on the outside, he was still totally Vecchio on the inside. And that meant trading stories of undercover, one-upping on Fraser-danger, teeth-sucking about poorly thought through police procedural dramas, swapping insults and the occasional back-handed compliment.

It was getting late. Ray thought maybe he should fill the tub for Vecchio to hang out in. But his bathroom was cold and kinda skanky — Ray may or may not have been a little behind in his cleaning schedule — and not the place to leave a friend, even if the friend in question was currently an amphibian.

"So, I gotta hit the hay," he said, stretching his back out.

"Thought there was a by-law," said Vecchio.

"Yeah, good one, Kermit. You coming?"

"Where?"

"Bed."

"Kowalski, you made First Grade Detective, yes? If you use your well-honed powers of observation you will see that I am a frog."

"What? Frogs can't enjoy finest fake goose-down pillows?" Ray shrugged. "It's that or the tub. Take your pick."

"Bed, then," said Vecchio. "You couldn't run me under the faucet first, could you?"

Ray couldn't sleep. The obvious reason was because it was weird to be in bed with a frog sharing his pillow, but Ray had never been about obvious and, besides, he couldn't shake the feeling he was missing something.

"Vecchio?" he whispered.

"Mmmm," creaked Vecchio.

"Don't disappear in the morning, okay?"

"Huh?"

"Stay. Frog or not frog, I want you to stay." And Ray was less surprised by that than he thought he should have been.

"You do?"

Ray could hear the pleasure in Vecchio's voice and smiled.

"Yeah." And Ray turned over to find the frog closer than he had thought. His lips brushed against Vecchio's cool skin. "Sorry 'bout that," he said.

Vecchio said nothing. Neither did he move.

Ray slept.

When he woke in the morning, Ray's first thought was to look for Vecchio. There was no green, amphibian presence on his pillow. Not again, he thought. Not now I asked him to stay. This is not fair. He sat up and scrubbed his face with his hands.

The bedroom door swung open and there stood Vecchio, naked as the day he was born, mug of coffee in one hand, apple in the other. "I appear to be both frog and clothes-free," he said, not the least bit ashamed.

Ray felt a grin spread across his face. "You got fixed."

"You fixed me."

"How?"

"I think you know." Vecchio tilted his head and looked at him.

Several butterflies de-cocooned in Ray's stomach.

"Come here," he said. "And don't you go eating that apple."

"Why?" asked Vecchio, handing Ray the coffee and sliding under the covers.

"Your track record, I'm gonna end up with you in a glass coffin in the living room with seven dwarves wailing and gnashing their tiny dwarf teeth. Think of the grocery bills."

"Good point," Vecchio nodded and let the apple drop to the floor as he leaned in to touch his lips to Ray's. It rolled lazily towards the window.

It was a bright and peaceful morning.


Contact Cat

Or comment at my LJ