Oh, The Places You'll Go

Let the Sunshine In

Notes: belmanoir wanted low-angst, first time Rays. So I wrote her some. Beta by mrs_laugh_track, for which thanks. *squish*


The thing was, whether he liked it or not, Raymond Vecchio was a good man. God knew he'd tried to be a dodger, a diver, even, on occasion, the kind of guy that could get away with sneaking a gross cigarette behind the bleachers while fingering the head cheerleader, but what it came down to was this: he didn't suit leather jackets. Or motorbikes. So good man it was.

He knew this because when Kowalski had made it safe back from the frozen North and had been booted back to the 32nd, Ray'd seen the lost soul behind the I'm-alright-Jack front. Seen it, recognized it, dragged him out with them all protesting too much and Welsh had looked at Ray and said, "You're a good man, Vecchio."

"Thank you," Kowalski had said, without looking around, and cracked up when Ray'd nudged his shoulder and said, "See? Better name."

"You're coming around for dinner on Sunday, right?" Ray'd asked. "Because Ma thinks it's a done deal and when she's disappointed we all suffer. There's more Mass, Kowalski. Think of the children."

"Sure," Kowalski'd replied, shrugging. "Once less day I gotta eat pizza. Also, I never did get to beat Constanza at Yahtzee. She's a shark and next time I'm bringing a bigger boat."

Ray had grinned.

And so it began.

***

It wasn't like Benny all over again because there was a distinct lack of being blown up or falling off of things or breaking stuff dear to Ray's heart (plus he was spending a hell of a lot less on dry cleaning bills), but in lots of ways it was better. Kowalski picked his nose and stuck his hands in his pockets for a good scratch if he thought no one was looking. He got mad at the TV and cursed out old ladies who tried to cross the street without looking for oncoming death. He liked to get in Ray's face over each and every little thing whether he agreed or not just because he could. It was relaxing being around him, which was weird, because Kowalski was all tension and coiled-tight energy. Tip some baking soda in him and watch him erupt, Ray always thought.

"No, the point is that Krause is being a jerkwad. Roy Rogers for Scottie Pippen? What is that? They bringing in Trigger next?" Ray could have sworn that Kowalski even made phone static more spiky. The man was talented. Ray tucked the receiver between his ear and his shoulder and stepped into his pants, admiring the perfect crease.

"Yeah, that's right, Stanley. They're getting the jersey made special. And they're replacing Sirius with Happy Trails."

"Are you going to sing? I'm hanging up if you sing."

"I gotta go anyway, I got a thing." Ray pulled open a drawer and rummaged for socks. He knew he had some clean pairs somewhere.

"A thing? What kind of a thing?"

For some reason, Ray felt kind of odd about answering. "I have a date," he should say, all proud and haha-bow-before-my-awesome, but the words seemed mean somehow. Like he was pointing out that the only dates Kowalski was getting were with his own hand, and yeah, gloating was fun and all, usually, just maybe not this time. Perhaps he'd ask Shelly if she had a friend — that could work.

"A date thing?" asked Kowalski into the continuing silence. "You got a date, Vecchio? Must be someone new to the area, didn't get the newsletter yet."

"What? The Fans of Vecchio newsletter?"

"Um, no. The Why Women Don't Date Vecchio Twice newsletter."

"Nice, Kowalski," said Ray, and he would be lying if he pretended the words didn't sting just a little. It was pretty accurate. If there were testimonials they could probably upgrade from newsletter to Sunday supplement. "Go away, now."

"Going," said Kowalski. "Call me later, okay? If I'm stuck here watching Krause bullshit on repeat the least you can do is give me details."

"Okay," said Ray and it wasn't until he was halfway to the restaurant he realized that it wasn't only Kowalski who was expecting things to bomb that night.

Shelly was a nice woman. Really. She was sweet and self-deprecating in the funny way that Ray liked, not the fishing for compliments way that just made him want to say bad things. She had a heart-shaped face, dark, curling hair, big eyes and a great rack. (Ray had stopped pretending he was above these things.) She even laughed at his jokes. But something wasn't clicking for Ray and he didn't know why. At the end of their dinner he paid the check and walked Shelly to her car. She lifted her face for a kiss and Ray found he was bypassing her lips and planting one on her cheek, like she was Frannie or Maria.

"It's been great," he said. "Thank you for your company."

"But we won't be doing it again, will we?" asked Shelly, with what Ray chose to read as a hint of disappointment in her voice.

"I'll-" started Ray.

"Don't say you'll call if you won't. It makes a liar of you and a sad sack of me if I wait." Shelly smiled. "A good evening doesn't have to be more than a good evening, you know?"

"I like you," said Ray.

"I'm very likable." Shelly patted Ray's arm as she got into her car. Ray closed the door behind her. His phone was out of his pocket before the car was out of sight.

"Hey," said Kowalski. "You're earlier than I thought. How much did you suck, exactly?"

Ray started walking, grinning into the phone. "I did not suck. You want to hear or don't you?"

"Sure, shoot. Wait. Are you seeing her again?"

"No. Does that matter?"

There was a brief pause at Kowalski's end. "Nah, I'm just recruiting new contributors to the newsletter."

"I'll give you her number," said Ray dryly. "Okay, so the first thing you need to know is that she thought I was funny. Amusing funny before you start with the peculiar."

"Ment-ally. De-ranged," said Kowalski, as if he was taking notes. "Got it. Keep going."

So Ray did.

"And then the shrink told me I should locate 'the inner me' and I did not punch him in the face."

"You're growing as a person, Kowalski."

"Yeah, pass me another beer."

Ray did as he was told. "I got signed off. Apparently I am done with my 'reintegration issues'-" Ray gave that phrase the air-quotes it deserved "-and am a fully functioning member of society once more." The shrink was probably right about that, the nightmares had stopped weeks ago and he'd lost that whole cold-angry edge he'd learned to live with. It was back to the regular blazing-hot-coming-from-nowhere kind. Jeez, he'd missed that.

Kowalski nodded slowly and clinked his bottle against Ray's. "Kudos. You gotta write me a cheatsheet. I swear, I'm gonna be getting my fifty minute hour when I'm pulling my pension. Anyone that gets to switch up time is bad news, if you ask me."

"Let an hour be an hour, huh?" Ray leaned back on the couch and stretched out his legs. His ankle accidentally knocked against Kowalski's. Kowalski knocked back but didn't shift away. "See, the problem you got, Kowalski, is that you actually are crazy. You're gonna need research. Years of it. People will come and study you."

"Fuck you, Vecchio," Kowalski said and knocked Ray's ankle harder. It didn't hurt at all.

What did hurt was having a dumpster lid crashed onto his head by his idiot partner while they were hunting for evidence against the Chinese laundry racket. It hurt even more when the twelve-year-old intern started trying to stitch him up without checking the local had taken first.

"Get the fuck off of me!" he yelled, mostly in surprise and the intern, after jumping a mile in the air, ran off, muttering something about fetching an attending.

"That's right!" shouted Ray after Doogie Howzer's retreating back. "Bring me someone who isn't trying to make things worse! Didn't you take an oath to not fuck people up?"

"The Hypocritic Oath, I think," said Kowalski, sauntering into the room. "They can hear you back in the Old Country. Your great grandma said to tell you she's not happy about being woken from her dreamless whatever. Sleep."

"Slumber. And that's not right. The oath thing."

"What is it then?"

"How the hell do I know? I'm too busy bleeding out. You'd think they'd be falling over themselves to do a good job on Chicago's finest, but no. I get the two-year-old with ADD." Ray's head throbbed and he gripped the mattress tight.

Kowalski winced and advanced on the gurney. "You really look like shit, Vecchio." He reached out, gently touching Ray's head. It felt...good. The throbbing seeming to subside a little. Maybe the anesthetic was finally kicking in. "They fight dirty, those dumpsters, don't they?" Kowalski added, cracking up at his own joke.

"Everyone's a comedian," grumbled Ray as a tall, striking woman came into the room, the intern hot on her heels.

"Ready for your close up, Detective?" asked the doctor brightly. Ray assumed she was making a pun and smiled weakly. Kowalski stepped away from the bed and made as if to leave.

"Oh no," said the doctor. "You don't have to go, you can stay with your boyfriend, though I'm sure he's far too brave to need his hand held."

"He's not-"

"I'm not-"

The two men stared at each other. "Five," they finished in unison. Which would have been weird enough, but now Ray didn't know if they'd both copped out of something or opened up a whole new can of what-now?

Kowalski backed up against the wall, folding his arms and jiggling his leg while very obviously looking everywhere but at Ray. Ray took a deep breath, closed his eyes and braced for impact.

"My head hurts," said Ray, leaning forwards, head in hands.

"Seriously? If you say that one more time, it's gonna hurt a helluva lot more, Vecchio. Also, you can finish cleaning it yourself." Kowalski dropped another bloodstained cotton ball into the bathroom trashcan.

"Are you nearly done?" Ray asked, shifting his elbows so he didn't get permanent dents in his thighs. "Only I wouldn't want to keep you."

"Oh my god," said Kowalski. "It's worse than we thought. You have exactly zero brain cells left. Did you even listen to the doctor, or were you all zoning out on her infinity legs? You have to have someone to stay with you tonight to make sure you're not going to fall into a coma and die a horrible death. That someone is me. There was only one straw and it was the short one."

"Oh," said Ray, and he was really tired now. "But are you done?"

"If I killed you it would be justifiable homicide," said Kowalski, lifting Ray's chin and beginning to wipe his forehead. "I can stop right now if you like, but I'm not the one who'll freak out about blood on the pillow slip."

"'k," said Ray, eyes barely half-open, and smiled, slow and lazy, because this was his friend taking care of him, and that was good. Kowalski was a good man.

"Stop it," said Kowalski dropping Ray's chin and tipping the stained water down the basin.

Ray fell asleep about point two four seconds before his head met the pillow. Exactly two hours had passed, or no time at all depending on perspective, when the alarm went off. Ray, swimming up from sleep and a dream he had already lost everything but the sense of, fought against it.

"Hey!" said a voice in his ear. "Open your eyes, Vecchio."

"Mmmmm," said Ray.

"Eyes. Open. Now."

There was a jabbing in Ray's side. He opened his eyes and glared at Kowalski, a vague shadow in the dark, eyes glittering in the reflected light of the alarm clock.

"Better. What's your favorite color?"

"What?" Kowalski'd woken him from a dream about...about something good, Ray was sure...to ask him about colors? What was this? Kindergarten?

"I have to ask you questions to make sure you're not broken. There's a pamphlet. It has diagrams."

"You have to ask my favorite color? How does that even help? You don't know what it was in the first place." Ray shifted onto his side, propping his head up with a hand. That was a mistake. "Ow, fuck!"

Kowalski sucked in a breath. "Yeah, dumbass. Think it through. Green."

"I'm half-asleep here, gimme a break. You done now?"

"Sure, go back to sleep. Mind your head."

Ray settled down. Very carefully. It was only as he was drifting off he realized that Kowalski had provided the answer to his own question. He fell asleep smiling.

When the alarm went off for the second time, Kowalski was waiting for him with a glass of water, a couple of Advil and a request that Ray name his entire family. Ray drew the line at second cousins.

The third time Kowalski wanted to know the combination to Ray's gun safe, which he then went and checked. Ray offered him a smug 'told you so' smile when he climbed back into the bed.

The fourth time Kowalski said, "Did you and Fraser ever-?"

"No," said Ray. "Except that one time with the meat and that doesn't count. You going to check that one out, too?"

Kowalski shifted, and Ray felt the tips of his fingers graze his side. "No."

Ray prepared to sleep again.

"Okay, so you were doing fine," said Kowalski, "and then you failed to notice that it's light out. Time to get up time, Vecchio. Unless, you know, you went blind in the night and now I'm stuck sorting your money into piles and stopping you falling off the curb."

Ray opened his eyes in time to see Kowalski slide out of bed and stretch, t-shirt riding up revealing pale, taut skin and a line of fine, red-gold hair stretching down from his navel. Nope, not blind, though it was beginning to turn out he might have been.

"Coffee," said Kowalski, padding to the door. "Need it. Not a morning person, and that means you owe me. Big." He jabbed a finger at Ray as he disappeared.

Ray gingerly prodded his head. Yeah, still hurt. But no slipping into a coma thanks to Kowalski's vigilance, which had to be a good thing. He didn't know what he'd expected when Kowalski'd said he was staying the night. Maybe that he'd sleep on the couch, or clean the crap off the guest bed. He certainly hadn't expected Kowalski just to strip off and hop in with him. Had they just had a sleepover? Maybe he was five, just like the doctor thought. And maybe if she was right about that-?

Ray looked heavenward. "You gotta be kidding me, right? You'd think one of us would know."

He thought about it a lot over the next few days. There was plenty of time what with being stuck behind a desk until the stitches were taken out. He even took a new notebook out of the supply closet and started logging the evidence.

  1. He hadn't had a date in three months. Kowalski neither, as far as he knew. Which led to

  2. They spent most nights with each other, mostly just hanging out in each other's apartment, except sometimes. Which led to

  3. Sometimes Kowalski bought tickets to games and didn't expect to be paid back. Sometimes Ray bought them both dinner and didn't expect to be paid back either. It was more than a quid pro quo thing.

  4. If Kowalski was on stakeout he always called Ray with an update, or just to say hey. Ray did, too, even if he had nothing to say. It didn't feel right going a day without speaking. What if something happened? Which led to

  5. Kowalski was #1 on Ray's speed-dial and the first person he thought of telling things to, good or bad. He was pretty sure he was #1 for Kowalski, at least, if he'd learned to program his goddamn phone. Dumb Polack.

  6. When Kowalski walked into a room, any room, Ray was in, it didn't matter if they didn't even speak, just knowing he was there made Ray feel settled, at home. If he thought back, he couldn't remember when this had first started. It felt like it had always been the way things were.

  7. Kowalski really, really wanted to teach Ray to ballroom dance. They'd start with the slow ones, Kowalski'd said and they'd never really moved on, despite how Ray didn't even look at his feet now.

  8. There was this thing Kowalski did with his mouth and a beer bottle. Ray was pretty sure he didn't know he was doing it and every time he did Ray's palms would start to sweat and he couldn't look away.

  9. If Ray were totally honest, when he'd seen the strip of hair on Kowalski's belly, he'd wanted to see where it led. He'd wanted it a lot.

Like any good cop, Ray reviewed the evidence. Several times. Whichever way he looked at it is seemed pretty clear, an open and shut case. He and Kowalski were dating. Or, Ray furrowed his brow, he was dating Kowalski and hadn't told him yet. Or maybe even the other way around. Whatever way it turned out he had a thing for the guy. A great big neon-painted freaking woolly mammoth of a thing. Wow. It was lucky his job didn't depend on his observational skills. Oh, wait.

The problem was, now he'd figured out what was going on he had no clue what to do next. He had to let Kowalski know he knew, or let him know what he should know if he knew what Ray knew, or something with even more complicated tenses. It was confusing. He couldn't pull the yawn maneuver without Kowalski busting a gut laughing. He'd already squandered the whole 'Buddy! Buddy! Speak to me, buddy!' non-fatal injury thing. He couldn't take him out to dinner because they already did that and Kowalski might take exception to copping a feel being tacked on to the end of it. He could, he supposed, be open and talk like an adult, but that wasn't going to happen any time soon. Not unless Hell froze over (and by Hell he didn't mean the L, because he wasn't ruling that out).

It was a puzzle alright.

He was still thinking about what to do when Kowalski dropped him back at his apartment after dinner and a movie (how could he have not known they were dating?), and Ray leaned over absently to kiss Kowalski good night.

"Night," he said, getting out of the car and shutting the door with his usual reverence for the GTO's pedigree.

Ray froze.

Well, crap, that decision had been made for him, hadn't it? Behind him, the car engine stuttered and died. He heard the car door slam, and if he needed any proof that Kowalski was at least shook up and at worst — who knew? — that was it. He didn't dare turn around. Ray felt Kowalski's hand on his back propelling him forward. Somehow he fumbled his key out of his pocket and they climbed the stairs in silence. Ray's heart raced in his throat as he let them both in.

"So," said Kowalski, pulling off his coat and dropping it over the chair like nothing had changed. "What was that?"

"If you need a textbook I could ask Constanza," snapped Ray, visibly seeing his patience run off into the distance hand in hand with his dignity.

Kowalski just grinned at him. A quick, feral grin that wasn't one that Ray'd ever seen before, not that he was cataloging them or anything. "We're skipping the honeymoon phase now?"

"What?" Ray found himself rooted to the spot as Kowalski prowled closer. He tugged at his collar. Had the thermostat been turned up in here or what?

"The bit where we make like bunnies. You know." Kowalski, not taking his eyes off Ray's, slowly, deliberately sucked his thumb into his mouth, pumping it in and out a couple of times before pulling it out with a wet pop. "Because did I miss the memo where it said, 'Go straight to twenty years married, do not pass go, do not suck your hot boyfriend's dick'? I would not have signed off on that."

Ray squeaked. It was not cool, it was not even in the ballpark of manly, but it was the only reaction he was capable of. Especially since Kowalski was so close now that Ray could probably lick him. Which he suddenly really, really wanted to do.

"Cat got your tongue, Vecchio?" Kowalski's words washed against Ray's skin.

"B-b-boyfriends?" Ray managed.

"Yeah," said Kowalski, leaning in closer still, so that Ray could feel the movement of Kowalski's lips as if he were saying the words himself. "That's okay, right? It's what you want?"

Ray didn't trust himself to do more than nod and then he couldn't have spoken even if he'd wanted to because they were kissing, finally. And they'd got it all ass over backward but it didn't matter because Kowalski's hands were pulling him in and his mouth was fitting itself to Ray's. Ray licked, just like he'd wanted to and Kowalski's fingers convulsed, so Ray did it again, just to see. This time Kowalski's hips pushed forward and Ray wanted to laugh with sheer joy that he'd done this, made Kowalski hard, made him want and need.

"Bunnies," he said, and tugged Kowalski towards the bedroom.

There was nothing graceful about the way their clothes came off, nothing graceful about the way Kowalski stumbled over a shoe lace and only stayed on his feet by a combination of windmilling and grabbing Ray's arm. Nothing graceful about the way Ray forgot his head was still healing and yelped as he tried to tug his still-too-buttoned shirt over it. It turned out, though, that it wasn't about making pretty pictures. It was about flesh and bone and heart. It was about shimmering touches and quiet aromas, tasting and knowing, giving and receiving.

Ray thought he had probably always known Kowalski was beautiful, but now, with his too-pretty mouth wrapped around Ray's dick, he was more beautiful than ever. And it wasn't because that this was the best sex Ray'd had in a long time was lending him rose-colored glasses, and it wasn't because this was the fantasy Ray'd tried not to have. No, it was because when Kowalski looked up at him, his eyes had this shining intensity, like making Ray feel good, be happy, was the only thing in the world. Like Ray was the only thing in his world. It was like looking into the sun and, when Ray came, his vision went black, red pulses fringing the darkness. It seemed only fair.

Later, they lay together, limbs flung over each other in casual ownership.

"Wanna go steady? I gave my class ring to Stella, so, you know, sorry, I got nothing," Kowalski said, and ducked as Ray's hand swatted his head.

"No letterman jacket? Thanks a lot, Stanley, I'm not putting out for you any more."

Kowalski nudged Ray's shoulder with his head. "Ah, go on, you know you wanna fuck me stupid."

Ray heaved out a big sigh and rolled Kowalski over, nipping his ear. "Since you ask so nicely," he said.

"You're a good man, Vecchio," grinned Kowalski, grabbing Ray's ass and squeezing hard.

"Thank you," said Ray, and laughed.


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