Oh, The Places You'll Go

Turn that Frown Upside Down

Notes: Many thanks to andeincascade for beta and de-Britishing. (Why do you guys have to do everything opposite? It must make the International Hokey Cokey League very complicated.) Also thanks to belmanoir for the wonderful Ray Lieberman, who is now pretty much canon for me. It makes Fraser happy.

"Yeah, sure we can still be friends," said Ray with a shrug. "What, you think I'm gonna shun you now? And that would help exactly how?"

Kowalski scuffed his toe on the ground, hands in his pockets, not meeting Ray's eyes. He looked like a little kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Ray couldn't pretend this conversation was anything less than someone twisting a hot poker in his gut but he had two things working in his favor--he gave good poker face and he was a mensch. He had both on good authority.

"I just- Because we-" Kowalski hauled a hand out of his pocket and waved it vaguely between them. "And it wasn't- I mean, I thought it was-"

The stupid-assed thing was Ray completely understood. He almost always understood Kowalski, and that was why this whole break up thing was such a kick in the teeth. He'd thought they were doing good. Okay, so for values of good equal to nobody must know that you're having the best sex of your life with someone you actually like spending time with, but, you know, good was good.

"You should probably stop talking before you articulate yourself into a pretzel," said Ray. "Come on, we've got to go fight crime. Apparently there's a rule about doing the job you're paid for." He turned and walked away without checking Kowalski was following. He would, he had to. And dammit, they were taking his car this time, if he was going to be breathing the same air as Kowalski all day he needed a place of safety.

It wasn't really any different to any other day; Kowalski fidgeted, nine times out of ten Ray forgot to signal left, they tag-teamed witnesses, cleaned Chicago's streets of scum and yelled at them in the interrogation room. Same old same old. But when they clocked off, Kowalski didn't do the thing with his eyebrow that meant 'you coming over?' and Ray didn't do the half-smirk that said 'try and stop me'.

"Tomorrow, Vecchio," said Kowalski instead, meeting Ray's eyes for a split second before turning and heading out the door. He didn't look back. He wasn't walking with his usual hop-skip shadowboxing swagger, though, and Ray was grateful for small mercies.

Ray stared at the closed door unthinking for a full minute before shaking it off and trying to pull his head back to the pile of paperwork Kowalski had left him with. He got maybe half a form filled out before the insistent knocking in his brain got too loud for him to ignore. He threw his pen down. Fuck! What the hell had happened? Yesterday, he'd cooked Kowalski dinner at his place, they'd had a Rocky marathon, though by the time they'd gotten to Mr. T, Kowalski was sacked out with his head on Ray's lap and Ray'd watched the whole movie stroking his hand through Kowalski's Idol-wannabe hair. When the credits had rolled, he'd slid out from under, pressed a kiss against Kowalski's temple, pulled the throw down over him and headed home. And then this morning Kowalski'd given him the whole 'it's not you, it's me' classic complete with 'let's be friends' appendix B. They hadn't even had sex the night before, so it wasn't like Ray's grades had slipped so bad he'd gotten kicked off the team. It didn't make sense. There'd been no warning signs, none.

Ray frowned to himself. It was still new enough that they weren't telling anyone just yet--you been burned, you learn to respect fire--and maybe no one had even looked sideways at the L-word, but just because you didn't name it didn't mean it wasn't there. An image flashed across Ray's brain--Kowalski sitting across from him in a diner, stabbing his fries-speared fork in Ray's face and giving him his best shit-eating grin--and his arm wrapped around his stomach, automatically protective as his muscles clenched against the phantom blow. And then another image--Kowalski's naked back, neck curving down and away, as Ray held his hips and pushed into him. Ray's breath came out in a rush and he doubled over, eyes opening wide, trying to see something else, anything else.

"You okay, Vecchio?" asked Grunwald from two desks over. "You eat that shit from the machines again? Told you, you're poisoning yourself slowly. Macrobiotic, that's what you want."

Ray shot him his best sneer. "And does your shit smell like roses, now? Because that might just be the deal breaker for me."

"Whatever," said Grunwald, holding up his hands. "Don't come whining to me when your colon explodes in protest at the crap you shovel in your mouth."

"I'll probably be too busy dying," said Ray, getting to his feet and stuffing files into his in-basket with barely controlled violence. "And your face is not the last thing I want to be seeing before I go meet my Maker. Now fuck off and go eat some mung beans, would you?"

Ray'd been on the road five minutes before he realized he was headed for Kowalski's apartment rather than home. He slammed his hand hard on the dash, the sharp sting a distraction from the pain in his chest. He was going home. How had he not noticed that he was more comfortable at Kowalski's place than his family house? How had he not noticed the definition of home shifting in his head? How was he supposed to set foot through Kowalski's front door and not belong there? Be a visitor? The word tasted sour in Ray's mouth and he wound down the window to spit it out.

The muted shrill of his cell sounded through his jacket pocket and Ray fumbled it out, checking the display. It was Benny. He pulled over, flipping the phone open and punching the talk button.

"Hey, Benny, how's things?"

"You're not driving, are you, Ray? The motor accident statistics are quite-"

Ray turned the engine off, rolling his eyes. "No, Fraser, I am not driving. I wouldn't dare sully your reputation by association."

Benny started to say something about being only concerned for Ray's safety, but there was a smile in his voice and Ray cut him off with a few yeah yeahs. "Whadda you need, Benny?" he asked. "Because if Lieberman's got you tucked under a blanket and you're settling in for a good long chat I gotta tell you that I'm in the middle of exactly nowhere here, and I'd like to make it home with all parts of the car and me intact." Ray looked about him. The neighborhood was deserted, it consisting mostly of stores and salerooms closed down for the night, but he probably wasn't in any danger, it was just right now was not the best time for him to be hearing tales of the Mountie and his once-Wandering-now-Found Jew.

"I spoke to Ray," said Benny.

And Ray said, "Oh."

Apparently Fraser was hoping for something more than a single syllable because the silence stretched out between them. Ray had no clue what Benny expected him to add. 'That's nice'? Or 'Cock-sucking son of a bitch'? Or 'Did he say anything about me? Did he? Did he?'? Nothing was working for him, though, so he stuck with that.

"He, ah, he explained the situation," said Fraser and Ray could hear every last tick--eyebrow, tongue, the whole shebang--through the phone line and it made him ache. He missed Benny so much.

"Oh," said Ray again. This time adding, with a touch of bitterness, "I'm glad he explained it to someone."

"I know it's- Truly, Ray, I know this isn't my place, but I care very much for you both, and happiness can be so hard to find, let alone hold on to, as the great poet said-"

"Spit it out, Benny. I told you, I'm on borrowed time here."

"I, er, yes." There was a rustle followed by a dull thud and a muffled, "Now was that really necessary, Ray?" and then Fraser's voice returned, loud and clear. "You do love him, don't you, Ray?"

Ray's first response was negative. Ray's default response was negative. He couldn't help it; it was like the word 'No,' came out of him before he'd even heard the question. Say no, do it anyway: maybe if he said no to begin with, it wouldn't be his fault when things inevitably went belly-up. He'd always had too much responsibility. Ray felt his mouth shaping the 'N', his throat closing, tongue pressing up against the ridge on the roof of his mouth, lips parting slightly. And then he stopped. He stopped. Because he didn't want to say no, not this time. He dropped his tongue down and said, "Yes. Yes I do. For all my sins, of which there've been many, I love the stupid-haired bastard."

He slumped in his seat and sighed. "Thanks for making me say that out loud now he's broken up with me. It's a real help."

"Ray," said Fraser, and he sounded deliberate, ponderous, as if he was choosing his words with extreme care. "I can't break a confidence, but I would ask you to think about last night. What made it different to other nights you've spent together?"

Ray replayed the events of the previous evening again. "Nothing happened, Benny," he said. "It was just a good night. Nothing happened. We didn't even have-" Cogs whirred and clicked and sheets of half-thoughts slotted into place. "The fucking idiot," said Ray. "Gotta go, Benny."

"Good l-" said Fraser, but Ray'd already flipped the phone shut and was pulling off the curb with a screech of tires.

"You broke up with me because we didn't have sex last night?" said Ray to a wary-looking Kowalski who'd answered the door in nothing but sweats. That wasn't playing fair, Ray thought.

"I don't know what you're talking about, and if you could not-talk about it somewhere where the neighbors don't get a ringside seat, I'd consider it a courtesy." Kowalski stood aside to let Ray in.

Ray pushed past him. "You'd consider it a what now? You been using your Word of the Day toilet paper again?" Ray kicked off his shoes and sat on the sofa. He wasn't going anywhere and wanted Kowalski to know it.

"Make yourself at home," said Kowalski, with a roll of his shoulders, picking up his half-finished beer from the kitchen counter.

"You're an idiot," Ray said. "I mean, I was always fairly sure you were mentally-challenged in the attention department, but this is whole new levels of dumbassery, even for you."

Kowalski frowned. "Hey, we had a verbal buddies agreement," he said. "I don't have to listen to you talk shit about me in my own apartment, Vecchio. You having trouble dealing with our whole...break up thing then write Dear Abby, don't come pester me."

Ray smiled. "Right, fine. So it's the most intelligent thing you've ever done to break up with me because we didn't have sex last night. I get it. You're scared. I'm scared. There are so many ways we could screw this up they should write a manual. But my point is this. You don't get to break up with me because you couldn't pretend last night was just about getting off. We're past that. You know it and I know it. This-" And he waved his hand between the two of them, in exact imitation of Kowalski's earlier attempts at defining whatever it was he'd just ended. "-is what we adults refer to as a 'relationship'. And hey, if it makes you feel more of a man to have me say it first then fine, Kowalski. Here."

Ray got to his feet and walked over to where Kowalski stood, looking a little like a stunned fish. He leaned in and touched his lips gently to Kowalski's. Pulling back, he said, "I love you," and added, "Whether you like it or not."

"I'm not scared," said Kowalski, face pale under fading summer tan.

"Like hell," Ray replied, trailing his fingers lazily down Kowalski's chest and belly to where his sweats hung low on his hips. He dragged his thumb along the waistband and smirked as Kowalski's nipples puckered and his sweats began to tent. "You're so scared that I'm gonna turn around and dump your ass just like Stella did."

He stepped even closer and slipped his other hand under the worn-thin cotton, cupping Kowalski's ass. "Newsflash. You guys were together for 20 years. You ended, it happens. But you know what? You got 20 years and most of them good. 20 years from now who the fuck knows? I could be dead, you could be dead, we could both be senile in twin rocking chairs being tended to by hot nurses, I could've left you, you could've left me."

Ray nudged Kowalski's head to one side with a cheek, exposing his neck, taut cord of muscle running up its length. He licked along it, then bit lightly, grazing the surface of skin with his teeth. Kowalski's hands came up and caught in Ray's shirt, convulsing. Ray smiled against Kowalski's neck, feeling the pulse point under his lips. He raised his head, his cheek rasping along Kowalski's sandpapery jaw line.

"Re-la-tion-ship," he breathed into Kowalski's ear and managed to dodge out of the way before Kowalski's hand connected with his head. The problem was Ray's hand was still entangled in Kowalski's pants and when he jerked away it unbalanced them both. Kowalski lurched one way, Ray lurched the other and then old bones met wooden floor with more than necessary force. Twice, actually, as Kowalski landed on top of him as Ray rebounded.

Ray let out a startled "Oof!" And then the air that had woofed out of him with Kowalski's assault against his diaphragm was filling his lungs again with loud, honking breaths of laughter. Kowalski stared at Ray as if he'd completely lost it, which he probably had, given that his brain was paying more attention to the hard-on he'd been cultivating when still upright rather than the concussion he was sure he'd given himself all of ten seconds ago. Kowalski's face only made Ray laugh more; he kind of looked a lot like a gerbil when he was startled. Ray loved that about him.

Kowalski looked as if he couldn't decide whether to punch Ray in the nose, send for the men in white coats or nail him then and there on the floor. Ray giggled helplessly as the expressions warred across Kowalski's face and then melted together in a grin.

"Asshole," said Kowalski. "You're just proving Fraser's point about love being an inner ear imbalance."

Ray spluttered. "I can't skate, I can't surf, my whole life I've been unbalanced. It probably is why I love you."

Kowalski's grin faded a little. "You keep saying that."


"That you...that you love me."

"Oh. My. God." Ray twisted to dislodge Kowalski and get up, but he wouldn't let him move. "You're the detective, Kowalski, you're supposed to have a nose for the truth. You should try using it once in a while." He rolled his eyes. "Jesus, you're such a jerk. Get off of me, will you?" He shoved his hips up and his dick pressed against the solid length of Kowalski's. Why was the world trying to punish him?

"No," said Kowalski, his grin returning, like Ray'd just recited love poetry or something. "You know I- You, too, yeah?"

"Wow," said Ray. "Be still my beating heart." But he got a hand free and used it to cup Kowalski's neck, bringing his head down until their foreheads met.

"We should maybe tell people," Kowalski said, breath warm against Ray's face, rolling his hips lazily against Ray's.

"Okay," said Ray, equably, pushing back against him.

"And you could- If you wanted- There's a drawer." The rolling became more focused, small, sharp circles.

"Okay," said Ray again, sliding his hand down the cool skin over Kowalski's spine to grip his ass, pulling them closer together, the smooth friction of Ray's silk boxers against his dick sending out tiny shoots of pleasure deep into his groin.

"And we should have sex. Now." Kowalski found both Ray's hands and clasped them, sweeping them out and over his head. Almost his whole weight was on Ray now, and he rubbed against him hard, barely controlled.

"Nah," said Ray and laughed at the look of horror on Kowalski's face as he jolted upright, taking Ray's hands with him. "We're in a 'relationship'," he continued, proud he'd managed to illustrate the air-quotes even without the use of his hands. "We don't do that any more. We have to fight over the remote and go to IKEA on weekends."

Kowalski pulled a face at him and then smiled, letting go of one of Ray's hands. He tugged at his damp sweats, freeing his dick and, god, it looked good, hot and thick and ready, before bringing his other hand, Ray's still clasped in it, to touch it. Ray's knuckles grazed the sensitive spot at the head of Kowalski's shaft and he felt the tremor run through Kowalski's thighs.

Ray was really not paying attention to anything except the droplet welling from Kowalski's dick so he didn't really notice when Kowalski said, "I love you."

"Hmm?" said Ray. "Sounds good."

"Okay," said Kowalski. "So I wasn't exactly playing fair but this is important, so listen."

Ray did his best to focus, but Kowalski's mouth was as distracting as his dick and it wasn't easy.

"I love you, Vecchio." Kowalski twisted Ray's tie around one hand. "You were right, I was scared. I'm sorry I broke up with you, it was a dick move."

"Oh," said Ray, adding, "That's nice," when he thought more was called for. There weren't words, really, to explain the way his heart was pounding, the way his stomach swooped and his guts exploded into a million fluttering pieces. Grunwald would say it was the machine food, but Ray knew better. A whole lot better. A smile spread across his face and Ray knew he probably looked like a goofball but he just didn't care.

"Can we have sex now?" asked Kowalski, grinding his ass against Ray's erection. Man, he never played fair.

"Sure," said Ray. "Why not?"

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