Oh, The Places You'll Go

Five Holidays Ray and Ray Managed not to Screw Up

Notes: So, this was a holiday gift for my guys. They know who they are. The ones who've been there, flailing and squeeing and debating with me over the sheer overwhelming AWESOME of two Rays together. The ones who take an idea and run with it and write the most amazing fic as a result, who make me giggle and melt and my heart go squish. The ones who've read and beta'd and commented with smiles and guhs and quotes and stuff that makes me think hard. \rays/

Rays you will see: Lost and Found Rays, Cosmic Rays, Teen Rays, Genderfuck Rays and Steampunk Rays. Though not all in the same place, because, WOW, that's an accident waiting to happen.


1.

The fight starts on December 21st. Kowalski, searching for a pair of socks with no holes in, finds a photograph of Benny and Ray in Ray's drawer. He waves it about like it's the incriminating evidence in a homicide. Ray is incredulous and points out the stupid-assed hypocrisy of Kowalski's insinuations, but Kowalski's on a roll. Ray tells him to yell himself out, and takes off — he doesn't need this shit.

On December 22nd, Ray lets himself back in, back sore from sleeping in Angelo's single, and smelling of sweet baby powder. Kowalski isn't there, and Ray makes straight for the closet. He lets out his breath when he realizes nothing is missing – Kowalski may live in apparent chaos, but Ray has learned his way around it. He strips and showers, dropping his clothes in the laundry hamper.

At work they prowl around each other in some kind of uneasy détente. Back home, Kowalski spends the evening cleaning engine parts on the dining table. Ray says nothing. He's tired.

December 23rd is laundry day. Ray's sewing buttons back on his pants (they come off a lot more easily since he's been with Kowalski) when Kowalski storms in, thrusting a shirt under Ray's nose.

"It's dirty. Your point is?"

"Smell it," demands Kowalski, eyes blown, shoving the shirt closer.

Ray puts up a hand to ward him off, and sniffs obediently. "What exactly am I looking for?" he asks, smelling only Allegra's baby smell.

"You've been with a woman. I found hair, too, look." Kowalski holds out a strand of hair. Ray doesn't have to look closely at it to know whom it belongs to.

"Are you nuts? I was at Frannie's house. You know that. You called there to check I was safe, don't even deny it. What is wrong with you?"

It turns out that what is wrong is that Ray didn't object to the engine parts on the table the night before, and that in some way implies guilt. Whether to the original accusation of holding a torch for Benny or this new one, Ray isn't quite clear. Ray throws up his hands.

"I can't fucking win. You're being an asshole. I can't keep proving how much I love you; there's only so many times you can run away before looking like a total dick. You either believe it or you don't, I can't make you." Kowalski is still standing over him, face shuttered, and Ray can't breathe, has to get out. He pushes past Kowalski and fairly sprints for the door. He's halfway to Lake Michigan before he even realizes that's where he's going.

Sitting in the car, heater going full blast, Ray looks out at the lake and despairs. He thought they were through all this, this pushing away, this lack of faith. Benny's an excuse, same way the shirt is, no way can Kowalski believe what he's spouting. What the hell is chewing his chips? He can't keep doing this, because every time Kowalski doubts him, every time Kowalski doubts himself, a little bit more of Ray dies. He drops his head to the steering wheel, bouncing his forehead off it until he stops thinking.

Ray wakes up on December 24th and it takes a while to figure out that he's in the guest bed. He'd stayed out until the small hours and hadn't wanted to risk restarting the fight by stumbling into bed and waking Kowalski. He groans and buries his face in the pillow. What fresh hell was this day going to bring?

"Um," says a voice, and Ray twists round to see Kowalski lounging against the doorframe, sweatpants riding low as usual, scratching his belly. "Hey, you," says Kowalski.

"Hey, you," says Ray, cautiously. He's not sure which Kowalski this is, it's too early to tell.

Kowalski comes into the room and gets into bed with Ray. His feet are freezing against Ray's legs, but Ray doesn't flinch away. He doesn't do that.

"Look, I'm sorry," says Kowalski. "I know that you...you know, that you..."

"Say it," urges Ray, gently. It's suddenly the most important thing in the world.

Kowalski looks anguished and stares up at the ceiling. "That you love me," he says, twisting the comforter between his hands.

"No," says Ray, inexorable. "Look at me and say it."

Kowalski makes a choked off sound, but he turns and looks at Ray. He's wide open and terrified and it's the strangest thing, Ray thinks, that he can show love and give it, but taking it freaks him the fuck out, after all this time.

"I know that you love me," Kowalski says. "I know it. I do. It's just-" He stops, clamping his mouth tight shut.

Ray leans in and drops a soft kiss against Kowalski's lips. He draws back. "Tell me," he says. "We need to fix this."

"Mom called, last week. Dad, he- I've got a 25 year old half-sister."

Ray hopes it's not inappropriate that his first reaction is relief, because Jesus, no wonder Kowalski flipped his lid. Everything makes sense, and the part of him that had frozen down by the lake defrosts as he pulls Kowalski in and wraps his arms tight around him.

"I got you," he says. "I'm here." Ray feels Kowalski's chin dig into his shoulder as he nods.

"V?" says Kowalski, his breath tickling Ray's neck. "I didn't screw up the holidays, did I?"

"Nah," says Vecchio. "Every good Catholic knows Christmas is a time for fighting, family and faith. I think we're doing just fine."

2.

Crime didn't stop just because the Contingency declared a holiday. People got murdered on Earth Day, people stole and people cheated, people raped and blew shit up, people were people. Earth may be the Mother of everyone, but that meant the assholes as well as the good guys. So Ray never had much of a chance to celebrate the way civs did – no family gatherings, no over-indulgent banquets with weird stuff you never ate the rest of the year, no Earth-gazing, no watching the non-stop Earth as Was and Earth as Now show that blanketed the Filter.

Nothing: he was either chasing some bastard down or locking them up, and that's the way it was always going to be. It wasn't the end of his world or anything, it just, sometimes, once even, would have been nice to at least pretend to pass for normal.

Except this year he woke up and, instead of Kowalski's crazy-assed morning hair on the pillow next to him, there was a small, plain box. Ray blinked; he couldn't remember the last time he'd woken to a gift on Earth Day. Ray sat up, cross-legged, and picked up the box. He felt like a little kid again. Back on Deimos, Ma had done her best to make it special, but seeing as how Pa drank away most of his wages, it was all she could do to scrape together some yarn to knit Ray a new pair of socks. Ray had always opened his packages with hope, and been grateful enough for what he'd received, but at the same time bitterly disappointed to have socks again, and not the shiny toys he knew he would see when he went to Frankie's house later.

Almost unable to bring himself to look, Ray squeezed one eye tight shut and twisted his head as he lifted the lid. He peered into the box. It was...oh, Mother. Ray reached in and carefully took out the gift. He held it in the palm of his hand, blinking furiously to focus. It was perfect, from the sweeping curves of her body, the strength of her lines, to the peeling paint and the scorch marks from Frannie's fuel experiment. His Riv. She was the most beautiful thing Ray had ever seen. He turned the model over and over, studying it from every angle, tracing his finger across the detail of her.

And then he was standing, and his feet were carrying him to Kowalski's cabin and Kowalski looked up at him from where he was sitting on the edge of his bed. Waiting. "Happy Earth Day," he said with a bashful smile that made Ray's heart thump hard, and then, "Mmmmmph," as Ray kissed him and kissed him and kissed him. And, later, "You might want to put that down, if we're-"

Very, very carefully, Ray did.

3.

"So, the dance is next Friday, yeah?" said Vecchio, stabbing at the orange button on the controller over and over, not looking at Ray.

"Yeah," said Ray, stomach clenching with anticipatory misery. He'd heard Vecchio showboating about how many girls would kill for the chance to go with him to the Christmas social. It was one thing saying he was okay with keeping their whole deal under wraps, it was, like, a whole other universe being it.

"Soooo no-one will be hanging out here, right?" Vecchio seemed to be determined to beat Ray's high score, for sure, the way he was taking out the little marching invaders.

"Nah, they'll all be busy figuring out where they're supposed to pin the corsage." Even Gardino was taking his twin sister, which, okay, not going to win cool points, but whatever he had to do to get through school. Ray'd considered going stag, but he did not want to have to see Vecchio dipping some girl and schmoozing her with the spiked punch.

Vecchio didn't say anything but, "Got you, you fucker!" for the next couple of minutes, and Ray figured that was that. And then when he did speak, it was so quiet Ray was sure he'd misheard, because what he thought Vecchio said was this:

"It'll be just me and you all night, then? Cool."

Ray dropped the comic he was pretending to read and stared, his heart speeding up just like the aliens racing across the TV screen. "You. What?"

Vecchio flicked him a quick glance and Ray could see a smile curling the edge of his lips. "Need to get your hearing checked, Stanley? I said it'll be just me and you. Next Friday. When everyone is at the dance." He spoke slowly, as if Ray was mentally deficient or something, and, hey, maybe he was because all that was going through Ray's head right now was burbleburbleburbleHEREburbleburbleRAYburbleburbleUSburble.

"Fuck, Vecchio," he said, unable to keep from choking a little.

"Asshole," said Vecchio, and dropped the joystick, prowling towards Ray on his hands and knees, letting the Earth take care of itself.

Game over.

4.

People are used to her, now. Sometimes this is a good thing – Frannie has long since stopped freaking out if they end up using the Ladies' Room at the same time, no one expects her to get the lids off of jars, an she always gets the last donut if she snaps loud enough and clutches at her womb. Sometimes not so much – every time the guys stop talking about sex when she walks in the room, every time some asshole makes a not-so-private remark about long legs and where he wanted to wrap them, every time she gets impassioned about a case and, out of the corner of her eye, catches 'PMS' being mouthed by one or other of her so-called colleagues.

She's about to go into the break room when she hears her name mentioned.

"So what're you getting Kowalski for Christmas, then?" says McClain. "Some nice silk panties? Or maybe a nice diamond necklace."

"Yeah, that's right," says Vecchio dryly. "And then I'm stamping her ass Property of Vecchio. Put your tongue away, McClain and stop thinking about my partner in her underwear."

"Sorry, Vecchio, I didn't mean- But, hey, listen, women are tough to buy for. You can't go wrong with something pretty."

"Hmmmm," says Vecchio, thoughtfully.

What the fuck? Something pretty? Jesus, Ray's a woman on the outside, and, you know, some bits on the inside, but she's still Ray. She makes up her mind then and there to strangle Vecchio with her suspender belt if he gives her anything that involves lace. She stalks off. It's days like these that she misses her dick most.

Christmas dawns and it's kinda hectic; the Vecchios do everything at top volume, and that includes complimenting Ray's breasts as well as the goose's. She's exhausted by the time they get back home, and has completely forgotten about the fact that she may still have to commit murder until Vecchio drops down beside her and hands her a flat package tied up with silver, curly ribbon. Oh, asscandles. This does not look good, and Ray has no desire to spend the rest of her life in an orange jumpsuit. She stares at it.

"Open it, then," Vecchio nudges her.

Pull the Band-Aid off quick, Ray's always been told, and so she yanks off the ribbon and opens the box. There, as suspected, is a layer of tissue paper. Shit. She won't even be able to pretend to be pleased and then there'll be sulking and no sex and it'll be this whole thing. She lifts it up to reveal- no lace. No frills in sight. It's- Nah, it can't be. It is. It's a baby doll Bull's shirt. She looks at Vecchio, who rubs his neck and grins at her.

"I know how much you love that ratty old shirt," he says, "but this'll fit you better, and you can wear it when we, you know," he reaches into his pocket and hands over two season tickets, "go."

Ray wasn't brought up to be a lady, and so she's perfectly happy to launch herself at Vecchio with almost excessive force.

"You fucking love me," she declares as she starts undoing his belt as box, tissue paper, shirt and ribbon tumble to the floor.

"Well, duh," says Vecchio, thwapping her around the head before settling his hands on her ass.

"Property of you," she murmurs against his lips, ignoring Vecchio's grunted question, and wonders if the price of tattoos has gone up a lot since the last time.

5.

If Ray were to be asked, he would say that the worst thing about being a Finder was the fireworms. The fireworms and the impregnable fortresses. The fireworms and the impregnable fortresses and the persistent grateful maidens. Anything, in fact, that prevents him from simply stepping through to the necessary dimension, finding the Lost Thing, and taking it home to vast reward — both financial and physical.

Vecchio doesn't say anything, he's too aware of having been Found to suggest that Ray refuse to help others in need, but Ray knows he frets. And rightfully, too. Many's the time Ray has returned home torn and bloodied from his efforts, once with a broken arm, even, and Vecchio never says anything. Just cleans Ray up and sets to patching up his coat, listening closely to his tales of high adventure. Which Ray never elaborates, no sir. Vecchio doesn't even part properly from Ray when he goes dimension walking, not these days, just tells Ray not to be late for patrol and pulls his hat down low over his eyes.

Ray never asks what Vecchio does while he's away, and Vecchio doesn't tell, but today is different, and Ray knows exactly what's happening back in his world as he crouches out of sight, figuring out ways he can take out the three viciously-armed guards, retrieve the Lost Thing and get home before Vecchio gives him up and goes to bed. Alone.

He would never have taken a commission, not on this day of all days, but this one is special, Vecchio'd known it, too, and had worked efficiently and grimly to prepare Ray for travel.

Screw it, he thinks, if Plans A through Z aren't gonna fly, try Plan Yeah-That's-Either-The-Most-Brilliant-Thing-Ever-Or-Really-Really-Dumb.

He straightens and walks round the corner, straight towards the guards. He greets them with a raised hand, a big smile and a "Merry Christmas!", and barrels straight past their bemused expressions. He tries the handle, and, thank old St. Nick, the door opens and he's inside and barring it before the guards can even react. Most. Brilliant. Thing. Ever.

The room is big and bare, save for the ornately carved crib at its center. Ray ignores the hammering and yelling and crosses to the crib, holding his breath. He knows his Lost Thing is here, can feel the pull of it, but still, he needs to see it to believe.

The child gurgles when it sees Ray and waves a pudgy little fist in the air, almost as if in greeting.

"Hey there, you," says Ray, scooping the baby up gingerly, its head resting in the palm of his hand. It's a delicate, precious burden, and Ray is terrified. He's never passed through dimensions with another living thing, he doesn't even know if it is possible. He holds this child's life in his hands and the responsibility is overwhelming. Ray shakes and tightens his grip around the baby.

The banging gets louder and Ray can see that the door won't hold out much longer, they have to be gone, whether he's ready or no. He settles on the floor and closes his eyes, searching for the door in his mind that will take him home.

"My baby!" comes the joyful cry, and the world swims into focus. Ray looks down in time to see the baby snatched from his arms, pink of cheek and cooing happily. He's brought the Lost Thing home.

"Thank you, thank you!" The father is shaking Ray's hand and pulling him to his feet. "We can't- That is, so grateful, your reward-" He thrusts an envelope at Ray who pushes it into his coat pocket. The drapes are drawn and the gas lamps lit and there is something Ray needs to know.

"Is it still Christmas Day?" he asks.

"Yes, yes. A Christmas miracle, that's what you are." The man is hovering over his wife and child, unsure of where to put his hands, and Ray needs to be gone. He needs to be home.

It is snowing, and Ray lifts his head to the sky, tasting the flakes on his tongue. He grins, and begins to run.

Vecchio is sitting in candlelight, staring into space with a book in his lap when Ray creeps through the door. Heedless of the snow that he's dripping onto the wooden floors, Ray crosses the distance between them in quick strides and drops to his knees in front of Vecchio, whose face tells Ray all he needs to know of the day. He takes Vecchio's warm hand and places it against his frozen cheek, leaning into the touch. Snowflakes tumble from his head onto the pages of Vecchio's book, the paper crinkling as they melt.

"See," says Vecchio, "this is why I don't read in the bath." He closes the book, puts it aside and slips his hands under Ray's coat, pushing it off his shoulders.

"I forgot to say 'Merry Christmas,'" Ray says.


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