Rating: G
Pairing: Kowalski/Vecchio pre-slash
Thanks: Thanks to Sage for beta.
Notes: For Brynn, and for the Soap challenge on ds_flashfiction.

Everybody Knows

by china_shop

"Maybe some other time, Ray," said Adele Huxley, briskly. She handed over the files from Records, tucked her shiny auburn hair behind her ear and turned back to her computer, leaving Ray rebuffed, down but not out.

"She's weakening," he told Kowalski, as they headed up the stairs to the squadroom. "Did you see that smile? One of these days she's gonna say yes."

The corner of Kowalski's mouth quirked. "I told you a million times, you don't stand a chance with her."

"Why? You think she's out of my league? You don't know squat. I'm telling you, she's coming around." They stepped away from each other to dodge the wide janitor's mop.

"It's not about leagues," Kowalski said, when they veered back together. "Adele is never gonna date you because everyone in this station thinks we're doing it. What kind of girl's going to sign up to be your smoke-screen?"

Ray stopped dead. "Doing what?"

Kowalski swiveled on his heel and walked backwards, still moving toward the squadroom. "Oh please. Even Fraser thinks we're doing it. Your mother thinks we're doing it."

Ray felt his jaw drop. It took a few seconds for the world to come back into focus, and then he strode over to Kowalski, grabbed the front of his sweatshirt and propelled him down the hall, past the supply closet (because that was his and Fraser's meeting place) and the men's room (because who the hell talked to their partner in the men's room?) and shoved him into Interview Two. He dropped the files on the table and turned on Kowalski.

"Why the hell would anyone think we were doing — anything?" he asked, the force of his question undermined by his unwillingness to say exactly what it was they weren't doing.

Kowalski shrugged. He took a toothpick out of the front pocket of his jeans and jammed it between his lips. "Maybe they've seen the way you drool over my ass," he muttered.

Ray ignored the joke and threw his hands in the air. "Ma?"

"If it's any consolation, she seems to think you're wearing the pants in our, uh, relationship." Kowalski went over, slouched against the window frame and folded his arms. "At least, I think that's what she meant by giving me that scented soap set for Christmas, just like my Mom used to give Stella."

He seemed more amused than freaked out by this. "Why aren't you freaked out by this?" Ray asked him, feeling his cool slip. "What is wrong with you?"

Kowalski shrugged. "I'm secure in my masculinity." He eyed Ray for a minute, then came over, hands up in a calm soothing gesture that Ray recognized from seeing him deal with a hundred witnesses at a hundred crime scenes. "Hey, it's cool. It's business as usual, as far as I'm concerned. Everyone thought me and Fraser were doing it, too."

"You weren't?" Ray blurted.

Kowalski snorted. "See?"

"Huh." Ray could've sworn. In fact, if he had maybe checked out Kowalski's ass once or twice (when no one was looking), it had been to try to figure out what Fraser had seen in it, because Ray knew Fraser's type and he wouldn't once in a million years have thought he'd go for Kowalski. Turned out he was right. "So, what do we do?"

"About what?" Kowalski raised his eyebrows, then lowered them again and shrugged. "Ignore it. People'll get bored and move on."

"Just let them believe it?" Ray's stomach flipped at the thought. "So much for Truth, Justice and the goddamned American Way."

"This isn't a Superman movie, it's life," said Kowalski, amused again. "And the more you deny something, the more interesting it gets."

Ray had to concede that. Rumors didn't die if you fought them. "And in the meantime, I can't get a date to save my life," he said, gloomily. No one at the station would touch him, and with the hours they worked, Ray barely had time to meet anyone out in the rest of the world, let alone deal with the way a girl's entire family's criminal history, from littering to larceny, would flit across her face when she found out he was a cop. When it came down to it, no civilian wanted to date someone who got shot at for a living.

He sunk into one of the wooden interrogation room chairs and rested his forehead on the stack of files. Months of no kissing and no sex stretched out ahead of him like a desolate wasteland. No pretty girls dressed up in slinky dresses. No flirting, no perfume, no will she let me? moments.

"Pretty much." He heard rather than saw Kowalski drop into the chair opposite. "If it's any consolation, I'm in the same leaky boat."

"How is that supposed to make me feel better?" Ray asked the files even though, weirdly enough, it did.

There was no reply and after a moment he raised his head to see Kowalski leaning back in his chair, twisting his finger in his stupid ball-chain bracelet. His mouth was pursed and he looked a million miles away.

"How long since you got laid?" The words were out of Ray's mouth before he could stop them, falling softly on the table between them like snowflakes.

Kowalski froze, even stopped breathing for a moment, then thunked the front legs of his chair to the floor. "What's it to you?"

"You were me for a year and you never had sex ?" Ray shook his head, appalled. "Anyone ever tell you you're lousy at undercover?"

"Like I told you," Kowalski snapped, "everyone thought me and Fraser were an item. And the couple of times I nearly—" His shoulders slumped and he rolled his head to the side, glancing at himself in the one-way glass. "It didn't work out."

"But you like girls, right? Those couple of times, that was with girls?" Ray kept his voice low and steady.

"Oh sure," said Kowalski promptly, but something in his face gave Ray the feeling that wasn't the whole story.

Ray's pulse picked up and he looked at Kowalski with new eyes — not like Fraser's annoying, badly dressed ex and not like the guy who'd elbowed his way into Ray's life and taken it over in Ray's absence. For the first time he saw a guy who'd sacrificed being himself for a year to play pretend he was Ray, and how desperate would a guy have to be to step into the madness that was the Vecchio family, even if he didn't have to live with them? But Ray had never said thank you before, and it was the last thing he should say now. Instead he gave a loud sigh and got to his feet, scooped the files off the table and headed for the door. "Well, if I can't get any ladies to enjoy the pleasure of my company, I guess you're stuck with me. You want to get something to eat after work?"

"Uh, okay."

Ray held the door open with his elbow and looked back to see Kowalski still sitting at the table, a confused frown on his face.

"You sure? What about the gossip mill?"

"What about it?" Ray had spent a lot of his life trying hard not to let on to the world that once in a while a guy caught his eye. It was weird but liberating to realize he didn't have to hide it any more. People saw what they wanted to see. He caught a speculative gleam in Kowalski's eye and wondered what he saw. What he wanted to see.

Ray winked at him and stepped out, letting the door swing shut behind him. His footsteps beat a smart rhythm as he headed to the squadroom, an afternoon's worth of reading material under his arm and the prospect of dinner ahead of him.

There was plenty of time to find out.

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