Thanks: Huge thanks to mergatrude for beta and egging on, and Miriam for excellent beta, despite her reservations
Notes: For aeyre
"Aw, jeez. I need to pee." The mall bustled with people: couples bickering, and families yelling at each other; teenage girls stomping along behind their grim-faced parents; crying babies. Tinny Christmas music poured out of every store, O Little Town of Bethlehem blending into Silent Night, blending into a reggae version of the Little Drummer Boy. Vecchio looked tired and disgusted.
Kowalski frowned. "Again? Christ, that's the third time this afternoon." He looked around for a restroom sign.
"Yeah, well, the little guy's doing the Macarena on my bladder." Vecchio switched his shopping bags to his left hand, and put his right hand on the small of his back. "It's crowded in there. And my ankles are killing me."
"Okay, okay. Don't tell me. I don't wanna know." Christ, bodies were gross, and Vecchio's just kept getting grosser. "This way." Ray ducked into the menswear store they were passing, and asked the thin, straw-haired kid behind the counter where the nearest men's room was.
"You want to go to the south-east end of the mall, sir," said the kid. "Past the food court."
Ray leaned in and smiled, trying to hide his bad mood. "You've got somewhere closer, though, right? You don't have to trek three miles of crowded hallway just to take a leak."
"That's staff only, sir," said the youth, apologetically. "The public facilities are—"
It was tempting as hell to wave his badge in the kid's face. Could he get away with that? Would Welsh find out? Instead he gestured at Vecchio behind him, who'd gotten distracted by a silk tie display. "Look at him. The guy has a tumor. He's only got three months to live. C'mon, cut him a break."
The kid eyed Vecchio's swollen belly, and caved. "All right, sir," he said in an undertone, reaching beneath the counter. "So long as you bring the key straight back. But it'll have to be quick. My boss—"
"Yeah, thanks. He'll be quick. Promise." Ray grabbed the key, got the directions, and then led Vecchio to the anonymous door in the corner, three stores down.
"I can't believe you called little Stanley a tumor!" said Vecchio, handing over his shopping bags.
Ray scowled. "Would you quit calling it Stanley?!"
Ray'd always thought he wanted kids. It nearly killed him when Stella said Not yet, Ray and then I'm just not ready and finally, Ray, I don't have time to be a mom. But the bigger Vecchio got, the more Ray thought that he'd liked their life just the way it was. The way it'd been for the last four years: sleeping in on weekends; lazy fucking on the couch in front of bad sitcoms; beer and cigarettes and bars and work, work, work; and driving a car that made him feel young and dangerous. Instead of a freakin' stationwagon.
Sex was torturous and complicated. Vecchio knelt on the bed on all fours, with his full belly hanging down, almost touching the sheets. He waited while Ray ran his hand through his hair and fiddled with the lube bottle, and said, "Are you sure about this?"
"Yeah." Vecchio looked over his shoulder, wearing a pained expression that could've been impatience, or maybe indigestion. "C'mon."
Ray stroked Vecchio's ass, pulling him open, brushing his hole with the ball of his thumb. Vecchio moaned. Maybe this would be okay. Maybe this time it wouldn't—
"Wait up," Vecchio gasped, when Ray was halfway in, was losing himself in the moment, the heat, sex, instead of worrying about the baby, and all Vecchio's aches and pains.
"You okay?" He tried to sound concerned.
Vecchio tilted forward, pulling off Ray's cock. "I'm not so sure about this." He rolled over, carefully, and sat with his back against the head of the bed. His cock was hard, but he didn't look happy about it.
"Great," said Ray. "Now what?"
They ended up with Vecchio in the armchair by the window, and Ray kneeling in front of him, sucking him off. Ray kept his eyes shut, and pretended they were back in the days when sex was still sexy, not something that needed to be negotiated with math and a fucking crane.
Later on, while Vecchio was sleeping, he jerked off in the shower.
Frannie wrote to Fraser, and Fraser sent Ray and Vecchio flowers and a card with a picture of a family of wolves: two adults and a pup. Congratulations, it said. I know you'll both make wonderful parents. Warm regards, B. Fraser and Diefenbaker.
Ray stayed up late, examining the handwriting, the words for a hint that Fraser still wanted Ray. He thought about packing his bags and high-tailing it to Canada, and not having to deal with morning sickness, or dietary restrictions, or, Christ, he could see it now, smelly diapers and three a.m. feeds. Living with Fraser would be easy compared to that. Snow storms and blizzards would be a breeze. He'd left Canada because he and Fraser kept fighting, kept driving each other crazy and nearly getting themselves killed—the Yukon was a helluva scary life-in-your-hands kind of place—but compared to fatherhood, it'd been a piece of pie.
Except then Vecchio came out of the bedroom and saw him sitting there, holding Fraser's card, and gritted his teeth like someone had punched him in the gut. Ray felt like shit for even thinking it. Neither of them said a word about it, but Ray got up and kissed Vecchio, soft and full of promises, one hand on the kid. At first Vecchio didn't kiss back, but after a moment, he opened his mouth, and then it was the two of them again. The two of them against the world. Ray let Vecchio go, and watched in silence as he made himself hot milk and a peanut butter sandwich.
Before they went to bed, Ray dumped Fraser's card in the trash, but he could still feel the ghost of its cardboard edges against his fingers when he woke the next morning.
Ray couldn't help looking around. The guy on the cheese counter at the deli had curly brown hair, and winked when he handed Ray his change. The new detective at the 2-7 offered him a cup of coffee, and he got turned on and had to go to the supply closet and talk himself down. He felt like his brain was fizzing, pulling him in a hundred directions at once, making him crazy.
When he found himself looking speculatively at Frannie, he knew he had to do something.
"Let's get married," he told Vecchio that night.
Vecchio looked up from a program about the mating habits of insects. "What?"
Ray looked at him, at his face puffy from pregnancy, and his big nose, and his eyes that were tired and startled, all at once. "Let's get married," he repeated. "You and me. Let's do it."
"Why?" Vecchio looked more suspicious than pleased. "We both already been married, Kowalski. It doesn't fix anything. You know that."
Because I need to promise you forever, thought Ray, but he didn't say it. He just scrunched down in his seat. "Forget it."
"Ray—" Vecchio sighed and switched off the tv.
"I said forget it," snapped Ray, jumping to his feet, and heading for the door. "Watch your stupid insects. I'm going to the gym."
"Kowalski!" Vecchio struggled to his feet and followed him into the hall. "What the hell's going on with you?"
Ray was halfway to the stairs, but he turned back. "I don't know. I don't—know." It hurt even to admit it. "I don't know what the hell I'm doing."
"You don't know," Vecchio snorted, coming toward him. "What about me? You think I wanted to be a pregnant forty-two year old homo? Jeez, it's a fucking miracle they haven't plastered my picture over every issue of the National Enquirer."
Ray clenched his fists, frustrated. He had to get out of there, get some space, but he couldn't just leave Vecchio like this. "I can't—" He shook his head, not even knowing what he was trying to say.
"Don't be an ass, Kowalski." Vecchio rubbed circles low on his belly. "We're in this shit together."
But Ray shook his head again, took a step back without meaning to.
And then it was like a wall came down between them. "You do what you have to," said Vecchio. He turned and went back into their apartment and shut the door.
Ray kicked the wall hard, leaving a hole, and left, taking the stairs three at a time so they blurred beneath him.
He sat in the stupid stationwagon for a long time, his head on the wheel, trying to breathe. Trying to make himself want this.
Vecchio was hard on the outside, all sarcasm and expensive bitchiness. But inside he was hot and loyal, and kind when Ray least expected it. He knew about family. It was like the opposite of Fraser and Stella: both of them were nice on the surface. Helpful in a way you could count on. Polite. But at their cores, they were cool and hard and untouchable.
Vecchio was touchable. Ray knew him. Only now Ray never got to touch him anymore. Now everything was about the kid, everything was about the future. None of it was about Ray or here or now.
Ray was pretty sure he wasn't the dad. The other dad. Hell, no one knew how this shit worked—whether there ever was another parent. When they'd found out, after Vecchio had finished throwing up and freaking the hell out, Ray'd said, "How?"
And Vecchio had said, "How should I know? Christ, Kowalski! How the hell should I know?"
His eyes had been big and scared, and Ray had pulled him close and said in his ear, "It's okay. It's fucking crazy, and Christ only knows how we're gonna do this, but we are gonna do this. I got you, Vecchio. I got your back."
Back then it'd been about the two of them: Ray and Vecchio. It'd been like Vecchio had a secret illness, and Ray was making an extra effort, helping out where he had to. Covering for him when Vecchio had to excuse himself in the middle of an interrogation to go puke in the men's room. Making jokes to distract everyone from the fact that Vecchio wasn't drinking.
But then it'd come out. Vecchio had told his mom and Frannie, and Vecchio and Ray'd both told Welsh, which had meant an hour and a half of incredulous irritation on Welsh's part, and embarrassment on theirs. And since then, everything had shifted. Now it was all about Vecchio and whatever was growing inside him. Now Ray was just the guy on the sidelines.
When Ray got back from the gym, Vecchio was already in bed, even though it was barely eight-thirty. Ray drank a glass of water, and undressed in the living room so he wouldn't wake Vecchio, and then crawled into bed beside him.
Vecchio was lying on his side with a pillow between his knees, sleeping.
Ray lay on his back and stared at the dark ceiling, and said goodbye to all the other lives he could've had. The life where he slept with every gay guy in Chicago, blowjobs in alleys and humping in nightclubs and fucking in strangers' beds. The life where he and Stella got back together, and went dancing every night, and when Stella said, "I'm not ready for kids, Ray," Ray laughed and said, "That's okay, Stell. I don't want 'em anymore." The life where he drove up to the Yukon, in the freezing cold, and told Fraser, "I changed my mind. I can do this", and Fraser took him into his arms and kissed him, and his hands warmed Ray's cold body.
Ray said goodbye to each of them, and felt himself get smaller and calmer, and more focused. Every life he said goodbye to was like a cord of tension relaxing in his shoulders, until there was just this life. This life with him and Vecchio and the kid.
When he was done, he turned his head, and even though it was too dark to see, he knew Vecchio was watching him.
"I'm okay," he said, even though Vecchio hadn't asked. "I'm ready."
"Good," Vecchio mumbled, putting his arm across Ray's chest and pulling him close. "Go to sleep."
Ray was on a stakeout with Dewey when Frannie called. "Ray! God, Ray, where are you? It's happening!"
"Shit," said Ray. "Okay, okay, I'm coming. I'll be there as soon as I can. Don't let him start without me."
He left Dewey in the stationwagon, and ran around the corner to call a cab. It took fifteen excruciating minutes to show, and then the driver crawled along like Fraser was driving, observing all the stop signs and going five miles under the limit. "It's an emergency," Ray told him. "My partner's in the hospital. He could die."
He said it to get the guy to hurry up, but the moment the words were out of his mouth, it struck him that it was true. Vecchio could die in childbirth.
Ray flashed his badge at the driver. "Step on it," he yelled.
When he arrived at the hospital, the Vecchios were clustered in the waiting room. Frannie came over when she saw him, her face pale. "They're giving him a C-segment," she said.
"Duh!" said Ray. "Is he okay?"
"He's had an epidural." She punched him on the arm. "He was asking for you."
Duh! thought Ray again, but he didn't have time to say it. He looked around wildly for a nurse, and talked his way into the operating theater, pulling on a mask and hat and smock as he pushed through the door. "I'm here, I made it," he said, and Vecchio turned to look at him, relief washing across his red sweaty face, bringing a lump to Ray's throat.
He took Ray's hand, and held it tight. "I got you," said Ray, when he could talk again.
"You and the anaesthetic," slurred Vecchio. "Thank Christ."
Ray never wanted to see that much of anyone's guts, ever again. It was the grossest thing he'd ever seen, outside of the morgue.
The doctor got the baby out, covered in slime and blood, and used a sucky tube thing to clear out its nose and mouth. Ray wiped his wrist across his sweaty forehead, and squeezed Vecchio's hand. "We're gonna be okay."
"Yeah," said Vecchio, but he didn't sound sure. Ray was going to kiss him, despite the doctor and the nurses and the baby and everything, but before he could, the nurse thrust a bundle between them, and Vecchio let go of Ray's hand and took the armful of blanket and baby, and stared down at it. Ray stepped back and sat down on the chair by the door, and watched Vecchio's face, confused and dopey for a moment, and then tired and proud and soft, until he had to look away.
The hospital was a blur. Ray spent days and nights there, making sure Vecchio was okay, and that the doctors explained things properly, not just in medical terms that no one understood. Vecchio's family came and went, and Ray's own parents dropped by to meet the baby, but they didn't say much and Ray's mom cried.
Ray didn't cry, or laugh. He didn't know how he felt. He sat in the chair by Vecchio's bed and watched Vecchio cradle the baby, and said goodbye to the life where it was just him and Vecchio, alone and bickering and happy.
The baby was just a baby, blue-eyed and dark-haired, with its tiny pudgy waving arms and legs. Ray studied it, trying to see what was special about it. Why Vecchio's eyes lit up when he held it. Why everyone was cooing and cuddling it, and taking photos. Ray wanted to love it, but he didn't feel anything.
When the nurse taught him how to change the baby's diapers, it was like doing a smelly, wriggly three-dimensional puzzle. Ray held his breath so he didn't have to breathe it in, and wrapped the diaper around the baby, trying not to look at its little pink dick.
Bodies. Anatomy. Too damned weird.
Vecchio slept a lot, and bottle fed the baby, and talked nonsense to it, and watched Ray with a frown on his face when he thought Ray wasn't looking.
When they got home a week later, they fought about the baby's name. Really fought. They were both tired and on edge, and Ray shouted and got so mad he punched the wall, which made Vecchio pissed too, not to mention waking the baby. In the end, Vecchio still called him Stanley, which Ray thought was stupid.
"You call him Stanley, I'm gonna call him Pigface," he said, once they'd got the baby to stop crying, and Vecchio had handed him a packet of frozen peas for his knuckles.
"Whatever," said Vecchio, stripping off his clothes. "I'm going to bed."
So Ray called the kid Pigface (but not when anyone else could hear). Actually, it kind of suited him.
Vecchio was on desk duty so he could take care of the kid. At first Ray tried to be there for lunch so he could give Vecchio a break, but Frannie was always ready to take a turn, and even got kind of snippy if Ray did show up, so after a while he stopped trying and went to Lou's Diner with Huey and Dewey instead, and listened to them argue about who fixes the plumbing on the International Space Station, and whether it was better to spend the summer in Florida or Barbados.
At night, he got home an hour or two after Vecchio. He kissed Vecchio hello, or just patted his arm if he was busy with the baby, and went to rustle up dinner, pretending he wasn't hiding in the kitchen while Vecchio tried to get the baby to sleep and collapsed on the couch.
They didn't talk much. Something curled up inside Ray and went quiet and still.
The baby was howling. It was—jeez, it was 4.15. Ray felt like he'd only just gotten to sleep, but he was awake again now, and when Vecchio stirred, Ray put a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay. I'll get it."
He picked the baby out of his crib and put a blanket around him as well as he could, given the splayed limbs. "Shut up, Pigface," he told it, trying to sound kind. It didn't listen. He swallowed a growl, and hummed the first song that came to mind instead (Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas—even though it was April by now), and Pigface kept screaming.
Ray heated up some formula and tried to feed him, but he wouldn't eat. Just kept crying. So Ray took him into the lounge, and stood by the window, looking out at all the lives he didn't have. All the other Rays. The baby hiccoughed, and calmed down a little. "Got that out of your system, yet?" Ray asked.
Pigface yawned and whimpered, and Ray turned to take him back to bed, but then he started up again. Christ, this could go on all night.
Ray sat down on the couch with the baby on his lap, and picked up the remote.
"Chicago PD! Freeze!" Ray yelled, but Gordon Lightfoot didn't stop. Ray thundered down the fire escape in pursuit, careful of the slippery wet metal, his gun in one hand. His cellphone rang, but he ignored it, jumping the last ten feet to the ground, and rolling to break the fall. He sprang right up again without missing a beat. He was gonna get this sleazebag. He was gonna bring him in.
Ray's partner, Adams, was miles behind, but Ray was flying. "Freeze!" he yelled again, inching around the corner with his finger on the trigger.
Lightfoot jumped out at him, and tried to kick the gun aside, but Ray caught his foot and yanked him off balance, and Lightfoot went down in a heap. "Drop it!" snarled Ray, as Lightfoot flicked a knife out of his sleeve. "Drop it now!"
"Okay, okay," muttered Lightfoot resentfully, and let the knife slip from his fingers.
Ray's cellphone rang again. He kicked the knife away and slammed his cuffs onto Lightfoot's wrists before he answered it. "Kowalski. What?"
"We're running low on formula," said Vecchio. "Pick some up on your way home, would you?"
"Oh jeez," said Ray. "I'm trying to work here."
"Yeah, and I'm drinking margaritas by the pool." Vecchio sounded exhausted. "Just do it, Kowalski."
"Okay, okay. Formula," said Ray. "What kind?"
"Any kind. The usual."
"Okay, fine." Ray rubbed his face. "What kind's the usual?"
There was an edge to Vecchio's voice. "The white tin with the baby on it. You know the stuff. You must know the stuff, Kowalski. We've been feeding it to Stanley for eight freaking weeks."
"White tin. Got it," said Ray, and hung up. "You have the right to remain silent," he told Lightfoot.
"What's that, baby formula?" said Lightfoot. "You don't want the white tin, man. You want the green tin with the white writing."
"Silent," repeated Ray, and dragged Lightfoot to his feet. "Shut up and get in the fucking car."
Lightfoot's statement took forever to process. Ray got home late.
Vecchio was asleep on the bed, fully clothed with puke stains on his shoulder, and Pigface curled up beside him. Ray crouched down beside the bed and looked at the two of them.
Even asleep, Vecchio looked worn out. The lines along his forehead were deeper than they used to be. He had smudges under his eyes. His arm curved protectively around the baby.
Ray swallowed, and blinked back tears, not knowing why he was feeling what he was feeling. Only knowing that whatever it was, it was big. Bigger than anything. He folded his arms on the bed, and rested his head on them, and thought about Vecchio, about how they'd first got together, back when Ray was messed up and bitter. About how remote Vecchio had seemed at first, all snazzy suits and sharp put-downs. And then, later, once they'd gotten to know each other, how Vecchio had teased him and argued with him, and dared him to give them a shot.
About that first blowjob, in the men's room of Crazy Jack's diner, Vecchio's dick hot and swollen in Ray's mouth. Vecchio's hands making fists in his hair. Vecchio's legs trembling. And after, when Ray had kissed him, how Vecchio had smiled, pretending like he was triumphant, like they were playing some stupid game, but underneath how he'd meant it. Vecchio had looked away, trying to be cool, but his eyes were shining.
Ray lifted his head, and looked at Vecchio and Pigface again. He could do this. If this was what it took to keep Vecchio, then Ray could do it.
He gently picked up the baby and settled him down in the crib, holding his breath so the baby wouldn't wake up.
Then he undressed Vecchio. Took off his shoes and socks. Unthreaded his tie. Unbuttoned his shirt. Unbuckled his belt.
Vecchio's eyes blinked open. "What time is it?" he mumbled, still half asleep so it sounded like he was drugged.
"Nine," said Ray. "Give me a hand, here." Between them, they got Vecchio undressed and into bed.
Ray stripped and got into bed, too, and put his arms around Vecchio, already asleep again, and pulled him close. For better or worse, he promised silently, and kissed the back of Vecchio's neck.
When Pigface was nine weeks old, Ray's mom called. "How're you boys doing?"
"Still alive," said Ray. "Hang on a sec." He was juggling a cup of coffee, a bottle of baby formula, a damp dishcloth, and the phone, and Pigface was screaming his heart out in the lounge. Ray dumped the phone and the dishcloth on the piles of bills and junkmail on the kitchen counter, handed Vecchio the bottle, and put the coffee on the table where Vecchio could reach it but it wouldn't get spilt.
"Pass me that tiger," said Vecchio, sounding desperate.
Ray handed him the soft toy. "It's okay." He was talking to Vecchio, but hoped maybe Pigface would believe him, too.
"Christ, I don't know how much more of this I can take," Vecchio muttered. He had that blank worn look that was getting to be a habit with him. Ray couldn't remember the last time he heard him laugh.
"Okay," said Ray. "Okay, here's what we'll do." He pulled out the pram and put the screaming baby in it, gathering up an armful of toys and dumping them on his feet. "Go lie down, okay? I'm taking him to the park."
"Jesus, Ray," Vecchio looked like he could think of a thousand reasons to object.
"I'll take the bottle. It's okay. You just—" Ray put his arms around Vecchio, and held him for a moment. "You're gonna die or something if you don't take a break, and then me and the kid'll be royally screwed."
Vecchio rested his forehead on Ray's shoulder, and slumped there a moment. His voice was tired and defeated when he spoke. "You don't even like him."
Ray froze for a moment, cornered. Then gave himself a mental kick in the pants. "Shows what you know," he said, staunchly.
"You call him Pigface," Vecchio grumbled in his ear.
"Hey, you call him Stanley." Ray rubbed Vecchio's back. "Besides, he's my kid, too."
Vecchio pulled away and blinked at him, a frown adding vertical lines to his forehead.
"Well, isn't he?" demanded Ray, starting to get pissed.
"Yeah," said Vecchio. "Yeah, he is." He rubbed his face. "I just never heard you admit it before, is all."
"So I'm a slow learner." Ray kissed him on the cheek, then gave him a little shove toward the bedroom. "Go on. We'll be fine." He maneuvered the pram out the door. "Back in a couple of hours. Don't go anywhere."
Pigface cried, and fed, and cried some more, until it sounded like he was gonna bust a lung. In the dappled sunlight of the park, his screams didn't grate on Ray's nerves so much. Ray pushed the pram up and down the pathways and talked to him—told him about being a cop, and his other dad, and some stories about Dief. Pigface was too busy crying himself to sleep to listen, but one day he would.
Ray watched him cry and the years spread out ahead of him like a wilderness. Like an adventure. Maybe he wasn't that great at being a dad yet, but Pigface would just have to make the best of it, because Ray was gonna be there, thick or thin.
There were voices coming from the apartment when they got back. "Dammit," muttered Ray, knowing Vecchio had really needed that time alone, but when he pushed inside, holding his finger to his mouth because the last thing they needed was the kid to wake up, his folks were at the table drinking coffee with Vecchio, and Vecchio looked fine.
And, jeez, Ray was glad to see them.
"There he is," said his mom, coming over to peer into the pram. "I put a casserole in the fridge. Can I—?" She half-reached into the pram, looking so hopeful Ray didn't have the heart to say no.
"Sure, mom. Just don't—" Wake him, thought Ray, but it was too late. Little baby eyes blinked up at him sleepily.
There was a little more whimpering as the kid got passed from Ray's mom to Vecchio and then back again, but the fresh air had mostly worn him out.
Ray's dad was sitting silent at the table, watching. Ray sat down next to him and put his elbows on the table, propping his head up on one hand. "Hey, there."
His dad smiled. "Son. How're you holding up?"
"Skin of our teeth." Ray glanced across the table at Vecchio, who was trying to stop Pigface from grabbing at his coffee. "We'll be okay."
Ray's dad nodded. "You cried for three hours a day, from six till nine at night, every day for the first three months. Whenever we tried to put you to bed, you'd roar like a fire engine. And then one day you stopped, for no reason I could see. Still cried a bit, but nothing like those first months."
Ray smiled and poured himself a glass of juice. "Here's hoping."
For the first time he could remember, he and his dad had common ground that wasn't made in a factory in '67.
"I'm gonna be just like my dad," Ray told Vecchio later when Pigface was asleep, and the two of them were draped on the couch, too tired to go to bed. "I can feel it happening already."
Vecchio shook his head. "Forgive me if I don't wanna think about that right now."
"No." Ray leaned over so his head was on Vecchio's shoulder. "It's okay. I'm good with that." After all, his dad loved him.
"Yeah, well, no way I'm turning into Pop," said Vecchio grimly. They were silent for a few minutes. "I could be my Uncle Enrico, maybe. That'd be okay."
Ray grinned. "Enrico, huh? Would I like him?"
Vecchio put an arm around him, and pulled him up and kissed him on the lips. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, you would."
A few days later, Ray looked at Pigface, lying on the rug on the floor with the sun shining on his soft dark hair and spit running down his chin, and thought maybe Vecchio had been right all this time. Maybe Stanley wasn't such a stupid name after all.