Thanks: Thanks to woolly socks, Sage and mergatrude for beta
Notes: For the Episode Title challenge on ds_flashfiction
We drove Ray to the airport. Well, technically, Ray drove, and Ray sat in the passenger seat clutching his ticket, with his battered leather jacket and the suit bag draped awkwardly over his knees.
I gripped the side of Ray's seat and leaned forward from the back. "Are you sure you don't want one of us to come with you?"
Dief woofed to offer his own services as an escort.
"What?" Ray twitched, then glanced at me over his shoulder. I repeated the question. "No, uh, no. I'll be fine." He half-smiled at Dief. "Thanks anyway, Furface."
"You better be fine," said Ray gruffly, and Ray and I both looked at him, startled. "I worry, all right?" he said, in response to our silent scrutiny. "You've met Ma. Worry's in my blood."
"I'll be fine," Ray reiterated. "It's not like I'm going to catch it off him."
"That's not what I meant," Ray said, and then reached over to clasp his shoulder. "You'll be fine."
"Flight UA 555 to Phoenix, Arizona is boarding now at Gate B14," said the garbled voice on the public address system.
"That's me." Ray stopped fidgeting with his boarding pass and stood up. Ray and I stood up, too, and we all looked at each other.
"Call us when you get there," said Ray, and pulled Ray into a tight embrace, which he returned only perfunctorily.
Despite that, I couldn't resist hugging him, too. "Please give them my regards," I said. "My condolences."
"Yeah." Ray hesitated as if he were about to say something else, but his flight was announced again. "I'll call. I'll see you soon." He picked up his carryon luggage and turned away, but turned back before he'd taken three steps, came back and hugged me again, fiercely this time. He pressed his lips to my cheek. "Love you."
He did the same to Ray.
We stayed to watch the plane take off.
Ray seemed restless that evening. We took Dief to Lake Shore Park, but rather than sitting, chatting and watching the water while Dief investigated the area, as we usually did, Ray seemed unable to settle. He set a steady pace along the shoreline.
I deemed it wiser to wait for his confidence than to push, and true enough, after about a mile and a half of agitated marching and unhappy observations about the state of the path, other park-goers' choice of casual wear and so on, he slowed, pushed his hands into the pockets of his slacks and said, "What if he doesn't come back?"
It seemed a complete non sequitur. "Ray loves us. He'll come back afterwards. After the funeral."
But Ray shook his head. He led the way to a park bench, sat down and waited for me to join him. Dief was further along the path, making friends with a pair of roller-skaters. I caught his eye and indicated that we were resting here a while, and then sat next to Ray, closer than I normally allowed myself in public, willing to offer any comfort I could.
Ray's gaze was fixed on his hands, clasped between his knees, but I had a feeling he wasn't seeing them. "What did you do when your dad died?" he asked without looking up.
"I found and apprehended his killers," I said, puzzled. He knew. He'd been there.
Ray shook his head. Wrong answer. "You moved to Chicago, a city you hated, and became Moffat's whipping boy."
"The RCMP exiled me, Ray," I pointed out, reasonably. "I wasn't permitted to stay in Canada."
"But you could've, Benny." Ray shot me a tired smile. "You could've quit the Mounties and stayed in the snow where you belonged."
"I'm not saying I'm sorry it turned out how it did," Ray continued, "'cause I'm not, but you had a choice." He sat back and looked up at the sky. "You know what I did when Pop died?"
I shook my head, wondering where this was leading.
Ray's mouth twisted. "Had my first time with a guy and ended my marriage. And then I started doing drag. I'm just saying—" He sat up. "Your father dies, that's a big thing. It changes you."
I chewed my lip for a moment. "You may have a point."
"We only got him back a couple of months ago." Ray sounded peeved.
I tried to be fair. "We should be glad he wasn't still undercover when Damien needed him."
"I know, I know." Ray sighed, and kicked his heel against the asphalt. "It's just—his mom, his sister. What if they need him, too?"
I looked out across the lake, shimmering under the fading sky. "We'll just have to be patient," I said, as much to myself as to Ray.
"You heard anything?" was the first thing Ray asked when he got home the next day.
"He'll still be in transit," I reminded him. "He was planning to get a rental car and drive from Phoenix, and he had to go via Prescott to collect his sister."
Ray put his gun in the sideboard drawer and slung his jacket over the back of a chair. "He'd better not have picked up any hitchhikers. I told him—"
"I'm sure he'll do what's right." I privately believed that helping fellow travelers might alleviate the stress of the journey.
Ray snorted. "There's what's right, and there's what keeps you alive," he said darkly.
I went over and kissed him, and after a tense moment, Ray relaxed in my arms. "Yeah, I know. We've still got each other."
"He's coming back, Ray." I kissed him again. "He hasn't left us."
Ray buried his face in the side of my neck and inhaled deeply. "Okay," he said. "He's coming back. But in the meantime we have each other"
"Always." I let his hands slide lower on Ray's back, fitting his hips to mine. In the meantime, I could offer distraction and love.
Over the next two and a half weeks, our patience was sorely tried. The weather was unpleasantly stuffy, Ray was moody and pessimistic, and Gloria refused to perform at the Pink Ladies' Club, claiming that "flaunting herself" would affect Ray's decision to return, no matter how many times I chided her for being superstitious.
The only respite from the passing days were the occasional uninformative phone calls from Arizona.
"Is everything all right, Ray?"
"As well as you'd expect," Ray said down the phone line. "It's hard, you know. He was always—my dad. And now he's—"
"He's still your father," I said gently.
"Yeah. But he's not himself." Ray's exhalation was loud on the wire. When he spoke again, his voice was stronger. "Hey, do me a favor?"
"Anything," I said promptly.
"Get Frannie to call me?"
I waited a moment, expecting some kind of explanation, and when none was forthcoming I said, "Why would—?" But perhaps it was better not to know, nor why he'd asked me and not Ray—Francesca's brother. "As you wish."
"It's nothing, Fraser. Nothing to worry about." He sounded distracted. "I just figured maybe she could talk to Jamie."
"Of course." I made a mental note, and passed the phone to Ray, who was standing nearby, waiting with poorly disguised impatience.
"Kowalski, you doing okay? Anyone slipped you peyote yet?" There was a pause, then a laugh. "Yeah, yeah. He's behaving himself."
The next day I passed by the 27th precinct station house during my lunch hour to ask Francesca to call Ray. She seemed surprised but willing, and for once she didn't try to engage me in further conversation when I excused myself.
Ray left a message on the answering machine to say his father had passed away. By the time we got home, it was too late to call, so we went to Ray's family's church and lit candles for Damien.
We sat together in the pew, watching the flame burn down, and I thought of Damien hauling the GTO from Arizona to Chicago for Ray to make peace, of his clumsy attempts to build a relationship with his son. I thought of Ray promoted to the head of his family, comforting his mother and sister.
"We should be with him," said Ray, into the cool hush of the church.
I put my hand on his knee. "He's with his family."
Ray turned and stared at me as though I'd lost my wits. "We're his family. Don't you know that?"
I nodded, acknowledging the truth. But Ray of all people should understand that the family that raises a man is just as important as his chosen family. "He'll be all right."
Ray covered my hand with his own, as though I was the one needing comfort, and it suddenly struck me. What if he was right? What if Ray didn't come back?
"Could this—could I be enough for you?" I blurted. We'd been content before, while Ray was undercover, but now that the three of us were joined, perhaps there was no going back.
Ray's response confirmed it. "If he doesn't come back, I'll go get him," he said, fiercely. "We belong together."
His gaze focused on me. "All of us, Benny." He squeezed my hand. "All of us."
When Ray returned, Ray's relief was acerbic. "You look like shit."
"What did you expect?" Ray hung his suit bag in the closet, not bothering to unpack, and rubbed his unshaven jaw. "Helluva trip. It's been—a long day."
"It's been a long two weeks," said Ray, roughly. He backed Ray against the closet door and kissed him, crushing the ties hanging on their rack. Ray clenched his hands in Ray's blue cotton shirt and kissed him back, and the tension between them was palpable.
My lips were dry and I couldn't look away, even though at that moment I felt superfluous to the action.
"Frase," said Ray, beckoning to me without turning round. "Get over here."
So I joined them, slid my arms around Ray and kissed the nape of his neck, felt him wriggle back against me. Welcomed him home. I guided them away from the closet—a venue I knew Ray would regret in the light of day—toward the bed, and we stumbled onto it in a jumble of arms and legs, tugging at each other's clothing and catching faces and wrists and other body parts to kiss or suck. It was uncoordinated, unchoreographed and desperate.
Afterwards, Ray fell asleep, and Ray and I went through to the kitchen, where I made coffee for him and tea for myself. "How's your mother?"
Ray shrugged. "She's sad, you know? She's—It's been so hard. I—" He leaned against the counter, his arms folded tightly across his chest.
I went to him and put my arms around him. "We missed you."
"I know. I—needed you guys. But I—" He shook his head, pulled away and reached for the coffee.
I studied him. "You didn't tell him," I hazarded. "Damien, I mean."
Ray stared moodily into his coffee cup. "He took it hard when I went to the Academy, Fraser. He stopped speaking to me. And—you don't know what it was like there." He pulled out a chair and sat at the table, and I took the seat next to him and listened. "Mom's torn up, and Jamie's pregnant and no one knows who the dad is, and my father was dying. He was—it took a lot of—" Ray took a shuddering breath. "He was in pain, you know?" He looked at me, anger and hurt making his eyes bright.
I nodded silently.
"And I could have told him," Ray went on. "I wanted to, but it was already a three-ring circus. And I wanted him to feel good about me, to be okay with one small thing, so—" He tightened his grip on his coffee mug, his knuckles turning pale.
"So," I said.
"So I didn't say anything." Ray took a mouthful of coffee and raised his chin at me. "I didn't say, 'Hey Dad, sorry you're dying and by the way, I'm gay, I've got two boyfriends and one of them's a drag queen.' I couldn't." He looked down again. "We didn't have much time and I needed all I could get to—be with him. Be with him. No fighting."
I took his hand. "I understand, Ray."
"You understand, but you don't—" He gripped my hand, frustrated.
"It was a selfless gesture on your part," I told him. "It took a lot of restraint."
"Restraint. Yeah." Ray took a deep breath. "Jesus, you have no idea how much I wanted you guys. I needed you." He scraped his chair back and pulled me up into his arms.
I went willingly, hungrily, kissed him as though I were giving him my blessing. How could he think I'd recriminate him at a time like this?
After a few minutes, we simply held each other, our breaths coming in time. I kissed his temple, his ear. I murmured something about Francesca.
"Frannie was great with Jamie," Ray said, leaning against me. "She was great."
"So you didn't—?"
"What?" He pulled away to look at me.
I tried to look understanding. "You didn't mislead your parents."
"No!" he said instantly. "No, Fraser. I said she was my roommate's sister. I didn't lie to them!" He stepped away, evading my hold, and raked his hand through his hair. "I mean, what's the point? You think I'm gonna show up to my father's deathbed with a fake girlfriend? Maybe tell them we're getting married?"
"I didn't—" I hang my head. "I wasn't sure."
"No point," he said, jabbing his fingers in the air. "Dead men don't throw rice, Fraser. No point."
The three of us made love again the next morning, as dawn lightened the curtains. Ray seemed to be relearning us, set on marking his territory with scratches and love bites. He held my hips in a bruising grasp as I ploughed into him, reveling in his body, watching him break open. Ray took his turn next, took my place although Ray must surely have been sore by then—accommodating us both was generally not an option. This time he was eager, cast aside my protestations.
"I need it," he said, and it was hardly my place to deny Ray—to deny either of them.
The heat between them filled me with an inexpressible yearning, ridiculous given I could have them, with pleasure, whenever I wished it. I watched Ray's face as he thrust in, time and time again. He was taut with possessiveness and desire, and Ray met every thrust, answering and owning him equally. My heart ached with gratitude that they allowed me in, they let me be a part of it.
Beneath that, something quaked. I saw Ray's face as he came under Ray, his orgasm flushed with despair. It was gone in a second and I tried to tell myself I'd imagined it.
The rest of the day bore no sign of trouble. Ray was quiet, but that could easily be attributed to the gravity of his loss. And he seemed glad to be home: he and I took Dief for a long walk in the afternoon, in the dappled shade of the park. "Is anything wrong?" I asked at one point, when we'd stopped by a fountain to rest.
He gave me a small smile. "It's nothing. Don't worry about it."
But I couldn't shake the sensation that a time bomb was counting down.
The remains of takeout strewn on the table between us, Ray raised his gaze from his plate and looked from Ray to me and back again. "Um."
"As long as you're shedding, stay away from the closet, okay?" Ray was telling Dief. "It's midsummer—it's not like I can cover up my wolf-hair shirt with a jacket."
Ray cleared his throat pointedly and got our full attention. "So, I've been thinking."
I tried to keep the anxiety out of my voice. "What is it, Ray?"
He glanced at me, and then looked to Ray, who frowned. "What?"
Ray took a swig of beer and licked his lips, apparently bolstering himself for a difficult confession. The possibilities teemed through my mind, filling me with dread: he was moving to Arizona to care for his mother; he'd decided he was straight after all; he was going to pursue Stella, the real love of his life, and convince her to take him back; he'd fallen in love with a woman on the plane and was moving to California to be with her; he wanted to move to the equator and become a crocodile hunter—
"I want a kid," he said.
I stared at him, dumbfounded. "You—?" I knew he'd wanted children before, with Stella, but it had been so long since he'd mentioned the possibility. I tried to imagine a baby fitting into the chaos of our lives—of police work and the three of us, and Gloria. It seemed impossible. And, practically speaking, what adoption agency would consider us acceptable parents?
"If you guys don't want to, I understand. I get that." He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "But either way, it's something I've got to do."
I looked at Ray to gauge his reaction. His eyebrows were raised, but he seemed otherwise unmoved. "That's the bug up your ass?" he asked, as calmly as if Ray had said he wanted to adopt a kitten. He leaned over and clinked his beer bottle against the one in Ray's hand. "A kid. Fine. You want it, you got it."
They both turned to me. Dief, who'd been following the conversation with interest, laughed at my hesitation. But Ray had been right—this was a family. I knew as little about rearing a child as I'd known about city living when I first moved to Chicago, but as my grandmother used to say, no matter how old the dog, it's never too late to learn a few more tricks. I threw caution to the winds and tapped my water glass against each Rays' beer. "To family."