Thanks: Enormous thanks to Sage for beta.
Notes: For the Gross Out challenge. This story come before Sage's The Longest Year.
Ray was hitting a rhythm with the roller: the thhhhhhhhhs-thhhhhhhhhs up-and-down of pale yellow paint on the walls of his old room quickened in time with whatever tune Kowalski was humming as he dabbed the windowsills white. It was mesmerizing—or maybe that was the paint fumes. Good thing they were getting the nursery set up in plenty of time.
Kowalski's humming got closer and Ray deliberately kept painting and didn't look, half expecting a kiss on the nape of his neck or a friendly grope. He jumped out of his skin when instead he felt a cold press from the small of his back down to the bottom of his spine, wet seeping through his old painting shirt and his jeans. "Hey!"
There were a couple more quick flicks before he could turn around and glare at Kowalski, who was eyeballing him back unrepentantly, a bright spark in his gaze and the white paintbrush dangling loose in his grasp.
"What was that?" Ray demanded, shoving him in the shoulder with his free mostly clean hand. "Did you just paint my ass?"
Kowalski smirked and jutted his chin out, looking like trouble waiting to happen in his grubby wifebeater and worn-out jeans. "What's the matter, Vecchio—feeling insecure in your manhood?"
"No, I'm feeling insecure about your adulthood! Could you focus on what you're doing for more than thirty seconds?" Ray told him, torn between amusement and exasperation. He craned his head around, trying to see. "What is it, anyway?"
"Doesn't matter." Kowalski splayed his hand in the middle of Ray's chest and pushed him up against the wall—thankfully, the bit Ray hadn't painted yet.
"You want to be here till midnight doing this?" Ray asked him, as Kowalski leaned in, his lashes long and inviting.
"I was writing myself a note," Kowalski said against his lips. "Uh, painting. I was painting a note for later."
Ray relaxed into the kiss for a few seconds, then grasped the side of Kowalski's head and pushed him back. "Come on—once we finish here, we can go clean up at your—"
"Our place," Kowalski corrected him before he'd even finished the sentence.
Ray smiled. "Yeah." He squeezed out of the small space between the wall and Kowalski, and turned to see what kind of a mess they'd made of the wall. There was a gleaming wet arrow pointing downward, exactly where his ass had been.
"Jesus, Kowalski." He shook his head and reached behind himself to smudge the painted arrow on his jeans. "I have to get out of this house, you know that? I have to get past Ma and Frannie and Maria, and make nice with them. They already know about us; do you have to goddamn rub their faces in it?"
Kowalski tilted his head and said, like he'd just thought of it, "So tie your shirt around your waist—that'd hide it."
Ray eyed him suspiciously. "You just want me topless."
Kowalski leered. "Do you blame me?" And he ducked away as Ray threatened him with the roller.
Kowalski spent twenty minutes in the shower getting the paint out of his hair and when he emerged, wearing boxers and toweling his head roughly, there were still a few lemon-colored patches, but he was mostly back to sandy gray.
"I had an idea about the Isaacson case," he said, and picked up the phone. Ray listened with half an ear while he arranged for the uniforms to search Judy Isaacson's garage for the money. "Yeah, well, check it again. Take the car apart if you have to. It's there, I know it—I got a hunch." He hung up. "We got her, bam boom bing!"
Ray looked up from the newspaper. "You want to go check it out?"
Kowalski shook his head. "Nah. Henderson'll be okay."
Ray looked back down at the paper. "Linda La Pantie's performing at the Pink Ladies' Club tomorrow night."
"Who?" Kowalski dried his neck and chest, and then bunched up the towel and threw it back down the hall toward the bathroom.
"Linda La Pantie. She's a drag queen." Ray leaned back in his chair. "You want to go?"
Kowalski was already turning away. He disappeared into the kitchen, and Ray heard the fridge door open and shut, the beep of the microwave being set, the fridge again—and then Kowalski came back into view, opening a beer as he leaned against the doorway. "Okay. Sure."
"What?" Ray put down the newspaper and raised his eyebrows.
Kowalski shrugged one shoulder awkwardly. "I just never been to a gay bar before."
"Never?" Ray tried to hide his surprise.
Kowalski folded his free arm across his chest and took a mouthful of beer. "There weren't a lot of venues in Tuktoyaktuk."
"Well, sure," said Ray, "but what about before that? You never played the scene?"
But Kowalski was already shaking his head. "Before, uh, before Canada—" His gaze flicked away and back again. "—before that, I was married, and then I was divorced, and then I was undercover as you."
Ray wanted to go put his arms around Kowalski but he stayed seated. This was— "I didn't realize."
Kowalski ducked his head and walked over to the window. "What if you had? Would it have made any difference?" He rubbed at a smudge on the glass with his thumb.
I might've been easier on you, thought Ray, watching the angle of his shoulder blade move under his skin. He cleared his throat. "I washed off that note you painted on me—think you can remember what it said?"
Ray's arms trembled as Kowalski moved deep inside him, hands strong on Ray's waist, then shifting to his hip. "Fuck, fuck," he hissed against Ray's skin.
Sweat trickled down Ray's spine to the cleft of his ass and he fought for breath, fought to hold on, fought down the tenderness that was pushing up in his throat, swelling in his chest. Kowalski wouldn't welcome it, Ray knew, would find it patronizing, but it was hard to keep on like this was any other time now that he knew.
Now that he knew this had never been casual. Ray had never been a fuck that Kowalski could walk away from and forget about, another notch, another conquest blurring with all the other conquests. Kowalski talked big, acted easy, but he wasn't—and Ray hadn't known.
There was a crowd milling around outside the club, queens in six-inch heels smoking cigarettes and men in cheap suits who looked exactly like the guys from three years ago who used to hang around and buy the girls drinks after the show. Maybe even were the same guys, though none of them seemed to recognize Ray.
There were boas and glitter and sequins, and Ray's pulse picked up. Vegas had glitz and showgirls with headdresses like circus ponies; it was trashy but it was wholesome, too, designed 'specially for God-fearing middle-American tourists. It was nothing like the real thing.
This—this was the real thing. He put his hand on the small of Kowalski's back and guided him inside, noting how many of the gazes followed them—mostly followed Kowalski. Maybe just as well Kowalski hadn't gone cruising when he got back from Canada—Ray might never have stood a chance.
The guy on the door was a stranger. Ray paid and led the way inside where it was even more crowded—way past fire code limits—and the music was thumping a disco beat. Kowalski's eyes widened in the gloom, his body coiled and tense. Ray leaned in. "Come on, I'll buy you a drink."
There was a new barman—a barely legal twink in a tight black tank whose gaze flicked over them and moved on to the twenty-somethings at the end of the bar who were waving ten dollar bills and clamoring for sickly cocktails. It took Ray ten minutes to buy two beers and then he showed Kowalski to the alcove beside the front of the stage where it was less crowded and they could see both the club and a glimpse of backstage.
There were a couple making out against the black sparkly curtain. Ray thought he knew one of them, but the guy didn't seem to recognize Ray in his street clothes.
"You come here a lot?" Kowalski yelled in his ear.
Ray looked around—it was just the same as always, familiar and unfamiliar, magical and annoying. It was strange to be here and not be performing. "I used to," he shouted back. "I used to—"
He broke off. He hadn't told Kowalski about Gloria. There hadn't been a right time, or maybe he'd chickened out. It was just that Kowalski never seemed like he thought of himself as gay, never seemed to see the big picture. For him it was just the two of them, freaks in a world full of ordinary straight people. Like he thought Fraser had invented a new kind of sex and only told the two of them about it. Ray wasn't sure how Kowalski would react to the idea that his boyfriend wore dresses and glitter and fake boobs—maybe he'd be grossed out, or think Ray was sick or that he wanted a sex change.
Ray'd heard enough insults in his day to have memorized the litany. He leaned into Kowalski. "Hey, let's get out of here."
"What?" Kowalski's eyebrows pulled together. "We just got here."
"Yeah, but—" It's too crowded, Ray nearly said. It's dangerous. What if someone—
"Oh my Lord! Ray? Is that you?" shrieked a fake soprano, and Ray was suddenly enveloped in a cloud of pink chiffon and faux mink.
"Dee!" He grabbed her shoulders and reached up to kiss her cheek. "You look great. Doesn't she look great?"
Kowalski nodded. "Hi!"
"Ooh, nice," Dee told Ray, winking outrageously. "Does he have a brother?"
"Only child," said Kowalski. "Uh, Ray." He shook her hand with its gold press-on nails. "Ray Kowalski."
"You're together? Two Rays? Oh that is too cute for words, darling!" She flicked him with the end of her boa. "And so are you!" She turned back to Ray. "So are you back back, Ray honey?"
He shook his head. "Just visiting."
"Oh, sure—that's what they all say. I'm telling you, honey, it's in your blood." She ran her tongue over her lips. "You'll be back. I bet you fifty dollars and that pair of midnight pumps you used to wear."
"And what do I get?" He grinned at her. It was good to be back—to see people who cared.
She fluttered her eyelashes and lowered her voice throatily. "What do you want?"
"Hey!" said Kowalski. "Back off."
Dee just grinned at him. "Don't worry—he's all yours, honey. For that matter, so am I if you'll have me."
Kowalski's eyes narrowed but just then the emcee came on.
"The show's starting," Ray said, "and you're still a troublemaker, Dee! I'll see you later."
She waved goodbye as the music swelled.
It was a good show. Ray enjoyed it, as well as appreciating it on an artistic level. La Pantie held the stage for an hour, and nearly every pair of eyes in the house was riveted.
Kowalski fidgeted, finished his own beer and then stole the second half of Ray's.
Afterward they spilled into the night with most of the rest of the crowd. An uncomfortable silence hung between them like smoke in the air. Kowalski's hands were deep in his pockets, his face closed and thoughtful like when he was working a case.
He let Ray into the Goat and slid into the driver's seat. "So," he said, resting his hands on the steering wheel. "You, uh, you used to do that?"
Ray's heart started thumping. "I never burned up Barbie dolls on stage, but—"
"But like that—like Dee?" Kowalski looked at him, his eyes shadowed in the dark of the car. "The makeup and the dresses—"
Ray nodded. "Her—my name was Gloria. I used to go there most weeks, get all dressed up and perform. Fraser knew about it and he didn't—"
Kowalski's hands tightened on the steering wheel. His knuckles gleamed and a stray piece of glitter sparkled in the streetlight.
Ray swallowed and leaned back against the headrest. "I had to give it up for Vegas. I mean, Langoustini—the dossier said he was straight as a ruler, and I couldn't risk it, not the slightest trace."
Across the street a bunch of people shrieked with laughter. When they'd passed, Kowalski asked quietly, "You want to go back?"
Ray glanced at him, looking for a clue, but there was nothing. His face was neutral, curious. Ray started shaking his head before he even thought about it—the spotlight, the music, the magic. The camaraderie of backstage. He'd needed that once. "No," he said, now, pushing it all away into the past. "No, I'm done with that."
Across the car from him, Kowalski relaxed with a sigh. "Okay, then. Okay." The corner of his mouth tilted up. "So, that was like a stroll down memory lane. Cool. It's, uh, that's a pretty glitzy lane you got there."
"Yeah," said Ray. He pulled his coat straight across his knees. "Yeah, let's go home."
Kowalski got into bed naked and smelling of toothpaste. "C'mere," he said, and pulled Ray close, pushing against him, his dick already hard.
"I'm here," said Ray and kissed him, deep and demanding, proving himself.
Kowalski rested his hand on the side of Ray's neck and stilled him. "Hey," he murmured. "Hey, slow down." And then leaned in and pressed his lips to Ray's jaw, his chin, his mouth. Slow, sensual kisses, driving Ray crazy, making him writhe, and when Kowalski slid his leg between Ray's thighs, Ray groaned into his mouth and pulled him closer, tighter. He ran his hand down the muscles of Kowalski's back, over the smooth skin of his ass, and just let the tips of his fingers brush softly against the cleft.
Kowalski gasped and lifted his chin, straining his neck sideways, and they moved together and made love wordlessly. After a while, Ray stopped thinking, stopped thinking about anything but the feel of Kowalski's hot skin against him, his hand slippery on Ray's dick stroking him, and Kowalski's harsh breathing.
Later, when they'd come and were lying there, half-heartedly cleaned up with the corner of the sheet, and loose against each other, Kowalski said out of nowhere, "It's okay with me, if you want to go back there. I'm okay with that."
And Ray couldn't say anything. Words stuck in his throat. So he turned his head and gently bit Kowalski's shoulder, then buried his face in the crook of Kowalski's neck, between his pulse point and his lemon-painted hair, and hoped that was enough.