Thanks: Thanks to mergatrude for beta
Notes: For the Mix and Match challenge
The squad room was empty, reminding Ray of those ghost towns in old Westerns. He whistled the first few notes of the High Noon theme and checked for tumbleweeds before striding across the dark office to knock on Welsh's door. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
Welsh looked up from a pile of receipts and an open ledger, and his face settled into something not quite a smile. "Kowalski," he said. "You're back."
The office hadn't changed—it was stuffy and dry, and the stacks of case files and dirty coffee cups around the edge of the large wooden desk formed a barrier between Welsh and the rest of the world. Ray had a flicker of déjà-vu, half-expecting the old gang to jump out and yell Surprise! They didn't, but the thought threw him off-balance. He faked a smile. "Yes, sir."
Welsh regarded him shrewdly. "I trust your trip was worthwhile."
Ray didn't have an answer to that, so he ducked his head and stood there awkwardly, waiting to see what was up, and why Welsh had called him into the station late on a Sunday night on his third day back in Chicago.
Welsh put down his pen, closed his accounts book, and clasped his hands loosely on the desk, in the pool of golden light from the lamp. He was getting older, Ray thought. His cheeks ever more saggy, his eyes tired. It had only been six months since Ray'd seen him, but he looked five years older. It was on the tip of Ray's tongue to ask if everything was okay, when Welsh spoke again.
"We've got a situation here, Kowalski. We need your help."
"Uh, I was gonna—" Take some time off, hunker down for the winter. Sit around and get drunk, and spend too much time at the gym, getting lean and wiry again. Lose this stupid layer of sub-fucking-cutaneous fat, and try to sweat it out of himself, all the cold and distance and other stuff, until he was clean all the way through. Clear like water. Clear like nothing.
"This is a delicate matter." Welsh lowered his voice conspiratorially, and Ray braced his hands on the desk and leaned in to listen. "Now that Vecchio's back to full health, we need him on the streets, but we've got to make sure the mob don't notice he's changed. These people are connected. If word gets back to the wiseguys in Vegas that there's something fishy about Vecchio, we'll all find ourselves in deep doo-doo, detective. There's every chance we'll end up with Langoustini's boys crawling all over Chicago, pissed because we tricked them, and shooting holes in our constabulary, you got me?"
Ray frowned. "But you got Vecchio. You don't need me anymore." And ouch, those words sounded way too familiar. He bit his lip, determined not to say anymore.
Welsh nodded, and if he noticed Ray's shoulders hunching over, he kept it to himself. "Sure, we got Vecchio, but you know the deal. Vecchio on his own isn't enough."
Ray looked at him blankly, and Welsh pulled a bottle out of his bottom drawer and poured a couple of bourbons. He handed one to Ray, and waited until he'd drunk a mouthful.
"We need a Mountie."
Ray smacked the glass down. "No fucking way."
"Vecchio and the Mountie—they're a package deal. No one's going to buy it otherwise." Welsh rubbed his chin wearily, and looked Ray in the eye. "We have permission from the RCMP top brass for you to go undercover in uniform."
Ray was shaking his head, raising his hand to ward off even the thought of it. "Why can't they appoint another liaison? The Consulate—?"
"There's no one available. Their new CO is—less than cooperative. It's a new world order over there, detective." Welsh seemed regretful about this. Even nostalgic. He drained his drink and poured another.
"It'd just confuse everyone," Ray protested. "They all know me as Vecchio, then I put on a red suit and all of a sudden they have to call me—" He broke off. He couldn't even say it.
Welsh tapped his thumb against the side of the bottle. "It's good to confuse people. It keeps their brains agile."
Unable to stand still, Ray strode over to the couch, stared through the dark glass at the empty squad room, then refocused on his own silhouetted reflection for a moment. Hair too long, body built-up and muscular. He hardly recognized himself. He turned abruptly, and walked back to the desk. "Can't you get the original. He likes Vecchio. Why don't you ask, ask Fraser?"
Welsh nodded. "We did. He wouldn't come."
Ray stared blankly at him for a long minute. They'd asked Fraser to come back. He'd never mentioned, never even hinted it was an option. "No."
"Kowalski—" And that there—his name weighted with that mix of warning and pleading and demand—was the last straw.
Ray pressed his fingers to his forehead, feeling a headache coming on. "No and no and no," he said. "I quit."
"You aren't officially on payroll," Welsh pointed out.
"Good." Ray dropped his hands, unable to explain the enormity of what they were asking. "Vecchio—why can't Vecchio do it? I'll go back to being him." But the thought of a replacement Fraser was even worse than the prospect of being Fraser. "No, forget it. Dumb idea."
"Detective, I have to say you're not my first choice, either. After all, Canadians have a reputation for certain standards that, frankly, I can't imagine you attaining. But the fact remains, you're the only one who knows Constable Fraser sufficiently intimately to impersonate him. We need you."
And that was—that was it. Too much to turn down. Ray needed that, needed to be needed. It wasn't something he came by that often, he thought bitterly, and he couldn't just walk away from it. He shoved his hands in his pockets, desperately looking for a way out, for something bigger, better. For something that would make him happy. "Fuck."
Welsh seemed to take that for what it was. Surrender. "Good. Thank you, detective. We appreciate it."
"When do I start?" God, he sounded exhausted. He felt wrecked. He'd come home intending to rebuild his life from scratch, and now this. If I'm gonna do this, he thought, I'm gonna do it right. He wondered if he had time to dye his hair.
"First thing tomorrow morning." Welsh let his relief show. "We'll have someone take you through the finer points of the uniform."
Ray couldn't help the short, humorless laugh that escaped him. "Yeah. Whatever." He turned to go. Time to head home and say goodbye to Ray Kowalski again, pack up all his shit and invest in a bunch of ancient Inuit relics. Jesus, this was crazy. He paused at the door, and asked, without looking back, "Do I get a dog?"
"I'll see what I can do." There was a rustle of paper.
Ray nodded. He hesitated a second longer, then figured what the fucking hell. "Thank you kindly."