Thanks: Many many thanks to ifreet and sage for beta, to mergatrude for creating this with me, brick by brick, and to brynn for advice.
Notes: This is a sequel to The First Nine Lives of a Houseplant.
Lieutenant Westbrook barely looked up when Elaine put her reports in his in-tray. Elaine hovered, trying not to fidget, while he finished reading the memo in front of him and put it in a file folder in his desk drawer.
He raised his beetle brows. "What is it, Besbriss?"
"Any word on the, uh, outcome of the Grison bust, sir?"
Westbrook shook his head. "I've forwarded my recommendation but these things can take weeks, you know. And there's nothing to be done about it — the world turns and bureaucracy bumbles along. Go home and relax. Forget about it and enjoy your weekend."
"Yes, sir." Elaine hid her disappointment and retreated to her desk. Her promotion to detective second class was up in the air, and she didn't want to spend the weekend fielding enquiries and encouragement from the guys, all the more frustrating for the fact that she knew damned well she deserved it, and she was as impatient about it as the others were on her behalf.
She sighed and set the thought aside. At least it was the weekend at last. "See you Monday," she called to Booster.
He waved from where he was discussing women and baseball with McGee, by the water cooler. "Have a good one. Get some rest — we've still got plenty of crooks to catch."
"No kidding." Elaine shoved her gun in its holster, slung the jacket of her pantsuit over her shoulder and headed for the door.
* * *
It was a slow drive home. Since they'd moved out to their house in the suburbs, it was a forty minute commute on a good day. Usually Elaine got a ride with Ray or Ray, but Fraser and Kowalski had been on a stakeout till late and were still sprawled in bed together asleep when Elaine left that morning, and Vecchio was busy working a case down in Skokie.
The air was thick with dust and exhaust fumes, and the radio was playing hits of the eighties like they were stuck in a time warp and hadn't even heard of Nirvana, let alone anything more recent. Elaine turned up the car's air conditioning, unbuttoned the top couple of buttons of her blouse and leaned her head back against the headrest. What a week! She couldn't wait to get home for some downtime. It was Fraser's turn to cook, and that was always interesting, to say the least. Especially since Ray and Ray had bought him that book on different foods with aphrodisiac properties.
Elaine pulled into the garage next to the GTO and switched off the engine of her Honda with a sigh of relief. Home.
But the moment she walked inside, the tension snapped back into her neck and shoulders. There was music blaring from upstairs, and shouting in the living room downstairs. The bathroom door stood open and Kowalski's dirty gym gear was in a pile on the blue tile floor, and when Elaine stuck her head into the kitchen to see what was cooking, she found the room empty and the counter piled with dirty dishes.
She opened the dishwasher — it was half full of clean dishes. Elaine got a beer from the fridge and went out into the backyard to drink it, unwilling to face the others until she'd got over the urge to yell at them.
Their home wasn't anything fancy, but it was comfortable and homey, and it had all of them together, which was the main thing. And most times, it wasn't this bad. Sure, they were guys, but they weren't careless or thoughtless or pigs. It was just that a house was more work than an apartment and they were still adjusting. Nine times out of ten, Fraser kept Ray and Ray in line so Elaine didn't have to.
On that one time out of ten, though, when she was having a bad day or the guys left the place in chaos for whatever reason, Elaine got stuck feeling like a mom who had to tidy up after her three teenaged sons, or like a drill sergeant insisting on conducting an inspection.
She thought about calling Frannie and seeing if she wanted to go out for dinner, maybe take in a movie. Then the attic window opened and Fraser poked his head out. "You're home!"
He disappeared and a few seconds later the music stopped.
"What was that?" Elaine called, and he came back and smiled down at her.
"I was trying to demonstrate to Dief the difference between Mahler and Wagner," Fraser explained. "Of course, being deaf he mostly experiences music through vibrations, so—"
"It was really loud," said Elaine. She took a swig of beer and sat down on the wooden bench in the dappled shade of the oak tree, and stretched her legs out in front of her.
"I'm sorry." Fraser withdrew again, just as Dief bounded from the house and jumped up on the seat beside Elaine. He licked her ear, and she laughed despite her bad humor, and pushed him away.
"How's your day been, Mister?" she asked him, and gave him a hug. Sometimes Dief was the sanest one out of the lot of them.
He yawned and settled down beside her with his head in her lap. She rubbed his ears, absently.
"Any word on your promotion?" asked Fraser from the doorway. He was wearing a red plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and jeans, and his feet were bare. He carried a glass of milk.
Elaine shook her head. "Did you guys make it into work at all today?"
"We ran Drummond to ground early this afternoon, and then Lieutenant Welsh sent us home." He smiled. "I think Ray needed to let off some steam."
Elaine smiled back, despite herself. "Is he watching hockey or baseball?"
"Boxing." Fraser bent down to kiss her, one hand on her shoulder. "And Raimundo got home just a few minutes ago."
Fraser's smile deepened, crinkling the corners of his eyes — outside the Vecchios, only he and Elaine called Vecchio by the Italian version of his name, and even then, rarely to his face — and Elaine felt a rush of gratitude for her crazy household that swept aside the last of her irritation. She caught Fraser by his shirtsleeve and pulled him back down.
He sank to his knees in front of her, put his glass aside on the path and leaned forward to kiss her more thoroughly. His hands settled on her hips.
Dief grumbled, scrambled to the ground and retreated to a sunny patch on the lawn, and Elaine widened her knees and let herself sink into the kiss. It was kind and undemanding, a lazy kiss that spread warmth through her limbs without sweeping her off her feet. There'd be time enough for passion later in the evening, after they'd eaten. For now, Elaine needed to reconnect with her guys, to forget about work and find herself again.
Fraser pulled away first, and Elaine ran her hand over the front of his jeans. He was turned on, but he smiled at her, took her hand and kissed it. "Later."
"Yeah." Elaine brushed her thumb over his full, shiny lips. "You're supposed to be making us dinner."
"Ah." Fraser sat back on his heels. "I believe Ray plans to take us out to McGready's."
Elaine adjusted her ponytail. If they were eating out, she'd have to get cleaned up. "What was the bet?"
"Ray was convinced we'd find the murder weapon in Drummond's brother's apartment. I believe his actual words were I'd stake my life on it."
Elaine laughed. "Good thing you lowered the stakes, huh?"
"To steak dinners. Yes." Fraser looked smug and mischievous, and Elaine pulled him close again and pressed her mouth to his, glad she had the right.
There was a cough from the house. "Is this a private party or can anyone join in?" It was Vecchio.
Elaine broke the kiss and leaned her forehead against Fraser's. "I thought you guys were watching the boxing."
Once upon a time, being caught kissing would have made her self-conscious, but those days were long past. Now it was just the way it was — they kissed and pleasured each other, the four of them dancing in pairs and sometimes more, watching or indulging as the fancy took them. There was never any need to feel left out, and only the most abandoned of behaviors made Elaine blush.
"Commercials." Ray sat down beside her and rested his hand low on her back. "Thought I'd come and see what was going on. Hey, Benny." He bent forward and kissed Fraser, one slow, lingering kiss that Elaine couldn't help but watch, their lips soft against each other. Then Ray winked at Elaine. "Anyway, this beats boxing hands down."
Elaine pulled a face. "Pretty much anything beats boxing," she told him, and kissed him hello, a welcome to the weekend kiss that he pushed into eagerly. He tasted of beer, reminding Elaine that she was neglecting her own.
She reached for her bottle and clinked it against his. "Happy Friday."
"I'll drink to that," said Kowalski, coming up beside Vecchio. He clicked his bottle against theirs, and then Fraser's raised glass of milk.
"I hear you're taking us out on the town." Elaine raised her eyebrows at him.
He brandished his beer bottle. "Yeah, dinner's on me. Stupid gun was in the guy's filing cabinet in his office." He took her hand and pulled her up and into a brief waltz, dipped her and then swapped her out with Vecchio without missing a beat.
"Did he at least file it under 'm' for murder?" asked Vecchio, re-arranging Kowalski's hands so Vecchio could take the lead.
"'G' for guilty?" suggested Elaine, taking her seat on the bench again. Fraser sat beside her.
"Nah, it was under 's'," said Kowalski.
"Well, it was a Smith and Wesson, Ray," said Fraser, as though that was perfectly logical. "And it was also your turn to clean the kitchen, so I suspect you deliberately engineered your own defeat."
Kowalski stopped dancing and pointed an accusing finger at him. "You have got a suspicious mind, Benton buddy."
"I notice you're not denying it," Fraser said.
Kowalski took a swallow of beer and grinned. "My mom brought me up never to lie to a Mountie. I'll clean up tomorrow."
"You better," said Elaine. The state of the house was like a cloud in her otherwise clear blue sky. "You guys do realize we're adults, right? And you know I'm not Wendy — or Tinkerbell either, for that matter — so it's not my job to clean up after you all."
"Of course not," said Fraser, surprised. "We all share the responsibility."
"Are you saying one of us is Peter Pan?" Kowalski asked with a gleam.
Vecchio ruffled his hair. "Yeah, guess who."
Kowalski raised his chin. "Why me? I'd've picked Fraser."
Vecchio snorted. "The clothes make the man, Kowalski."
Elaine and Fraser grinned, and Kowalski bounced on his toes and shadow boxed one-handed at Vecchio for a few moments, then took another mouthful of beer and met Elaine's eye. "I'll clean up tomorrow, I promise. I just can't face it today. Not after being on stakeout most of the night."
"Yeah, I know." Elaine rolled her head on her shoulders, stretching out her neck. Fraser put his hand on the tight muscles there and started kneading gently.
"This is crazy," said Vecchio out of nowhere.
Fraser tilted his head. "Ray?"
"The four of us, all working our asses off and trying to keep house at the same time?" Vecchio threw up his hands. "Looking after a home is a full-time job. At least, it is where I come from."
All eyes swiveled to Elaine. She pursed her lips. "What are you saying?"
He rubbed the back of his head. "I'm saying we should hire a maid service. It's not like we can't afford it, and if it keeps the house from turning into a pigsty every couple of weeks, then I for one think it would be well worth the price."
Fraser looked slightly pained. "Surely we can manage our own mess, Ray. As Elaine said, we are grown-ups."
"Sure we can, but why would we?" Kowalski sounded taken with the idea. "I mean, so long as they're not going to starch my shirts or anything. It's not like we don't have better things to do with our time." He smirked.
"We'd have to find someone discreet," Elaine said slowly, "but if we can, then — sure. That sounds great." The thought of coming home to a professionally cleaned house — and of cleanliness being someone else's responsibility — was incredibly appealing.
"I appear to be outnumbered." Fraser rubbed his eyebrow, and gave in with good grace. "All right. I'd prefer to take care of my own room, but as to the rest of the house — It's a good plan, Ray."
"And like Peter Pan said, I'm sure we can find a better way to spend the time," Elaine told him, leaning into his touch.
"Indeed." His voice deepened, and the atmosphere shifted. Elaine took a sharp breath, suddenly aware of her breasts, her nipples tightening and a low ache between her legs.
Ray and Ray each took a step forward and towards each other, and Elaine leaned into Fraser and kissed him, opened to him. This time there was nothing lazy about it. His fingers threaded into her hair, pulling the tie from her ponytail, and his mouth was hot and sensual on hers. Her eyes fell closed and he put his arm around her, pressing her to his chest. It was a strong embrace, as welcome as the weekend. She touched his face, the smooth line of his jaw, and kissed back, turned on and equally hungry.
After a while, the angle of their embrace grew uncomfortable — the wooden bench wasn't designed for this — and Elaine pulled back, breathing hard. She glanced over to where Ray and Ray were standing nearby. Kowalski was behind Vecchio, his arms around him, kissing him over Vecchio's shoulder, and groping him through his pants.
They broke the kiss, and Vecchio turned back to her and Fraser, his gaze intent and heavy lidded, his hips pushing forward into Kowalski's hand. Elaine wanted all of them, wanted to watch them together and be watched, and have them touch her all over. She felt wanton and sexy, and she reveled in it.
"You guys, uh, you want to come inside?" she asked, throatily. She moved Fraser's hand from her hair to her breast and arched into the pressure. He bent his head and nuzzled into the base of her throat, making her clutch at him and gasp.
"We should probably spare the neighbors," Vecchio agreed, hoarsely, though the yard was pretty private — that had been one of the things they'd looked for when choosing a house.
"I guess." Kowalski had his hand down the front of Vecchio's pants now and it looked like he was trying to stroke him despite the constriction. Elaine let her gaze dwell on them, long and lean together, while she wrapped herself around Fraser and gave herself up to his attentions.
After a few minutes, Fraser paused with his hands on the clasp of her bra, under her blouse. He raised his head and looked at her, his eyes glazed. "If we're moving inside, we'd better move now," he murmured.
Elaine laughed low and took his hand. "Come on, then."
By unspoken agreement, they all went up to Elaine's room. She had the bigger bed, and they often ended up there when they all made love together, rather than pairing off as they sometimes did. Elaine tossed the book she was reading and extra pillows onto the floor, threw back the covers and leaned back on her elbows, watching her guys.
Kowalski had pushed Vecchio against the wall by the dresser and was already on his knees, working the zipper on Vecchio's pants. He cast Elaine a sideways glance, and she pinched her own nipple through her blouse, putting herself on display for him. Vecchio swallowed hard and buried his hands in Kowalski's hair, as Kowalski hollowed his cheeks and started to suck him.
Elaine moaned, and roughened her teasing caress of her breasts. The ache between her legs grew insistent.
Fraser shrugged out of his plaid shirt and peeled off his undershirt, exposing his flushed chest to Elaine's gaze. "Oh," she said. "Get over here."
He smiled and moved onto the bed, holding himself over her and kissing her as he roamed her body with one hand. His fingers tangled with her own over her breast and then she dragged his hand down to her crotch. She bucked up into his touch, needing him, and he followed the path of his hand with his mouth, nuzzling and nipping her through her clothes as he went.
Elaine grabbed a pillow and stuffed it under her head, and watched as Fraser unfastened her pants and eased them and her underwear over her hips and down her legs. He moved with confidence and tenderness, and when he licked up the inside of her thigh, she moaned and struggled to keep her eyes open.
Vecchio's moans joined hers, and she looked to them through her haze of arousal, her Rays, and the hot fast slide of Vecchio's cock as he fucked Kowalski's mouth. God, they were beautiful together — even with Vecchio's pants and briefs around his knees and Kowalski still in his worn t-shirt and sweatpants. As she watched, Vecchio tugged on Kowalski's hair, drawing him up into a wet, messy kiss, Vecchio's cock gleaming between them, and then he murmured something in Kowalski's ear too quiet for Elaine to hear above the thud of her own pulse.
"Yeah," said Kowalski, and kissed him hard. "Fuck, yeah." He stepped back and threw off his t-shirt and Vecchio undressed quickly, dropping his clothes on the chair in the corner, and went to her nightstand for a condom and lube.
Fraser was still licking her, drawing and building all the tension in her body into a tight knot, making her writhe. He anchored her hips on the bed until she forced herself to still, panting and relaxing as much as she could, then he slid his fingers inside her, still licking with that amazing tongue.
Elaine rocked onto his fingers. "God, Fraser, please!"
He raised his head, his mouth and chin slick with her, and met her gaze, his expression both a declaration and a promise, then wiped his face with the back of his hand and reached for the condoms Vecchio had left on the top of the nightstand. It was only a few seconds, and then he was above her, inside her, sliding in and in. She wound her legs around his and thrust with him, urging him deeper and harder.
The mattress tilted and Kowalski landed right beside her, face down, hair clinging to his damp forehead, eyes closed. His hands clenched in the sheets, knuckles white. Vecchio was above him, was fingering him and opening him up, Elaine knew, and her heart hammered in her chest. All of them drawn together by desire and love. Together. Vecchio eased himself onto and into Kowalski — Elaine could see it in Kowalski's expression, the oh as he let him in — and then Vecchio and Fraser somehow caught each other's rhythm, thrusting slow and steady in time. The whole bed rocked and Elaine moaned, reached out with an unsteady hand to touch Kowalski's cheek.
He turned his face into her touch and reached out in turn to caress her breast, his pale fingers hot against her skin. She gasped and angled her hips up more, faster, urging Fraser on. Kowalski flicked his blunt thumbnail against her nipple, making her grunt. Her body was hot and desperate, needing release, wanting more and more. Fraser faltered, and Elaine glanced away from Kowalski's sweaty face to see Vecchio and Fraser kissing, momentarily distracted from their rhythm. "Jesus," said Kowalski. "Come on!"
Elaine laughed breathlessly. "Yeah." She grazed Fraser's chest with her fingernails and he broke the kiss and started moving again.
"Patience — is — a virtue," he told them, but Elaine was too far gone to answer, a dark crimson heat blinding her and crashing through, wringing her tight as she cried out, over and over.
Kowalski's hand found hers and gripped it, and then Vecchio was swearing brokenly and Kowalski stiffened, taut as a bow, his body shaking and shuddering.
Through it all, Fraser kept on. He lowered himself to his elbows and pushed in, his body sliding against Elaine's, his biceps flexing and all that smooth skin within reach so she could dig her fingers in and hold him. Fraser's breathing grew ragged, the roll of his hips faster and then he let go and buried his face in her neck, gasping, coming inside her.
They lay in a tangled heap on the bed for a long while, gathering their wits and, when they found the energy, stroking each other's shoulders and backs, cheeks and hair. Elaine nearly fell asleep.
That is, until Vecchio rolled off Kowalski and onto his side and said, "Jeez, I'm hungry."
"Not goin' anywhere," mumbled Kowalski, who sounded pretty drowsy himself.
"You're not going to honor your wager?" Fraser sounded more amused than reproachful. Elaine tightened her hold on him and kissed his shoulder.
"Yeah, just. Can't we have pizza?" mumbled Kowalski plaintively. "I'm buying."
"Sounds good to me," said Elaine. Even though Fraser was lying half on top of her, squashing her, she was too content to want to move, let alone clean up and dress for a night out. "So long as you make the call."
"Yeah. Just—" Kowalski turned his head to face her and blinked. "Gimme a minute."
She laughed and patted him, finding Vecchio's hand already curved around his ribs.
"It hardly seems fair," said Vecchio, "seeing how Fraser and Kowalski already ate."
Kowalski snickered, and even Fraser breathed a laugh into Elaine's hair.
"Okay," said Kowalski. "Okay." He hauled himself out from under Vecchio and swiped his discarded t-shirt at the sweat and come on his stomach. "Where's the phone?" And he stumbled out into the hallway in search of it.
They managed to dress themselves variously in robes and sweats by the time the pizza arrived, and they sat around the living room, watching TV. Dief joined them with a long-suffering air, until Fraser promised to take him out after dinner and Kowalski slipped him some pizza. And Elaine sat on the floor with her back against the couch and her feet out in front of her and enjoyed being with her guys, the easy back and forth, and the warm looks and the laughter. It was the weekend, and she didn't have to worry about anything at all.
Ray got home late — past midnight. The coaching session at the gym had turned into a private one-on-one with one of the kids, which had led to the kid kicking a hole in the locker room wall. That led to Ray busting the kid's upstairs neighbor for assault, extortion and drug trafficking — a clean bust but it still took over an hour to process. Ray was hyped and wiped at the same time. He drove home taking the corners too fast, glad there weren't many pedestrians around.
The new house was dark and quiet. Ray let himself in and turned off the porch light. There was enough moonlight to see by. When he passed the living room doorway, Dief raised his head from the rug, thumped his tail a couple of times and then got up and followed him to the kitchen, where Ray got them each a drink of water.
"All quiet on the western front, furface?"
Dief nosed his bowl and looked up at Ray as if he was starving. Ray called him a con artist and gave him a dog biscuit, flicked through the mail on the counter and then shook himself. It was late. Time to sleep.
Dief disappeared down the hallway where he'd come from and Ray went up to his room, put his gun away and stood looking at his narrow bed with its faded green covers scattered with dumbbells, piles of clean clothes and old file boxes of papers. It was the first time he'd been last one up at night since they all moved in together. Usually around bedtime there was a negotiation — spoken or unspoken, depending on their mood — about who would sleep where. Ray shared his time pretty evenly between Fraser's, Elaine's and Vecchio's rooms these days, and sometimes all of them ended up crowded together in Elaine's king. But tonight the others were already in their or each other's beds, the house was sleeping and Ray knew he should stay here, not wake anyone.
He sighed and started half-heartedly clearing off the narrow bed, put his weights on the floor by the window and stacked the boxes next to them, but the room was anything but appealing. Sleeping alone in a twin bed always reminded him of the miserable weeks after his divorce when he'd stayed with his friend Kevin and his family.
Ray yawned and rubbed his face, and snuck next door to Fraser's room. Elaine and Vecchio preferred to stick to their own beds, so there was a good chance either Fraser would be there alone or the room would be vacant. He felt his way through the dark and found the bed crisply made and empty.
It smelled good, though, like Fraser and fresh air, and Ray was pretty much dead on his feet by this stage. He stripped off and crawled under the covers, and was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
He woke slowly, hours later, with Fraser's arms around him and smiled to himself. "Hey."
Sunlight slanted across the floor. It was still early.
"Morning," Fraser mumbled against the back of Ray's head. He burrowed into the pillow a little and pulled Ray closer, sliding his knee between Ray's legs.
"When did you show up?" Ray turned in his arms and nuzzled his neck, then settled back down, still dopey and half asleep but enjoying the skin contact, the weight of Fraser's erection against his thigh.
"Ray was snoring." Fraser yawned. "Shhh."
"He's still got that cold, huh?" Ray trailed his hand down Fraser's side to his hip. "It's morning. You want me to help you wake up?"
"What did you have in mind?" Fraser's mouth curved up at the corner. He hadn't opened his eyes yet.
"Dunno. I'll think of something." Ray kissed his shoulder, his chest and moved lower in the bed, licking a path down Fraser's body, his mouth already watering in anticipation, hungry for it. "Welcome to the weekend," he said, and sucked Fraser's cock into his mouth.
* * *
A couple of weeks later, Ray went out drinking with some of the guys from the station and got home slightly toasted. Vecchio was still up, watching an old western.
Ray leaned in the doorway. "The others already in bed?"
Vecchio nodded. "I wanted to catch the end of this."
Ray came in and sprawled on the couch beside him, kicked off his boots, then stole a mouthful of lukewarm coffee. A cowboy on the screen dropped his cigarillo, ground it out with the heel of his boot and then blasted his way into a saloon. The locals turned him into Swiss cheese.
Ray spread his legs so his knee pressed up against Vecchio's, and Vecchio squeezed his thigh without taking his eyes off the screen.
Ray leaned into him. "Wanna fuck?"
Vecchio snorted. "I'm watching a movie. Think you can wait ten minutes?"
"Maybe." There was something that'd been itching at the back of his mind for a while now but he hadn't been able to pin it down before. Now he blurted it out without thinking. "So, Vecchio. How come you bottom for Fraser but not with me?"
Vecchio froze, then slowly turned his head to look at Ray. "Ten minutes, Kowalski. Is that so much to ask? We have to get into this now?"
Ray shrugged, trying to act casual when inside his heart was doing the fandango. "I can wait."
Vecchio sighed and reached for the remote. The TV screen went dark and Vecchio grabbed the lapel of Ray's sports jacket and practically dragged him into his lap and kissed him until Ray forgot everything else, until he was hard and panting, one hand down the back of Vecchio's slacks, ready to fuck right there on the couch.
"You want to do me, you got it," Vecchio said low in Ray's ear. But there was a hard line to Vecchio's jaw.
"What?" Ray had lost track of the conversation. Fucking. "Oh, uh. Right." He frowned. "You didn't answer my question."
Vecchio's gaze slid away. "Yeah, I did. Shut up and come here." He started kissing Ray again, and Ray nearly got caught up in it, nearly let the beer and the moment make the decision for him, but something wasn't right. Something was definitely off-kilter.
"Vecchio." Ray sat back and squinted at him, a sinking feeling in his gut. "What is it?"
Vecchio grabbed his wrist like a human handcuff and lay back against the arm of the couch. "I'm not like you," he said. "It's no big deal."
"What — queer?" Ray stared. "You're living with two guys, Vecchio. Just 'cause there's a girl in the mix— You have sex with guys. I think it's a little late to start putting up road blocks and—"
"Shhhh! You'll wake the others." Vecchio smacked him on the arm. "That's not what I— I mean, I'm— It's not easy for me, okay? Just forget it."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" The whole conversation was in riddles.
"I need to go slow," said Vecchio flatly, "or I can't—" He gestured with his free hand and stopped talking, like that was supposed to make some kind of sense.
Vecchio blew out a breath. "It hurts. I mean, I like it, but I'm not like you and Fraser. I need someone to take their time with me."
There was a delay while that registered and then Ray went cold all over. "Are you telling me I suck in the sack?"
"No!" Vecchio tightened his grip on Ray's wrist. "Trust me, Kowalski, I would not want you as much as I do if it was like that. Trust me on that. It's just—"
Ray hardly heard him. "Did I hurt you?"
"That's—" Vecchio twisted around and grabbed his shoulder, making Ray look at him, meeting his gaze head on. "It doesn't matter! I fucking love you, you idiot."
"Jesus, of course it matters!" Ray stood up, unsteady on his feet and he couldn't tell if that was the beer or the shock. Vecchio wasn't letting go but Ray needed to move. "You have to tell a guy!" He rubbed his face, feeling hollow. "Fuck, I should have noticed."
Vecchio used Ray's arm as leverage and got up too. "Listen, you didn't do anything wrong. I had a great time. And jeez, Kowalski, you get full marks for enthusiasm."
"But you don't want to do it again."
Vecchio closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Heaven grant me fucking patience! I told you—" He opened his eyes and moved in close so Ray could feel his breath on his lips. "You want it, you got it."
Ray studied him for a long moment. He really meant it. "Okay. I want it."
Vecchio nodded. "Good."
There was a pause while they both caught up with the game plan. Slow, Ray told himself. Go easy. But then Vecchio yanked him close, crashed their mouths together, hard and dirty like he was competing in the Speed Sex Olympics, and Ray lost himself in the heat of it all. "I thought you wanted slow," he muttered, as Vecchio worked his pants open one-handed.
"I want you," Vecchio retorted, and put Ray's hand over his cock. No question he was turned on.
Ray squeezed him and then pushed Vecchio down on the couch and dragged his pants down his thighs. They could do it here, right here. No waiting, no— Vecchio's neck was long and elegant, and Ray couldn't resist licking his way up, tasting sweat and faint traces of after-shave. He closed his teeth on Vecchio's earlobe and sucked. He was fizzing all over like a shaken-up bottle of champagne.
Vecchio groaned and pulled Ray down on top of him, and Ray didn't know what it was that threw him off his groove, maybe the groan, but everything came crashing to a halt.
"Wait, wait, wait." He grabbed Vecchio's wrists and pinned him down. "Stop for a sec."
"Kowalski, don't get all self-conscious on me now." Vecchio tried to get his hands free, and Ray tightened his grip.
"I'm not, I'm not, just take it easy." Ray took a deep breath, his head spinning, and said, "Come on, take me to bed."
"There's no lube here anyway, and my back can't take a night on the couch. I'm an old man, Vecchio." Kowalski dragged Vecchio upright again and shepherded him down the hall to his bedroom.
Vecchio switched on the lamp, filling the room with warm light and soft shadows, and started to strip, and Ray stood a few feet inside the door and watched, torn between jumping him and getting off as quick as they could, and actually doing it right.
The thing was, he believed Vecchio when he said he liked it. Sometimes it hurt for Ray too, but in the heat of the moment he didn't care. The need smothered everything else, and pleasure and pain got all mixed up till he couldn't always tell one from the other.
On the other hand, Vecchio had been avoiding letting Ray fuck him, and that was not good. Not good by a long shot. Ray had to fix that, had to show Vecchio that he loved him back. "You trust me?"
Vecchio threw his shirt into the laundry hamper in the corner and raised his eyebrows. "To do what?"
"Tie you down." Ray shrugged, keeping it light, but the idea was spreading through him like honey. He could take it slow if Vecchio wasn't touching him all the time, turning him on when Ray was trying to turn it down.
Vecchio came over, pushed Ray's jacket off his shoulders and kissed him. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, okay."
* * *
A couple of weeks after that, Elaine asked Ray to give her a dancing lesson. "If I'm going to be Frannie's bridesmaid, I have to know my foxtrot from my quickstep, right?"
"I'm your man," said Ray, though Vecchio could probably have taught her almost as well. "Tonight?"
Elaine smiled. "It's a date."
Fraser and Vecchio took Dief to a movie, so in the end it really was like a date. Ray dressed up in a good button-down shirt, fixed his hair and met Elaine in the dining room where they pushed the table back and stacked the chairs, creating a little dance floor to practice on.
Elaine was wearing a blue long-sleeved dress and a heavy silver necklace, and she'd knotted her hair at her neck. She looked elegant and far more feminine than she normally did. Ray put on a waltz and led her around the tiny space a couple of times for practice. "You've got good rhythm."
"You already knew that," she leered, and he laughed. Elaine added, "So, you've been spending a lot of time with Raimundo lately."
Ray glanced down at her, then looked over her shoulder so he wouldn't go cross-eyed, and steered her into a turn. "Yeah, we've been, uh, working some stuff out."
"I hear you guys are really raising the bar." Elaine moved her hand from his shoulder to the back of his neck. "He could hardly sit down for breakfast this morning."
"It's an extensive training program of, uh, stamina and communication," said Ray. "And sex."
"And why wasn't I invited?" Elaine mock pouted. "I could be your consultant!" Ray twirled her and caught her close again so their faces were only an inch apart.
"Private one-on-one coaching," Ray explained.
"Okay." She put her other hand on his neck and kissed him. "Just remember, if you ever decide to sell tickets, I'm buying. And I can't see Fraser turning down the opportunity, either."
"Yeah, I know." The thought of them watching, how much Fraser would get off on it — Ray swallowed hard and dragged his attention back to here and now. "You want to learn to foxtrot or not?" He put Elaine's hands back in their proper positions and pretended to glare at her.
"Yeah, just—" She lowered her voice and said seriously, "it's going okay, right? Nothing we should worry about?"
Ray brought them to a standstill and tucked a stray curl behind her ear. "It's going great."
She looked like she wanted to ask more, but all she said was, "Good."
"Yeah." The music changed to something Latin—slow and sexy, but neither of them moved.
It was crazy, given how many long hours of slow, torturous sex Ray had had with Vecchio over the last couple of weeks, learning what pushed his buttons, what made him moan or beg or slap at Ray impatiently — with all that, it was crazy how horny Ray still was. He should be fucked out, falling asleep at work and developing latex intolerance on his dick. Instead, he was hair-triggered, turned on at the drop of Fraser's Stetson, or Elaine's sultry smile, or just the sound of Vecchio's footsteps in the hall. He was turning into a sex maniac! But he knew it wouldn't last — couldn't last, no one could live like this twenty-four/seven without dying — so he made the best of it.
Like now. "You sure you want to dance?" He slid his hand down to the curve of her ass. "We could do this tomorrow. We've got all weekend."
Elaine leaned her forehead on his shoulder, hiding her face, but he could hear the smile in her voice. "I could use some one-on-one tutoring myself — and this time I don't mean dancing."
Ray didn't tell her it was Vecchio who was the teacher. Instead he pulled her close and moved into a rumba, enjoying the way her body molded to his. "Yes, ma'am."
She laughed and took over leading, and he didn't fully realize where she was taking them until the stair banister dug into his back.
"I think we should start with horizontal surfaces," she said, and ran her hands over his chest, plucking at the buttons on his shirt. "I might pick up some pointers."
Ray traced his fingers down the side of her neck, over her collar bone to her cleavage. "Cuts both ways," he murmured, and yeah, now he was getting better at paying attention, the possibilities were limitless, not just with Vecchio. "You, uh, got any fantasies you've been wanting to try out?"
Elaine laughed up at him. "You mean, other than the ones I live every day?"
Ray laughed with her — she had a point, there. He pulled her close and kissed her, and she rocked into him and wound her arms around his neck, her breasts soft against him, her body hot and eager.
"I'm glad we talked you into this," she murmured, "and not just for Fraser and Ray's sake. You're good for all of us. Plus, you know, I've always had a thing for blonds." She bit down gently on the angle of his neck and added, her lips moving against his skin, "We're going to have to work on your exhibitionism, though."
Ray blinked and opened his mouth to object, then caught the twinkle in her eye and his pulse skipped a beat. She was a lot more like Fraser than he'd realized, and sexy as hell in her own right.
"You're a real troublemaker, aren't you?" he said, and she laughed again, took his hand and led him upstairs to her bed.
Ray dished up the pasta salad he'd put together, poured two glasses of Merlot and sat down at the table with Fraser and Elaine. The table cloth was off-white and had seen better days, and the candlestick was crooked, but he was home from Vegas and he was alive and he was with his loved ones, and everything else came second to that.
He and Elaine clinked glasses, and then Fraser joined in with his water glass and Dief insisted they toast his water dish, and they all grinned at each other, the awkwardness that stemmed from a long absence falling away.
"Eat," Ray told them. "I slaved over a stove for you! The least you can do is show some appetite."
"It's good to have you home, Ray." Fraser picked up his fork.
"Yeah, don't go spinning me some line about how much you missed me, okay?" Ray winked at Elaine. "I saw how Kowalski was looking at you."
"I'm sorry?" Fraser stopped with his fork halfway to his mouth and stared at Ray.
Elaine grinned. "Nothing happened. He's not—" She shrugged.
"Not what?" Ray sipped his wine. It was good, but nothing like what he'd been drinking lately. Chicago was going to take some getting used to. "Because if you mean 'not queer,' I'm going to have to get your eyes tested."
"Nothing happened with Ray Kowalski," said Fraser, firmly.
Ray considered this a minute, along with the light flush in Fraser's cheeks and the stubborn set of his mouth. He shook his head. "Well, why the hell not, Benny?"
"Ray." Elaine seemed as taken aback as Fraser was.
"No, listen. He wants the both of you — that's plain as the nose on my face — and he's not bad looking, especially if you overlook his sad excuse for a wardrobe. You trying to tell me you don't have a thing for him? Jeez, I've known the guy for less than a week and I have a thing for him. Have you seen how he moves?"
"Yes," said Fraser shortly.
"Aw, come on, Benny." Ray took his hand. "Don't be like that."
"We've been waiting for you, Ray," Elaine reminded him. "And worrying about you. And hoping and praying you'd make it back alive. You're acting just a teeny bit ungrateful, here."
"I know, I know." Ray knew he should drop it. He took another mouthful of pasta to keep himself quiet, but he couldn't help himself. "It's just, I am here. I'm alive. And I'm not going to waste a single second of my life. If it works with the three of us, then why not—?" He looked at Fraser, his face beautiful in the candlelight. "You love him."
"I don't." Elaine took a mouthful of wine, and then glanced at Fraser. "Not that I'm saying I couldn't."
"I wouldn't want us to run the risk of overextending ourselves," said Fraser. "And besides, I hardly think an arrangement such as ours would be Ray's cup of tea. He's rather— focused."
"He's still hung up on his ex-wife," Elaine explained.
"Who, Stella?" Ray had met ASA Kowalski at the precinct. She was charming, if a little on the cool side for Ray's taste. She was also clearly on the lookout for a new relationship. "She's moved on."
Fraser lowered his fork to his plate. "So has he."
Ray nodded, unsurprised. "To you."
"I didn't encourage him," Fraser said quickly.
Ray smiled and patted Fraser's shoulder. "It's okay! If I learned anything in Vegas, other than how to win at poker ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it's that if someone's important to you, you keep them close. That's all that matters, Benny. Nothing else."
He turned to Elaine, who was watching them both with a crease between her eyebrows. "Tell me Kowalski never hit on you."
Her frown cleared and she grinned. "When he turned up, he hit on anyone in a skirt," she said. "That doesn't prove a thing."
"But you— you like him, right?" Ray touched her wrist, glad to be home. "You want him?"
"Ray, this isn't the mob," Elaine scolded, half-laughing and half-outraged. "You can't just order up a person on a whim!"
He grinned. "I got a hunch. Answer the question."
"Let's just say—" Elaine stared into the candle, her eyes going hazy. "Let's say I wouldn't kick him out of bed." She blinked and looked at Fraser and Ray. "But that's not the point. I've got everything I need right here."
Ray shrugged. "Well, sure." He leaned back in his chair and smiled at them warmly. "No need to rush into anything. We've got some catching up to do first."
* * *
Ray stopped by the 2-7 a few days later to check in with Lieutenant Welsh, and went over to Kowalski's desk on the way out. "Come on, I'm buying you a drink."
Kowalski squinted up suspiciously. "What? Why?"
"We need to talk." Ray grabbed the ugliest coat off the coat rack which, sure enough, turned out to be Kowalski's, and bundled him towards the door.
"Maybe you do. Me, I got work to do!" But curiosity must have got the better of him, because he didn't break away and head back into the squadroom.
They went in Kowalski's car — Ray couldn't be bothered arguing about it — and ended up in an old-fashioned bar down near the docks. Kowalski's choice.
It was early enough that there were only a dozen or so patrons hunched over their drinks in the last of the sun, trying to forget winter was coming. Ray ordered a couple of beers from a barman who had more tattoos than unmarked skin, and took a seat facing the door with his back to the wall. Kowalski sat across from him, his chin jutting out like he was expecting trouble.
Ray smiled, and then dropped the patronizing act and said, man to man, "So, tell me. How's Fraser been?"
Kowalski stiffened. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, he's my partner, I've been gone a year and a half and you've been looking out for him. How is he?" Ray balanced a cardboard coaster on its edge. "How many stupid stunts did he pull?"
"Why don't you ask him yourself?" Kowalski pursed his lips like he was working the angles.
"I have." Ray smiled ruefully. "You know what he's like. He says, 'I'm fine,' and that's the end of it."
Kowalski was already nodding. "Yeah, I know. I know." He scratched his head and took a thoughtful swallow of beer. "He's— he's Fraser. Half the time I got no idea what's happening inside that suit. I know he gets tired, though. And homesick."
Ray nodded. "Yeah. Chicago was never his scene."
"I tried to, uh, distract him, but—" Kowalski drew a line in the condensation on his beer mug. "I guess he missed you." He glanced up sharply. "Why ask me, Vecchio? Why don't you ask Elaine?"
"Elaine?" Ray repeated, startled.
"Yeah, you know." Kowalski narrowed his gaze, pinning Ray in place. "Besbriss. She's your girlfriend, right? You and Fraser."
Ray hid his surprise. "How long have you known?"
Kowalski shrugged. "Since the beginning. Frannie—"
"I'm gonna kill her," said Ray, and ground his teeth. She was about as discreet as a gossip columnist.
"—denied it. About half a dozen times." Kowalski grinned. "It didn't take a genius."
The grin was warm and unselfconscious, and Ray's jaw relaxed despite himself.
"It's okay. I won't tell. And anyway, now you're back," said Kowalski, his smile fading to wistful. His gaze dropped to Ray's lips and lingered there a moment, then he looked down at his own hands and rubbed an invisible mark off his ball-chain bracelet. "So that's that."
"I guess so." Ray watched him closely, wondering if it was too soon to make a move. If Kowalski had known all this time and was interested in Fraser anyway, maybe this wasn't as much of a long shot as Elaine and Fraser seemed to think. Ray hoped not. There was something about Kowalski that got under his skin, an itch Ray really wanted the opportunity to scratch.
Kowalski turned his beer glass in his hands and asked again, "So, why didn't you ask her? Elaine, I mean. Or Frannie, for that matter?"
Ray leaned forward, folded his arms on the table and locked gazes with him. "I guess I wanted to hear it from you."
* * *
Elaine got home late, dropped her coat and hat over the back of the couch and bent to kiss Ray hello on her way to the kitchen. She was carrying a sack of groceries. "I invited Kowalski for dinner."
"Yeah? When?" Ray looked up from the report he was writing on an FBI laptop.
She put a carton of milk and some cheese in the refrigerator. "Tonight." She looked pleased with herself.
Ray pushed his chair away from the table and rubbed the back of his neck. "And who's idea was that, if you don't mind me asking?"
She grinned. "What's the matter? Jealous?"
"I thought I was the mastermind behind the gradual but inevitable seduction of Kowalski, that's all." Ray went over and pulled her to him, kissed the smile off her face. "Nice to know I have goons backing me up."
She smacked him on the chest. "You got that backwards, Raimundo. If anyone here has goons, it's me." She kissed him again, teasing, and then pulled away and went back to unpacking the groceries. "He said he missed hanging out with Dief, so I figured—" She shrugged.
Ray laughed out loud. "Oh, boy."
"That's how you and me and Fraser got started, or have you forgotten? One innocent little dinner and here we are, four years later, living in sin and debauchery." He peered over her shoulder. "What are you making?"
"Chicken ragout," said Elaine, failing to keep a straight face. "Okay, okay, so I'm keeping an open mind."
"Your open mind is one of the many things I love about you," Ray told her. "Does Fraser know we're having company?"
Elaine paused with the recipe in her hand. "Uh. Maybe you should give him a call."
* * *
Kowalski turned up wearing a gray button-down shirt open at the throat, and carrying a mid-range bottle of wine and a bunch of flowers, both of which he gave to Elaine. He kissed her cheek, too, Ray was interested to note.
Then Dief trotted out of the kitchen, and Kowalski crouched down and ruffled his ears and slipped him a pastry from a squashed paper bag in his pocket.
"Hey," he said to Ray, standing up again and looking like he was expecting Ray to kick him out on his ass.
Ray got him a beer. "Glad you could make it."
"Yeah?" Kowalski's shoulders relaxed. "Me too." He looked around the living room at the worn furniture and the bookcases, then went over to the stereo and checked out the CDs.
Ray planted himself on the couch and watched him, admiring the view.
"Hello, Ray," said Fraser from the doorway, and Kowalski turned and pointed at him accusingly.
"You have Nana Mouskouri in your music collection, Fraser! Please tell me this don't belong to you, or I swear I'm going to have to get another partner." He shuddered. "What's next, Mel Tormé?"
Fraser put on his innocent face. "I believe you'll find Tormé between Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits and The Best of Gordon Lightfoot."
Kowalski squinted at him for a long moment, then burst out laughing. "You got me, Fraser. Ha! Good one. Gordon Lightfoot."
They sat down at the table, where they could include Elaine in the conversation, and gossiped about work and crime, police politics and Chicago. Kowalski talked rough, but he was smart and funny in his own weird way, and he saw the big picture. Ray liked him more and more.
It wasn't until dessert that Kowalski got quiet. He looked sideways at Elaine and Ray, and then said, straight out to Fraser, "So, Fraser, how come you never told me about, you know. You guys? Frannie knew but you couldn't tell me?"
Fraser's eyes widened, trapped, and he went through his whole routine of scratching his eyebrow and loosening the collar he wasn't wearing.
Ray bit back a smile. He'd missed Fraser's tics more than he'd realized.
"I," said Fraser, and stopped. "I really couldn't say." He sounded stumped, like it hadn't even occurred to him to tell.
"He's got a point, Benny," Ray said. "You trust him, right?"
"With my life," said Fraser.
"But you kept us a secret," said Elaine.
Fraser nodded, and frowned like he was thinking hard. "I could say I was concerned for your safety," he said to Elaine and Ray, "but I do trust you, Ray, so. Hm. I think, to be perfectly honest." He licked his lip and tightened his grip on his spoon. "I think I wanted you to believe I was available."
Elaine's eyebrows tried to climb off her forehead, and even Ray, who'd pretty much figured that out already, was shocked to hear Fraser admit it.
Kowalski, meanwhile, stole the show by choking on his raspberry torte.
"Ray!" said Fraser, jumping to his feet and rounding the table quickly. "Ray, are you okay?" He gripped Kowalski's shoulders and shook him.
Kowalski's eyes were watering. He clawed at his throat desperately, his cheeks already turning purple. He couldn't make a sound.
"I've got you." Fraser turned Kowalski around, threw his arms around him and yanked at his stomach. A piece of pastry flew across the room onto the floor — to be vacuumed up by Dief in a matter of seconds — and Kowalski heaved a loud breath and started coughing.
Fraser let him go with obvious reluctance, and Kowalski bent over, hands on his knees, till he'd got his shit together.
When he finally stood up, Elaine handed him a napkin and he mopped his eyes and face, and then he turned on Fraser. "You!" He jabbed him in the chest with his finger. "You!"
"It wasn't a conscious motive," Fraser told him, grabbing his hand to stop the assault. "I'm sorry, Ray."
"Fucking toying with me." Kowalski seemed to have forgotten Ray and Elaine were there.
Ray thought about intervening, but figured maybe they needed this to clear the air.
Fraser was staring at Kowalski like he'd never seen him before, and then like his heart was breaking. "This isn't a game," he said, his voice shaking.
"No fucking kidding!" snarled Kowalski, shaking free of Fraser's grip. "You fucking—" He dug his hands into his hair and stepped back.
Ray was instantly on guard, a split second away from shoving himself in between them and taking Fraser's part, when Elaine covered his hand with her own and squeezed. Ray looked at her, then really looked at her and got a grip on himself. He nodded. Yeah. Fraser could take care of himself.
He directed his gaze back to the guys just in time to see Fraser haul Kowalski into his arms and engulf him in a hug. Kowalski's eyes bugged out, and Ray figured he was probably asphyxiating for the second time in as many minutes, and then the next second, him and Fraser were kissing, locked together like it'd take half a dozen guys with crowbars to get them apart.
"Did we just make a really stupid mistake?" murmured Elaine in Ray's ear.
He shook his head, smiling despite himself, distracted by the sight of the two of them. Fraser was always fun to watch, and Kowalski— Kowalski was going for it, kissing with his whole body. "I think that's one of those things only time can tell."
After a long time, during which Ray wondered if they were actually going to do it right there next to the dining room table — maybe on the dining room table, and jeez, that would be a sight to see — Kowalski broke away, panting and wild-eyed, and holding up his hands to keep Fraser at bay. "What— what was that, Fraser?"
He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, looking like he didn't know which way was up.
Fraser cleared his throat. "I believe that was a spontaneous display of— well." He tilted his head and studied Kowalski. "Of intense affection."
"Right," said Kowalski. "Right. That's. Okay." He held up a finger. "One, intense affection. You mean, uh, love."
"Capital 'L' love." Kowalski didn't seem surprised by that, at least, but if anything it seemed to make him more tense. "Yeah. And b)—" He held up a second finger. "—a spontaneous display." He jerked his head toward Ray and Elaine without looking at them. "Is this just for show, Fraser? Is it about me, or is it about them? Because I'm not your show pony, okay? I'm not—" He held up his hands to stop Fraser interrupting. "I mean, I know you guys got something going here, however that works, and I'm okay— I can deal with that. But you don't get to make all the rules, you don't get to." He stuck his chin out. "You take me seriously, or I'm out of here."
"Yes," said Fraser, stepping in.
"I won't just be convenient." Kowalski looked more stubborn than love-struck.
Fraser gave a surprised crack of laughter. "No," he said, reaching for Kowalski. "No, Ray, you're certainly not that."
* * *
Another dinner party — no table cloth this time, or candles either. Kowalski made something he claimed was lasagna, and Ray listed all the ways in which it was the exact opposite of the real thing, which made Kowalski mock-glare and give him the finger. "Hey, Fraser's not complaining. You don't want it, don't eat it. Your loss."
"I'm not saying it's bad," said Ray. "It's just not lasagna."
"Guys," said Elaine, half-laughing. "Come on, it's nearly Christmas. Truce?"
"Yes," said Fraser, who never got that Kowalski and Ray bitching at each other was basically flirting. "Christmas. What are our plans?"
"Yeah, what are you guys doing for Christmas Day?" Kowalski had that look — that outsider look that Ray found exasperating as hell, because if Kowalski was on the outside, it was because he was choosing to be. Ray knew Fraser had invited him to move in half a dozen times already. And sure, maybe Kowalski didn't know how to handle sharing a place with his boyfriend's other partners, but they were all friends here now, if nothing else. They were family. Kowalski was the one putting the brakes on.
And Ray had promised Fraser he'd respect that.
"We gotta go to family dinner," Ray told Kowalski, "but we'll be back here by five. You want to come over?"
Kowalski glanced at Fraser, checking in, then back at Ray. "Yeah, sounds good."
"You could come with us to the Vecchios," Elaine suggested. "It's a madhouse — the more allies we have, the better!"
Kowalski was already shaking his head. "That sounds— that's too much." He ducked his head and loaded his fork with fake lasagna. "Maybe next year."
Elaine and Ray exchanged glances. That was promising.
Fraser had picked up on that too. He smiled and looked around the table. "Have you thought about what you'd like for Christmas?"
"I'm thinking jewelry," said Elaine. "Maybe earrings."
"I want a house," said Ray. He'd been saving up the idea, waiting for the right moment to suggest it, but now it just popped out. "That payout from the Feebs — I figure that's enough for a deposit. And, you know, it's not fair on Dief, being stuck in an apartment like this."
"A house?" Elaine blinked. "That would be— Wow! I like the sound of that. Forget the earrings — I want a house, too."
They all looked at Kowalski, who looked at Fraser. "What about you? What do you want for Christmas?"
"I think asking for anything would be greedy, given what I have. I really am ridiculously well-off, both materially and with regard to the three of you and Dief. I honestly can't imagine what else I could want."
Elaine rolled her eyes. "You can do better than that! Come on, Fraser. We're talking Christmas! Think frivolous."
"All right, then." He put down his knife and fork, and looked thoughtfully at his plate. "I suppose— I want a vegetable garden. My grandfather grew the most remarkable beets and I'd like to follow in his footsteps, if I can. And you, Ray?" he asked Kowalski.
Kowalski fiddled with the stem of his wineglass. "I been thinking, maybe—" He shot Ray a complicated look, then met Fraser's eye and blushed.
Fraser nodded, encouraging him.
"I, uh." Kowalski took a deep breath. "Maybe, for Christmas, I want to see what you guys do. Together." He gave Elaine a faint smile. "If you're okay with that, I mean."
"Are you kidding?" said Ray. "I was okay with that two months ago."
"I'm just gonna— I mean, I don't know yet. If I'm gonna watch or—" He glanced at Ray again. "Or do anything."
"That's up to you," said Elaine, reaching across the table to touch his hand. "Watch or join in — I'm fine either way."
He nodded jerkily, and then stared at the table like he was waiting for Ray's verdict.
"Kowalski," said Ray. Kowalski spent more than half his time here, whether Fraser was home or not. He and Ray had watched old movies together, got drunk together, argued and shopped and on occasion worked together. And Ray had made no effort whatsoever to hide his feelings. "You cannot possibly be stupid enough to think I don't want you."
His eyes widened. "I, uh."
Unbelievable! Ray scraped his chair back and hauled Kowalski to his feet, right into his personal space. "Okay?" he asked, because the last thing he needed was to mess up Fraser's relationship.
Kowalski didn't answer in words. He put his hands on Ray's waist and leaned in, and pressed his lips to Ray's, softly. Just testing.
Ray stopped breathing and swallowed hard, using every ounce of restraint to keep from pushing him against the dining room wall and molesting him all over. And then Kowalski's hand slid to the back of Ray's head and Ray let himself open up, just a little. Let himself kiss back. Let his hands spread across Kowalski's narrow back, pulling him close.
A dry cough from Elaine broke the spell, and Ray and Kowalski both pulled away, both with stupid grins on their faces.
"I thought we were saving it for Christmas," said Elaine, her eyes dark and shining.
Fraser stood up and when he spoke, his voice was unsteady. "Perhaps Christmas has come early this year."
"Yeah," said Kowalski, slowly. He cracked his neck and stared at Ray. Then he smiled. "Yeah, I think so too."
The night after Fraser first kissed Ray Kowalski, he came home to find Ray Vecchio taking his suits out of their wardrobe. One black, two charcoal, one navy, one puce, and assorted mismatched jackets and pants that Fraser knew had been orphaned from their counterparts after misadventures in the course of duty.
"Hey, Benny," said Ray cheerfully, pushing past him with his hands full. "How are things in Canada-land?"
"Ray?" Fraser hung up his coat and hat, and followed Ray and the suits through to Elaine's room, where Elaine was sitting with her back against the headboard, reading and drinking a cup of coffee.
She looked up. "Is there enough room? I can free up more space if you need me to."
Ray hung his clothes in her closet, next to her skirts. "There's enough room."
"What's going on?" asked Fraser. Surely Ray wasn't mad at him for declaring himself to Ray — it had been Ray's idea to pursue him in the first place, and he didn't seem angry or hurt. Not to mention that when they'd made love the night before, after Ray Kowalski had left, Ray Vecchio had murmured several appreciative remarks about how Fraser and Ray Kowalski had looked, kissing.
"I'm moving into Elaine's room," said Ray now, somewhat redundantly.
Fraser scratched his eyebrow. "I can see that. Why?"
Ray straightened a jacket on its hanger and then came over and took Fraser by the shoulders. "Because," he said, "if your other boyfriend's going to stay over, you need a room to yourself."
Fraser glanced at Elaine, who smiled and nodded, and then back to Ray. "Ah."
"I mean, we don't want to rush you into anything," said Ray, and kissed him softly, then harder and pulled him close. "And you better believe we still want you in here with us. Don't ever doubt that."
Fraser wrapped his arms around Ray and breathed him in. "But you're giving Ray and me your blessing?"
Ray gave a surprised sounding laugh. "Something like that." He loosened the lanyard and pulled it over Fraser's head and then started unbuttoning the uniform with practiced hands. "At least until Kowalski sees the light and realizes the more, the merrier."
Fraser caught his hands. "And if he doesn't? What if it's not in his nature?"
Ray looked at him, his face full of love and warmth and patience. "Then we do what we do, Fraser. And you and him do what you do. There's no roadmap for this."
"Good thing Fraser knows how to work a compass," said Elaine. She put her coffee aside and beckoned them over to the bed.
* * *
Once he'd had a chance to adjust, Ray Kowalski surprised Fraser with his willingness to accommodate their unorthodox arrangement. He rarely kissed Fraser in front of the others, but aside from that he seemed comfortable at the apartment, and spent more and more time there — sometimes even in Fraser's absence.
Fraser arrived home late one evening to find Ray and Ray watching television together. Ray Vecchio was on the couch, one foot on the coffee table and a beer bottle resting against his raised knee. Ray Kowalski sat on the floor with his back against the other half of the couch and was laughing over his shoulder at Ray Vecchio.
Fraser stood in the shadowed doorway and studied them, feeling breathless and aroused. A hand on his back made him jump and he half-turned to see Elaine. "Hi." She kissed him hello, and then leaned against his side and contemplated the Rays. "They make a hell of a picture, don't they?"
"They do indeed." Fraser curved his arm around her waist, glad she shared the attraction.
She winked up at him. "How about you go in and join them, and I'll get the camera."
Fraser bent his head and murmured in her ear, "Actually I'd greatly appreciate it if you'd sit with them. Perhaps on the couch behind Ray Kowalski?"
She moved his hand from her waist to her breast and held it there a moment, then nodded. "If that's what you want."
So Fraser retreated into the darkened hall while she went in, and when he came back and peeked into the living room, there were the three of them: Elaine and Ray Vecchio on the couch — Ray with his arm around Elaine — and Ray Kowalski on the floor at their feet laughing up at them. The television was forgotten.
Ray Vecchio made a remark that Fraser couldn't hear, and Ray Kowalski ducked his head, grinning. When he looked up again, he caught Fraser watching, and the sheer happiness in his eyes made it hard for Fraser to breathe.
"Hey, what're you doing lurking in the hallway?" Ray Kowalski called. "Get in here!" He patted the floor next to him, at Ray Vecchio's feet.
"Hey, Benny," said Ray. "You're missing Yukon Smith and the Temple of the Inuit Artifact."
Elaine and Ray Kowalski snickered, and Fraser went in to join them, overcome with love and desire for all of them.
* * *
"So, uh, how goes the house hunting?" Ray slowed down for a stop sign and then screeched back up to full speed — or as close as he could get, given the icy conditions — gunning the GTO's engine so it sounded as impatient as Ray's driving. He and Fraser were on their way to re-interview a number of witnesses to an armed robbery, to corroborate their theory as to the prime suspect — the ex-manager of the bank itself.
"No luck yet." Fraser looked down at his hat in his lap. "So far they're either too cramped or well out of our price range. We may have to look further afield."
Dief barked from the backseat.
"Or they have inadequate backyards," Fraser translated. "Yes, Dief, that's also an important consideration."
Ray grinned as he pulled up outside the bank and parked. He took off his glasses, folded them and hooked them on the neck of his sweater. "It'd be weird, you living out in the 'burbs. I was just starting to get used to— you know. How things are." His hand landed briefly on Fraser's thigh, where his coat had fallen open.
Dief barked again and Fraser twisted around to look at him. "Perhaps you should ask him yourself."
Ray raised his eyebrows, and Fraser resisted the temptation to lean in and kiss him. He really was terribly distracting. Instead Fraser said, "Dief was— well, he was wondering why you aren't house hunting with us. We'd all— you know you'd be more than welcome."
Ray shot Fraser a shrewd look, then got out of the car and waited while Fraser and Dief followed suit. Ray leaned his elbows on the roof of the GTO and looked across the gleaming black paint at him. "Is that what you want?"
His words were puffs of condensation in the air.
Fraser didn't trust his voice. He nodded.
"And Vecchio and Elaine— you sure they'd be okay with that? I mean, really okay. We're not just talking nookie, here, Fraser. We're talking day-to-day dealing with my shit and all of us up in each other's faces, nowhere to run off and hide. We're talking you and me mixed up with you and them, and me and them and all of us." He shook his head. "I get dizzy just talking about it. But— that's what you want?"
Fraser licked his lip. "Yes."
Dief nuzzled his hand, urging Fraser to hurry inside where it was warm.
"In a moment," Fraser told him. "Give us a minute, if you please." He turned back to Ray. "Sorry."
Ray's mouth softened. "You got no idea how much I need you, Fraser. Not a clue. And it feels messed up to move in when I don't need the others like that. I mean, they're cool, they're great, but—" He took a deep breath, unhooked his glasses and waved them at Fraser. "You, I love."
"And I, you." Fraser stayed completely still, trying to ward off hope.
"So. Okay. If it's okay with them, and it's what you want, and hey, if Dief is getting on my case about it, then yeah. Okay." Ray slid his glasses up his nose. "I'm in."
Fraser rounded the car at top speed and pulled Ray into his arms. "Are you sure?"
Ray's mouth brushed his ear. "Yeah," he said, and squeezed him tight. "It's crazy but I actually think it'll be kind of fun. You got good taste in partners. Now let me go, you freak. We're outside a bank, it's freezing and we've got work to do."
* * *
It took months of looking, during which their optimism waxed and waned, but as soon as they walked into the house, Fraser knew it was the one. Dief trotted through the empty rooms, then double backed out the front door and ran along the side of the house to investigate the backyard. Ray and Ray had both surveyed the double garage with approval, and were making their way around the ground floor, too busy arguing about whether Huey and Dewey were more or less funny than various other comedy acts through the ages to pay much attention.
Fraser knocked on the walls to check for insulation and any sign of infestation, but he could tell the decision was already made. The hallway was light and airy, freshly painted. The rooms were welcoming — even the smallest of the bedrooms at the back of the house under the eaves. "Dibs," said Ray Kowalski, appearing out of nowhere and looking around the oddly shaped space.
The real estate agent, Mariana, seemed bemused by their casual roaming and by the sheer number of them, but she answered their questions good-naturedly.
Fraser poked his head into the upstairs bathroom, and then found Elaine in the master bedroom at the front of the house, looking out the window at a gnarled old willow tree.
"What do you think?" he asked, coming up behind her and hugging her.
She pulled his arms tight around her. "I think I want this room. And I think we'll be happy here, all of us." She turned in his arms and clasped her hands behind his neck, slid her thumbs into his hair. "What do you think?"
"I think it will do very well." He pulled her close. "It seems we've all already decided."
"Where's Raimundo?" Elaine kissed him, then broke away and went out to the landing at the top of the stairs. Ray Vecchio was running up, taking the stairs two at a time.
"You won't believe this." He was clearly trying to remain calm, but his excitement wouldn't be contained. "There's a game room off the back of the garage. It's perfect for a pool table — which is convenient seeing as how I just happen to own a prime example of said sporting equipment."
"A game room? Cool! Where?" said Ray Kowalski. "Show me." And the two of them hurried off to look.
Elaine and Fraser both burst out laughing.
"All we need now is Dief's stamp of approval and it's unanimous," said Elaine, and leaned into Fraser. "Look at us, we've found a home!"
* * *
Of course, the house wasn't perfect. The drains for the downstairs bathroom were unreliable, there were termites in the basement and the backyard wasn't nearly as spacious as they might have hoped, a large part of it having been sacrificed by the former owners to the game room. None of these things dampened their enthusiasm, though, and several days after they'd closed on the property and moved in, Fraser found himself standing in the middle of the lawn wondering whether a garden was indeed possible without compromising their arboreal privacy.
Dief offered to help him dig, once he'd chosen a location.
"Thank you kindly." It was a warm spring day. Fraser took off his boots and then instead of figuring out complicated planting plans, he ended up having a lazy disagreement with Dief about the benefits of Chicago vs the Northwest Territories (Dief thought there was a deplorable lack of game in the city but liked the bakeries; Fraser missed the crystalline silence and the stars of the far North but conceded that takeout and loving companionship more than compensated). When the argument ran dry, Fraser idly plucked blades of grass with his toes and rearranged his thinking: he owned a share of property in the city. He belonged here now, more than ever.
Elaine and Ray Kowalski came out of the house, each with a bottle of ginger ale.
"What's up, Fraser?" Ray passed him his drink, and Fraser took a mouthful and returned it.
"Nothing." Fraser took himself by surprise. "I'm utterly idle."
"He's making progress," Elaine said, elbowing Ray. The two of them sat nearby on the bench under the oak tree, Ray with his arm along the seat back. They looked comfortable together. Fraser wondered if it were possible to have all of this, to be this happy.
Ray must have seen it on his face. "Stop worrying," he ordered. "You've had enough tragedy for one lifetime. Here's where it gets good and stays that way."
Fraser went over and knelt before them, kissed them each in turn. "Yes."
* * *
In early summer, the day after Elaine received her promotion to detective second class, Fraser planted a small herb garden near the kitchen door while the others were recovering from their celebratory hangovers. The garden lasted until Diefenbaker's latest dalliance, a young border collie called Shakima, found her way into the backyard and dug it up so she could bury a number of rubber dog toys there.
Despite his best intentions, Fraser didn't find the time to fence and reclaim the garden before fall, and then Chicago was beset by a series of storms and he decided to leave it for the following year.
The following year, he grew beets and lettuces, doing battle with slugs and snails, and weeding diligently. The beets, when he harvested them, were hard and woody. Elaine and Ray and Ray ate them dutifully, and then teased him about them for the ensuing three weeks.
The year after that, Fraser sat on the lawn with Diefenbaker and tried to engage him on the subject of gardening.
Dief yawned and scratched behind his ear.
"You could at least humor me," Fraser told him, feeling slightly aggrieved.
Dief lay down and closed his eyes.
Fraser sighed. "It's not supposed to be intellectually stimulating. It's— well, grounding, I suppose."
Being deaf, Dief didn't hear him.
"Pun not intended," Fraser added. He lay back and looked at the hazy blue sky. There was a fair amount of nest building going on in the trees, among the new leaves.
Dief's tail thumped the ground and a few seconds later Ray Vecchio appeared and sat down beside Fraser. "Planning this year's adventures in agriculture, Benny?"
"Hello, Ray." Fraser smiled up at him. "Actually, I'm coming to terms with my limitations."
Ray came down on one elbow and kissed him, resting his hand low on Fraser's belly. "And what limitations would those be?"
"I have just accepted the fact that I'm not my grandfather," Fraser told him, straight-faced, "and as such, it's not my destiny to bring more beets into the world."
Ray nodded, solemnly. "It's good to figure these things out early. No point fighting your destiny." He spread his fingers, rubbing through Fraser's t-shirt. "Me and Kowalski are going for groceries — anything you need?"
Fraser covered his hand and held it against his stomach, enjoying that even after all this time, he still responded viscerally to Ray's touch. "Not a single thing, Ray. I have everything I could possibly want."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Fine, let's see if you still say that after Kowalski picks out three different brands of sugar-coated cereal!"
Fraser laughed. "Oatmeal, then."
"You got it." Ray kissed him and got up to leave.
Dief raised his head and blinked sleepily.
"Dief would like some dog biscuits, if it's not too much trouble," Fraser called after Ray.
Dief shook his head and sneezed violently.
"Sure," said Ray. "I bet that's exactly what he said."
Fraser frowned at his wolf. "You know donuts aren't good for your digestion."
"A dozen donuts coming up," said Ray, raising his hand as he left. "And yeah, you can pretend we got them for Dief if it makes you feel better."
Fraser grinned to himself and lay back on the grass. It was going to be a fine spring, full of promise, and he had every intention of making the very best of it he could.