Pairing: Vecchio, Fraser/Kowalski
Thanks: Many many thanks to sprat and mergatrude for beta
Notes: For aerye, for DS Seekrit Santa 2006
In my dream, I'm back in Vegas. Nero's bringing me schnapps, the Tortelli brothers are sitting on my five thousand dollar cream leather sofa, and I'm just about to close a deal when I look down and find that I'm naked —
— and when I look up, the Tortelli brothers are Jack Huey and Louis Gardino, laughing, and it's not Nero holding the schnapps, it's Fraser, and he gives me this look.
I wake up drenched in sweat and stare at the ceiling until the curtains lighten and I hear Ma making her slow, heavy way down the stairs.
* * *
So I finished my PT nearly three months ago now, I'm good as new, life on track, and it's okay, you know? Stella and me dated a couple of times before we realized there wasn't anything there and she moved to Minnesota or somewhere. Since then I've been knocking around — debriefing with the Bureau, giving Frannie a hard time, helping Ma around the house. I meet up with Jack Huey every couple of weeks for a drink. Not that we were such good friends before.
I can't remember who my friends were before, except —
"Go, get your man," I told him. What I meant was I'll be here. I'll be waiting. I thought he'd come back, I honestly did. I thought, even after everything, we were partners.
Now, you could say it serves me right, that this is payback for me walking out on him. You could say that, but I don't believe it and I know he doesn't either. He understood I was doing my duty. He understood and he forgave me, and I knew that the moment I opened the door of my Hotel California suite and saw him standing there like a big dope, messing up my whole operation with one stupid smile.
Benny and me, we understand each other. We're family.
* * *
So one day in April, I figure what the hell and I call Frobisher. "It's Ray Vecchio," I say. "You got Benton Fraser up there with you?"
"Young Benton?" he says. "Can't say that I — Vecchio, you say?"
"Yeah, remember me? That whole thing with Geiger and the sewers, and Fraser getting stabbed in the leg." I jog his memory, and finally he catches up.
"Oh, right. Right," says Frobisher. There's the sound of farting and some muffled groans. "Good God, men. Keep in your ranks!" Something bangs, and then I can hear the arctic wind howling. "You're the other Ray," says Frobisher.
"The what? Oh, yeah." I rub my face. "Yeah, I'm the real one, the real Ray Vecchio. Is Fraser there?"
Frobisher harrumphs and says, "I'm afraid not, son. He and his Chicago friend have gone off on a quest."
"What Chicago friend?" I say, indignantly. "I'm his Chicago friend!"
"A man can have more than one," Frobisher points out. "Is it urgent? Do you need me to send him a message?"
"Just — " I'm dumbstruck. I can't believe he left like that, without a word. "When you see him, tell him I called, okay?"
* * *
The lake is stone gray and smells like old socks. I go for walks along the shore. I don't meet anyone's eye. I spend half the time mad at Fraser for running off like that, and half the time mad at myself — for going undercover, for getting shot, for letting it get to me so bad.
One of the images I clung to in Vegas, one of those mental pictures that I focused in on, time and time again, was Benny in the passenger seat of my car, holding his hat in his lap and giggling about dogsleds at the border. I'd think about that and I could almost smell the wolf breath on my cheek, and I'd feel warm. Now I don't have any of it: no car, no Fraser, no wolf.
It's winter. I wasn't made to be alone like this. I think about getting a dog, but I don't do anything.
* * *
Fraser calls in early spring. "Hello, Ray!" he says over the crackly line.
"Fraser." I'm confused. I don't know what to say. "You're alive."
He chuckles. "Well, of course."
I have to wrap my free arm tight around my chest to keep from yelling at him. I whine instead. "How was I to know? You fall off the face of the earth without a word and I'm supposed to trust in God that you didn't end up Sunday dinner for a family of polar bears?"
"I'm sorry, Ray." He sounds taken aback. He didn't expect that. I wonder if he's thought of me at all.
I ought to apologize, but instead I ask, "Is Kowalski still there?"
"Yes, he is." From his tone, I picture his eyebrows flying up. "Do you want to speak with him?"
"No!" I smack my hand silently against the doorframe. "No, I just — I wondered. So what's next? When are you coming back to Chicago?" I get a little adrenaline boost at the thought of Fraser back in town — it could be like old times.
But then he says, "Ray," so gentle, I know exactly what he's going to say next before he says it. "I'm not coming back. I'm home now, and the RCMP have — "
"They've forgiven you, huh? One little nuclear submarine, and it's open arms and slaughter the fatted calf." I close my eyes and swallow hard. "Good for you, Benny. Good for — If anyone deserves it, you do."
My little niece Lenore scampers into the room and I try to smile at her. She wraps around my leg, and I untangle her and hoist her into my arms. "You want to say hi to Uncle Benny?" I ask her.
She presses her jam-sticky mouth shut and shakes her head, and she buries her face in my shirt. I resign myself to stain removal. "Lenore's gone shy," I say into the phone.
"Actually, Ray. There's something else — " He hesitates and I tense up. Whatever it is, I'm not going to like it.
Lenore wriggles out of my arms and goes running off looking for Maria. I shut the door behind her. "What is it?"
"Ah. Well, I wanted to let you know that — "
He's hedging. "What is it, Fraser?"
"Ray and I — "
I shake my head. Does he mean me? No. And then it hits me. "Kowalski?"
"Yes. Ray Kowalski and I are — We've become — "
"What?" For the life of me, I have no idea what he's trying to tell me.
"We've become — intimate. I wanted you to — I wanted to tell you," he says. "As a friend." I can hear that firm note in his voice. He's not going to let me talk him out of this. He's gonna make me be nice about it.
I feel like my house is falling down around my ears.
* * *
I lie awake and this time I'm not thinking about Vegas. I remember when Fraser first showed up at the 2-7, that guilty twist in my gut when he told me the dead Mountie thing was his Dad. I remember his pale face mouthing poetry when he was lying on the train platform after I shot him. I remember how he rested his hand on my shoulder after Irene passed away, giving me comfort.
I mean, I always knew he was naive about women, even after Her, but I never thought —
Did he feel that way about me? Did he have feelings for me? Would he have told me if he had?
You know, I spent the last five and a half months waiting for him to come back, waiting for my life to start up again. We were a team. We were a great team. I need that again. I need to feel normal.
What the Feds call integrating back into society.
I'm never going to have that, not like I expected to. Even if he came back now. Even if Kowalski ditched him and the RCMP kicked him out, and Fraser came crawling back to Chicago, it'd never be the same. Not now. Now I'd always be questioning his motives — wondering.
The light fixture on the ceiling blurs till it looks like a roulette wheel, and I choke on a laugh. I'm just like every other dumb schmuck who takes a gamble in Vegas. I lost everything.