Rating: R
Pairing: Kowalski/Huey
Thanks: A million million thanks to brynnmck, labellementeuse, lamentables, mergatrude and Miriam for beta.

In a vast open territory
with no distinguishing landmarks

by china_shop


"You're listening to Radio WTKY Chicago, and this is Tom Dewey, spinning tunes and taking calls from midnight to six a.m."

Jack switched off the radio with a sigh, leaving the car dark and cool and silent. He and Kowalski had only been partnered nine hours and now they were stuck on an all-night stakeout together, in a pool car because Kowalski's GTO was too distinctive to be good camouflage, whatever Kowalski said, and Jack's Ford was in the shop again, getting its spark plugs replaced. No point staking out a criminal in a car that wouldn't start.

Kowalski shifted in his seat a couple of times. He wasn't settled back into Chicago yet, Welsh had said when he took Jack aside. Take it easy on him. Give him time. Welsh wasn't known to be a soft touch, but he'd always had a good word for Kowalski. That used to piss Jack off when he and Tom were partners, but maybe it'd work to his advantage now.

Anyway, Kowalski was an oddball, but he took charge when he had to, and even before the Mountie came back and resumed licking things, Kowalski had solved four of Vecchio's open cases. Plus he didn't smell, and when he was wearing his glasses he reminded Jack of his old partner, Louis Gardino.

Jack still missed Louis sometimes. They'd got each other, clicked in a way he and Tom never did.

"So, uh." Kowalski cleared his throat. "You got any—" He leaned back so his seat creaked and propped one boot on the dash. "You think you could maybe wear a red tie or something?"

Red? It took Jack a moment to twig, then he frowned. "I'm not a Canadian."

"I know," said Kowalski too quickly. "That's not what I meant. It's just weird, you know, doing cop work without the Mountie uniform around."

Jack understood. Kowalski and Fraser had been tight, and it was always hard changing partners. You had to negotiate a routine, decide who'd take the wheel (tonight it was Jack; Kowalski hadn't put up much of a fight). You had to learn each other's strengths and how to cover each other's weaknesses. And you had to build up trust and loyalty. These things took time.

But all the same. "I'm not wearing red — red gets shot at." Jack stared at the whorehouse across the street. A thickset john scurried away with his shirttails flapping below the hem of his suit jacket. "On the upside, I do carry a gun."

Kowalski brightened. "That's going to take some getting used to."

"And I can lie, if the occasion calls for it," added Jack, not sure how far he could push it.

But Kowalski snickered. "Yeah, okay."

Another guy parked down the street and went into the brothel — tall and tidily dressed. Not their man.

"What do you do?" said Kowalski into the silence. "When you're not working, I mean. You got a girlfriend?"

"Not since March." Jack shrugged. The first stakeout with a new partner was always like an awkward first date. "Deanne. She was a fire extinguisher technician."

"What happened?"

"She said we didn't ignite," said Jack, and played a mental rimshot. "You know women — they always want more, want to get serious. That's not my style." Kowalski didn't answer, and Jack remembered a certain icy ASA kicking him in the teeth over and over, and changed the subject. "Other than that, I shoot some hoops, watch TV. I've still got the drum kit from the club — I'm thinking of starting a jazz band. You play an instrument?"

"Only the cassette deck," said Kowalski, deadpan.

Jack shot him a half-smile. "And on Friday nights I play poker with some of the guys in my building."

Kowalski nodded. "Poker. Cool."

Which was pathetic, but they were partners now, so Jack threw him a bone anyway. "You want to ante up with us this Friday, you can."

Kowalski didn't jump at it like Jack expected. "Maybe," he said, folding in on himself. "Thanks. Hey!" He sat up again and pointed through the windshield at a figure crossing the street toward the brothel. "Hey, that's our guy! That's Wellesley."

Jack took a second to check for his cuffs and his gun, and then they burst out of the car — "Police! You're under arrest!" — and grabbed Wellesley before he even made the curb.

He fought back, arms wind-milling like a maniac, and though he wasn't a big man, it took both of them to wrestle him to the ground and subdue him. Kowalski kicked his snakeskin shoes apart and patted him down while Jack cuffed him.

"Fuck you!" Wellesley struggled against the cuffs. "I just took a little blue pill. I'm going in there."

"Sure you are," said Jack, dragging him to his feet.

"Bad news, bucko," said Kowalski.

Jack shook his head — in his opinion, cops should not talk like kid's comic books — but the arrest was clean so he didn't comment, just started reading Wellesley his rights.

"How'd you find me?" asked Wellesley, ignoring the Miranda. "You knew I'd be here. I bet that bitch told you."

"It doesn't matter how we found you," said Kowalski, "What matters is you're busted."

"You have the right to an attorney," said Jack firmly. "If you can't afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you."

Kowalski bared his teeth at Wellesley. "Suck on that, fish fart."

Which threw Jack off his stride enough that he had to begin the Miranda all over again to avoid Wellesley getting off on a technicality.

"Save the surrealism till after you clock out, Kowalski," he said on the way to the station.

"Huh?"

It was too late at night for Jack to start a fight. "Nothing. Forget it."

"Fuck the both of you and your mothers," said Wellesley from the backseat. "You're messing with the wrong guy. I'm gonna get you for this." His comb-over hung down his neck in limp strands. He was pathetic.

"I'm terrified," said Jack. "Don't know how I'm going to sleep tonight."

Kowalski grinned. "Me neither. I feel so helpless."

"Could leave the light on," suggested Jack. "Count some sheep."

"Warm milk."

"Fucking pig bitches!" There was enough venom in Wellesley's voice that it turned the atmosphere sour. Kowalski twisted to face him, but Jack grabbed his arm.

"Stay cool, man."

Kowalski tensed, staring laser beams at Wellesley, then shook Jack off and faced the front again. "I'm cool."

 

* * *

 

Jack walked into the bullpen at noon the next day, just in time to hear Kowalski flipping his lid. "He made bail?! Why the hell were we out there all night, busting our humps, so he could walk free today and go knock off all our witnesses?"

"Cut it out, Ray," said Elaine from her desk, which used to be Vecchio's. "The main witnesses are under protection, and he's not going to go after the small fry. He's as entitled to bail as the next guy."

"You don't know this guy," said Kowalski.

"And you're what, the world expert on him?" Jack interrupted. He hung up his jacket and sat down, reaching for his phone messages. "You got back three minutes ago, Kowalski. It's you who doesn't know what's going on."

Kowalski glared at him through the thick lenses of his glasses. Jack could hear his own wristwatch ticking away the seconds. "Right," said Kowalski at last. "Excuse me for forgetting I don't know shit." He grabbed his gun and jacket, and slammed out of the room.

Welsh was standing in his office doorway. He met Jack's eye. "Watch him. Make sure he doesn't do anything stupid."

"Great. Babysitting duty," muttered Jack under his breath, but he grabbed his stuff and went. At least maybe they could go get some decent coffee.

Kowalski was already in his car and heading for the exit, tires crunching the gravel, when Jack reached the parking lot. Jack shouted and waved him over, and Kowalski pulled up alongside and rolled down the window. "He's going to put the squeeze on Mrs. Mercier."

Jack rested his hand on the roof of the car and looked down at Kowalski. "Why would he do that? The case doesn't stand or fall on the madam's testimony. Why would he risk it?"

"Because it sends a message," said Kowalski. "We have to watch her, wait for him to strike."

"She runs a whorehouse," Jack pointed out. It was hardly a top priority case.

Kowalski looked away. "She helped us. She didn't have to turn him in."

He obviously cared too much. They weren't paid enough to care that much. "You can't save everyone," Jack told him.

"I know," said Kowalski. "I know that."

Jack stepped back so he could see his face and make sure he meant it. They weren't caped crusaders and he'd be damned if he was going to bust a gut protecting Chicago lowlifes.

But as soon as he backed off, Kowalski said, "See you later," and started driving away.

"Hey! Wait up!" Jack called after him, and jogged over to where the car was idling. "Where do you think you're going?"

Kowalski looked at him, his face like a mule's.

Jack sighed. "Okay, okay." He straightened his tie and considered the situation. Kowalski might have a point, but he was going about it all wrong. "Here's what we do: we find Wellesley and we watch him. That's how it's done."

Kowalski shook his head like there was water in his ears. "That's brainless. What if we don't find him in time? Mrs. Mercier's ground round and we got nothing."

"What if Mercier's not his only target?" countered Jack. "You think of that?"

"Listen." Kowalski leaned through the car window and pinned Jack with his gaze. "When the Inuit go fishing, they don't—"

Jack held up his hands. "I don't want to hear it."

"Nrrrgh!" Kowalski took off his glasses, hooked them over the neck of his sweatshirt, and scrubbed at his face. "Okay," he said at last. "Okay, but we put a squad car on the brothel."

Jack went around to the passenger door. "Of course we do, Vecchio. That's how it's done."

Kowalski froze with his hand on the parking brake. "Kowalski."

"What?"

"Kowalski. You called me Vecchio."

Jack was still tired from the night before and not at the top of his game. He stared at Kowalski blankly.

"Forget it," said Kowalski. He drove out of the lot and headed south. "Call me Ray. And it better be a good squad car team. I'm not putting Abbot and Costello out there."

 

* * *

 

So their second night partnered turned into their second late-night stakeout. They sat in Kowalski's GTO and watched Henry Wellesley's house.

Jack had insisted they make a quick stop on the way. Now he took his stakeout thermos from his coat pocket. "Coffee?"

"Thanks," said Ray, his eyes fixed on the illuminated curtains of Wellesley's living-room window, behind which the Wellesley family were probably watching TV.

Jack spent the next twenty minutes pondering what to get his family for Christmas. His sister had taken up some kind of fancy cooking. Maybe he could get her a voucher or a book by B. Smith. And his mother had been hinting about a new wrench set.

"You got any gum?" asked Ray into the silence.

"No." Jack finished his coffee and threw the last gritty mouthful out the car window. "I've got cigars..."

"Cuban?"

"American, but they're good," said Jack. "You want one?"

"Sure."

Jack pulled two out of his breast pocket and handed one to Ray. He tore the cellophane off his own, cut it and gave Ray the cutter, then lit up, puffing and rotating until the smoke began to draw, and passed Ray the lighter.

There was the crinkle of Ray's cellophane wrapper, the snick of the cutter, and pretty soon they were smoking in companionable silence — for about ten seconds, until Ray started coughing.

"Why do I feel like I'm at a slumber party with Olivia Newton-John?" Jack asked the world at large.

"Hey!" said Ray, somehow combining his coughing fit with heated indignation. "I'm not a square!"

"Whatever you say," said Jack.

"Dickwad."

Jack grinned and puffed on his cigar. "So, what was Canada like?"

"Oh, uh, it was good." Ray coughed again, and waved his half-lit cigar in the air. "It was hard work, you know, and there were a dozen times I didn't think I'd make it. Fraser saved my ass, though."

Jack nodded. "It's what Mounties do."

"Yeah." Ray took a tentative drag on his cigar and only coughed a little this time. "The dogs were the best part. Everything else — sleeping on ice, wind howling around the tent, endless caribou stories, freeze-dried food — I can take or leave all that. But the dogs were cool."

"You could get yourself a dog here, in Chicago," Jack pointed out. He wouldn't mind there being a dog to keep them company during stakeouts.

"What? Nah, my lease says no pets. Even the turtle is pushing it." Ray sniffed his cigar but didn't puff on it, and Jack figured it had probably gone out by now.

He let the smoke pool in his mouth, enjoying the flavor and watching Wellesley's place. Nothing was stirring over there. Maybe Ray was being paranoid, or maybe Wellesley had someone else to do his dirty work. No word from the squad car, though. Jack narrowed his eyes against the smoke. "You coming to poker night tomorrow?"

"I don't know." Ray sounded troubled, and Jack glanced sideways to see him frowning at his dead cigar like he was trying to make some kind of life-changing decision. "I—" He licked his lips. "Maybe I shouldn't. I've got some stuff I need to do."

Jack snorted before he could stop himself. "It's a poker game, Ray, not a marriage proposal."

Ray slapped his cigar down on the dash and scowled. "Can it, okay? I'm trying to figure my shit out. I don't need any grief from a failed rimshot guy."

"Fuck you too, Kowalski." Jack's good humor drained away. He smacked the radio on and rock music spilled into the car, mingling with the smoke. Thankfully, the GTO's radio wasn't tuned to Tom's station.

 

* * *

 

"So, Jack, did you get lucky on that stakeout last night?" Cob threw back a handful of peanuts, getting salt in his mustache like always. The table was littered with peanut shells and beer bottle caps, and Trellis' toupee, which never stayed on more than an hour because Trellis was acclimatized to the cold store at the packing plant where he worked and always complained Jack over-heated his apartment.

"Yeah, we got him. The dirtbag didn't make his move till three in the morning, though." Jack yawned. "If only criminals would keep better hours." He laid down his cards — a lousy pair of nines — and Oswald crowed and gathered the chips into his already sizable pile.

"If only I could cash these in, man," he said, "I'd be buying breakfast on the Champs-Élysées." Oswald had never left Chicago city limits, but that never stopped him talking about it.

Trellis dealt another hand, and Cob shook his head at Jack and said, "Not that kind of lucky, stupid. Did you get any action?"

"What?" Jack stopped stacking his remaining chips and stared.

"You know—" Cob waggled his eyebrows.

Jack wondered if Cob had lost his mind. "Are you high? Or have you been watching pornos where staking out a whorehouse is the same thing as using one?"

"Weren't you working with that babe, what's her name, Besbriss?" Trellis asked. They'd all seen Elaine's photo in the newspaper when she got a commendation for catching a South Side arsonist, and Trellis and Cob had been on at Jack about her ever since. Mostly it was just joking around and didn't bother Jack one way or the other. Tonight, for some reason, it did.

He picked up his cards but didn't look at them. "No. And even if I had been, I was working. You want your tax dollars to pay me to fool around?"

Trellis grinned and took a swig of beer. "I wouldn't mind. It's about time you got some. How long has it been?"

"Too long," said Cob. "We're married, man! We can't do shit. How're we supposed to live vicariously through you if you never do nothing?"

"Speak for yourself," said Trellis. "I don't have time to live vicariously: I got teenagers."

Jack felt in his pocket for a cigar. "Would you shut up and play?"

Oswald folded. "If it wasn't the lovely Elaine, who were you working with?"

"I got a new partner," said Jack shortly. "Ray Kowalski. Skinny white guy, no tact."

Cob looked disappointed. "No more Elaine?"

"No." Elaine was a good cop, but Ray was a step up, even if he was a loose cannon and an asshole. He had a decade of experience on Elaine, and he and Jack had the potential to do some real police work, crack some serious cases. But Jack didn't want to get into that with the guys. They wouldn't understand. "Are you in or are you out?"

"I'm in," said Cob, and threw a couple of chips into the pot.

They played the rest of the round in silence, until Oswald won with a straight.

Jack puffed on his cigar. "Hey, any of you guys want to get together sometime and play some jazz?"

 

* * *

 

Jack spent a quiet Saturday: he tidied up from the poker game and cleaned out his refrigerator; he collected his car from the shop; he did laundry and watched basketball on TV; and he helped Oswald unearth his grandmother's ancient baby grand from the basement of Oswald's parents' house and ended up staying for dinner.

On Sunday he called his own parents and then got a few pages into the newspaper before he decided he needed his reading glasses, which he'd left at work, and some more cream for his coffee.

Ray was hunched over his desk at the station, engrossed in case files. He had a frown of concentration and his hands were making fists in his hair.

"Working Sunday, Kowalski?" Jack stood over him, feeling superior. Maybe he was a failed rimshot guy like Ray had said, but Ray couldn't have much of a life himself if he was spending his weekend doing paperwork.

"Figured I had some catching up to do." Ray looked up. He was wearing a worn gray sweatshirt and khakis, and he was unshaven, but his blue eyes were serious. "Listen, I'm an asshole."

"Forget it." The resentment Jack had been carrying around all weekend eased. He pulled up a chair and propped his feet on the corner of Ray's desk, studying the shine on his shoes and ignoring a weird impulse to reach out and fix the mess that was Ray's hair. "You want some background on those?"

"Yeah." Ray gave him a small smile, then dropped his gaze back to the files. "Thanks."

So they spent the afternoon going over Jack's half-dozen open cases, tossing ideas around and planning their next steps. Around six o'clock, Jack looked out the window where the sky was darkening, and said, "You want to go and get something to eat?"

"Oh," said Ray. "Uh, no. Thanks. I'm— I got plans." He closed the file they'd been working through and stretched his arms over his head, arching his back.

Jack stood up. "Whatever." He went to fish his glasses out of his desk drawer.

Ray followed him over. "It's just— No, listen." He held up his hands as Jack started to cut him off. "It's like this, okay? My whole life, I've been a satellite — first my wife, then Fraser. I was whoever they needed me to be, like I was undercover the whole time." He spoke fast, in a low voice. "I can't keep latching onto the next person who comes along, you know? I got to figure out who I am when I'm just me."

Jack looked down at his glasses, thin-rimmed and dignified — the opposite of Ray's heavy ones. He shrugged. "Do whatever you have to do. I'm going to get some dinner."

 

* * *

 

The next morning, Ray had shaved part of his face.

Welsh took one look at him. "Kowalski, lose the goatee."

As soon as Welsh retreated to his office, Ray stomped over to his desk, threw himself into his chair and slumped over the blotter with his head on his arms. Jack got déjà vu, but he couldn't work out why.

 

* * *

 

Wellesley's business partner, Steve Vargha, had a nasty streak. "Anything happens to Wellesley, you two are dead meat," he said. "I'm telling you."

"Shut up, Steve!" said his lawyer.

"Listen, pal," snarled Ray. "Your friend is in the clink and he's staying in the clink. You do anything stupid to try and help him, you'll be joining him." He sounded like he was spoiling for a fight himself.

Vargha's lawyer made some notes. "Naturally, I'll be reporting these intimidation tactics."

"Report my ass," Ray told him, standing with his hands on his hips.

"Kowalski!"

But Vargha rose to the bait, and he had about forty pounds on Ray and fists like sledgehammers. He lunged across the table furiously, shrugged off his lawyer's restraining hand, and swung at Ray, all his weight behind the blow. It caught Ray's jaw with a crunch, snapping his head back. And then Vargha shoved the table aside with a loud scraping sound, and he had a clear shot.

Ray's own fists were raised now like he was ready to try and pummel Vargha to a pulp.

Great.

Vargha leaned left and jabbed right, easily bypassing Ray's defense, punching him in the stomach and sending him staggering into the wall with an oof.

Jack grabbed Vargha's wrist before he could follow that up with an uppercut and break Ray's nose. He slammed him against the wall. "That's assaulting a police officer," he said and looked over his shoulder, jolted by the sight of blood on Ray's face. "You okay?"

"I'm good." Ray dabbed at his split lip with a handkerchief, but despite the blood in his goatee, he looked better than he had all day. Some of the tension that had hung around him like a storm cloud had boiled off.

"Maybe you should get back into boxing," Jack told him.

"Nah, that was a Stella thing," said Ray. "I mean, she hated it, but she was the reason I started."

Jack shrugged. "Your call." He cuffed Vargha and took him down to Processing, thinking that if Ray was going to go around antagonizing every asshole they met, their bookings were going to outnumber the suspects on their cases. No doubt Lieutenant Welsh would have something to say about that.

 

* * *

 

It was a long week. Ray shaved his goatee off and then got an earring, until Welsh put the kibosh on that too. Jack spent three evenings out of four practicing the drums until his neighbors complained they couldn't hear their stereo. He and Ray solved a homicide (the bookie did it) and a case of identity theft. And on Thursday Elaine pulled Jack aside in the break-room.

"How's Ray settling in?"

"Why is everyone so concerned about Kowalski?" replied Jack, annoyed. "What about me? I'm the one with the combination ice cube/hand grenade for a partner. No one ever asks about me."

She held up her hands. "Okay, okay. How are you doing?"

"I'm fine," he snapped, and strode back to the bullpen, where Ray had just added two and two and got their third solve of the week.

"Let's go pick him up," said Ray, checking that his gun was loaded.

Jack knew he should be pleased. Instead he was inexplicably irritated. Ray was a good partner, a good cop, but there was something about him that set Jack on edge. Maybe he was too much like Louis, or maybe it was that Ray was trying to make Jack too much like Fraser. Either way, by the time Friday rolled around, the promise of clock-out time was the only thing keeping Jack going.

But that afternoon, Ray stopped hammering away at his typewriter, putting his share of the reports together, and came over. "Hey."

"What?" The landlord's name was long and European and had more consonants than should be legal. Jack copied it carefully from the case file into his section of the report.

Ray bent forward to read over his shoulder, then straightened again and stuck his hands in his pockets. "Still got room for me at your poker table?"

Jack glanced up, surprised. "Sure. Why not," he said, before he could stop himself. Damn! So much for getting away from the pressures of work.

But then Ray smiled and Jack forgot all about the week of frustrations and frayed nerves. He looked down at his typewriter before he could smile back. "First I've got to finish this stupid report."

"Hell is paperwork," Ray agreed. "I'm getting a cup of coffee. You want one?"

"Thanks." Jack hit an R instead of a T, and reached for the White-Out.

"Black with sugar, right?" But Ray disappeared through the bullpen door before Jack could say yes.

 

* * *

 

At the poker table that night, Trellis won the first hand, then turned to Ray and said, "What's your story? You got a family? Where were you before you transferred to Jack's precinct?"

"I've been away. Just got back." Ray took a swallow of beer. "And no, no family."

"Didn't you have a partner before?" asked Cob, and scratched the corner of his mustache, which was one of the tells he kept trying to kick. It made Oswald grin.

"No, I did. He moved to Canada," Ray told them, looking around at Jack's friends' curious faces.

"To get away from you, huh?" Cob winked. "What did you do — shoot him? Get him arrested? Sleep with his wife?"

Jack threw fifty dollars of chips into the pot. "It was the Mountie — he got the opportunity to go home."

"To the Arctic? Man!" Cob whistled softly. "Why wouldn't you stay in Chicago if you had the choice?"

"It doesn't sound so bad to me." Trellis wiped sweat from his forehead, but kept his toupee on. It was a losing battle.

"Maybe he didn't have the choice," said Oswald. "I raise fifty."

Cob pointed the neck of his beer bottle at Ray. "You're gonna look after Jack, right? We can count on you?"

"Cob," said Jack, embarrassed.

But Ray looked him right in the eye. "Yeah. You can count on me."

"Okay, then. Good," said Oswald, and tossed his cards on the table. "Three aces."

"Aw, fuck." Ray dropped his cards, shaking his head.

"Stealth Bomb Oswald," said Trellis, hooting. "Hey, did you make the change from peanuts to pretzels yet?"

"I told you," said Oswald, slapping his big belly, "nothing doing. I am not setting the menu just to suit your sorry ass."

"Menu?" repeated Trellis. "Bar snacks are not a menu."

Oswald flipped him the bird. "I'm trying to get the boss to switch to tapas, anyway. Classier."

"Oswald manages the bar on the corner, Monday through Thursday," Jack explained to Ray.

"A bar that is now in possession of a fully tuned piano," said Oswald, and high-fived Jack.

Jack pointed his unlit cigar at Cob. "Did you ask your brother if you can borrow his trumpet, like you said?"

"Jazz band, huh?" said Ray.

"That's the plan, Stan," said Trellis, giving up and dumping his toupee on the table next to his chips. The dome of his head shone with sweat.

"Don't—" Ray bit off whatever he was going to say. "It's Ray."

"It's just an expression, Kowalski," said Jack. Did the guy have to be so touchy? "I fold."

 

* * *

 

During a break in play, while Oswald was taking a leak and Cob was in the kitchen microwaving a pizza, Ray went over to the bookcase where Jack's games and photos and other knickknacks were gathering dust.

"You have a sextant," said Ray, picking it up and examining it.

"A whalebone sextant," said Jack. "It was a gift." He went over to look. He'd had the thing so long, he didn't notice it anymore.

Ray shook his head. "Here in Chicago? Jesus."

"The sextant? It's a conversation piece," called Trellis from the table.

"You could say that," said Cob, bringing in a plate of pizza, "given the number of conversations we've had that started with 'What kind of mook would give you a whalebone sextant?'"

"He's not a mook — he's Canadian," said Jack so Ray wouldn't have to.

Ray looked at Jack and nodded slowly. "He was a certified freak."

"And a good cop," said Jack.

Ray grinned. "Oh, no doubt about that."

"You miss him?" They were drunk enough that Jack could ask, even with Cob and Trellis listening in.

Ray ducked his head. "I don't know. He's better off in Canada, you know? He was never happy here, and you should've seen his face when he was surrounded with icefield as far as the eye could see."

"I was asking about you." Jack touched his arm.

Ray put the sextant back on the shelf and met his gaze. "Me? I'm okay. I'm good."

Jack stepped away, suddenly self-conscious, and Cob said, "Glad to hear it. Come and get a slice."

 

* * *

 

On Monday afternoon in the course of routine enquiries into an attempted homicide, a glazier's apprentice with a rifle opened fire on them.

One second Jack was standing in the doorway of a workshop full of vertically stacked sheets of glass, identifying himself as a member of the Chicago PD. The next, he was tasting mortar, pressed hard up against the dank brick wall outside, with Ray's hand jammed between his shoulder blades.

"I guess Holkins is our guy," Ray murmured in Jack's ear. "Good thing he can't shoot for shit."

From inside came a blast of gunfire and smashing glass, and the whole thing was a hell of a mess, but Jack hardly noticed, too distracted by his body's response to Ray's rough treatment: alert, heart pounding, skin flushed. Turned on. Jack could smell him, mixed in with the brick dust.

Ray's hand lessened its pressure, and Jack jerked away before Ray could notice and straightened his suit jacket with a sharp tug.

"L. Wilson's going to be pissed," said Ray, pointing at the sign above the door: L. Wilson & Co, Master Glaziers est. 1976.

Jack took out his gun. "I'll take the side entrance." He started down the alley next to the building without waiting for an answer, forcing his attention back to the case, to the lunatic inside who seemed to have far too much ammo and a guilty conscience, and away from his sudden, aberrant reaction to his partner. Christ! Kowalski?! Apparently not getting laid for over six months was screwing with Jack's sanity.

There was another volley of gunfire followed by more crashing tinkling sounds and muffled cursing. Jack reached the open side door and snuck in, Glock at the ready.

Holkins seemed to be aiming at a large wooden cabinet off to the right, but if Ray was there, he wasn't returning fire. "Chicago PD," he called from somewhere near the door — Jack couldn't tell exactly where. "Detective Ray Kowalski. Come on, kid, give it up."

"Like hell," said Holkins. "You know, don't you? You know about Carrie and the drugs. You know everything. Well, know this: I ain't going to prison."

"Anything you say can be taken down and used against you in court," said Ray, "so shut up and drop your weapon before you dig yourself in any deeper." He stuck his head around the corner of the cabinet, and Jack moved in, treading carefully on the broken glass scattered on the floor, before Holkins could notice.

"You'll never take me alive," Holkins declared. "I'll take you out first."

Jack pressed the barrel of his gun to the side of Holkins' neck, under his ear. "And I'll win the lottery and retire to the Bahamas. Drop your weapon."

In the gloom Holkins' knuckles whitened on the butt of his rifle. He was shaking and sweat beaded his forehead.

"Drop it!" Jack jabbed him hard, and the rifle clattered to the floor.

"Good work," said Ray, stepping out from behind the partition.

Jack ignored him and cuffed the kid.

The rest of the day Jack kept his distance from Ray. The crazy feeling didn't come back, thank Christ, so after a while he relaxed. It had been brought on by gunfire and adrenalin — nothing to do with Ray himself, not the way he sprawled in his desk chair with a toothpick tucked in the corner of his mouth, not the way Jack kept wanting to reach over and test the texture of his hair, find out if it was soft or crunchy with hair products. That was all bullshit. Jack paid attention to work, to getting through the day, and when Ray came over, sipping a cup of coffee, and said, "What's up? Did I do something?" Jack shrugged and said, "It's nothing. I'm just tired."

But that evening, he practiced his cushion-stuffed drums so hard he put a drumstick through one of the skins.

 

* * *

 

They had their first jazz practice the next night: Oswald on piano, Cob on trombone, Mason — a friend of Cob's — on the double bass and Jack on drums. They got together in the basement of Oswald's bar. It took Jack forty minutes to haul his drum kit down his apartment stairs and pack it into the car, drive it five hundred feet and then carry it down to the basement and set up. Jack didn't care. It was worth it.

The noise they made could only charitably be described as music, let alone jazz, but by the end of the evening Jack and Mason had a rhythm going, Oswald was finding his groove — long ago piano lessons from his grandmother finally paying off — and the painful squeals from Cob's trombone had mostly stopped.

Oswald clapped when they were done. "Aw, man, that was a buzz! This was a great idea. You know, Bert Hanover's brother's in the record business. We should invite him down to listen in sometime."

"You're kidding, right?" said Cob. "Were you even listening? Did you hear me?"

Jack laughed. "Maybe we should practice some more before we think about a career change."

"Yeah, yeah. Next practice is Saturday, right?" Oswald was almost bouncing on his toes.

"Right," said Jack. "And thanks for letting me leave my drums here, you know? My landlord was about to write me an eviction notice."

"I know what you mean," said Cob. "Alice starts talking divorce every time I get the 'bone out to practice."

"Maybe she feels left out," Mason told him, poking him in the ribs with his bow. "Maybe she thinks she should be the one playing your bone."

Cob groaned. "I asked for that, didn't I?"

Oswald grinned and squeezed Jack's shoulder. "No problem, Jack. Just take the sticks with you and put that dust sheet over them so the other bar staff don't try and play 'em."

His hand fell away. Jack barely felt a thing.

 

* * *

 

A couple of days later, Ray came to work in a pinstriped suit, with polished shoes and even a tie. It took a few minutes for Jack to figure out what that meant, and when he did, he pulled Ray into the alcove between the photocopier and the filing cabinets to get things straight. There wasn't much room, but it was better than saying anything in the middle of the bullpen with Welsh stomping around complaining about the Mayor's office.

Jack kept his voice down. "I know you're looking for a new identity, Kowalski, but don't imprint on me, okay? I'm not your mother duck."

"I know that," said Ray, sullen as James Dean. He caught Jack's gaze and held it, his eyes dark like he was sending a silent challenge. Jack looked away.

"This suit — it looks good, but it's not you," he said.

In his peripheral vision he saw Ray shrug. "I was just trying it out."

"You know, mostly we don't get to choose who we are," Jack told him. "It just happens. You can't construct a personality like you're constructing a case file."

"Okay, okay, I got the message." Ray walked away, the back of his neck flushed.

Jack sighed. Touchy.

 

* * *

 

"Hey, Huey, what're you doing tonight?" Elaine caught up with Jack in the hallway by Interview One.

"Going home," said Jack. "Relaxing. Getting some sleep."

"Wrong answer!" She grinned up at him. "You're playing pickup. Come on — you know you want to."

Jack hesitated, but it did sound like a good idea. All week he and Ray had been going through files and driving around chasing leads. He could use some exercise. "Okay. What time?"

 

* * *

 

Last time they played basketball, it had been Elaine, Shannon O'Malley from processing, four guys from lockup, Jack, and Tom, who hadn't started working as a DJ yet. This time it was Elaine, Shannon, a new girl Yvette who was about six foot two, three guys from lockup, Jack and Ray.

Yvette turned out to be a shark. She looked willowy and relaxed, but when she got her hand on the ball, she flew like the wind and she had one of the best slam dunks Jack had ever seen on a woman.

Meanwhile, Ray was all arms and legs, and couldn't shoot to save himself, but somehow Jack found himself watching him anyway — not critically or analytically, but just watching him.

"Huey!" called Elaine, and passed him the ball, and it was only by the grace of God that Jack remembered which hoop was theirs. He ducked around Shannon's grasping hands and shot. The ball teetered on the rim for an agonizing moment, then fell through the hoop. Not his best work, but hell, it still counted.

Ray slapped his back. He was red-cheeked from exertion and there was a trail of sweat down the side of his face. His smile was warm.

Jack wiped his own face on his forearm and grinned back.

"Six-ten," said one of the lockup guys, and Jack turned away from the flash of confusion on Ray's face and went back to the game, trying not to think about it.

 

* * *

 

They won the game 48-32. In the showers afterward, Ray was quiet. He kept his eyes straight ahead and didn't look at anyone. Jack caught glimpses of him — the curve of his spine, the angle of his neck as he dried his hair, his hands tying his shoes — while he himself joked around with the lockup guys and changed quickly. He slung his gym bag over his shoulder. "See you tomorrow."

"That you will," said Connolly.

"Hey, Jack, wait up." Ray came up beside him, but didn't say any more until they reached the community center parking lot. Then he stopped. "You, uh, you want to come over to my place, watch some hockey, eat some pizza?"

Jack looked at him, then glanced away at the street lights and the city. It was cold enough there was a hint of snow in the air, and Jack couldn't fool himself anymore: he was attracted to Ray, and it seemed like there was a reasonable chance it cut both ways. On the other hand, that didn't mean they had to do anything about it. Maybe if they talked it out, they could figure out how to keep working together without things getting weird. Jack liked working with Ray, goofball asshole that he was. He was getting used to it.

Down the road, a siren started up. Ray shifted his weight to one hip and said, "It's just pizza, Jack. It's not a marriage proposal."

Jack gave him a withering look, but lowered his gym bag and swapped hands so he could get out his car keys. "Sure. Why not?"

 

* * *

 

Ray's place was small and cluttered. There was a bicycle on the wall with a Native American dream-catcher hooked on its handlebars and a chess set on the breakfast bar. Ray caught Jack looking at the chess pieces and said, "You play?"

"I've been known to," said Jack. Coming here was seeming less and less like a good idea, but it was too late to back out now.

Ray cleared a pile of laundry off the couch. "Make yourself at home. I'll, uh—" He disappeared down the hallway with his arms full of clean jeans and t-shirts and socks.

Jack picked his way through the newspapers, magazines and empty soda cans on the coffee table until he found the remote control, and switched on ESPN. It was hockey all right, but the players were wearing skirts and it wasn't on ice.

"Women's field hockey?" he said, when Ray came back in the room.

"You're kidding." Ray fished his glasses out of his pocket and put them on so he could peer at the screen. "Damn! I must've read the listings wrong."

"It's okay. We can watch this." This was awkward enough without Ray tying himself up in knots.

So Ray ordered a pizza and they sat side by side on the couch and watched girls with sticks run around after a ball.

"This needs more fighting," said Ray after five minutes.

After ten, Jack said, "What it needs is more ice."

But that wasn't the field hockey's fault. It was more that he was too aware of Ray sitting next to him, freshly showered and loose-limbed, picking at a small hole in his jeans. Only real hockey could compete with that.

Ray took the remote control out of Jack's hand — the brief brush of his fingers sending small shivers up Jack's arm — and switched it off. "Pizza shouldn't be too long," he said into the heavy silence that followed.

Jack looked down at his own hands clasped in his lap. "You want to play some chess?" he asked, without much optimism. The chess set was probably as much for show as the bicycle.

But Ray surprised him. "I am all over that."

Ray cleared a space on the kitchen table and set down the chess set. "You can be white," he said, swiveling the board so the pieces were lined up in front of Jack.

Jack turned it back. "Why would I want to be white? I'm black."

"I know, I know." Ray half-smiled, like he wasn't sure if Jack was serious. "I meant 'cause white goes first."

"I'm black and I go first," said Jack.

"Okay." Ray grinned, his head bent over the board, eyelashes fanning his cheeks, and Jack lost any interest in chess, but he made himself reach out and slide a pawn forward anyway.

Ray watched his hand pull back like he was mesmerized or stoned, before blinking down at his own pieces. He was as transparent as cling film — Jack had no idea how he'd survived undercover.

After a few turns they hit their stride, both getting engrossed in the game. They were pretty evenly matched, which meant neither of them was very good, but Ray's seemingly random play was starting to fit a pattern. He played like he was moving hockey players around the board — which was stupid when you remembered that there were no goals in chess, but somehow worked for Ray anyway. Half of Jack's pieces were in the penalty box.

Ray's foot nudged up against Jack's under the table and stayed there. Jack wrestled with himself a moment, then moved away. He didn't say anything.

The tips of Ray's ears went pink and he missed Jack's queen's attack on his knight.

Fuck it, thought Jack, and moved his foot back. He'd never played footsie with a guy before, but then he'd never wanted to kiss one either, or undress one or— He bit his lip.

"Checkmate," said Ray.

"What?" Jack looked at the board. Ray was right — he had him all sewn up. Jack tucked his feet under his chair. "You know," he said, and stopped.

"What?" Ray took off his glasses, folded his arms on the table, hunched forward and looked at him.

"I used to say life's a crap shoot," said Jack turning the white queen over and over in his hands. "That there's two million women on this planet you could be happy with. You meet one and you ask yourself is this number one or number two million or number five hundred and twelve? You could settle for five hundred and twelve, and tomorrow meet number eighteen."

"Huh," said Ray. The doorbell rang, and he jumped up and went to answer it. "Where's Sandor?"

"It's his night off," said the girl.

"Oh. Right." Jack watched while Ray over-tipped her, took the pizza and came back to the table. He shoved the chessboard aside so Ray could set down the pizza.

Ray sat down and took a bite, and there was tension in his face and in every line of his body. Jack felt it too, in his throat, across his shoulders, churning his stomach.

Ray looked him in the eye. "This theory of yours. What if not all of the women are women?"

Jack helped himself to a slice without looking away. "Men, women, same principle."

Ray's expression was serious, and Jack could hardly believe they were talking about this. He'd always prided himself on being level-headed, on thinking things through. It was part of what made him a good cop — he didn't let fear or feelings get in the way of doing what needed to be done. He wasn't impulsive like Ray.

If anything was going to happen here, Ray was going to have to make the first move.

As if Ray knew that, as if he'd heard Jack's thoughts, he put his pizza slice back in the box. He ran his crooked thumb along his cheap ball-chain bracelet and cleared his throat. "So. What number am I?"

Jack swallowed. "That's the point, Kowalski." His voice sounded rough, even to himself. "You can't tell. There's no way of knowing. That's exactly the point."

"Okay," said Ray. His gaze flicked to Jack's mouth, then up again. "You hungry?"

In truth, Jack was starving, but he put his slice back in the box and wiped his fingers on a paper napkin. "No."

"This is a really dumb idea."

There was no arguing with that. This was a disaster in the making, and Jack knew it like he had a sworn affidavit from a priest. "Really, really dumb," he said. "Is that going to stop you?"

And Ray shook his head, a short, sharp gesture, and the earth fell away. Jack stood up, still clutching his greasy paper napkin. Ray's chair scraped the linoleum, and they both side-stepped the table like it was choreographed.

Ray's lips were parted, his hair soft from the shower, and Jack gave in to unexpected tenderness — which should've set off alarm bells right there except that Jack's internal security system had apparently blown all its fuses — and combed his fingers through the short strands above Ray's ear.

Ray's breath caught, and he rested his hand on Jack's chest and leaned into the touch, his eyelids drooping, his pulse fluttering so fast at the base of his neck that Jack actually had a moment's concern for his health.

Then Ray curved his other hand around the side of Jack's neck, tugged him forward and pressed his lips to Jack's, and Ray's cardiac safety was forgotten in the rush to pull him close and kiss him back.

Ray was only a couple of inches shorter than Jack, lean and strong in his arms, his fingers hot on Jack's neck. He let Jack into his mouth, opening to him like he had nothing to lose, no secrets to guard.

His hand slid to Jack's waist, bringing them even closer together — chest to chest, groin to groin. It was shocking and glorious. Fleetingly, Jack wondered what the hell he'd been doing with his life, if not this.

He tore his mouth away, fighting desire, buried his face in Ray's hair where he'd first touched him and inhaled the scent of shampoo and skin. "I didn't come here for this," he said. "I came so we could talk it out, figure out how to work around it."

Ray pulled back to look at him. "Is that what you want?" His lips were swollen and Christ, Jack needed to taste them again.

"I don't know what I want," Jack lied. It was easier than saying, I want you. I don't want to be gay. I don't want my life to be complicated. "How about you?"

"I, uh." Ray reddened, stuck his chin out. They were still holding each other, sharing breath, and Jack had to pull back further to see his face when he spoke. "I want to suck you."

If Jack had been turned on from making out, now he was painfully hard. He groaned. "Christ. Okay. Yeah."

"Good." Ray kissed him again, his stubble coarse against Jack's lips and chin, and while they tangled tongues and their hands roamed across and down each other's backs, he guided them to the living area, bumping them into an armchair, then the wall and ending up at the couch.

"You don't want to take this to the bedroom?" Jack had only dated women before, and in his experience, women preferred to have sex in bed. Then again, women didn't usually come right out and say they wanted to blow him. Maybe he'd been dating the wrong women.

"Too far away." Ray reached for the waist of Jack's pants, and Jack shuddered while Ray unfastened them and pushed them and his briefs down.

It was embarrassing and erotic, and Jack was torn between anticipation and expecting that any second the Candid Camera crew would spring through the door and yell, "Surprise!"

It didn't happen. Nothing happened except Ray's hand delving below the hem of Jack's shirt and wrapping around his dick.

"Oh Christ," said Jack. "Harder."

"Huh?" Ray was staring at his hand, at Jack's dick. He licked his lips. "Sit down. And, uh, this is my first time, okay? Don't expect too much."

Jack sat on the couch — not so much because Ray'd told him to as because his legs wouldn't support him anymore.

Ray kicked the coffee table back without looking, sending a couple of empty cans tumbling to the floor, and knelt down. Pants and underwear stopped Jack from spreading his legs as wide as he wanted, but between the two of them they managed to get the clothes out of the way.

He was sitting bare-assed on Ray's couch and Ray was about to— Ray was going to — He was

He was licking Jack's dick.

There was a crease between Ray's eyebrows, and his grip loosened again, but after a few tentative seconds, he seemed to get himself together. His forehead cleared, he tightened his hand and settled into a firm steady stroking rhythm, sucking the head of Jack's cock right into his mouth.

Jack watched slack-jawed and stupid, and struggled not to push up. He held still, his thighs trembling with the effort, and even so it felt so good he wasn't sure he could take it.

Ray's fingers bit into his thighs, and Jack groaned and covered Ray's hand. "Fuck!" Pleasure kept building and building, and when he came, he closed his eyes and swore into the dark, and floated through it, his only connections to anything Ray's mouth and his hands, and the rough couch fabric under his ass.

He forced his eyes open, scared of what he'd see on Ray's face and still in the back of his mind expecting Candid Camera to make an appearance, but Ray was watching him with no sign of disgust, regret or mockery.

Jack held his gaze as Ray slowly and deliberately swallowed.

"You okay?" said Ray.

Jack didn't know how to answer. "Take off your clothes."

Ray stared at him a moment, then stood up, toed off his sneakers and yanked his sweatshirt over his head. Jack unbuttoned his own shirt and bent down to untie his shoelaces and get his pants and briefs all the way off. When he sat up again, he got a quick glimpse of pale skin, small nipples and brown-haired pits before Ray was on him, pushing him sideways and falling with him, hands and mouth everywhere, erection pressed up against Jack's hip.

Their kiss tasted of Jack and maybe it was weird he wasn't freaking out about this, but Ray was fucking beautiful and eager as anything, and Jack was still riding his orgasm buzz. He wanted more. He twisted so there was some space between them and reached down to jerk Ray off. "Tell me what you like."

Ray turned his head to the side, panting harshly. "Jesus, it's— that's— Oh yeah. Oh fuck, yeah!"

He thrust into Jack's fist, his leg hitched over Jack's thigh for leverage, and he hung on, kissing Jack wildly and gasping into his mouth. "Fuck," he groaned again, almost a wail, and then he was spilling hot and wet between them, and Jack was shaking nearly as much as Ray was.

They collapsed together, boneless, on the too-short couch. "Next time," said Ray fuzzily into Jack's shoulder. "Next time you can fuck me."

"Christ," said Jack. "You heard of taking things slow?"

Ray looked up through his eyelashes. "You kidding me? I've been wanting this for weeks now. I've been dreaming about it."

"How's it measuring up?" Jack asked, not sure he wanted to know.

"The real thing is messier," said Ray. "Poor fucking couch."

"All sweaty and come-stained," said Jack.

"Like me." Ray got up on one elbow and looked down at him. "The real thing is better. A lot better." He kissed Jack slow and deep, and Jack thought, This is it. This is what a train-wreck feels like. It felt fantastic.

 

* * *

 

Cold pizza, naked Ray and late night TV. Jack knew he should go home, but these were hard things to walk away from, especially when he didn't know what would happen tomorrow.

Leno cut to commercial, and Jack muted the TV and tightened his arm around Ray's skinny shoulders. "So," he said, "you and Fraser?"

Ray laughed. "Like this? Christ, no!" He elbowed Jack in the ribs, then took his hand and bent the fingers back gently. "I was hung up on Stella and he was — he was hung up on Vecchio. So I mean, I'm not blind, but no. We never."

Jack nodded, not sure if he was relieved because he didn't want to be compared to the Mountie or because of something more fundamental. "Do you miss him?"

He'd asked that before, but it was different now.

"I don't know," said Ray, propping his feet on the coffee table next to Jack's. "I mean, yeah, I miss him. He was my partner, you know? And my friend. But it's also like — like I was trying too hard. I realized that out on the ice, that I didn't even know who I was, when I was around him. I was so caught up in being Vecchio, being Fraser's friend that I lost sight of me. That's no basis for anything."

Jack looked at their feet, two white, two black. "Do you know who you are now?"

Ray ducked his head and smiled. "I'm getting there." He pushed Jack back against the arm of the couch and kissed him. "I'm good." Then he yawned. "You want to stay over?"

"No, I—" Jack yawned too. "I should get home. Get some sleep."

"You could sleep here." Ray narrowed his eyes wickedly, then laughed. "Okay, okay. Listen, this — we're good, right? I mean, you're not going to shun me and tell all your friends I have cooties."

Jack ruffled Ray's hair. "I'm not going to kiss you in the bullpen, either."

"Okay, okay. Business as usual." Ray nudged Jack's shoulder with his chin. "If I can keep my hands off you."

Jack smacked his thigh.

"And tomorrow night?"

"What day is it? I got band practice tomorrow and poker on Friday. You coming to poker?" It seemed like a terrible idea — the guys would spot this in a second — but he couldn't not ask.

"Nah, better not," said Ray, and Jack relaxed. It was going to be okay. "Call me when you're done?"

"It'll be late."

Ray kissed him. "Call anyway."

 

* * *

 

Outside Ray's building, sitting in his car, Jack leaned his head on the steering wheel and quietly, thoroughly freaked out.

 

* * *

 

The next day was like a kaleidoscope, everything fractured and confusing, and Ray at the center of all of it, the only thing Jack could focus on. Jack was so disoriented he honestly wasn't sure if he had a fever, but he didn't have any other symptoms. He was just tired from lying awake all night wondering if this was the best or worst thing to ever happen to him.

And then a perp pulled out a pistol in the middle of an interview, making his lawyer scream.

Jack froze. Helplessly, he watched Joe Miller flick off the safety, shout something abusive and put three bullets through the one-way glass to the empty observation room next door, missing Ray by bare inches.

Large jagged splinters of glass sliced the air and crashed to the ground.

Ray grabbed Miller's arm, cuffed him and yelled at him until Welsh burst in. "What happened?"

Ray glanced at Jack, still paralyzed, and back to the Lieu. "Perp had a gun."

"You didn't check him?" Welsh looked furious.

Jack cringed.

"No, we did." Ray raked his hand through his hair. "Boot gun. How many years' bad luck for mirror glass the size of a wall?"

In the hallway outside, people were shouting at other people to move it along, what you never seen a criminal use a gun before?

"Jesus H. Christ," said Welsh. "Okay, get him out of here. I'll send someone in to clean up."

Ray handed Miller off to a uniform, and guided Jack out of the glass-strewn room and down the hall to the supply closet. "What the hell just happened?" he asked before he even got the door shut.

The small square room flooded with light, and Ray peered at Jack and his voice softened. "Hey, are you okay?"

"No," said Jack. He was drenched with sweat, his heart and mind both racing. He couldn't think. He hadn't done a thing to protect either of them or anyone else at the station. "Miller shot you."

"He shot at me," Ray corrected. "I know — I was there. And?"

"And I got scared. It was like—" Like the warmth that had been distracting him all day had suddenly turned dark and menacing, leaving him catatonic and unable to deal with the reality of a bad guy with a loaded weapon.

Jack had spent his career boxing up his emotions and putting them aside. Under threat, he usually ignored the fear and dealt matter-of-factly with the problem, but he hadn't been able to do that this time. It was terrifying to discover how powerful his feelings could be and that he had no idea how to shut them down again. "Jesus, Ray. I can't do this."

But he was drawn forward, despite himself, and when he put his arms around Ray, the adrenaline spike started to ebb.

Ray pushed him away, still wound up but controlling it. "This is bad. This is really bad."

He looked like he wanted to pace, but they were in the supply closet surrounded by shelves of paper and typewriter ribbons and coffee and cleaning products. He fixed Jack with an intense stare instead and maybe it should've been unnerving to be the focus of that much energy, but it wasn't. It was like being alive.

"My brain shut down," Jack tried to explain.

Ray didn't look happy. "It can't do that. We're in the line of fire here."

"I know."

"You have to keep your head. You have to think!"

"If I was thinking, I wouldn't be doing this." Jack grabbed Ray's sweater and dragged him into a long breathless kiss.

After a few seconds, Ray sagged against him, and when he pulled back he looked dazed and disheveled, and like he had an inkling what was going on. His thumb brushed along Jack's jaw. "You never heard of compartmentalization?"

"I've heard of it," said Jack. "But I don't know how to do it."

"But you've done this before." Ray frowned. "You've had girlfriends. Deanne, right? What's the difference? Is it 'cause I'm a guy, 'cause it's secret, what?"

Jack shook his head. He didn't know.

Ray stepped back and leaned against the shelves of paper, looking tired. "What do we do?"

"Maybe we need to give each other some space," said Jack. "Maybe it's just an initial reaction. An adjustment."

"We're partners," said Ray. "Space is kind of hard to come by. And in the meantime, if anyone else shoots at us, we're fruit salad."

Jack rubbed his face. "God, I need a cup of coffee."

"Okay." Ray let them out of the supply closet and into the hallway, which teemed with uniforms and teenaged punks, a woman playing the accordion and three guys in baseball uniforms.

By contrast, the break-room was blessedly quiet. They got coffee and sat across from each other.

Ray squinted across at the bulletin board on the far wall, then put on his glasses to read one of the posters, and something clicked.

"You ever lost a partner?" Jack asked.

Ray raised his eyebrows. "Other than Fraser? How do you mean?"

"I mean lost them dead." Jack hunched forward and stared at his coffee. The coffee looked back impassively. "My second partner, Louis Gardino. He was — he was kind of a weasel, actually, but he was my partner for five years. One night we were out with Vecchio and Fraser. Vecchio got in a fight with a local mob boss, Frank Zuko. Small time but dangerous." Jack spooned sugar into his coffee, stirred it, put the spoon down with a clink.

"Everyone knew Zuko hated Vecchio. It was common knowledge. And one of Zuko's mooks made a power play. He tried to frame Zuko by putting a bomb in Vecchio's car and pinning it on him. The bomb was meant for Vecchio, but Louis left his coat in the car and when he went to get it—" Jack could still feel the heat of the explosion on his skin, Vecchio and Fraser holding him back. Loss hitting him like a shockwave. "There was nothing we could do."

Ray took off his glasses and folded them. "I'm sorry."

"I mean, Louis—" Jack shook his head. "He wanted to go to the Superbowl. He liked maraschino cherries. He thought not smoking was a sign of weakness and that his sister was the funniest person in the world." Jack pushed his coffee away. "You remind me of him, sometimes."

"Do you— Were you and him—?"

"No way. It's mostly the glasses. But—" Jack looked up and made himself say it. "It was hard enough losing a partner who was only a partner."

Ray leaned forward. "We're cops. There's never going to be any guarantees."

"I know. I'm not—"

"But I'll make you a deal." Ray stuck his chin forward. "I won't die, you don't die."

"Ray—"

"Deal?" Ray held out his hand.

Jack sighed, and shook it. "Deal."

It was stupid and it didn't change anything, but Jack felt lighter anyway. Almost normal.

The next day they got caught up in a fire fight at a domestic violence call out, and Jack did not freeze up. The only fatalities were three half-empty bottles of bourbon. And after that one time in the supply closet, he and Ray didn't kiss again at work. They got together in the evenings whenever they could — long evenings that more often than not turned into early mornings. But at work it was just work. Partners. And slowly things settled into a pattern.

 

* * *

 

"He's taking the freeway." Jack stuck his siren on the dash and followed close as he could on the heels of Mitchell von Crumb in the little red Corvette he'd given his daughter for graduation.

Ray was still calling for backup. "Yeah, he's heading for the airport," he told switchboard and then hung up and hung on.

Von Crumb was veering wildly from lane to lane, leaving a trail of furiously honking cabs and truck drivers in his wake. He kept speeding up regardless, maybe 'cause he thought there was still a chance he'd get away with the three million in stolen bonds, or maybe because, as they later found out, his daughter had broken his arm when he'd tried to steal her car.

The radio crackled. "Guys?" It was Elaine. "We found Cherie von Crumb. She was locked in the basement."

"Guess he didn't have time for anything more original," said Ray.

"She's prepared to testify."

"So we just have to stop her Dad from getting on that plane," said Jack, accelerating as much as he could without endangering the big guy on the Harley in front of them.

"We've alerted airport security," said Elaine, "but Cherie said there's a loaded gun in the glove compartment."

"So we have to keep him out of the airport," Ray finished. "Okay, thanks Elaine." He closed the connection and sat forward in his seat. "Come on, come on!"

"You want to drive?" Jack asked.

"I would," said Ray, "if we had time to trade places."

They were gaining on the Corvette, and Ray stuck his head out the window and tried to shoot out the tires but von Crumb swerved in front of a bus. Jack floored it and followed, tires squealing, and he squeezed into the tight gap in the traffic.

He glanced at Ray, a retort on his lips, and saw a wild light in his eye. Ray was enjoying this, getting off on the chase. The world did a quick one-eighty shift and then it hit Jack too — exhilaration, speed, an arrest so close he could taste it. He almost laughed out loud. "We'll get him," he said and drummed a quick tattoo on the steering wheel. "We'll get you, turd bucket!"

"That's the spirit," said Ray, his eyes scanning ahead. "Hey, road crew coming up."

There was a guy in an orange safety vest holding a Stop sign, and the traffic was slowing in response, even the Corvette.

"We've got him," said Jack.

But the low-slung red car put on a sudden burst of speed and zoomed forward, past the vest guy and through the construction crew, sending hard hats and jackhammers and a wheelbarrow flying.

Jack swung onto the shoulder and careered past the bus and a taxi crammed with women in wedding dresses, but before they could follow von Crumb into the works, the Corvette skidded into a row of traffic cones and tumbled sideways, rolled three-sixty and landed upright with a bounce. Momentum sent it slamming into the back of a dump truck, which groaned and released a huge load of gravel all over the car.

Above the construction crew's shouting and the traffic horns, Jack heard von Crumb shout, "Fuck!"

He grinned.

 

* * *

 

"I didn't do nothing, man!" Reggie Madison pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt and scowled down at the table. "I never even been near the docks. Not that you're gonna believe me."

"If you never been there, how do you explain your fingerprints all over the gun?" said Ray. "Come on, Reggie. We've got a watertight case here. You might as well fill us in. You give us some names, maybe we can cut you a deal."

"I don't know nothing!" Reggie twisted in his seat to look at the door. "Where's my lawyer? I got a right to legal representation!"

Ray braced his arms on the table and looked Reggie dead in the face. "She's on her way. But you know even lawyers can't work miracles."

"Yeah, well, you know I don't get why they keep calling it a justice system." Reggie glared at Ray.

Jacked touched Ray's arm and jerked his head toward the hallway.

Ray nodded. "We're gonna give you some time to think about that," he told Reggie, and followed Jack outside.

Jack headed to the drinking fountain and took a couple of slurps. He wiped his mouth and turned to Ray. "You think he did it?"

"We brought him in. All the evidence points to him." Ray held up his hands, then dropped them again. "He's not exactly your typical criminal mastermind."

"Yeah." Jack shoved his hands in his pockets. "Someone set the kid up."

Ray's eyebrows twitched up. "What happened to you can't save everyone?"

"We can't." Jack lowered his voice. "Doesn't mean we can't try though, right?"

The corner of Ray's mouth turned up, and his gaze was warm. "Okay. Okay, let's go talk to the kid and find out who doesn't like him."

They spent the next week turning over rocks and seeing what crawled out, and trying not to answer Welsh's increasingly exasperated questions about the case. It was hard and dangerous, but they were doing better police work than Jack ever had before. On top of that, the sex was incredible. Maybe sleep deprivation was some kind of aphrodisiac.

After six days' exhaustive investigating, they broke the case. Reggie's girlfriend's brother and his crew had framed him, and that was the least of the crimes Jack and Ray could pin on them. They knocked down the right door and the whole thing folded like a house of cards. And when they finally reported in, Welsh actually smiled.

Ray and Jack celebrated that night with a bottle of scotch and a packet of Trojans.

And Jack lay stretched out after Ray went home, thinking how much he loved this new version of this life. The jazz band was coming together, the department's solve rate was up thanks to him and Ray, and Jack was becoming more and more convinced that his crapshoot theory was crap. Nothing had been like this before. Nothing else could be like this. There wasn't a number three hundred and sixteen or a number thirteen or a number three. There was just Ray. The more time they spent together, the more Jack was sure of that

 

* * *

 

The band played their first gig upstairs at Oswald's bar, and Ray came to listen. The place was respectably busy but not crowded, and Ray's was one of the few white faces present.

Through the first couple of numbers, he looked serious and attentive, watching the band. Jack kept looking for him, checking he was okay, and it was hard to get lost in the music. But then Trellis found Ray and brought him over to sit with his wife and teenage girls. Ray seemed more comfortable, and Jack could give himself up to the rhythm flowing through his fingers and back and forth between the other guys.

When they finished up, Jack was dazed and euphoric. He looked around for Ray, wanting to share the moment, and was disappointed when Trellis said he'd already left.

The band packed up, Jack had a couple of drinks with the guys, who were flying high and tossing around phrases like 'record deal' and 'quit my day-job'. Jack clapped each of them on the shoulder, and told Oswald, "Maybe getting Bert's brother to check us out wasn't such a stupid idea."

"You're on," said Oswald. "I'll call him tomorrow. But hey, we'll need a name." And they all joined in making suggestions and mocking each other and laughing at the top of their voices.

Jack was tired though, and soon enough he slipped his drumsticks into his coat pocket, said good night to the guys and ventured out into the rain.

It had been stormy all day, but now it was torrential and Jack was soaked in seconds.

At home he showered, made hot chocolate and was lying in bed reading when there was a knock at his door. He pulled on a robe and went to answer, thinking he should just give Ray a key and make it official. "You left early," he said as he opened the door.

And it was Ray, but he was drenched from his hair to his boots, dripping in the hallway, pale-faced and shivering, and he didn't meet Jack's eye.

Jack grabbed his cold soggy sleeve and hauled him inside. "What's wrong?"

Ray shook his head, spraying the wall — and Jack — with droplets.

"Fuck," said Jack, and bundled him straight into the bathroom. "Shower, okay? Lots of hot water."

Ray fumbled with his coat zipper.

"You need help?"

"No." He got the coat off and started stripping.

"Shower, then we'll talk." Jack gathered clean towels and a change of clothes that would be ridiculously big on Ray, but they were dry and warm and — well, and Jack got an ache in his throat at the thought of Ray wearing his clothes.

 

* * *

 

"Hot chocolate or scotch?"

"Both." The shower had done Ray good. He was moving now, talking. He roamed the living room, first to the window where he peered out at the storm, then to the stack of CDs by the stereo and finally to the couch.

Jack brought him a double shot and a mug of hot chocolate, and sat down beside him. "Well?"

Ray turned the scotch in his hand a couple of times, then downed it in one. "I think—" He put down his glass. "I think maybe I made a mistake. About us."

Jack's stomach lurched. "What happened? Did Trellis say something?"

"No." Ray rubbed his face. "It's gonna sound stupid."

"Maybe it is stupid."

A flash of amusement lit Ray's face and was gone, and Jack had to clench his hand not to smooth his ruffled hair or pull him close.

"I— tonight. The band. It wasn't what I was expecting."

"What?" Jack frowned.

"I thought it'd be jazz, you know: I got a crush on you, some day he'll come along, nice work if you can get it. But it wasn't. It's the kind that goes around and around in circles and doesn't go anywhere. It was like listening to another language."

Ray'd been right: it did sound stupid, but he seemed genuinely upset about it. "What's that got to do with us?"

Ray got up, went to the bookcase and picked up the whalebone sextant. "I suck at bilingual relationships, okay? Stella and me, Fraser and me— I mean, Fraser and me weren't— but I still— I can't bridge that. I can't learn to like it." He twisted the two halves of the sextant. "Stella spent years trying to teach me about opera but it always sounded like a bunch of people yelling at each other in Italian, and then there was Stan Rogers and Inuit throat gargling, and—" He looked at Jack for the first time since he'd walked in the door. "I can't do that again. And it sucks. It really— because all the signs point to you. If I had a compass. Even this stupid sextant. They all say this is it, right here. But it's fucked up before it even really takes off and—"

Jack went over and scooped him into his arms and did his level best to hug the hell out of him, sextant and all. "First of all," he said into Ray's ear, "you're an idiot. You think I care if you like experimental jazz? You think I want you to be someone else, something different?" He pulled back far enough to look him in the eye. "If you think that, you haven't been paying attention."

The sextant fell to the floor. "Oh."

"Secondly," said Jack, and then didn't know what else to say, so he settled for, "come to bed."

They kissed slow and sweet in the dark, like they were starting over, everything fresh and open and hungry. Jack licked down Ray's body and Ray came in his mouth, and it was a miracle. Something to be grateful for.

"Fuck me," said Ray. "Please. Do it." So Jack rolled him over and lubed them both up and slid into him, care giving way to passion, driving him on till he was stripped down to the bone and all he could hear or taste or smell or feel was Ray.

 

* * *

 

The next morning, Jack woke up with Ray's arms around him, Ray's dick hard against his ass, and he wished they never had to go anywhere or see anyone or do anything but each other. "I need a vacation," he said.

Ray moved behind him. "We need a vacation."

 

* * *

 

The warehouse across the street was dark and quiet, and the rain was steady on the windshield. "Bullitt," said Ray.

Jack puffed on his cigar. "The Man With No Name."

"Raiders of the Lost Ark."

"The Last Boyscout."

Ray stretched. "Nothing is going to happen over there tonight. I got a hunch." He dropped his arm along the back of the seat and rubbed the nape of Jack's neck.

Jack let himself enjoy it for a moment, then straightened his shoulders. "This isn't a drive-in movie, Kowalski."

"I know, and it's a damned shame."

"Only two more hours." Jack turned the key over in his hand one more time, then caught Ray's wrist and pressed it to his palm.

Ray's fingers closed around it and he pulled his hand away to look. He was silent a minute, while the cut metal edges glinted in the shadows of the car. Then he looked across at Jack. "Come here."

"We're working."

"I told you. Nothing's going down here."

"We're working." Jack didn't move.

"I'll keep my eyes open," said Ray. "Come here."

Jack gave in, leaning over to kiss him, quick and hot. Then he pulled back. "You realize you jinxed us. You say nothing's going to happen, and next thing you know, we're in the middle of a mob war."

"Nothing's going to happen," said Ray. He took his keys from the ignition and put Jack's on the ring, then twisted another off. "Here."

"You don't have to." But Jack took it, grinning like an idiot.

"I know," said Ray. "Good thing I'm smart enough to do it anyway." He propped one foot on the dash and sank further into his seat, and they watched the dark, quiet warehouse.

Jack switched on the radio.

"You're listening to Radio WTKY Chicago, and this is Tom Dewey, spinning tunes and taking calls from midnight to six a.m."


 

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