Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Author's Notes: Many thanks to the theantichris and jamethiel_bane, for looking over the first bit and both of them pointing out that, yes, indeed, you can have too much swearing. Written for brooklinegirl for the 2007 due South secrit santa exchange.




I paused before I put my key in the lock. Through the open window I could hear Maria and Tony going at it. She'd reached the screeching stage, which always caused him to bellow, which then caused her to shriek. Christ, right on schedule. Shoved the key in, turned it, and pushed the door open. Mistake. Complete bedlam. Ma and Frannie were going at it in the kitchen, Maria's eldest was somewhere upstairs screaming, "Mom, Tommy hit me," and Frannie's kid was swinging a teddy bear in the living room and wiping out Ma's figurine collection.

I turned around and left, not making a sound. Good thing I told the cab to wait.




"He's got fucking suitcases. Suitcases!"

"Yes. I count three and language. He is my friend, Ray. I would thank you to remember that. Ray and I will—"

"No we will not. You are not offering him our bed. No fu— way," Kowalski protested.

Benny coughed and said, "Understood. I shall set up a cot in my room." His mouth twisted up in a wry grin. "Speaking from experience, it won't be luxurious, but at least you will be warm."

"He's got a home," Kowalski groused, and pointed a frantic finger at the window. Which was the wrong direction, but I was too tired to call him on it. He had a rip in the underarm of his tee shirt. Jesus, he didn't get paid that badly. Couldn't he rustle up some dough to buy some decent skivvies?

"Look at him, Ray," Benny snapped and marched over a closet, grabbed a bunch of linens, and, for Benny, slammed the door. He said with a tight smile, "I'll just be a minute, Ray. You look exhausted."

Jesus, I knew he and Kowalski were humping each other, but I didn't know it was serious. If you can get his Mountie up, then he really cares about you. Course, Kowalski was such a grade-A asshole that even Jesus Christ himself would want to punch him, so maybe it wasn't all that serious. But who am I kidding? Benny only does serious and Benny and serious are a clusterfuck, every goddamned time. Look at him and that Victoria bitch. What am I doing here?

Simple answer. No other place to go.

"That's your last," Kowalski hissed at me, jerked his head toward the beer I was holding.

I toasted him.

He flipped me off. Then he reached for his cell phone and punched speed-dial, his eyes never leaving me for one second. I knew this was coming. I laid my head against the back of the couch. Man, was I beat. Dief pushed a cold nose into my open palm and licked me. Dog kisses. That was what I was reduced to. I scratched his head and watched Kowalski have his little powwow.

"Me. Vecchio's here. You want I maim him or what? No? Yeah… Yeah… Yeah? Oh… No way! Okay… Sure… Don't know… Okay, talk to you soon. Love you." He snapped the phone shut and glared at me.

"She clear me? Swing at me and she'll get all pissed off at you, right?"

He threw his cell phone at me and just missed. It hit the wall.

"Fuck off, Vecchio."




He was waiting for me in the kitchen, a newspaper in one hand, and a cup of coffee the size of an aircraft carrier clutched in the other. He didn't offer me any and I didn't see a coffee maker. Instant. Christ.

It was pretty damn early but no Fraser. I don't sleep in anymore; the Bookman was one of those guys who slept only four hours a night and I got used to it. One last check of the casino at 1:00 a.m., then up at 6:00 a.m. to make sure the cleaning crew was spiffing up the floor for the next day's haul. Half of that job was nothing more than being a jumped up janitorial supervisor. The other half? I'd check the johns then order someone beaten within an inch of their life. No wonder I have nightmares.

Not like I slept at all last night, because Kowalski was making sure I knew the lay of the land. Kowalski probably ramped up the vocals for my benefit; it was loud and the bedrooms must share a wall because every couple of hours it was thudthudthudthudthud. Asshole.

"Fraser's gone to work, so you and I can have it out."

"About what, Stanley?"

I rummaged through the cupboards. I could have instant Folgers, tea, more tea, and, yes, tea. I picked up the kettle. It was pretty full and hot, so Kowalski hadn't been up much before me. Probably heard the shower going and decided to confront me while Benny was out of the picture. Tea it was. At least until I could go out and buy a decent coffeepot. I emptied the kettle, filled it with cold water, and turned on the gas. One thing I learned from Benny? How to make a decent cup of tea. I turned around and faced him.

Jesus, had Benny lost his mind? Kowalski looked five years older than he was, hadn't shaved in at least a couple of days, was as skinny as all hell. We're not even going to mention what he was wearing. I've seen skid row bums with nicer clothes. Okay, not bad looking, I admit, but sweating attitude all the time. High maintenance didn't even begin to describe it. I rolled my hand.

"You and Stel, fucktard."

I pointed at him, "If you weren't so tight with my best friend, I'd kill your sorry ass."

"You could try, Vecchio," he shot back. Then grinned at me. A grin that bordered on psychotic. I knew psychotic. Half those mobbed up guys were nuts. And not nuts where you talk to your imaginary friend type of crazy. But in the, hey, she looks like my ex-girlfriend who dissed me in high school I think I'll kill her type of crazy.

They'd been living here since they got back from their grand adventure. I hadn't seen that coming, but then Benny wasn't your average guy. Stella was speechless for about two minutes, because she'd never pegged Kowalski as anything but one hundred percent hetero (he's got such a thing about breasts, Ray, I just don't get it…), but it didn't bother her any. She'd closed that door a long time ago. In fact, once she got over the fact her hetero ex-husband was taking it up the ass, she was pretty pleased because it got Kowalski off her back once and for all.

Me? Like I said, Benny wasn't average looks wise, personality wise, or temperament wise. They broke the mold. So when I hear he and Kowalski hooked up, my first thought was, thank Christ, Kowalski doesn't have a jacket as long as his arm like that sociopathic, murdering bitch. Benny has one fatal weakness. Someone needs saving, Benny's all over them. Not that I'd given any thought to him swinging both ways, but yeah, it works. I don't think it matters whether that person has a dick or a set of knockers. Got an S.O.S. stamped on their forehead? Benny bellys up to the bar. And this sad S.O.B. sitting in front of me? Call out the St. Bernards.

The only thing that did surprise me was that they didn't stay up in the frozen tundra, making snow angels and killing bears, whatever you do up there. Whatever Kowalski was working he was doing it right, because I never knew what a happy Benny looked like until I saw him up there.

What Benny owns you could put in a suitcase, so why they had a two-bedroom place was a mystery. There was Benny's guitar, a dog bed that didn't have one single hair on it (ha! Kowalski, the wolf owns your furniture), some books (call it intuition, but I don't think that "The Tao of Physics" and "Birds of the Arctic" belonged to the Polack), and nothing else. All four walls were covered in posters of mountains and trees and snow, so it was sort of Canada light in there. The cot wasn't bad and the radiator worked, so I didn't freeze my ass off. I could park it here until I found my own place. No way was I going back to Ma's.

"Not that it's any of your goddamned business, Stanley, but I'll give you this. Tell me about you and Benny, then I'll tell you about me and Stella."

Not like there was a whole lot to tell. You fall in lust, you think it's love, six months later you wake up and this pretty blonde is watching you with nothing but pity in her eyes and you know it's over.

I could see Kowalski batting this around. That's the thing about going head to head with another cop. You know how to interview; you know when to turn mad, when to dial it down, when to throw the chair. When to lean. If either one of us tried to psych each other out, we'd be here until Christmas.

Kowalski surprised me; he gave it up. His shoulders fell just a fraction and he lowered his chin slightly. He must really want to know what happened between me and Stel to cede the advantage like that.

He took a big swig of coffee, so much so that it filled his cheeks before he swallowed it down, and then, with no attitude or snide, he admitted, "I fell in love," which was followed by a blush and a laugh. "We were real close. Like this," he held up two fingers, one crossed over the other. "But the next level? I wasn't looking for it with him. He wasn't looking for it with me. It just happened. Think maybe it's sit… situ… syn…"

"Syncopy?"

"No, and Fraser can do that, not you," he growled.

I held up my hands. Christ.

"Just the way it is with him. I was pretty freaked out about it at first because, you know, didn't think I swung that way, but, hey, when god throws you a curve ball shit. We were up there with a bunch of snow and dogs and Fraser and knock, knock, knock, kiss your hetero good-bye and your freaking gorgeous-ass Mountie hello."

I didn't know what to say because I'd been up on the ice with Benny and that hadn't happened, but then Vegas hadn't happened yet either.

"Don't pull any homophobic crap on him," Kowalski warned. "Because if you—"

"Zip it, pal. I don't care who Benny's bumping bellies with. Well, I do, because the last person was that bank-robbing bitch who would have put a bullet in him just as soon as they cleared Chicago. So sue me if I think his taste sucks." The whistle didn't even work on their kettle. Water began splashing out the spout, killing the flame. I stood up and poured my tea. But I wanted him to know I meant what I said so I brought my mug to the table, teabag and all, and looked right at him. "You hurt him, and I won't plug him this time, I'll plug you, and make damn sure it hits some place where you'll bleed out in two minutes flat. But guys doing guys?" I jerked one shoulder just a bit.

"I read your file, cover to cover, and nothing." Then he narrowed his eyes. "Vegas?"

I nodded.

Yeah, Vegas. Apparently, the Bookman wasn't too picky. I'd have to sneak a guy in there every now and then. Not that they told me that. One night I asked Mario to get me a live one. Little did I know that was code for tall, dark, and handsome. With a dick. I said adios to my Italian macho ass, gloved up, closed my eyes, and shoved it in. It wasn't that much different, except the guys liked it a little rougher and were much better, as a rule, in jacking another guy off and giving blow jobs. Sort of one of those devil you know deals.

It must have showed in my face because he laughed.

"So your problem isn't that we're guys, it's me?"

"Got it in one," I drawled.

Headcase, the guy was a headcase. He didn't get all riled up like I thought he would, but relaxed even more. "Okay, I can handle that. Now, Stella. She seemed okay with," he waved his hand a couple of times, "you coming back here. Florida too hot?"

Florida was too Floridian.

"It didn't work out."

I knew he wouldn't let me leave it at that, so I wasn't too surprised when he let loose on me.

"You shouldn't have married her if you didn't love her," he snarled.

"I don't go around marrying people just for the hell of it. I thought I loved her. FYI, asshole, she thought she loved me. Turns out we were both wrong. You two didn't work out either so how come you get a home free card?"

"Because I got fifteen years of cred, not fifteen minutes. Because I was there when she cried that she wasn't going to make it through law school, it was too tough. And put her to bed when she'd fall asleep at the kitchen table from too much studying. And—"

"Yeah, enough. So you didn't leave. Big deal. She had to kick you out because that's the only way you would leave. That doesn't get you the Presidential Medal of Honor." I ignored the outrage on his face. "So, yeah, I didn't love her the way you did. Maybe I never loved her. Let me tell you what went down.

"I come back from Vegas and I'm so happy I'm practically doing handstands down the middle of North Halsted. I didn't think I was going to make it. You know what it was like? Every waking minute you're not sure whether the guy next to you is reaching for his cell phone or is about to shove his piece in your mouth and blow your brains out. So I come back from that two-year clusterfuck and I see this blonde. This gorgeous, intelligent, sexy, smart-ass blonde, and she was like a present from God. Because I was so lonely in Vegas, Stanley. You've done undercover, you know how that eats you up. But not like this, because Vegas is crazytown. Undercover in Chicago? You got your roots. You got your anchors. You can go to a ballgame and quietly tell yourself that you did this as a kid and that you'll do it again. As you. In Vegas, it was all new, plus you don't want any memories because that restaurant where you ate breakfast every day is the same place where you told Vinnie Pucci that he if didn't come up with the hundred grand you were going to chop off his kid's hand. Or the swimming pool at the casino where you nearly drowned a competitor because he was lifting your employees. So I see her and I think Chicago. I think new life. I think I'm home. I don't think, Vecchio, you're coming off the worst two years of your goddamned life and it would be crazy to marry this woman. I think, marry her because she'll bring you back home."

What I didn't realize was that while I married her thinking I was going home, she married me thinking she was escaping home. Both of us got screwed.

He didn't react one way or another, but the tension between us cooled a few notches.

"So why Florida?"

I shrugged. "She suggested it and I was in that over the moon phase. I would have said yes to anything. Didn't I just finish telling you that I was crazy?"

He didn't react to that either, just finished up his coffee.

"I got to go to work. Welsh will ream my ass if I'm late again. She seems cool with it all."

He was waiting for me to say it, and as much as I didn't want to, he needed to know it was done. "Yeah, she's cool with it. Fortunately, we both woke up and realized that we didn't want that till death do us part crap pretty much at the same time."

He nodded at me, and put his coffee mug in the sink. He was nearly out of the kitchen when he turned around and asked, "Why she still in Florida?"

"I signed over the bowling alley to her. She's selling it, then probably going to look for a job with the Feds. D.C. maybe. Justice maybe."

"Figures," he muttered. "Head's up. Fraser's gonna come by on his lunch hour to check up on you. He thinks you're gonna hang yourself with one of his spare lanyards. Not that I give a flying fuck, but he does, so pretend you don't know he's checking up on you and act happy, okay?"

I rolled my eyes.

"I'm not playing around here," he snapped. "You get it? I'm happy for the first time in years. It's good, Vecchio. Between me and Fraser. And if you mess that up, I'll kill you with my bare hands."

Before I could say anything to that he was out the door. My tea was cold, but I didn't have the energy to get up and make another cup. I picked up the paper lying on the table. He'd turned it to the want ads and circled in red pen all the ads for one-bedroom apartments within a twenty-five mile radius. I ran over to the window and flung it open. He was just getting into that Goat. "Asshole," I screamed and rattled the paper. He laughed, flipped me off, and got in his car.




Since I was up, I made myself some more tea. Then sat in the kitchen thinking what I really needed was a cup of coffee. But no coffee pot. And no decent coffee to put in the coffee pot, even if I had filters. Plus I didn't have any wheels to the get any of the above. And I needed to find a place, asap, otherwise Kowalski and I were going to kill each other, but I didn't have any wheels, and how was I going to look for a place when I didn't have a job and what was the point because I let Stella have all the furniture, which was a good move, because I didn't have a car to move furniture. Back to square one. Before I knew it my tea was cold again, and Fraser was putting his key in the lock.

I must have looked pretty scary because he didn't say, "Holy shit, thank god I hid the extra lanyards," because Fraser doesn't say that sort of shit. What he did say was, "My goodness, Ray. Have you eaten anything today?"

I held up the cold mug of tea.

"Yes, well, we'll remedy that. I brought home some sandwiches," he said, holding up a big bag.

At the mention of food, my stomach lurched. When was the last time I'd eaten?

Benny had gotten me one of those free-for-all sandwiches piled high with four different kinds of meat and two cheeses, lots of mustard, two gallons of mayo, and a few pepperocinis just for some kick. Getting all that protein in me made me feel a whole lot better. We ate in silence, wrapping our mouths around the French rolls was hard enough without adding talking to it. I supposed it was too much to hope that he'd just feed me and then head on back to the Consulate.

"You may stay here as long as you like, Ray."

I snorted. "Right. Your roommate's idea of a welcome mat." I held up the newspaper.

Benny grimaced when he saw it was the want ads. "Ray is sometimes… Sometimes he reacts without thinking."

"He sure thought about braining me when he threw his cell phone at me last night," I deadpanned.

Benny gathered up the butcher paper from our sandwiches and threw them in the trash. He had that look on his face that said that he didn't want to say anything but had to and damn how was he going to say it right. Jesus, I wasn't in the mood for a heart to heart, but I had more luck in stopping a speeding El train than Fraser when he was rubbing that eyebrow off his forehead.

"Your marriage is completely over? No hope of a reconciliation?"

"It was a mistake. We both know it."

No sense in sugarcoating it.

"I am sorry," he murmured. "Were you surprised about me and Ray? You were never the type to cast homophobic slurs, but this is rather closer to home."

I didn't have the energy to make nice about this, so I didn't. Fraser wanted to have a little heart to heart, let's get down to business.

"Not the guy doing a guy business. It's more like what in the hell do you see in him, Benny? He's a hothead, an asshole, and I think he's a couple of clips short of a magazine, if you ask me."

He got that white-tinged ring around his mouth when he's really mad, then heaved a sigh and let it go.

As if trying to keep it together and not lay into me, he said slowly, "We had just finished that ridiculous farce of him pretending to be you and me thinking I had finally gone around the bend, so trust was still an enormous issue, and yet he took a bullet for me. Just like you would have. He stepped in from of me and saved me from getting shot," he said with an edge to his voice that made me sit up straighter. "He was wearing a vest, true, but I know now that it wouldn't have mattered. He would have done it anyway. That's the sort of man he is, Ray. The sort of man who knows the personal sacrifice it is for me to be here, and in a pathetic attempt to make me feel better, covers the walls of that extra bedroom that he insisted on with posters of Canada. And lest you think he's naove, he knows it's pathetic, but he did it because it's the only way he knew how to let me know how much it means to him to have me stay. That sort of man, Ray."

Benny's track record on romance wasn't too good, and I was a first-class heel for bringing it up, but that's what friends are for. If he socked me, okay, but it needed to be said.

"Top of the class at everything else, Benny, but at love? You stink. Got something of a savior complex and that Kowalski fits the bill from this end of the table."

"Ray is not Victoria Metcalf." He didn't bite my head off like I thought he would, and that brought me up short because if Benny was doing his saint for a day thing, you'd think he'd get all worked up. He didn't; he folded his hands together as it if prayer and thought for a minute before saying, "He doesn't need me to save him. I need him to save me. From this." He plucked at the sleeve of his tunic. "He combats my tendency to priggishness and various other obsessive-compulsive traits. Without him, I fear I'd be nothing more than a fossil in ten years. He sees me, Ray."

I threw up my hands in the "what" gesture.

"You know what. This uniform. Being a Mountie. Sometimes, Ray, I think I will suffocate under all this…duty. I love it, I cling to it, it is an enormous part of me, and yet it also threatens to erase me. I have let three people in my entire life see the real Benton Fraser. You, Ray, and Victoria. She used that vulnerability to further her criminal schemes. The two of you were only interested in friendship. Even if we hadn't become lovers… I trust him, Ray. He doesn't let me retreat, hide behind my duty, my obligations, my 304C forms. He is fearless in that regard. And not in the jumping off of buildings sort of moxy." I smiled at that. You couldn't spend any time with Benny and not jump off a building at some point. "He has more integrity in his little finger than most people have in their entire bodies. The only person I know who comes close is you, so I ask that you treat him with respect. As my partner."

Jeeze, Benny knew how to really get me in the emotional solar plexus.

"Okay," I mumbled.

"Ray," he demanded. "Look at me. He's willing to go to Canada with me, or should I say he is willing to give up Chicago for me. We have two more years here, and then he eligible for his pension. No one has given up anything that important for me. Not even close. With all his warts—and he can be exceptionally trying at times, I must admit—there is the heart of a lion behind that stubble and attitude. Give him a chance. He is very passionate—"

"I heard."

"No, not…" he blushed as red as his tunic. "Well, that too, but I mean he has an enormous capacity to love."

"I said okay," I snapped.

"Greatness," he said with a little ironic smile. "I reiterate my invitation. Please stay as long as you like. You two have an enormous amount in common. Given half a chance, I think… Anyway, may I suggest that you go buy a car? You are lost without one. There's a used car lot six blocks from here."

I nodded. Now that I had some food in me, maybe…

Then without warning he hauled me up out of my chair and hugged me.

"I'm glad you're home, Ray."




"Are you done now? Had your little laugh?"

We both heard the door close and then Benny's formal, "Hello?"

That sent Kowalski into more peals of laughter.

"Oh, oh," the jerk gripped his sides. "Gotta tell Fraser. Gotta tell him." He lurched out of kitchen only to lurch back in, followed by Benny.

"Ray is laughing, you are not. Can you shed some light on this subject?"

Before I could say anything, Kowalski stuttered, "H—h—h—he bought a s—s—s—s—"

"I bought a car, and your lame-ass partner thinks it's funny."

Benny turned to Kowalski, who was palming the tears away from his cheeks. At Benny's raised eyebrows, Kowalski managed to get out a few words before going back to yucking it up at my expense, "It's a Swedish car, Frase! Swedish!"

I'd gone to the grocery store that afternoon and picked up some beer for Kowalski and me and some mineral water for Benny. I reached into the refrigerator and got him one. I got a beer for myself and then slammed the door shut.

"Asshole," Kowalski muttered under his breath.

"Ray," Benny said with a touch of starch at Kowalski, and before I could smirk at him, Benny turned to me and with an equally frosty reprimand said, "Ray." We were both in the doghouse. "Would you be so kind as to get Ray a beer, and then I'd like to hear about your new purchase."

I glowered at Kowalski and then reached into the fridge for a beer. I shook it and then tossed it to him. He either got himself another one, or waited for the suds in that one to settle.

"The guy wanted it off the lot. I paid five hundred for it. The transmission isn't going to last more than a few months, but I can baby it until I can get something else. This joker," I hiked a thumb in Kowalski's direction, "seems to think this is the funniest thing he's ever heard. One more giggle, Kowalski, and I'm going to clock you. Take it for a drive. Only four cylinders but moves like it's got eight."

"Yeah, sure, Vecchio. Pull the other one." Kowalski laughed some more. God, it was like high school but with thirty-eight year olds.

The car needed a paint job like ten years ago, and the interior was peeling away, but the way that car drove? I never would have bought that car if I hadn't touched the wheel. Just driving around the block gave me a hard on. I couldn't wait for it to get late. I'd take her out and let her rip.

"Money where your mouth is, pal. One hundred says that you drive it and you'll be dying to drive it again."

"Ray, betting really isn't—"

Kowalski ignored him.

"You're on! Vecchio," Kowalski crowed. Ignoring Benny's frown, we shook hands to fix the wager. Sometimes the Mountie just didn't get it.




Course, if I'd known that Kowalski would be bouncing off the walls of the apartment the entire night, making loud comments about what he was going to do with that extra hundred in his wallet, I'd have thought twice about the whole thing. Plus, we had to listen to Benny's near constant murmurs about how it was a work night, how he and the Polack had to get up in the morning, and couldn't this bet be postponed until the weekend; the subtext clearly being that we would have forgotten all about the bet by then.

Fortunately, Kowalski shot him down every single time with a, "No way, the easiest hundred bucks I ever made."

Which is why on a Wednesday night at one a.m., Kowalski, Benny, and I were idling at one of the on-ramps to the Dan Ryan Expressway. I'd taken it easy, kept the car at twenty-five the entire drive to the expressway, ignoring Kowalski's snide comments: "Oh yeah, this is a muscle car." "Don't go so fast, Vecchio, you're scaring me." "How could I have doubted you, Vecchio. I mean, you being the Riv king and everything."

Sometimes you just have to take the high road. I ignored his lame comments and Benny's concern that upholstery wasn't going to last more than a year. This was just a beater car until I could find another Riv, but for a beater car, it was pretty damn sweet.

The light changed. Kowalski said from behind me, "Time to pay uuuuuup…" and nothing else as I floored it. The torque flattened us all back in our seats and the car moved, and I mean moved. I got up to one hundred and ten without the engine making a single whimper, the body hugging every single goddamned turn; it owned the highway. Ten minutes later a sign for a rest stop appeared and I pulled off the expressway. The way that car hustled, I wouldn't be surprised if we weren't near the Wisconsin border. I turned off the engine.

"My, Ray, that is quite a little car you have there," said Benny admiringly. He doesn't like to admit it because of his save the Earth thing he's got going, but cars feed his testosterone just as much as the next guy.

I turned to Kowalski in the back seat. "Saab makes aircraft engines, too."

He growled, "I gotta drive this fucker. Hand me the keys, Vecchio. Now."




Our little drive put us in neutral. Kowalski didn't make it any easier to be there, but he also didn't make it any harder. And it must have been some sort of humongous concession on his part because Benny would shoot him approving glances when he thought I wasn't looking.

There were still banging each other every night, Kowalski's pleading for god knows what, his "Please oh please," coming through the wall loud and clear. I was too wounded for it to get me going, but it depressed the shit out of me. Here I was nearly forty years old and starting over. I didn't have a place to live, my mother was mad at me (Why not live at home, Raimundo? Why?), and I just couldn't get it together. I'd stare at the want ads until the type just blurred into one black smudge and then look up and realize it was time to make dinner. I had some money to live off of (Thank you, feebs. My soul was worth a lot more but I'll take it.), but it didn't matter. Vegas taught me a lot about self-preservation. I knew that if I got a place and it was just me, those four walls would close in on me and something bad would happen. Because every morning for the last couple of months I'd look in the mirror and stare at the guy blinking back at me and not recognize him. It was me but not me.

Benny knew. Sometimes he'd just come over and put his hand on my shoulder and say, "Ray." Just my name. Like I might forget. Or like it was a reminder. And the "me" that was still there, deep down inside? Just a bunch of scar tissue. Nothing but scar tissue. If I thought too much about the next day, or finding a place, or how I screwed it up with Stella, which made me think about Angie and Irene, God, I'd just tear. That scar tissue would rip right open. It would be another afternoon gone, sitting in the kitchen, hearing Benny's key turn in the lock and thinking, man, I just lost four hours and why am I crying?

During the day they went to work, and I'd try to do things. Small things. I bought a coffee maker because instant does not cut it in a civilized world, a kettle with a working whistle, a set of decent pots and pans, glass glasses, and some plates that weren't plastic and picked up at a garage sale.

Kowalski went to make a fuss when he saw my spanking new five-gallon pot on his cheap-shit stove and the table set like humans ate there. I cut him off.

"Shut up, you. I'm taking all this with me when I go. But what sort of house doesn't have a colander? It's like you guys are camping. One pot for the stew, the other for the pemmican—"

"Ray, you don't boil pemmican—"

"Benny, I love you, but shut up as well. News flash. This is not the tundra, we are not on some insane quest. This is the middle of Chicago and that's," I pointed to their plates, "farfalle con limone, pollo e herbe aromatiche. Basta, you ingrates."

A week of this and we were down to a sort of routine. Benny got up first, showered, made the coffee. I'd stay in bed until I heard Kowalski slam the door. Asshole did it to wake me up, but I'd already be awake. I'd take a long shower, spend a good half hour shaving, maybe vacuum, nothing much really, but I'd lose four hours somewhere during the day. I always managed to make it to the store at some point and then I'd make dinner. Later I realized that making dinner for the three of us during that time was the one thing that stopped me from blowing my brains out.




We were eating arrosto con cipolle filanti. Our food was getting cold because Benny had us in stitches over Turnbull's attempt to teach Thatcher's replacement how to do the tango ("That dog!" shouted Kowalski), which resulted in him breaking every lamp in the office.

"He was sadly in need of your expertise, Ray. I will share with you both this visual because I don't see why I should suffer by myself. Turnbull with a rose between his teeth."

We both groaned.

"You dance, Kowalski?"

He narrowed his eyes like he was going to pop me one when his cell phone rang.

Over his, "Yeah, he's here," Benny said in my ear, "Ray is a superb dancer."

He handed me the phone.

What the…?

"Vecchio."

"Hear you're in town. Didn't think to call me? Get in here tomorrow morning at eight."

Click.

I snapped the phone shut and handed it to him. Kowalski had that crazy grin, the one with psycho in the corners.

"Lieu a little ticked?"

"You tell him I was back? What gave you the right—"

"Ray, really…"

Jesus, we kept it up for hours.




"No undercover. I need someone to liaison with the feebs. Headquarters read the report on your success in Vegas," he paused at that, "and they think you can handle them. Brass is sick of them waltzing in wherever and running rough shod over Chicago PD. They use our manpower when they need it and then act like we don't exist when we need their help. You know how they think."

I nodded. Yeah, they were stupid, jumped-up gun jockeys who thought that because they'd trained at Quantico, they were somehow anointed by God. That if Jesus Christ were alive today, he'd be a fed.

"First, you need to discuss with them the guidelines. Not that either side will pay attention to them, but when jurisdictional questions arise—"

"When the shit hits the fan?"

"We'll have paper. Well, better paper. We got paper, but it's questionable paper."

"No undercover," I reiterated for the fourth time.

"No undercover, Detective. I promise. I'll pay you as a consultant. You get a desk, a phone, and a computer. You give me some paper that protects our backs when the feds start leaning on us."

I didn't like the look in Welsh's eyes because it said that I was pretty much a wreck, but he was also stand up enough to know that I knew that he thought I was good. He wasn't giving this to me as a charity gig.

"This is just bullshit. They'll come in and hog all the limelight like they've always done."

Welsh rubbed his stomach like his ulcer was bugging him.

"You and I know that. The brass knows that. They just want paper to rub in some bureaucrat's face when the feds something up. They want something at their back when they say, 'See?'"

I nodded.




"An entire week! We'll kill each other."

"Nonsense, Ray," Benny assured me as he packed. It was just me and him; Kowalski was playing chess with that old geezer, and Benny had an afternoon flight out of O'Hare. "You have been at the precinct for over a week together and there hasn't been a single altercation between the two of you."

"Just a matter of time," I muttered.

"Excuse me?"

Which was such bullshit because Benny can hear people farting three states away.

"Nothing."




"So give me the scoop. I'm going to be with him an entire week. Benny doesn't come back until Sunday night. He's single-handedly revamping the entire training course at Regina. Kowalski and I are a time bomb. How do I defuse him?"

"Look, there's nothing you can do. Ray either lets you in or he doesn't. If he lets you in, you'll know. It's like basking in the most beautiful sunshine ever. He will do anything for you."

I don't ask because that's like no man's land, but she knows what I'm thinking.

"At first it's like this drug you can't stop taking. And then you realize that you have to live up these expectations… No, that's wrong. Not that he has these expectations, it's just that he thinks so much of you, he loves you so intensely that you can't help but feel that at some point you're going to screw this up. You think that things will eventually calm down, but when Ray loves, he loves. Instead of the two of you sliding into a comfortable niche like most couples, he won't let you do that. He's still on his high. Then you start to resent it. When that happens it's almost a relief because you were right all along. If someone had told me that I'd really come to resent how much Ray loved me, I'd have laughed in their face. It's a gift and a curse. He loves so much because he needs to be loved that much back. Hope the Mountie gets that."

And she hung up on me.




I'd forgotten how working with the feebs was the usual torturous bureaucratic crap, but with sixteen million different layers on top of that because the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover is goosing the asses of these jerks. I'd spend hours and hours on conference calls, and I swear all I'd say was, "That is not going down anywhere in my universe, so shove it where the sun don't shine. Try again." I got pretty good at coming up with twenty different variations of that. Would read down the list, ticking them off as I went, and then start over again.

Kowalski and I didn't kill each other, mostly because we'd ignored each other. He'd come home late, eat the dinner I had in the oven, mumble something about the game, turn on the television, and then we'd watch something (Christ, one night we ended up watching golf we were so desperate) until we were both beat enough to hit the hay.

Thursday had been a series of email exchanges and attachments that I'd vetoed and three conference calls. When I looked up the bullpen was deserted. Kowalski's glasses were resting on a bunch of files, and his leather jacket was slung over his chair, but he wasn't in the room. I stood up, debating do I find him and suggest we go home, or do I just make for the car? I stretched and looked over. There he was in Interrogation room no. 2 sprawled out on the table. Asleep with a cup of coffee in his hand. Jesus, what time was it? After eleven.

I went over to look at the stack of files. In between telling some idiot in D.C. that he was a dick and that because he was federal just meant that he was a federal dick, I heard Welsh riding Kowalski's ass about his paperwork. The public just doesn't get how much time a cop spends on paperwork. Computers have helped, but it was still a goddamned chore.

What made this guy tick?

You need attitude to be a cop. Some people use their fears and prejudices to create that juice, but I didn't peg Kowalski for that. Benny was the most P.C. guy I knew, and he wouldn't have hooked up with Kowalski if he were a racist, homophobic jerk. The best cops are the ones who don't manufacture that edge out of fear. They tap some secret part of their bone marrow because they want to see scumbags behind bars, or, in Benny's case, justice served. I asked him about Kowalski.

"Ray Kowalski is one of the top two finest law enforcement officers I have had the pleasure to work with." I ignored the compliment to me and tried to square it with the guy I'd been living with for two weeks. Hard to jive with the grousing and the attitude I got at home. Plus he wasn't much better in the precinct. Moaning and groaning about the paperwork, the coffee; you name it, Kowalski complained about it.

But Benny? The guy knew his stuff and if he said Kowalski was the man, he was the man. It frustrated me that I couldn't read Kowalski. He sure had the attitude. In spades. I couldn't see him making the grade as a mediocre cop, never mind being a great cop.

I started leafing through his files. Oh Jesus. No wonder Kowalski was still here pecking away at the computer. The guy had about four obvious learning disabilities and maybe a couple of latent ones. He could spell "intermediate" but not "face"; he spelled it with an esse. He switched words, he switched letters, he jumbled some words so badly that I had to take an educated guess at what they were. But you know, these write-ups were good. Damn good. Any prosecutor who could see past the typos would see that Kowalski had all the available evidence, and he knew how to put it together so that the prosecutor had an avenue to push with the judge. All those nights helping Stella study for the bar had given him a natural sense of what they needed.

But these typos were going to sink him with half of them. Lots of prosecutors hate cops, and getting files like these would just give them ammo. They'd ignore how Kowalski practically spoon-fed them a case, and would just snicker at him behind his back because he spelled suspect with a "k."

An hour later I'd finished going through all the files, making corrections, and shaking my head because, damn, he was good. I was about to turn off the computer when I heard, "What the hell you doing, Vecchio?"

"Fixing these up." I just laid it out there. "Get some decent glasses. Your eyes are shit. They'll bump these back to you with these typos. They're done so you can sign them in the morning. Let's go, it's late." I turned off his hard drive and threw him his jacket.

He could go ballistic on me or just let it ride. He did neither, and he wasn't going to let me hand him the lie either.

"Can tell when it's wrong, I just don't know how to fix it," he admitted.

"Your report on Hernandez is going to nail his ass to a cell in Joliet for the next fifteen years. A dead guy could prosecute this case and he'd still be convicted."

He put on his jacket, not looking me in the face, but I saw his blush.

"Here," I said, handing him his glasses. "Whoever gets home first dials for pizza. No pineapple, you hear me?"

"Bite me, Vecchio." But he said it with a smile and, Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, the sun came out.


On Friday morning Welsh stuck his head out of his office and yelled into the bullpen, "Meet up at the Clancy's at six. Drinks are on me. Kowalski finished all his paperwork. A first."

The bullpen started clapping and Kowalski started blushing.

"Hey, hey," he protested. "Not like I'm one to turn down free booze, but Vecchio helped me." He gestured to me with his hand, and don't ask me why, but I noticed that Kowalski had really nice hands for a man. Strong, sculptured hands. Elegant hands. On a punk like him.

"So you buy half," Welsh countered.

Kowalski held up his hands in defeat. He caught me staring at them and gave me a silent "what?" I shook my head and went back to checking my email.




While Kowalski picked Benny up at the airport, I decided it was time to mend fences with Ma and have dinner over there, even though I dreaded it, because what I dreaded more was the sound of non-stop sex when I wasn't getting any. Knowing Kowalski, he probably blew Benny in the airport parking lot, then had Benny stripped naked even before they even reached the bedroom door. I half expected to see a trail of clothes when I let myself in around eleven. Dinner at Ma's had been predictable. Kids great and annoying. Frannie, Maria, and Ma great and annoying. Tony just annoying. Ma finally got it through her head that I wasn't coming home when I told Maria's oldest he could have my room.

No clothes, that was good, and no screaming coming from the bedroom. Thank you, God. Thank you.




"Far be it from me to say I told you so, but you and Ray seem to have hit your stride."

"If that's code for we didn't lay into each other while you were gone."

Snide aside, me and Kowalski had an understanding of sorts. Not that any of this was said out loud or anything, but in guy speak we both acknowledged that I wasn't out to sabotage his relationship with Benny so he'd better cool his jets and that both of us were decent cops. Which covered both the home front and the work front. Like I said, none of this was said.

What Kowalski said was, "Think we could rebuild the transmission on that Slob?" I replied, "It's Saab, you asshole, and you look under the hood? Doesn't look like any car I've ever seen." Then he said, "Come on, Vecchio, are you saying that bunch of Swedes are smarter than we are?" And I replied, "No way." That was that. North Korea wasn't planning on nuking South Korea and vice versa.

"Good, I'm glad to hear it. I shall be gone two weeks this go around. I'd been postponing this aspect of the program for as long as possible, but now that you're here, I can leave for extended periods of time and not worry."

"Are you out of your frigging mind?"




Working with the feebs again, arguing with their stupid asses day after day, brought a lot of stuff back. Or it probably never went away, but I'd run to Florida and back to escape it and thought I'd outrun it. Not a chance.

The nightmares started two days after Benny left for the second time. They were basically the same. Real grim, the sort of nightmares that live with you for hours. That leave you shaking. Not the weird ones you can dismiss as being your mind on mental crack, but realistic ones, with the right colors and I'm wearing my favorite tie and I'm talking sense. Bookman sense. I'm ordering whacks right, left, and center, and my goons are nodding and when they take out their Glocks to do the job they aim them at me and fire. I wake up when the bullets hit me. Screaming my ears off. The first night it happened, I didn't get back to sleep, I just lay there waiting for the alarm to go off. The second night it happened I lay there thinking that maybe I was having a heart attack because I was panting and short of breath. I crawled out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen, Kowalski was already there, making hot chocolate on the stove.

"Bad night, Vecchio?"

I couldn't even speak I was so close to losing it; I just nodded, willing my heart to slow down.

He poured the hot chocolate into a mug, and then topped it off with two inches worth of Jack. He pushed me into a chair.

"Here," he said, and handed the hot chocolate to me. "Drink this," he ordered. He stood there slouched against the kitchen counter, taking little sips of booze right from the bottle, watching me to make sure I wasn't going to snap or keel over from heart failure. When I'd finished it, he took my hand and brought me into their bedroom. "Get in," he muttered and pointed at the bed. I got in, on Benny's side cause the covers weren't pulled down. I didn't know what was going on, so I turned away from him to the other wall. He flung a leg over one of mine and turned off the light.

"I don't have nightmares when I sleep with Fraser." He left it at that, and not too long after I heard him snoring. I fell asleep around three.


"I told him."

Kowalski spoke matter-of-fact, like I was supposed to know what in the hell he was talking about. We were watching a pre-season game and the Cubs were getting their collective baseball hides nailed to the scoreboards. As usual.

"About the nightmares and the sleeping gig."

It'd been going on for five nights now. A couple of nights ago Kowalski said to me at dinner, "You wake me up again at two a.m. with those blood-curdling screams and I'm gonna shoot you. Get into bed with me when I crash for the night or check into a hotel."

So I had gotten into bed with him. He threw his leg over mine like he'd been doing, and it worked. I made it through the night with no nasty mobbed up guys plugging me full of bullets haunting me while I slept.

"Nothing's happening," I pointed out.

"I know that, Vecchio. It's my bed. But he needs to know that."

"Yeah," I agreed, not knowing what else to say but got the feeling that he wasn't done, and I was about to get the rug pulled out from under me.

"It wouldn't bother him anyway."

I sprayed my beer all over my shirt.

"Thanks, Kowalski, I just ruined my shirt, jerk. What do you mean, it wouldn't bother him?"

He finished his beer and said, "I'm hitting the sack. He's handing me off to you, Vecchio. He don't think I can make it up there. You're the back-up plan."

I stared at him, but he didn't look at me again. Just got up, threw his beer bottle in the recycling can, and closed the bedroom door behind him. I sat there for a couple of minutes and then jumped up.

I wrenched open the door, and said, "You are an absolute idiot, Kowal—"

"Shut up and get into bed," he said and turned over.

That night I slung my leg over his.




The pervert spiking the drinks at college hangouts brought it all to a head.

The lieu called both of us in one morning, his face bland, which is a bad sign, because it means he's battening down the emotional hatches.

"The Mountie in town?"

We both shook our heads.

"That's a shame because I could have used him. As of," he looked at his watch, "eight forty-three a.m. today, Detective Kowalski, you have a new partner. Ray Kowalski meet Ray Vecchio. I'm sure it will be a fruitful collaboration."

We might not have been lobbing nuclear warheads at each other, but we weren't partner material.

"Lieu, with all due respect—"

"Lieu, I gotta live with him, don't make me work with—"

He held up a hand. I bit back an expletive and Kowalski pounded his fist into the wall.

"A serial rapist is working the college joints down in Little Italy. We have five known victims to date." He paused and let that sink it. "He loads up their drinks with Rohypnol, and when they start getting woozy, he takes them out to his van, waits for them to pass-out, assaults them, and then dumps them in the nearest alleyway. MacIvers and Donnelly were working on this, but they've had it four weeks and haven't turned up anything, so I'm taking the case away from them and giving it to my two best cops. Do we have a problem, gentlemen?"

We shook our heads because that's what you do.

"Good. All of his known victims were abducted from places with a dance floor. That's where you come in, Gene Kelly," he looked at Kowalski. "Break out your dancing shoes. You check out the crowd while Kowalski dances, Vecchio," he said to me. "Questions?"

Kowalski was kicking the legs of my chair. I glared at him to stop it and asked, "Do we have a description of this guy?"

"No, the Rohypnol affects their recall. Most of them can barely remember going into the bar. We know he's white, Caucasian male and that's about it. Still, get with Allen, that new sketch artist we just hired, and see if any of the victims can come up with something. Here's a list of his victims." He handed me a piece of paper with a bunch of names and phone numbers listed on there. "Well?" Which was the signal for us to get our asses out of his office

"Vecchio? Kowalski?"

Kowalski was half out the door but turned around, and I was behind Kowalski.

"My niece is the first name on that list."




The lieu's sister looked just like the lieu. Harding Welsh might still have traces of the Irish looker he'd been when he didn't weigh two-fifty, but I couldn't say that his sister benefited from looking just like him, i.e., matching him pound for pound, with a body the width of a concrete freeway pylon. The faint mustache cinched the resemblance.

"Mrs. O'Shaunessy, we're from the 2-7. We're here to speak to Kate."

She opened the door and let us in, not saying a word until we reached a door that had posters of Gwen Stefani all over it (not that I knew that, Kowalski filled me in later). "That's my baby in there. Be nice to her or I'll kill you."

Nice to know that verbal intimidation was a family trait.

Kate O'Shaunnesy must have taken after her father's side. Black Irish with big blue eyes that were raw from crying, she was still in bed, her petite frame scrunched up in the corner, a beat-up teddy bear in her arms.

I'd rather have my nails pulled out by pliers than interview rape victims. They are humiliated, and no matter how many times you tell them that it wasn't their fault, they feel like it was their fault. They're so embarrassed that they don't want to talk about it, but if they don't talk about it, you have a slim to none chance of catching the bastard. Lots of waterworks. What should take thirty minutes max takes a couple of hours at least. Kowalski hung back, let me do the talking. I pretended that it was Maria or Frannie so made some points by acting like her big brother, but still she wasn't giving us anything that wasn't in the initial report.

The breakthrough came when she asked, "You work with Uncle Hardy?"

Kowalski and I shot a glance at each other and smothered a laugh. "Uncle Hardy." Man, was that going to get a workout in the next few weeks.

"Yeah, we do." Kowalski piped up. "He's the stupid Italian one. I'm the smart Polack one."

Her eyes widened. "Oh, you're those guys. I've heard all about you. Both married to the same woman, and both partnered with Fraser. The Mountie. Both high-maintenance but great cops."

"High-maintenance?" we said together. Oh yeah, "Uncle Hardy" was going to hear about it.

That seemed to do it. We got a lot more out of her, a better description of the suspect. Not that it helped much, because what with everyone wearing the same thing these days, telling me that the guy was wearing a black shirt with some sort of skateboard logo on it eliminated only about four people in the entire state of Illinois and I was one of them.

"Was he your age?" I asked.

She chewed her lip. To a twenty-year old, everyone over twenty-five is one age. Ancient. "No, he was older. Younger than you guys."

"Everyone's younger than us," muttered Kowalski.

"Maybe late twenties?" she guessed.

"Older than Orlando Bloom or younger?"

"About the same age, but nowhere near as cute. But not bad. Not as cute as him," she pointed to Kowalski, "but, um, cuter than you."

"Ooooh, dis!" crowed Kowalski, and punched my arm.

"Would you shut up?" I grumbled.

Kowalski jerked his chin in my direction. "He grows on you."

She gave me the once over. "Yeah, I can see that."

Man, she was going to be a charmer if she didn't let that raping douchebag do a permanent number on her.

"Can you come down to the precinct so we can do a sketch?"

"I don't remember much. To tell you the truth, I'm trying to forget."

"I get that, Katie, but if enough of you girls get the I.D. down, we can bust him."

She agreed, but more to get us out of there than actually agreeing. It was going to take a crow bar to get her out of that bed.

As we were leaving, Kowalski said, "You been back to school since?"

She shook her head and her eyes filled; the faucets were going to get turned on again.

"Hey, I got someone you can talk to. Katie, you got a cell phone?"

He dialed. "Hey, it's me. Asshole and I are with the lieu's niece. Some dickhead is spiking drinks down in Little Italy and then raping his victims. Kate's one of them. She hasn't been back to class since. You wanna talk to her? Yeah, thought you would… Yeah, we'll get him… Here, Stella Kowalski on the phone for you." He handed her the phone.

"That's Stella Vecchio, jerkface."

"Kowalski."

"Vecchio."

"Kowalski."

"Vecchio."

All the way out to the car.




We interviewed the other four, all of them in the same weepy, emotional mess. All of them too wiped on the drug to give us any more of a description other than the guy was tall, with longish brown hair, and wore tee shirts with skateboard logos.

"Christ, that means like every other guy under thirty between here and the Poconoes."

Kowalski and I were grabbing a late lunch at the Salt and Pepper Diner on Eddy. They make a decent foccaccia while Kowalski, no surprise, got a burger. Looked good, I must admit.

"You agree with me that this guy isn't a student? Sounds too old. Plus, if I were a serial rapist with any brains, I wouldn't do it in joints where the person on the bar stool next to me could have been in my English class."

Kowalski nodded, and lapped up some mustard that edged his lip. I threw a napkin at him.

"Here, wipe your mouth. So I'm guessing he's driving in from the burbs. I'm also thinking he's a working stiff because he only hits on Friday and Saturday nights."

Kowalski nodded again. "Jesus, we need Fraser. He's much better than Allen at that sketch shit."

Okay, this might work. "Fraser have a cell phone?"

"Yeah, I got him one for Christmas. Aside from the computer, it's the most modern thing he's touched in ten years."

"Can it take photos? How about we have the victims tell Fraser what they think this guy looks like and Fraser takes a photo of the picture and sends it and we keep doing that back and forth until we get it right?"

Kowalski's eyes widened. "Wow, that's a great idea, Vecchio."

"You know what else? Phones. Texting. MySpace. It's going to be hard but maybe we can get Stella to organize the vics, you know being a woman, she might have more pull with them. What if they start posting what happened on their MySpace or their Facebook. Their friends tell their friends, and we get some awareness out there. We might get some more victims to come forth, ones with better I.D., and we'll put a serious crimp in this guy's plans. Only he won't know because he's not a student."

He put his burger down and slouched back in his seat to look at me. Like really look at me. Like he hadn't seen me before.

"You're good, Vecchio."

I slouched a little myself and returned his scrutiny. There it was. Not that I wasn't expecting it, because it'd been waiting for the right moment, hovering on the edges. A two-way sexual kick that made my balls ache. My mouth felt like I'd been eating napkins, but I managed to get out, "Benny only works with the best."

He nodded and then smiled at me. Mr. Sunshine was coming out to play.

"This bottom-feeding motherfucker won't know what hit him. Come on," he said and threw some bills on the table.

I adjusted my dick in my pants and slid out of the booth.




Friday afternoon he got his hair bleached and the tips painted magenta. He was too hyped to eat the dinner I made, just pushed his food around his plate, feeding bits to Dief when he thought I wasn't looking.

Jesus, he was scary. The only person I'd ever seen more focused than Benny was Kowalski. I can see how the two of them would be a golden team. Benny bringing all that book learning and logic to the process, Kowalski carrying his weight with a god-given instinct and unholy drive. Their solve rate must have been phenomenal.

Despite what the lieu said about Kowalski being the Polish Gene Kelly, I thought we'd stand in the background and just watch people trying to hook up.

"Nah, you do that, I'm going be on the dance floor. People will be watching me. You watch the crowd. With all eyes on me, chances are he'll think he can move in. He'd have to be clueless not to know that at least some of the girls had reported it, so he's gonna be careful. With me up there, asshole will think he's got some cover."

"Yeah, right, because you're such a stud."

No one was going to give him a second look with all that young beefcake lined up. He was wearing a tee shirt so old that the cuffs were frayed, jeans that would be around his ankles if he didn't have a goddamn belt to hold them up, a pair of shit-kickers that had to be no less than fifteen years old, a sweater with both the elbows out, and his hair all gelled up in that stupid spiked shit thing he has going on.

I nodded and pointed at him, "Real stud material."

"Just you wait and see, Vecchio."

Around seven he pushed back his chair, took a long shower, and when the hot water ran out, jumped out shouting a string of obscenities. I could hear him rampaging around in his room, slamming drawers shut, swearing up a storm, and when he emerged he was wearing tight-ass black leather pants, a ratty tee-shirt that hugged his pecs, six necklaces, a ton of bracelets on each arm, one red ear lobe where he'd shoved a stud in a closed hole, and glitter on his cheeks and forehead. Shit, was that eyeliner and mascara? Despite the fact he was as skinny as all shit and wearing more make-up than Stella does on a given day, he looked male and so hot that my dick filled up in three seconds flat.

"Good?" he asked.

I gave him a thumbs up and just stopped myself from licking my bottom lip.




Even given that he was smoking, I still didn't think he'd be able to pull it off until he got on the dance floor. Shows what I know. A blind man would have gotten a hard on watching him. Kowalski could dance, plus he had a rough, edgy charm to him when he made the effort. People were clamoring to dance with him, chicks, guys, whatevers, it didn't matter. Kowalski was moving to that beat like he was fucking the music. There was no other way to describe it. Whatever they punched on the jukebox, he'd dance to it. Punk, disco, Sinatra. I watched the room, but no one hovered on the edges trying to pick up a wallflower. After a couple of hours, I cut through the crowd and bumped into Kowalski, killing some frat boy's fun, who was going be up all night trying to explain to his girlfriend why he'd been rubbing asses with Kowalski.

"Sorry," I said above the music and made for the door.

"See anything?" he asked after he'd joined me in the Slob. "Thanks, Vecchio," he said and chugged down in one gulp the cold mineral water I'd gotten for him.

There was no point in staying until closing because the asshole was going to do his thing when the bars were in full swing. He didn't want people walking to their cars after the last call finding him dumping some passed out chick on the curb.

"Nah, everyone had a hard on for you and no one else."

We hit another place on Saturday night, but still no action, other than Kowalski's. Sunday we spent on our cell phones, hooking Fraser up with the vics. Fraser got tons more out of them than we did. Some of it was that he was on the phone so there was some distance there, and some of it was just Fraser doing that interview magic of his. We traded pictures back and forth over the Internet for hours. My phone would die, we'd plug it in, use Kowalski's, then his would die, and we'd start all over again. By Monday night we had a pretty good likeness.

The next few days we'd have to do routine scanning through databases of registered sex offenders, etc., boring but necessary work. Sometimes you got a hit this way. If the sketch was pretty faithful (and knowing Benny, it was dead on the guy), we could match it to a mug shot. A couple of days of having Katie blitz Facebook with posts, and we got three more to come forward, giving us more confirmation on what this asshole looked like.




At some point I called Stella.

"He can really dance."

"Does he still have our trophies?"

"I mean he can really dance."

I hung up on her after she wouldn't stop laughing.




I was too beat to cook anything more complicated than a carbonara. Kowalski and I had sat in front of a terminal all day, looking at rapists' faces, but none matched our guy, or if they were close enough for a second look, the guy was doing time.

"Your eyes look like someone took a hot poker to them. Why didn't you wear your glasses?" I poured him some more wine.

"One eye's real bad, the other one not so bad, but the glasses are heavy. I can't wear them for too long. They give me headaches. They hurt like a son of a bitch." He blinked a couple of times and then flicked a pea to the side of his plate. "I used drops but they still feel like shit."

"Contacts? You know last time I checked, peas weren't poisonous."

"Never can take the time to get adjusted to them. I've spent a fortune on them, only to have them sit in the case, the solution, whatever. And peas are so poison. The green's a dead giveaway. You're pretty good with a computer, where'd you pick that up?"

I poured myself a big glass of wine, all the way up to the top. "Vegas. Everything's on computer, and everyone's trying to skim some off the top. If you don't know jack shit about computers, some super stupid accountant is going to program the spreadsheet so that they skim off a few thousand from the take every day. But it doesn't look like they're skimming. Because the computer doesn't lie. Fortunately, I'm a big-time skeptic." I took a big gulp. "The cars are a dead giveaway. They buy some badass car they can't possibly afford because, hello, two wives and five kids, which means child support up the wazoo. I watch this guy drive into the casino parking lot in a new Escalade with all the toys, and two seconds later I call a computer consultant and get a crash course in programming. Stupid." I finished my wine.

There was a pause, and then Kowalski said, "What happened to the accountant?"

"His fingers got crushed in a freak accident with his piano."

"Christ, Vecchio!"

"I got the feebs to pay for reconstructive surgery, but he's not playing Chopin anytime in the near future."

Kowalski took my hand and squeezed it. He didn't let go until I said, "Hawks game is about to start. Come on."




The computer thing was a total bust. We couldn't connect Benny's drawing to a mug shot. Looked like no previous priors. That made it tough. Because that meant the guy was smart; he'd been committing crimes for a while and hadn't been caught. You don't start out as a serial rapist. You start in crime kindergarten and graduate on up. Asshole probably started out fondling his mother's undies, then moved on to watching her in the shower, then moved on to creeping around the neighborhood and watching other mommies in the shower, then maybe did a couple of date rapes, then moved on to this serial rape gig.

After we both conceded that we weren't going to I.D. this guy from the database, Kowalski said to me in a low voice, "We got to get this guy. This weekend."

I didn't need to say anything because we both knew this was a potential powder keg. These guys were all about escalating their behavior. Rape becomes ho hum after a while. All that had to happen is for one girl to wake up and start screaming and then have him strangle her to keep her quiet. If he gets a stiffee from killing her, we were doomed. He'd start doping them, raping, and then killing them. Christ, it was a sick world.

It was back to the clubs on Friday and Saturday night, but this time with Katie in tow. We would put her in a wig and dark glasses and hope to hell she could I.D. someone.

I'm watching Kowalski putting on his glitter, and even I have to admit that it's pretty ironic that not four weeks ago I'm thinking Benny had lost his frigging mind, and now I'm crossing my leg to hide the Kowalski-induced boner.

He dipped the brush into the glitter and made a couple of broad sweeps up his arms. "You ever want to do Fraser?"

That should have taken care of the boner, and I was so screwed that it didn't.

"No, I told you. Fraser was before Vegas."

"You wanna now?" He didn't look at me, but gave his cheeks one more pass with the brush.

Jesus, what a question. One look at Benny and you'd think, sure, even the most hetero guy would like a piece of that. But it wasn't the looks that I thought about; I'd had enough anonymous sex to last me a lifetime, and sex with people who'd make Benny look homely. Yeah, I loved him. Two years ago I would have said like a brother. Now? I have to admit that it wasn't just Kowalski I thought about when the walls rattled.

"I don't know," I snapped, getting pissed off because this was getting crazy. "He was off limits then and he should be off limits now because of you," I pointed out. "I don't know what the hell is going on with the two of you; and I don't know what the hell is going on with the two of us; so why in the hell should I know what is going on between me and him?"

He didn't answer me, but screwed the cap back on the glitter, and stared down at the make-up on his dresser.

"I'm trying my goddamnest not to fuck you because that would fuck him over, and I'm trying not to think about fucking him because, and this is really whacked, it would fuck you over and that matters to me now. And even if that weren't an issue, you don't just fuck Benny over, you know?"

He turned toward me and the set of his shoulders looked like he was about ready to pop me one.

"If anyone knows that it's me," he said, pushing a finger into his chest.

"I don't get this. He's nuts about you. Nearly decked me when I asked him what in the hell he was going with you? So—"

"Look," and he made a grunt of frustration. "I don't know what in the hell is going on, okay? I just… Fuck it. We need to get Katie. He'll be home Sunday night. We hash it out then."

He shivered and when his shoulders had settled, he'd lost all that natural tension he carries on him like a second skin and had morphed into his club persona: sleek, punky, sexy. He gave off this vibe that if you walked off the floor with him into a bathroom stall, he'd nail you against the wall and do you in time to the music.

"Okay, let's blow this Popsicle stand," he said, and moon-walked across the room.

"You can sure dance, Kowalski."

He laughed. "Not until after the case, Vecchio."

"I wasn't—"

"Yeah, you were. Later, alligator."




We made the bust Saturday night. Kowalski was on the dance floor, jitterbugging with some fag who looked like he'd died and gone to heaven, people were standing around hooting and hollering at the two of them, and I see him. He came in the door and scanned the room. I figured that he was pretty desperate because it had been a couple of weeks since the last attack and jerking off to Penthouse doesn't do it for these sick fucks. Being the consummate predator that he was, not ten seconds in the room he made his mark, a petite brunette sitting on the edge of a crowd. She wasn't a day over eighteen, and damn it we were going to have to turn this place over to vice for not checking I.D.s. She was sipping from a tall glass of what looked like iced tea, but based on how sloppy and exaggerated her gestures were, I was betting it wasn't Lipton's.

I said to Katie in a slow, deliberate voice.

"Pretend like you're watching Kowalski, but is it that tall guy in the white button-down? Remember, look at his face. The way he carries himself. That he can't change."

We'd given Katie the run down, about how the guy might be feeling the heat, might try to grow a beard to disguise his appearance, but the thing is that these guys are possessed. Even though common sense would say stay away, perverts don't work that way. They go back to where they were successful before, where they hunted and got lucky. But they're not stupid either. Sure enough, the guy had ditched the tee shirts, had time to grow a scruffy goatee, and he'd cut his hair. So she needed to look at his face, not what he was wearing, not be thrown off by the addition of a baseball cap.

"Yeah," she said out of the corner of her mouth and grabbed my arm. When I took my shower the next day, I found four punctures where her nails went into me.

"Okay, I want you to go to the bathroom and call a cab. Here's twenty bucks. Go straight home. I'm going to pop him when I see him put the shit in the girl's drink, but I don't want you here when this comes down because it's going to be ugly. You start to fall apart, call Stella and keep talking to her until you get home. Got it?"

Kowalski must have been sneaking glances at us and saw we had a hit. I doubted anyone on the dance floor would have noticed it, but he was missing that beat by just a fraction of a second. Our eyes connected. I grinned. He grinned back. Anyone looking at us might think we were flirting. I gave him the thumbs up. He turned up the vibe to "scorching." Dirty dancing doesn't begin to describe what Kowalski began doing to that other guy. The crowd loved it.

I texted the lieu that we had a positive I.D. and asked for three black and whites, but no flashers—this guy might see the play of colors if someone opened the door. I knew this douchebag was going to try to pull tonight. His laugh was easy and confident. She was already hammered as it was, and he thought he had her. Easy pickings. I edged closer so that I could get a clear view of her drink. She got up to go to the john and that was when he emptied the dope into her drink.

Sweet.




The bastard threw a barstool at me and ran when I began to read him his rights. Kowalski tackled him before he made it halfway across the room and racked the guy's arm back. Looked like that might hurt, and sure enough, he started yowling in pain.

"Shut up, scumbag!" Kowalski yelled above the music. "Vecchio, cuff this low life for me. Put them on nice and tight. Listen, asshole. First, we read you your rights. Then we take you down to the precinct. Then we lock up your perverted ass. Then we take a blood sample. Then we compare your DNA to that found in your other victims. Should have worn a condom, stupid. And then we lock you away for life. Rape is ten years in the clinck, pal, and you're good for eight assaults. Add kidnapping to that? Do the math, motherfucker."




We booked him at the 1-9. Given how loyal people were to Welsh, the guy wouldn't have made it out of his holding cell alive if we'd processed him at the 2-7. We didn't finish up the paperwork until around three, but you wouldn't know it by the way Kowalski was bouncing on the balls of his feet like a prize-fighter. Switching back and forth from foot to foot like some sort of berserk wind-up toy.

"Are you on drugs? It's after three a.m.," I asked and yawned. I was beat. Even my eyebrows hurt.

"Nope, I get wound up collaring jerks like that. Way to go tonight, Vecchio."

He feinted a couple of punches in the air. He was on.

"Come on," I threw an arm over him, led him out of the building, and steered him toward the Slob.

"Here's the keys." I threw them at him and he caught them. "Drive your yah-yahs out."

We drove and we drove and we drove. Once out of Chicago, we tore through miles of dark, which I guessed were farms, dialed it down enough to see the boarded up windows of small towns on their last legs, felt the sunrise on our faces. I flitted in and out of sleep, as we crossed county lines and then state lines. We didn't even stop to piss. He finally cut the engine at the bank of some lake in the middle of nowhere. Indiana? Ohio? Shit. The way we were hauling ass we could even be in Pennsylvania.

"Okay, okay," he muttered and let go of the steering wheel like it was hot. Then he slumped forward and I could hear a gigantic yawn coming from him. He raised one elbow and peeked at me. "I'm done. Need some zees."

"No shit, Sherlock. You see a motel around us? Nothing but water and ducks."

"Motel five miles back," he said, his voice muffled by his armpit.

"Let me drive. I got a couple of minutes sleep between Chicago and Lake wherever in the hell we are. I'm exhausted but not as exhausted as you."

He nodded but didn't move.

"Vecchio, we did good."

"Of course we did good, moron. We are good."

I ruffled his spikes, which were stiff with gel and glitter. There it was again. Something as simple as touching his hair and the vibe in the car changed from two exhausted cops in desperate need of a motel room to two horny cops in desperate need of a motel room. I pulled my hand back but it was too late.

He sat up. Cupping my jaw with one of his impossibly beautiful hands, he asked, "Are you going to do me, Vecchio?"

I couldn't help it. I moved my head to kiss his wrist. He tasted of salt and soap. "Let's get to the motel and call Benny."




As tired as we were, those five miles killed all the sexual mojo. By the time we got to the motel, all either of us wanted to do was sleep. The clerk gave us some hassle, telling me that the motel was full, which was complete bullshit. There was only one car in the lot, and I was pretty damn sure it was his. Although I might be wearing Armani, Kowalski was still wearing his I-dance-and-fuck-for-free clothes, his mascara and eyeliner halfway down his face. I guess we looked like a bad risk. He continued to insist that all the rooms were occupied until Kowalski growled from his chair in the corner, "Vecchio, if that little weenie doesn't give you a key within the next ten seconds, I'm gonna kick him in the head. I'm passing out here I'm so tired." I flashed my badge and that was that.

I called the lieu and left a message saying Kowalski went nutzoid last night and drove us to Indiana, or maybe Ohio or maybe even Pennsylvania, I wasn't sure, and leave a message if he wanted to talk to us; we'd be back in Chicago that night.

I folded my phone shut, took a leak, and when I came back into the room, Kowalski had stripped down to nothing and was already curled up on his side, his pillow mashed into that tortured ball he does. "Vecchio," he croaked and patted the mattress next to him. It didn't take me anytime to shed the clothes, but he was already asleep when I crawled into bed. I scooted up right behind him, my groin tight against his ass. I kissed the back of his head and dropped off just like that.




I woke-up about six hours later, the spikes of Kowalski's hair ticking my chin. He was still sacked out, the huff of his snores warming my neck. We'd shifted around some. We were facing each other, all tangled up. He'd corralled me with a leg over mine and an arm tucked around my waist. His morning wood was throbbing against my thigh and my boner was drilling a hole in his stomach. It was only a matter of time before he woke up.

As his slept, all those hard years ground into the lines on his face vanished. In the dim light of the motel room, he looked about nineteen. I could see why Stella tumbled for him. Lashes so long they rested against the tips of his cheeks, a mouth on him guaranteed to get your panties wet (or your dick twitching). Normally, it was hidden behind all that attitude and that nerveball gig of his, but like this? Man, was he handsome.

"Vecchio, stop watching me, you're creeping me out," he whispered, and then humped my leg.

"Sleeping beauty waking up?"

"Yeah, because your nice fat dick is trying to do my bellybutton. You pick up some weird sex habits in Vegas?"

I laughed, and he took the opportunity to start nuzzling my neck. Putting that gorgeous mouth to use.

I pulled away, grabbed my phone, and put it in the palm of his hand.

"Call him."

"Christ on a raft, Vecchio, I'm telling you he's okay with it. Our dicks about to explode here and you—"

"I'll dial. Square this with him or you're spanking the monkey in the shower."

"Asshole… goddamned jerkoff… Hey, it's me… Yeah, we got the fucker… Okay, the suspect." He rolled his eyes at me and got up to use the john. "Pervert clubbed Vecchio with a barstool trying to escape but I think he's okay." He poked his head out from the bathroom. "You okay?" I nodded and showed him my arm. "Got a nasty bruise on his forearm, but it went down pretty well… Yeah, I'm peeing and talking. Can talk and piss at the same time. I'm special like that… Nope, we're not back at the apartment. Oh cripes! Dief!" He poked his head out again. "Did you leave the window open?" I nodded. The apartment was going to be freezing when we got back, but at least there wouldn't be wolf shit all over the place. He flushed and then climbed back into bed. "Yeah, Vecchio covered it. He's probably at the Consulate by now. Bet Turnbull's teaching him to tango. We're… Where are we, Vecchio?" I threw up my hands. "We don't know where we are. Somewhere east of Chicago… Because after the paperwork I was too jazzed to go home; you know how I get. So we just drove… We're in some motel room. Yeah… Yeah… Okay… You sure? Because… Yeah…" He closed his eyes and even in the muted light of the room I could see how he was gripping the phone. "Yeah… Miss you, too… Yeah, we're good… Yeah, I love you, too, you freak. Here's Vecchio."

The phone was hot from his hand.

"Benny, what in the hell is going on here?"

"Good afternoon, Ray. I understand congratulations are in order."

"Yeah, we made the collar; he's not seeing daylight for the next eighty years. You okay with me and Kowalski?"

He didn't miss a beat, just followed up my questions with a hearty, "Yes, Ray, I am."

Now it was time for me to close my eyes, because he did sound okay with it, not all martyr-y like he gets sometimes.

"This is crazy, Benny. Do you hear me? You are crazy."

"Yes, well, I've thought that for years."

"Are we talking about a threesome here? You love him?"

"I believe we are and yes."

"And you're good with us doing it."

"Yes."

Christ.

"I am picking you up at the airport tonight. If I'm not there in time, take a cab home."

"Don't let him give you any of the walking home shit," Kowalski yelled.

"Hear that?"

"It would be hard not to as it was loud enough to heard without benefit of a telephone."

"We know you, Benny, so can the humor. That's just the sort of crazy-ass thing you'd do. We don't know where in the hell we are, so it might take us some time to get back. Repeat. If I'm not there, take a cab home. If I'm there, we're having this discussion in the parking lot until you tell me what the hell is going on. Got that?"

"Understood. I love you, Ray."

"Yeah, I love you, too, and I still think you're crazy."

I snapped the phone shut and threw it across the room.

"You still think he's not handing me off?"

Kowalski was lying there with his hands folded behind his head. Waiting. His eyes were closed.

"I don't know what to think. Tell me something. Stella was pretty surprised that you decided to talk a walk on the homo side. Why are you with him? In that way."

He looked like someone had given him twin shiners. All that make-up had pooled under his eyes.

"It just doesn't matter to me anymore. You know? A hand or a mouth on your rod? It's all the same. And the fucking isn't all that different. I miss tits, yeah, but by this point, I'd probably miss dick if I was doing it with a woman. And Fraser? He sees me, Vecchio. Like all of me. He sees the good Ray, the crazy, hyped-up Ray, and it's all good with him. In the beginning, Stella saw that Ray, but toward the end, the only Ray she saw was the psycho cop Ray. Fraser? I look into those baby blues of his, and it's just love and acceptance and understanding. It don't matter that there's a guy attached to all that." He opened his eyes. "Plus he has a really nice ass and sucks dick like a pro."

"Like I'm surprised considering what he does with his mouth. He doesn't think he's saving you; he thinks you're saving him."

That got a sweet smile, "Yeah, I know. That's why I love that nutball." He reached over and began running his thumb over one earlobe.

"So I save him, he saves you, you do me, and we got a nice little daisy chain going on."

"I need saving?"

"Oh Vecchio, you sad fuck," he murmured and pulled me to him.




There wasn't much talking other than, "I got tested before Stella and I got married so I'm clean. You're with him so I know you're clean. I wasn't anticipating this so all I got is my mouth and a pair of hands."

"Works for me, now shut up, Vecchio."

He smelled of sweat, sex, deodorant, hair gel, and leather. Talk about a turn on. Being guys, we immediately dived for each other's dicks. Nice thing about a guy doing a guy is that you do to them what you like, which is usually good. I mean, we all got the standard model, the rest is nothing but extras. So you do to him what you like—a couple of minutes of "these are my extras"—and if the guy has any brains, he gets with the program. Plus, guys are rough in the right kind of rough that a woman never seems to be able to pull off.

No surprises, Kowalski was a quick study. He'd slowed it down, paying special attention to that one spot below the crown on the left side that when stroked just right makes my eyes cross. And just like if we were on the dance floor and Kowalski was leading, there was a palm pressed here, and a nudge there, and a dip here and a slide there, and before I knew it, I had my legs spread wide open and his mouth was on my dick. Christ! I couldn't stop watching him, taking me in slow and steady, making a goddamn meal out of me. That beautiful mouth around me, lips shiny with spit, stretched tight over my dick.

"Kowal— Let me—"

He ignored me, just took my dick in deeper, wrapped a spare hand around my balls, fondling them in the dip of his palm, pressed a finger there, and swallowed.

That took me over, and over in a way that hadn't happened in a long time. Not even with Stella had it been this free, this easy, this nice.

When I came down from the high, I opened my eyes. He was studying me, palming himself just enough so he wouldn't lose it.

"Stop watching me, Kowalski; it's creeping me out."

That got a laugh, but when I went to touch him, he batted my hand away, got up, and went into the bathroom. I heard the creaking of pipes and then the whoosh of water as he turned on the shower. I gave him a minute and then went to join him.

I pulled back the shower curtain. His forehead resting against the tile, letting the hot water run down his back, he turned his head away from me so I wouldn't see that he was crying. I half expected him to kick me out, but he didn't say anything or resist me when I tugged on him so that he faced me. I wrapped my arms around him, and he sank into me. I held him for a couple of minutes and then began to soap him up. I washed his hair with the cheap freebie from the motel chain, cleaned all the make-up off his face, gave his pits and chest a good scrub, and then soaped up his dick and brought him off with a few strong pulls. He bucked against me, his hands digging into my shoulders as the high washed over him. Once he stopped panting, he rinsed off his dick and then got out, leaving me to finish up. By the time I'd entered the room he was dressed, with his head down and his hands clutching his kneecaps so hard I could see the white of his knuckles.

I got dressed. As I slipped my bare feet into my loafers, I said, "You think this is going to work between the three of us?"

"Don't know," he mumbled and sniffed, moved to wipe the snot away with his forearm, and then thought the better of it.

I got him some toilet paper and handed it to him. "Then why in the—"

He blew his nose, then looked at me; his eyes were raw. "Because you're not half bad, Vecchio. Because maybe it could work between us, just you and me. Because maybe I'm not sure I can cut it in Canada."

"Now who's the sad fuck?"

"Yeah, well, I got company. Let go home."




Kowalski drove like a bat out of hell to get us back in time. He might have used the portable flashers once or twice, I'm not telling. Plus, Fraser's flight was late because of wind shear, so I was just running into the international part of the terminal when he came down the escalator. He gave me a weak smile, which I did not return because I did not feel like smiling. I motioned to the baggage carousel. He held up his carry-on to indicate that was it. Only Benny could go away for two weeks and live out of a bag the size of a dish towel.

We got to the Slob, he threw his bag in the back, and he eased into the front seat like his back hurt him.

"Your back bothering you or are you trying to delay this conversation?"

He snapped his seat belt shut and looked straightforward. At a concrete wall. "A little of both."

"He thinks you're dumping him onto me. He thinks that you think he's going to wuss out up there, and that you're grooming me to be the back-up plan."

That got his attention.

"Oh dear. I am doing nothing of the sort. Well, I am and I'm not."

"Tell him the 'not' part, because he's convinced of that and it's tearing him up inside. Then tell me the 'am' part."

"I…"

I got the eyebrow rub and the neck crick and the lip licking.

"It's not Ray's inadequacies that concern me. It's mine."

"Last time I looked, you didn't have inadequacies, Benny."

"I would say that in most areas I am quite proficient, but in relationships, I seem to be at sea. You yourself have remarked on it."

Yeah, I said it, but now I felt like a heel.

"Victoria Metcalf was an A-1, first-class predator. She had a Ph.D. in working people. Don't beat yourself up over it."

He pressed both hands against the dash as if to hold him up.

"I am actually grateful to Victoria. Up until that point, I was insufferably arrogant pretty much across the board, although in a very polite way, of course. That great weakness… I was running to join her, not to apprehend her? You do know that, Ray?"

I sighed. I never thought I'd have to spell this out, but apparently it was confession time. "Of course I knew. That's why I shot you. She would have killed you the minute the train cleared the city. But what does this have to do with you, me, and Kowalski?"

"I am terrified that I will fail him. As you so eloquently put it, my track record in these matters is abysmal. He gives a tremendous amount of love because he needs a tremendous amount of love. I want… If it doesn't work, I want someone here. I want someone to watch his back, as he would say. I am not asking you to come to Canada, Ray, but I am asking you to be with us until we leave. And be here for him if he comes back. Ray will not fail up there, I am sure of it. He is an amazingly determined and resourceful individual. You should have seen him on our quest. My worry is that I will fail Ray. The last thing he needs in his life is another person who doesn't love him enough. Stella's rejection almost killed him. I do not use those words lightly."

I wasn't in a position to comment on Stella and Kowalski because the ink was barely dry on my own divorce papers, but she sure called it. But I couldn't say that to Benny.

"You're making a mountain out of a…"

His hands fell from the dash and lay on his thighs, limp as if he were exhausted.

"Ray," he snapped. "I am thirty-nine years old, and my only other relationship was with a bank robber and a murderer. Do you think I trust myself to know what in the Sam Hill I am doing here?"

That was pretty hard to refute. Once glance at Metcalf's jacket would be enough to make me put deadbolt locks on every door in my apartment and hire a full-time bodyguard. Maybe two. This guy packed his suitcase and bought their train tickets.

"Lest you think I'm being completely mercenary about this, there's you," he added in a low voice.

"I don't need—"

"Yes, you do," he interrupted in that solemn voice he only uses when someone's died. "I ache every time I look at you, Ray. You are broken."

I couldn't deny that because I was broken. So broken that I should have rattled when I walked.

"I didn't get any vibe from you when we were partners. None, nada, I'd swear on a stack of bibles."

"Because there wasn't one. That was a very long time ago, or at least it seems like several lifetimes ago, and I certainly wasn't thinking in those terms myself. What with my father, Victoria, my near-constant disorientation trying to come to grips with American culture. It's impossible to imagine those years… It was all I could do to manage the status quo. And for you, there was Irene Zuko. If I had made any overtures, would you have been welcoming?"

I shook my head because pre-Vegas Vecchio might give grief to other guys making homophobic slurs, but those were the Irene years and nothing came close. Not even Benny.

"But you and Ray?"

Christ, there were far too many "rays" in this scenario.

"Vegas," I said, and swiped my bald spot with my palm. A sure tell I was exhausted and confused. "Changed everything. What about you? What changed everything for you?"

"Ray. Ray did," he admitted. "He's rather a force of nature."

"You'll get no arguments from me on that score," I muttered. Course, I was thinking a natural disaster on the scale of a hundred-year flood.

"And now? You and me?" The Mountie wasn't giving up. Add that the Mountie is Benton Fraser to that equation and we had stubborn elevated to a whole new level.

"Now? Yeah. I think yeah."

My voice cracked at the end of that. In one swift movement, Benny undid his seat belt, and leaned toward me; cupped my face with both of his hands and kissed me. He pulled away to give me time to protest, and when I didn't say anything, he kissed me again. Slowly this time and very gently, like I was made of porcelain, tugging my bottom lip with both of his until I opened my mouth. In between kisses he murmured my name as if to say, Yes, I know who I'm kissing. The scar tissue began to ease, to stretch, and, man, I could breath. After a couple of minutes he pulled away and leaned against the door, not saying anything, but clearly asking a question.

"Okay, okay."

I turned the key. It was time to go home.




Kowalski was sitting on the couch pretending to watch some old hockey game when we got home. He didn't turn around when we entered the apartment, even though there was no way he could ignore that fact we were home. Dief went nuts, leaping all over the place, licking every part of Benny he could reach.

"Not now, Diefenbaker, I must talk to Ray."

Benny didn't even take off his coat. He made a beeline for Kowalski, batting Dief down along the way.

He got down on his knees, fitting himself into the vee of Kowalski's sprawl, and hugged him. It was like I had Benny ears, I could hear the ease of Benny's jacket as he leaned in to grab Kowalski. The weird squeaks from Kowalski as he tried to keep it together and not cry on Benny's shoulder. The murmurs: "Sssh, it's not you. It's me." The "No, I'm a fuck-up, we both…" the "No, you're not. Don't say things like that."

Then there were lots of languid kisses and hands removing clothes and thick Mountie fingers tugging on a zipper, and pants being eased over slender hips. I was a part of this for better or worse. I stood there with a palm on my aching dick, noticing how Kowalski couldn't his eyes off Benny as he sucked him off. Talk about a force of nature.

I couldn't take my eyes off of Benny either, and it hit me. Like someone punched me in the gut. Maybe the Bookman had liked guys, but did he want them tall, dark, and handsome? How many times had I sat sprawled on a couch with some dark-haired, blue-eyed hustler on his knees bringing me off? How many times had I'd run my hand through some guy's black hair, my instructions to the goons getting more and more specific. Taller, broader shoulders, shorter hair, darker hair, blue-eyes, no, not that color of blue, morons. I should have just called Chicago and had them send me him. Maybe I'd been subconsciously looking for Benny to do me, to be there for me, to save me.

I stumbled over to them and fell on my knees. I wrapped myself around him, my cheek hard against the curve of his back. I felt every sigh of desire, every moan, every grunt as he made love to Kowalski. Just before Kowalski got off, Benny took one of my hands and pushed it against the base of Kowalski's dick. I curled my hand around him and felt the push of Benny's lips against my hand and then the hot throbbing pulse as Kowalski let go.

"Ray," Benny said a couple of minutes later, and somehow I knew he meant me. "Let's go into the bedroom. All three of us."

I think I nodded. I wasn't sure what in the hell I was doing anymore. And apparently I'd been crying because before they even undressed me, Benny was daubing my face with a one of his ever-at-the-ready handkerchiefs. There wasn't an inch of my body they didn't kiss, lick, or caress. Benny insisted on keeping the lights on so that there wasn't any chance of hiding of what we were doing and with who. Benny turned out to be world's expert on giving blow jobs; he could give Vegas hookers pointers. Kowalski turned out to be an even better kisser than Benny, plus he had the stamina of a sixteen year old. Ten minutes after Benny blew him, he had another boner. They worked me over from the top of my bald head to the soles of my bare feet, and when they were done with me, leaving me in a boneless blissed out puddle, they did each other. Watching Kowalski fuck Benny was like getting a primer on sex. I thought I was pretty decent in bed, but he took his time, got the angle just right, moved to some internal beat; it was about getting it right for Benny, making it the best for him. I wanted to do that. I wanted to feel that.

We curled up in what would later be our standard bedtime configuration. Me in the middle, Kowalski to my right, Benny to my left. I lay there completely fucked out, waiting for sleep to catch up to me.

"You okay, Vecchio? No more boo-hooing?" Kowalski gave me a nice fat kiss underneath the ear on a pretty nice part of my neck.

"Ray," barked Benny. "A little compassion if you please."

"Hey, I'm asking him if he's okay. That's compassionate," he groused. "I'm Mr. Compassion, as a matter-of-fact. I invented compassion."

"Please. You did not invent compassion."

I started laughing.

"See, he agrees with me."

"He does not agree with you. Since when does laughter indicate agreement? Amusement, perhaps."

"Don't pull that 'perhaps' shit on me. It could. Maybe not in Canada where they have to import their laughter because it's a country of killjoys."

"Are you calling me a killjoy?"

I laughed harder.




"Such a goddamned lightweight. Three orgasms and he's out like a light."

I kissed the back of Kowalski's head. He was sandwiched between the two of us, facing Benny, his butt backed up against my groin.

"The birthday boy," Benny whispered and gave Kowalski a kiss of his own.

"You know what I want for my birthday?" I said in a low voice. Given Benny's thing for lights and sex, the floor lamp from the living room cast enough of a glow that I could see Benny raise his eyebrows in question.

"A king-size bed."

Benny smiled and nodded in agreement.

Since Kowalski had Benny in some sort of death grip, I got up, took a leak, gave the wolf a pat, and turned out all the lights. I was half asleep when Benny said in a low voice, "Ray? We leave in one year." He reached over Kowalski's shoulder and began thumbing my cheek.

"Shush, you'll wake him up," I murmured. I did not want to have this conversation.

"Are you coming with us?"

"Christ, Benny, I don't know. I just don't know."

"We would miss you dreadfully."

"Dickhead, you're coming, whether you like it or not," Kowalski growled.

"Look who woke up; Sleeping Asshole."

"Ray," Benny admonished.

Kowalski turned over. "Yeah, Ray. We are a family, whether you like it or not. You're the grumpy dad who keeps it all together, Fraser's the understanding mom who loves us in spite of fact that we can be jerks every now and then, and I'm the lovable but mixed-up punk kid who's two steps away from a stint in juvey. It's the modern-day version of the classic American family, except he's Canadian, and we got dicks."

Okay, we were having this conversation whether I liked it or not.

"What in the hell am I going to do up there?"

"Same thing I am," he huffed. "Haven't a clue. But you stay here and within five years there won't be nothing left. Whatever Vegas didn't kill off, another five here chasing perverts and dealing with fucktards will complete the job."

"Language, Ray." Then there were a couple of small coughs followed by a "Well," from Fraser's side of the bed. "Being in charge of the revised curriculum at the Depot, I took the liberty of addressing a gross oversight and have added an entire new series of classes on American law enforcement techniques. We shall need teachers…" His voice trailed off.

I groaned. "It finally happened. We've corrupted him."

"Not at all. All changes in the curriculum have to be approved by a committee. While I am currently chair of that committee…"

"Don't tell me! The curriculum committee?" Kowalski asked.

"Those curriculums are hell to round up," I added.

"Gentlemen," Benny intoned in his "the Mountie is not amused" voice.

"Oh no! It's the dreaded 'gentlemen' time. Run for cover. Round up the women and children. Circle the wagons. Dive for cover," Kowalski yelled and then grabbed the edge of the blankets and pulled it over his head.

Sometimes it's just too easy.

"Now," I ordered.

We began to tickle, and then the wolf had to get in on the act and give him birthday kisses on both ears.

After twenty minutes, we were all tickled out and snuggled up again in our usual squished configuration: Kowalski on one end, his groin pressing my butt, me in the middle, with my groin pressing against Benny's butt. I was going out tomorrow and buying us a king-size bed. It's amazing none of us had atrophied limbs by morning.

Benny was already asleep, his breathing heavy and deep, when Kowalski whispered in my ear, "You be my little bit of Chicago and I'll be your little bit of Chicago. That way we'll make it. Okay?"

I'd been putting this off, not wanting to think about it, even though I knew it was looming.

"Why can't we stay here?" I whispered back.

"Because he ain't happy here, moron."

I thought about what Stella said, how Kowalski would do anything for those he loved, how he gave as much as he took. How he was willing to give up Chicago for Benny. Even though Kowalski and I weren't going to start buying each other roses, if he told me in the morning that he loved me, I'd say back, "I know that, stupid." I told Benny every night that I loved him and got back, "And I you, Ray." So I didn't feel cheated or the third wheel. Somewhere between arriving at their door with three suitcases and now, their duet became our trio. It worked. I lay there wondering what… Then I got it. Kowalski gave me half of Benny. He didn't have to, but he knew that Benny wanted him to and that I needed him to and that was that. He gave it up.

Regina wasn't thirty people and a couple of sleds. There were almost two hundred thousand people. Kowalski and I wouldn't go that nuts. They had butchers (no eating moose or pemmican seven nights a week) and fresh produce (no rummaging around in a snow bank for a bag of frozen corn come dinnertime). Benny's compromise. If he'd have his choice, we'd be living where your nearest neighbor was the moose herd thirty miles down the mountain. We had our pensions so we'd get resident visas with no hassle. Plus that whole Russian sub thing should give us some cred with the bureaucrats. We could teach a few classes, maybe even start a car repair business, Kowalski do the actual work, me handle the paperwork, because he was shit at that sort of thing, but give him a transmission, even a Swedish transmission, and he was all over it.

Kowalski was rubbing my bald spot, I had Benny's ass against my dick, and I could hear the wolf's tags jingle as he went to get a drink.

"Yeah?" Kowalski whispered, following that up by a nip to my ear lobe.

Ray Vecchio, don't be an idiot.

I turned over and whispered back, "Yeah."




Fin