Ray worries. He didn't used to be a worrier but then he didn't used to be in love with a dippy cop with a trick knee and a stubborn refusal to wear his glasses. These days the worst injury he gets on his job is a nasty papercut (Hemingway is the worst, Ray swears, it's like he wants everyone to suffer alongside him), but Kowalski? He takes his gun out of the safe every morning and holsters it like he's simply putting on another layer of clothes, and it makes Ray shudder because today could be the day. Today could be the day he gets the call because Kowalski wasn't quick enough or smart enough or lucky enough.
So he worries. But it's not like he can ask Kowalski to give up his job just so he can live that extra couple hours that he swears are shaved off his life every day. He doesn't want to be that guy. He hates that guy.
"Be safe," he used to say, every time Kowalski walked out the door until Kowalski had rolled his eyes and said,
"No. No, I will not be safe today. In fact, Vecch-i-o, I am planning on placing myself in danger every half hour just for shits and giggles. Starting by riding the L. On the roof. Of course I'll be safe, what did you think I was gonna do?"
But then he'd crossed back to Ray, kissed him long and hard and added, "Later, toots," making a run for the door before Ray could clip him around the ear, so Ray knew he wasn't pissed.
Later, Kowalski had called him up. "It freaks me out that you worry, okay? I can't be worrying about you worrying about me when I'm chasing down a crack dealer, you know? It's distracting, and it's not like I need the help. Oh, a penny!"
"I get it," Ray'd said, phone tucked under his cheek, running Kowalski's jeans through his hands to figure out if they were worth patching or if he should find some way to throw them out that wouldn't result in the wrong kind of pouting. "I mean, I'll worry anyway, but you know that, right? You just don't need to know it."
"You win all the prizes," Kowalski'd said. "All of 'em."
"Collect when you come home?"
So no more "Be safe." But Ray feels the absence. Sending Kowalski off to work with a, "Here's your coffee, try to make it last past the end of the block," or a "Don't forget, dinner at Frannie's at eight," just do not cut it. And then he has his eureka moment, only he's not in the bath, he's wandering around in his purple robe and the Eeyore slippers Frannie'd bought him as a joke last Christmas, and Kowalski's slipping on his leather jacket ready to go.
"Hey," he says. "I love you, Stanley."
"Love you, too," says Kowalski, fighting with the keys on the hook. "Later, okay?"
Ray doesn't say anything more, just lifts his hand and smiles. The door shuts behind Kowalski and he stares at it, nodding to himself. How did he not figure this out before? Sure, it's important Kowalski come home safe at the end of the day--maybe the most important thing in Ray's life ever--but if it does happen and the call comes, then at least Ray will know that the last thing Kowalski heard from him was how much he cares. And it eases something inside him, something that has been held tight and bound in his chest since the day he'd realized exactly how much a skinny cop with no self-preservation instinct, the soul of a wannabe poet and the grace of a cat (okay, on some days a really clumsy cat) meant to him.
"I love you," he says the next day, handing over the travel mug and stealing a kiss in return.
"I know," says Kowalski. And, "Chewie, fire up the Falcon."
"I love you!" he yells out of the tiny bathroom window, scalp white with shampoo, to the top of Kowalski's head.
Kowalski looks up, squinting into the early morning sun. "You wanna wake Mr. Grunwald? Because I do not want to have the 'in my day we all wore short pants and spoke only on Sundays between one and three' conversation again. And yeah, me too."
"Mmmyou, love, I. You. Sssssstanley," he mumbles as Kowalski rolls out of bed, responding to a middle-of-the-night call.
"Get your beauty sleep, you need it," says Kowalski, but kisses Ray's forehead all the same. "I love you, too, dorkwad."
Every day he says it, and it never makes the words mean any less, not when he says them and not when he hears them. One day he's sick with what has to be the world's worst ever case of laryngitis and lies there, huddled in the comforter trying to figure out if his body is going to sweat or freeze him to death. He can't say a word, can barely even think.
"Hey," says Kowalski from the doorway and Ray looks at him through slitted, bleary eyes. "I gotta go, I'm sorry. Ma's coming by at ten, okay? She'll let herself in. Be good. If you can."
Ray nods, wincing hard as he swallows what appear to be fifteen rusty razors. Kowalski leans his head against the doorframe and just looks at Ray for a few seconds. Then he holds up one hand, forefinger, pinky and thumb outstretched.
With what Ray figures is an entire morning's effort, he raises his eyebrows in a question.
'"It's ASL," says Kowalski. "Means, 'I love you.' I just thought...Seeing as how you can't speak or..." He fidgets from one foot to the other.
Ray doesn't know how he fights his way out from under the layers of covers, but he does, and mirrors Kowalski's gesture, holding his hand up and then laying it against his chest. Kowalski smiles then, brilliant as lightning, and copies Ray's movement. Then he's gone.
Ray collapses back against his pillows, shivering, but happy. So he needs to say it and Kowalski needs to hear it--just one more reason why they make an awesome team. Better than the Second City crew, or the Hawks, or even the Bulls. Voice (or hand) willing, Ray's not going to stop his early morning 'I love you' until Kowalski finally hangs up his holster (or more likely, drops it on the floor for Ray to pick up). Not even then--some of those shuffleboarding grandmas have got evil elbows, Ray's not risking sending Kowalski out to his doom armed only with a list of refills to pick up from the pharmacy and a command to fleece the blue-haired warriors for everything they've got. It's a good life, he thinks. Even with a temperature of, like, one-oh-three point freaking two. It's a good life and it keeps on getting better.