"One's first love is always perfect until one meets one's second love."
—Elizabeth Aston, The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy, 2005
On his first day back at the two-seven, Kowalski
slams a stack of files on top of the empty desk across
from Ray's and looks up at him, daring him to say anything.
Everyone else shuts up for a minute and looks over to
see what will happen next.
Nothing does. Ray doesn't know why Kowalski is back
and he doesn't care [he doesn't], and Kowalski is the
first one to look away.
Ray goes back to his report.
Sometimes Ray wonders who left who, because he can't
imagine Benny ever giving up, not on something like this—
[he gave up on you]
—but he can't imagine Kowalski calling it quits either.
Benny never said anything about the split in any of his
letters, which he writes like clockwork once a month.
Just one day Kowalski was back at the two-seven and
Benny started adding "please pass on my best wishes to
Ray" to the usual polite stuff about the health and
prosperity of the rest of the Vecchios.
Ray does, too, the first few times, even if he
has to grit his teeth a little when he says it.
Kowalski gets this look in his eyes when he does,
every time. He stops.
Sometimes Ray thinks about what would have happened
if he hadn't said yes to the Feds.
They have a lot of things in common. A name, a rank, a job, a city, a wife.
A Mountie they never talk about.
Ray gets the breath knocked out of him as his back
connects with the wall.
"What the fuck—"
"Shut up." Vecchio's voice sounds raw. "Just—Jesus Christ,
Kowalski—don't you ever shut your mouth?"
Vecchio moves in closer, until he's flush up against Ray,
and Ray tries to breathe but all the air seems gone, like it all got burned
away. It's dark but he can feel everything: strong fingers gripping his
shoulders tight, pushing him back against cold brick; the ache on the
side of his head where an hour ago Jimmy Evans tried to brain him with
a bat; the sharp wind tugging at the corners of his jacket; and the
hard dick rubbing against his thigh.
"Something bothering you?" he asks Vecchio, with what little
breath he has left. Ray can barely see his face.
"You bother me," Vecchio growls, shoving again. He dips his head
and bites Ray's throat.
Ray's hips jerk helplessly and he grabs the back of Vecchio's
jacket, holding on tight. He arches his back, moans. Vecchio bites his ear
and reaches between them, hands on his belt buckle.
Ray sinks to his knees.
They fuck like they fight, taking no prisoners.
When Vecchio gets angry, the little old lady three blocks over
knows it, he yells so loud. Ray yells right back and then they're
talking over each other until the sound is deafening, and then the
shoving starts until finally—usually—someone steps in to break them
up and Vecchio stomps away, still snarling.
Ray prefers it to silence.
It becomes a war of attrition, both of them throwing themselves
—again and again and again—up against the walls they've each built so high.
Sometimes it feels like it's more about not losing than it is about winning.
Other times it's vicious, words slicing deep.
Sometimes Ray wonders if there'll be anything left
when the war is over.
The first time they kiss is weird. Because they don't kiss;
they just fuck. And fight.
So when Vecchio comes out of the bathroom and sits on the bed,
and just looks at Ray, eyes all dark and heavy, and puts his hand on the
side of Ray's face where it rests, just barely there, just barely touching,
and leans over and touches his mouth to Ray's, well, it's weird.
It's light and easy, no teeth or tongue. But when Vecchio lifts
his head Ray lifts himself up, following Vecchio's mouth, and when
Vecchio leans down again there is tongue, there are
teeth—his teeth, latching onto Vecchio's lower lip and tugging
it down before he dives in. His hands are on Vecchio's head and Vecchio's
hands are on him, and Vecchio's leaning down, leaning down—down, down, down
—until he's on top of Ray, pressing him into the mattress.
Ray kissed Irene to spite Frankie. He's pretty sure the thing
with Kowalski isn't anything like that.
Vecchio's the king of undercover gigs since his time in Vegas.
The Feds keep pulling him away for quick stings with "guys who know guys
who know guys" in the mob, guys still dazzled by Langostino's reputation,
even if they're a little behind on current events. When he does one of
these stings he looks as shiny as a brand new nickel, hair buzzed down
to almost nothing and wearing a slick, black Armani suit, his nails trimmed
and buffed. He flashes guns and drugs and money with a big smile. Vecchio
likes it, pulling on his costume and playing a big shot.
Ray hates it. He hates it because it scares him, and he doesn't
like being scared so that gets him mad, and when he gets made he yells.
And then Vecchio yells back, and they fight, and more often than not it's
nasty and vicious. Ray says things he doesn't mean, and when Vecchio leaves
he's pissed off, and there's an awful kind of stony silence between them.
Ray spends the whole time Vecchio's away worrying that the last thing he ever
said to him was "fuck you," and it's like Ray can't breathe again until he
sees Vecchio walk back through his door.
Ray dreams that Vecchio is fucking him. Fraser is watching.
Vecchio has nightmares. Big, ugly ones that wake Ray up when
Vecchio tosses and turns and mutters in his sleep. Sometimes, Ray wakes up
and Vecchio's not there, and he finds him sitting at the kitchen table,
eyes closed, breathing hard through his nose, his head resting in his hands,
and an unopened bottle of whiskey in front of him.
Vecchio won't talk about them, ever. "They're not important.
When Ray finds him in the kitchen, he always stays, even when
Vecchio tells him to go back to bed. He just sits there, quiet, and watches
Vecchio come down.
Sometimes Ray wishes he could just figure it out, why he's back
in Chicago and not on the back of a dogsled, cutting tracks into pristine snow.
There had to have been a point, he thinks, a moment, something. Something he
could have done differently, or not done, or not said.
Ray wears a costume, too. A leather jacket. Big boots. A hard
smile and a fuck you attitude.
The first time Kowalski put his tongue in Ray's ass Ray felt a rush
of heat that started at the base of his dick and swept through him,
up into his face and back down to his dick again. His head fell back
and his knees rose higher, spread wider, before he turned his head
and tried to bury his face in the pillow, tried to stop all of the
words spilling out of his mouth.
Need. Want. Love.
They're like two puzzles pieces that almost fit together but not quite.
The problem isn't in the way the pieces curve; there it's good; it's almost perfect.
It's the sharp edges that make them bleed.
Doesn't stop them from trying to mash the pieces together.
Ray wonders if Fraser will feel any regret when he hears about
the two of them, together.
So does Ray.
Ray has kissed three guys in his life. Frankie, Benny, and Kowalski.
Sometimes he wonders how long it will take for Kowalski to break his heart.
Mostly, Kowalski likes to be fucked and Ray likes to fuck him,
so it works out pretty good. Every once in awhile though, Kowalski
pushes him up against the wall or down on the bed, and when he
gets inside, Ray leans back into every thrust of Kowalski's hips,
taking, and taking, and taking.
They have carefully drawn boundaries. Things they do; things they don’t do.
Who pays for dinner; how often they stay the night. Questions they don’t ask;
information they don’t offer. They don’t share keys or closets, or leave so much
as a toothbrush behind. There are words they don't use; things they don't say.
Until one day, suddenly, they do.
Ray was always good at anniversaries, but he can't decide
when the clock started running on theirs. The first time they
fucked (no) or the first time they kissed (no) or the first time
Vecchio stayed the night (no)?
(The first time they said the thing out loud and to each
other, and in a way they couldn’t either of them take it back?.
They both spend the day waiting to see if the other one
If Stella was his second chance, what does that make
His fist lands so hard on the counter that the plant at the
edge topples over.
"You see this lady? This is a badge and I am a cop
and Detective Kowalski is my partner so just stop with the bullshit
about family members only and tell me where the hell I can find him before
I arrest you for obstruction. It won't stick but I can guarantee you it'll
ruin your afternoon."
Fraser flies in for Frannie's wedding to Detective Rossi, who is
so squeaky brand new that when Ray sits down in the pew after giving
his sister away, Kowalski leans over and asks him in a whisper if Ray
made sure to take off the shrink wrap before the kid put on his tux.
Frannie's radiant; the kid stumbles over his vows, and Ma's tear ducts
are overflowing like a fountain. Fraser's in the pew behind them, bride's side. Ray
imagines he can feel every breath Fraser takes.
At the reception Ray gets called away for one thing after another,
and then there's the toast, in which he says he would wish them many
babies but Frannie seems to already have that covered. After everyone
laughs and drinks and he puts down his glass, he notices Kowalski isn't
in his chair. When he looks around, he sees him in the back with Fraser,
who's shinier than the groom in the formal red uniform. They've got
their heads together, whispering, and Ray has to make himself look away.
Later, when everyone's throwing bird seed as Frannie and Rossi
make their way to the limo, Ray feels Kowalski come up behind him.
"Frannie looks happy," Kowalski says, after taking a drink from
"Yeah, she does. And Rossi's a good guy. He'll treat right."
Ray takes a deep breath. "So I saw you and Fraser talking earlier."
"Yeah." Kowalski moves around to stand in front of him. "He had
a couple of things he wanted to tell me." Kowalski looks back at
the happy couple and grins. Frannie turns around just before she climbs
in the limo and tosses her bouquet right at Welsh, who fumbles and
almost drops it before Elaine steps in to save it.
Ray waits but Kowalski doesn't say anything more. Finally he
can't take it and he asks, "And?"
Kowalski looks back at him and shrugs. "And he told me."
Ray studies him. Kowalski's face looks open and peaceful,
his eyes clear.
"So you're good then."
Kowalski nods. "I'm good. You good?"
"I'm good," Ray says.
They both smile.
"You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star."