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Ray knows it's stupid to come to a bar when he's this wired and jittery and needy. But if he stayed home to get drunk he'd just end up calling Stella in the middle of the night again, which would be even stupider.

So here he is, eleven o'clock on a Thursday night, on drink number something, twisting his hips some so the barstool does half-circles under him, making designs on the bar with the condensation rings from his glass. Flicking a glance now and then at the chick near the door who's a little interested and the guy toward the back who's a little interested. Trying to decide who to try for, trying to talk himself into trying at all, because even though he's got the jitters and he needs something, somebody, the idea of being flirty and charming and fun for as long as it would take just makes him tired.

And then a guy he hadn't even noticed sits down on the stool next to him, waves the bartender over, jerks a thumb at Ray and says, "Give him another."

Oh thank god. Maybe they can skip the charming.

Ray looks the guy up and down and over, doesn't bother with subtle because the guy's doing the same to him. Nice clothes, looks to be in good shape under them. Not much hair, but he's not trying any pathetic combover shit, points for that. The nose is--Christ, the nose is not doing him any favors, but he's got a good quirky smile, could maybe be way more than good if he turned up the wattage.

Ray downs his drink and then buys them a round, to establish: available, interested, but not for sale.

After they gulp those down he stands up, jerks his head toward the door, and the guy follows him out. Yeah, this is going to be complication-free--excellent.

Ray leads him a couple blocks down and around the corner to a motel where they don't look at you funny if you've got no suitcases and you pay in cash. But it's pretty clean and the sheets don't scare him.

Once they're in the room Ray kicks off his shoes, takes off his belt, because why wait around? And then notices that he's reaching up to take off the shoulder holster that he isn't wearing. He glances over quick to see if the guy's looking, which he is, but he's also reaching for his own hip, for a holster that isn't there either.

Ray cracks up. "Cop?" he says.

"Yeah. You?"

"Yeah. Man, we'd suck at undercover, wouldn't we?"

"Nah, we're just both really good at detecting," the cop says, and grins big, and Ray was right, the bigger grin is pretty damn good.

Ray sticks out his hand, which seems weird but hey, brother officer, there's etiquette, says, "I'm Ray," and the guy says, "Hah, me too," and shakes.

And then Ray needs to shift the mood, because he can feel the evening about to slide into the two of them sitting on the side of the bed exchanging funny cop stories, and he wants, needs it to be something different, way different from that.

So he squeezes tighter on the cop's hand, pulls him close and runs his lips down the side of his neck. That earns him a breathy little shiver, nice, and Ray makes his voice all low and raspy, Stella called it his fuck-me voice, and says, "I gotta get another name out of you, because I plan on coming a lot tonight, and if I wanted to come yelling 'Ray!' I could have stayed home."

"Vecchio," the guy gasps.

"Okay then. Kowalski," Ray says, and kisses and nips up the neck and over to Vecchio's mouth. Which is closed and kinda tense, huh, but Ray works it for a while, just soft brushes with his lips and little flicks with his tonguetip, and finally Vecchio sighs and opens his mouth and Ray's in, and he puts his arms around Vecchio's waist but the guy feels like a statue, just rigid all over. Shit.

Ray pulls back, looks at him. "First time?" he says. And he can see Vecchio gearing up to lie, but then he doesn't, looks Ray in the eye and says "Yeah. Sorry."

"S'okay," Ray says. It isn't, really, it's gonna be a hell of a lot more work than he was looking for, and it's a coin toss whether Ray will be getting a damn thing out of it, but he's already paid for the room, and he sure doesn't feel up to going back to the bar.

So he kisses some more, and finally Vecchio starts to get into it, relaxes a little bit, gives a little tongue back. But every time Ray pushes--nibbles at his ear, runs a thumb over his nipple through his shirt--Vecchio flinches, pulls away a bit, then leans back into what Ray's doing. But--slowly, reluctantly, with his head down. Not like, "Hey, wow, that actually felt good!" but like, "Oh hell, that actually felt good."

Ray sighs. It's almost midnight, and he's working tomorrow, and he does not have time for this shit. He gives Vecchio a little shove, backs him up enough to see his face, and says, "Look, are you trying to hate this? Are you wanting to hate this? Because, if you are, I'm not your guy. I got skills. Go find somebody who's lousy at it."

And Vecchio laughs. Sits down on the bed and laughs loud for a long while, and then says, "Yeah. Yeah, you do. And I'm--I was sort of planning to hate it. But I don't." He looks up at Ray, reaches out a hand and pulls him down to sit next to him, then cups Ray's cheeks and kisses him, and hey, now they're getting somewhere.

Ray pushes them over into a sprawl and keeps kissing, works Vecchio's eighty-seven little shirt buttons and keeps kissing, because once Vecchio decides to go for something he fucking goes for it, apparently, because the kissing is excellent, hard and hot and fast but not sloppy, and he's not stopping, no way is Ray stopping now. He strokes Vecchio's nipples and gets the first moan out of him, and that sound gets Ray way more revved up. He has to concentrate not to start humping Vecchio's leg from that sound, but he needs to wait for that, needs to get Vecchio crazy enough first that he won't run screaming.

Ray pulls back just long enough to yank his t-shirt off, and then they've got skin against skin and Vecchio is hot. And furry as hell, which tickles when Ray just rubs against him lightly, but then Vecchio gets his arms around Ray's ribs and squeezes him in tight and it doesn't tickle any more, it just feels--god, skin and hot and good. Ray buries his face in Vecchio's neck and just lets himself be squeezed for a minute. It smells great there and Ray has to remind himself he's not here for a fucking cuddle, he's here to take care of some needs, and he gets to work on Vecchio's pants.

He's got pants and underwear shoved down around Vecchio's knees before he remembers to check on the guy, and, shit, Vecchio's eyes have gotten really round and he's breathing too fast, but not in the good way.

"Hey," Ray says, grabs Vecchio's face, forces eye contact. "Chill out. You can walk any time you want to, but you're not gonna want to, okay?"

"Okay," Vecchio whispers, and chills a little.

Ray goes at it slow, trailing his fingertips over Vecchio's thighs and belly until he switches over into the right kind of breathing too fast. And the first time Ray lets himself brush, just barely, across his cock, Vecchio makes a strangled sound and arches up like he's right there, already. Been a while, Ray's guessing, and this isn't gonna take long, he can bring the guy off in thirty seconds and then take care of himself rubbing up against Vecchio's hip or something, while he's still all dazed and grateful. It's a plan.

It's an excellent plan. And instead Ray finds himself holding back, and teasing, and trying to impress the guy. Or kill him, maybe. He goes back to stroking Vecchio's stomach, and his legs, just every now and then one light little feathery touch across his dick, like maybe it was an accident, and Vecchio's moaning nonstop now, clutching the bedspread up into his fists, and he keeps saying "Pl—" and then stopping himself. Ray almost takes pity on the guy, because, first time, and obviously asking would be a big fucking deal. But then Vecchio breaks and says please and that's really good, that does good things for Ray, and Ray wraps his hand around, no more teasing, takes Vecchio's cock in his hand and jerks him off fast and hard. He'd really like to get his mouth down there, too, but that would probably be pushing it, so he just squeezes and pulls, and bites at Vecchio's nipple, and Vecchio howls and comes all over the place. Seriously. Some gets in Ray's ear.

"Jesus," Ray says. He pats Vecchio's sticky stomach and goes to the tiny bathroom, wets down a scratchy washcloth, scrubs at his ear and hair and temple and then goes back and cleans up Vecchio, who doesn't seem able to move yet.

Ray finishes stripping down, peels Vecchio's pants and underwear the rest of the way off his legs, and settles himself up against Vecchio with an arm thrown over him, starts rocking into his hip. He's starting to get a little moan going himself, and the rocking is getting faster and better, and Vecchio says, "Stop," and fuck, Ray stops.

"You gonna get shy now?" Ray says. "Yeah, that sounds fair."

"No!" Vecchio says. "I just meant--let me--" he slides back from Ray a little, and puts his hand on Ray's cock, and it's tentative and squeezing way too lightly, but it's warm.

"Harder," Ray says, "not gonna break," and Vecchio amps it up, good, better, but not falling into a rhythm yet, not heading where Ray really, really needs to get, and then Vecchio says, "This feels wrong."

"I am going to kill you if you stop," Ray says. "I am seriously going to beat you to death."

Vecchio grins at him, looks totally cool and collected, like he's not naked, like he didn't just shoot off all over himself and Ray. "Touchy little fucker, aren't ya?" he says. "It's just a--weird angle for me--I'm used to--me." Then he laughs, says, "Hey, roll over." Ray glares at him but he rolls over, and Vecchio snugs up against his back and throws an arm over him and gets his hand going again. And yeah, that's way better, Vecchio's hand is moving sure and smooth now, great, but Vecchio's still kind of snickering into the back of Ray's head.

"What?!?" Ray says.

"Heh, I just thought to do this because--my idiot brother-in-law can never remember how to tie a tie, and I always have to do it for him, and it just doesn't work from the front, so I always have to stand behind him."

"Fucked-up thing to be thinking about right now, Vecchio," Ray says.

"Yeah," Vecchio says, but he speeds up his hand and Ray doesn't care anymore. And then he's finally, finally there, finally coming, and he'd figured Vecchio for yanking his hand away at the first jerk and spurt but he doesn't, hangs in there for the whole thing. And goes to the bathroom, comes back and hands Ray a towel with a wet corner.

"Thanks." Ray gets cleaned up and they both start putting clothes on, and then Vecchio says, "Uh, the brother-in-law thing. That's my sister's husband. I'm not--" he gets real interested in his shoelaces for a minute--"I'm not cheating on anybody, here."

"Didn't ask," Ray says. "But me neither."



The next Thursday after work Ray tries very hard to get interested in a Doc Savage novel, and then in a baseball game on tv, and then in a National Geographic special about ocelots, and then says fuck it and goes to the bar.

Vecchio's already there, ha, and he and Ray sit across the room from each other and each drink a beer, and then Vecchio walks out the door and Ray follows him.

Once they're in the room they strip down speedily, but this time Ray lets himself have a long slow look at Vecchio while they're still standing up. Nice. Vecchio looks back, and seems to approve, and when Ray wraps around him he kind of growls and tumbles them both down onto the bed. They're both getting grabby at the same time, clutching and grinding against each other, and it's got no style at all but it works for both of them pretty quickly, and then they're in a tangly sticky heap of elbows and knees and bony feet.

And Ray surprises himself by saying, "So, you're not married, who is it you're not cheating on?"

Vecchio blinks at him. "You're good," he says "My--partner, kind of. Work partner. He's not--he wouldn't be interested--. Anyway. Trying to decide I wouldn't like it didn't work, thanks to you, asshole," and he pokes Ray in the chest, grins. "So. I need to get the fuck over the idea of anything ever happening with him, and, you know, keep it light."

"Yeah," Ray says. "I need to get the fuck over drunk-dialing my ex-wife. Lightly."

"Great, then," Vecchio says, and gets up and pulls Ray into the shower with him.



The next Thursday they walk up to the door of the bar at the same time--they seem to have settled on nine o'clock--and laugh, and don't even go in, just turn and head for the motel.

This time Ray's determined to get his mouth on Vecchio, wants to taste him, but Vecchio's weird about it, keeps squirming away every time Ray kisses down his furry stomach. But he won't say no, like that would be chicken or something, so Ray keeps pushing, keeps jacking him really slowly, much too slowly, and licking at his thighs and his navel. Trying again every so often, nudging over toward Vecchio's cock with his tongue, and Vecchio gets a hand in Ray's hair and arches away from him. Finally Ray grabs Vecchio's other hand, sucks his fingers into his mouth, licks and pulls at those while he's stroking Vecchio, and Vecchio's making happy mmmmm noises, we have a winner. So Ray keeps that up and really, really slowly moves his head and Vecchio's fingers, which he's still sucking, over until he's breathing on Vecchio's cock while he does it. And then eases Vecchio's wet fingers out of his mouth and slides them across Vecchio's cock, strokes with them, an inch under Ray's mouth, half an inch, a quarter inch. Vecchio's not wiggling away any more, he's holding perfectly still except for a tremble, he's making little whimpering noises, but Ray leaves that quarter-inch of warm breath between them until Vecchio takes it away, he arches up right into Ray's mouth and Ray closes his lips around him in a smile.

Ray's missed doing this, and Vecchio smells good, tastes good, keeps making those noises, so Ray just goes to town on him. Takes him in deep, pulls back to swirl his tongue around the head, slows down, speeds up, leaves him hanging while he slides down and licks at his balls, just generally drives Vecchio out of his fucking mind until he's coming in Ray's mouth, and Ray doesn't even stop to think about it before he swallows.

Vecchio lies there gasping for a minute, then hauls Ray up till his head's on Vecchio's shoulder, and starts petting his hair. Which is weird, but kind of nice, so Ray puts up with it for a minute before he sits up.

"So, acceptable?" he says.

"Fuck, yeah," Vecchio says. "Yeah, Kowalski." He gives Ray a long kiss, says, "You gonna let me try? It won't be like that…"

"Hey, you don't have to be a porn star just because I am," Ray says with a straight face, and Vecchio rolls his eyes. "Seriously," Ray says, "as long as you watch the teeth there's no such thing as a bad blow job, okay?" And doesn't add, you're a fucking great kisser, you'll do fine.

Ray props himself up on the pillows so he can watch, and Vecchio dips his head toward Ray's cock and just--stops for a second, looks first-time terrified all over again. Ray's about to say, hey, it's all right, never mind, but Vecchio closes his eyes and goes for it.

And he doesn't go down very far, and he doesn't stop and start and play and tease, but god he does know what to do with his tongue. And Ray's maybe coming down with a cold or something, because when he looks down at Vecchio, with his head bobbing, his eyes closed and his long lashes, Ray's chest kind of hurts.




They keep that up the next few Thursdays, and Vecchio's getting good, maybe giving Ray some competition, not that he would tell Vecchio that.

It's a nice plateau, a fun little blow-job plateau. But Ray is not a plateau kind of person. Ray is a keep-climbing kind of person. So after a couple of those Thursdays, he starts going for Vecchio's ass. Just getting a hand around, just grabbing is fine, but every time he starts to get anywhere with his fingertips, stroke down the warm cleft there, Vecchio doesn't just arch his hips away, he grabs Ray's hand and moves it too. Doesn't ever say anything, keeps kissing Ray, but sending out a pretty definite message there.

So Ray's trying to figure out how to talk Vecchio past that one. Or more likely kiss or suck or jack him past it.

And then one Thursday Vecchio doesn't show up. He doesn't and he doesn't, and Ray goes from pacing the room to shadow-boxing to wondering if he's alive. Maybe he can call around and find out what precinct he's out of--and what's he gonna say? "He's late for his blow job?" And then he starts wondering if that's even his real name, it's not like Ray ever checked, the guy's probably just moved on to another bar and another motel and another dumbass Ray.

At ten-forty-five Ray officially gives up and is walking out of the room when Vecchio sprints across the parking lot. "Jesus, I'm sorry, Kowalski, I tried to call the motel and their stupid phone is out, I have had a day, you would not believe it, one of the mimes knew about the C4 but he just kept trying to mime "explosion" at us because he didn't want to break character, and after the damn thing went off Benny had to stop me from killing the guy. Jesus."

Benny. That's the first Ray's heard the name. It's a stupid name, a kid's name.

"Doesn't matter, Vecchio," he says. "I wasn't worried. I was just going home. It's late."

"Yeah," Vecchio says, "I didn't think you'd still be here," and he's smiling when he says it but that makes Ray an idiot, doesn't it?

Ray leads the way back into the room and while Vecchio's undressing Ray gets his cuffs out.

Vecchio settles onto the bed, looks over at Ray holding up the cuffs, says, "Oh. Uh, okay. I guess." Then puts on a smile, not one of his big ones, and says, "Do I get a safe word?"

"Safe would be not showing up," Ray says, and cuffs one wrist, runs the cuffs through the headboard slats, gets the other. And Vecchio doesn't argue or struggle, just keeps looking at Ray, which is fucking with Ray's head, so he stops looking at Vecchio's face.

He gets him going, does all their favorite things, and Vecchio's into it, Ray can tell the cuffs are revving him up even more than usual. He lubes up Vecchio's cock really well but leaves the head clear so he can tongue that, and he's going at it sweet and slow and then he gets one hand lubed up and slides it behind Vecchio's balls, starts rubbing there while he's licking and sucking, and jacking with the other hand, and for a minute Vecchio's so wired up from all the other stuff that he doesn't even notice. But then he does, says, "Hey, wait, not--stop, no, hey, that's--"

Ray presses one finger in, really gently, and Vecchio gets louder with the talking, and, okay, there are some "no"s and some "stop"s in there but there are some little gaspy noises too and some "oh"s and "ah"s, and Vecchio's still rocking up into Ray's mouth, and his thighs are falling open. Mixed signals, yeah, the signals are in a fucking blender, here, and Vecchio knows Ray pushes, that's what Ray does, that's what Vecchio's here for, isn't it?

Vecchio could always knee him in the head, if he was really serious.

Ray works in another finger, and keeps sucking, and Vecchio's not even making any sense now, just barking out random syllables, and he's clenching around Ray's fingers and moving his hips around randomly too, away from Ray and back again, and then Ray hits the sweet spot, there, and Vecchio's coming hard and Ray's swallowing it down.

Ray licks him clean, wipes his arm across his mouth, says, "See? That's good, yeah? You liked." But Vecchio keeps his eyes closed, doesn't say anything. He's just lying there with his eyes closed and his hands cuffed above his head, and when Ray goes to unlock the cuffs Vecchio's wrists are way more fucked up than he was expecting. He was maybe yanking at the cuffs pretty hard there.

As soon as the cuffs are off, Vecchio's up and off the bed fast, and gets all his clothes on, even his shoes, before he says a word to Ray. And then his voice is all high and weird when he says, "I didn't want--"

"Bullshit," Ray says. "You did." But he's still looking down at Vecchio's shoes, doesn't really want to see his face right now.

And Vecchio just leaves. Doesn't even close the door.



The next Thursday Ray tries to tell himself to stay home, but he can't. So he takes a bottle of vodka and a deck of cards to the motel so he'll have something to do when Vecchio doesn't show.

He shows, though. Not even late. Knocks, and when Ray opens the door Vecchio's slumped against the doorframe, looking down, and he says "I tried to tell myself to stay home." And Ray tries to say, "Me, too," or "I'm sorry," or a lot of other things, but he can't, and what he does say is, "You want to fuck me?"

Vecchio looks up at him. "Yeah," he says. "That'd be good."

Ray talks him through it, and Vecchio gets a little pale when he has to open Ray up with his fingers but he does it, and after a long time he's finally in Ray, pushing so slowly and carefully, and asking over and over is everything okay, does it hurt, should I stop, being so fucking sweet that Ray wants to cry or kill him.

He comes instead, and then Vecchio does, still managing somehow to move slowly like Ray was breakable, which if he was he'd have broken a long time ago. And after they deal with condom and cleanup they both fall asleep for a while, for the first time, and then they have to scramble groggily out to their cars at two o'clock in the morning.


There are a few more Thursdays like that. Vecchio never offers to switch, and Ray for once manages not to push--somewhere down the road, maybe. But for now it's good, it's great, they're having a good time. And Ray's concentrating a little better at work these days--his lieutenant had been giving him the fish-eye lately because he just wasn't bouncing back from Stella, he'd come in late or hungover or just not giving a shit, but there's some improvement, there. And he hasn't drunk-dialed her in weeks. He should get a chip from Drunk-Dialers Anonymous.

But near the end of August, Vecchio shows up at the motel looking pale and sick and shaky. Ray gets one look at him and stops unbuckling his belt, says, "Hey, you need to go home. Or you wanna just go out and get some food?" And realizes that neither of them has ever suggested going anywhere besides the motel together. He's still blinking from that thought when Vecchio sits down on the bed, says, "I gotta go, Kowalski. Ray."

"Well, yeah, you look awful," Ray says.

"No, I mean. I gotta go, leave Chicago, I'm leaving."

"Oh," Ray says. Probably there is something else he should say, but he can't think what it is.

"I got," Vecchio runs his hands through what little hair he's got. "I got this undercover assignment, offer. And it's got to start right away, like, next week, and it's long-term, and I wouldn't--but the Feds are really pushing it, and they've got--some leverage, you know, there's this thing with me roughing up a suspect. And the lieutenant's great about it but he's taking some heat, they're talking about fucking up his career if I don't do it."

"Huh," Ray says. Because that's sure as hell not the whole story, there. "What about Benny?"

"Yeah," Vecchio says. "I gotta--I gotta get away from him, Kowalski. He's on vacation, he's been gone for two weeks, and it's fucking killing me."

"Oh," Ray says. He's not really holding up his end of the conversation, here.

"Fuck, I'm sorry," Vecchio says. "I really thought this--this you and me thing would help, but it makes it worse because it's so good, you and me, I didn't know it would be so good, and now I look at him and I know what it could be like if he...But he's not, and there's nothing there for me, and--you and me, here, it's just...light."

He looks Ray in the face then, and Ray knows the look is a question, but fuck if he is going to be the guy who says stay stay stay, again, fuck if he is going to spend the rest of his life being that stupid guy.

"Yeah, light," Ray says.

"I'm really sorry--" Vecchio starts again, and he looks like he really, really is, sorry for Ray. And fuck that, so Ray shows his teeth, says, "Yeah, you better apologize, because you're just breaking my heart here, Vecchio. I was picking out china patterns."

Vecchio sits down on the edge of the bed, and doesn't look at him. "So," he says. "You interested in an undercover assignment?"



He goes through all the details while Ray just stands there and stares at him, he can't believe Vecchio is even saying this. He finally wraps up, finally looks back up at Ray, says, "I think you'd be good."

Ray says, "So, you want me to go from getting fucked by you to being you? I can't--I don't even have words for how massively not right that is, Vecchio."

"Yeah," Vecchio says. "But you'd be good."

He keeps sitting there on the bed for a while; sometimes he glances down at the spot beside him. Ray keeps standing up. Finally Vecchio stands up too, pulls a business card out of his wallet, says, "My lieutenant's number. In case you change your mind."

Ray takes it from him, thumb and forefinger, a careful pincer grip so their hands don't touch, and Vecchio walks out the door, and that's their last Thursday.



Ray goes home and gets seriously fucking drunk, and he thinks maybe he calls Stella. He staggers into work late the next day, gray and shaky, and his lieutenant gives him a look that has passed through being pissed and gone over into pity, which is a lot worse.

Ray sits at his desk and thinks, I might make it through the next few days. But then I might shoot myself on Thursday. And he gets out Vecchio's card.



The first day with Fraser is genuinely freaky--on top of the serious weirdness of the case they're on, there are a few moments when Fraser gets snippy and says something like "Ray Vecchio would care," and Ray has to bite his lip to keep from saying, "Yeah, and Ray Vecchio really likes fucking me up the ass, did you know that?"

But he manages, and after a week or so he's kind of wondering what got Vecchio so wound up about this guy, because when he's not in the middle of a crazy case he's kind of--polite and distant and a little dull.

Which is not keeping Ray's brain occupied very well, which is maybe how he ends up in a graveyard the next week with surveillance equipment, trying really hard to fuck up his new assignment before it's even gotten started good.

But Fraser is really different, really odd that day. He's saying all these nice things to Ray and bragging on Ray's service record and offering to be his friend out loud which is not a guy thing to do.

Ray doesn't work it out, the whole thing, until he's in bed that night, half asleep, with his freaky dreamcatcher hanging over him. But then he gets it. Fraser woke up, snapped out of his boringness, or maybe his weirdness over Vecchio leaving, because Ray was screwing up. He got all friendly and complimentary and nice because Ray was a fucking mess.

And Vecchio knew that. Vecchio had totally understood that Fraser was not going to be happy unless he had a partner who was a fucking mess. Fraser needed somebody to take care of.

Ray mumbles, "Thanks, Vecchio," and he means for it to come out sarcastic, thanks for deciding I was enough of a loser to be a project for your boy-scout partner, but he keeps remembering Fraser waiting around for him to finish being crazy even though it was maybe going to screw up people's careers, and reciting Ray's service record from memory, shit, Ray doesn't remember all those dates. So it comes out a little more grateful than he meant it to. And he manages, for the first time since their last Thursday, to hope that Vecchio doesn't get himself killed.