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This isn't the life he imagined.

A lifetime of Chicago winters had instilled in him the desire to move somewhere warmer. Ray spent his second to last week of medical leave on a vacation in Florida, trying to convince himself that that hadn't changed. The outdoor heat was different than in Vegas, damp and heavy, but the air conditioning indoors felt just the same. Every night at the resort, he awoke in a cold sweat, convinced his cover was blown. He came home to the window units that never quite kept up to the temperature and avoided thinking about January.

Ray had spent most of his career daydreaming about early retirement. But after weeks of medical leave spent at 'leisure' and surrounded by his family, he was sure that only the escape of work would keep him sane. Worse, he suddenly needed meaningful work - more evidence of Benny's bad influence, if he'd needed any. The department shrink had agreed that he could and should return to work. She hadn't expressed any opinion on Benny or his influence. Welsh had called him crazy and given him half the workload he'd expected. Ray had actually thought the lieutenant had gotten soft in his absence until he introduced Ray to his new partner, the transfer from the seventeenth: Kowalski. The lieutenant had gotten meaner in his absence.

Ray had raised reasonable objections to the arrangement. Kowalski had pitched a fit. Welsh just waited them both out, then waved them out the door, warning, "Don't kill each other until after you've cleared the current homicides."

Ray'd been sure they wouldn't last a week. Then during their first foot pursuit, he'd found himself staring at Kowalski, waiting for him to do something heart-stoppingly stupid - only to catch Kowalski staring right back and expecting the same. That lead to the first of their 'working' dinners, dedicated more to one-upmanship over past cases than discussion of current ones. The dinners led to late nights spent watching baseball (and Kowalski would break out that lame video of himself in the minors at the drop of a hat), then football. Eventually, Kowalski invited him over to work on the GTO on their days off.

His sister couldn't understand why he'd want to spend a whole day working on someone else's car. "It's really a great car, Frannie - not like the Riv, of course but-"

"Jeez, you two are always together," she groused right over him. "Why don't you just move in with him?"

He'd laughed about it with Kowalski the next day. But Kowalski's lease was almost up anyway, so hey, why not? Cheaper for Kowalski, more privacy for Ray... They'd found a two bedroom apartment, complete with the coveted garage parking, and planned to sign after work.

"Vecchio. Can I talk to you for a sec?" Kowalski'd appeared by his desk as though summoned by Ray's thoughts. He jerked his head towards the doors.

"Yeah, sure," he replied, flipping closed the file and grabbing his jacket. "Anything to avoid paperwork." Once in the hall, Kowalski glanced around and ducked into the closet in the most obviously sneaky move Ray'd ever seen. He shook his head as he followed, closing the door behind them.

Kowalski was studying the boxes of pens and copy paper like he'd never seen them before, his eyes flicking from shelf to shelf. He shifted his weight, tucked his hands in the pockets of his jeans only to pull them back out. His expression was, for once, unreadable. Tense, sure, but...

Ray leaned back against the door and waited.

"Look, I -" Kowalski flailed around a bit with his hands, like he could pluck the right words out of the air, before settling them against Ray's face. Ray's eyes widened, as Kowalski kissed him - slowly, unmistakably kissed him. Then he stepped back and looked away.

"I just. I wanted you to know. Before." He shrugged up his shoulder, resembling nothing more than that stupid turtle of his as he pulled away. Ray's lips were still buzzing from the kiss, he'd had no idea, and goddamn Kowalski was already retreating. "In case you don't -"

Ray stepped forward and kissed him to shut him up. Ray had always envisioned a future married to a beautiful, sharp woman - a vaguely imagined figment compared to the solid reality of Kowalski, whose lips were warm and chapped where they met his own. He let his eyes drift closed, let his hand settle on the nape of Kowalski's neck, where the hair was soft and gel-free, and felt Kowalski's hands settle gingerly on his hips. This time he was the one who pulled away, and Kowalski didn't say a word, just stood there looking at him with everything visible in his face. He didn't take Ray for either some kind of hero or a mobster, but he liked him anyway - more than liked him, maybe. That wasn't so bad.

"So." He cleared his throat. "So, we going to go sign that lease, or what?"

Kowalski smiled. Yeah, not so bad at all.

Maybe it's not the life he imagined, but he couldn't imagine giving it up.