Ray found him bowling.
It hadn’t taken any effort to jimmy the lock on the glass alley door, which even without the current circumstances was really lax security for this part of Miami Beach. There was a tendency for stores along this end of the strip to get broken into on a regular basis, and having a door that practically screamed come fuck me over was not smart business practice.
But then, maybe Vecchio wanted it that way. And if there was one thing Ray could understand about the guy it was that once the Stella left you high and dry, the self-destruction needle went right past the red line.
Anyway, standing in a putridly pastel bowling alley watching Vecchio throw strike after strike was not his idea of a fun Friday night—Saturday morning—whatever—but who said this had anything to do with fun? Two days ago a snitch in Vegas had gotten a whiff of a whisper of a rumor that the Mob had a line on Vecchio’s new address, and the Vegas cops passed the news on to Chicago. Welsh pointed, he got on a plane, end of story.
Yeah, end of story, except he left out the middle. Welsh had pointed, but it had taken a call from Fraser before he’d followed the finger. Of course Fraser’d gone and gotten himself a broken leg chasing down some perp in the middle of a blizzard, and he was still going to come down and do this job. Ray’s job. Which Ray didn’t want to do, and it pissed him off no end that Fraser knew that without even having to ask anybody.
“What’s the matter?” Ray’d asked, voice brittle. “You don’t think I can baby-sit him as good as you can?”
There’d been a pause on the phone, a pause that said more to Ray than everything they’d said to one another. “I didn’t say that. I was only thinking you might be—reluctant—”
“Reluctant is bullshit,” Ray snapped. “I got a job to do, I do it. And I’ll do it right.”
“I have no doubt of that,” Fraser said, and this time his voice was all thawed, and Ray couldn’t take that, he really fucking couldn’t, he had to get off the phone now. “Say hello to Ray for me when you see him.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” Ray had said, and hung up, cutting the connection, though the real connection had snapped a long time ago.
And if that was true, then why did Ray stare at the fucking phone for a half an hour afterward waiting for it to ring?
“You gonna bowl a few frames, or you just one of those guys who likes to watch?”
Ray’s head snapped up at that. He was still in the shadows and easily fifty feet from Vecchio, but obviously he’d given something away.
“Relax. Welsh called me and briefed me on the situation, told me when your plane was due. And I was in the office when you were breaking in.” Vecchio sauntered over to the ball return and picked up a big blue one. “You’d never make it in the B&E business.”
Ray said nothing to that. Instead, he walked out of the shadows and threw his ass into a chair, wincing as said ass made contact with the hard orange plastic. He sat and watched as Vecchio made ball after ball fly over the polished wood, his aim straight, his movements methodical but fluid at the same time.
After a while it occurred to Ray that it was a lot like dancing. He had this sudden image of Vecchio waltzing Stella around the lanes, gracefully leading her over the gutters, side-stepping the ball returns.
Maybe that was why she left him. She never was much good at seeing past the five-and-dime surface of life. If it wasn’t all roses and fucking champagne, it wasn’t true love to her.
And so where did that put Fraser? Fraser, he was too good at seeing past that stuff. Problem was, that landed him somewhere in the vicinity of the angels. And nobody could breathe up there.
Not even the angels.
Ray leaned forward and scrubbed at his face with his hands.
“So what’s the detail? You followin’ me home, campin’ outside my place?”
Ray snapped back to the here and now like a spent piece of chewing gum. “Somethin’ like that.”
Vecchio snorted, threw his last ball; it landed in the gutter. “Yeah, well, you can have the couch if you don’t think it’ll compromise your virtue.”
Ray frowned at this unexpected display of kindness. “Uh…thanks.”
Vecchio waved a hand dismissively, then bent to remove his bowling shoes. “Don’t mention it. I got an alarm system. If you fall asleep in your car and they pop you, I gotta meet my maker with your sorry ass on my conscience. This way, at least you got a chance.”
Ray rolled his eyes as he rose to his feet. “Yeah. Fuck you too.”
Vecchio reached for his shiny black loafers. His head was turned, so Ray couldn’t tell if he was grinning, but he suspected he was. “Like I said, don’t mention it.”
“Don’t lie to me. Don’t lie to me, all right?”
“And do not give me that bullshit. I know you lie. You do it all the time.” Ray pressed his lips together so he wouldn’t say, you lie every time you put your hands on me and make me believe it’s me you’re touching.
“Look, maybe it’d be better if we—” Jesus, he’d been working up to this for a week, a fucking week, and he still couldn’t make himself say it. He was like an addict who knew the habit was killing him but couldn’t make himself stop. “Maybe we should take a break from this.”
God, was that him? Had he finally said it aloud?
“Ray, I…” Fraser’s voice sounded ripped up and relieved at the same time. “Yes. Perhaps you’re right.”
And Ray knew he’d waited months for Fraser to say he was right about something, but that didn’t stop him from putting away half a bottle of scotch after Fraser let himself out.
They didn’t try to kill him the first night or the second, and by the third morning it seemed like Vecchio got bored with treating Ray like a piece of furniture he had to step over and started cooking him breakfast instead. Oh, sure, he covered it up by saying all this excitement was giving him an appetite, but Ray knew he was trying to make nice.
Maybe it was professional courtesy—Vecchio knew this was a shit duty, and he knew what it was like to pull a shit duty—or maybe it was something else. Maybe Fraser had called him and told him to be nice to Ray, because Fraser had fucked him instead of the Ray he really wanted to fuck, and—
No. Fraser probably hadn’t called and said that. But he might have encouraged Vecchio to make nice, for his sake. And Vecchio wouldn’t deny him this, at least, would give in on that small display of generosity.
It still mystified Ray how anybody could deny Fraser anything. If Fraser were to call him and—hell, not even ask him to come, just present the vague possibility of him maybe someday paying Fraser a friendly visit, he’d be on the next fucking plane to North Whatsis faster than you could say obsess much? Which is probably why that call never came, and never would come. Fraser might seem oblivious to the ways of humans, but he didn’t hurt them on purpose.
Not when they could do such a great job of hurting themselves.
It was like some kind of cosmic joke, irony to the power of one hundred million. Ray wanted Fraser, but Fraser wanted Vecchio, who didn’t want him, and never had. Ray had once wanted Stella, Vecchio wanted her now, but it turned out she didn’t want either of them. Nobody wanted anybody who wanted them back, which left jerking off in the dark, or maybe putting a bag over someone’s head and pretending.
“Eat before it gets cold,” Vecchio snapped. “You tryin’ to insult my cooking?”
“I’m eating, I’m eating,” Ray groused, shoveling a forkful of admittedly really good eggs into his mouth. There were spices in there he’d never think to put in eggs, but it seemed to work. He felt a little crappy for talking like that, so he said, “These’re good.”
“Course they are. Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
Ray tried to say, “bite me,” but it came out more like “mmphee.”
“Yeah,” Vecchio said. “Same to you.”
The next morning Ray made potato pancakes, and after that they kind of traded off without talking about it.
“Look, are you sure about this?”
“Sure, shmure,” Vecchio said, raising a hand and waving it dismissively as he walked beside Ray. “I’m not gonna give up my pleasures in life just because I may not have much of it left.”
Ray cast nervous glances around the restaurant parking lot. This would be a perfect place for a hit—open and nearly deserted, one of the three lights over the lot burnt out.
“Listen, you’re gonna love this place,” Vecchio was saying. He laid a guiding hand on Ray’s arm to steer him forward. “I never thought I’d go for Afro-Cuban food, but their shrimp dishes are—”
“You got a death wish or somethin’?” Ray demanded.
Vecchio actually laughed at that. “No, Stanley, I got a life wish. Every day I get up and I’m still breathin’, I think, this is a day to live.”
“And if some paisan were to jump outta the bushes right now and blow your fuckin’ head off?”
Vecchio shrugged. “Guess I’d be a little pissed he didn’t wait until after I had the shrimp. But I ain't worried.” He leaned into Ray’s space and poked a finger at Ray’s forehead. “A good paisan, he waits 'til after dinner to ice you.”
Ray stared at him like a tool as Vecchio guided him up the front steps of the restaurant.
Ray woke up the next morning when a sharp bang! sounded right outside the front door. It was so loud he rolled over onto the floor. In the three seconds it took him to right himself, he’d drawn his gun from his ankle holster and was fully awake.
When he didn’t hear any more noises, he crept slowly to the window and peered out. Nothing. He went from room to room, checking the view each time. No sign of little dark-haired wise guys packing nine mils. But there was an old guy washing his T-Bird next door. ’56, Ray noted, all stock.
He climbed the stairs and spent a couple of minutes watching Vecchio sleep. The covers were twisted and scattered around him and his dark blue pyjama top was rucked up a little, revealing a few inches of lightly-furred belly.
“I shoulda told you,” Vecchio said, eyes still closed, “Mr. Friedman next door has problems with backfires.”
“Yeah, you should’ve,” Ray shot back, distracted by the band of tanned skin.
Vecchio’s eyes opened, and Ray found another place for his gaze fast. “Aww, my hero,” Vecchio drawled, mouth curving. Ray blinked, realized he was still holding his piece, and bent to holster it again.
Which is also when he realized he was only wearing his boxer briefs. And his holster, but that didn't help him much.
“Maybe I’ll go see if Mr. Friedman wants a tune-up,” Ray said, pissed off that he felt embarrassed and awkward and half turned-on and even more pissed off that Vecchio was the one making him that way.
“You do that, Stanley,” Vecchio said, rolling over and going back to sleep.
“You ever feel like you don't know who you are? Like if you weren't around somebody, or that someone wasn't around you, then you wouldn't be you, or at least not the you that you think. You ever think like that?”
“Shhtanley,” Vecchio slurred, because even an Italian could get soused on a bottle and a half of chianti, “what the fuck are you talkin’ about?”
It had been a week, and unless the Mob guys were having trouble finding Florida, or they were so scared of a couple of skinny Chicago cops that they were shaking in their alligator shoes, it was not all that likely that the tip from Vegas was anything but hot air. On Monday Ray would call Welsh, who would probably agree that Ray should pack up and come home. So by mutual unspoken agreement, Ray and Vecchio spent what would likely be one of Ray’s last nights in the Sunshine State getting royally shitfaced.
“I’m talkin’,” Ray said, momentarily at a loss as to how to answer Vecchio’s question, “I’m talkin’ ‘bout—I dunno, love, I guess.”
“Tha’s not love,” Vecchio told him firmly. “Tha’s dyin’. Tha’s burying yourself under six feet a’ somebody else.”
Ray had a sudden, startlingly vivid memory of Fraser’s weight and heat pressing him into the mattress until he gave up on breathing for a little while.
Ray shook his head, then decided that was a really dumb idea considering the amount of vodka he’d downed. “Naw. You gotta change when the right person comes along—it happens alla time.”
“Bullshit. If they don’t want you the way you are, there’s no way you’re ever gonna make ‘em happy.”
Ray snorted. “That happen with you an’ Stella?”
The words were out of his mouth before he could remember he didn’t want to know. But the funny thing was, after a week with Vecchio, he really wanted to know. And not because it would give him a better handle on the mysterious habits of the Stella. Because—
Well. Probably because he was drunk.
Vecchio looked at him, blinked a few times in a desultory fashion, then belched.
Ray waited. The room was still spinning slowly from when he shook his head, so he wasn’t in any hurry.
“Nah,” Vecchio drawled finally. “Thing with her was, I thought I was a different guy when I married her.”
“Who’dja think you were?” Ray asked, leaning closer.
Vecchio upended the last of the second bottle of chianti into his big tumbler without spilling a single drop, then looked Ray right in the eyes. Ray stared back, saw green and flecks of gold and a hundred other colors in there, and who knew one pair of eyes could hold all of that?
“I thought I was me,” Vecchio said hoarsely.
Ray couldn’t think of anything else to do, so he kissed him.
Jesuschrist, but Raimundo Vecchio had really long fucking fingers—
—fucking fingers, yeah, oh, man—
“He was here, wasn’t he?” Vecchio’s voice was a sandpaper rasp, his teeth grazing Ray’s shoulder like the flat of a stiletto. “I can feel him in there.”
“Unh,” Ray said at first, because Vecchio was reaching places that hadn’t been reached in a long time. “What would you know about it?”
Vecchio didn’t answer that, just twisted his fingers. Ray’s throat let loose a startled yelp.
“Fuck,” Ray spat; he could feel the flush heating his pale skin from cock to throat as he ground against the mattress. Vecchio laid a steadying hand on his ass, stilling his movements.
“Wait,” he said softly. The word wasn’t a command like it had been from Fraser, only a suggestion, but somehow Ray found himself following it anyway. Vecchio’s warmth left his back and his fingers left Ray’s ass and Ray shivered at the loss of heat.
Loss of heat, hell. It was at least ninety degrees tonight, nothing but one lazy fan over their heads. That wasn’t why he was shivering.
Vecchio’s cock slid into him without warning; Ray buried his face in the sheets and braced his hands flat against the wall and rode out the pain of the initial burn.
Then it started to get good real fast.
Stella and Fraser never said a word during sex, but Vecchio couldn’t stop talking. It was all in Italian, though, so Ray didn’t have a clue what he said. He could only listen to the silky murmurs, absorb the puffs of warm breath into his pores as they danced over his skin. Ray told himself it probably wasn’t anything deep, just different versions of fuck and god, you’re so tight, but he couldn’t help thinking they sounded better than they did in English. When his thrusts started to speed up, Vecchio gave up on talking and switched to kissing every inch of Ray he could reach. After a minute of his own litany of fucks and gods, Ray turned his head so that Vecchio could reach his mouth too.
And then he was there and he was glad he’d waited because sweet Jesus it felt like his fucking eyebrows were coming, every inch of his surface was exploding outward, dissipating into the humid Florida night. He was so wiped when it was over he was only dimly aware of Vecchio pounding into him mindlessly, and of Vecchio’s words when he finally lay down behind him, one hand lazily tangling in Ray’s hair.
“You dumb shit,” he said softly. “You never should’ve let him in.”
Next morning was Ray’s turn, so he made blintzes. He didn’t think about the fact his mother only made blintzes for breakfast on Christmas morning.
“You got no powdered sugar?” Ray’s head was buried in a cupboard, so he didn’t see Vecchio approach him from behind.
When one finger unceremoniously poked him in the ass, he yelped and banged his head on the shelf.
“Next cupboard over on the right,” Vecchio said helpfully, his hand briefly settling on the curve at the back of Ray’s skull, as though apologizing for the lump that was going to form.
Ray found himself rubbing absently at the spot as the day wore on. It didn’t hurt like he thought it would.
That night Ray rode Vecchio slowly, taking him in at a glacial pace. By the time he was all the way down, Vecchio was sweating and gritting his teeth and using a rough, low language that didn’t sound anything like the silken words of the night before.
“You still with me?” Ray demanded, his own body covered with a fine layer of sweat, his own cock leaking and heavy. He clenched his ass around Vecchio’s long, thin cock and Vecchio groaned like a dying man.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” Vecchio panted, green eyes heavy-lidded and lazy. He was trying to play it cool, but it was a really pathetic attempt. “You gonna move sometime in the next century?”
“Oh, I dunno,” Ray drawled, lifting up about a half an inch before dropping down again, “2000 isn’t so far away.”
Vecchio reached up and pinched one of Ray’s nipples, and Ray grinned around his gasp and started to move with a torturous slowness.
He was looking forward to driving Vecchio out of his mind.
The next day was Monday, and the day after that Ray boarded a plane for Chicago. It was a bizarre replay of the scene at the Yellowknife airport, when he and Fraser had stood around not looking at one another.
Well. It wasn’t quite the same, because Ray didn’t feel like his heart was being ripped out of his chest this time. Weirdly enough, he felt kind of…lighter than when he’d arrived. Like a vacation should make you feel. Only this hadn’t really been a vacation, had it?
“So,” Vecchio was saying, “see you around.”
“Yeah,” Ray said, finally looking into those green eyes. They were as hard to read as always, though there was a hint of some sort of emotion there, a flicker of amusement, a pinch of affection. “Uh…it was nice…” having your cock up my ass? “…uh, workin’ with you.”
Vecchio’s eyes got plenty amused at that, and he started to snicker. “Stanley, believe me,” he drawled, “I enjoyed our working relationship almost as much as you.”
Smug prick. And what was with that almost, anyway? Without thinking about it, Ray looped a hand around the back of Vecchio’s neck and yanked him close. Caught off-guard, Vecchio stumbled forward, making it real easy for Ray to plant a big, wet one on him in the middle of the airport. At least three blue-haired ladies probably had a stroke right there at the Departure gate.
When he finally let him go, Ray was satisfied to see a kind of glassy look in those hundred-color eyes. “Maybe we’ll work together again one of these days,” Ray said, then felt stupid saying it, because it sounded like he thought there was a future there. It was probably just a fuck, it wasn’t like they'd—
But Vecchio was nodding slowly, and then he said, “Maybe,” and that was the last thing they said to one another before Ray headed through the gate.
Four Months Later
Ray was sitting in front of the TV when the doorbell rang. Jabbing at the Pause button on the VCR, he bounced to his feet to answer it.
Probably his mother, he thought. When she heard he wasn’t going out on Christmas Eve, she threw a fit.
“But I thought you were going out with that nice girl you worked with—Frannie, her name was?”
Ray’d practically choked on his Coke. “Uh, no, Ma—” though I did play hide the salami with her brother “—she’s, uh, kinda spoken for.”
“As in, she’s eight months pregnant.” He’d paused, studied the horrified look on his mother’s face. "With somebody else's kid, Ma. Gimme a break, willya?"
And miracle of miracles, his mother had actually backed off at that. Maybe she was getting mellower in her old age, or maybe she’d noticed her son was a lot healthier-looking than he’d been six months ago. In other words, he no longer resembled death warmed over and stewed in cow shit.
Hey, he had a fucking tree this year, a real one he had to water every day. He’d dug out ornaments he hadn’t seen since he’d packed them in the back of his closet when he’d moved in, and he’d bought new ones from a trendy shop near the Loop.
They were black and shiny and shaped like misshapen stars and as he bought them he heard Fraser’s voice in his head sniffing about how inappropriate they were. Which was not why he bought them. However, it was the reason why he smiled when he paid the sales clerk, which was the reason why the clerk looked him up and down and wished him a gorgeous Christmas.
Chain reaction, he thought as he left the store, which made him think of bowling pins falling like a row of felled soldiers before a machine gun nest, in a blast of sound and violence.
He opened the door and Vecchio was standing there, looking tanned and cold as hell in spite of his blood-red scarf and his black full-length coat that made him look like—
—well, like a walking wet dream in expensive wool. Not that Ray was about to admit this to anyone, least of all the style pig himself.
“Hey,” Vecchio said, eyes meeting Ray’s, then slipping away, then returning with determination. “Compliments of the season.” He produced a green velvet bag from behind his back, a bag that held something bottle-shaped.
“Thanks,” Ray said, reaching for the bag with a hand that suddenly had the shakes. He stepped back awkwardly, nearly colliding with his own door. Smooth.
Vecchio stepped through and looked around. “Nice tree.”
“Thanks,” Ray said again. The velvet was soft under his fingers; he let his pinkie slide back and forth over the fabric.
“What’re you watchin’?” Vecchio asked, pointing at the frozen image on the TV.
“Uh, a movie," Ray said intelligently. “‘S called A Christmas Story.”
“Yeah? I seen that once,” Vecchio replied. “The one with the BB gun, right?”
“Yeah. The dad is just like my dad, only mine used to swear in Polish.”
“Hm.” Vecchio kept staring at the screen. “My dad made him look like fuckin’ Father Knows Best.”
Ray set the bottle down on the couch.
I got a life wish, he thought.
He touched Vecchio’s shoulder just as Vecchio started to turn around.
“I got to take Ma to midnight mass,” Vecchio said, his eyes on Ray’s mouth, “but I could come b—”
Vecchio’s mouth was cold. Ray warmed it up for him.
Never let it be said he didn’t know how to treat his guests right at Christmas time.
“I been thinkin’ about moving back.”
Ray’s fingers were busy brushing over the incredibly soft stubble covering Vecchio’s skull. “Yeah?”
Vecchio's shoulder jerked. "Maybe. I'm getting kinda sick of Florida, you know? Too many alligators, all-you-can-barf buffet joints and cheap t-shirt places."
“Not to mention old people,” Ray added helpfully.
“Mmm,” Vecchio agreed. “Driving at about twenty miles per hour on the fucking freeway.”
“And fat tourists,” Ray said.
Vecchio shuddered. “In Speedos. Jesus.”
Ray nuzzled Vecchio’s shoulder, then bit it lightly.
“That turns you on, huh?” Vecchio drawled.
Ray smiled against Vecchio’s skin. “Yeah.”
Vecchio turned around in the bed. His fingers glided over Ray’s lips while his gaze darted over Ray’s face.
Ray grinned. Then he licked one of Vecchio’s long fingers from root to tip, earning him a sharp machine-gun burst of Italian.
“Keep talking,” Ray murmured, as Vecchio rose up over him and pinned his wrists to the bed. “I always wanted to learn another language.”