Disclaimer: Fraser, Kowalski, Vecchio and the rest from dueSouth aren't mine; they belong to Alliance, but they've been wandering through Stonyland for a while now, and it just might take them a while to wander on back. :-) No profit made, no harm meant. This is set after CoTW and is the sequel to Come Undone. As with most post-CoTW stories, I've decided to disagree with some of the canon set forth there.
Thanks to: my betas, Rhiannon Shaw and Misha, for encouraging me to write this and then helping me stick to finishing it; Amand-r, who helped clarify verb tenses for me yet again; Erin, for letting me set up her site as a distraction when things got too dark for me to handle; and to Mark Ouellette, for helping me to understand the legal details.
Rated NC-17 for strong language, adult situations, references to nonconsensual sex, violence, and general nastiness. As always, if slash is not your style, may I suggest the softer side of Sears?
By Raine Wynd
"reach down your hand in your pocket
pull out some hope for me
it's been a long day" — "long day", matchbox twenty
Eleven o'clock on Sunday night, and as if someone had thrown a switch, the house was abruptly quiet as everyone else went to sleep. Even Frannie, who I usually can hear rustling around in her room next to mine, was apparently down for the count. It'd been a long day. Ma was upset with me because I left Mass early, but I couldn't tell her the real reason I didn't feel up to staying through the usual Sunday service. She was already on my case about me avoiding the family yesterday on the anniversary of Pop's death. Like I was supposed to mourn the bastard who sired me? I couldn't, not after all the hell he'd put this family through.
Then again, maybe this year I should have. Maybe then I wouldn't be lying here on my bed, thinking about what happened yesterday. Until I'd met Benny, I would've sworn I wasn't gay. I mean, high school was a long time ago, and jerking off with my best friend didn't count, right? Then I'd convinced myself that it was only Benny who made me feel like that, made me consider the idea even as I swore it was crazy, that it was a sin. You'd have to be blind and a monk to ignore how beautiful he was — and yeah, beautiful was the word for it, 'cause handsome just didn't cut it, and the thing about it was, it had been inside and out. Not like me, that's for damned sure.
"I bet if he was here, you'd be eating him up with your eyes, and thinking it's a sin," Kowalski had challenged me last night. The rasp of his voice echoed in my head, and my breath shuddered through me. Just thinking of how he'd touched me aroused me, and I swore. I'd thought I'd outgrown my affection for James Dean poster boys.... but Kowalski had proved beyond any doubt that I hadn't. At least, not the blond version. Something told me, though, that this was bigger than just a passing lust, and that didn't even begin to factor in the whole partnership thing.
How the hell was I supposed to face him tomorrow?
Not giving myself a chance to think too deeply about it, I threw on a pair of jeans, a plain blue oxford-style shirt, and loafers, not wanting to bother with my usual dress. I didn't want him thinking I dressed up for him — but I had to admit, I hadn't worn anything so casual in years. Not since a Mountie walked into my life and made me decide that maybe it was worth a couple of suits to look halfway decent standing next to him.
I slipped out of the house and headed over to Kowalski's place.
He wasn't home. I was half-tempted to pick the lock and wait for him, but I realized two things wrong with that idea. First off, it was never a good idea to sneak up on another cop. Second, it would make me look pretty damn pathetic, that I couldn't wait until he was home to ask him what the hell we were going to do about this damned... incident. Some voice in my head sneered at the way I was trying not to call it an attraction, or anything remotely resembling what it had been — a night I'd never forget. Even as I grasped for the excuse that I wanted to ask him about the scars on his body, the bruising I'd seen that hadn't fully healed yet, I knew that wasn't the only reason. I wanted more, and damned myself for the wanting.
I turned then, and saw him standing just a few feet away. For a long minute, he looked shocked to see me, then he recovered quickly and walked towards me.
"Go home, Vecchio. It's late." His tone wasn't friendly, like he didn't want me around. I almost believed it, almost left, but some perverse voice in my head made me stay.
"We gotta talk, Kowalski."
He hesitated, then opened the door to his apartment. He stepped inside, leaving the door open behind him. I took that for an invitation, and followed him in, shutting the door behind me. Maybe we can't solve this... whatever the hell it was between us in a night, but I got a good feeling that it's a start.
"You came here to talk, so talk." I wasn't in the mood for games; it was late, I was tired, and I never thought I'd ever see Vecchio in a pair of faded blue jeans. I didn't think the Style Pig even owned jeans, much less ones that made me wonder what the back view was like. They hugged his body like the old favorites they had to be, just this side of being tight on him, and I had to swallow hard. The sight of him dressed like that was doing things to me that I wasn't in the mood to think about. I wanted to touch him again, and I'd already spent most of the day convincing myself how stupid that was. "Come on, Vecchio, I don't got all night."
He stared at me like he couldn't believe how I was acting. Truth was, I didn't know what to think of it either. I wasn't usually this unfriendly to someone who was going to be my partner. Someone whose job was to cover my back, not fuck me. In any sense of the phrase.
"We can't do this."
No shit, Sherlock, I wanted to say, and barely stopped myself from saying it. I put on my best what-are-you-talking-about look. "We aren't doing anything, Vecchio."
"Not right now." He gestured in frustration. "Don't play stupid, Kowalski. You know I'm talking about last night."
"What, you looking for a repeat performance?" Yeah, right, Kowalski, I heard a voice in my head sneer, like it's every night you practically dare someone to fuck you so you don't feel so empty inside, so you know for sure that what Jillian did to you didn't make you stop being able to get off with someone else. Hearing it made me just want to hide more, put a little more swagger in my attitude.
Best undercover cop in the city is what my captain called me when he first told me about the Vecchio assignment. I hadn't believed him then, didn't believe it now, but I sure as hell could pretend that I did, and maybe make Vecchio believe it. "You wanna see just how good I am undercover?" I leered.
A heartbeat passed while he stared at me. Then he spoke.
From the look on Vecchio's face, I could tell he hadn't been expecting to say that. Hell, that hadn't even been on my top five list of expected answers from him. Some hope I hadn't realized I'd been hanging on to ballooned, and I hated myself for suddenly wanting to be the voice of reason. Needing a bit of distance, I walked across the living room to snag a cigarette from the pack on the coffee table. I lit it, half-wondering why my fingers weren't shaking, and drew on it like it was a lifeline. Then I turned to face Vecchio. "You're nuts. Welsh's partnering us up tomorrow."
"I know, damn it!" He snatched the cigarette out of my fingers, breaking it, and crushed it out in the ashtray before I realized he was that close.
In the instant our eyes met, I knew he was a second away from kissing me, and I couldn't breathe for the panic roaring through my head. This wasn't going to solve anything, I knew, but I couldn't, didn't, stop his lips from touching mine. By the time we pulled away from each other, I was shocked at how easy it was to lean into the kiss, to make it deeper, hotter, 'cause we were both breathing heavy now. I could tell he wasn't ready for it either, and I had to remind myself to take a deep breath. No one had ever turned me on this much. No one but Stella had ever made me feel like all the shit I'd been through didn't matter, that his touch alone was the only one I ever wanted to feel on my body — and as bullshit and sappy as that sounded, I knew it to be true.
Minutes passed without either of us saying anything. I could hear my heart thundering in my chest. The tension between us was so thick, it felt like a living thing. I didn't dare move, didn't dare speak, knowing somehow that one wrong move was going to screw up everything. Then, in a stunned voice, Vecchio asked, "What the fuck is going on here, Kowalski?"
"I — I don't know." I hated the way my voice cracked, and swallowed hard.
Our eyes met, and I saw desire and confusion warring in his.
"You're not Fraser."
"Nice to know you're on the ball there, Vecchio. Keep it up and you just might make a damned fine detective someday."
"You're not making this any fucking easier with the wise-ass remarks," he shot back. "You're the last person I expected to be sleeping with, and if I was going to be sleeping with a guy, the only one even in the running was Fraser."
He stared at me, really looking at me, as if something in the way I looked would give him some clue to what was going on. I fought the urge to squirm restlessly, knowing I had to look like hell, with my oldest jeans and a faded and ripped gray T-shirt on. I thought he was going to step away, and he started to move, then he abruptly changed his mind. His muttered oath ended up against my mouth, and then I forgot what it was that he was swearing at, because it was like he put every damn thing he felt and wasn't saying in that kiss. I closed my eyes, unable to accept it all, and trying anyway, 'cause it felt like he was feeling like I was, all messed up and broken and bent and lonely and needing love. I felt him slowly end the kiss, and opened my eyes.
He was breathing hard and looking as stunned as I felt. Somehow, I found my voice. "Was that all you wanted to talk about?"
For a minute, I thought he was going to explode. I braced myself for the punch, knowing I deserved it for provoking him. Instinctively, I began trying to talk my way out of the situation. "Look, Vecchio, it's okay. Just forget it. We'll pretend like nothing happened, and tomorrow we'll be partners."
He looked like he wanted nothing more to believe that. Hell, I wanted to believe it myself, and maybe, if he did, I could. "Yeah," he agreed finally. He stepped back and turned for the door. "Good night, Kowalski."
"Night." I turned to walk into my bedroom, expecting to hear the sound of the front door closing. I heard a click, and stopped. It didn't sound like the door closing; it sounded like the deadbolt sliding into place. Something told me I was better off not facing the door, so I stayed right where I was. Drawing a deep breath, I exhaled, feeling every nerve in my body tense. "I thought you were leaving."
"Not yet. We're not done yet." He sounded angry, but that same something told me his anger wasn't aimed at me.
"Oh yeah?" I challenged. "Whatcha gonna do? Talk?" I snorted in disbelief. "I think you already tried that."
"No." Without warning, his breath was on my ear. "Tomorrow will be here soon enough." His hands reached for the fly of my jeans, stroking me through the fabric. "Tonight doesn't count."
I closed my eyes, helpless to stop the instinctive arch of my body against his hand, wanting what he was offering, but scared I was dreaming. "You sure about this?" I had to ask, and I hated that.
He chuckled roughly, but didn't stop his hands. "No, but I want you. God help me."
That did it. I twisted around to face him, only to find myself shoved roughly against the wall. I started to protest, images of a too-recent nightmare flashing through my head, only to realize he was kissing me, which was what I wanted anyway. Somehow, I managed to move us from the hallway to the bedroom, dropping a telltale trail of clothes along the way. I couldn't believe how much I wanted him, barely stopped myself from thinking about how much I needed him, even as I pushed him onto his back on the bed. I couldn't get enough of the feel of his skin against mine, the way he arched his back when I brushed my fingers against his nipples, the half-cursed "Stop," he uttered when I flicked my tongue across them.
I raised my head long enough to smile wickedly at him. It was the last smile I remember having for a long time that night. I fell asleep with his body next to mine, his arm draped over my stomach. When I woke, I was alone. I closed my eyes and wished I didn't feel like my already fucked-up life had just gotten that much more fucked-up. Vecchio was gonna come to his senses and realize I was a poor substitute for Fraser, and he'd hightail it up North and I'd be alone again with my nightmares. Then I took a deep breath. Somehow, I had to get on with living, and nobody knew how to live a lie better than an undercover cop.
Kowalski and I'd been working together for about two and a half weeks when Fraser showed up. To say that we were working together was a bit of a joke. We spoke only about the cases we were working on — nothing too personal beyond what was happening with my family, nothing about Fraser, and certainly nothing about what happened to Kowalski in Canada. It was easier to pretend that I didn't find excuses, late at night, to go to him, or that we sometimes met in the middle, both of us trying to claim that we'd just gotten restless and couldn't sleep without talking to someone. I was going to burn in Hell, I was sure of it, but all the guilt didn't seem to matter. Not when the only thing that seemed to be working — other than the odd, unexpectedly precision-machined way we managed to solve our cases — was the sex.
I didn't want to lose a good thing. Maybe being with him was a bad idea all around, but Fraser was a million miles away in his little slice of heaven, and as much as I wanted Fraser, I didn't think he was ever coming back. I wanted to ask Kowalski, but he'd made it pretty clear to me that the subject was off limits. It wasn't like I expected Kowalski to be friends with me just because of Fraser, or anything else that we shared in common, for that matter.
I couldn't help thinking, though, that maybe Fraser was the key to everything that wasn't right about Kowalski. The bruises on his body healed, and he flirted with every good-looking woman who walked by in such a way that he had everyone but me fooled into believing he was both straight and never successful at getting a date. That wasn't unusual; I figured he was playing the game just like any other smart cop would. What bothered me was the fact that he was different than I remembered him, and I couldn't define exactly how. Sure, there was that whole part about him being into guys that I hadn't known about, but I didn't think that was the reason. I knew that if I could only talk to Fraser, I'd know why.
I got my wish answered soon enough. Like nearly everything else I ever wished for, I wish I hadn't wished that particular wish, because it got all fucked up on delivery.
It was towards the end of our shift. Like most partnerships I'd ever had, we'd fallen into a routine, and ours was doing paperwork as late as possible without compromising the busts we'd made. It had been pouring rain all day, and neither of us had been in the mood to go chasing suspects and leads down wet streets. Thanks to Murphy's Law, we'd both gotten soaked. We'd chuckled over the fact we'd gotten used to keeping extra clothes around, thanks to Fraser, but that didn't change the fact that my favorite suit jacket was currently drip-drying over the back of my chair, or that Kowalski's hair was now the flattest I'd ever seen it. Still, getting drenched had been worth it; we'd caught the perp responsible for kidnapping six little girls. The case had been one of many I'd been assigned to before Kowalski's return. Having him around had narrowed the gap between unsolved and solved, but we had been chasing dead ends until early this morning. We'd caught a lucky break when the perp's last victim, a feisty eight year-old named Chantel, had managed to escape.
The creep was now in lockup, and the time-consuming part of the job was filling out all the paperwork. I'd just signed my part of the statement form and passed it over to Kowalski for his signature when a flash of red caught my eye. Out of half-remembered habit, I glanced up and over to see Fraser, dressed in dark, pressed jeans and a red Henley. For a moment, I couldn't think of anything to say — then I looked back at Kowalski in time to read sheer panic in his eyes.
I knew him well enough now to guess Fraser was the last person he wanted to see. That got me on my feet, and then I said, "Hey, Benny!" like it'd only been a week since I last saw him, invited him to dinner, and basically hustled him out of the station. I told myself it was because I wanted to spend time alone with Benny, my best friend, but some part of me knew that wasn't the only reason.
I succeeded in getting him out of the station and into a diner half a block down the street. It was only after the waitress took our drink orders that I realized he was upset by something.
"Something wrong, Fraser?"
He looked relieved that I'd asked, which wasn't a good sign. "I was hoping that you'd tell me how Ray is doing. He was supposed to call Maggie when he got back, and he hasn't."
"Maggie? Who's Maggie?"
"My half-sister," Fraser clarified. "Ray was staying with her before he left Canada."
"So he was dating her?" I had to fight to keep the sudden, irrational jealousy from showing. It wasn't fair that Kowalski had gotten to be with Fraser, but his sister too?
"No," Fraser said, and I sighed, relieved. "Although," he mused, "I rather think he would have liked to, and would have until he knew that she was related to me."
"So how'd he end up staying with her and not with you?"
"I was called back to duty early. There was a murder case, which appeared to follow the same modus operandi as one I had solved early in my career, and my input was requested. Ray was not anxious to come home, and I had only requested housing for myself. Maggie lived only two hours from my new post, so it seemed logical that Ray stay with her until his leave was over or until I could arrange housing, whichever came first." He paused, and exhaled heavily. "Perhaps if I'd — but what's done is done, and cannot be undone. How is Ray?"
"He's fine," I told Fraser slowly. "Welsh partnered us." I snorted. "Told me I needed a partner, whether I liked it or not. Like I didn't just spend a year undercover, doing things without a net. I mean, you and me, that was one thing, but me and Kowalski?" I wasn't insulted anymore, but I didn't want to let Fraser think that I'd accepted the partnership easily. Funny, I looked at Fraser now, and all I could think about was Kowalski. I wasn't sure if I liked that realization, and it made me grumpy. "So why are you here?"
Fraser looked startled by my rudeness. The frown that appeared on his face a heartbeat later crept into his voice as he stated, "It would be best if I spoke to Ray first."
The way he said it, I knew he wasn't going to tell me until hell just about froze over. I stared at him a long moment, prepared to argue anyway, and then sighed heavily. As much as I wanted to know, Fraser wouldn't be rushed into saying what he knew. I could argue till Christ's second coming and the damned Mountie would still wait until he'd decided I needed to know — and then he'd make it sound like I'd made him wait. Yeah, I'd got his number — for all the good it would do me. Somehow, I didn't think I'd ever win an argument with him. I signaled the waitress and paid the bill.
We got back to the station not long after that. Kowalski was nowhere in sight, and my first thought was that he'd decided to make himself scarce. It was on the tip of my tongue to suggest that we check to see if he'd left yet when he strolled into the room, hands in his pockets. His relaxed appearance vanished the moment he saw us. Stopping dead in his tracks, he glanced at me, then stared at Fraser. His next words, though, shocked me.
"You caught her."
I glanced at him, then at Fraser, who appeared to understand the statement. "Yes, Ray. That is, I know who she is, but she will not be charged with a crime."
"Who?" I asked.
Kowalski stepped closer, but didn't take his eyes off Fraser. I didn't like the way he radiated anger, and knew him well enough to know that the wrong word would set him off. "Why the fuck not?" he demanded as I silently prayed for Fraser to use some of that diplomacy of his that used to annoy me to no end.
"Jillian Carter is apparently a very important individual, according to my superiors in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For reasons I am not privy to, she has been given immunity from prosecution. I have tried repeatedly to locate her, but it seems she is missing, and when I notified my superiors of this, they gave me new orders." Fraser nearly snarled his last words, and I realized that whatever this Carter woman was, whatever she'd done, was something that he detested. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen Fraser this upset. He was normally so calm, even in the midst of flying bullets and God only knew what else. What the hell were they talking about?
Kowalski took in the news and his eyes grew bitter. He grunted, seemingly not surprised. "Figures." He shrugged, then put on an approximation of a smile. "Thanks for letting me know in person, Frase."
"You're welcome, Ray." Fraser seemed puzzled. "Are you all right? I had hoped to bring you better news."
"I'm okay," Kowalski said so casually I believed him. "It's okay. You don't have to go fixing the world when it ain't broken."
"I do have some — " Fraser glanced at me and changed what he was going to say. I glanced over at Kowalski and saw his expression freeze into something close to panic. "— things I do need to discuss with you, but it can wait until morning."
Kowalski let go of the breath he'd apparently been holding. "That's cool. I'll be here." He glanced at his watch, and swore. "Hey, Ray, didn't you say you were gonna pick up Frannie at seven-thirty?"
I looked at my own watch and barely managed to turn my oath into something G-rated for Fraser's sake. Today was my sister's half-day, and she'd asked me to pick her up from the mall. It was now almost eight o'clock. I reached for my cell phone, knowing she had to have called, and discovered I'd forgotten to recharge the battery. Just as I was doing so, Kowalski's cell phone rang.
"Kowalski. Yeah, he's here, Frannie, but he's busy. No, it's none of your business. I'll come pick you up, don't get your horses all in a lather. Yeah, I'm gone." He shut off the phone and walked out of the room. It was only then it registered that he'd called me by my first name, and that he hadn't said good-bye to either Fraser or me. Something was very wrong. I ran the conversation back in my head, and started trying to put two and two together. I didn't like what was adding up.
"All right," I declared, turning to Fraser, who stood there, looking as worried as I'd ever seen him. "What the hell happened in Canada and how'd this bitch with immunity get involved?"
Fraser sighed. With a great deal of reluctance, he gave me the gory details, how he and his sister had found Kowalski, naked, tied up, bruised, almost dead, and how they'd tried to go after the woman responsible, but had run up against a brick wall. Afterwards, I wanted to be sick, but I swallowed the bile and the rage and tried to remember that Kowalski seemed to be dealing with the whole mess pretty damn well, considering. It wasn't helping. Fraser seemed to understand, and though I remember dropping him off at his hotel, I don't remember the drive. All I know is that I ended up at Kowalski's apartment.
The door was half-open, and my gun was in my hands before I stopped to consider what the other possible explanations were for it being like that. I entered cautiously, my eyes scanning the room.
Kowalski stood halfway through the patio door, a cigarette in his hand as he leaned against the door frame. He wore his usual faded jeans along with a white long-sleeved T-shirt that had seen better days, and I was abruptly reminded how worn-out he had to be after all the crap he'd been through. Some part of me admired him for managing to stand up straight, to keep on going despite what I knew had to be gut-wrenching pain. I wondered how in the hell he managed to even have sex at all after being raped, and then I realized — I wasn't a woman. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was hold him and tell him everything was okay, but I knew, being a guy, he wouldn't react well to that at all. Hell, I wasn't sure if I was reacting well at all, and I unconsciously tightened my grip on my gun.
"You can relax, Vecchio. Nobody here but you and me and the aquarium where my turtle used to be."
Kowalski sounded tired and his voice was rougher than usual. Warily, I holstered my gun and, backtracking without turning around, shut the door to his apartment. Crossing the room, I stopped just within arm's reach and watched him slowly turn his back to me and step more onto the balcony. He didn't have much of a view, nothing more than the next building over and the parking lot between the two buildings, so I knew he wasn't really looking at it. As I watched, he shivered slightly. It wasn't a warm night, just this side of brisk, but something told me that he was feeling a cold that went deeper than the outside temperature.
"You have a good time with Fraser?"
"I didn't ruin a suit," I told him, willing to go along with casual conversation for now. I fought the urge to interrogate him, instinctively knowing that the wrong thing would spook him, make him retreat behind the hey-everything's-fine mask I'd seen him wear once too often. Abruptly, I was conscious of the fact that he'd been hiding behind that mask ever since I'd picked him up hitchhiking. I took a deep breath, and willed for a casualness I didn't feel. "Didn't even come across some poor schmuck in need of rescuing."
Kowalski nodded jerkily and took another drag on his cigarette. "He's slipping."
I studied him a moment, seeing the way he held himself, like he was braced for a blow. I resisted the urge to hold him. I needed a clear head, and it would be too easy to touch him and turn this moment into something that didn't need words. "Maybe. I wasn't paying much attention."
Kowalski flinched, then exhaled heavily. "He told you," he guessed.
What could I say to that? "More than I wanted to know."
Kowalski said nothing for a long minute. Then he crushed out his cigarette beneath his boot and looked off into a memory. "You know what I used to wonder, Vecchio? I mean, I got the training same as you, but I never really understood what it was like. An' I remember asking Stella once when she was getting ready to take the bar. She got mad at me because I couldn't understand how it still could be rape if I never actually said no. I remember asking her, what if I never voiced my protest, 'cause I wasn't sure if I felt a good kind of hurt or a bad one? If I entered it willingly, with every intention of going through the little game that wasn't supposed to hurt anyone? What if I did it just to stop the pain? What if then?"
I couldn't breathe, frozen where I was as his words struck me. He turned to me then, his blue eyes sad, and his face reflecting the pain of what he knew all too well.
"I know lack of verbal consent doesn't mean that it wasn't rape, but I close my eyes and I can't separate the want from the helplessness and all the other feelings I have. An' I might've wanted Jill more than I should have, and in my dreams I can hear myself saying yes, but I know that ain't right." He favored me with an echo of a smile. "You shouldn't be here, Ray."
"Why not?" He rarely used my first name, and hearing it bothered me. Hell, the whole thing bothered me, made me want to go and do something violent, if only so I could break down and scream at the unfairness of it all.
"You wanna list?" he challenged me with a trace of his usual belligerence. Then he sighed. "You oughta be with Fraser."
I must've given him some strange look or something, because he shook his head. "No, I mean it," he insisted. "You don't need a loser like me."
"You're not a loser," I argued automatically. He grunted, apparently not believing me. Annoyed, I added, "Most people wouldn't deal well with the kind of crap you've been through. Who the hell do you think you are, Superman?"
"No, but I think Fraser is," he retorted. Brushing past me, he walked back into the apartment.
It took me a minute to realize what he'd said. If I wasn't already wound up, I'd probably have found his words funny. I stomped back into the apartment and pulled the screen door shut behind me.
Kowalski leaned against the couch, his arms crossed, his hands tucked under his arms. My eyes were immediately drawn to the fading scars around his wrist as his shirtsleeves were pulled back. Hastily, I looked back at his face; I didn't need the physical reminder that he'd been tied up, beaten, and raped. My heart was already bleeding for him as it was. Luckily, he didn't notice my flinch.
"Look, Vecchio," he drawled, "we both know we were just substituting for Fraser. Now he's back in town, I'm telling you, what the fuck are you waiting for? An invitation?"
"What are you waiting for?" I shot back.
He laughed humorlessly. "I wasn't talking about me. Tell me you don't want him."
"Oh, like I'd have a chance. This isn't about Fraser and me, Kowalski."
"No?" He cocked his head inquiringly, then shook it. "Funny, I remember you screaming his name when you came last night. Go home, Vecchio. You don't need a fucked-up guy like me, not when Mr. Perfect's in town."
Stunned, I could only watch as Kowalski uncrossed his arms and pushed his body off the couch to walk into the bedroom and shut the door with a definitive click. In a daze, I stood there, trying to remember what I'd said in the heat of passion, and failing miserably. I wanted to strangle him for remembering, for holding it against me, if that was indeed what I'd said. I knew I was careful about stuff like that, but.... I closed my eyes and concentrated, ignoring the shiver of desire that shot through me at the memories.
No, I decided finally, I didn't think I said Fraser last night, but I couldn't be sure. Some part of me suspected Kowalski was trying to mess with my head, make me leave, but what if he wasn't? What if I had said Fraser?
Twice, I started for the bedroom. Twice, I found myself wanting to apologize, wanting to go and say something, anything, nothing, everything to try and make things right. I didn't understand what I was feeling. I thought I knew myself, and the guy I knew as me wasn't this confused about who he wanted in his bed. If this was a sign from God, I think he needed to fire his translator, 'cause I sure as hell wasn't falling in love with Kowalski.
Not if I could help it.
At least, not this fast.
God help me.
Did I just admit I was falling in love? Oh, shit, I did.
I didn't look back as I practically tore out of Kowalski's apartment. Thank God I hadn't said it to him, but I couldn't stop feeling like someone hit me with a curve ball. Sex was one thing. Sex I could justify as me trying to just get off, and getting off was always more fun with someone else than alone. This was just a crush, right? It was only natural I'd feel something more than just friendship for someone I'd been having sex with, nothing unusual with that. I didn't even want to begin thinking about how much of a sin it was to be having sex with a guy, but in the back of my mind I knew it was. If I kept this to just some kind of justification, any kind, maybe then I wouldn't go crazy thinking that I'd just taken a 180 degree turn. Anyway, partners got close; it was one of the hazards of the job, and Kowalski and I had definitely gotten close. It was too soon to call it love.
But if wasn't love, then why the hell was I trying to convince myself I wasn't scared shitless?
Thank God for Fridays. I waltzed in late, thanks to a car barbecue that tied up traffic on the main road to the station. I'd barely heard my alarm waking up as it was; what little sleep I'd gotten had been filled with nightmares. I felt like shit, and I wasn't up to facing Vecchio today, at least not until after I'd had coffee and a couple of cigarettes and maybe a couple of years of distance. Say, a century or two? There were some things I didn't want anyone knowing, but the more I thought about it, why I ever thought Fraser wouldn't tell Vecchio about what happened up North sounded downright stupid. It wasn't like I made him promise not to, and Fraser had always followed his own rules anyway.
I was a little surprised to walk in and not find Vecchio already there. His sister was, though, which made me think something was up; they'd been carpooling since Frannie's '70 Buick Skylark had met up with an SUV the week before I'd gotten back. She'd been lucky to walk away with a couple of bruises, but her car was toast. I stopped by her desk on the way to check in with Welsh, wanting to see if he had noticed I was late. If I was lucky, he'd been in a meeting with the brass, but I suspected that my luck had run out about two months and another country ago.
"Oh, there you are. Welsh is looking for you."
I groaned. Now he'd probably stick me with the worst case of the day. "Tell me something I don't know, Frannie."
Rolling her eyes, she picked up an insulated mug from her desk and thrust it at me. "Here. Coffee. Compliments of my brother, who insisted I give it to you. God only knows why; I thought when we stopped at the gas station that he was getting it for himself. He's going to be in later this afternoon; he said he was going to be out checking on something or other."
Yeah, like whether or not he could get a new partner, I thought to myself. Like, oh, say, Fraser? I could only hope. I scowled at Frannie, not liking her brother's unexpected gift, but desperate enough to want some caffeine that I wasn't going to turn it down either. I took the cup and sipped at it carefully, sure it was going to be unleaded and worse yet, not sweet, the way Vecchio liked it. I'd made the mistake of grabbing his cup one morning, and found that out the hard way. To my surprise, it wasn't. I shot Frannie a look.
"What?" Frannie demanded. "Something wrong? Ray sure put a lot of candy in that thing."
I swallowed quickly, trying not to show my shock at how observant he'd been. Yeah, okay, so for a second I forgot he's a detective same as me; I wasn't expecting him to notice that kind of thing about me. "No, it's great," I told her, and walked towards Welsh's office, frantically trying to hide my reaction to the unexpected gift. If I let myself, I'd start thinking Vecchio cared about me more than just partners, and I so did not want to go there. I didn't want to think too much about my partner; it was getting to be more difficult to hide just how much I was already thinking about him. The last thing I needed when I was feeling this rattled was for Welsh to start asking me how I was doing, how Vecchio and I were getting along, and whether I'd gotten into any new fights over just what kind of friendship Fraser and I had. There hadn't been any since I'd gotten back, but Welsh didn't want any trouble, and he knew I would kick the shit out of anybody who thought wrong about Fraser.
I took a deep breath, swallowed more coffee, winced as the sight of the mug reminded me who'd thought of getting me coffee, swore, and went to face Lt. Welsh.
I got my second shock of the day when I realized who else was in the office with Welsh.
It was after lunch before I got back to the station. Like I'd told Frannie and Lt. Welsh before I'd left that morning, I had some leads on a case I wanted to check out. I just didn't tell anyone that I wasn't really checking out leads as much as checking out why Fraser was really here in town. Maybe it was Armando of me to doubt the guy who'd been my best friend, but I wasn't sure of myself anymore. How the hell could I trust what Fraser said, especially since I knew he was capable of hiding the truth? Oh, the Mountie would never outright lie, least not the man I'd known... but he'd sure let you assume certain truths, and before too long, you'd be so far off base he might as well have lied.
Anyway, the receptionist at the Consulate now was a ditzy chick who made Turnbull look smart, at least on the surface. Ask her the right questions, though, and she was a CD full of info, just waiting for someone to press play. I'd learned that about two months back, when I'd had to go to the Consulate for some information on a bank robbery she'd witnessed.
Turned out that Fraser was officially on temporary foreign assignment. His orders? To escort one Stanley Raymond Kowalski back to Canada. For what, the receptionist couldn't tell me. The more I heard, the more I didn't like it. I left the Consulate and called Fraser's hotel as I drove in that direction. No answer. I swore, suspecting I knew exactly where Fraser was. A U-turn brought me back in the direction of the precinct, and I cursed Chicago traffic all the way there.
At first, I didn't see Kowalski, and I panicked, thinking that Fraser had already taken him into custody. I checked all the usual places where he could be within the station, but didn't see him there. On a hunch, I decided to try the parking lot, and found him sitting behind the wheel of his GTO, which he'd left with his dad while he'd been up in Canada.
His hands had a death grip on the steering wheel, the engine was running, and the windows were down, but he didn't look like he was ready to put the car into gear. The closer I got, the more I realized just how terrified he looked. Not liking his expression, I got in on the front passenger side and reached over to shut off the engine.
The sudden cessation of sound was like a trigger. Kowalski closed his eyes and shuddered out a breath.
"You gonna tell me what's going on?" I demanded.
"Nothing's going on," he snapped, opening his eyes to glare at me.
"Yeah, and I'm not a cop," I shot back. "It's everyday I find you looking like you just met up with your old man's ghost."
"My old man's not dead," Kowalski replied automatically, but something, maybe just the change in topic, was bringing some color back up in his face. Damn good thing, too. He really had looked more dead than some of the stiffs we saw professionally.
"Well, it's either that, or my mother just volunteered you for bingo night at church."
He did a double take at that, and I could see he got the joke, but wasn't willing to let go enough to tell me what was going on. It took several minutes of arguing, but finally, I was able to pry out of him that one Genevieve Gregory, who was the Attorney General for the republic of some country neither of us had heard of, had been in Welsh's office. Apparently, the department had been instrumental in solving a case that had involved someone from that country, and she had come to thank him and the detective responsible personally.
It took me a minute to place the case, but it had involved a rather kinky suicide, and I kicked myself for not remembering it sooner. Then again, it had been one of the first cases that had come into the department after I'd gotten out of the hospital and Kowalski and Fraser had gone up to Canada. I'd only been on the case as someone on the outside, contributing whatever I could, but it had been another detective's case, someone who'd been convinced it hadn't been suicide, but murder. To be honest, I'd wanted to forget that particular case — the guy had looked like my cousin, for one thing, and he'd apparently strangled to death during sex, for another. Definitely not the kind of case I wanted to remember.
What had Kowalski freaked, though, was that Ms. Gregory looked exactly like someone he knew. Her name? Jillian Carter. I knew from talking with Fraser that Jillian Carter was the bitch responsible for fucking up Kowalski, and I had to fight to remain calm. If that useless excuse of a woman ever came to town, I figured I'd kill her. Just like I would if Victoria ever showed up. I wouldn't regret it either, and I'd probably spend some time doing the usual after-shooting administrative leave bullshit, but my hands would be clean, my badge intact. Yeah, so what if I had it all planned out? If betrayal and hurting someone I cared about wasn't worth a little vengeance, what was? Still, I kept that to myself, especially now. Kowalski was freaked out enough already; he didn't need me getting all Italian on him.
"Look," I began, "Ma's always saying everyone's got a twin somewhere in the world. If Fraser was here, he'd probably give you some huge lecture about genetics right about now, but he's not, and I'm not him, so I can't explain it half as well, and you'll just have to trust me when I say Ma's probably right. So you saw someone who looks like her. Nothing to get freaked out about." I kept to myself the thought that having some attorney general show up in gratitude was downright strange, and from a country that obscure made it even stranger.
He looked at me a long minute, then nodded. "Yeah," he said, as if he was trying to convince himself. "Yeah, nothing but a ghost in the machine." Quickly, he changed the subject, turning our focus onto one of the cases we were investigating, and I let him talk me into going with him to follow up on a lead, knowing that he wasn't ready to go back into the station just yet. Not that I would've let him go alone.
Me, worried? Of course I was worried. Kowalski was my partner. I shoved any other odd emotions ruthlessly down and focused desperately on work. It wasn't much help, and I don't think either of us was surprised when, after our shift was over, we went straight to his place and fucked each other silly.
Duty brought me back to Chicago, but I could not help but notice how the thought made me nervous. I was not pleased with my assignment; I did want to see Ray Kowalski again, but not under these circumstances. I hadn't been prepared for my reaction to seeing him with Ray Vecchio, and although I had predicted that they would get along, I hadn't anticipated that Ray Vecchio would shield Ray Kowalski from me, or that he would deem it necessary to do so.
It made me wonder just what Ray Kowalski had told him. Moreover, it made me worry. I blamed myself for not being able to reach out, and tell Ray Kowalski how I felt before he'd gotten hurt by Ms. Carter, but love had destroyed me before, and I hadn't been all too certain that I wanted to try again. I'd thought that if I offered my love to Ray, I could help ease his pain, but apparently, my timing and method of delivery had been less than ideal. He had made it clear to me before he'd left that I'd been too late in letting him know how I felt. Until a few days ago, I had resigned myself to the situation, and had determined to keep our friendship the way it was... which was, admittedly, uncertain at this point. He'd left Canada without really giving me a chance to.... No, I was the coward. I knew he would probably leave, and I let him, and hoped that the gift of one of my spare Stetsons would serve as a promise to him that I'd still be there for him, in whatever capacity he chose. I had used Maggie, my own sister, as my shield and mouthpiece when I should have tried to make sure that we still had some modicum of friendship. It would certainly make my job easier, knowing that he trusted me unreservedly.
Nonetheless, I had a duty to do, and duty, I have discovered, was a demanding mistress, one without regard to personal crises.
"Hey, Vecchio, would you fix this stupid machine?" Kowalski's voice held irritation, and I looked up to see him shove his chair back from his desk and give his computer the finger. "It won't let me print that damned report Welsh wanted. You sure we can't shoot these things?"
I gave him a sympathetic grin, knowing he hadn't slept much all night. Between the nightmares he'd refused to explain and the sex, it wasn't a surprise that Kowalski had been irritable all morning. "You want IA crawling up your ass for an unwarranted discharge of a weapon, go right ahead," I told him. "You'd still have to fill out the paperwork somehow, and you'd have to bribe Frannie to do it." I didn't like the computers much either; I'd gotten used to having a civilian aide to look up stuff and type, but even the beat cops were using 'em on patrol now, so we didn't have much excuse anymore.
Kowalski considered the idea of shooting his computer a moment longer, then shook his head. "Nah, not worth it. I'm gonna take a break. Think you can make this thing let me do what I have to while I'm gone?"
I shrugged and rolled my chair around to his desk, which sat flush against mine. Reaching around me as I maneuvered around his chair, he grabbed a pack of cigarettes, a Bic lighter, and a dollar bill from a drawer. "Hey, if my phone rings, will you grab it?" he asked as he stuck the unlit cigarette in his mouth. I had a sudden flash of something else being in that mouth and had to remind myself to breathe. Kowalski's sudden grin told me he'd caught my reaction, but his tone was serious as he added, "Milo's supposed to call."
"He looking for me or for you?" I asked, recognizing the name as one of our snitches. I'd quickly discovered a number of people who'd refused to talk to anyone but 'the blond, hyper guy named Ray Vecchio.' It had made sliding into my life post-Armando a hell of lot more difficult than I'd ever expected when I took that Mob assignment.
Kowalski paused, thought for a second. "Not sure," he said. "I think I knew Milo before I was you, and I know he was on your list of snitches, but I don't think I ever used him as you. Stuff was confusing enough as it was."
"Gotcha." I hesitated, some part of me wanting to scold him for smoking, and he must've read the look on my face.
Leaning down, he whispered, "Don't worry, Vecchio, I'll make sure I brush and shower tonight."
Before I could answer that, he was gone. I let go of the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. Glad for the cover of the desk, I adjusted myself, and tried to concentrate. Computer. Right. Problem with computer. Right. Okay, Vecchio, now fix it, I told myself sternly.
About fifteen minutes had passed when the phone rang. I'd just finished fixing the problem he'd had with his computer — it wouldn't let him print without a field being filled in on the form he was filling out, and he hadn't seen the error message asking for it. Not that it was shown in anything big enough to see, to give him credit.
Keeping my unspoken promise, I answered his phone. I could've taken it on the extension on my desk, but as one of the new detectives had been passing by with a bruiser of a suspect, I hadn't wanted to get in the way. A glance at the caller ID on the phone display told me the phone number was long distance, which eliminated the possibility of it being our snitch. Still, I knew Kowalski and voicemail didn't get along too well, and it might be important.
"Detective Kowalski's desk, Detective Vecchio speaking, can I help you?"
"Detective — did you say Vecchio?" a woman's voice asked, sounding startled.
"Yeah, that's right." The hardest part about coming back to my life was convincing people I was me, and not Kowalski. Some days, it was just annoying enough to make me want to wish the whole pretender thing had never happened. I wondered who this woman was, and idly wondered if Kowalski had scored with her while he was being me. Somehow, I doubted it; I'd seen how he approached women. "Something I can help you with?"
There was a pause while the woman debated the question. "Perhaps you can. This is Constable Maggie McKenzie of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I'm looking for Ray — tall, blond, usually highly energetic, hard to miss? He was supposed to call me, and I haven't heard from him, and I know my brother was assigned to find him."
"Assigned to find him?" I repeated, not sure I'd heard right. Then it clicked. "Maggie, how are you?" I asked, well aware I had never met her, but that "Ray Vecchio" had, and I remembered Fraser had mentioned her when he'd been telling me about what happened in Canada.
Her reply was lost as the receiver was snatched out of my hand by the guy who'd gotten the formal introduction. "Hey!" I protested, but Kowalski just glared at me and put down the bottle of soda he'd been drinking on his desk.
Not about to be put off, I rolled my chair back to my desk and picked up the extension. Quicker than I expected, he stuck Maggie on hold and glared at me. "Stay out of it, Vecchio. This is private." His look told me he'd make a scene if I kept up what I was doing, and that was the last thing I wanted. Though it cost me, I hung up the phone, and proceeded to shamelessly eavesdrop on his end of the conversation.
"Yeah, I'm all right," Kowalski told her. "No, it's all kosher; I'm still me. You know how that goes." He paused. "No, I haven't talked to your brother yet." He listened for a few minutes, and I watched his expression shutter by hard degrees in reaction to whatever Maggie was saying. His tone, however, betrayed nothing of his pain. I fought the urge to reach out and touch him, knowing that it wouldn't be welcome, and that this wasn't the time or the place. "Nah, I'll clear it with Welsh, if it's that important. Come on, Maggie, you know I'll follow Fraser just about anywhere." Her response made him jerk out of his chair and pace a path parallel to his desk. "Damn it, Maggie, no. Shit. You already got busted once for taking the Chicago tour without permission, you wanna risk getting completely kicked out? You are not, repeat, not coming down here. I will kick your ass if you do."
She apparently had a lot to say to that, for he didn't say anything for several minutes. "Yeah, I know. I'll deal with him. Don't worry about it." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he opened them, and reached for a pen and notepad on his desk. "6911 East Village Center? No, I didn't know that. No! I'm not going there, and you ain't coming down here, so don't get any ideas." He forced a smile to his face, into his voice, but he still looked and sounded grim. "Thanks, Maggie." He hung up the phone.
"What's at that address?" I asked, not bothering to hide that I'd been listening.
He looked at me a long moment, the kind of stare I used to get when another Mob guy would be sizing me up to see if I was gonna play his game his way, or if I was gonna play by mine. I didn't move, just returned the stare, wondering why Kowalski felt compelled to size me up when we'd been covering each other's back and then some. What the fuck did Maggie say to him that was worth her risking her career?
Then Kowalski shook his head. "Nothing important," he told me flatly.
"Don't fucking lie to me."
He smiled lazily, though the good humor didn't show in his eyes. "You wanna be a glory hound, Vecchio? You go check it out." He pushed himself out of his chair and tossed the paper with the address on it towards me. It slid off the desk and fluttered to the floor. I snagged it just before it touched the tile, but when I looked up, Kowalski was gone.
I wasn't going to ignore the address, but I hesitated, wanting to go after my partner. I compromised; I called him on his cell phone as I headed out to check the address. No surprise: he didn't answer, and I had to weigh my concern over him against my curiosity to find out what the hell was so important at this address.
"Oh hell," I muttered. I'd managed without him before, and perfectly damn well at that. I checked my guns, making sure I had enough ammo, and headed for my car.
I had to get out. Maggie's call just made me remember too damn much that wasn't gonna help anything. Only problem was that I'd promised Maggie I'd see her brother. I didn't want to go back to Canada, not even the little bit that was the Consulate. I just wanted to forget, and running into Frannie as I was headed out of the door didn't help 'cause all she wanted to talk about was Fraser. Eventually, I got into my car and tried to shove the memory of the morning I'd left Canada out of my head. It was like a stuck videotape, and the more I yanked on the damned thing, the more I started remembering it had been stuck on rewind when the machine tried eating the tape.
You see, I might not remember everything, but I do remember trying to strangle the bitch who raped me. Now she was missing, and I was the last person who'd gone on record as having seen her. I had to figure out what to do, and the only place to start was that damned address Maggie gave me. I turned the GTO in that direction, knowing Vecchio was probably already there. Not for the first time, I wished Maggie and Fraser would've left the whole going-after-the-bitch-who-hurt-me thing alone, like I'd begged them to. Of course, being Mounties and Frasers, they went ahead anyway, and I was supposed to just deal with it all. Yeah, sure, piece of cake, I thought, and tried to convince myself that it was just that.
The address I'd overheard Kowalski get from Maggie turned out to be one in one of the newer neighborhoods where the houses were not much more than wood boxes thrown together which looked like all the other wood boxes on the block. I wasn't entirely surprised that no one answered the doorbell. It took me all of thirty seconds to decide to see if someone was out back.
At first, I didn't see the guy laid out in the hammock, which had been strung between two oak trees in the backyard. All I could see was the open patio door. A quick investigation of the house revealed that no one was inside, but that the bedroom had been recently used, the covers of the bed still rumpled despite a hasty or sloppy attempt at making the bed. I heard a noise, and opened the closet. One of those small lap dogs who usually bark annoyingly shot out, and I followed. That's how I found the guy, and I had to admire the ingenuity of the killer, placing a pair of open trash cans by the body so I wouldn't think twice about the stench of the corpse.
From the looks of it, he hadn't been dead long, but he hadn't died easy. Alive, he'd probably been a casual athlete, the kind who'd work out on the weekends when he felt like it, and not because he had to in order to stay in shape. His limbs had been carefully woven into the hammock and then secured, trapping his lean, dark-skinned body in the rope. He'd obviously tried to fight that, but had been whipped for his effort: bloody welts covered his body, and under his graying hair, his face was frozen in desperation. A condom still clung to his erection. I'd seen a lot of sick shit in my life, and this one was definitely going into the list of things I knew I could've gone without seeing. Picking up my cell phone, I called it in, wondering just what Maggie, a RCMP officer, knew. It wasn't long before dispatch sent over a patrol car and the M.E. to take a look at what I'd found.
A call to Fraser at the Consulate produced Maggie's phone number. A second call brought her on the line. I was killing time while the usual circus of initial investigation ensued around me, waiting for clearance to leave, but damn if I felt like waiting for answers. The sun was setting, reminding me that if I'd stuck to the stack of paperwork and cases on my desk, I'd be headed home by now. I grumbled silently and paced while the phone rang with what seemed an eternal slowness.
Maggie answered on the third ring, greeting me formally with her rank, division, and location. I waited until she was finished, then got right to the point. "This is Ray Vecchio. What's so important about the address you gave Kowalski?"
"Why do you want to know?" she asked evenly.
"Because I just found someone dead here, that's why."
"Is Ray with you?"
"No. He took off after you talked to him."
She exhaled heavily." You need to talk to him."
"Yeah, well, if he isn't around, I can't do that, can I? So are you gonna be like your brother and tell me at the last minute what the hell is going on here?"
"I can't tell you." She sounded sincerely apologetic. "I wish I could. You'll find, however, that whatever you found, Detective, doesn't exist."
I looked around at the circus surrounding me, then turned my back on the whole mess, suddenly disgusted by what I saw, what I thought was going on. "What, another goddamned federal thing?" I snarled.
"Talk to Ray. He knows."
I frowned, picking up on the carefulness of her wording. "Why not Benny?"
"Constable Fraser has his orders. As do I."
It didn't escape my attention that she didn't call him her brother. Something serious was going on, and I didn't like it one bit. "You were willing to risk your career for Kowalski."
"I know him. You're only a name to me." The distinction was put simply, gently, and without malice.
"You'd put your life on the line for a stranger," I noted, challenging her. "Why not me?"
There was a heavy silence on the other end of the line. I waited impatiently, tapping my foot against the grass. Finally, she spoke. "I do not want to risk more than I could afford to lose. Please, talk to Ray. I must go now. Good-bye, Detective."
Just then, Fraser walked up to me. I slipped my cell phone back onto its spot on my belt, and greeted him. "What are you doing here?"
"You shouldn't be here, Ray." He sounded deeply regretful, and for a moment, I wished I hadn't called him. Then again, I'd thought I'd fooled him into believing that all I needed Maggie's phone number for was because Kowalski needed it. I hadn't expected him to show up here, much less figure out where I was. Some part of me ruefully acknowledged that when it came to Fraser, expecting the unexpected was the rule, not the exception, and I should've remembered that.
"So I hear," I returned irritably, glaring at him. "You think I chose to be here with some dead guy?" I turned to gesture at the morgue vehicle that contained the body, which was just leaving the scene. "Your sister called, gave Kowalski this address, and he told me to check it out."
"Where is he now?" Fraser asked urgently.
I started to say that he wasn't here, forgetting that I'd lied about needing Maggie's number, when I looked past Fraser and spotted Kowalski. A tightness in my chest I hadn't realized I'd been feeling burst like a balloon. I spent a moment wondering where he'd gone before showing up here. "Right behind you, talking to that uniform."
Fraser turned in time to see Kowalski finish his conversation with the beat cop. Kowalski saw us and quickly crossed the backyard to where we stood. "When were you gonna tell us she was in town, Fraser?" he demanded angrily. "I had to find out from Maggie."
"I had my orders, Ray," Fraser stated quietly. "I was not to interfere."
"What are you talking about, Fraser?" I demanded. "What happened to the guy that would bend the rules to see justice done?"
Fraser stiffened at my angry rebuke. "Believe me, Ray, I want to see Jillian Carter processed for her crimes. However, I can not pursue a Canadian citizen in America for a crime that was committed in Canada and for which she has been granted full immunity from prosecution. Whereas if she were to commit the same crime in Chicago, something might be done, and it would not be too much out of the duties of the RCMP liaison to assist his American counterparts. Even if said liaison was ordered to ensure that the individual, one Chicago police officer who was the reason for the investigation which was dismissed, did not impair the liaison's duties."
Kowalski and I looked at each other, suddenly comprehending what Fraser hadn't said, and our gazes locked. "Get outta here, Kowalski," I growled. "You too, Fraser. Nobody invited you to this party."
Kowalski grinned, but I could see the relief in his eyes warring with the panic he quickly masked. Belatedly, I realized he probably didn't want to be alone with Fraser, but I couldn't afford to have them both here, in case someone asked me later if they had been. Aside from that, something told me that whatever I might find here wouldn't be pretty, and though I knew Kowalski could handle it, I wanted to shield him from it.
"Sure thing, Vecchio," he drawled easily. "Come on, Fraser, there's a pizza with your name on it, and I know for a fact you haven't had any since you left. Or you just waiting for the pizza hound to get shipped here so he can steal your slices?" Easily, Kowalski steered Fraser into his car, which I noticed was parked not far from where the morgue vehicle had been. Now if it had been me, I'd still be kicking and screaming at Fraser, and we'd end up doing it his way. Knowing Kowalski could handle Fraser better than I could sent a brief shot of jealousy through me, and I fought it down. Bad enough that Fraser was Mr. Perfect without me getting jealous of the fact that he let himself be handled by Kowalski. I had work to do.
An hour later, I found the dead guy's passport on a nightstand in the master bedroom. It identified him as Canadian citizen Michael Highland, age 35, from an unpronounceable town. I made a note to check with Fraser on that; it looked vaguely familiar to me. A check of records revealed that the house was his. Talking with his neighbors revealed the usual I-didn't-pay-attention-to-anything. I spent some time searching the house, finding an unusual number of locked closets full of things that didn't make sense. Highland's suitcases, still full of clothes, were in one; bondage gear in another; women's clothes, their security tags still on them, in a third; a child's chemistry set, with some pieces missing, in a fourth. It was in the fifth closet, though, that I found the photo albums and videotapes, stacked atop linen.
Hoping for some clue, I took one. A white label identified the album as "Ottawa, 1998." I flipped it open to a random page, and had to swallow hard. It wasn't your average family photo album. It was clearly photos of some guy getting fucked by a woman while being tortured. Some part of me recognized that while the man was clearly identified, the woman was not. I took a deep breath, and reminded myself that just because I didn't think it was right didn't mean someone didn't get turned on by it. Still, I bypassed the rest of the albums for now, and decided to check out the videotapes, grabbing one marked "Tattoo, 1999" and sticking it into the nearest VCR.
Immediately, I began to wish to God I hadn't. The videotape was the same thing as the photos, only with sound. I knew the man on the videotape, would recognize the Champion Sparkplugs tattoo on his shoulder anywhere even if I didn't know the rest of his body as well, and his voice was one I'd gotten used to hearing. He was pleading with the woman to stop, but in a drugged sort of way, and she was laughing as she used him, taking advantage of the fact that he was bound hand and foot. I couldn't stand to watch anymore, and shut off the VCR and turned around, rubbing the bridge of my nose with a tired hand. That's when I noticed that there was a security camera mounted in the corner of the bedroom where I was standing.
Hoping there was a chance that the tape would reveal who killed Highland, or why he'd have a tape of Kowalski, I went looking for the master control. The rage I'd felt at finding the tape of Kowalski settled into something viciously cold, since I was doing something to find the bitch who'd hurt him. I lucked out: the master control was in the basement, and not off site, in the hands of some security firm. The basement seemed to have been set up as an editing room, and I wondered why I'd missed seeing it earlier. I stopped the recording and grabbed whatever tapes I could. As furious as I was, something told me that whoever killed Highland wasn't someone who'd be caught tonight, not unless whoever it was had shoplifted the women's clothes I'd found and was planning on coming back for them. I doubted I'd get that lucky, but I still sent up a prayer anyway. I convinced the lieutenant on the scene of the wisdom of posting someone to watch the house until I could get back in the morning, just on the off chance that someone did come by. Much as I wanted to shield them from what I'd seen and as much as I hated admitting I needed help, I knew I couldn't solve this without Kowalski — or Fraser. I left the scene and headed home.
I'd just crawled into bed when my cell phone rang. Grabbing it off the nightstand, I growled, "Vecchio, and this damned well better be important."
"It's me," Kowalski said, sounding apologetic. "Listen, I know it's late, but I gotta talk to you."
Even as tired as I was, I couldn't help the slow grin that spread across my face. "What, can't get yourself off?" I teased.
"Sure I can," he shot back, annoyed. "I ain't calling you for that. It's about why Fraser's back in town. Welsh's gonna know in the morning, but I wanted you to hear it from me first."
I sat up in bed, instinctively not liking the sound of that. "What's going on?"
"Fraser's here to arrest me for the murder of Jillian Carter."
"Why?! That bitch is in town, at least she was from what I found at Highland's house tonight, and he wants to arrest you instead of her? What the fuck's going on?" In my anger, I nearly exploded off the bed and began to pace.
"He doesn't think I did it," Kowalski reassured me. "Neither does Maggie, but the house Jillian Carter was living in has my fingerprints all over the place and there's some pics of me she took. Near as anybody can figure, she vanished the same time I was coming back here."
"You got a bus ticket, and whoever picked you up hitchhiking besides me to prove where you were." I stopped pacing and took a deep breath, trying to get a hold of my temper. It wasn't Kowalski's fault that Fraser took his duty seriously, even if it meant going against his friends.
He chuckled. "Nice to know you think I didn't do it, Vecchio. Problem is, I don't remember what exactly happened when the bitch had me. I remember trying to strangle her at least once, or at least wanting to."
"That's self-defense, Kowalski."
"I know that," he retorted. "Where do you think I got my detective rank, a Cracker Jack box?" I heard the hiss of a lighter, and a quick exhale that told me Kowalski had lit a cigarette.
"No, but stop being stupid, and maybe I'll believe you didn't," I said without thinking.
Silence met my words. "Stupid?" he echoed finally. "If I'd been smart, Vecchio, I would've been anywhere but in that bar that night, and I wouldn't have been so caught up in thinking about how much I wanted Fraser that I started walking home instead of getting a cab."
I swore. I hadn't known that part of it; all Fraser had said was that Maggie had thought Ray had left with someone, but when Ray didn't show up the next day, she had become concerned. "You got good instincts, Kowalski, but you're no psychic."
"Maybe I should've been. Maybe then I could've known I couldn't run anywhere without Jillian following me."
Suddenly, a puzzle piece clicked into place. "She's still alive, Kowalski. That's what made you so mad at Fraser, wasn't it? He knew she was, and that someone was trying to get you out of the way so you wouldn't find out." I paused. "So where were you after you tossed the address at me?"
"I was headed for my car when Frannie stopped me and gave me what-for about not telling her Frase was in town. Took me longer than I wanted to get her to shut up and leave me alone." He exhaled sharply, continuing to smoke his cigarette. "I can't believe she's still carrying a torch for him."
"Like you're not?"
A pained chuckle followed. "No." Another drag on the cigarette, and then he added quietly, "Not if it takes me getting fucked over for him to decide that it's time to tell me he's willing to do anything for me if it's gonna help put me back together. Including having sex with me."
"The son-of-a — " I started, and Kowalski laughed, cutting me off.
"Easy, now, Vecchio," he cautioned. "His mother had to be some kind of saint, if all the stuff about Fraser bein' just like his dad are true."
"Still doesn't give him the right to treat you like that."
"Come on, like he hasn't made you feel like crap?" Kowalski's voice held wry amusement. "Tell me who made you stop wearing those Hawaiian shirts I hear you used to wear?"
"Fraser, damn it." I still remembered that conversation, the ever-gently-put question as to why I didn't look as professional as some of the other detectives in the precinct. It hadn't mattered how Fraser had put it; the insult to my fashion sense still rankled.
I sighed, and glanced at the clock on the nightstand, seeing it was almost one in the morning. "You gonna be all right?" I asked slowly. "There's, uh, some stuff I found in the house that you aren't gonna like, and it's gonna be a part of the evidence."
"Maggie warned me there might be," he answered with a resigned sigh. "She said when they searched the house they found me in, there were a couple of videotapes of other guys. Supposedly, one of the guys on tape is somebody important in Canada, and that's why the bitch got immunity there — she was blackmailing him, and he didn't want it coming out, and he cut her a deal. He's the reason why Fraser's supposed to arrest me. Maggie didn't find this out until after Fraser had been ordered to come here; she didn't think the order was on the up and up, but since it came through all the right channels, all she can do is hope that somehow, Fraser and me get it straightened out." He chuckled roughly. "She's all gung-ho on coming down here and helping, but she doesn't have the kind of cushion Fraser does, with all the save-the-world cases he's helped solve. She pissed off a lot of people when she came down here last time, hunting the guys who killed her husband." Another pause, another drag on his cigarette, and I knew suddenly I wasn't going to be alone tonight.
"Kowalski, where are you?"
A chuckle, and then: "Driving 'round. Went to my place and had pizza and we talked a while. I mean, he talked a while and I tried to make sense of what he wasn't saying. Had to give up on that one after a while, so I dropped Fraser off at his hotel; one of us is supposed to go with him to pick up Dief tomorrow. Guess he's gonna be staying a while, and he — " There was a deep sigh. "He said he was sorry. I had to think about that one. Didn't feel like staying home, you know — had to go somewhere and just drive and think."
"Sorry? Sorry about what?" I demanded. "Fraser apologized? Did the world end and I didn't notice?"
Kowalski chuckled, more warmly now. "No, but sometimes it's felt like it." He snorted. "Especially when Fraser can't even get himself calm enough to stop rambling off stuff that's way over my head." He was quiet a moment, and through the cell phone, I could hear the noise of his car. "I still don't know what, exactly, he was apologizing for."
I shook my head. Fraser: master of saying everything and nothing, and of letting you figure out which was which. Right at that moment, I think I hated him for confusing Kowalski.
"So where are you now?" I asked urgently. I didn't understand why I suddenly needed to see him and make sure he was all right, and I wasn't willing to figure it out right now. Not when it seemed critical that I see him.
"Other end of the block."
"Planning on just driving by?" I tried desperately to keep the worry out of my voice, to keep it teasing, like all I wanted was his body.
"Thinking 'bout it."
"You could stop." I breathed a silent sigh that he bought my act.
"And have to sneak out of the house in a few hours?" He sounded amused.
"You've slept on the couch before."
"I'd rather sleep in your bed." He paused. "Without you in it."
"Keep this up, Stanley," and I used his first name deliberately, "and you won't get what you're asking for."
"Oh, really?" His voice dropped into a husky whisper. "Seems like I'm not the one doin' the askin'."
I tensed, silently damning him for the way he could turn me on with just that particular tone of voice. "No," I shot back as steadily as I could manage, "but I'm the one who knows what'll keep you from having nightmares tonight." I didn't wait for his acknowledgment, but hung up the phone.
He was in my room less than ten minutes later, having used the house key he'd been given while he'd still been pretending to be me. He smelled of cigarettes and the day's sweat, but both of us knew that running the shower would rattle the pipes and wake up somebody in the house, which would mean some explanations would have to be made, and I really didn't feel like lying tonight. I knew if we had to go into that, Kowalski would end up on that damned couch, and I would feel honorbound not to go near him. It wasn't worth the risk. Ma wouldn't understand; Maria and Tony would freak; and Frannie — Frannie would tell the whole station.
"Guess I don't get my goodnight kiss, huh?" he teased softly, approaching the bed. He knew I refused to kiss him after he'd had a cigarette, but damn, I was seriously considering changing my mind for this once. "That's okay."
I swore softly. "Maybe I should grab some clothes and we'll go to your place." I heard the rustle of clothes being removed and the clunk of weapons and keys as they were set down on the nightstand, then he slid into bed next to me.
"Nuh-uh. I'm already undressed and in bed." He shuddered once, and I instinctively wrapped my arms around him.
"Damn, you're cold. What are you, nuts? What were you doing, driving around with all the windows open?" It was almost Halloween; what the hell had he been thinking?
He chuckled softly, unfazed by my scolding tone. "Yeah. Must be thinking I'm still in Canada or something."
"Well, don't," I told him fiercely. "You're not."
I could feel his smile against my skin, and we fell asleep that way, for once content just to be with each other.
I was standing in the kitchen the next morning sipping the cup of instant decaf I'd made for myself, when Ma walked in. I told her good morning and poured a cup of coffee for her from the pot under the automatic coffeemaker, then handed it to her.
She sipped cautiously, nodded once in thanks and approval of its strength, and then asked, "Where's Ray? I thought I saw his car in the driveway this morning. Didn't he want breakfast, if you two were working late on a case last night? One more breakfast is no problem, he should know that by now."
I smiled inwardly, grateful for the opening she provided, and that I'd woken up early enough to make sure I changed the sheets on my bed so she'd believe Kowalski had slept on the couch. "He went home to shower and change before he picked up Fraser."
"Benton is back? And you didn't bother telling your mother?"
"He didn't tell anyone but Ray," Frannie complained, walking into the kitchen and glaring at me. The effect of her glare was completely lost on me; I just shrugged and handed her some coffee, knowing she was grumpy until she'd had her first cup.
Easily, I deflected my mother's questions about Fraser's return, and promised to bring him to dinner soon. Ma left the kitchen, leaving me with my sister, who watched me pour the rest of the pot into an insulated thermos and add a handful of M&M's from a bag I'd stashed in the pantry.
"Can't he get his own coffee?" she asked me, narrowing her eyes.
"Who?" I returned, playing it cool.
She rolled her eyes. "Ray, your partner? You know, the great big dumb Polack? The one that was stupid enough to want to be you, God only knows why?"
I bit back the instinctive defense of his character, knowing I'd only get into an argument, and looked at her, silently telling her it was none of her damned business. "You're gonna make us late if you don't get upstairs and dressed. And if you don't do it within the next thirty seconds, I'm not going to take you car shopping this weekend."
She stared at me for twenty seconds, then decided against saying something, and raced upstairs. I knew the ride into work was going to be hell, and promised myself that no matter what she did to piss me off, I was going to make sure she got a car this weekend. I was sick of having to play chauffeur for her, and if she had a car, she just might leave me alone more. I was surprised and more than a little suspicious when she didn't ask me about Kowalski during the drive to the precinct. As it turned out, she waited until I'd parked to say something.
"Do you know what you're doing?"
"What does it look like?" I retorted automatically, knowing even as I said the words she hadn't been referring to my grabbing the thermos from the back seat.
"He's messed up, and you're not helping."
Damn, but Frannie was more observant than I wanted, and at all the wrong times. "Leave it alone, Frannie."
She opened her mouth to protest, and I shot her a look. "I said, leave it alone." I shut the back door of the car more firmly than I'd intended, and the sound startled her.
"It's wrong, you know. What you're doing."
"And what do you think I'm doing?" Like I'd never left him behind, Armando slid into place, cool, distant, unflappable.
Frannie stared at me. Odd how I never quite noticed how grown-up she'd gotten, how much she'd changed while I was away in another life. What happened to the little sister who used to need me to protect her, who'd come running to me for help when her husband had turned out to be exactly the jerk I'd warned her he was gonna be? The woman before me didn't need anyone's help, and what's more, she probably could and would give me advice. I wasn't sure I liked it.
Defiantly, Frannie lifted her chin and twisted her mouth in an all-too-knowing smile. "Did you forget how thin the walls are between your room and mine?"
For once, she left me with nothing to say. I had forgotten, thinking that my hastily placed hand over Kowalski's mouth would've muffled his moans when I'd woken him up that morning. The memory of how hard he'd come flashed through my head, and I breathed carefully, not wanting to betray myself. Damn it, I wouldn't regret this — whatever it was he and I had — as crazy and unexpected as it was, but staring into my sister's eyes, I couldn't help feeling guilty. For what, I wasn't sure — disappointing her? Deceiving her? Committing a sin?
"You think you got a better idea?" I challenged her as I walked around the front of the car and met her halfway.
She shook her head slowly, her face set in an expression of contempt. "No, but you're the last person he needs." She crossed her arms and waited expectantly.
"Oh, and so you're the expert now?"
"I may not know what happened when he was in Canada, but I know how he used to be, and he's not like that anymore. He was a freak before," and her voice held affection as she insulted him, "but now he's a disgusting freak who smokes. He hated cigarettes."
"And your point is?"
"I've known him longer than you."
What the hell could I say to that? 'Yeah, but I know what turns him on?' What kind of answer was that? We were standing in the parking lot of the station, and anybody could walk up at any moment, overhear something. I liked my private life private, thank you very much, and didn't need it plastered all over the precinct. I knew what happened to gay cops, and I'd probably said more than my share of anti-gay comments, too.
No sooner than I'd thought that, though, a hand reached from behind me and snagged the thermos out of my grasp. I had a fleeting impression of a lean, masculine body that smelled faintly of cigarettes and deodorant soap against my back. Instinctively recognizing who was behind me, I relaxed while Frannie's eyes widened in surprise. A quick glance over my shoulder confirmed that it was Kowalski, and that he'd parked his GTO in the space next to the Riv.
"Thanks for the coffee, Vecchio," he drawled easily. "Morning, Frannie. New dress? No? Looks good on you anyway."
It took me a second to realize that he was flirting with my sister in that almost automatic, all-too-obvious, bound-to-be-turned-down-in-ten-seconds-flat way of his that I'd seen him use on every good-looking woman who walked by. The instinctive flare of jealousy was quickly tempered as I realized it was working on Frannie. She'd apparently been too surprised to be on the receiving end of a compliment from him to dwell on our disagreement, and was all too willing to let herself be shepherded into the building by Kowalski. I trailed after them, admiring how he handled her and got her to her desk before turning to me.
He looked at me, his face a question. "She heard."
"Got it in one, Detective."
"So? She's not going to say anything."
He sounded altogether too sure. "Why?"
He smiled, crossed his arms, and looked altogether too smug. "Because if she does, she'll have to deal with both of us, and we're her connection to Fraser, that's why."
Did I say I think I'm falling in love with him? Forget that. I'm in love with him. No sooner than I'd thought that than panic rioted through my head at the idea that I wasn't just getting my rocks off with him. I took a deep breath and tried to remember where I was. Kowalski just grinned; I could tell he was reading me, and probably thinking I wanted to either make love to him right then, or knock his head off for making me think it was okay to be in love with him. He'd be right.
"Save that for Fraser, why don't you?" he suggested, speaking just so I'd hear the words. In a more normal tone, he declared, "Come on, Vecchio, we got work to do, and I'm tired of covering for your ass." He headed for Lt. Welsh's office.
"Yes, but I'm not saving —" I started to say, and caught myself before I could add, 'anything for Fraser, it's all for you.' I bit my tongue once, just to be sure I didn't embarrass myself any more, and breathed carefully before I followed Kowalski.
Just before he reached for the knob of Welsh's door, he added in an undertone, "Even if it is a nice ass," and then opened it in time to get the full brunt of Welsh's bellow for us.
Served him right.
"Oh, sorry about that, Kowalski," Welsh apologized as he stood behind his desk, a sheet of something in his left hand. Stepping inside Welsh's office, I glanced over to my right and saw Fraser was already standing there with that not-quite-relaxed stance of his. There was a look on his face I didn't quite get, and it got my insides going. I swallowed hard, trying to keep my cool.
"Shut the door, Vecchio, will you?" Welsh ordered. I found myself half-turning with the ingrained habit of too damned long undercover, and barely managed to change it in time into checking to see if the real Ray Vecchio was doing what Welsh asked. Vecchio caught the movement, of course, and I knew I'd pay for it later when we were alone. Scowling, I put my attention into the coffee he'd brought for me and into pretending I was one relaxed cop. I wasn't, of course; there was no way in hell I could be, not when I knew why Fraser was there.
"What's up, Lieu?" I asked, like the world wasn't gonna come crashing down around me in about thirty seconds, or however long it took for Fraser to say that he'd come to arrest me.
"Before we get into why in the world I'm the only lieutenant in Chicago with two detectives who can't seem to stop attracting trouble whenever a certain Mountie's around, I'd like to welcome Constable Fraser back," Welsh declared. "Now that we've got that out of the way, however, I'd like to know why I got a call from Homicide this morning telling me one of my detectives found a dead body in someone's house last night. I'd also like to know why Fraser's here with an arrest warrant." He took a deep breath. "What the hell happened in Canada, Kowalski?"
"Are you crazy, Fraser?" Vecchio demanded before I could answer. "You arresting Kowalski?"
"It's his duty," I pointed out even as something cold gripped my stomach.
In reply, Vecchio started venting about fairness and friendship and how I'd never murder anyone and who was Fraser to just go charging in without having all the facts. That pit of cold eased as I realized he was defending me, but I still didn't feel right. The security of last night, being in his arms, suddenly seemed a million years away. It was all I could do to focus on what Vecchio was saying. When he went to a take a breath, Fraser stepped in.
"Ray does have his right to privacy," Fraser reminded everyone, and that shut Vecchio up.
"If you wanted private, you would've found another way to do this, Constable," Welsh observed. Turning to me, he looked at me. "Now, Detective, tell me why someone thinks you killed — " he glanced at the sheet he held "— Jillian Carter."
It took me a minute for me to absorb the shock, even though I knew ahead of time that's what was coming, thanks to Fraser. Abruptly, I was gladder than a clown that I'd moved to my usual spot of leaning against the bookcase, 'cause I didn't think I'd be able to prop myself up right now on my own feet if I had to without it. Welsh's stare brooked no argument, no half-truths, and I swallowed the automatic denial that sprung to my lips. "She and I had a rather big difference of opinion," I said, trying to play it cool. Vecchio glared at me, as if to say, 'Get on with it,' but I ignored him. He wasn't the one whose ego and everything else had gotten stomped on, why the hell should he feel I should tell Welsh everything all at once?
"Over what? You flirting with some other woman? Out with it, Kowalski."
I knew I was trying Welsh's patience, but damn it, this shit wasn't all that easy to say. I struggled for the words, wishing I had Fraser's elo — elocaint — talent for them. "Like whether or not she could use me without my saying it was okay." I took a deep breath, hating what I had to say next, but knowing Welsh wouldn't be satisfied until I'd made it clear what had happened to me. "She kidnapped me, drugged me, tied me up, and raped me." Welsh's face flashed a dozen different emotions at my words, and I wasn't entirely comfortable with seeing any of them. Hurriedly, I finished, "She had me for five days. Fraser and his sister rescued me." Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Vecchio move from his spot beside me to near Welsh's desk.
"Did you press charges?" Welsh asked, setting down what I assumed was the warrant on his desk and then coming around it to study me intently. I didn't dare answer his question, afraid I was going to open my mouth and gobbledygook would come out instead of words that made sense.
"The investigation was dismissed," Fraser answered for me. "Jillian Carter was granted immunity from all prosecution in Canada in exchange for her testimony in a classified case. Basically, sir, it's my understanding that the testimony Ms. Carter provided could be considered political blackmail. In the meantime, she has been allowed to run free and do whatever she pleases to whomever she pleases. She is a serial rapist and murderer, and she has been missing for several weeks now."
"You have proof of what she is?"
"My sister and I have found pictures and videotape identifying her as such, yes."
"And someone thinks Kowalski might've killed her," Welsh stated, sounding like he was just making sure he understood. "Hell, why aren't they giving him a damn medal?"
"Actually, sir, I believe that certain individuals with political clout are attempting to ensure that Ray does not interfere with whatever Ms. Carter intends to do here in Chicago. In her spare time, my sister has been working on investigating Ms. Carter, and Maggie was able to trace her to a house here in Chicago. However, Maggie was unable to prevent the order that went out requesting that I bring Ray back for a hearing to determine whether or not he was responsible for Ms. Carter's disappearance and presumed death."
"I'd have to compare what they found," Vecchio interjected, "but judging by some of the stuff I found at the Highland house, I'd say it's a definite that she's in town."
"Probably visiting her twin sister," I growled.
"Twin sister?" Welsh asked.
"You know the chick that was here the other day, Genevieve Gregory? The Attorney General of that place you said was probably out in what used to be Yugoslavia or wherever?"
Fraser looked at me, then at Vecchio and Welsh. "Attorney General of someplace you never heard of?" he questioned. "It would be extremely unusual for someone such as that to visit a police station. Moreover, the information I've been able to gather is that there is a woman who looks like Jillian Carter named Genevieve Gregory."
It clicked then. "Shit," I swore.
It's Welsh who voiced what we're all thinking. "She didn't come here to thank me, she came here to see if you were still alive, what your reaction was. That's why she asked for you specifically."
"You think Genevieve and Jillian are the same bit—woman?" Vecchio demanded, barely stopping himself from cursing.
"It's possible," Fraser answered. "However, it's often difficult to tell identical twins apart."
"Since that possibility exists," Welsh declared, "there is no way to be sure that Ms. Carter is alive or dead. However, since there is a valid warrant — Kowalski, I have to ask you for your shield and — "
"Did you actually have the warrant in your possession?" Vecchio asked Welsh urgently, stopping me with a look from dropping my badge and gun into Welsh's hands. "Did you see it, or did you just believe what Constable Fraser said?"
"Vecchio, if you've done something to that paper that was on my — desk — "
Vecchio raised his hands in a clear 'who-me' expression. Yeah, like any of us bought that one. Welsh walked over and pulled the now-crumpled warrant out of Vecchio's suit jacket pocket.
"Vecchio," Welsh growled warningly.
Hurriedly, Vecchio urged, "If either one of the psycho women is in town, Kowalski's knowledge might be extremely valuable, and his life may be in danger. Wouldn't it be better if he was in police custody, and if he was able to conduct his normal business so they don't suspect anything? I mean, I know the rules say he shouldn't be on the case since he's personally involved, but can't we make an exception this once?"
Welsh looked over at him, then at me. Vecchio had a point, but I wasn't so certain I agreed with him. I had enough nightmares of my own experiences without adding all the crap from seeing someone else go through whatever Jillian, or Genevieve, or whoever the hell it was, had dreamed up. I wanted to help, and I didn't want to leave Vecchio stranded without a partner, but I'd never been fond of outright breaking the law. Bending it a little, yeah, if there was a real need for it, but not twisting it until it broke. Not when I'd sworn to uphold it, and I knew Fraser had to have a damned good reason to violate his orders. I knew Vecchio could probably solve the case without me dragging him down, but now that I had a chance to deliver a little payback, I wasn't all that willing to let it go. Besides, I wasn't all that certain that Vecchio wasn't just angling for a way to hang around me twenty-four seven without Ma Vecchio getting suspicious — not that I minded the thought, but I didn't want to borrow any trouble.
Then Welsh spoke. "Okay, here's how we do this."
It took most of a week to go through the whole mess of evidence we'd discovered in the Highland house, and that was with Fraser's help. Technically, I was supposed to be under arrest and in Fraser's custody, which put me officially off the case, but Vecchio and Welsh convinced him that if I was around Fraser, that counted as being in custody, and I had to swear I wasn't gonna leave Chicago without Fraser. That was easy enough; I wasn't about to leave the city in the first place if I could help it. Not while that bitch and her sister were running around, doing the things to other guys that Jillian done to me.
The surveillance videos from inside the Highland house gave us the confirmation that they were two separate people: identical twins who preferred thin guys like me. Going through the tapes, we discovered that Genevieve was the one who drugged the guys and helped restrain them; she'd often make commentary on what she was watching and recording, but it was Jillian who did everything else, usually while wearing only gold bracelet around her upper right arm. Occasionally, Genevieve would participate as well, which was how we figured out that they were really identical twins. I was glad to realize that some of my nightmares made sense now, though Vecchio tried his best to keep me from reliving too much of it, and I never saw the tape of me.
I knew it had to exist, since the sisters seemed to like documenting everything they did, but if Vecchio found it, he never said. I thought about asking him, but I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to go there. Instead, I concentrated on trying to tie Highland to the sisters beyond the tape and the photographs. Somehow, I didn't think that he'd been innocent — there was too much evidence in that house for someone who'd been casually picked up.
It had taken some digging, but between Maggie's research, the things Frannie had been able to uncover, and the photographic evidence we had, we'd figured out that at least twelve other men besides me had been victims of Jillian and Genevieve. Of those, all had been in Canada except for Highland. I didn't understand what had made them leave Canada, where they'd been protected legally, to come here, and I didn't flatter myself into thinking they'd known I'd been coming back here. Still, I had to wonder about the timing. It had been almost two months since I'd had my run-in with Jillian and Genevieve. Highland had bought the house a month ago. It was just too coincidental for my liking.
"Come on, Vecchio," I told him late Thursday afternoon. Fraser had already left the station for some Consulate function he hadn't been able to get out of, so it was just Vecchio and me trying to piece together everything and still do everything else that was on our desks. "I wanna check out something at the Highland house again."
Vecchio rubbed his eyes tiredly. "We've been through everything."
"Yeah, but Highland was a lawyer, right? So maybe he was the guy who helped them get immunity. Besides, he doesn't exactly fit the mold, you know? He was an old guy."
"So why would they pick an old guy? Most of their victims were around my age, and they weren't black guys either."
Vecchio's eyes narrowed. "There was something.... " He dug through a stack of paperwork on his desk. "Where'd you put that fax that Frannie gave you this morning?"
I reached over and fished it out of his in-box, then read it. "Maggie sent you this?" I asked, seeing her neat, precise handwriting on the cover sheet. "Says here Highland's a friend of a friend of hers, and that his full name is Michael Carter Highland." There was more on the sheet, but squinting at the lines because I couldn't remember where I'd stuck my glasses was making my eyes hurt, so I looked over at Vecchio instead.
"I saw it was from Maggie," Vecchio told me, "so I just called her and had her tell me. Carter changed his name to Highland three years ago; he'd apparently had been married, and his wife hadn't liked his last name, so they picked Highland as their married name."
I shook my head. It sounded way too complicated, and exactly the sort of thing lawyers would think of doing.
"I know, I know, weird, but you haven't heard all of it yet," Vecchio warned me, his hands underscoring his words. Sensing there was a longer story in the works, I slouched back into my chair and stared at him. Some part of me didn't want to know the rest of the story, wished that some other detective was investigating this case, but I knew the rest of me wanted to understand why, and wouldn't be content to let someone else figure it all out.
"Highland, and I'm gonna keep calling him that because I can't think of him as Carter, had two daughters, Jillian and Genevieve. He lost both of them in a custody fight, and then lost track of them not long after that. He didn't handle the loss well, and got into some trouble, but he used his connections to hush things up. Fifteen years later, he got a call from Genevieve, who'd apparently taken her mother's maiden name for her last name. She'd found out about what he did, plus the fact that Highland was having an affair, and wanted something for her silence. At the time, Genevieve and Jillian were suspected of murder, but nobody could prove anything, other than the fact that they were related."
"So they get dear old daddy to write them a blanket immunity," I said, disgusted. Chills ran down my spine at the thought of just how twisted Genevieve and Jillian were — and how lucky I'd been to have escaped them.
"Looks like it," Vecchio agreed. "Makes me think that Highland knew it wasn't gonna last somehow, and that maybe he tried running from his daughters."
"Yeah, well, if they were smart enough to find out about what he did before," I commented, "he should've realized that they'd be smart enough to figure out where he ran to." I paused, and took a deep breath, feeling more sympathy than I'd wanted to feel for a guy who'd had the bad luck to have the daughters of Hell as his own. "Or maybe he was hoping they'd get caught if they came here."
"Well, unless we find some way of speaking with the dead, we'll never know." Vecchio blew out a breath. In a quieter voice, he asked, "You doing all right, Ray?"
I jerked my head up at his use of my name and at the gruffly tender way he spoke. Even in the heat of passion, he rarely said it. Now, I doubted I'd ever want anyone else to say it. Not when there was so much love wrapped around it when he did. "Yeah, I — " I stopped, seeing the faintly amused look in his eyes, like he'd been expecting me to lie. "No," I admitted. "It's Thursday, and come Monday, Fraser's due back up north, with me in tow. He can't stall his boss any longer than that, and you know the court order he had for my extradition only gave us a week."
"I know," Vecchio reminded me. "If I hadn't talked to Maggie this morning to ask her about that fax, I think she'd be on her way down here, helping."
I shot him a look. "You sure she hasn't booked a flight?" I asked dryly.
Even as I heard Vecchio's muttered, "God, I hope not," I thought about how I really wasn't looking forward to going north again, especially not now.
Not when I knew I'd be leaving behind everything that mattered. Yeah, so a couple of months ago, you couldn't have pried me from Canada and being around Fraser without a crowbar. That was before I found out just what he'd do for me, and when, and how. Something had died inside of me once I found out that it had taken me getting hurt before he could tell me he wanted me. Or that he'd let me make love to him if that would help me get over being kidnapped, tortured, drugged, and raped by a pair of psycho bitches from Hell. I didn't want it like that, didn't need it that badly, yet I thought I'd still wanted him. I'd even dared Vecchio into having sex with me just because we both wanted Fraser-but there was no way I'd ever mistake that lanky Italian for a well-built Mountie. Especially not when I knew exactly what Vecchio looked like naked and horny.
Funny, I thought I knew exactly who I was in love with, but seeing Fraser again.... All I could think about was how I didn't want to be with someone who would talk me through my nightmares like some shrink. Fraser wouldn't, couldn't, didn't really accept that sometimes, what I needed was someone to hold me and not ask questions, or just fill the empty space inside of me with something I understood, something that wasn't tainted by anything else. I didn't think he really got how that worked, and maybe I was jumping to conclusions again, but it's one thing to know something from a book.... to look at life as something you had to deal with completely on your own, 'cause there was nobody else you could count on to be there. I knew Fraser'd had his heart broken before, but what I'd gone through was ten times worse than when Stella had told me that she wanted a divorce, and somehow, I thought it had to be worse than when Victoria had shown up in Chicago. At least he could console himself with the idea that Vecchio shot him out some kind of duty. I got hurt for some women's sick, twisted kinks.
Sex with Vecchio was probably the last thing anyone would recommend as a cure for the way I was feeling, especially since I knew I wasn't who he really wanted, but I didn't want to stop. Not when it felt like he was the only one who really understood, who gave a damn about whether I lived or died or just managed to make it through this mess in one piece.
Oh, sure, Frannie cared about me, but I never could figure out if she liked me more for the fact I knew Fraser, or if I was her shield against her brother. I knew part of her affection for me was based off the fact that we'd started out as two people forced to pretend that we were related to each other and somewhere along the way, we stopped pretending and started believing. Either way, it didn't matter to me; I knew we got along, mostly, and that mattered more. The last thing I needed in my life was another complication, and nobody I'd ever met could complicate things in a hurry like Frannie.
As for Fraser... I knew how he felt, knew it was all a lost cause, and had pretty much decided the best we could be was friends. Still, it felt more like strangers who knew too damn much about each other, and I had no doubts that Vecchio had picked up on it. To his credit, he didn't say anything; just tried to make sure I didn't have to spend any more time around Fraser than was necessary. I didn't know what to think of that, and wasn't sure if I wanted to confirm what my instincts were telling me about how deep Vecchio's caring for me went. My head was messed up enough as it was without thinking that he was in love with me; and of course, something told me that I'd be confused about all this, even if I hadn't been one of Jillian and Genevieve's victims. This was one case I didn't think I was gonna forget easily, no matter how much I wanted to.
The following day, I was coming back from checking out one of the stores where the women's clothes Vecchio had found could have been shoplifted from when Frannie stopped me in the hallway. I was alone; Vecchio and Fraser were checking out the other location, and since I wasn't supposed to be out of Fraser's custody, I'd agreed to meet them back at the station.
"Can I talk to you a minute about something?" Frannie asked.
"If it's about Fraser, the answer is no." I started to breeze past her, but she caught a hold of my arm, stopping me.
"I know you guys aren't getting along. Is it because of you and Ray?"
Damn it, she would choose now to ask me about this. I glanced around, seeing the traffic in the hallway moving around us, and then hustled her into the nearest supply closet.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing?" she protested as I switched on the light.
"Trying not to broadcast my personal life, what do you think? Damn it, Frannie, why couldn't you have asked me about this later?"
"Because you'd probably act all macho and not tell me anything, that's why." She crossed her arms. "Look, I don't care what you do with my brother, as long as you don't hurt him, and you don't hurt Fraser. Well, other than the fact that I wish you'd be quieter so I can sleep."
"Hurt Fraser? Frannie, you gotta be crazy. The last thing I'd do is hurt Fraser. 'Sides, he's already done that to me."
"Hurt you?" She looked shocked. "What did he do to you?"
"He- Look, I don't wanna talk about it, and certainly not in a supply closet with you."
"Well, you're not gonna talk about it anywhere else," she shot back. "Ray isn't gay, and you — you, you'd probably sleep with anything that moved, as long as it gave you-"
I clamped a hand over her mouth. "Shut up, Frannie, and don't you dare bite me. Now, I'm gonna take my hand off, and that mouth of yours is gonna stay zipped, or I will tell your brother everything you made me promise not to tell him." Slowly, I removed my hand.
She stared at me a minute; I stared right back. "Everything?" she asked hesitantly. "Including what happened to his favorite suit jacket?"
"The one you borrowed and spilled that fancy spaghetti sauce on?" She nodded. "Yep."
"You wouldn't dare."
I crossed my arms. "Wanna bet? I said everything. Including some stuff you think I don't know about, like the real reason you showed up at Fraser's fake funeral in a wedding dress."
She inhaled sharply. "I was just-"
"Francesca." I rarely used her full name, and knew it would shut her up. It did. "I don't know where you got the idea I'm so desperate I'd screw anything."
"Oh, come on," she said, rolling her eyes and crossing her arms. "Like I haven't watched you throw yourself at every woman who walks by? Like I haven't seen you take every single refusal from Stella and still continue to ask her out? Like I don't know what you're doing with my brother every night?"
"Like you don't throw yourself at Fraser every time he's around?" I retorted. "Wearing anything that would get anybody else's attention but his?"
She had the grace to look sheepish. "Okay, okay," she conceded. "So we're both in bad shape. But I'm not you, thank God, and you still haven't answered my question."
I sighed. Frannie never gave up, not when it was something she wanted, and it was pretty clear that we weren't leaving this closet until she was satisfied. "Look, the truth is, I never looked at another guy like I'd look at a woman until Fraser, and I'm pretty sure your brother didn't either. Now I know you don't know what happened to me while I was with Fraser in Canada, and I wasn't gonna tell you, 'cause it's really none of your beeswax, but since you'll probably get stuck cataloging the evidence, I'm gonna tell you so it won't be a shock." I took a deep breath as Frannie's eyes widened in confusion and concern. "There was this woman, you see."
"Not the one who almost killed Fraser? The one we almost lost the house over?"
"No, not that one. Calm down, I wouldn't touch that witch with a ten-foot-pole unless it had a knife attached to the end, the one pointing at her."
She sighed in relief. "Then who? What, she wanted you and Fraser wanted her? Is that it?"
"I'm getting there, all right?" I paused, hating the sudden attack of nervousness. "It was someone I met in a bar. Fraser never met her. She-" I closed my eyes and swallowed hard. I hated admitting this, hated the fact that despite the flirting I'd been doing since I got back, I'd never trust a woman to get that close again, hated that I hadn't been stronger somehow.
Frannie reached out and grasped my hand. I flinched as the memory of Jillian's touch abruptly overwhelmed me. I felt and saw Frannie jerk back at my reaction before her lips thinned into a narrow line. Softly, she asked, "She what, Ray? How did she hurt you?"
"Let's just say that I don't think I'd even let Stella get that close to me again." I took a deep breath and opened my eyes. "The woman's name is Jillian Carter."
"Jillian Carter? That's the woman Fraser asked me to look up the other da-" Frannie broke off as understanding hit. "Oh, God, Ray, I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well," I shrugged, trying to look cool and knowing I was failing miserably, "it happened, and Fraser's trying to make it right."
"But he can't. I mean, he can help you catch that — that — " Frannie flailed her hands, trying to find the right word. "Oh, whatever she is, and that'll help, but he can't fix it. Not unless he had some Star Track thing."
"Trek," I corrected her automatically.
"Track, Trek, whatever," she tossed back. "You know what I mean, and it's no wonder you guys aren't getting along. There's just one thing, though."
"Is it true that you took the assignment to be my brother because you were in a gay bar and got into a fight?"
I stared at her, wondering how she'd found that out. "Yeah, but not because I was there to pick someone up, if that's what you're thinking. I was supposed to meet a snitch there, and that's not the only reason why I took the assignment."
"Okay," she accepted, a knowing look on her face. "That's not what Stella said."
Taking a page out of Fraser's book, I counted silently to ten. "That's because she lost the case, and she's been mad at me ever since. Not that that's all that unusual."
"Oh." Frannie was disappointed. "So you never — "
"No, I never. Didn't I just tell you that?"
"Yes, but I wanted to be sure." She stepped closer and hugged me. I breathed in the exotic floral scent of her perfume, and this time, managed not to flinch at the contact, the press of her body against mine. "I didn't want to think that Fraser was like you."
"What do you mean, like me?"
Whatever she was going to say to that died without being heard as the door abruptly swung open. Her brother stood in the hallway, looking annoyed. "Whatever you two were doing in the closet better be just talking," he growled. "We got a lead on Gregory."
With a start, I realized that Frannie's arms were still around me. Awkwardly, we stepped away from each other, bumping into the shelving in the process, then Frannie led the way out. I glanced at my partner as he shut the door behind me.
"I don't want to know," he warned me as he led the way back to our desks.
"She's like a sister to me," I told him.
"I said I didn't want to know, all right?" he bit off angrily.
I held up my hands, not wanting to get into a fight. From the way he was acting, someone or something else had Vecchio pissed off as it was, and I had no desire to be the last straw. Still, I couldn't resist the small glow of pleasure that spread through me at Vecchio's suspicion. "So where's Fraser?"
"Having a date with a sales clerk."
He said it with such annoyance and jealousy, I had to bite back the urge to laugh. "Well, you know," I commented casually, "Fraser probably sees it as an information gathering session, or something formal like that."
Vecchio looked startled at my use of big words. I hid a smile; I might trip over them and have a hard time saying or thinking of them, especially when I was stressed, but it didn't mean I didn't know them. Especially after a couple of years of hanging around Fraser. In any case, it took the wind out of Vecchio's anger, which I'd been hoping it would do. Taking advantage of the moment, I took a seat at my desk and lounged back in the chair. "So, what kind of lead do we got on Gregory? I didn't find anything out, other than the clothes in the closet were definitely from that chain of stores."
Vecchio grabbed his chair and rolled it around our desks so that when he sat down, he was right next to me. "Looks like that whole attorney general thing was just a bunch of falsified papers. Gregory worked at the store Fraser and I checked out," he told me. "Manager hasn't seen her since she was fired for suspected shoplifting, but the sales clerk who was on duty when we were there did say that Gregory used to go to a club down on North Halsted."
"That wouldn't happen to be the same sales clerk who's having a date with Fraser now, would it?"
Vecchio glared at me, and I chuckled. "Thought so."
He shot me another glare, then sighed. "There's something else I want to run by you. Highland's from the same town you and Maggie were in."
"You think he had some kind of connection to the sisters?" I asked, jumping to conclusions. "Other than his being their Get-Out-of-Jail forever card?"
"Look," he began, and reached across my desk to grab a file folder. "We've identified several of the guys they took pictures of, and they're — " he checked the folder "— a mixed bunch of people. Aside from the fact they're all about the same build, there's really nothing they have in common. There's a politician, a lawyer, two bankers, a businessman, you, and a handful of other guys who look pretty random, like they were sitting in a bar somewhere and just happened to run across Gregory or Carter, until you start looking at which bar they happened to be sitting in."
I narrowed my eyes. "The same one," I guessed.
"Yep. I'm thinking this was some place Highland hung out at a lot. Maybe he helped pick certain people out for them. Maybe that's why he got the hell out of Dodge-he didn't want to play their games anymore."
My stomach churned at the thought. "That's just sick," I said. "Maybe one of the sisters worked in that bar."
"That would be a likely assumption," Fraser spoke, startling us both. "Though I suspect that you're both correct."
Vecchio recovered quicker than I did. "Geez, Benny, give a guy a heart attack," he complained. "How'd you get back so fast?"
"Since Megan was off work, she offered to drop me off here," Fraser explained as he took the guest chair.
"Megan? That the sales clerk Vecchio was telling me about?" I asked.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, that was she."
"So, what did she have to say?"
"There's a new club called The Pleasure Dome on North Halsted. Megan said that she and Ms. Gregory used to go there on Friday evenings after work, and that Ms. Carter was working there as a waitress."
"What are we waiting for, then?" Vecchio demanded.
The nightclub had been open four hours when we arrived. None of us wanted either of the sisters to walk out on a technicality, so we'd made sure to have the right paperwork before we came in, which took longer than I'd wanted. I was impatient, but Fraser had been right to suggest that we make sure all our ducks were in a row before we went charging in like I'd wanted. I mean, yeah, they had immunity in Canada and dual citizenship, but that shouldn't really make that much difference. Fraser won, like usual. After some arguing with Welsh, Kowalski agreed to let me handle the actual arrest, but he'd been the one to convince Fraser to change out of his uniform into something less obvious. The last thing we needed was for the psycho twins to rabbit because they saw an RCMP officer. I'd be backed up by the two guys who'd replaced the Duck Boys, but since we weren't sure what kind of situation we were walking into, I'd volunteered to take the lead.
I'd hoped that my usual suit would help me pass as a businessman just stopping off for a drink before heading home, but one quick glance around told me I was in a country-western dance club, and I'd guessed wrong. I swore under my breath, and promptly heard Kowalski's voice over the wire I wore bitch about how he'd told me so.
I took a minute to look around the club, seeking out the targets. Though I'd seen the videotapes, and knew what the sisters looked like, I hadn't expected the impact of them together. Brunettes, with honey-gold skin and blessed with beauty pageant queen looks, they could've posed for Playboy.... the serial killer edition. Jillian, wearing her customary gold arm bracelet and the excuse of a shirt and skirt that was apparently the club's uniform, was tending bar. As it was still early in the evening, she was taking advantage of the relative lull to chat with her sister, who wasn't wearing much clothing either. From the body language, I guessed they were discussing something, probably whether or not they were going to get lucky tonight.
"Not if I can help it," I muttered under my breath, and moved casually forward.
"Evening, ladies," I greeted them in my best I'm-just-looking-for-a-good-time voice.
Genevieve sized up my suit and the way I looked in it, then glanced over at her sister. A few seconds later, so quick I would've missed it had I not been watching for it, I saw Jillian give her sister the barest hint of a nod. Her hazel eyes gleamed when they returned to me. "Evening," she returned in a faint, indeterminable accent. "Tell me, are you a cop or do you just play one on TV?"
I chuckled, even as I damned myself for not taking Kowalski's advice and changing into something casual. This wasn't a club for businessmen; it wasn't even a club for the Mafia. It was a place for city cowboys, some place where the music would be cranked up as soon as the crowd started filtering in, and I was a square peg in a round hole. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and it was too late to try being Armando now. The best I could hope for was to play out the hand I'd dealt; I'd been unprepared for Jillian pegging me for a cop, and swore silently.
"If it was TV, wouldn't I already know your name?" I spread my hands wide and then gestured at Jillian. "I mean, besides Jillian Carter, whose name tag I can read."
Jillian chuckled at that. "Looks like he's got you there, Genn. You know I love a man who knows my name and says it with such flair. Don't you think he's got flair?"
Genevieve brushed her shoulder-length hair back and giggled, low, and smooth. "I do love a man who speaks well."
"Genn?" I repeated. "That wouldn't happen to be Genevieve Gregory, would it?" I asked, still playing the easygoing fool.
"Yes," Genevieve answered warily, then stiffened as a thought occurred to her. "Who are you?" she demanded. "RCMP? You can't touch me."
"While that may be true in Canada," Fraser's voice resounded behind Genevieve, effectively blocking her escape, "here in Chicago, my friend can." He gestured towards me.
"I'm Detective Ray Vecchio of the Chicago PD," I told them, my smile widening. "And you are under arrest for the murder of Michael Carter Highland."
In the way of most criminals, they tried to run, but they didn't get far. I don't think I'll ever forget the look on Jillian's face when she ran straight into Kowalski, who'd blocked the front exit with his body and the help of two uniformed officers.
"You," she spat accusingly. "You're supposed to be dead."
Kowalski grinned and took advantage of her hesitation to cuff her. "And you're under arrest," he told her blandly, and handed her over to the two uniforms. After a quick check to make sure he had everything covered, I looked around to see where Fraser and Dief were. Not seeing them, I wondered where they could have gone. In the silence that our unexpected raid had produced, I heard a distinctive growl. I rushed into the kitchen to find Dief growling at Genevieve, Fraser a few steps away, and to hear her screaming, "You can't touch me. I have immunity."
"Immunity from prosecution in Canada. Not diplomatic immunity," I told her, carefully stepping around Diefenbaker to slap on the cuffs. "I checked, and while my buddy Fraser can't touch you, I can and am arresting you. You should've stayed in Canada, but you didn't, and you're on my turf now."
Needless to say, she wasn't happy to find that out.
Once we had Jillian and Genevieve in custody, Fraser convinced his bosses to drop the charges against me, seeing that Jillian wasn't dead and that I had proof showing I hadn't been anywhere near her after she'd pretty much ripped me to pieces. Gotta admit, it's a little hard to charge someone with murder when the murder victim is walking, breathing, and waiting to face murder charges down here.
The funny thing about it all was that while I could feel this great big sense of Thank-God-it's-over, some part of me thought I should've been happier about it all. I knew we still had a lot to do to make sure the sisters didn't run back to Canada and get to run free again, but somehow, I didn't care, at least not right now. All I could think about was that at least tonight, there wouldn't be another videotape to add to their collection, another homicide that someone would have to investigate and probably leave open because they hadn't had all the clues we did.
Of course, this being Chicago, some news hound got wind of what we were doing, and the arrests made the news. Nothing made the headlines like a pair of serial rapists/murderers who happened to be twin sisters, and dead ringers for a former Miss America. Fraser, Vecchio, and I were attacked by reporters as we walked through the station, trying to make it back to our desks, after making the arrests. While Vecchio lapped up the attention, I slipped away.
An hour and a half went by before he found me, sitting on the hood of the GTO and staring at the lake they called Michigan. As odd as it seemed, I'd come to think of the lake as a place of beginnings and endings. Briefly, I wondered if Vecchio had ever bothered to check the VIN on his Riv, and silently prayed not. Thank God the Feds had been willing to spring for a replacement, just to try and keep the cover mostly intact. I closed my eyes as another memory came to mind, how I'd almost walked away from the best friendship I'd had, and I couldn't help thinking that maybe I should've taken that transfer after all.
Even as I thought that, I knew I wouldn't have traded all the time with Fraser for the world. I wasn't certain I'd be who I was without him in my life, and I couldn't fault him for being exactly everything he was... even if it had hurt me more times than I could count. I opened my eyes as the sound of another car pulling up next to mine registered.
"You know how to disappear, don't you?" he asked wryly as he climbed out of his beloved Riv. I'll probably never understand why he loved that damned car so much when he could have a Goat, but oh well. "If I hadn't asked Fraser where you'd go, I'd still be driving around looking for you."
He sounded faintly annoyed, but I'd quickly discovered that was pretty much Vecchio. He was smiling, though, which meant he wasn't annoyed enough to be mad, just irritated that he'd been inconvenienced somehow. I shrugged and answered the question he hadn't asked. "Had to get out. Hate my name in lights."
He grinned. "I know." He stood there a moment, not saying anything, and I looked at him, not understanding his silence. Finally, he pulled a videotape from underneath an arm. "This is yours." He lifted his chin in an unmistakable gesture of pride. "I was going to bury it, seeing as we got a ton of other evidence, but Frannie insisted you should have it."
I stared at him, too shocked to think.
"Oh hell, here." He grabbed my hands and wrapped them around the videotape. "Frannie had this wild idea that maybe you should watch it, just so you'd know what happened for sure."
"You've seen it."
He hesitated, and I was certain he was about to lie, then he changed his mind. "Yeah. It was the first tape I'd watched, the one that made me search the rest of Highland's house for any more."
I glanced down at the tape in my hand. I swallowed hard, remembering what it contained. Images flashed through my head, and I had to remember to breathe as the memories poured through me. In a voice I didn't recognize as my own, I asked, "Did I say no?"
He let go of a breath he'd been holding. "Yeah. A lot."
"You're not lying to me about that?"
He shook his head slowly. "I wouldn't lie to you about that." He cleared his throat. "That's the kind of shit some Mafia guy would get a huge happy thrill about, and I was never that guy."
He said the last three words with such emphasis, I knew he was telling the truth about everything. I stared at the tape again, then got up off the hood and tossed it into the trunk of my car. "Thanks." I swallowed, blinked past the sudden tears in my eyes, and started to head towards the driver's side of the GTO.
Abruptly, I felt Vecchio grab me. "Hey," he said softly.
I stopped in my tracks and turned to face him. "What?" Then I took a second look at his expression. He looked like he wanted to say that he loved me, like he wanted to kiss me senseless, and damn anyone who was listening or watching.
"You got any plans for the weekend?" he asked me.
I felt a grin tug at my mouth. "Nope."
He appeared to consider the idea. "Well, I was thinking about you, me, and avoiding anything Fraser might get us involved with before he leaves on Monday."
"Sounds like my kind of plan." I paused, thinking about what he'd done, and how he'd been acting lately. "And Ray?"
"I'm the last guy you should've fallen in love with."
He chuckled, apparently not surprised I'd figured him out. "You're the only guy I've fallen in love with, so what difference does it make?"
I crossed my arms and leaned against the GTO to watch him close the distance between us. "I thought you wanted Fraser."
He snorted. "I want a million dollars, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna get it."
I smiled then. "You asked him?"
Vecchio leaned close and planted his arms on either side of me, and I knew he was being careful because we were in a public place where anyone could see us. "Why should I, when I got you?" He stared at me, and I knew he wanted to kiss me even more than ten seconds ago, but was holding back. "Come on," he said roughly. "Let's get out of here."
It didn't take long to get to my apartment. I parked my car and headed up the stairs, vividly aware of Vecchio doing the same. He caught up to me as I unlocked the door to my apartment, and then followed me inside, shutting the door behind him.
I stripped off my shoulder holster, glad to be rid of the weight, and dumped it on the coffee table in the living room as he pulled off his suit jacket and did the same. Off went the cell phones, though before Vecchio shut his off, I heard him tell his mother not to expect him home this weekend. Oddly, I wasn't in any rush to do anything. I knew what we were going to do, and I knew we'd get there eventually, and somehow, I was more turned on by the idea than if we'd just gone at each other. This was going to be a long weekend, and it felt too damned important to hurry through it. Still, I undid the laces on my Army surplus boots quickly, and heard the soft thud that told me Vecchio had taken off his loafers and dropped them by the couch.
I looked over at Vecchio, and I couldn't stop the grin that spread across my face. He'd undone his tie as he'd talked to his mother, and now lounged against the couch with his shirt unbuttoned. "Comfortable?" I teased him, moving to stand between his spread legs.
In reply, he tugged on my arm, and I fell forward willingly, stopping just short of landing heavily onto him. His arms went around me, and I shifted so that he could hold me more easily. "Getting there," he told me with a smile.
"Oh, so you think this might take a while?" I braced my arms on either side of him, my hands digging into the cushions on either side of his head.
"It could," he agreed. "Especially if you don't shut up and kiss me."
I chuckled. "Anyone ever tell you you're one bossy — "
"You know," he interrupted me with a gleam in his eye, "there's nothing saying I have to kiss you back."
Damned sneaky Italian. Now I had to convince him why he should. "That's not lovers, Ray."
He shrugged, then ruined his standoffishness by kissing me. I could feel his amusement and his love in that kiss, and I had to close my eyes for the sheer generosity of it all. How could I deserve it after all I'd been through?
"Hey," he said softly, tipping my chin up with a finger. "Look at me."
I opened my eyes to find him staring intently at me.
"If anyone had told me I was gonna be here with you like this," he stated emphatically, "I would've told them they were crazy. I'm not all Mr. Cool with this, you understand? There's parts of it I don't know if I can deal with, but I gotta figure there's a reason for everything, and maybe things will work out better if we're partners in everything. I gotta hope so, 'cause what I got for you isn't gonna go away overnight, and I'm not talking about a hard-on, either. All I know is that I want to be with you. I hope those two women rot in hell for what they did to you, and that when the judge sees the evidence, that they'll get put away for a long time. Right now, I don't want to think about them, or anything else but you, and there's some part of me that's freaking about that whole thing, but I figure it can keep freaking out, because it doesn't change the fact that I love you."
I stared at him. A thousand reasons why he shouldn't love me rose to my lips, but from the way he gripped my back, I could tell he was serious. The protests died unspoken, and I had to take a deep breath to get the butterflies in my stomach settled. I didn't trust my voice for the emotions sweeping through me: nervousness, fear, denial, desire, love. I took another deep breath and leaned forward to kiss my lover, trying to put into action what I couldn't say.
He met my kiss with one of his own. I shuddered, not out of fear or dislike, but because the intensity I was pouring out was met equally. I didn't dare stop, feeling his love for me wash through me. I wanted everything he could give me, needed it in a way I hadn't needed anyone in a long time. Fear rose sharply, suddenly, within me: I was drowning, and I had to break free, had to breathe. I broke the kiss, my chest heaving with effort, and flung myself off the couch.
"What the fuck are we doing, Vecchio?" I demanded.
He chuckled humorlessly. "What do you think?" he shot back, sounding annoyed and aroused. Then he shook his head. "Don't you get it, Kowalski? We can't go backwards and pretend that we haven't been screwing each other's brains out every chance we've gotten; it's too late for that. Yeah, so we'll catch hell from everybody, once they find out about us, but we'll deal with it, as partners. Just like we deal with all the other crap that gets tossed our way, just like we've dealt with the psycho twins from hell. I'm not leaving, I'm not running away (though God only knows why I'm not 'cause I ain't never been in love with a guy before — lust, yeah, but not love), and I'm not gonna sit here and take crap from you about how you're all freaked out and scared, because I got news for you, partner — so am I." He glared at me.
I stared at him for a good minute before I realized how silly he looked, half rumpled and angry, and my shoulders started shaking with the laughter I tried desperately to swallow.
"What are you laughing at?" he challenged, rising off the couch to stand aggressively before me.
I just shook my head, and stepped closer. "Doesn't matter," I insisted, and realized as I said the words that they were true. "So just how freaked out and scared are you?" I slid my arms around him, feeling the leanness of his body against mine. He was just a few inches taller, and I had to tilt my head slightly to look directly at him.
"Terrified, but I'm handling it."
"Terrified, huh? Wanna go for scared stiff?" I waited a heartbeat, long enough to see the refusal in his eyes, then kissed him slowly as I ran my hands over his chest and back around to his ass. His breathing grew rapid and shallow as I deepened the kiss, tasting the inside of his mouth, but not letting his tongue touch mine. "Or," I suggested when I came up for air, "just wanna go for stiff?"
He breathed deeply, then inhaled sharply as I suddenly cupped his hard length through his trousers.
"Guess that's my answer, huh?" I teased.
Abruptly, he took possession of my mouth and twisted our positions so that I was the one against the couch. I took the hint and fell backward onto the cushions, pulling him down with me. His hands tugged impatiently at my T-shirt, and I pushed him away just enough so I could pull it off and toss it aside.
For a long moment, he just looked at me. The heat of his gaze sent shivers of desire through me, and I inhaled sharply.
"What, you think I'm beautiful or something?" I asked when it became clear he wasn't going to stop staring.
"Or something," he agreed huskily. Then he leaned forward, and kissed me. I tried to capture his mouth, but he moved downward, kissing my chin, my neck, my chest, before settling on my left nipple. His tongue flickered over it, and I arched into the touch. Maddeningly, he deserted that one for the other, lingering longer now that he knew I liked it. Then he did something I hadn't expected.
He took one wrist, scarred from the cuffs that Jillian had used on me, and kissed it like he could kiss the scars away. I shuddered, unable to look away as he did the same on the other wrist. His eyes held promises of security, of comfort, of love, and I couldn't stand how much those promises meant to me. If my heart hadn't already been a goner then, I think he would've taken it then, in that moment, and something inside me broke with the effort of trying to hold back.
My hands reached for him, shoving his unbuttoned shirt off his body and stroking him wherever I could, trying to give him everything in touch that I couldn't quite get out in words yet. We had all weekend. Hell, we had as long as we could manage to beg, borrow, steal, or force. I'd get the words out one day soon, and until then I could find other ways to tell him. Like kissing him until the only thing either of us knew was the feel of our mouths against each other, the taste of our tongues as they dueled; caressing him until it felt like my fingers had memorized every inch of his skin; tasting him and swallowing every drop he had to offer me; hearing him groan my name, moaning his. I'd done it before, knew just how he would sound, how he would taste, how he'd feel in my hands. For now, I contented myself with kissing him. Still, I couldn't get enough, didn't want to stop, wanted to do everything all at once, and it seemed, so did he.
He withdrew long enough to pull off the rest of his clothes, then quickly rid me of mine. He pulled me against him into a brief embrace, and I felt his hard cock against my stomach before he slipped down my body to kiss and lick a trail clear to my cock. I shuddered with every touch, unable to control the pleasure that heated my blood, making me feel like the room was both too cold and too warm. Without warning, Vecchio took my cock in his mouth. Automatically, I reached for the back of his head as he bobbed it up and down, taking me deeper into his mouth with every stroke. I moaned helplessly and tried not to buck my hips too hard. Twice, he brought me to the edge of coming and held me there, only to stop and start again.
"Tease," I growled when he stopped the second time. "Please, God, don't stop."
He smiled wickedly and looked up at me, mischief and love in his green eyes. "Anything you want, partner," he declared. Then he took my cock in his mouth again, and his long fingers cupped my aching balls. I felt a pair of fingers press the spot just behind my balls, and suddenly I came harder than I ever remembered coming. It was so intense, I had to close my eyes, and still the room felt like it spun.
I felt Vecchio slide up my body again, and then he kissed me. I tasted myself on him, and shivered as the hardness of his cock against my stomach registered. He stretched out over me and trapped his cock against mine. My eyes snapped open as his intent registered, and I locked my gaze with his as he began to ride me that way. I almost couldn't stand to see the love and desire in his eyes, and somehow knowing he loved me just turned me on all the more. I slid my hands from his upper back to grasp his ass as he thrust against me. The look in his eyes told me everything I didn't dare ask aloud, and I drew my tongue across his lips, then into his mouth. Immediately, he sucked my tongue, and I felt my excitement begin to rise. I hadn't recovered this fast since I'd been a teenager, but I wasn't about to question it either.
With our mouths fused together and our cocks rubbing against each other, he rode my body. His cock felt huge against mine. As he was about to erupt, he let go of my tongue and exhaled. His cock spurted in the crevice between us, seconds before mine did likewise. Gripping my shoulders, he rode out a shuddering, breathless climax, and didn't let go even after we'd both gone soft. I knew then that neither of us was going to be leaving my apartment anytime that weekend. I also knew I wasn't in any hurry to be anywhere else.
Mondays were always crazy around the station, but today felt positively insane. Even if we hadn't had to wake up at the crack of dawn to make sure Fraser didn't miss his flight, it would've still been nuts. I knew it was partly me, partly him, but the partnership was official now, and both of us were feeling the need to blow off some steam. Neither of us got much sleep last night — nor anytime over the weekend. For that matter, we didn't talk much — not with words anyway. For the first time in weeks, I felt whole again, and not a mixed-up walking mass of scars and nightmares. I sneaked a glance across my desk to the one shoved in front of it, and found Vecchio pretending not to look at me. The grin twitched at my lips and I didn't bother stopping it. We'd been like this all day.
Maybe it was finding out when we walked in this morning that Genevieve had confessed to everything, including two murders we hadn't known about that she and her sister had committed in Chicago, and had agreed to turn state's evidence in exchange for a lighter sentence. Maybe it was watching Vecchio's expression when, at lunch, I ripped apart the videotape of what Jillian and Genevieve did to me. I couldn't begin to describe the love and pride and astonishment on his face as I set the whole mess of videotape on fire in an alley a couple of blocks from the station before putting the fire out with an extinguisher I'd kept in the trunk of the GTO. Maybe it was seeing Fraser again, and giving him back his spare Stetson, the one that Maggie had given me on his behalf when I'd left Canada, that made the difference. Yeah, that was it.
Vecchio and me — well, we probably were going to regret this someday, but we're gonna make this work. I knew it wasn't going to be a walk in the park, but I haven't done things the easy way for a while now, and maybe... maybe in time, it won't hurt so much to remember what put us together.
Now, I like the sound of that.
***** Finis *****
©10.26.00 Raine Wynd