Any Other Way
© Dec. 2001 by Starfish

This is part 3 of a series that started with Wildly Courteous Ways and Working on Forever. I'm sorry to say you need to be familiar with them for this to make much sense. If I say it's done now, I'd just be tempting fate. But it's done for a while, anyway.

Thanks to Mary and Trin for some decidedly helpful comments.

Disclaimer thingy: Of course they're not mine. They belong to Alliance, the Pauls, and themselves. So there.

So I'm standing outside Fraser's apartment, video in hand, scared to knock.

Yeah. Me, Ray "The Bookman" Vecchio, scared. I'd laugh, just ain't funny.

It's not like I haven't faced down some pretty major tough guys; starting way back when I was in grade school, for crying out loud. But it's not that kind of scared. It's not the kind where having a gun or a Kevlar vest makes you feel better.

Okay, here are the facts. One: Fraser is my best friend. I know it, he knows it, even Kowalski knows it. That's not going to change. Except...

Two: Evidently Fraser is in love with Kowalski. And vice versa. Okay, neither of them said it, but I can tell you right now, Benton Fraser does not have casual sex. He can barely have a casual conversation. And from a few things that Stella said when we were dating, Kowalski's pretty heavy into commitment, too. So - it's love. And that bothers me.

I'm not jealous.


All right, I am jealous, a little. It's like when Frannie used to steal my GI Joes and make them get married to Barbie. They were never the same after that. Only this time, it's not Barbie, it's Ken. Or maybe Ken's scruffy cousin from out of town.

I know, I know, Kowalski's a good cop. Welsh says he stepped in front of a bullet for Fraser the first case they had. Saved my ass six ways from Sunday, too. Brandauer, Rankin; and let's not forget putting his whole life on hold to make sure mine didn't jump the tracks. Helped Ma out, kept Frannie on a leash...and stole my partner.

I fucked up when I left how I did; I know this. But the Feds didn't even want me to make the phone call. They wouldn't listen to me when I said Fraser was not going to take it well. Like they don't have friends or something. Tried to explain - I'm all he has. Me and Dief, that's it. So I tried to make it a little better for him.

So Kowalski should be like, the rebound friend, right? Not the one that gets to keep him.

Shit. I am so jealous.

I check my watch again. It's still only quarter of seven. I suppose I could be early....

I raise my hand to knock, and hear Fraser's voice. At least, I think it's him. The sound is muffled a little by the door, but as usual Fraser's found himself a real cheap place, and the doors and walls are like cardboard. I hear, "Raaay," real low and hungry and I-don't-want-to-think-about-it. I know he's not talking to me, but it feels a little weird. Then I hear Kowalski. He's laughing a little, but he sounds the same as Fraser. Hungry.

"Jesus, Ben, Vecchio'll be here any minute."

"Not for fifteen minutes, at least. Where are you going?"

Muffled thumps, then a groan. Holy shit, were they--?

"Oh, God, Ben, please..."

"Please what? This?"

A moan from Kowalski. Yeah, they were. Right up against the wall next to the door, from the sound of it.

Well, this is awkward.

"Jesus Christ, Ben, you're going to kill me..."

One of us was, that's for sure.

"Ohhhhhh, that mouth...look at you..."

And that put a picture in my head I do not need - I have to get out of here. Now.

"Ben!" Christ almighty, he's loud when he-- nononono. No.

I'm halfway down the hall, and I can still hear him. "No, let me - I want to -"

"Oh, yes, Ray..."

I'm just about ready to break into a run, but as I turn the corner, I run into Sandor, Kowalski's pizza-guy and informant. We met a while back when he came in looking for Kowalski and got me. Wonder how often that's going to happen.

"Hey, Detective Vecchio, how ya doin'?" he says, real loud. "You must be why they got two pizzas tonight, huh? Where you goin'? You forget something?"

Shit, shit, shit. "Nah, I'm just a little early. Don't want to be a bad guest, right?"

"Well, hey, I'm early too. Must be goin' around, huh?" He's steered me back down the hall to Fraser's door. It's quiet now, they must have heard us. Please God, let them have heard us, 'cause Sandor's knocking.

I hear Kowalski yell, "It's open," and I turn the knob and go in. Sandor's right behind me with the pizzas.

Kowalski's on the couch, and the way the place is set up, all we can see is the back of it. He turns his head and I can see his face is a little red. "Hey, Vecchio, Sandor! It's a two-for-one deal tonight." Oh, yeah, he's cool, and if I hadn't heard what I did I wouldn't know anything was wrong. He tosses me his wallet. "Vecchio, you mind? While you're right there." And since I'm noticing things, I can't help but notice he didn't have the wallet in his pocket. Or maybe he didn't have a pocket...

"How much we owe you, Sandor?" Want to get him out of here fast. He tells me the total, I give him the money and he's gone. After the door shuts behind him I consider my options. I want so badly to just ignore the whole thing.

"Where's Fraser?" I ask.

"He's, uh, getting changed." Then he smirks. "You don't wanna know."

Okay, that's it. I start over to where he's sitting. "You're right, Kowalski, I don't wanna know. Just like I didn't want to know what you sound like when you --" Shit. "You want to do me a favor and put those pants on?" I turn my back and hear rustling and a zipper.

"All right, I'm decent."

I turn back around and put the pizzas and video on the coffee table. He's standing there with a little-boy smile on his face, like he broke a window, but 'it was an accident, honest it was'. Cuts no ice with me, though. "Jesus, Kowalski, what if it was your mother out there in the hall? You might want to try and remember how thin the walls in this place are."

His expression changes to ticked-off in a heartbeat. "We weren't expecting my mother, Vecchio. For the record, she doesn't have the address. And who asked you to listen, anyway?"

"I wasn't listening, I just heard it." I realize how stupid that sounds. "I was on my way back outside when I ran into Sandor. And just what was I supposed to do? Come in and watch?"

"No one is suggesting you were purposely eavesdropping, Ray," says Fraser, coming out of the bedroom. His face is pretty red too, but I don't care how embarrassed he is. "And don't yell at Ray. It was entirely my fault. I precipitated the...incident."

"That wasn't yelling, Benny. I've barely even gotten started yet."

"Please refrain, then. Now that we are aware of how well the sound carries, we will be more circumspect."

"That's not really the problem, here, Benny. The problem is - look, I know I said I was cool, but now that I really know...I don't know if I can do this."

"We're not asking you to do anything, other than continue your friendship with me. Surely you can manage that? We're only asking for a bit of tolerance."

"No, you're asking me to condone this...thing you got going. And I'm sorry, but the way I was raised, it's just wrong, Benny. It's...a sin." I'm really reaching here, and he calls me on it, of course. Gets that snarky look on his face.

"I didn't realize you had suddenly become so observant of your faith. I must apologise, then - I believe both pizzas have meat on them. And it's Friday."

Oh, that's cold. He knows how to get to me, all right. And I know it's up to me to apologize to him. At least Kowalski's keeping quiet so far.

Fraser keeps talking. "I think you should know, Ray, that neither of us set out to hurt you. And we shouldn't have to pretend when we are at home, with friends. But if it's going to be impossible for you to 'deal' with it, perhaps we will have to reconsider the situation."

Kowalski looks at Benny, and he says, "Wait a minute. Don't start with this, Fraser. I know where you're going, and I don't like it."

I feel a little smug when Benny says, "I'm sorry, Ray," 'cause it sure sounds like a break-up line to me. Then he says, "But if Ray doesn't feel he can tolerate our relationship well enough to spend time with us, he certainly isn't obligated to do so."

Jesus Christ, he's breaking up with me!

"I --" I have no idea what to say to him. I just know it needs to be fast and it needs to be good. "Benny, I'm sorry. It's just -- I went away and I didn't want to, and then when I came back I wanted things to be the same as they were and they're not." Jesus, Ray, whiny much?

I get Disapproving Look Number Seven. "No, things are not the same. When you left, and indeed before you left, I was alone. That is no longer the case. And now...Ray, would you have me alone again, just so that you could have things back the way they were?"

Christ, the way he says that. Alone.

"Is that an option?" I say, although I guess I know the answer. Kowalski takes a step towards me, then backs away again. He looks down at his feet, but he's not ashamed or anything. He's starting to twitch, though - getting mad, I think. He's clenching his fists, then relaxing them, over and over.

Fraser doesn't even take a second to think about my question. "No, it's not an option. And I can't believe you would ask me that. Or ask that of me." He's way past snarky now, heading for pissed-off.

Shit. Throw me another shovel; the hole's almost deep enough. I seem to be making things worse every time I open my mouth. And now Kowalski's on the move.

"Okay, time out. Ben - you need to back off for a minute, go get plates and beer. Vecchio - you come with me. Dief - touch the pizza and I will let the little girls next door dress you up and play tea-party with you. Better yet, you come with us." He drags me into the bedroom and shuts the door behind the wolf. "Sit down, please and thank you kindly." His tone of voice says 'don't fuck with me, because I'm just looking for an excuse to take your head off', so I sit. On the bed. Their bed. Jesus. Kowalski's pacing around, and Dief very wisely retreats to the corner under the chair.

"Did we not already have this conversation? Did I not make it clear to you that this kind of shit was not allowed?"

I start to answer, but he holds up his hand to stop me. I close my mouth again and he sits beside me.

"Listen to me, and listen very carefully. You asked me if he told me about Victoria. What you don't seem to realize is that, for Ben, that story's just as much about you. About how he almost threw away his best friend. It still hurts him, you know. To realize that he's the type of person who could screw another person over so totally and completely ... that's not an easy thing for Benton Fraser to know about himself." His voice has gotten softer, and he sounds less like he wants to kill me now, thank God.

"He needs both of us, Vecchio. He told me the day we met that people are not interchangeable. At the time I thought it was a fairly stupid remark, but that was before I realized he didn't know fuck-all about what was going on or where you were. All he knew was that his best friend was gone, and some smart-ass was driving the Riv and calling himself 'Vecchio'. And instead of losing it, Fraser went along with the game, and we found out we could work together. But all the time, he still knew I wasn't you. And so did I."

He gets up and moves over to the dresser, picks up a brush, then puts it down again. Comes back to the bed and sits again. Drops his head into his hands and rubs his face, then he looks right at me again.

"Look, I realize how freaked out you are over what you heard. You want the truth, I'm not too keen on you having heard it. But it's not going to happen again. What goes on between me and Fraser is private. If I wanted to share, I'd videotape it and sell it on the internet, make some money for my retirement. I'm not gonna waste it on you. So are you going to go out there and act like nothing happened? Because if you can't stomach being in the room with a couple of queers, I really don't know what he's going to do. Frankly, I think he'd up and leave both of us here, rather than choose. Which would just about kill him."

I nod. Sounds like something he'd do all right. And I have to admit, now that I've calmed down, I was more embarrassed than anything else. It still gives me the willies if I think about it too much, but I can deal if I have to. It's kind of like the first time you realize your parents might actually be having sex. Nothing you want to dwell on too long.

I sigh, just for effect. "Do I have to apologize again?"

"Not to me. You want to tell him you're sorry, I ain't gonna stop you. 'Cause that last remark was way over the line."

I think back to what I said, and yeah, asking Fraser if he'd mind being alone again, like he's been all his life, just so I could have my toy Mountie back - that was like 104.7 on the wrongness scale.

"You know how much I hate it when you're right, Kowalski," I grumble, but my heart's not really in it. And then I remember how he didn't get in my face about me-and-Stella even though according to her, he'd been carrying a torch bigger than the Statue of Liberty's. Some of that's obviously gone now that he's with Fraser, but I know how I'd feel if I had to work with some guy who'd been seeing Ange. Dammit, I don't want to like him, I really don't, but he's making it almost impossible.

"Okay, here's the deal. We pretend like I walked in the building the same time as Sandor. We go out there, eat pizza, do guy stuff. Nobody leaves, nobody chooses. No more big heavy scenes."


"What more do you want? You need help picking out your china pattern, call Frannie."

"Vecchio, the day I tell Frannie I bagged the Mountie out from under her nose is the day I walk into the squad room wearing a dress - which, before you go for the easy joke, is never. I meant, what's my part? What do you get out of it?"

I stare at him. "Kowalski, much as it pains me to admit it, you didn't do anything wrong. You don't have to do anything. And what I get out of it is the best friend I ever had, including Jimmy Benedetti from third grade. And if that best friend had to fall in love with a guy, at least he had the good sense to pick a guy like you. You're a good cop, when you're not being a jerk." There. It just about killed me, but I said it.

He shakes his head. Then he stands up again and offers me his right hand to shake. I stand, too, and take it. Then we both just stand there, kind of awkward, until I remember one more thing I have to tell him.

"Oh, by the way, I talked to the Lieu before I left. He got the word - you're transferring in from the 15th officially on Monday. He asked me if I thought we could work together; see if we can keep Fraser out of trouble too. I said I'd talk to you about it. So?"

"You serious?"


"Holy shit."

I laugh. "My words exactly."

"I gotta talk to Ben. You think we could do it?"

"Keep him out of trouble? I don't know, it's a big job."

"Yeah. Might take the two of us to do it."

Dief whines, and Kowalski looks over at him. "Oh, all right, three of us." The wolf makes another noise, and Kowalski says, "Yeah, you're right, it is. C'mon, Vecchio, pizza's getting cold."

"Don't tell me you can - never mind. Another thing I don't want to know, right?"

I get a smile then, and for a second I can almost see what Stella and Fraser saw in the skinny geek. Then he was moving toward the door, and it was time to face Fraser again.

Kowalski makes himself scarce for a minute or two, for which I'm really grateful. Fraser's sitting on the couch, hands on his knees, spine straight like he was on statue duty. Still pissed, then. I walk over and sit beside him. "Benny?"

He looks at me, and I see from his eyes how scared he is about what I'm gonna say. I reach over and put my hand over his and squeeze for a second. "Benny, I got two things to tell you. One is, I don't want you to be alone. Alone sucks, I know this from experience. And I'm sorry I said what I did, I should have known better. I ever say anything like that again, you got my permission to clock me one."

He nods his head real quick, and says, "Thank you, Ray. What's the second thing?"

Deep breath. I can do it; I already told Stanley. "You did good this time, Benny. This one's a keeper."

You know how in books they say 'a smile broke over his face'? That's what happens to Benny. It hits his eyes first, and then he grins at me, full-out. God, I missed that. And what the hell, us Italians are supposed to be all sentimental, so I grab him for a hug.

Kowalski walks back in with the beer and sees us. I try to pull back, 'cause duh, he knows nothing's going on, but he's a tad possessive and I don't want to get back on his bad side again. But he's full of surprises today, just stands there in the doorway and says, "Oh my God, there's two men hugging on the couch. What is the world coming to?"

Not a terribly funny joke, but as an ice-breaker, it's just what we needed. Benny does this snorting thing into my neck where his face ended up, and it tickles, so I start giggling. I know, I know, but I'm very sensitive there. So sue me.

"Come on, you two, cut out all the touchy-feely crap. Pizza. Beer. Movie." He picks up the video I brought and looks at the title. I wait for the smart remark I figure is coming, but he raises an eyebrow and says, "Cool. Hey, Ben, you'll like this one. Marlon Brando, a Komodo dragon, and Burt Parks singing Bob Dylan. Good choice, Vecchio." He slides the video into the VCR and turns on the TV.

Fraser looks puzzled, as he usually is when confronted with twentieth-century pop culture. "Who's Burt Parks?"

Me and Kowalski shake our heads. "Oh, man, that is so wrong," I say. "Have you taught him nothing while I've been gone?"

He comes right back at me, makes me think maybe the partnership will work out okay after all. "I been working on it, Vecchio," he says. "He didn't ask who Bob Dylan was, did he?"

"Actually, Ray..."

We turn to look at him, and he's got that sideways grin you have to know to look for, means he's yanking your chain ever-so-politely. And for some reason, I finally feel like I'm really home.

I grab the remote and a beer, and scoot over to make room for Stanley, who's opening the pizzas. He passes me a slice without pineapple and puts a plate down for Dief, who looks at him and then at Fraser, before dragging the plate into the kitchen.

"We had an incident last week with tomato sauce on the carpet," says Fraser. "If he can't be civilized, he eats in the kitchen."

From anybody else, that would be a ridiculous statement, but from Fraser it's just another day in the life. There were times in Vegas, I'd be surrounded by showgirls in my hot-tub, just wishing my life could be normal again. And I start to laugh, because if this is normal, God help us all. But maybe this is as normal as it gets. My life is upside down and inside out, and as far as I'm concerned, that just means Fraser's back in town. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Comments? Tell me all about it.

December 2001