"That's it. I've found what I'm giving up for Lent."
"What -- me?" Ray Kowalski flipped a sideways grin at his partner that didn't have the grace to look even a little worried.
"Ah, give it a rest, Vecchio. My driving's fine -- usually."
Ray Vecchio would normally debate that, but right now the part of his brain he kept on 24-hour active alert for signs of excessive stupidity from Kowalski was completely preoccupied by the fact that the good Detective was preparing to pass a city bus illegally in Vecchio's sister's boyfriend's Trans-Am.
"Usually? Usually? So what's your fucking problem today -- over blow-dry your brains again?"
Kowalski just gave a short little chuckle, drowned out by someone's horn.
"Yeah, back atcha, buddy!" he yelled as the offending -- and presumably offended -- driver peeled out. "What're the rest of us using the turn signal for, our freakin' health?"
"I'm never letting you near another convertible as long as you live, you headcase."
Although at this point Vecchio would've laid odds that the stoplight hadn't been born that could out-macho Ray at the wheel of a candy-apple red convertible, he did come to a reluctant stop as the upcoming light turned red. Probably the better to turn on Vecchio with that toe-curling smile and laugh-lines just showing out from under the edges of his sunglasses. "Lent? When did you get Catholic?"
"I am Catholic."
"Uh-huh. Like I am. When was the last time you went to Mass?"
"Whatever. Look, if you're gonna be a godless deviant, you might as well cop to it."
"Kowalski, don't you ever get sick of not knowing what you're talking about?"
Fascinated by the silky grace of Kowalski's amiable shrug, Vecchio missed the light changing and got flattened to the back of his seat as Kowalski's foot came down like an a-bomb on the gas pedal. Riding in this car was enough to make anyone see God. In fact, next time Kowalski got behind the wheel, Ray wasn't getting in without a priest. "I'd've gone to confession if I knew you were planning on wrecking Dave's car."
"Oh, that would'a been a little bit of fun." It was Ray's Ben Fraser impression, only he always hit just slightly south of the mark. Everything Ray said couldn't help but be full of vivid, vibrating intensity, as far as you could get from Fraser's sand-dry tones. "I'd wreck the car just for a chance to listen to that."
"Oh, funny guy."
"You go through those sins chronolistically or in order of how guilty you actually feel for 'em?"
"Chronologically, you airhead. Watch the street, can you, please? And where are you taking us, anyway?"
"We don't know anyone in the suburbs."
"Why d'you think we're going there?"
"Because the riding lawnmower is your natural enemy?"
"That was rhetorical, babe. I'm saying, we're going there because we don't know anyone."
There was no reasoning with Ray when he got into play-space like this. Vecchio hadn't seen anything quite like this since his partner discovered Battle Chess. He just settled in, and in a certain frame of mind, on the first day in months that didn't feel like the dead of winter outside, with buildings and clouds burned past them and some funky Canadian girl band (one of the many CDs Kowalski had come back from his adventure with) singing about Dr. Kevorkian and Penthouse, Ray's driving... did make a wacked kind of sense. They moved cleanly, leaning into the turns, flying along until it almost felt like they were angling upward, driving right into the back of the wind. It was all so...Kowalski. The music, the sunlight, the speed -- Ray found himself smirking, then smiling. And not completely surprised when Ray slouched down more comfortably in the driver's seat, resting his left wrist on top of the steering wheel and letting his right hand creep over to Vecchio's leg. "Y'know, I knew this was coming. I knew it."
Kowalski made a little snerking sound. "Uh-huh. Yer irre-fucking-sistable."
"Little bit of fresh air, goes straight to your head every time. Ohhh, man...."
Another snerk. "Outta respect for your deep-seated religious beliefs, I won't give you hand-jobs on Fridays, okay?"
"Yeah, the Pope revoked that thing about hand-jobs on Fridays."
"Well, shit. When I was a kid, every Friday in school it was fish-sticks and no hand-jobs from the nuns."
"Jesus, Ray. Wouldja not?"
"C'mon! Admit it -- you don't give a shit about Lent, or Fridays, or the Pope, or God."
"No, I will not admit it. Look, I'm Catholic, okay? I'm not -- practicing, but my family's Catholic, and why is this such a big deal to you, anyway?"
"Cause I'm not gonna let you confess me!"
His hand was still lying on Vecchio's thigh, fingers held tense and digging toward the bone, eyes focused -- finally -- tight on the road.
Carefully, Vecchio reached out one finger and brushed it over the back of Ray's hand. "Don't freak out, Ray."
"I'm not -- freaking out! I just...don't want you to...go to confession. About us."
"Well...don't worry. I'm not gonna."
"Ash Wednesday coming up. Easter. You're not going to Easter Mass? Not going with your mother? Your family?"
"I don't know. Kowalski, you're spoiling a perfectly nice spring drive, all right?"
Kowalski took a deep breath, shook out his shoulders, reached up quickly to push up his sunglasses with the back of his left wrist. "We're just talking. We're fine."
"Of course we're fine. We were fine this morning, and we're fine now, in spite of your incessant attempts to make us not-fine. Christ, I never met anyone as squirrelly as you. We're fine."
"Hey, none of that, now. Say it."
"We're fine. Jesus. Everything's fine."
The conversation lapsed, long enough for Ray to look around and get his bearings. They were in the suburbs, all right -- long rows of wide, manicured lawns, tricycles in the driveway, trees around little circular cul-de-sacs jutting off from the street they were on. "Wanna park?" Kowalski asked him.
"What, like -- park?"
"Yeah, what did you think I was bringing us all the way out here for?" His smile was back, a little thinner than before, but accompanied by that tell-tale sparkle in his eyes.
"Thought maybe you were insane."
"I know a spot."
"Sure I am. Used to go there in high school."
"Rich. Look, are we fighting or not?"
Kowalski snorted. "Last I heard, we were fine."
"No priest in his right mind is gonna absolve me of you," Ray grumbled, turning away slightly and leaning on the car door.
The shoulder of the road started getting closer without warning; Vecchio started to ask what the hell he was doing, but by the time he got his mouth open, Kowalski had pulled the car off the road and jammed it into park.
Vecchio turned his head in time to see Ray pointing between his eyes and popping his thumb, trigger-like. "Look at me when I'm fighting with you."
He didn't know. Kowalski didn't have one faint clue what he was dealing with, not that that was new, but this time it cut deep and twisted. Man, he had learned a trick or two from Benny; that fierce-tender blue-eyed stare, that way of backing Ray against the wall until he had no choice but to take a stand and stick. Moving slowly, because God only knew what a sudden grab at this point would do to set Kowalski off, Ray touched the side of his head, ignored the little jump, and slid his hand up to grab Kowalski's brittle hair and hold onto it. "Look. Look, Ray. Listen to what I'm saying to you. I don't regret fucking you. I'm not sorry. I haven't been scared of Hell since I was twelve years old, I love you, and I'm going wherever you want me to go on Easter and doing whatever you want me to do. Full stop. You get all that?"
His eyes shone with something strange, something Ray had never seen before, and he reached out to dip his fingers under the collar of Vecchio's shirt and fish out the little Virgin Mary medal on the chain around his neck. "This was L'Angoustini's."
"I know that." He smacked Ray's hand away lightly, but didn't let go of his hair.
"You never stopped wearing it."
Vecchio barked out a laugh that he hated hearing from his own mouth. It wasn't his laugh. "What, you're worried that I got religion in Las Vegas?"
Their chests impacted, knocking the breath out of Vecchio with a little grunt that disappeared into Ray's mouth. He cupped his hands instinctively around the curve of Kowalski's shoulderblades, the bone feeling much more present under his skin than the thin fabric of Kowalski's t-shirt. After a moment, Ray pushed Kowalski an inch or two away with a finger on his cheekbone. "Hey. Ray."
"Don't worry about confession, okay? I haven't been since before I went to Vegas. I don't want to go back."
Layers over layers of meaning. Don't want to go back to...Vegas. Confession. God. Those memories, that year, all the things he did that, if it were up to Ray, he'd never speak about to anyone again. Not a priest, not his partner, not the FBI, and not himself. Not ever. Pick one.
"Why'd you keep this?"
"I don't know."
Ray wasn't going to buy that, didn't look satisfied at all. Vecchio took a deep breath, let his eyes flicker shut as Kowalski brushed his lips along the line of tender skin where his ear met his cheek. "I used to...lay awake, couldn't sleep. Wonder what kind of man the Bookman had been. You know, not the stuff in his file, not the stuff his associates knew. What he thought about at night. I figured...a guy who wore a Virgin Mary necklace...."
"Must not have been all bad?"
Vecchio set his shoulder against Kowalski's chest and pushed him off. "He was all bad. He was a worthless fuck."
After a long moment, Ray turned the key in the ignition. "We're gonna have to drive a lot further than I thought."
"No suburban makeout spot, huh?" He forced his voice to sound a little lighter.
"With these bucket seats? No way." A little pause, and then that sliver of a smile, a little sniff, a subtle stretch to loosen his shoulders. "But if we get far enough out of the city, I could see my way clear to strip you naked, push you down on the hood, and blow you."
Vecchio swallowed thickly, and had to readjust a bit in his seat to find a comfortable position. "How long before the GTO's out of the shop?"
"Four, five days."
"We're keeping the convertible until then."