Rating: PG for slight m/m
Warnings/Notices: I use spoilers for all sorts of episodes, in my universe the series ended with "Flashback," and there's major hot Mountie love ahead.
For as long as he could remember, he'd been a little bothered about that name. "Raymondo Vecchio" sounded like an important Italian senator, or a mobster, or an artist. It had never really sounded like him.
And so it was Ray. Ray Vecchio. Plain and simple and friendly.
Not that he was simple, really, and most people didn't think he was friendly, he supposed. He was certainly plain enough, though.
Even his wife hadn't thought he was good-looking, and Ange had the taste of a garden slug. He'd heard she was dating a cop on the south side now, some short guy that looked a little like Leonardo DiCaprio if he gained about forty pounds.
With a little shake the woman behind the desk didn't see, he returned to the present: Ray Vecchio.
She smiled. She had pert little lips and soft, sweet breasts. Her wedding ring had yellow diamonds studded around it.
"Very good," she chirped. "I have you in an aisle seat, non-stop to Toronto, and from there to Nova Scotia, with the fruit plate, leaving O'Hare 04:47 AM tomorrow morning, to return on the 15th." She augmented her list by passing over an itinerary print-out. "Is this all correct?"
Ray looked over the lines, still half-inclined to change the tickets for Miami. What was he doing going north, for Pete's sakes? He wanted to burn the stress out of his body with sun and wash it away with surf and and if he really wanted that he supposed he would have bought tickets to Miami.
Nova Scotia? What the hell was he thinking?
"Yeah, it's all right," he said, watching her nod and smile and print out the tickets. He tried to smile back at her. He was celebrating, after all, taking two weeks' vacation time for the first time since becoming a cop seventeen years ago because Welsh had been like some Godfather of Heart and Soul since Vecchio had busted Frank Zuko for the hit on Joe Paducci.
Ray gave up trying to smile. The guy had been all right, a good man who'd wanted nothing more than to have a decent life working with his hands and supporting his wife and kid. After stealing from the poor box at a local church, Paducci had become the center of controversy when Zuko had asked to have the man found and arrested. By the time Vecchio had realized it was all just a ploy to have the man killed, it had been too late to save Paducci.
But even while Vecchio typed up a letter of resignation and stuck it in his desk drawer, at the ready, he'd turned the matter into a personal vendetta, not stopping for rest, it seemed, for weeks, until finally he had not only Zuko's muscle, but the Man Himself behind bars and facing multiple sentences.
Zuko had slipped up in calling the hit, especially in choosing his talent. Vecchio knew he wouldn't have gotten anywhere without that. So when Welsh made a big deal of his accomplishment, Ray had felt primarily irritated. What was a commendation when all he could think about was Irene Zuko, Frank's sister, looking at him from across the courtroom while her brother was arraigned? He'd had hopes that maybe one day they could work things out, somehow, but now that he was responsible for her brother's arrest no. There was nothing left there even to wish after.
It was an old flame, he told himself, taking the tickets. Old and musty, a left-over from a bad childhood that only looked innocent in comparison to watching Frank Zuko plead not guilty.
He could have Vecchio rubbed out, he guessed, walking now to his car, itself an old flame, though a much more faithful one. Faithful and dependable: they were qualities Ray hoped people found in himself: faithful and dependable and just a dash of true style.
Taking out a hit on the arresting officer wouldn't help Zuko, though. Vecchio wasn't a key witness. If anything, Vecchio's sudden demise would just make Zuko look worse. 'Course, Frank might do it out of spite, but that would be later, after the trial.
God, he was tired. Welsh wouldn't take the resignation, gave him the two week's vacation time instead. Maybe he was right and it would make a difference.
And maybe that explained his destination. Maybe he needed something different. Maybe the armpit of the frozen north could help him find something, something maybe that would be more comfortable if it were all frozen up too.
Now he just had to tell Ma.
"Two weeks?" the Vecchio matriarch asked with dismay.
"I'll be back before you know it."
"But you won't have any more vacation time, not for months. I thought you were going with us to Lucille's."
"That's not for a couple months, Ma. This is special time, right? I took down Zuko, and I gotta get some rest."
"But " Mrs. Vecchio looked to her eldest daughter for help, but Marie only shook her head.
"If Ray feels like he needs a break, Ma, he should go."
"But where is this place again?"
"Nova Scotia, Ma. It's right above Maine." Ray had looked it up on a map.
"But that's so cold, this time of year."
"Chicago's cold, Ma."
"Then you could stay in Chicago."
"Ma, I gotta get away, be by myself, do nothing, stare into space." Ray was up and pacing, unable to help himself even though he knew his mother didn't like it. Why did his skin feel so tight? His feet hurt.
"Ma," he said, cutting off the next round. "I just gotta go, okay? I'll be back in two weeks." He left the room, avoided the kitchen, and headed upstairs. He needed to pack.
It was unpleasant, walking out on her like that. It made him feel like Pop, storming out when his wife asked him not to yell at the children, not to stumble around where he might break something, not to all the things Pop used to do.
He got his best suitcase out of the closet and put it on the bed. Opened, it seemed very large, waiting to be filled up in that patient way suitcases had.
Ray grinned a little. He was getting punchy. Please, God, let him sleep on the plane.
He packed one gray suit. Then jeans, brown pants, and three sweaters, a knit hat, one pair of heavy gloves, walking boots, and thick, soft socks.
"What's going on?"
Ray didn't bother turning to his sister Francesca's voice.
"I'm heading out for a while."
"That doesn't look like beachwear."
"How'd you get so smart all the sudden?" He dug through the drawer, looking for his silk bodywear he'd bought but never gotten to wear for one long-ago attempt at skiing.
"I heard about Zuko."
He stopped then and looked at her. She was heading out herself, dressed to kill or to get arrested. He wasn't sure which.
"Old stuff," he said.
"You're taking a break, then?" Her eyes went to his suitcase. "But where are you going?"
"Canada. I'll be back in two weeks."
"You want a ride to the airport in the morning?"
"It's real early."
"I don't mind. I'll probably still be up."
He got up a smile. "Thanks."
She nodded, then came forward to kiss his cheek, overwhelming him with "Passion Splendor," or whatever she was buying by the pint these days.
It was a little weird, these days, the way he shared something with his little sister, some sort of wandering. They'd both gotten married with stars in the their eyes, and divorced not too long after with mouths full of dust. He hugged her close a second, thinking about how she was too thin, about how she should be round and soft, like Ma, and then let her go.
To something less than his surprise, he slept little, and when Frannie tapped on his door at three in the morning, she was still in her date clothes. He'd already parked the case by the door, so it was just a matter of picking it up and walking out to Frannie's piece of junk compact next to the family station wagon. The Riv, of course, was tucked safely into the garage.
"So how was the date?"
She shrugged and pulled out into the street without looking. It was too early for traffic in this neighborhood, anyway.
"He's a plumber."
"Not a good at conversation?"
"He told me I didn't have any sort of an ass."
Ray's hands clenched. "You try to date him again, and I'll break both his legs."
"I told him he had enough ass for both of us, and a gut I could store frozen food in. That was pretty much the end of things."
"No loss for you."
She nodded, but he didn't press it. They both knew the flip-side of being relieved to end another lousy date: searching for the next lousy date after that.
She waited with him at the terminal.
"So what's with the royal send-off?"
She said nothing for a while, then, right when they were calling his section of seats: "They got women up in Canada, right?"
He smiled again. She was making his face hurt. He gave her another hug, hoisted his carry-on, and went down the ramp.
To his surprise, he did sleep on the plane, and on the plane after that. It left him grumpy and groggy: not the best way to arrange for a rental car, but he slid behind the wheel of a nice sized Ford and pointed it towards the cabin he'd rented, getting it quick and cheap through the agent during the off-season.
He stopped at what he'd been warned was the only store around and paid a fortune for some pretty basic foodstuffs, then finished the trip peering through sleep-swollen eyes and praying the bed was soft.
When he woke in the morning, he was alarmed that he couldn't really remember unlocking the cabin door. He did remember putting the milk in the 'fridge, and shedding his clothes, and sliding into the nicely soft sheets.
It was chilly in here this morning. The place had space heaters in the bedroom and bathroom, and a gas fireplace with these tubes through the grate in the front room. The rooms actually heated up pretty quickly, as did the water for the coffee. There was a proper hot water heater for his shower, and more coffee.
He looked out the wide sliding-glass door while he drank. There was snow on the ground, but nothing more than he'd seen in the dead of a Chicago winter or two. The cabin was set well back from the coastline, and mostly looked out over this sort of white plain boarded by rocks on one side and snow-covered trees on the other. Actually, it looked kind of pretty out there, and in a few minutes he was wrapped in a sweater and his coat and stomping through the snow in his boots.
Vecchio smiled, feeling quite alone in the universe. It was a little odd, but nice. There were probably very few purse-snatchings out here, and with the exception of the occasional polar bear, not much to shoot at.
By the fourth day, the oddness of being completely alone had worn off. Ray had gone now two days without saying a word, and three days without seeing another person at all. He was running low on coffee, but hated the idea of leaving this white place of silence. It was so cold, so beautiful and pure and *something.* He felt he could stay here forever.
There was a seal, a *seal* on the rocks.
He was walking towards the coast, he realized, which wasn't part of his usual flight plan. The water from the sea wasn't frozen, and splashed and sprayed everywhere. In fact, he could hear the sea.
Still, the seal had come inland several hundred feet. It was a white seal, like the type that got clubbed to death. It was also regarding him with an odd intensity. Perhaps Ray was walking towards little seal babies, or something.
"Sorry," he muttered. "Even out here it's too easy to intrude, huh? Didn't mean to come stomping through your living room."
The seal's head cocked, the white skin shining in the bright, cold sun. It seemed almost as though the creature were listening to him.
"Are you all alone out here, fella?" Ray looked around, but none of the other rocks moved or produced whiskers. "You get off course or something?"
"Ark! Ark! Ark!"
Strange, it was a friendly sort of barking, not angry. Ray found himself edging slightly forward. The seal dipped its head in an encouraging way, and in a minute Ray found himself standing a few feet from the seal's large rock.
"Ark!" The white seal waved a flipper, and Ray laughed.
"I sure wish I had some fish for ya." The golden brown eyes looked at him adoringly. "I don't guess you'd like to be petted, either."
The seal looked almost offended, then stretched its long neck down. In near disbelief, Ray put out his hand and carefully stroked the lovely beast behind what looked to be the ear holes. The seal made little snuffling noises that sounded quite happy.
The hairs on the back of Ray's neck tickled. He whipped around, hand going to his gun, even though it wasn't there.
"Who's out there?" he called, then listened to the question echo back at him. "Come on out where I can see you."
The seal made a strange noise that sounded quite a lot like a snicker, or perhaps a snigger. Ray turned slowly back to look into those wide, baby-cute eyes, then felt a sense of loss when the seal slipped back out of sight.
The next day, feeling foolish, Vecchio carried a bait bag of small fish, purchased along with more coffee and milk and bread. He headed for the rocks again and crawled around them quietly for about an hour before sitting in defeat, watching the sea crash against the rocks. His boots were wet, and there was this slimy sort of ice-snow-frost all on the rocks between himself and the ocean that shone in the sun like mucus.
Ray snorted. The wonders of nature couldn't inspire poetry in a plain brain like his.
Ray almost slid from the rock and then almost dropped his bag of fish.
"Ark ark ark snurgle."
"Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up." Ray settled himself back on the rock with good grace, unable to help smiling at the white little slip of a thing peering at him from under a craggy outcropping. A whiskered nose popped into the sunlight, then back, as though inviting the man to come closer.
Ray dourly regarded the slippery rocks, then set to the task of getting closer. After a few yards, he could see that the seal was lounging in a sort of wide crevice, the bottom of which never saw the sun, for it was filled with snow.
"Keep your pants on. I'm coming."
The seal snuffled out a bit, but evidently didn't want to leave the shade of the crevice. Ray sat along the upper edge and dangled his feet down, feeling ridiculously pleased to see the creature again.
"I'm probably breaking wildlife laws, you know," he said as he opened up his bag. The smell of fish was just awful, but the seal went into a little shivering flap, wriggling his nose like crazy, so Ray guessed he'd guessed right.
When it occurred to him he'd actually have to touch the fish to get them out of the bag, he stopped feeling so pleased with himself. The question now was, did he spare his hands and ruin his gloves?
With a sigh, he pulled off his right glove and reached down into the bad with a grimace. He threw a fish at the seal and watched him catch it right out the air and swallow it without chewing.
"Hungry, big guy?" He laughed, an abrupt sound cut off when his eyes finally noticed something in the dim snow that looked a lot like a human hand print.
Ray squinted. It looked a *lot* like a human hand print.
The seal barked and he threw it another fish, not even paying attention to the squishiness of it this time.
The thing was, while he could easily believe that the snow was quite old, being protected in the crevice, and that the print had been left there by some tourist or something, perhaps even the last occupant of the cabin, it was very odd that there was nothing else, just that sole hand print.
Of course, there might have been foot prints around that got wiped out when the seal wallowed and slid around in there. But the problem with that theory was that around the hand print the snow was very smooth, with a sort of sloping indentation that suggested it was either following a trench in the rocks or Ray looked closer, throwing the last of the fish at the seal. It looked strange there, as though a very large fish had been lying there. He could see the slow curl and broad fan of the tail.
And then, all by itself, there was that hand print.
"Sorry," Ray muttered, looking at the seal as he turned the bag up-side down to show it was empty, laughing at himself the whole time.
But the seal seemed to understand, lying down on the cool snow with an expression of contentment.
Smiling, Ray looked up over the rocks at the sea. It was so cold it was green, and when it tore against the rocks little emerald and diamond fireworks were caught in the sun.
"It's weird you're all alone like this," he said. "Why don't you have a girl seal? Aren't you supposed to mate and have cubs and stuff?"
With a shake, Ray remembered he'd brought himself something to eat with the seal. Awkwardly digging into the right-side pocket of his coat with his left hand, he eventually produced a Snickers bar and tore the wrap off with his teeth, taking care not to lose the wrapper piece in the wind.
"Ark! Ark! Ark!"
In surprise, Ray looked down to an extremely excited seal, stretching itself up on its tail until the nose actually reached Ray's shin, butting it gently in entreaty.
"You gotta be kidding me!"
"Ark! Ark!" The head was awkwardly laid along his leg, the eyes looking up in abject need.
"No way." He could just see it now, getting arrested for killing the seal with chocolate poisoning or watching it choke to death on a nut, or something. "This is bad for you."
"Ark! Ark! Ack!"
"Don't even think about it! Don't even think about it!" Ray stuffed half his Snickers in his mouth and chewed, yelling around the sticky mess, "I brought you herring, for Pete's sakes!"
The seal settled down and regarded him resentfully. Ray defiantly finished the candy bar, then went back to looking at the ocean's green-cold crash and pull.
He found the seal the next day and fed him an even bigger bag of fish. He brought himself a sandwich this time, eating at the same time as his companion, and escaped the worst of the begging.
"Been here over a week now," he said. "It's like I can't remember anything before coming here, really. Is that crazy, or what? I think about what it will be like to be back in Chicago, and I can't come up with anything, I can't even imagine it."
The seal rolled over on its back, evidently regarding the sky. They were out of the crevice today, basking in the sun on a rock wet enough for the seal and dry enough for the man. Ray was surprised at how warm he was, getting both the direct sunlight and the reflected heat from the rocks.
The ocean was a calming companion now, but staring into that cold moss color surrounded by the tumbling, swirling foam still disturbed him.
"No one would believe me if they saw me here, you know. No one who knows me. They'd never believe I could be so quiet, or that I'd be talking to a seal, for that matter. I guess it is kinda nuts."
"Well, that's easy for you to say." Ray frowned, meeting those eyes. "Or is it? I mean, if there were other seals here, would they be getting on you for talking with a human? Our kind has been known to club your kind to death and wear you and stuff. I could see it, if you wanted to hold a grudge."
The eyes closed and the seal seemed to relax even more on the rocks.
"Right decent of you." Ray just sat there a while, then found himself lying on his back, closing his eyes against the bright blue sky, warmed when he'd thought he only wanted to be cold.
"Miami in the arctic," he mumbled.
"I don't know if I can do it anymore, but there's nothing else I can do, you know? I don't know I don't know if I'm up to it anymore."
Pressure on his leg made him start, but looking down only revealed that the seal had placed his head on his thigh. Ray found it hard to breathe.
Gently, he put his hand on the seal's head, and for a long, long time they lay together like that, listening to the endless music of the sea.
The next day at the store, the owner, Ron, seemed to be expecting him, greeting him with both a bag of "bait" and a nod towards an elderly woman waiting by the counter.
"Gina wants to talk to you, if you don't mind, eh?"
"Mr. Vecchio? I'm Gina McMorrant."
She was just about the palest woman he'd ever met, and her hand when he shook it was dry as a desert wind. She was in her fifties, he thought, or maybe older. Her hair was blonde-white and her face was a study in contrasts between tight skin and web-like wrinkles.
"Nice to meet you," he said. It felt more normal to talk to another human than he would have thought. Chicago seemed suddenly much more possible, and the thought depressed him.
"You're at one of the cabins in Siren Cove?" Ms. McMorrant asked avidly. Her eyes were blue-white and, Ray thought, a little cold.
"I guess. It isn't called that on the map, but " He shrugged towards Ron, who'd mentioned the name.
"Right." She took an expectant breath. "So any sightings?"
Ray had a feeling she wasn't talking about squad cars or fire trucks.
"Sirens." She looked at him. "Creatures of the sea who sit on icebergs and lure unsuspecting ships to their doom with their song. The call of a siren is said to be irresistible, a call to the sailor's loneliness for home."
"What? What is that? Some sort of Canadian joke?" Ray laughed. "I got it. You pull this on us Americans, huh?"
Ms. McMorrant was frowning.
"Hey," Ron spoke up, "in America I bet they're better known as mermaids, eh?"
"Mermaids?" Vecchio knew it was a joke now: Darryl Hannah and Ester Williams movies, and the Little Mermaid in the cartoon the kids used to watch. Besides, everyone knew mermaids lived in the Caribbean, and other warm places where it was okay to go around without clothes. He had a vision of sea-shell bras over breasts. Canadian mermaids. Right!
"Sirens are a type of merperson, it's true," McMorrant was saying now. "We've had several sightings over the years, including some documented evidence."
"Right. Well, if I see anything, I'll be sure to take a picture," Ray said, grabbing some expensive but shiny red apples and then turning to pay for them and the fish.
Driving back to the cabin, he couldn't figure out who was being sillier, McMorrant with her fish stories, or him with his bag of bait and hopes that some seal would be waiting for him on the rocks.
Three hours later, he knew.
It had only been chance that had brought the seal to him those times. He couldn't even swear to it that it was the same seal. Certainly, it looked like the same seal, but what did he know about arctic wildlife? And now he was cold and holding a stinky bag of fish.
Not wanting to bring the bait into the cabin, he found the crevice again. The same hand print still made him wonder about the last guests at the cabin, but then a sudden thought made him laugh.
"Maybe I should take a picture of it for the locals. They could build a theme park around it, or something."
He stood there a minute, realized he was listening for seal barking in the wind, and dropped his bag of fish down to rest on the snow. He'd get it before he left and toss it in the garbage bin outside.
He walked slowly back, noticing he had company. Some locals, it looked like, were out with cameras about a quarter-mile down the coastline, right at the turn of the cove.
In the cabin he watched incredibly bad television that helped him take a nap, made himself a dinner of pasta and sauce, read a few chapters in a book he found in the nightstand about some mad scientist who made up a plague that would only kill women -- unresolved childhood issues, he wondered? -- then finally turned out the light and closed his eyes.
He only had a few days before he needed to return to Chicago and his life and everything.
He rolled over on his back. The moon must be full and the sky clear. He hadn't shut his bedroom curtains and light was just pouring through the windows. He had already gotten to know this ceiling pretty well, though. Maybe that crack over there was new? Was that a spider web?
Ray frowned at his own voice. Was he hoping the spider would come out so he could talk to it?
Of course, if he wanted to talk to anyone, he should talk to himself. Wasn't that really why he'd come up here?
But there was nothing to say. He knew why he became a cop: to keep from being like the goombahs he'd grown up with, to make something decent out of his life, to help people. To be someone the exact opposite of his father and Frank Zuko.
So now his father was dead and Zuko was facing life in prison. That should make him happy, he guessed.
But he wasn't happy his father was dead. A man only got one father in his life, and Ray's was gone.
And he wasn't, he realized, happy that Zuko was in jail. He was only satisfied, in this kind of grim, depressing way.
Maybe he just needed a new case.
Great. Now he was hearing seals in his sleep.
Ray sat up.
"Geeze, it sounds like Lassie or something," Ray groused to cover his amazement as he got out of bed and padded into the front room. He looked toward the glass door, and stumbled to a halt.
White, glowingly white, smooth lines like wedding-cake icing, like marble, like some damn marble statue except that he
There was a naked man standing outside his door. An incredibly beautiful naked man.
Ray got his eyes to look down and saw the white seal beside the man. It finally dawned on him that both man and beast looked frightened.
He moved to the door and unlatched it, then slid the glass over. The man trembled and hesitated, but the seal immediately waddled through.
"It's all right," Ray murmured, waving him inside.
The man nodded and stepped over the threshold, then quickly moved deep inside the room. Ray closed and latched the door, then drew the curtain over it. He went into the linen closet next and brought out a soft blue blanket. He also took the opportunity to draw in a few deep breaths and get a hold of himself.
*This is a man, Vecchio! What the hell's the matter with you?*
He turned with resolution, then was struck dumb once again.
Black hair, short, but thick as a beaver's pelt, blue eyes like something from a stained-glass window, the cutest little chin, the --
*Stop it! Stop it! This is a guy!*
Ray got the blanket around the creamy white shoulders and summoned up a smile.
"Sorry for gawking. You lose your swim suit?"
Brilliant blue eyes stared at him in caution.
"Let me get you some soup." Ray smiled at himself suddenly. He sounded just like his mother. "And some sweats. I got some. Hang on."
Someone knocked on his front door.
The man startled violently and stared at the seal, who had gone quiet and still.
Was this guy a fugitive? Impossible.
"Get into the bedroom," Ray whispered.
The man moved silently, the blanket like a cape, swirling around to reveal alabaster legs.
Vecchio made his body slump, got his eyes all tired, and shuffled to the door, which he opened a crack.
McMorrant was there, along with some other men and women. They held flashlights and cameras. Someone was filming him. The sudden, restorative flush of anger went right through Vecchio's body.
"What the hell is going on? I'm trying to sleep! Get that camera outta my face!"
"Mr. Vecchio," McMorrant started in. "We think we saw something around your cabin!"
"Yeah? Well, I'm seeing something, and it looks like a bunch of rude Canadians crashing on a man who's taking his first real vacation since the dawn of time and was sleeping until you jokers decided to wake him up! Didn't I tell you to get that camera out of here? You wanna be wearing it?"
"Mr. Vecchio --"
"I said get out of here!" He slammed the door, enjoying the hard, solid wood.
He stood there a long while, listening to them back off, then grow quiet. Peering out the little front window he watched their flashlights move like glowworms back towards the seacoast.
Satisfied, he went to the kitchen.
"You want tomato soup or clam chowder?" he called.
"Ark!" came distantly.
"I ain't asking you," Ray groused, opening up the can of chowder and putting it in a pot. He turned on the gas and lit it, then moved carefully back into his bedroom. The man was just standing there, eyes wide, clutching the blanket around his shoulders.
"Look, you're all right, okay? What happened? They see you swimming or something and decide you're a mermaid?" Ray shook his head and opened up the drawer for his sweats. Good thing he liked them loose. He got out socks too. He didn't think the guy would fit into his tighty whites. Too bad he didn't have boxers.
"I've heard about people who swim in ice water." Ray chuckled, kneeling down to open the drawer that held the two T-shirts he'd brought. "Always thought you people were nuts, I admit."
Fishy breath was hot on his neck, and he turned to stare levelly at golden brown eyes. Ray patted the slick head and earned himself a nudge on the knee with a whiskered nose.
"He yours?" Ray asked, turning and holding out the clothes. "I thought he was pretty tame."
The man frowned slightly, then smiled, and Ray felt his guts tighten up a little. His guest shook his head.
"Don't you talk?" Ray asked.
"He belongs to no one but himself." The voice was odd, rusty and husky, with an extremely peculiar accent.
"But you're, uh, friends, right?"
A hesitant nod. Ray sniffed the air.
"Think your chowder's burning." Ray moved off for the kitchen. "Get dressed. I'll serve it up."
Ray got out two bowls, then made it three, dumping a can of tuna in the third one and setting it on the floor. By the time the table was ready, the man walked out.
"So, my name's Ray Vecchio." He motioned towards the table. The seal undulated over to the tuna bowl, sniffed, and then ate. The man seemed reassured and went to the table, sitting awkwardly once Ray had settled himself. Ray picked up his spoon, smiled a little, then ate a bite. The man cautiously followed suit, seemed surprised by the taste of the soup, and then ate very quickly.
"Makes you hungry, swimming, huh?"
The man nodded, then said softly, "Yes."
"So, you got a name?"
"Can I know your name? And, if you don't mind my asking, considering you were naked and all, where you've been?"
The man looked slightly upset.
"Been," he repeated slowly.
The man blinked at him.
"Oh, Ben, you mean? Your name's Ben?"
The man bit his lip and nodded.
"Okay, Ben. All right. How about the seal? He got a name?"
Ben nodded, and then emitted a very high squeak. Ray blinked at him, but the seal left the empty bowl and waddled over, his nose up, as though seeking something.
"Eeek?" Ray tried. But the seal ignored him.
"No," Ben said. "Eek."
Ray tried it several times, feeling foolish, then gave it up.
"Look, can I drive you some place?"
Ben stared at him again.
"It's real late," Ray tried. "You wanna stay here the night? We can get you all fixed up in the morning."
"Thou art very kind," Ben said.
Ray stared at him, then stood up and collected the dishes, shaking his head slightly. Canadians!
"Thou art very welcome, I'm sure," he said. He would have made more out of it, he supposed, but considering that he wasn't acting right himself right now, he couldn't bring himself to get into it. At least all covered up, the guy wasn't challenging his sexual identity anymore.
It was just the shock, Ray told himself, the surprise of having the guy show up like that. And he'd been alone at the cabin for a lot of days now. And he'd been lonely for so much longer than that.
Ray almost dropped a dish into the sink, then busied himself washing up. It was true, though. He'd been lonely forever.
A warm nudge at his knee made him laugh, and he looked down into marble eyes, thinking about that bag of bait.
"Sorry," he said, rubbing Eek behind his ear holes. "All I have is chocolate."
Ray stared in amazement at the man standing next to him in skin-molding sweats. Ben's eyes were actually sparkling.
"Yeah. You want some?" He thought about how athletes sometimes craved sugar, especially after a workout. He had a vision, a downright vision of a pale, perfect body swimming naked through the moonlit sea.
*Think about baseball! Think about baseball!*
"If thou wouldst be so kind," Ben asked with a shy smile. "It is a delicacy I and Eek have not enjoyed in some time."
The seal perked up at the sound of his name, his whiskers quivering.
"He can have some, then?" Ray asked while moving to the bag of Snickers he was keeping in the cupboard. "I wasn't sure it would be okay for him."
"Living with him would be impossible else."
Ray laughed at the impossible accent. He passed a bar to Ben and watched him fumble with the wrapper. At the noise, Eek "arked" several times. "Where are you from?" Ray asked over the noise.
Ben's eyes glanced at him in concern.
Ray laughed again and opened a bar for Eek. He noticed Ben covertly following his hands' motions.
"Right," Ray soothed, handing the bar down and watching as the seal all but floated in ecstasy as his jaws worked the candy. "But just call me Ray, all right?"
"Ray." Ben smiled, then took a small bite of the candy, his face flushing slightly in pleasure. Ray felt his own candy bar go heavy in his hand.
"Thou art most generous of thy home and hearth," Ben said quietly.
"I'm just here on vacation," Ray said, waving his hand slightly and deciding against eating the Snickers bar after all. It would be hard enough to sleep without veins full of sugar.
Ben finished his own candy and smothered a yawn.
"Ready for bed?" Ray asked, keeping it nothing but casual, even impersonal.
"We may sleep here?"
Ray shrugged. "That's the idea, right? You take the bed, I'll take the sofa, and Eek can have the bathtub, if he wants."
Ray looked at Ben a moment, then turned and led him into the bathroom.
"You wanna take a bath?" he asked. "Get that salt water off?"
Ben smiled at him, dazzling the man, then skimmed almost instantly out of his clothing. Ray lunged to the taps and turned them on full.
"I'm afraid the water never really gets hot," he sputtered, feeling the warmth of Ben's naked body right there at his side and well aware he was *too* aware of it. Damnit, he was straight, and this was too weird. He was just lonely, but still. Maybe he should have done McMorrant when he had the chance.
*And when was that, exactly, Vecchio?*
"There," he announced, watching the water fill the tub at a quick, if tepid, rise. "You have your bath and I'll change the sheets on the bed, right?" He almost shouted the last of this at the door, having escaped the bathroom on clumsy feet. He turned and almost stepped on Eek.
"And where did you find him, anyway?" Ray hissed, well aware that his face was burning. It was downright unnatural, the whole thing.
He ripped the sheets off the bed and put on the fresh ones, then used his old sheets to make a bed for himself on the sofa.
"Hey, Ben!" he called out, sticking his head through the open bathroom door. "You want "
Later, Ray would never be able to remember just what he had wanted to ask his house guest. However, he would never forget the long, red, sparkling, sharp-scaled fishtail that hung over the edge of the tub.
"Dost thou wish thy bath?" Ben asked. "The water is strange, but pleasant indeed."
"Eeep," Ray said. It was the closest to the seal's name he had gotten yet, and Ben smiled.
"Yes, he would like it too."
"You're a mermaid."
Ben frowned slightly. "In point of fact, indeed, I would be a mer*man* in your parlance."
"You're half fish!"
Ben blinked in the aftermath of this small explosion.
"Didst thou not realize --"
Exquisite blue eyes filled with fear. The pale skin of Ben's hands turned chalk-white over his knuckles as his fingers throttled the rim of the tub.
"You're that's a fish tail!" Ray wailed, pointing now. "You're Oh my God! Oh my God!"
"Sir, I --"
"Oh my God!" But even as he shouted it, Ray heard the "sir" from Ben's mouth and forced himself calmer. The poor guy looked like he was trying to disappear down the drain. Maybe he could.
"Look," Ray said, soothing now, gentling the air with his hands. "Look. You're okay, right? You're all right. I'm not gonna turn your over to Miss National Geographic. It's all right. I just I just gotta get used to this, okay?"
But Ben was now pushing up on the sides of the tub, lifting himself out of the water. The fishtail glittered like an enormous ruby fashioned into a disco ball, tossing out blood-red flashes all around the otherwise rustic room. "I should never have --"
"Don't get out of the tub!" Ray shouted.
Ben blinked at him, but otherwise just stayed right there, the muscles on his arms twitching slightly. Ray gathered himself with a super-sized breath and tried again.
"It's okay, all right? You just kinda took me by surprise there, okay?" Ray couldn't help looking Ben over again. If anything, the man was even more incredible as a fish. "You just stay there and enjoy your bath. You look like it's helping you."
Ben swallowed, hesitated, then lowered himself back into the water. "I do feel a little hemmed in whilst wearing legs."
"Well, yeah, that makes sense," Ray babbled. "Hey, I don't even know why this is so much of a shock. That seal of yours is kind of a give-away, right? I mean, he's not exactly your typical seal."
Ben nodded gravely. "His sire was ta'en by the Brine Maiden."
Ray nodded vigorously. "Yeah, that would explain it." With effort, he got himself to back out of the room. "Well, you finish your bath. The bed's all ready for ya, unless you'd prefer to sleep in here?"
Ben shook his head. "No, I thank thee kindly. A bed would be most pleasant."
"Great! Great. Well, it's all settled, then." Ray got himself into the living room, where Eek was lying over the rug.
Ray sat on the sofa. A long while passed.
Ben came into the room wearing the sweats, his dark hair wet and bristly. Eek pushed his nose into Ben's hand, then rested his head on Ray's knee for a rub, then waddled off to the bathroom for the night.
"Ready to get some sleep?" Ray asked.
Ben sat in the armchair. "I thought you might have questions."
"Can you answer them?"
Ben looked slightly embarrassed. "Some, I think."
"So is what McMorrant said true? You sit on icebergs and lure ships to their demise?"
Ben looked scandalized. "No!"
"None of your kind do, then?"
Ben looked ashamed. The play of expressions across those blue eyes was downright hypnotic. "There have been some young persons who have caused some havoc in their dealings with thy kind."
"Humans, such as thou art. Men and women of the land."
"So you're a merperson. You breathe in the water? You live in some big underwater mer-city?"
Ben looked surprised. "I did not realize the knowledge of thy people regarding my kind was so vast."
"We don't know anything about you. We just have legends." Ray tried to think. "But don't you guys live in warm water? What are you doing all the way up here?"
"Human, thou dost live here. May not we?"
Ray puzzled over that, then laughed. "Okay, you got me there."
Ben's eyes turned sad. "Indeed, thou dost have me. The moon shall not be full again this second fortnight."
Ray worked that out. "Yeah, it will be a month before the moon is full again. So what?"
Ben shrugged slightly. "I had not been to see the world of Mankind for long a time."
Ray couldn't help chuckling. "Yeah, kinda figured that."
"Oh?" Ben raised his eyebrows. It was exceptionally cute.
"We don't go much for saying 'thou' anymore, Ben."
"We just say 'you' when we mean 'you.'"
"Ah." Ben seemed to think this over. "Indeed, it had been many years since I ventured into thy domain. I had thought to see what the world was like above. And then Eek told me of thee...of you."
"He's great," Ray said, feeling stupid.
"He is my bedfellow," Ben said.
"Ahhhh," Ray emitted, hands going up, head full of unwelcome images. "Too much information, Ben!"
Suddenly, Ben laughed. Ray was instantly enchanted. So musical. So innocent.
"I didst not mean what thou thinkst I meant," Ben said, laughing again. "I meant only that my heart is closest to my friend. We share intimacies of love between friends, such that we have talked until dawn, sleeping where we were, uncaring of the night. His body does not display his soul to the world."
"You mean you're best friends?"
"Yea, that hast the right of it." Ben sounded quite hearty and approving, and Ray felt himself flush with pride, then with embarrassment at that pride. "Thou must have thy own bedfellow, to speak thus."
Ray's stomach dropped. "Uh, not really, no. I had a partner once, but she and I she wasn't into it, you know?"
The puzzled look returned to Ben's face.
"You still haven't explained the moon thing," Ray prodded.
"The tide will change, and getting home will be too great a task. I must wait until the tide changes again to return."
"But the moon's full tonight."
Ben looked pointedly outside. "I shall not be that citizen among my people who betrays my kind."
"You mean those jerks outside are keeping you from getting home for a month?"
"Ah." Ben thought about it. Then, even as Ray watched in horror, those sapphire eyes filled with tears. "Yes, Ray. They are keeping me from returning home. For twenty days, after this night, I must stay in thy world."
Ray scowled, forgetting for a moment he had worked on this expression to scare criminals with it. "So you're saying you need to get back in the sea tonight, then, before the moon goes down?"
"Yea, though I cannot --"
"You ever been in a car, Ben?"
"Car?" The cupie-doll lips twisted around the word, and Ray was standing up before they were done.
"Get Eek," he snapped.
The moon was bright enough that Ray worried about being seen. He kept the lights off, wishing irrationally for the Riv and her perfect handling. The Ford was all right, though, and the road was okay for a piece of crap back-water gravel pit.
He went north, about twenty miles above "Siren Cove," to a place on the map that looked as popular as Carrie after the prom. As much as he could, he drove without lights, and he was pretty sure they hadn't been followed.
Eek took the backseat like a pro. Ray flashed on this ridiculous image: himself behind the wheel of the Riv, Ben in the passenger seat, Eek in the back, all driving around in Chicago. He suppressed it. He didn't know just what Ben and Eek were, but they didn't belong in Chicago no more than he belonged wherever they lived. The thought poked little holes in his heart, but there it was.
It was really something, the way his heart was pounding and his head was so clear. He was even breathing kinda hard, like a kid. He flashed Ben a smile and was answered in kind.
"That was your hand print, right? In the crevice where Eek was?"
The seal nudged his shoulder. He was getting closer on the name.
"I believe so, Ray."
"I got just the spot in mind, you know, from the map, but if it's not what you need, just say so. We can go further up."
"I thank thee -- thank you kindly, Ray."
He found the turn-off and sped down, feeling for all the world like he was chasing some back robber's car down Main. Ben had grasped the seat, his eyes wide and full of wonder, and Eek was sliding around in the backseat and "arking" to beat the band. Ray laughed again, and felt drunk.
The Ford pulled up at the end of the middle-sized cliff, dropping off to the ocean's luminous waves crashing and sucking back. He could feel Ben's excitement. Eek all but flew out the door when he got it open.
"Did we make it in time?" Ray asked over the sound of the waves.
They walked together to the cliff's edge. The moon was right above the horizon now, huge, yellow, watching them. Ray chafed at the feeling of an adventure ending before it had begun. He had found a mermaid or, the male version of one. A real one! Didn't that count for anything?
Ben turned to him. "I shall never forget thee and thy kindness, Ray."
Vecchio smiled. Yes, this counted for a great deal, actually. For everything.
"Be careful, Ben. Don't let the giant squid get ya."
Ben frowned, eyes narrow against the wind from the ocean. "Giant squid? They are a very tame species, Ray."
Vecchio laughed and held his hands out for his sweats. He'd never wash them again.
Benny shucked the clothing and handed them over to Ray, who threw them in the trunk of the Ford. Ben seemed taller when he was naked. Eek was dancing around now, excited and "arking."
"I would have liked staying with you," Ben yelled as the walked to the coast, unsteady on his human-legs. "When I saw you with Eek, I wished to talk with thee."
"I don't live here. I live in Chicago!" Ray yelled back. The wind was picking up, and he put an arm around Ben's shoulders to help him. "I'm going back there in a few days."
"Chic ago?" Ben asked.
"Yes!" Ray yelled now both over the sea and at the sight of headlights back on the road. It might be nothing. It might be McMorrant and her heard of idiots. "You need to go."
They had reached the cliff's edge then, and Ben turned to him, all pale skin and blue eyes and dark hair blowing in the wind. His body was so warn against Ray's, his arms strong, and when he smiled his pointed teeth glinted almost golden in the moonlight, like something feral, like the man in his arms was really some half-tame beast used to having his way.
"I have never known anyone as kind as thee," Ben said.
"Be careful!" Ray told him, his eyes worried by the glow of those headlights. "Take care of yourself."
Ben leaned forward then, and, impossibly, kissed him. Ray drank in salt and sweet honey and was dizzy with it, his moan lost in the wind.
And then Ben was gone, a cold place where he had been. Ray heard a splash, saw a glimpse of white that might be Eek and then there was nothing but the buffeting spray of cold green water in the moonlight.
"Be careful, Benny!" he shouted, more for himself than anyone else. More because he was returning to a land more dangerous than the sea than because his friend was gone.
But Chicago was a part of the real world, and suddenly that had become so much more than he'd thought. There really were mermaids. What else might there be in the universe?
Ray turned for his car, eyes closed against that cold wind, and knew he would go back to being Ray Vecchio, Chicago PD, though for a moment he'd been Raymondo, and the magic in his arms had been more real than any triple homicide, any robbery with assault, anything the world could throw at him.
He knew the truth of things now, however fleeting this time had been. Blink, and the magic of the world passed you by. Stand still, and the whole world would come to you.
He turned then, shouting into the sea, "Benny! Thank you, Benny! Get home! Be safe!"
And the wind answered with the sea, and the moon slid down out of sight, and in the dark night Ray found his way into his rented car, and smiled.
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