Rated NC-17 for graphic m/m sex. Any recognizable characters belong to Alliance and the Pauls. Fraser and Ray belong to each other. Not us. *sigh*
Boomtown Rats: Like a House on Fire. Great Big Sea: Clearest Indication,
Shine, Ordinary Day, When I'm Up. Rufus Wainwright: One Man Guy.
Jann Arden: Waiting in Canada. Sarah Harmer: Silver Road. Bryan
Ferry: You Do Something to Me. John Lennon and Yoko Ono: Starting
Over. Ella Fitzgerald: Our Love Is Here To Stay. Our Lady Peace:
Thanks to Sihaya Black and Betty Burch for patient beta, and to AuKestrel for helping us see the story through new eyes.
Like a House on Fire
© 2002 Beth H. and Kellie Matthews
Everyone at the 27th District who'd had even a peripheral involvement in the
LeBeau case was aware of the newly revised extradition treaty between Canada
and the U.S. The recent amendments to the international accords meant that
Henri LeBeau, a career criminal who was Canadian in name only, was going to
be bound over to face trial in Saskatoon, instead of in Illinois where his
latest run of 'alleged' crimes had actually been committed.
Even if it hadn't been for the inexplicable lack of any real cooperation from
the Canadian authorities during the course of the CPD's six-month investigation,
losing LeBeau to the Canadian justice system would have grated. But to have
spent half a year calling in favors and rooting around local landfill sites
for illegally dumped toxic waste, only to have the perp sent up north and
out of their jurisdiction for what would probably amount to nothing more than
a slap on the wrist was wrong. Wronger than wrong.
And yet there Ray sat in the uncomfortable chair that faced Welsh's desk offering
to escort the prisoner up to Saskatoon so he could be turned over to the Canadians.
"I said I'll go, Lieutenant."
Welsh narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. "Overcome by a sudden overwhelming
urge to find closure, Detective?"
"Yeah, something like that," Ray muttered.
"Curious, because I seem to recall someone who looked a lot like you in here
yesterday stomping around and yelling that there was 'no fucking way' the
Canadians were going to get their mitts on LeBeau."
"Come on! This is my case, or at least it was my case
before it was yanked out of my hands." He leaned over, flattening his palms
on the case reports stacked at the edge of the lieutenant's desk. "I just
want to make sure LeBeau's taken care of before I sign off on this thing.
Give me that, at least."
Welsh sat for a long minute, just looking at Ray, his deadpan expression giving
no indication what he was thinking.
"Lieutenant . . . ."
"It's that important to you, Kowalski?"
He nodded, feeling an odd tension in his jaw.
"All right, you've got the delivery duty. And, Detective," Welsh continued,
before Ray even had a chance to release the breath he'd been holding, "let's
make sure all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed on this one. I don't
want to see you back here until you've given our Canadian friends depositions,
case notes, and anything else they think they might need to make these charges
stick. Word is they're making every effort to assign an early court date.
I'm sure you can find something to occupy your energies up north between now
and the start of the trial."
"Yeah," he said, a little surprised by how quickly Welsh had agreed. "I can.
. . um. . . I'll think of something."
"I'm certain you will."
"Forget about it. Just do good up there."
Ray picked up his files and started to leave the office. Before he reached
the door, he heard Welsh add, "Kowalski? Say hello to Consta . . . Corporal
Fraser for me when you see him."
The office door closed behind him, and Ray returned to his desk. Sure, he
could pass a message on from Welsh. Easiest thing in the world. Except for
the fact that he and Fraser hadn't actually seen each other in almost two
years and probably wouldn't see each other this time, either.
Fraser. His former partner. His . . . friend.
They still talked on the phone every once in awhile. Wrote letters less frequently.
Sent stupid presents for birthdays and for Christmas. Well, he sent stupid
presents; Fraser usually sent something useful.
But still. . . it had been almost two years.
A week after the conclusion of their arctic adventure, Ray had finally checked
in with his lieutenant. He hadn't really been sure if Welsh still was
his lieutenant, considering how long he'd been incommunicado, but after a
long pause, Welsh just said he'd been holding a detective spot open for him
at the 27th and that Ray needed to get his butt back to Chicago sometime this
millennium if he was still interested in being a cop.
At first, he had debated with himself whether he'd take Welsh up on the offer
or not. It felt good to be asked. It felt better than good, and he couldn't
imagine working under a more stand-up guy than Harding Welsh. But there was
something about being in Canada that felt right to him, more right to him
than the thought of returning to Chicago, anyway.
He'd figured maybe he would bring the subject up that night at dinner, see
if Fraser had any thoughts about stuff he could do up there - maybe something
the two of them could do together - if he gave up on the whole being a cop
thing. But before he could even mention Welsh's offer, Fraser had announced
that he'd received notification of his new assignment and that he had to start
making arrangements to relocate to a small town in north-central Saskatchewan.
"Exile over, huh?" Ray had asked with a forced smile.
"So it would appear," Fraser had replied, answering Ray's smile with one of
his own, although no less forced if Ray was any judge. "I had thought that
perhaps they might actually have been thinking in terms of sending me back
to the Territories, as I had once requested, or back to. . . well, I'm sure
that despite its location and relative isolation, there will be ample opportunity
at Lac la Rouille to make a difference, so I really have no cause for complaint."
"Yeah, sounds like your kind of place, Fraser," Ray had said, a bit absently.
"So, um . . . I guess I've got to get back to reality, too. I talked to Welsh
today. He wants me back at the 2-7, but . . . ."
"Oh? That's . . . that's wonderful, Ray," Fraser cut in, sounding something
less than enthusiastic.
Ray cocked his head to one side and frowned at Fraser for a second, then shrugged.
"Yeah, I guess." He fiddled with his fork, then looked up again. "You think
you'll ever be heading south again? I mean, for a visit or whatever. Or are
you just going to forget about Chicago like it was some kind of bad dream?"
"No," Fraser had said, shaking his head emphatically. "I'll certainly miss
. . . well, that is to say, there are a number of things I'll miss from my
time in the States."
"Yeah?" Ray asked.
Fraser nodded, but didn't elaborate, and Ray hadn't pushed. He knew better
than to try to get Fraser to talk when he clearly didn't want to. And that
had been that. They'd gone back to Chicago, Fraser staying just long enough
to get his things and attend the big farewell party Frannie had thrown for
him, her brother, and Stella. Frannie had ended up sniffling her way through
most of the evening. Ray had felt like that too; knowing that two of the most
important people in his life would be out of it the next day hadn't exactly
put him in a party mood, so he'd ducked out early and spent most of the night
staring at the ceiling over his bed.
He hadn't given Fraser a going-away present. He couldn't think of anything
he'd want, or need. Fraser hadn't given him anything either, except that as
they stood, oddly awkward, at the Air Canada boarding gate the next day, Ray
had put out his hand for a farewell shake, and Fraser had taken it, and then
pulled him into a hug, which had surprised the hell out of Ray. From the embarrassed
look on Fraser's face when he let go a moment later, it had surprised him
too. Then they'd called the flight and Fraser had to go - and again, that
had been that.
And now was now. He thought about the logistics of this trip to Canada. The
tickets were already arranged, Welsh had already cleared him, and he didn't
have a partner he'd be leaving in the lurch, though he'd been working with
Elaine a lot after she'd transferred back to the division six months ago.
When you were going for detective it helped to have someone to show you the ropes, and Welsh
thought Ray was a good mentor. Whatever. At least he and Elaine got along,
which never hurt. Most of his cases had been cleared so he could work on the
toxic waste case anyway, so there was nothing standing in the way except maybe
finding someone to watch Spot for a few days, and Frannie was an expert turtle-sitter.
Saskatoon. He looked up at the map of North America on his bulletin board,
located Saskatoon, and mentally estimated the distance between it, and the
little red map-tack at Lac la Rouille that he'd put there two years ago after
Fraser pointed out his new posting. It looked like around five-hundred miles,
give or take a bit. Barely in the same province. He sighed. Nope. Not this
* * *
Fraser lay on the couch, watching the Blackhawks kick the collective asses
of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Diefenbaker whined in sympathy from across the
room, but Fraser had long since stopped caring about the state of Toronto
hockey. He leaned over slightly, reaching for the open bag of Old Dutch Ketchup
Flavoured Potato Chips, but it was just beyond the reach of his fingertips.
"Come here, Dief . . . bring me the bag."
Diefenbaker whined and looked pointedly at Fraser.
"I'll give you one if you bring me the bag," he said after a moment.
When Dief didn't move, Fraser finally managed to stretch enough to grab the
bag himself. "Fine. I just thought you might want a little exercise. You're
getting soft, you know."
"I do not have pot/kettle issues," Fraser snapped.
Dief trotted over to the door and barked sharply. Fraser sighed. "Would you
stop that? Believe me, after two years it's really gotten old. No, Ray is
not going to be here any moment."
Dief barked again. Fraser threw the remote at him. Dief easily sidestepped
the missile and Fraser sighed as he realized he would have to get up and get
it so he could use the mute. He was sick to death of Canadian Tire commercials.
As he sat up, someone knocked at the door. He frowned, puzzled. It was Saturday.
The Episcopalian Ladies' Assembly delivered on Mondays. The Catholic Ladies'
Assembly came by on Wednesdays. In general, he never saw anyone at all on
weekends. Maybe one of the groups had held a bake sale today and were bringing
leftovers? He looked down at his sweats, which were reasonably clean. The
hole in his sock wouldn't show if he was standing. He went to the door as
he was, picking up the remote on his way.
Opening the door, he took one look at the person on his stoop and dropped
the remote again. It bounced off the mat and out the door. Dief tried to shove
past him, barking insanely, but Fraser was frozen in place.
Ray grinned at him. "Fraser! Buddy!" he exclaimed, wrapping him in a hug.
The contact was a shock. Literally. It had been a very long time since anyone
had touched him, let alone so intimately. In fact, he realized with an odd
sense of deja vu, that time had been Ray, too. Almost on auto-pilot he returned
the hug, and then Ray stepped back to look at him. He felt his face go hot,
wishing he'd put on something more presentable. But how could he have known?
"Ray, what are you doing here?"
Ray shrugged. "Well, I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd stop by."
"Ray, there is nothing in the neighborhood," Fraser said, still trying
to wrap his brain around the idea that Ray, Ray Kowalski, was standing on
his front stoop.
Ray grinned. "Canada's a neighborhood."
Fraser frowned. "Please don't say that anywhere near a representative of the
tourism board or the next thing you know we'll be seeing it on t-shirts."
Ray studied him for a moment and his smile faltered a bit. "So . . . is this
a bad time?"
"God, of course not, Ray. Please, come in." He looked behind Ray and saw six
bags of varying sizes stacked up on the steps. "Can I help you bring your
"Might as well, seeing as how most of them are for you. Soon as I said I was
heading up this way, everyone started handing stuff over to me 'just in case'
I saw you."
"For me?" Fraser asked, still feeling rather as if he were in an episode of
The Twilight Zone.
Ray nodded. "None other. Everyone said to say 'hi.' And I mean everyone. The
only reason I'm not bringing you a pizza is because I managed to convince
Sandor it wouldn't be any good by the time I got it here." He picked up a
bag and looked at Fraser pointedly.
Suddenly realizing he was still keeping Ray outside, Fraser stepped out to
pick up one of the bags. Diefenbaker, seeing his chance, darted out and leaped
up, his paws on Ray's shoulders. Ray yelped, teetered, and then went down
on his backside, hitting the sidewalk with a solid 'oof.' Diefenbaker started
licking his face, whining and vocalizing. Ray tried to fend him off, and finally
put his hands on Dief's muzzle and held him still.
"Enough with the licking, mutt!" he said clearly into Dief's face. "I'm glad
to see you too!"
Dief apparently felt he'd done his duty in welcoming Ray, because he let Fraser
reach a hand down to brace Ray to his feet. Ray picked up several bags and
followed him into the house. Setting down his parcels, he glanced around the
room, and then back at Fraser.
"So . . . um . . . you're feeling okay, right?"
Fraser realized Ray must be interpreting his shock as illness. "Yes, of course,
just surprised to see you, that's all. Why didn't you let me know you were
"I . . . kind of wanted it to be a surprise. Plus I wasn't sure it would work
out and I didn't want to make plans I couldn't keep, you know? I figure you're
not exactly company-ready, so if there's a motel around, maybe I could use
your phone to call and get a room?"
Fraser shook his head. "Nonsense, Ray. Of course you'll stay here with me."
Ray glanced around again. "You have a guest room?"
"I have a spare room," Fraser equivocated. He did. It was full of the arctic
travel gear from their adventure together, and the heat wasn't on, but he
had one. He would, however, put Ray in his room, since the bed was comfortable,
and he'd sleep on the couch.
Ray smiled. "That'd be great. How about dinner? I drove straight through today
and I'm starving."
"Straight through from where?"
"Saskatoon. Had to escort a prisoner."
"Ah, Mr. LeBeau?"
Ray looked surprised. "You've heard about him?"
"I keep up," Fraser said. There wasn't a lot else to do. "A member of one
of our more infamous biker gangs, I believe."
Ray nodded, grinning a little. "Yeah. Hard to wrap my mind around that one.
Canadian biker gangs. Go figure. At first when they told me that, I was thinking
bikes you know? Like Schwinns. The whole case was kind of a deja vu, what
with the toxic waste and Canadians and all. Could've used you on the job.
It wouldn't have taken near as long to wind things up."
Fraser turned away, making a show of turning off the television. "I'm sure
you handled it competently on your own."
"Competently yeah, but without our old . . . pizzazz, you know?"
He sounded a little wistful, and Fraser turned in time to catch a flash of
that same expression on his face. Perhaps he wasn't the only one who missed
their old partnership. Which he did. Desperately. Having Ray here was almost
painful, but it was a pleasurable kind of pain. "I'll just go change, and
we'll go get something for dinner. There's an excellent little café just down
"Mathilde's?" Ray asked.
Fraser stopped, halfway to his bedroom. "Yes, actually. How did you know?"
"I stopped there to see if anyone could point me at your place. I tried the
RCMP post but the guy there wouldn't tell me where you lived even after I
got out my ID. Said it was a violation of your privacy. I think maybe he thought
I was a hit man or something. But there was a group of old ladies at the café
who were happy to tell me how to find you. They were kind of funny, all excited
that I was coming to see you. I barely got out of there with my cheeks unpinched.
You'd think you never had a visitor before."
Fraser felt his face getting warm again. "That was probably Maude Johannsen
and her bridge club friends. They often commandeer a table on Saturday afternoons."
He didn't tell Ray that the reason Maude was acting like that was because
it was true. He hadn't had a visitor the entire time he'd lived here. Maggie
had planned to come once, but ended up having to cancel due to a search and
rescue operation up near Peace River, and their schedules hadn't coincided
since. "Anyway, if you'll excuse me I'll be right out."
Ray nodded, and turned his attention to Diefenbaker, who had been sitting
at his feet gazing up at him adoringly. Fraser rolled his eyes and headed
for his bedroom. Opening his closet, he found himself reaching toward the
back, pulling out his dress uniform. The plastic shielding rustled as he peeled
it off. He hadn't worn it in ages, there was never any reason to do so, here,
but somehow with Ray here it just seemed right. Placing it on the bed, he
got out clean underclothes, pulled them on, and then stepped into the jodhpurs.
He pulled them up, settled them, and went to fasten the fly, only to find
that the edges wouldn't meet. He frowned, staring down at the gap between
the edges, and reflexively tried again. They still wouldn't meet. He tightened
his stomach muscles and the gap narrowed slightly, but didn't vanish. Could
the cleaner have shrunk them? He hadn't worn them since they had been cleaned,
so he wouldn't have noticed.
Irritably he got out his other dress uniform. He knew it fit. It had last
been cleaned in Chicago and he'd worn it since then, though it had been quite
a while. He knew he'd gained a few pounds but it ought to fit. Taking the
pants from their hanger, he pulled them on, only to find that, like the first
pair, he could not fasten them. Determined, he sucked in his stomach, yanked
on the wool, and managed to wrestle them closed. They cut into his waist painfully,
bringing the truth home with a shock. It wasn't the uniform. It was him.
He looked up into the mirror, seeing himself as Ray must have seen him. He
needed a haircut. He needed a shave. Worse, he was badly out of shape, thanks
to regular meal deliveries by the local church ladies' groups and no regular
regimen of exercise. He'd never had to worry about that before, so he hadn't
here either. Apparently he should have. Good God. How the hell had he let
Once he thought about it, it was perfectly obvious. His position
at La Rouille required much less physical activity and more vehicle time,
and when combined with the fact that Dief ran free during the day in the woods
behind the detachment, it meant he was getting out very little. It had happened
so gradually he hadn't realized it, even though he should have. It was as if he'd turned off part of his brain when he'd left Chicago
and not turned it back on until he'd seen Ray again.
Obviously it wasn't just that Canadian clothing sizes were different
from US ones, as he'd thought last time he bought jeans. And when he'd asked
Sally to order him two of the newer style uniforms she must have . . . adjusted
the measurements for him without mentioning it. Face burning, he unfastened
the jodhpurs and stripped them off, changing into a comfortable pair of jeans,
a henley, and a baggy sweater, and headed back to the living room.
Ray was standing by the end table holding the beer-bottle Fraser had emptied
earlier, staring at it with a slightly perplexed expression. When he saw Fraser,
he put it down hastily. "That a good brand?" he asked.
"It's decent," Fraser said. "Shall we go?"
Ray nodded. "Yeah. I think we've got a lot of catching up to do."
Once outside, Fraser started to head in the direction of the blue Ford rental
parked at the curb, but he stopped short when Ray put a hand on his shoulder.
"Mind if we walk? After driving all day I'd like to stretch my legs."
Fraser turned around slowly, unwilling, for some reason, to lose the touch
of Ray's hand against his arm. "Of course we'll walk, Ray. I don't know what
I was thinking." What had he been thinking? Perhaps this unexpected
visit still had him a bit off balance.
Ray grinned. "Maybe seeing me, you just automatically think about riding shotgun,
like I'm a Rorschach test. See Ray, think car. Don't know what that says about
your psyche, but . . . ."
Fraser smiled back at his former partner. "While I'd hardly characterize you
as having any real similarity to an ink blot, there may be something to your
They headed up the street, settling immediately - instinctively - into the
rhythm they'd grown accustomed to in Chicago. Fraser launched into a running
commentary about the prevailing theories of the function of free association
and its relationship to literary metonymy, but he was barely conscious of
the words coming out of his own mouth. Ray's presence had nothing whatsoever
to do with his inclination to drive instead of walk. Try as he might, he couldn't
remember the last time he'd actually chosen to leave his pool car behind to
reach any destination, even somewhere so ridiculously close as Mathilde's.
For God's sake; what must Ray be thinking of him? He took a quick glance in
his direction, hoping to ascertain, without being too obvious, just how disappointed
his old friend was with the state he'd let himself get into. However, while
Ray was looking directly at him - a fact which, in itself, made him
feel inexplicably awkward - the expression on his face was neither chastening
nor pitying. It was just - happy?
Fraser's monologue tapered off as he tried to determine what might have brought
the broad smile to Ray's face. However, this just seemed to increase the size
of Ray's smile. His grin grew even wider, then he shook his head and threw
his arm around Fraser's shoulders.
"Running out of steam? Don't stop now - not while you're on a roll; I've missed
this too much."
He'd missed rambling discourses on language and psychology? Surely that couldn't
be what had made Ray look so joyful. He furrowed his brow and inclined his
"Missed you," Ray said. "It's been too long, you know?"
"I do, indeed," he replied, although it surprised him a little to find that
just being with him could still make Ray this happy after a two-year hiatus,
but he wasn't about to look that particular gift horse in the mouth. He had
missed Ray. Just how much he'd missed him was only now beginning to become
clear to him. Being with him even for something so mundane as an early evening
walk to a café, was bringing him more pleasure than he could remember feeling
in . . . well . . . years.
Then Ray's arm eased off his shoulder and moved down around his waist. The
gesture was casual, nothing that Ray hadn't done many times in the past. However,
the memory of the spare tire that had been reflected back in the mirror when
he'd had finally stopped to take a long, hard look at himself made him stiffen
and pull back slightly from Ray's touch.
Ray dropped his arm immediately and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Kind
of chilly," he commented.
"Yes, well, it is November, Ray," Fraser said. "How were the roads? Had they
been cleared after Wednesday's snow?"
Ray nodded. "Yeah, mostly. There were a few scary spots, but I made it in
one piece. Anyway, who cared if there were a couple of bad patches on the
drive, right? I was on a mission."
"You were?" Fraser asked, interested. "What mission would that be?"
Ray reached out as if he were going to ruffle Fraser's hair, then let his
hand fall, sighed and shook his head. "Coming here, Fraser. Seeing you."
Fortunately the chill air gave him an excuse for pink cheeks, because his
face felt remarkably warm. That warmth seemed to spread inside a little, as
well, easing coldness he hadn't been aware was there until now. They reached
Mathilde's and went inside. He was uncomfortably aware of the eyes on them,
Maude Johannsen's coterie in particular, but Ray didn't seem at all put off
by the curious glances he garnered. He just sat down in the booth across from
Fraser and grinned. "I take it you guys don't get a lot of out-of-towners?"
"Not at this time of year, no," Fraser admitted. "Very few people come here
after the first snow unless they have no choice. I'm sure they're curious
to see who would voluntarily make such a trek."
Ray grinned at him. "Well, I've always played by my own rules." He fished
his glasses out of his pocket and put them on, then picked up the menu and
Fraser blinked. "New glasses, Ray?"
Ray looked up at him and smiled ruefully. "Yeah. Even blinder than I used
to be. I made the mistake of taking Frannie with me to pick out frames and
she talked me into these."
Fraser studied the effect of the wire-framed lenses on him, and smiled. "They're
very fetching, Ray."
Ray snorted. "Fetching. Yeah. So what's good here?"
"Everything, actually," Fraser said, oddly reluctant to recommend any of his
usual favorites. Just then Tilda came up to the table, standing next to Ray,
looking at him curiously for a moment before she turned her gaze to Fraser.
"Well Corporal, what'll it be tonight? The usual?"
Fraser thought about his uniform pants and shook his head. "No, thank you
Tilda, I believe I'll just have a green salad tonight. No dressing."
She frowned, studying him closely. "You taking sick there, Benton Fraser?"
He flushed. "Not at all! I . . . ah . . . I ate earlier," he lied. "But my
friend had a long drive today and is in need of sustenance."
"Is that right? Where'd you come in from, young man?"
Ray looked up from his menu, his eyes widening a little as he took in the
resplendence that was Mathilde. She was in pink tonight. Pink angora sweater.
Pink circle skirt. Pink artificial nails. Pink ankle strap platform sandals.
Pink cat's-eye glasses with rhinestones sparkling at each corner. Her pink
wig had been tormented into a four-inch beehive. Her vast, motherly bosom
and ample hips were swathed, as usual, in a pristine white apron which really
did not complement the outfit at all but no doubt saved a great deal on dry-cleaning
Ray smiled, but it wasn't a mocking smile. "Drove up from Saskatoon, ma'am.
Today that is. Flew in from Chicago yesterday. Escorting a prisoner."
Tilda pressed a hand to her chest. "A prisoner? How exciting!"
Ray laughed and shook his head. "Hardly. Not without Fraser there, anyway.
Things just haven't been the same since he's been gone."
"So you knew our Corporal Fraser in Chicago?" Tilda asked with a pointed look
Fraser realized he'd been remiss and hastened to correct it. "May I introduce
my former partner, Ray Kowalski? Ray, this is Mathilde Johannsen, the proprietor
of this establishment."
"Please, call me Tilda," she said, putting out a hand, making it clear that
Ray was not to shake it. "Everyone around here does."
"It's a pleasure, Tilda," Ray said, gamely kissing the air above her hand,
then sitting back. "So, what do you recommend?"
"Well, everything's good, honey, but Benton here is particularly partial to
the chicken fried steak, with mashed potatoes and gravy."
"Yeah, huh? You in the mood for that tonight, Fraser?"
He was. Just the thought of Tilda's chicken fried steak was making his mouth
water, but he couldn't bring himself to order it. It might taste wonderful
but he was suddenly all too aware that not only had every serving he'd eaten
over the past two years contributed to his waistline, it had probably lined
his arteries as well. This was getting ridiculous. Everywhere he turned this
evening, there was another reminder of just how oblivious he'd become to everything
but his job. How oblivious he'd been to himself, to his needs, physical and
Suddenly, Fraser wanted to look anywhere but at Ray. He dropped his
gaze until his eyes lit on the menu. Just the thing. He reached across the
table and slid it toward him. He was fairly certain he had the selections
memorized at this point, but he felt a sudden need to raise some barrier between
himself and Ray's gaze - and the menu fulfilled that purpose admirably.
"Tilda serves rather generous portions, Ray, but please order what you want.
The steak is excellent. For my part, perhaps I might try something new tonight."
He scanned the items quickly, almost desperately, for something he hadn't
had. Cottage cheese? Apparently he'd spoken those last words out loud, or
so the looks of surprise on Ray's and Tilda's faces would seem to indicate.
"You sure you're feeling well, Corporal?" Tilda asked.
"Frase, I thought you hated cottage cheese."
"Ah. Well, no. . . that is to say. . . ." Not for the first time this evening,
Fraser found himself fumbling for words, but Ray's timely interruption brought
his struggle to a halt.
"Okay, that means you still hate it." Ray grinned. "How about if we share
the steak. We can do that, right, Tilda?"
"Of course, honey." But then she frowned. "You sure that's going to do you?
You look like you could use a little more meat on your bones, if you don't
mind my saying so."
Ray laughed. "My mom didn't call and tell you to say that, did she?"
"Your mother sounds like a very sensible woman, Ray," Tilda sniffed. "You
tell her I said so next time you talk to her."
"I'll do that," Ray agreed, then turned back to Fraser. "So we'll share the
steak, yeah? What veggies come with that, Tilda?"
Fraser looked up in surprise; Raymond Kowalski was actually asking for vegetables?
"We have corn, peas, carrots, or courgettes."
"Um . . . Fraser?"
"Oh. Okay. Yeah, that sounds good. The steak and two orders of . . . uh .
. . courgettes. That ought to do it."
"If you're both sure that's it." Tilda didn't look convinced, but both men
nodded. She finally shrugged and smiled at them. "I'll just get your order
She patted Fraser's shoulder, then started to walk toward the kitchen, pink
skirt swaying from side to side with each step. Halfway to the kitchen she
stopped, looked over her shoulder, and called out "Remember to save room for
dessert, boys," before winking at them, then disappearing behind the swinging
Ray settled back in his seat. "Nice lady."
"She is, as is her sister." Fraser nodded in the direction of Maude.
"You're kidding. They're sisters?" He turned his head slightly to get a better
look at the foursome who were still playing bridge. "You're talking about
the one by the window? Wow! Maude's all kind of Chanel and pearls. And Tilda's
so . . . what's the word I'm looking for?"
"Colorful?" Fraser offered.
"Heh." Ray laughed. "Sort of an understatement there, Fraser, but it'll do."
"They are very different on the surface, Ray, but they both have good hearts.
The Johannsen sisters were the first to welcome me when I began this posting.
I really don't know what I would have . . . well, that's not important."
Oh, just wonderful. A few seconds more and he'd have been complaining to Ray
about how few people had shown any interest in getting acquainted with him
when he first arrived. Or three months later. Or at all.
The arrival of dinner brought a halt to his self-indulgent train of thought.
Tilda had clearly decided that one already over-abundant meal wouldn't suffice
for two grown men, since the platter she placed in the middle of the table
contained twice the normal serving of food. She set a clean dinner plate in
front of each of them, and chuckled as Ray's eyes widened.
"Now, are you sure I can't get you boys anything more here?"
Ray glanced in Fraser's direction, silently mouthing the word "More?"
"I'm sure this will be more than adequate, Tilda," Fraser said. "Thank you
"You're very welcome, Corporal. And if you want anything else, all you have
to do is ask."
After Tilda left the table, Ray couldn't contain his laughter. "This is food
for one? One what? One Scout troop?"
"I did warn you the servings were rather on the large side," Fraser said,
feeling somewhat defensive.
"That you did." Ray laughed again and shook his head. "Okay, let's
give this a try."
He reached for one of the steak knives Tilda had placed next to the platter
and cut a substantial piece of meat and lifted it slightly. "This okay for
"You don't have to serve me, Ray. I'm perfectly capable of getting my own
Before he'd even finished the sentence, Fraser could feel himself start to
blush for what must have been the tenth time that day; it was all too apparent
just how capable he was of feeding himself. However, Ray didn't react to his
words at all except to place the food on his plate and start to cut a piece
"Not exactly a burden, you know, Fraser?" he said.
They began to eat. After a few minutes, Tilda waved to them from across the
room and raised her eyebrows in a questioning manner, in answer to which Ray
gave her a 'thumbs up.' Satisfied, she returned her attention to another customer,
which left Fraser and Ray free to return to their conversation.
"So. . . what have you been up to lately?" Fraser asked, trying to find an
innocuous subject. "Are you seeing anyone?"
Ray smiled a little, his gaze focused on something over Fraser's left shoulder.
"I'm kind of . . . between innings. You know how that goes." He shrugged.
"Sometimes the Crystal Palace or Red Dog doesn't turn your crank any more
and you want a little down time."
Fraser took a sip of his tea to ease the tightness in his throat. It certainly
sounded as if Ray had quite a busy social life, if he was needing 'down time'
from it. He nodded, pretending he knew what it would be like to need that,
and forged on, trying again for a less painful subject. "Who's your partner
these days? Anyone I know?"
Ray looked at him blankly for a moment. "Partner? Oh, um, well, I've kind
of been working with Elaine lately."
"Elaine?" Fraser asked, surprised. He must somehow have missed some important
news. "I didn't realize she'd been promoted to detective."
"Well, she hasn't been, yet. Welsh figured I could . . . show her the ropes,
so to speak." Ray offered the boxing metaphor with a little smile.
"An excellent choice," Fraser said smiling back. "And I'm sure your partner
doesn't mind sharing the caseload."
Ray coughed and concentrated on cutting a piece of meat. "Yeah. Well, something
like that. What about you? You got a faithful sidekick up here?"
Fraser looked away. "As officer in charge I don't do much fieldwork any more,
and I don't really have a partner as such."
"Yeah, you're the boss, but you've got somebody you work with a lot, right?"
"I've worked with a variety of good officers in the past two years," Fraser
Ray looked at him for a moment, then glanced around the café, and then looked
at Fraser again. Fraser could almost see him analyzing the situation, his
mind making connections, readying itself for one of its illogical leaps. Sure
enough, a moment later, Ray nodded.
"Hard to get people to stay here?" he asked.
Illogical, but stunningly accurate. "As you say. Because of the location of
the detachment, our turnover rate is rather higher than we'd like."
Ray nodded. "Yeah. I figured that. But you stay." There was a question implicit
in his statement.
"I do. The people here deserve to have their needs seen to."
Ray frowned a little. Opened his mouth. Closed it. "Yeah. Yeah, that's true.
So you like it here?"
"It's a very pleasant place," Fraser said equivocally. He certainly wasn't
going to complain about the incredible monotony while sitting within earshot
of some of the biggest gossips in town. "What about you? How are things in
Chicago these days?" he asked, in a somewhat desperate bid to focus Ray's
"You know how it goes. It's a job, and you do what you gotta do. Work, work,
work. Catch bad guys. Fill out more paperwork than should be humanly possible.
Like you said, people deserve to have their needs seen to. It's a dirty job,
but somebody's got to do it." He grinned disarmingly with a slight shrug.
Fraser was pleased to hear that. He'd been concerned that Ray was still feeling
ambivalent about his career when he'd turned down a promotion the previous
year, but although he still tended to downplay his own role, it seemed he
was aware just how much of a difference he was making to the city of
Chicago and its inhabitants. He was, however, more interested in Ray's life
outside of work.
"Is there anyone new in your life?" he asked carefully.
Ray picked up his glass and took several swallows of his water, then set it
back down and wiped his mouth neatly with his napkin. "Well, there's the two
new guys who took over for Huey and Dewey. Danny Gamble and Mark Proctor.
They're pretty good guys. Neither of them smell like bacon bits and fish,
anyway, which is a big plus in my book. Elaine's back, but I already mentioned
that. We got this new aide - a guy. It's weird to have a guy getting
the files and stuff. I keep expecting Frannie and her half-shirts, you know?
Speaking of Frannie, she sent you this . . . ."
Ray dug in his wallet for a minute and handed Fraser a small photo of Francesca
with two babies. Fraser studied the photo, trying to see if he could find
a resemblance between the children and any of the adults he knew. He couldn't.
"They're very . . . ." He stopped, not quite sure what he ought to say.
"Generic?" Ray asked with a grin. "Yeah. Babies are, I've noticed. All that
stuff about 'oh, he looks just like his mommy' is kind of a load of bullshit
if you ask me. At least until they're old enough to not look like Mr. Potato
Head any more. But she's happy and that's all that matters, right?"
"Indeed," Fraser said fervently, relieved that he didn't have to find something
vaguely complimentary to say.
"Excellent, dude!" Ray said, drawling the word out.
Fraser snickered. "Would you be Bill, or Ted?"
"I'm blond, that makes me Ted. You're stuck being Bill. Hey, that's actually
appropriate, since the actor's Canadian and all. Wait . . . ." Ray stared
at him, eyebrows lifting in exaggerated surprise. "You just recognized a cultural
reference more recent than 1950-something. What's going on here?"
"Satellite television," Fraser said ruefully. "I'm afraid I've been corrupted."
Ray looked at him for a moment, and then pushed his not-quite-empty plate
to the side. "So, talk."
"I thought that's what we've been doing."
"No, I've been running off at the mouth, and you've been sitting there
going 'ah' every so often to keep me yapping. What about you? What have you
been getting up to, work-wise or whatever?"
Fraser leaned forward and speared a third piece of the leftover steak. "Nothing
so exciting as you've been engaged in, I promise you. This is a rather small
community, as I'm sure you've noticed, and very little of a criminal nature
occurs on a regular basis." He didn't want to admit that most of his workload
these days consisted of writing speeding tickets and making drunk-driving
"Yeah, I get that," said Ray. "But there's got to be something juicy. Come
on, Fraser, give!"
"Honestly, there's nothing to tell," he said firmly, willing Ray to just let
the subject rest.
"Nah, I'm not buying it," Ray said, laughing. "You trying to tell me crimes
don't just come hopping into your lap, like they used to in Chicago? Come
on, come on, c'mon already. Start talking."
"Damn it, Ray, there is nothing to tell. Nothing! Don't you understand
that, for God's sake?"
The vehemence with which Fraser spoke surprised even him. Ray looked away
for a moment, but then turned back toward Fraser with a neutral expression
on his face, apparently willing to pretend that he hadn't just been snapped
at by his friend for asking a perfectly reasonable question.
Maude's group wasn't quite so adept at pretense. All four women had turned
toward the unlikely sound of his raised voice, and they were still gazing
with some interest in his direction.
Fraser closed his eyes and dropped his head slightly. "God, Ray. I'm sorry."
Ray frowned, then gave a quick little nod. "What-say we pay the bill and head
back to your place? We'll make some tea, you can open your presents, then
maybe we can get some sleep. That sound good?"
Fraser just nodded, not trusting himself to say more. Mortified didn't even
begin to cover the way he was feeling at the moment.
Ray glanced quickly around the room. With a quick glance of his own, Fraser
noticed with relief that only Old Man Fitzhugh, a fixture at the luncheon
counter since Mathilde's first opened for business, was still staring at them
with rapt interest, but the smack Tilda applied to the back of his head as
she walked past was enough encouragement for him to return his attention to
the slice of apple pie cooling in front of him.
Tilda approached, a large white paper bag in her hand, as they slid out from
the booth. Fraser looked down, then rubbed a finger across his eyebrow before
hesitantly starting to speak.
"Tilda, I'm . . . I'm really terribly sorry if I caused a scene, and if .
. . ."
"There's no scene here, Benton Fraser," she interrupted, removing her glasses
and letting them dangle from the pink mother-of-pearl chain she wore around
her neck. "Just another quiet Saturday night as far as I can tell."
Fraser might have argued the point, but Tilda raised her eyebrows at him in
a quelling manner strangely reminiscent of his grandmother, and the rest of
his apology died on his lips.
Ray looked back and forth between the two of them, then reached into his pocket
for his wallet, but Tilda laid her hand on his forearm. "Don't you worry any
about the bill, Ray. Benton here has an account."
She took the bag she'd brought out from the kitchen and placed it in Ray's
hands. "I'm not letting you boys rush out of here and miss the best part of
the meal, so I've wrapped up what's left of tonight's special dessert in case
either of you get peckish later on. It's your favorite, Benton, the flan tart
with mixed berries."
Fraser began to protest, but Tilda waved off his objections. "You'd be doing
me a favor. There's not much call for adventurous cooking around these parts,
and you know how I hate to see good food go to waste."
"Yes, ma'am," Fraser acquiesced with a wry smile at Ray.
Ray was chuckling as they walked out of the restaurant. After they were about
halfway down the walk, he said, "Man, I'd put on those pounds my mom is always
after me about if I lived here."
Fraser felt his face go hot and looked down, clearing his throat. "Yes, well,
she's an excellent cook."
Ray was quiet for a moment. "Frase . . . I didn't mean . . . ."
"It's quite all right, Ray."
Ray looked at him assessingly. "Kind of snuck up on you, huh?"
Fraser shrugged, still not looking directly at his friend, as they turned
up the path to his house. "More like ambushed in a dark alley and taken prisoner,"
Whatever Ray might have replied was lost as he unlocked the door, and Diefenbaker
ran outside and jumped up on Ray, barking enthusiastically.
"Jeez, what's up with you!" Ray said, wiping wolf spit off his face with his
free hand. "Didn't we get the slobber part of the reunion out of the way a
couple hours ago?"
Fraser took the bag in one hand, simultaneously pushing Diefenbaker down with
the other. "Diefenbaker! Get off Ray! It's not a wolf bag, after all."
Leading the way inside, Fraser took some paper napkins from a stack sitting
on the coffee table in the living room, and brought them over to Ray. "I'm
afraid this display has rather less to do with Diefenbaker's admitted fondness
for you than for the bag Tilda pressed on us as we were leaving."
Diefenbaker barked again, this time at Fraser.
"Well, you should have thought of that before the incident that got you banned
from Mathilde's. If you're still hungry, why don't you take yourself outside
and hunt for something, or have you somehow forgotten you're a wolf?"
Diefenbaker took one last wistful look at the tantalizing bag, then trotted
to the open door, deliberately stepping on Fraser's foot as he passed.
Ray snickered. "Dief's the same as ever."
"Perhaps," said Fraser, carrying the bag into the kitchen. "Or perhaps he's
just taken a cue from me and has foregone all efforts at self control," he
muttered to himself.
Setting the bag on the kitchen counter, he had only managed to turn halfway
around before a sudden odd feeling came over him. He wasn't sure whether what
he was feeling was anxiety or exhaustion or some other wholly unidentifiable
sensation, but whatever it was, it seemed to have robbed him for the moment
of the ability to move.
He leaned on the counter, hands pressed heavily against the beige-tiled surface,
and stared blankly into the stainless steel sink. He could hear a faint inner
voice - a particularly irritating inner voice - telling him that he had company
and that Ray must surely be wondering why he was taking so long, but for once,
politeness gave way in the face of this sudden and inexplicable paralysis.
It was tempting to stay in the kitchen rather than return to the living room
and face whatever probably unanswerable questions Ray was sure to have for
him. Though of course, staying would be only a temporary shelter at best,
since Ray would soon come looking for him. He rejected, outright, the third
option - that of slipping out the kitchen door and into the night - as too
melodramatic by far. He snorted, briefly amused at himself. As if he wasn't
already being incredibly melodramatic. Self-indulgent. Ridiculous.
Unfortunately even that realization didn't bring him any closer to stepping
away from the counter.
The decision of what to do next was taken out of his hands in the next moment
when Ray walked into the kitchen, boot heels making a hollow sound on the
scuffed linoleum floor.
"You making tea, Fraser? Because I wouldn't mind a cup if you are."
Automatically, Fraser reached for the kettle on the back burner and started
to fill it from a blue jug of filtered water.
"Hey, where can I dump this stuff?"
He turned around to find Ray standing in the middle of the room, holding up
two empty beer bottles in his right hand and with an old pizza delivery box
tucked under his left arm.
"There's a recycling bin," Fraser said, indicating the hutch to the right
of the back door. "And the container beside it is for the . . . um . . . cardboard
Ray placed the bottles carefully on top of the pile of glass and metal, then
turned back to Fraser. "What about garbage? There's something kind of curly
and green here that might have actually been food at one point, although I
wouldn't bet on it.
He lifted the lid of the box, and Fraser peered inside. "Ah. Yes, that once
was something much like food. Anchovy and pineapple pizza, to be precise.
The garbage can is under the counter there. Dief has a regrettable tendency
to get into it if I leave it out."
"I guess Dief has more sense than to eat anchovy and pineapple pizza, huh?"
Ray said, making a face as he tipped the greenish slice into the garbage can
and slammed the lid shut, then stuffed the box in the bin. "What made you
order something that disgusting?"
He paused for a moment, and then as happened all too frequently when he was
around Ray, his id took control of his vocal cords. "I was homesick, Ray."
"Yeah?" Ray said, cocking his head to one side. "You got a lot of anchovies
and pineapples up in the Yukon?"
"In point of fact, no. As I'm sure you're aware, pineapples are found primarily
in tropical regions, and although the north has been experiencing a particularly
mild . . . ."
"Sorry." He leaned back against the edge of the sink and crossed his arms
over his chest. "I was homesick for . . . Chicago."
Ray didn't say anything right away, and Fraser began to get a sick feeling
in the pit of his stomach. He could remember quite vividly standing on a frozen
reservoir in Chicago and sharing his feeling of homesickness with Ray. That
uncharacteristic admission had been followed almost immediately by a chain
of events that had all but ripped his world apart. Ordinarily, he wasn't a
superstitious man, but he worried for a moment that the simple act of putting
a name to part of what was churning away inside would draw unwanted attention
from the universe.
However, this time there was no dead body being pulled up from a hole in the
ice. There was only Ray, nodding slowly, then reaching over to touch Fraser's
"Yeah, I get that. I think I get that. Me, I've been drinking enough tea over
the past couple years to float a caribou."
"Where do you want to start? Biggest to smallest, or smallest to biggest,
or just random, or maybe alphabetical order?" Ray asked after they had settled
onto the couch with mugs of tea.
"Your presents," Ray said, nodding at the assortment of parcels leaned against
the far wall. "What do you want to open first?"
He looked at the packages, and felt an odd warmth in his chest, and a tightness
in the back of his throat. "I . . . why don't you choose for me, Ray?" he
Ray looked at him, then at the packages, and nodded. "Sure. Sure, I can do
that." He went over and started dragging things over to the coffee table,
handing Fraser a light-weight box wrapped in what appeared to be the Chicago
Sun-Times Sunday comics from the previous week. "This one's from Welsh."
Fraser ripped open the wrapping, and opening the box, lifted out a dark blue
baseball cap with the words 'Chicago Police Department' blazoned across it.
"He said that was to remind you of auld lang syne," Ray said. "And that I
was supposed to tell you that any time you want to come back and liaise, you'd
be more than welcome."
"That's very kind of him," Fraser said, pretending to study the cap closely
so Ray wouldn't notice he was blinking rapidly.
"Kind, hell! More like self interest. Our solve rate's gone way down since
you left. This is from Mort."
This time the wrapping was a large, blue, felt-like disposable towel of the
type often used in the morgue, taped down with surgical tape. Inside were
three books. "Criminal Poisoning: An Investigational Guide for Law Enforcement,
Toxicologists, Forensic Scientists, and Attorneys; The Poisons and
Antidotes Sourcebook; and Dead Reckoning The Art of Forensic Detection,"
he read out. "I'm sure these will be extraordinarily useful should we ever
have a murder to investigate," he said drily.
Ray cocked his head. "You almost sound like you'd like that."
"Of course not!" Fraser exclaimed, horrified. "It's just . . . well, the closest
anything's come to requiring actual police work in months was when a fire
broke out at Stevensen's Art Supply three days ago. However, Constable Zhertak's
preliminary report indicates that all available evidence points to this being
nothing more than an unfortunate accident."
Ray leaned back against the couch and studied him with narrowed eyes. "But
you don't think so, do you?"
Fraser shrugged. "No. However, I'm not sure I can justify reallocating human
resources based on what's really nothing more than a hunch on my part."
"You've got a hunch about this?"
"So it would appear."
"Jeez, go for it then! What the hell else has anybody got going on? Your Mounties
too busy judging quilting competitions?"
"No, not this month. The quilting competition isn't until January." Fraser
said, deadpan. For a moment he saw outrage start to spread over Ray's face,
and then he suddenly looked at Fraser keenly. Fraser couldn't keep a corner
of his mouth from twitching upward, and Ray shook his head, laughing.
"You almost had me there! Good one. Okay, seriously. Would it hurt to do some
checking? It's not like you to just let it go. What triggered your hunch?"
"I'm . . . not sure," he said, closing his eyes for a moment, trying to identify
what it was that had made him suspicious. He remembered Constable Zhertak
standing in his office, having come straight from the scene, discussing the
probable cause. There had been something . . . something . . . . He found
himself inhaling deeply, searching for a long-gone scent. "A smell. There
was an odd scent lingering on Constable Zhertak's clothing."
"Accelerant?" Ray asked quickly.
Fraser frowned. "Possibly. In all honesty I can't remember exactly what it
was, just that it seemed both familiar and out of place."
"Then you've got to check it out."
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt."
Ray nodded. "Yeah. Never hurts to check. Okay, so, next up, Elaine sent you
this." He handed Fraser a small, flat parcel.
Fraser tore open the handsome gold gift-wrap to find . . . "A first-aid kit?"
"There's a card, I think," Ray said, nodding.
"So there is." Opening the card tucked into the small case he started to smile.
"'If you get beaten up in Canada anywhere near as often as you did in Chicago,
this will come in handy. Love, Elaine.'" His throat wanted to close up, and
he had to clear it. "How thoughtful of her."
"Elaine's a nice girl. Woman, I mean," Ray amended sheepishly. "Anyway. Want
the big one now?" At Fraser's nod, Ray handed over a large, soft, parcel wrapped
in a white plastic garbage bag that smelled faintly of baby powder.
"From Francesca?" Ray nodded, and Fraser undid the twist-tie that held the
bag closed and pulled out a large afghan blanket. It was knitted in a sort
of mottled shade of green, not very expertly, and was distinctly lop-sided.
He noticed that there was some sort of pattern on it in brown yarn, and shook
it out to try and determine what it was. After a moment he looked back at
Ray, somewhat perplexed. "A . . . dog? With horns?"
Ray laughed. "That's what I thought, too. She poked me with her knitting needles
and informed me that it was a moose."
Fraser looked at it again, trying gamely to see the correct animal. Dief whined.
Fraser choked back a laugh. "No, Diefenbaker, I promise I won't tie antlers
to your head."
Dief made a satisfied-sounding noise. Ray handed Fraser a small, cylindrical
"This one's from Huey and Dewey. Along with free passes to the comedy club
if you're ever in town."
Fraser opened the package and looked at the can in his hand somewhat perplexed.
Ray chuckled. "It's probably their way of describing themselves." He looked
at the can. "Any cashews in there?"
Fraser automatically began unscrewing the lid to check, and then as he removed
it, he gasped in surprise as three long, narrow snakes leapt out of the can
and writhed on the floor. It took him only a moment to realize he'd been taken
in by the gag-gift, but Diefenbaker leapt up, snarling and barking and pounced
on one of the 'threatening creatures' and shook it madly in his jaws, only
to stop suddenly with a perplexed look on his face and let the mouthful of
fabric and spring-steel fall to the ground.
By that point Ray was laughing hysterically, and Fraser couldn't help but
do so as well. After several moments they finally managed to control themselves,
aided by gulps of cooling tea, though Fraser found himself giggling again
as Dief gave an offended whuff and turned his back to them.
"Think he'll ever forgive us?" Ray whispered.
"Us? Probably. Huey and Dewey, never," Fraser whispered back. "I'll have to
get him a treat tomorrow to make it up to him."
Ray clapped his hand to his forehead. "Treats! Duh! Frannie sent a care package
of treats and toys for him, but I forgot it out in the car, sorry. I'll go
He returned moments later with two boxes. One he put down on the floor with
a grin. "Go for it, guy," he said as Dief started to rip and tear at the wrapping,
then he turned to Fraser, holding out the second box. "This is from me," he
said, quickly, shoving the box toward Fraser with a slight flush on his face.
Fraser took the box. The paper was scarlet. The color of his dress uniform
tunic. He tried not to think about that as he opened it, carefully. And stared
at what the paper had hidden. "Ray!"
Ray looked at him with an odd smile. "It's a GPS. I, um, saw it in the Hammacher-Schlemmer
catalog and thought of you. This way you always know where you are, even if
there's no sun or stars to look at to find your way."
Looking down at the GPS in his hands, he knew Ray was waiting for a response,
would surely believe his present had been unwelcome if he remained silent,
but he was unable to speak. He couldn't find the words to express just how
apt this gift was, how greatly he was in need of . . . something just like
The uncomfortable silence continued. He knew that if he were to turn and look
at Ray's face right now, he'd see nothing but concern there, but that was
the last thing he wanted to see. For God's sake. Five hours since Ray had
shown up on his doorstep, and he'd done little but act like he was brain-damaged,
making the possibility of them having the kind of reunion he'd sometimes allowed
himself to fantasize about over the years even less likely to occur, assuming
'less likely than no chance at all' was even a valid category.
He rubbed his thumbs along the edge of the unit, noting its similarity in
size and weight to the television remote control which was buried somewhere
amidst the stack of old newspapers. Beside him, Ray began to tap his fingers
impatiently along the edge of his mug, but he didn't speak, giving Fraser
more time to say something. His continued silence was ridiculous. Surely a
simple acknowledgment, some indication of how much he truly appreciated these
gifts - Ray's in particular - wasn't beyond his capabilities.
"Thank you," he finally said, still looking down, appalled at the difficulty
he'd had with even such a punctilious expression of gratitude. "It's all .
. . it's wonderful, Ray. This especially."
"Yeah? " Ray said, sounding for all the world like he did right before he
started to lay into someone in an interrogation. "'Cause if you're just saying
that to be polite, I could take this back where I got it and maybe get you
a miniature inukshuk from the airport instead."
Fraser glanced up at Ray and saw the grin on his friend's face. He tried to
respond in kind, to make something about the day seem normal, but the
small laugh he attempted sounded harsh even to his own ears. Choked. Almost
a . . . sob. He swallowed once, hard, driving the unnervingly intense emotion
back down inside.
Then, unexpectedly, he felt the touch of Ray's hand against the back of his
neck, and he was almost undone. He squeezed his eyes tightly and dropped his
head again, hoping as he had when he was just a small child that if he closed
his eyes, he would become invisible.
More silence, then Ray spoke. Softly. Almost tenderly. "Things aren't going
so great here, are they, buddy?"
Another half-laugh, half-sob. "What makes you think that?"
"Call it a hunch," Ray said, even more gently, his hand rubbing the back of
Fraser's neck in a soothing motion.
"You, ah . . . ." Fraser cleared his throat, still unable to look at Ray.
"You've always had amazingly accurate hunches."
"Yeah," Ray said simply. "You want to talk about it?"
He shook his head, fast, and firmly. "No."
"No?" Ray asked, not sounding shocked, or angry, but only as if he wanted
to be sure.
"No, not . . . yet."
Fraser felt rather than saw Ray nod.
"Yeah. Okay. Not a problem." He sat quietly for a moment, and then yawned,
stretching ostentatiously. "What say maybe we turn in early? I'm pretty tired
from the drive. Funny how just sitting in one place all day can wear you out."
Fraser snorted. "Yes. Yes, it is. Let me show you where the bathroom is, and
you can wash up."
"Sold!" Ray said, standing up and lifting the smaller of his travel bags.
"Think I could take a shower? It'd be nice to get some of the road-dirt off."
"Certainly," Fraser said, trying with a vague frisson of panic to remember
when the last time he'd cleaned the bathroom was. Last week, after bathing
Dief. Right. Okay. It should be livable. He had the uncomfortable sensation
that his grandmother's ghost was standing at his shoulder glowering at him.
Fortunately, unlike her, Ray wasn't known for excessive fussiness. It suddenly
dawned on him that he also needed to change the bed linens, and he was so
rattled that he suddenly had absolutely no idea if he even had any
clean sheets, or if his extra set was wadded up in the laundry basket. With
some trepidation he opened the linen closet to get Ray a towel, and was relieved
to see his spare sheets folded and on the shelf, thank God.
As soon as Ray was safely ensconced in the bathroom, he dashed back to the
linen closet to get the fresh sheets and quickly made the bed. He wasn't able
to find any clean pillowcases, but after a careful inspection of his pillows,
he concluded that the lower one was spotless and perfectly acceptable for
a guest's use. Once the bed was made, he straightened up the rest of his room
a little. Fortunately it was already neater than the living room, where he
spent most of his time, and ate most of his meals. He then retrieved Ray's
second bag and placed it at the foot of the bed. With a quick look around,
he decided that the room would do, and headed out to get their mugs and take
them to the kitchen to clean up. He put them in the sink, with the other dishes
that had accumulated since the night before.
Shaking his head, he grabbed the dishwashing soap and turned on the hot water.
A moment later, a startled yelp from the direction of the bathroom made him
shut the water off just as quickly and dash across the house to the bathroom
"Ray?" he called out.
There was no answer, though he could hear the sound of the shower. For a moment
he hesitated, but the lack of response overruled his natural reserve. With
a perfunctory knock he opened the door. The bathroom was full of steam, the
shower was still running. There was no answer from behind the navy blue shower
"Ray?" He said, a little louder, a little more concerned. "Ray?"
To his relief, at the third repetition the curtain opened and Ray looked out,
wet, soapy, and puzzled. "What's up, Fraser?"
"You . . . ah, yelped. I was concerned."
Ray smiled. "Yeah, I did. Sorry, I didn't know you could hear me. The water
went cold for a minute there and I just about froze my nuts off before it
decided to be hot again. I forgot that the plumbing in old houses sometimes
does that. Don't worry, I'm fine."
"I'm terribly sorry," Fraser said, feeling his face heat as he realized he'd
been responsible for the sudden change in water temperature. Living alone,
he was no longer used to having to think of such things. "I thoughtlessly
ran water in the kitchen."
Ray shrugged, and smiled. "No problem. Wasn't the first time I've had a cold
shower, probably won't be the last," he said with a wink, pulling the curtain
back into place.
Fraser stood for a moment longer, staring at the space where Ray had just
been, seeing not the embossed stripes of the blue vinyl curtain, but instead
Ray's wet, naked body. He certainly seemed very fine. Fit. He meant fit.
Very. Fit. He shook his head, frowning, as he pulled the door closed and went
back to the kitchen to see if there was enough water in the sink to at least
wash the dishes. He could rinse them after Ray finished. And doing dishes
should keep his mind from straying to inappropriate paths.
Fraser had finished the dishes and was wiping crumbs and old cooking-spills
from the counters when Ray emerged fifteen minutes later, clad in a pair of
gray sweatpants and a t-shirt, his hair towel-dried into a wild tangle.
"So, uh, where am I sleeping?" he asked, rubbing the back of his neck with
one hand and yawning widely.
"I have the room all ready for you," Fraser said, rinsing the sponge under
the tap and drying his hands. "I took the liberty of putting your bag in there
"You didn't have to do that," Ray said. "But thanks. Lead on, Macbeth."
Fraser somehow resisted correcting him, and led him past the still-steamy
bathroom to his own room. "Here you are."
Ray looked around, then looked at Fraser. "Never thought I'd see you with
an actual guest room. Guess you figured Maggie'd need a place to stay when
she comes to visit, huh?"
Fraser nodded. He knew Ray well enough to know he'd have a fight on his hands
if he told him whose room it was. And in any case, he would have put
Maggie in his room had her visit actually occurred, so it wasn't a lie. Not
really. "Sleep well, Ray. I'll see you in the morning."
Ray nodded and headed for the bed, then stopped and looked back at him. "You
"Not just yet," Fraser said. "It's a bit early for me, though I understand
that between the drive, and the time difference you're quite worn-out."
"You sure you don't want me to stay up?" Ray offered, a faint frown creasing
his forehead. "Because I could. Just give me some coffee."
"I'm sure, Ray. We'll have plenty of time to talk once you're rested. And
in any case, there's a hockey game on."
Ray grinned. "Oh, well, why didn't you say so? I mean, hockey being the national
religion and all, I wouldn't want to keep you from attending services. Night,
then. See you in the morning."
Fraser nodded and left, closing the door quietly behind himself. He could
hear the faint creak of the bed as Ray got into it. He stood there in the
hall for a moment, eyes closed, then sighed soundlessly and headed back to
the living room. He turned on the television, found the game, and turned the
sound down most of the way, but not so far that Ray couldn't hear it a little.
He remembered that when he'd first moved to town, the intense quiet of the
nights after years in Chicago had made it somewhat difficult to get to sleep.
Hopefully the sound of the television would act as white noise for Ray.
Half an hour later he found himself yawning, despite the excitement of the
play. The game was on tape delay, and he had inadvertently learned the final
outcome when he switched channels during the first intermission. Not even
Jarome Iginla's sparkling play this evening could make up for his knowledge
that Calgary's defeat was already assured. He got up and went into the bathroom,
brushed his teeth, and relieved himself. As he started to step out of his
jeans so he could change, he belatedly realized that he had failed to get
a blanket, or anything else to wear from his room before putting Ray to bed
"Proper preparation my ass," he muttered under his breath. It looked as if
he was going to spend the night on the couch in his clothes. Without a blanket.
With a sigh he turned off the television, took off his shoes and stretched
out on the couch, using one of the arm-cushions for a pillow. He had to tuck
his knees up a bit, since it wasn't a particularly long couch. It was also
rather too narrow for a grown man. An all too grown man.
God. How could he have let this happen? He thought about Ray, who seemed to
be happy, healthy, and enjoying his life, and it was obvious that he'd somehow
let his own life slip out of his control. It shocked him to realize that.
How had he let himself get so. . . isolated? Why hadn't he noticed, for God's
sake? He rubbed his thumb across the bridge of his nose and shivered a little.
The house seemed strangely chilly, but he could hear the furnace running so
he knew it was on. He hoped Ray was warm enough.
It was strange how alone he could feel with someone else in the house. Unbidden,
he remembered sleeping with Ray night after night under the white dome of
a tent as they meandered across the arctic in search of a myth. Remembered
sleeping with Ray in a hammock on a frozen cliff, in bedrolls in a female
suspect's back yard, in twin berths on a ship in the Great Lakes, and in an
unfurnished apartment in Chicago as they guarded a gentle, exploited savant.
Never before had there been a closed door between them. That seemed, somehow,
to symbolize everything that had gone wrong in his life since he'd left Chicago
behind. Since he'd closed that door.
Heat burned in his eyes, stung his nose, tightened his throat, and he spread
his hand across his face, as if that could contain his pain. After a few moments
he felt something nudge his hand, heard a soft whine, and smelled slightly-stale
breath. He lowered his hand to find Dief staring at him, for once not looking
superior, or disdainful, but with real concern and affection in his eyes.
He had something trailing from his mouth, and after a moment Fraser couldn't
help but give a choked-off laugh as he realized that Dief had brought over
the hideous afghan that Francesca had made for him.
"Thank you," he said softly as he pulled the afghan over himself.
Dief whuffed, and lay down next to the couch, his head just within reach of
Fraser's hand. Taking the hint, Fraser reached down and ruffled his fingers
through Dief's thick fur, and scratched his ears.
* * *
The first time Ray awoke, it was to the kind of darkness and silence that
he hadn't encountered since his travels in the far north. Way warmer though,
he thought contentedly, nestling beneath the down comforter and slipped back
off to sleep. The second time he woke, the house was still quiet, but the
weak morning sunlight had finally started to push its way in through the bedroom
He reached over to the bedside table for his glasses, and took a look at the
alarm clock. Eight-thirty? That would be . . . ten-thirty, his time. Man,
he hadn't slept this late in months. Knowing Fraser, he'd already been up
for hours, keeping quiet for his sake. Well, no reason that he had to tiptoe
around in his own house. Now that Ray was really awake, there was no reason
to stay in bed . . . except that he was really kind of liking the whole idea
of being in Fraser's bed.
That was something they were going to need to talk about if he could ever
force himself to leave the warmth of the bed and get up and dressed for the
day. No way was this a guest room, not unless all Fraser's houseguests smelled
exactly like him. It was probably weird to be able to pick your ex-partner
out of a line-up by smell alone, but he'd had an intensive training period.
First there had been the Quest. Spending that much time in close-quarters
with someone who didn't have regular bathing opportunities tended to make
you pretty familiar with the way he smelled.
Then, as soon as they'd returned from their adventure, Ray had helped Fraser
get himself sorted out for his move to Saskatchewan. It all happened pretty
fast. Too fast for Ray to get around to unpacking his own things from the
trip. Or maybe not too fast, exactly. Ray just hadn't wanted to unpack, hadn't
wanted to put that particular experience in one of those boxes marked 'done'
he seemed to have been collecting over the years.
After Fraser had left town for good, though, there really wasn't any good
reason to keep a set of duffle bags packed and ready by the front door. He
started to unpack and then about halfway through the first bag, he came across
one of Fraser's henleys crammed in with his own things. He was about to throw
it into the laundry pile with the rest of his clothes, but as he took it out
of the bag, the lingering scent of Fraser on the shirt triggered such
a feeling of loneliness in him - an almost physical hunger for his friend
- that he couldn't bring himself to wash the damned thing and remove what
seemed to be the last link between the two of them.
The henley sat draped over a chair in the bedroom for a few days, but one
night after an absolutely crap day when he was really missing Fraser, he took
the shirt to bed with him and wrapped it around his pillow before going to
sleep. Totally adolescent move, but it helped a little. Made him feel not
quite so alone. A few days later, jerking off with his face buried in that
shirt-wrapped pillow, he realized that his behavior was a little obsessive
even for him, so he'd tossed the shirt in the hamper, but he was never going
to forget that Fraser scent. No way did he want to, either.
Ray wallowed for another minute. Turned his face into the pillow and inhaled
deeply. Yeah, that was Fraser all right. He felt like he'd come home or something.
Yeah. That was it. That was the thing that had been off, been missing,
for two years. He was supposed to be with Fraser. Or Fraser was supposed to
be with him. Either way, same thing. They weren't supposed to be in different
places, damn it.
He took another sniff, pulling the pillow into his arms, nuzzling it a little,
feeling that early-morning wanna-get-off kind of glow starting, and . . .
oohkay. No. That was kind of a wrong thing to be feeling while sniffing Fraser's
pillow. A little too enthusiastic. Fraser would probably not appreciate having
to do that kind of laundry. He guessed that was his body's way of saying 'hey,
been too long!' Maybe he should do something about that later in the shower.
Speaking of Fraser, what kind of nitwit put the guest in his own bed? Freak.
He'd probably figured that Ray wouldn't have taken the bed if he'd known it
was his, and he was right about that. Or at least he wouldn't have taken it
all by himself. But no matter how long Fraser droned on about politeness and
etiquette and whatever the hell else, he wasn't putting Fraser out of his
bed tonight. How bad could the other room be?
He threw the covers off and sat up, planted his feet firmly on the floor,
then took off his glasses for a second and scrubbed his face with the flat
of his palm. He put his glasses back on and then took a pair of sweat pants
from his bag and tugged them up over his hips, pulled on a sweatshirt, and
opened the bedroom door.
He stood in the narrow hallway for a few seconds, listening for a sign that
Fraser was up and about. Apart from the soft hum of the furnace, the house
was still quiet. Not even a sound from the wolf, which maybe meant that Fraser'd
taken Dief out for a walk or something.
Ray glanced at the closed door on the other side of the hallway. The real
guest room. He shook his head and sighed. Maybe he should just move his stuff
over there now. Make it harder for Fraser to raise any dumb objections later
on. He walked the few steps separating the two rooms and turned the door knob.
Okay. He knew Fraser was used to roughing it, but this was nutty.
The room was cold from being closed up, and there wasn't a stick of furniture
in it. The only things in the room, in fact, were a few cardboard boxes and
the arctic camping gear they'd used on their trip. Nothing else, not even
a bedroll on the floor, so he was pretty sure Fraser hadn't slept in here
Ray walked out into the living room. The first thing he saw was Dief, sprawled
out on the rug, with a single open eye fixed on him.
"Hey, boy," he said quietly. "Where's our Mountie?"
Apparently not willing to move any more than necessary, Dief glanced to one
side and made a sound that was almost a moan, and Ray followed the direction
of his gaze.
Fraser. Still fast asleep on a couch that looked to be at least a half foot
too short for him. He had his face half buried under his right arm, probably
to block the light. Ray noticed yet again that his hair was longer than he'd
ever worn it in Chicago. At the moment it was a tousled mess - covering his
forehead, curling around his ears and the back of his neck. He nearly reached
out to smooth it back to a more familiar configuration, then realized what
he was doing and stopped.
As he watched, Fraser shifted a little uncomfortably in his sleep. Looked
like he was shivering a little, too, except the thought of any conditions
being too cold for Fraser short of a full-scale blizzard or a dunk in the
Beaufort Sea was almost too weird for him to contemplate. But . . . people
change. Or maybe he never really had been that impervious to cold, just damned
good at ignoring it.
The slight trembling continued. Ray could see that Fraser's sweatshirt had
hiked halfway up his chest sometime during the night, exposing pale, smooth
skin all the way around. His left arm was curled protectively around his stomach,
as if he were trying to warm himself. He took a step closer and saw that the
goofy-looking moose afghan Frannie had made for him lay crumpled on the floor
next to the couch. Okay, the least he could do was cover him up a little.
He knelt down and lifted the afghan off the floor, rested it on his knee,
He hadn't disregarded anything Fraser had said - or half-said - the night
before. Fraser was unhappy. Really unhappy. And he felt rotten that Fraser
was feeling so bad about his life and hadn't been able to say anything to
Ray about it before this. But none of that altered the fact that all he
wanted to freaking do was just stand here and look. Just like he'd been wanting
to do for the past two years.
And changes or no changes, looking at Fraser made him feel . . . good. He
was feeling that same spreading warmth he'd felt a few minutes earlier while
snuggling Fraser's pillow, that groin-tightening, skin-flushing tingle. Suddenly it hit him. He dropped the afghan again and found himself staring at Fraser,
open-mouthed. This wasn't just a generic, horndog urge to get his
rocks off first thing in the morning. This was directly related to
his feelings for Fraser.
How could he not have known . . . this? He knew he'd missed Fraser. Missed
him every damned day. He honestly couldn't remember a day going by in the
past two years that he hadn't thought of Fraser at least once. Kind of like
the way he used to think about Stella. Or maybe exactly like that.
Holy shit. Considering all of the frickin' clues he'd had staring him in the
face, how could it have taken him this long to put all the pieces together?
Some detective he was. For God's sake, he'd slept with Fraser's shirt wrapped
around his pillow, and he'd gotten turned on! What was that? Just some
giant coincidence? How could he have not figured out that something more than
missing his partner was going on? What kind of a moron was he?
He guessed he was just so used to thinking of Fraser as his friend and partner
that the other stuff had kind of slipped in under his radar. Thinking that
took a little of the 'hey stupid!' sting away, in any case. He shook his head,
then stood up. Okay. Afghan. Feed the wolf. Make coffee. Worry about the rest
of this later.
Easier said than done. He laid the afghan over Fraser and automatically started
to tuck it around him a little, but when his fingertips brushed against Fraser's
side . . . God, that was enough to put all thoughts of fixing breakfast for the
wolf on the back burner, at least for the time being.
Connection. Warmth. Fraser's skin against his own. Whatever it was that was
feeling so good here, he wanted more of it. He spread his fingers on Fraser's
side, slowly. Told himself it would only be for a second or two, no longer
than it would take to feel the rise and fall of Fraser's breath just once.
But the second or two became a minute, and that minute showed no sign of ending,
and Ray was still kneeling on the rug watching him sleep when Fraser blinked
his eyes once and was suddenly - immediately - awake.
"Ray?" A small frown creased his brow. "Is something wrong?"
Ray yanked his hand away, wondering what Fraser would say if he replied, 'yeah,
your ex-partner's gone completely insane.' "No, no problem. I was just . .
. um . . . the afghan. It'd fallen on the floor, so . . . ."
"Ah, I see. Thank you then." Fraser looked around, and his eyes widened suddenly.
"Good lord, Ray! I had no idea it was so late!" he said, sitting up, the afghan
falling off again as he scrubbed his hands over his face and through his hair,
leaving it looking kind of surprised.
Ray shook his head. "I just got up myself, Fraser, don't worry about it. I
was just going to go see if you had any coffee, and maybe feed Dief."
"You certainly don't have to take care of Diefenbaker for me, and I do have
coffee on hand, if you don't mind instant."
"Have I ever minded instant?" Ray asked. "So long as you've got sugar, I'm
"Not a problem." Fraser stood up and headed for the kitchen. Ray, following,
couldn't help but notice the rear view, which he'd once overheard Frannie
raving about as 'one of the greatest tushes on earth.' Yeah. Soft. Round.
Grab-able. He shook his head, smiling.
"Something amusing, Ray?" Fraser asked, glancing back at him.
"Huh? Uh, no. Just . . . happy to be here."
That drew a smile, a slightly embarrassed one, but a smile. It was nice to
see. Fraser got out the jar of coffee, and then picked up the teakettle and
emptied it, refilling it with fresh water before putting it on the stove.
"Hot water coming up," he said as he reached to turn the burner on, he paused
for a moment and looked at his sink, and then back at Ray with a tiny smile.
"Unless you'd rather just use the tap?"
Ray laughed. "Nah, not today. I'll wait for the real stuff." He glanced around.
"What have you got around here for breakfast?"
Fraser hesitated for a moment. "Well, I'm afraid that you've caught me slightly
understocked. I had planned to do some grocery shopping today."
"No problem," Ray said. "I know I surprised you so beggars can't be choosers."
He suddenly remembered the tart they'd brought home from Mathilde's last night,
and looked around for it. It wasn't on the counter. Of course it wasn't. It
was in the fridge. He swung open the refrigerator door and surveyed the fairly
pitiful contents of Fraser's refrigerator.
He wasn't kidding he needed to go grocery shopping. He had a third of a quart
of milk, three sticks of butter, the tail-end of a block of cheese, several
plastic containers of what might be leftovers but judging from the interesting
colors of the contents opening them might be best left to a HazMat team. Half
a loaf of bread, an industrial sized jar of peanut butter, and several bottles
of beer. That appeared to be it. No tart, though. Definitely.
It suddenly dawned on Ray that he'd gone to bed quite a while before Fraser
had. And Fraser had probably gotten hungry and eaten it while he was watching
that hockey game Ray had heard faintly through the door. "Well, no problem,"
he said quickly, not wanting to make Fraser feel guilty for not sharing by
mentioning it. Besides, they shouldn't eat dessert for breakfast anyway. "We
can take my car and head to the store, pick up some stuff. Bagels. Fruit.
Fraser nodded. "Certainly. I'll just feed Dief, and then we can go."
Yawning, he got a can of dog-food out of a cupboard and opened it, spooned
its contents into a large metal dish, added a scoop of kibble from a covered
twenty-gallon plastic bucket by the door, then mixed it all together before
putting it down on a plastic mat.
To Ray's surprise, Dief hadn't appeared as soon as the can was opened. Fraser
seemed a little surprised, too.
"Dief?" he called. "Diefenbaker?"
In answer, they both heard a low groaning sound. Fraser went to the kitchen
door and looked out. Ray followed. Dief hadn't budged from his place on the
rug near the couch. Fraser frowned.
"What's wrong, Dief?"
Dief groaned again. Ray had never seen Dief look green before, but he definitely
did now. Fraser crossed the room quickly to kneel beside the wolf. "Dief?
Are you sick?" He put a hand on Dief's side, and incurred a yelp. He looked
up at Ray, fear in his gaze. "Large dogs can sometimes get intestinal torsion.
I've got to get him to the vet as soon as possible. Would you go in the kitchen
and get a large trash bag from under the sink, and then spread it out in the
back of the Suburban? The keys are on the hook by the kitchen door."
Ray nodded and headed into the kitchen. As he leaned down to get a garbage
bag out of the cabinet, something under the kitchen table caught his eye.
A piece of brown paper bag. Shredded. He looked closer, and saw crust crumbs,
smears of purple and red, a dollop of some creamy substance. Oops. Unless
Fraser had taken to eating dessert under the table without a fork,
he'd just mentally convicted his best friend of gluttony based on circumstantial
"Um, Fraser?" he called out.
"What?" Fraser called back, still sounding a bit panicked.
"I think I figured out Dief's problem. C'mere."
A moment later Fraser was in the doorway. "Ray, we really don't have time
for . . . ." His voice trailed off as Ray pointed under the table. He ducked
down, studied the evidence, sighed, and shook his head. "Oh for God's sake!"
He went to stand in the doorway, staring at Dief with a scowl. "Diefenbaker!"
Ray, standing next to him, had to put his hand over his mouth to keep from
laughing out loud. Fraser sounded exactly, exactly like his dad always
had every time he'd called Ray on the carpet for some transgression or other,
that perfect parental combination of disgust, dismay, disbelief, and disappointment,
all mixed with a healthy dose of annoyance.
"You are a disgrace to your species," Fraser said severely. "Ray was looking
forward to that! What have you got to say for yourself?"
Dief whined apologetically, eyeing Ray. Fraser nudged Ray with his elbow.
"Say something!" he hissed.
"What? Uh. . . Dief, that was pretty uncool. Don't do it again," Ray managed
to say with a mostly-straight face.
Fraser shook his head. "All right. You are going out in the dog run,
because we both know the effect that rich desserts have on your digestive
system, and I am not cleaning up after you. Come on. Up. I know you can walk."
Dief reluctantly got to his feet and waddled toward the kitchen. Fraser went
to the back door and unlocked it, letting Dief out and then walking barefoot
across the snow-spotted yard to let him into an area partitioned off with
chain-link fencing. When he came back he brushed the soles of his feet off
on the mat with a little shiver. "I suppose I should have put my shoes on."
"Yeah, you'll probably catch your death of cold," Ray said with a grin. "Like
anybody ever died from a cold. We need to get something warm down you. You
know what I was thinking? Do you have any oatmeal? Like we had on the adventure?"
Fraser looked thoughtful, and then nodded. "Yes, I believe I do."
"Perfect! We've got breakfast."
"I could make bannock.1" Fraser offered tentatively.
Ray grinned, remembering all the times on the trail that he'd made the oatmeal
while Fraser put together bannocks, and cooked them in a little shortening
in the cast-iron skillet. "Oh, man, that would be so cool. The kind with raisins?"
"If you like," Fraser said.
Fraser opened a cabinet and got down a familiar-looking tin of oats. Ray grinned
and gave him a thumb's up as he got out a church-key to pry up the lid. Ray
opened cabinets until he found the pots and pans, getting a pan out for the
oatmeal and the cast-iron skillet for the bannocks. Using a mug to measure,
he put water in the pot, took off the teakettle, which had just started to
whistle, and put the pan on the same burner. Fraser used the same mug to measure
the oats into the water, and Ray got the salt off the back of the stove and
shook a little in.
Handing Ray a wooden spoon to stir with, Fraser got out a bowl and the flour
and soda and raisins and started on the bannock. Remembering that Fraser would
need some melted butter, Ray cut a piece of butter into their all-purpose
mug, and stuck it in the microwave to melt while Fraser put everything else
together. Periodically stirring the oats, he watched, and when he had everything
ready, handed Fraser the teakettle to pour hot water into the dry stuff to
make the dough.
"You got shortening?" Ray asked, suddenly realizing the bannocks were nearly
ready to cook and he hadn't prepped the pan.
"In the cabinet next to the stove," Fraser said, kneading the raisins into
Ray found the can, dug out a spoonful and dropped it into the skillet, putting
it on a medium flame. Three minutes later, Fraser dropped several irregularly-shaped
pieces of dough into the melted shortening and they both watched as it puffed
and browned, with Fraser turning the pieces with a spatula now and then to
brown both sides evenly. Removing those three to a paper towel to drain, he
put in the second batch. Ray tasted the oatmeal.
"Needs about five more minutes," he announced.
"Good timing. Why don't you make your coffee? I'll watch the stove."
Ray nodded and went to get another mug. "You want some? Or tea?"
"Tea please," Fraser said.
Ray nodded and found the tea in the cabinet he remembered from the night before.
He put Fraser's tea to steep, made coffee for himself, and then got down bowls
and plates for their meal. Fraser scooped oatmeal into the bowls, put three
bannocks on each plate, and they took everything to the table and sat down
The first bite of oatmeal brought a flood of memories. He chewed, swallowed,
and grinned. "I haven't had this in two years. Never thought I'd miss it,
but I guess I did." He picked up a bannock and bit into it, feeling the crisp
surface yield to his teeth, enjoying the tough, chewy inside with its sweet
bursts of raisin. "These too," he said around his bite. "By the time we got
back to civilization I thought I'd never want to see either again, but you
know, they kind of grow on you."
"They do. I'd almost forgotten how good they are, myself," Fraser said, tearing
off a chunk of bannock with his fingers and putting it in his mouth, clearly
As he watched Fraser chew, Ray remembered how shocked he'd been at first,
watching Fraser eat on the trail. He used his fingers, even for things like
oatmeal, scooping with two fingers, licking them clean after each bite. When
they had meat, he often ate it Inuit fashion, putting the whole piece to his
mouth and slicing off the bite with his knife closer to his lips than Ray
liked to think about. Until then, he'd never realized before what a sensualist
Fraser was, and it wasn't just food, either. Sometimes he'd catch Fraser absently
stroking the fur of his parka, or working oil into the dog's harnesses with
slick fingers moving like he was giving a massage. In Chicago he'd really
kept that part of himself under strict control. Now Ray thought he had an
inkling as to why. Given half a chance, and no reason to control himself,
Fraser. . . didn't.
Some bad part of him wondered if Fraser didn't just need some other outlet
for that side of his personality. It was beyond him why Fraser hadn't been
snapped up by now by some sturdy Canadian woods-babe. He was sure they had
those here, he'd seen a whole bunch since he got to Canada, strong-looking,
attractive women in jeans and flannel who reminded him annoyingly of Janet
Morse. When Fraser had first landed here he must have been the primest catch
on the market, but here he was two years later, clearly without any names
on his dance card. Ray just didn't get that.
Now that he thought about it, it wasn't like Fraser had ever had much - well,
any - action in Chicago, but Ray had always put that down to there
not being anyone his 'type' there. It had been pretty clear that Chicago women
had definitely not been Fraser's cup of bark tea. Of course, they hadn't gotten
around to having that heart-to-heart talk yet, either. Could be that there
had been somebody recently, and it hadn't gone well, and that was part of
why Fraser was so miserable. On the other hand, Ray kind of thought that Fraser
would have mentioned a girlfriend if he'd had one.
Fraser looked up suddenly. "Is something wrong with your food?" he asked,
Ray shook his head. "Nah, just spacing out."
It took them only a few minutes to finish eating, and then Fraser collected
the dishes and took them to the sink.
"Can I help?" Ray asked.
Fraser shook his head. "Nonsense, Ray, you're a guest. Sit and enjoy your
Ray shrugged, and picked up his mug as Fraser ran a sink full of soapy water
and started washing up. "So what's there to do for fun?"
"There's a great variety of recreational activity hereabouts: hunting, fishing,
hiking, pleasure-boating, cross-country skiing, skating, even dogsledding,"
Fraser said, looking over his shoulder with a grin. "Though I suspect you
probably wouldn't consider that last recreational."
"Not on a bet," Ray agreed. He thought about Fraser's list, and realized every
one of those activities could be done alone. "But I meant of the more social
variety," he said. "Music? Clubs? Theater? Movies?"
"Well, there is an amateur theatrical group in town, and there are frequent
performances by local musicians, and if you want more diverse offerings, the
drive to Prince Albert isn't bad most of the time."
"Prince Albert?" Ray thought for a moment, remembering the map in his office.
"That's what, two and a half, three hours from here?"
Fraser nodded. "About that, yes, in good weather." He dropped his dishtowel,
squatted to pick it up, then stood again.
Ray found himself watching Fraser's butt through the whole sequence. He'd
never thought he'd say it about anything Frannie-related, but she was so right
about that. He was still trying to figure out how to weasel some information
out of Fraser about his social life when the doorbell sounded.
"Would you mind seeing who's at the door, Ray?"
"Sure. No problem."
He took one last look at Fraser's backside, biting his lip to keep from laughing
at what a freak he'd become as he went out into the living room to answer
He was still grinning as he opened the door, but the grin changed to a slight
frown as he recognized the caller. Ramrod straight in his blue uniform, clean-shaven,
dark blond hair buzzed almost to the scalp, the guy looked like a recruiting
poster for the RCMP, if the RCMP had started recruiting from the Aryan Nations
to beef up the ranks.
"Constable Zhertak," Ray said, leaning against the door frame.
Zhertak's eyes flickered down, then back up, a slight sneer forming as he
took in Ray's casual attire and bare feet, but he gave a single nod of acknowledgment.
"I see you managed to find your . . . friend," he said, an odd tone coloring
"Yeah, I did. Thanks for all your 'help' yesterday."
Zhertak's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, but his expression remained
otherwise neutral. "I'm sure you can understand . . . ."
"Yeah, whatever. So I guess now you're looking for Fraser?"
"Indeed. I need to have a word with Corporal Fraser, if it wouldn't put you
out too much to tell him I'm here."
His words were perfectly polite, but Ray found himself bristling a little
anyway. If this snot was who Fraser had to work with everyday, no wonder his
job was pissing him off. Or at least it would piss Ray off. Hard to tell with
Fraser. He used to have a pretty endless capacity for putting up with shit
- or at least more than Ray did. Whatever. For all he knew, Zhertak was the
nicest guy in the world and he just hadn't noticed yet.
He stepped back and opened the door a little wider. "Come on in. We're letting
the heat out."
Zhertak took two steps inside, then looked around the living room and came
to a stop. "Perhaps I should just wait here."
Ray glanced around the room. It looked a hell of a lot better than it had
the night before, but if Zhertak didn't want to go any further into the house,
that was fine with him. Anyway, he was pretty sure he didn't really want to
share the sight of Fraser's backside in jeans with anyone, and for sure not
"Perhaps you should. I'll get Fraser."
He shut the door behind Zhertak, then returned to the kitchen where Fraser
was just hanging the hand towel to dry over the edge of the sink.
"Let me guess," he said, smiling broadly. "Ray Vecchio is in the neighborhood
and has dropped by for a cup of coffee?"
Ray grinned. "Close, but no cigar. Nah, it's your buddy Zhertak, all dressed
up in Mountie blue and looking like he needs a hell of a lot more fiber in
Almost instantly, Fraser's expression grew serious. He went out to the living
room, with Ray following closely behind, and extended his hand in greeting
to the man waiting by the entryway.
"Constable, good morning."
Even before Fraser had finished his greeting, a startling transformation began
to take place. Apart from the sweater, which was folded up on the couch, he
was still wearing the clothes he'd slept in the night before and his hair
was barely pushed off his face, but the guy who stood before Ray was the self-assured
and exceptionally focused Benton Fraser that he'd been back in Chicago. For
a second, Ray wondered if he was just seeing what he wanted to see, but no,
Zhertak was standing a little straighter, his fingers twitching at his side
like he thought he ought to be saluting or something. All trace of that annoying
smugness had disappeared, at least for the moment, and nothing remained but
a serious Mountie making a report.
"Good morning, sir. I'm sorry to disturb you and your guest so early on a
Sunday morning, but we've just had a report of a fire at Dixon's Masonry,
and as I passed the turnoff to your house, I recalled that you'd expressed
an interest in the earlier incident, and I thought I should stop and inform
"Yorkton relay phoned the detachment?"
"Yes, right after they'd received the initial report. I passed by on my way
here, and Dave seems to have everything well in hand. Fire Control's just
waiting for Helen to arrive from Hull Lake with an additional unit."
Fraser, still nodding, pushed some magazines aside on the coffee table and
Ray watched in shock as he picked up a cell phone. He started to punch in
some numbers, then held the phone under his chin, waiting for his party to
answer, while he slipped his jacket on and started zipping it up.
'Ray? Perhaps you'd see if . . . ."
"Diefenbaker?" Ray asked, guessing Fraser's next move.
"Yes, if you don't mind. We'll meet you out front."
"No problem. Be back in a second," Ray said, heading into Fraser's room where
he shucked his sweatpants and yanked on socks, jeans, and boots, then swung
back through the living room to lift his own jacket off the hook by the door
and shrug into the sleeves as Fraser suggested to Zhertak that the fires might
be related. He headed out back to parole Dief from the dog run, letting Zhertak's
claim that the two fires were just 'a freak coincidence' fade into silence
as he closed the back door behind him. The wolf whined gratefully, a properly
chastened look on his face.
"It's not me you've got to convince," Ray told him. "You just worry about
apologizing to Fraser. He wanted some of that tart, you know?"
Dief barked twice, tossing his head back.
"Don't give me that. You were not just trying to help. Besides, you know how
much he worries about you. He thought you were really sick."
Ray looked sternly at the wolf, but when Dief put his head down on his foot
and whined, he gave up. Being a parent was a lot harder than it looked. "Come
on. We've got work to do."
By the time they got around to the front of the house, Fraser had already
locked the front door and was waiting for them with the engine running. Zhertak
was nowhere to be seen. Ray assumed he'd headed to the scene under his own
steam. He let Dief into the cargo compartment in the back of the SUV where
he flopped down on top of a coil of rope and some other emergency equipment.
Out of habit Ray almost offered to drive before realizing that since he had
no idea where they were going, it probably wasn't a great idea.
Three minutes later, watching Fraser handle the Suburban like he'd been born
in the driver's seat, he realized it was also completely unnecessary. "You
drive a lot up here?" Ray asked.
Fraser spared him a glance as he turned a corner and Ray could see smoke rising
some distance down the road. "Yes. The detachment mandate encompasses both
community and what you would probably think of as state patrol functions.
We work quite a few accident scenes." His expression tightened a little.
Ray nodded. "Saw my share of those when I was a uniform. They're always tough.
What else do you get a lot of up here?"
Fraser's shoulders slumped a little. "Numbers are relative, of course, but
statistically domestic violence, property crime and assault are our most common
offenses. A good percentage of which also involve alcohol or drugs. It's strange,
but I actually had less contact with those aspects of policing in Chicago
than I do here, even though you would think it would be just the opposite."
"Well, you said yourself it's not real exciting up here, and you know when
some people get bored, they start drinking, drugging, and beating on each
other for fun."
Dief suddenly yipped, startling Ray.
Fraser shot a glare back over his shoulder. "You can hold it for three more
minutes, we're almost there. And next time you're tempted to make a pig of
yourself, remember how you feel at this moment."
Ray stifled a snicker. Then he hoped Dief actually could hold it. He didn't
relish being in the car if he couldn't. The plume of smoke got thicker and
heavier as they drove, and Ray started to smell it even with all the windows
up. Finally they pulled up in front of a graffiti-marked warehouse, one section
of which was badly charred, flames still licked feebly here and there. Two
small fire trucks were on the scene, pumping water onto the smouldering mess.
Zhertak was there, standing well back, like he was afraid he'd get his uniform
Fraser set the brake, got out, and went around to let Dief out. Dief immediately
ran for the nearest patch of grass. Fraser shook his head and started towards
the fire trucks. Ray got out, staying on the sidelines so he didn't get in
anyone's way. A small crowd had gathered to watch, and Ray instinctively scanned
the faces, knowing if Fraser was right and it was arson, that the arsonist
might well be in the crowd. No one looked particularly guilty, though a lot
of people looked excited. He guessed that was normal. This was probably more
excitement than they got all year.
Too many years as a cop had Ray itching to do something, even if it was just
helping out with crowd control. But this was Canada, and the crowd was too
polite to need much in the way of policing . Everyone stayed at least fifty
feet back from the fire - the only exception being one gawky teenage boy in
an oversized grey sweatshirt who'd started inching forward to get a better
look the minute the firemen turned their heads. Ray grinned. Apparently being
a teenager trumped being a Canadian, although he could see the kid move back
into the crowd as soon as he noticed Zhertak looking in his direction.
The death glare of that guy was enough to scare just about anyone into hiding.
What was up with him? It was a relief when Fraser waved him over. He picked
his way through the tangle of hoses, to find Fraser still talking to one of
the fire crew.
"Ray, this is Dave Byrnes, head of our fire control unit. Dave, Ray Kowalski,
my former partner from Chicago."
Byrnes removed one of his kevlar gloves and tucked it under his arm, then
extended his hand to Ray. "Good meeting you . . . Kowalski, was it? You got
any family around here? Name's kind of familiar."
Ray smiled. "Could be. I saw a street with my name on it this morning. Maybe
I'm Canadian after all. So . . . you guys find out anything about the fire?"
Fraser shook his head. "Not yet, although the prevailing opinion of the fire
unit seems to be the same as Constable Zhertak's - that this is nothing more
than a coincidental occurrence."
"You know how it is with some of these older buildings," Dave said to Ray.
"Wiring troubles, building materials not up to code. Must be the same in the
Ray was tempted to say that down in the 'big city' the arson guys sort of
liked to check things out before they decided a fire was just an accident,
but he swallowed the words back down and just nodded.
Dave turned back to Fraser. "Anyway, like I was saying, Corporal - you can
dig around in there if you want, but there's no way I'm letting anyone except
my own people in there until tomorrow, not even you. Fires are tricky buggers.
You never know when they're gonna jump back up and bite you on the ass. Really
ought to be left to the experts, if you ask me."
Ray glanced over at Fraser, sure he'd offer some kind of argument that would
get Dave to change his mind, but he just nodded once and said "Of course.
I understand completely."
Okay, he really didn't get this at all. Fraser'd seemed pretty driven when
Zhertak brought the news of this latest fire, and now he was just going to
let it go? Ray was wondering if maybe he should say something when
he happened to look down and see Fraser's index finger curl in slightly and
his thumb extend in the direction of the building.
If this had been anyone else, Ray wouldn't have thought anything of it, but
Fraser was just about the least twitchy guy he'd ever known in his life, apart
from that eyebrow thing, and nothing he'd seen in the past day pointed to
a change in that behavior, at least. Something was up. Oh yeah, something
was definitely up. Just because he didn't have a freaking clue about what
was going to happen didn't mean a damned thing. Partnering Fraser had always
been like this . . . this not quite knowing and knowing completely, all at
the same time. God, this was cool - just like old times. It felt almost like
waiting for a kiss, a nearly sexual tingle of anticipation.
Then Dave started saying something about a cousin who used to live in Milwaukee
in the seventies, and wasn't that pretty close to Chicago?, and maybe Ray
knew him . . .but Ray was barely listening, all his attention focused on Fraser.
And Fraser looked as if he was listening with great interest to Dave's ramble,
except Ray knew - he knew - that Fraser wasn't really paying attention
to Dave either. No, Fraser was with him, focused on him, and Ray could almost
hear Fraser saying, 'Wait for it. Wait for it, Ray.'
Sure enough, a second later, Diefenbaker - apparently recovered from his ordeal
of greed - appeared from out of the blue and made a mad dash past the tape,
past the fire engines, and through Dixon's open front door.
Dave whirled around and stared after him. "Jesus! What the hell was that?
Don't tell me that was that animal of yours, Corporal."
Ray bit down on his tongue to keep from laughing. He should have known better
than to think Fraser would just let it rest. Hell, he never let anything
just rest. Then Fraser, who was already on his third apology to Dave for Dief's
behavior, met Ray's gaze and. . . oh man, all of a sudden Ray didn't know
whether he wanted to laugh at the knowledge that Fraser'd sent the wolf out
on a recon mission or because of the sheer freaking joy of knowing he was
in total synch with Fraser again for the first time in way, way too long.
It buzzed him, made him want to grab Fraser and kiss him senseless . . . which
meant it was probably good that there was a shitload of people standing around
He was dimly aware that there was some kind of Keystone Cops routine going
on nearby, with three of Dave's guys all trying to get into the building at
the same time and succeeding only in getting themselves wedged in the narrow
doorway, but he just couldn't take his eyes off Fraser. And he wanted to say
something, maybe 'See? I can wait for it.' or 'Oh yeah, I got it.'
or maybe even 'Are you feeling this? Are you feeling what I'm feeling?'
and what he was feeling was a kind of warmth that had nothing, and everything,
to do with fire - but just then, Dief leaped out through an open window and
immediately slunk over to hide behind Ray's legs, and the moment passed. But
it had been there . . . and it had felt great.
Fraser knelt down on the ground next to Ray and took Diefenbaker's face in
his hands, forcing the wolf to look at him. "You are not to enter buildings
without my permission. Is that clear?"
Dief gave an indignant moan in response and wriggled back out of his grasp,
tucking himself even more tightly behind Ray's legs. Fraser shook his head
and stood up, wiping the mud off the knees of his jeans as he did so. "Once
again, Dave, I must apologize on Diefenbaker's behalf. Honestly, I don't know
what gets into him sometimes. Ever since he saw a news report in Chicago about
a police dog rescuing a litter of kittens from a burning building, he's been
impossible in settings like this." He looked down at Dief. "Delusions of grandeur."
Dave frowned. "The wolf watches the news?"
"Generally speaking, no, he doesn't. He finds it disheartening. However, stories
about animals hold a special fascination for him."
"Yeah, I get that." Dave nodded. "When I was a kid, we had a dachshund named
Sparky who'd come running into the family room every time Alberta Game
Farm came on the television. What the hell . . . no-harm, no-foul, right?"
he said as he reached down to pat Dief on the head.
With as much dignity as he could muster after being compared to a dachshund
- and sparing not a glance for Dave - Diefenbaker got up from the ground and
loped off in the direction of the Suburban.
Fraser sighed. "Perhaps this would be a good time to take our leave, as well.
"Right behind you," Ray said, instinctively knowing Fraser wanted to go check
out the other crime scene.
Fraser turned to look at Byrnes for a moment. "Dave, If you find you require
any assistance from the RCMP this afternoon, feel free to call on the services
of Bose Zhertak . . . ." Dave glanced doubtfully in the Constable's direction.
". . . or contact me, of course. Let me give you my cell phone number."
After the number was recorded, they took their leave and began to walk to
the car, where Dief was waiting impatiently. As soon as Fraser started the
engine, Ray started to chuckle. "So what did he find out?"
"Dave Byrnes? You were there, Ray. As yet, there's no . . . ."
Ray shook his head. "You know I'm not talking about Dave. I'm talking about
the Pie Pig back there."
"Do you see anyone else in the back of the car?"
Fraser tensed almost imperceptibly, and his eyes darted to the rearview mirror.
Okay, he'd forgotten that along with the coolness of being with Fraser, there
was usually a big serving of weird on the side. Of course, that weirdness
could be kind of cool in itself, at least when the two of them weren't under
fire or sinking in a ghost ship or something.
Ray grinned. "Fraser. Back to earth, here. Dief. Information. Give."
The corner of Fraser's mouth quirked up in a grin of his own. Oh, yeah. Now
they were back to the kind of stuff he'd missed.
As they turned the next corner, Stevensen's came into view. Fraser pulled
into the empty parking lot and shut off the engine.
"Well, Ray," he began a bit hesitantly. "You must understand that while Diefenbaker's
olfactory receptors are far more numerous than our own, he hasn't yet mastered
the ability to catalogue accurately all the odors he detects, particularly
odors of a chemical nature. However, it would appear that the same unusual
smell that I encountered earlier in the week is also present at Dixon's."
The look on Fraser's face as he finished speaking was glum, almost as if he
was resigned to the likelihood that his former partner's response to this
information would be one of complete disbelief, but Ray just nodded and unbuckled
his seat belt.
"Okay, let's get at it, Fraser. Let's see if a second sniff around here turns
As they approached the yellow tape which still cordoned off the art supply
store from the general public, Ray started to chuckle. "Hey, Frase. Tell me
in advance so I can prepare for this. Am I about to be arrested for trespassing
or operating out of my jurisdiction or something?"
Fraser paused for a moment, almost as if he were considering these exact options,
then he smiled and very deliberately raised the tape so Ray could pass underneath.
After forty-five minutes of digging around in the still-sodden mess left by
the fire crew, Ray had to get outside and get some clean air in his lungs.
Fraser swore he could detect 'that scent' he'd noticed on Zhertak in several
places in the building. The only thing Ray's 'olfactory receptors'
could detect was the acrid smell of smoke that still blanketed everything
inside the ruined store.
He moved over to the sidewalk and leaned up against a telephone pole, taking
in the sight of the store in front of him. A few minutes later, the view got
a lot whole lot better looking when Fraser walked through the front door.
Pretty as a picture - too bad he didn't have a camera on him to capture the
image. Ray shook his head. This was his idea of art? He was getting to be
as big a freak as Fraser.
He started to smile at the thought, but in the next instant his smile turned
into a frown.
"Ray?" Fraser called, a slightly worried note in his voice. "Is something
"Nah, just . . . I don't know. You got a tagging epidemic going on up here
in La Rouille?"
"Not that I'm aware of." Fraser started to turn back toward Stevensen's, following
the direction of Ray's gaze. "You're referring to the graffiti low on
the south corner of the building? Unwelcome, of course, but I wouldn't characterize
a single instance of graffiti as an epidemic."
"Neither would I, but I'm pretty sure I saw the same tag back at Dixon's and
in the same place, lower right in front of the building."
Fraser's eyes narrowed. "Hmm. Perhaps we should . . . ."
The two men walked over to the right side of the store, joined by Dief a moment
later. Fraser knelt down on the ground and started to lean in to the stucco
wall, but was stopped short by Ray's hand on his shoulder.
"You going to lick that?"
Fraser's face started to flush, but he met Ray's gaze with a determined look.
"I was hoping to ascertain the source of . . . ."
"No, I figured that, but you're not the only one with a tongue here, you know."
Fraser's eyes widened, and Ray could feel the blush rise on his own face,
when Fraser swallowed hard and said, "Are you trying to tell me that you were
about to volunteer to lick the wall?"
"Hell, no," Ray laughed. "Dief. Come here, guy."
Ray pointed toward the mark, and without a single whine of complaint, Diefenbaker
ran his tongue gingerly over the rough stucco. Ray was about to congratulate
himself on finding the perfect solution to the problem when the wolf turned
his head toward Fraser and started to lick his face more enthusiastically
than a mere expression of affection would warrant.
Fraser's automatic protest almost went unheard under the sound of Ray's gasps
of laughter. "God! There is just no way to keep gross things away from
you, is there? So. . . what does . . . what does it taste like?" he asked,
still laughing too hard to take a proper breath.
"That's it?" Ray looked up at Fraser, still giggling. "Spray paint? Not some
colorful extract of a South American bug that's been smuggled into the country?"
he asked, pulling a typically Fraserish explanation out of thin air.
"Ah. You'd be referring to the cochineal, no doubt."
"A tiny reddish-brown insect which lives on prickly pear cacti and which has
been used as a coloring agent since the time of the ancient Aztecs. But no,
I don't believe cochineal is one of the ingredients in this particular brand
of spray paint."
Ray wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand, and laughed again. "Heh.
Welcome back to the Discovery Channel."
Fraser grinned, then sat back on his heels and stared at the graffiti for
a few seconds. "I find myself at something of a loss here. Is this a word?"
"Sort of. A tag. You know, like . . . like a trademark or a company logo or
something. It's like the tagger's signature."
"Ah. Can you make any sense out of the . . . tag?"
Ray tilted his head to one side and squinted. "Yeah. Yeah, I think so. See
this here at the end? The two vertical lines? I think this is supposed to
be one of those Roman numeral twos. And before that? A couple of letters.
An 'M' in the middle."
"I see. And the first letter would be a 'Zed?"
Ray grinned. "On my planet it would be a 'Zee,' but yeah. That's what it looks
like to me: ZMII."
Fraser pushed himself up off the ground and stood back a bit, eyes slightly
narrowed and focused on the wall, as if by force of will alone he could make
himself see what Ray had seen in the graffiti marks. After a moment, he nodded
his head in satisfaction. "How likely is it that the 'Z' and the 'M' are the
initials of the tagger? Off hand, I can't think of anyone in the vicinity
with those particular initials, but it would provide something to go on, at
least, if the first name begins with a 'Z'."
Ray nodded. "Yeah, the trouble is it's usually a street name or gang name
we're talking about, not someone's real name. Whoever's doing the decorating,
though, probably wants to be known by this tag. The thing is, it's a little
weird seeing it attached to a crime scene. Tagging's vandalism, and yeah,
it's a low level crime all on its own, but you don't really see it used as
the signature for other crimes."
"You said 'the signature' - that these tags look like signatures."
Ray frowned. "What? Yeah, I guess so. It's just that . . . well . . . when
you came outside just now I was zoning a little, just taking in the scene,
and the tag kind of jumped out at me like it was an artist's signature on
a painting or something. Probably doesn't mean anything, though."
"No, you might be onto something," Fraser said emphatically, a peculiar brightness
coming into his eyes. "Let's go back over what we know. Two fire scenes, possibly
connected and the results of arson, with similar graffiti marks placed where
artists have traditionally signed their works. Add to that the fact that both
businesses - Stevensen's Art Supply and Dixon's Masonry - are enterprises
related to arts media."
Ray nodded his head. "Okay. So we've got arson, art, some kind of stinky accelerant,
and a tag with ZM in it."
He looked at Fraser. At the same instant, they both spoke. "Zoltan Motherwell."
"In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, 'It's deja vu all over again,'" Ray
muttered. "Nah, that would be too weird. What would Motherwell be doing up
"Even if he still bore a grudge for the part I played in his arrest and incarceration
in a facility for the criminally insane, the term of his sentence won't be
up for . . . ." Fraser paused to calculate. "Seventeen years, three months,
and fourteen days."
"Yeah? Well that's something I can check on. You got your cell phone with
you, right? I left mine at your place."
"Of course." He took the phone out of his jacket and handed it to Ray.
"Thanks. I'm going to call Chicago, if that's okay. See if Elaine can get
us some news about Motherwell." He started to punch in Elaine's home number,
then stopped. "Call's going to be expensive. I'll pay for it."
"Don't be foolish, Ray. Even if the call wasn't related to a case in my jurisdiction,
you're welcome to anything I have."
"I am, huh?" He grinned as he finished entering the number, and dragged his
brain out of the gutter. "Good to know." Elaine answered her phone with a
cheery 'hello' and he started talking in a rush. "Elaine? Ray. Could you .
"Ray? Where are you? I thought you were visiting Fraser!"
"Yeah, I am."
"Oh, okay. Good. I guess I just didn't expect to hear from you. Did you give
him the presents?"
"Yeah, I did, don't worry."
"Is he there right now?"
"Yeah, he is."
Elaine sighed, and he could visualize her shaking her head. "Well, put him
on! I talk to you everyday; you can wait. Come on!"
"Okay, hold your horses. Jeez." He turned back to Fraser with a grin, holding
out the phone. "She wants to say hi."
Fraser took the phone, and Ray tapped his foot a bit impatiently as they exchanged
"I'd like to thank you for your gift," Fraser said. "That was a very thoughtful
gesture." He paused, then started to chuckle. "Ah. Oddly enough, no. Neither
Ray nor I have been in any physical peril in the past 24 hours." He paused
again and met Ray's gaze. "Yes, he is, isn't he?"
Okay, whatever he was or wasn't, what he wanted to do right at this moment
was yank the phone back out of Fraser's hand and put an end to this conversation.
In fact, the urge to do so was so strong, he had to jam both his hands into
the pockets of his jeans to keep from doing it. What the hell was wrong with
him? Yeah, they had business to take care of, but this was Fraser's turf,
not his, and if he wanted to take a couple minutes to talk to an old
friend on his own damn phone, there was nothing wrong with that.
The trouble was, it felt wrong. In fact, it felt just like when he'd
been given this really cool Erector set for his eighth birthday and his dad
made him give his cousin Billy a turn before he even got to play with it.
He could still remember yelling "It's not fair!" over and over again until
his folks couldn't take it any more and sent him up to his room for the rest
of the day. Crappy birthday. He never even got to eat any of his cake.
He looked up and saw Fraser holding the phone out to him. "Oh. Thanks. Okay,
Elaine? Can you check something out for me?"
"Ray Kowalski, cast your mind back a whole two days to Friday morning. Did
I or did I not say I'd be over at Daniel's this weekend?"
"Oh. Oh, shit. Sorry, babe."
"I am not your babe, Kowalski," she said in exaggerated annoyance.
"Anyway, lay your questions on me; me and Daniel are in weekend date limbo
at the moment, so it's cool."
"Yeah. We're coming down the home stretch in Trivial Pursuit."
"You're what?" Ray put two fingers over the mouthpiece and whispered, "Did
she tell you she's on a date? They're playing Trivial Pursuit." He grinned.
"Ray?" Elaine asked. "You still with me? I didn't catch that last."
"Yeah, sorry. Okay, can you check and see if either Zoltan Motherwell or Greta
Garbo have been released recently. You need a case number?"
"Believe me, I remember them. Are you sure that's really her name?"
"No problem, then. Right after I finish squashing Daniel like the Trivial
Pursuit bug he is, I'll see if their names flag anything, make a few phone
"Great. I'll give you a call back later this afternoon, okay?
"Yeah? Sure I won't be interrupting any . . . um . . . trivial pursuits?
"In the words of a friend and colleague - hardy ha ha ha. Nah, call anytime.
We'll try to keep our unbridled passion bridled for a few hours."
Ray laughed. "Cool. Thanks, Elaine. Later."
He shut off the phone and handed it back to Fraser. "She says she'll check
their status and see if either of their names have come up on any recent reports.
We can call her back in an hour or so; she should have something for us then."
"I thought she was on a date."
"She is, but she's a cop, just like you and me. Case comes first."
Fraser shot him an odd look, and then began to smile. "A cop. Yeah," he said.
Ray looked at him just as oddly, he was sure. "Yeah, what? You're not making
"Yes, I am. For the first time in a while."
Ray shook his head, watching Fraser fondly. "For those of us not living
in your head, what sense are you making?"
Fraser's smile got bigger. "I'm a cop."
Ray got it. He grinned back. "Yeah, Fraser. You're a cop." He reached out
and slung an arm around Fraser's shoulders, hugging him. "A damned good one.
So listen to your hunches, okay?"
Fraser had tensed a little as Ray put his arm around him, but he relaxed some
as he nodded. "I'll endeavor to do so,"
"Good." Ray said.
Man, touching Fraser felt good. Felt right. He didn't want to stop. Which
meant he probably needed to. With a last squeeze he started to let go, but
as he did, Fraser brought up his own arm a little tentatively and put it around
him. Ray looked at him, startled, but trying not to show it, not wanting to
spook him. Fraser looked back, still smiling, though his smile was slowly
fading, turning into an intense, curious expression.
Dief butted their knees with a whine, and they both looked down, startled.
Dief pushed his way between them, forcing Fraser to step back, shaking his
head. "Oh for heaven's sake, Diefenbaker. Learn to share."
Covering his disappointment, Ray leaned down to ruffle Dief's fur. "It's okay,
we like you too." He straightened up and looked at his watch. "So, we done
here?" he asked, feeling a little breathless and hoping he didn't sound like
he was having an asthma attack.
"Done?" For a moment Fraser's gaze was almost like a caress, and then he looked
down at Dief and frowned. When he looked back at Ray, his expression was normal again.
"I believe so. For now, at any rate"
"We got time to do a little grocery run?" Ray asked, his stomach reminding
him how bare the cupboards were at Fraser's house.
"Of course. We'll run by Robinson's Trading and stock up."
"Perfect. Pemmican ho!"
Fraser grinned and motioned him toward the Suburban, Dief bringing up the
God, it felt good to be using his mind again, Fraser thought. To feel like
he was not just existing from day to day, drifting. Even more than
that, to be working with Ray, their duet in harmony again. It was amazing.
It wasn't just policework he'd missed- his time in La Rouille had not been
completely without professional satisfaction, though it was by no means what
he was used to in Chicago. No, it was partnership he'd missed.
Not just any partner, either. If that was all he wanted, there was Constable Zhertak, or his predecessor Constable McKay, or her predecessor Constable Minogue, or any of his former colleagues. He could spend all day naming off former personnel. He could spend all day naming off
former personnel. The list seemed well-nigh endless. No. In just a matter
of hours, it had become crystal-clear that it was Ray he had missed. Pure
He'd known, of course, that he missed Ray. Terribly. He'd been accustomed
to spending a good portion of every day with Ray, both working, and socially.
To go from that, to nothing at all had been. . . well, he strongly suspected
that it was akin to what divorce must feel like. That comparison had seemed
all the more apt, considering the fact that since the day they'd met he had
been plagued by certain highly inappropriate, or, at any rate, inexpressible
feelings toward his partner. Fortunately he'd managed to keep them under strict
control, at least externally. Internally they had definitely not
helped ease the separation.
When he'd left Chicago he had assumed that time and distance would lessen
the attraction. He'd been wrong. He thought about Ray all the time. Missed
him. And the attraction had never lessened. That had been made even clearer
earlier in the day after he'd sent Dief in to investigate the scene of the
fire. He'd turned to find Ray watching him, eyes bright with amused comprehension,
the corners of his eyes crinkled, and his lips curving in a faint smile he
was trying valiantly to suppress. He'd looked - incredible. Beautiful. Their
gazes had caught, and held. Fraser had known he should look away, but couldn't
bring himself to as those long-suppressed feelings had reasserted themselves
with a vengeance.
Ray's eyes had widened, his lips had parted as if he were about to speak,
and then Dief had bounded out, whining excitedly, and the spell was broken.
He'd looked away, only to find Constable Zhertak staring at him with a frown
that let him know that the fact he'd just been staring at Ray like some sort
of lovesick bovine had not gone unremarked. His face had instantly gone hot
and he'd knelt, ostensibly to check and make sure Dief was all right, but
in reality to regain his composure and draw the somewhat battered shell of
his dignity back into place.
Only now, home once more, without prying eyes to worry about, could he relax
a little, and watch Ray for a moment as he found places for the groceries
he'd insisted on paying for. It struck him suddenly that Ray had not seemed
uncomfortable with that extended eye-contact, and had not looked away. He
usually became prickly and defensive when someone stared at him, but this
time he hadn't. Even when he'd appeared about to speak, his gaze had held
steady, not wavered. And it had seemed to Fraser that there had been an oddly
familiar expression in Ray's eyes. Almost . . . longing?
No. No, it was ridiculous to think that. Pure projection. Wishful thinking.
But, still. . . Ray had not looked away. And then, at Stevensen's, Ray had
put his arm around him. He could still almost feel the weight and warmth of
that, and the surprising, full-body response he'd had to that simple touch.
He couldn't believe he'd actually been daring enough to return the gesture.
And Ray had not seemed perturbed by that, either. He wondered, with
some irritation, what might have happened had not Diefenbaker interrupted.
"Man," Ray said, straightening up, a stack of plastic containers in his hands.
"I don't know what these used to be but I think they're beyond hope. I vote
we not even try a salvage operation but just pitch them as is."
Fraser looked at the stack and felt a momentary pang of conscience, which
he ruthlessly suppressed. Ray was right. Some things were beyond salvage and
he'd be better off just starting over, fresh. "An excellent plan, Ray," he
said, going over to open the cupboard which hid the trash bin. "A clean sweep,
as it were."
"Yeah." Ray said, dropping the containers into the bin. They thunked satisfyingly,
and Ray dusted his hands together. "There. You know, between the price of
fresh produce, and Zhertak's nonstop frowny-face of doom, I'm beginning to
understand why you might not be too happy up here."
The casual comment, offered with a half-smile, carried far more weight than
it should have. Fraser turned away abruptly. "I'm afraid neither Constable
Zhertak, nor the cost of living is to blame for my poor attitude. I've achieved
that entirely on my own."
"Somehow I doubt that," Ray said sharply. "That's not the Fraser I know and
love. What's going on? Is it the job? Or is it . . . personal?" His voice
gentled on the last question.
Fraser picked up the teakettle and filled it, just to have something to do.
"It's nothing, Ray, I'm afraid that I'm simply feeling a little envious."
"Envious? Of who?"
"You," Fraser admitted, placing the kettle precisely on the center of the
burner and turning on the heat. "Everything seems to be going so well for
There was a moment of silence, then Ray spoke. "Me?"
He turned around to find Ray staring at him.
"Things are going well for me?" Ray asked incredulously. "On what planet,
Fraser? Welsh can't find anyone who'll partner me for more than ten minutes,
and my social life consists of yakking with Sandor when he brings my Friday
Now it was Fraser's turn to be incredulous. "But. . . you said. . . you were
busy at work, and that you needed 'down time' from your social life."
Ray flushed, clearly embarrassed. "Yeah, well, I am busy at work, but
that's because I have to do twice as much work as a guy with a partner. And
as for the other . . . I didn't want to sound like a complete loser, okay?
And I did need a break from doing the whole 'go out to the bar and think about
picking someone up and taking them home and not doing it because they aren't
who you want to begin with and God knows where they've been, anyway,' routine."
Fraser sorted through that, finally figuring out what Ray had said, and found
himself oddly . . . glad. "Oh," he said. "Why can't Welsh find you a partner?"
Ray laughed softly. "Because you spoiled me for anybody else, Benton Fraser.
Anyway, don't envy my great life, okay, because it's not so great."
"No, I'm sorry. . . I didn't realize . . . ."
"No apologizing," Ray said firmly. "How could you realize anything when I
wasn't really being honest? I should know better than that. Friends don't
"No. No, they don't," Fraser said, making a decision, frightening as it was.
But if Ray was going to be honest with him, how could he not be honest in
return? "And you're right. Things aren't going well here either. I find I'm
in a rather similar position, actually, well, save for the being busy part.
This job has been a nightmare, I'm little more than a glorified traffic-cop.
Whatever skill I may once have had at my job is atrophying from disuse, and
though I realize it's hard to believe, I have even less of a social life here
than I did in Chicago. I don't fit in." He closed his eyes for a moment, head
down, trying to stop himself from just blurting out any more of this . . .
Ray reached out and put his hands on Fraser's shoulder, squeezing lightly.
"Fraser. Benton. Ben. You fit in one place, just right."
The progression of his name, first familiar, and warm, then less familiar,
but warmer, brought his head up rapidly, eyes open, to look into Ray's eyes,
just inches away. They stared at each other for a moment. For several moments.
He was acutely aware of how close Ray was. Of the fact that he could actually
feel the faint movement of air as he breathed. Of how close his lips were.
Of what he had just said. What Fraser knew he meant. In Ray's eyes, he could
see a similar awareness. And then suddenly Ray blinked, and turned red, and
stepped back, his hands falling, then lifting again in a sort of helpless
"I. . . uh. . . sorry about the invasion of personal space there. Don't know
what I was thinking. Um, I'll just go. . . call Elaine back. Yeah. See if
she has any information for us yet. Use my phone, it'll be a local call. It's
in my suitcase."
He dashed for the other room as if there was someone with a flame-thrower
on his trail, leaving Fraser to stare after him a little bewildered, more
than a little aroused, and wondering what, exactly, Ray had meant. In retrospect,
his reaction seemed to make the simple statement more meaningful than it might
otherwise have been, but after a moment's consideration he shook his head.
More wishful thinking. He was too old for that sort of nonsense. He had to
stop letting his imagination run away with him like that. He needed a clear
head, needed to follow Ray's example and concentrate on the case. The teakettle's
whistle shocked him out of his daze and he took it off the burner, turning
off the flame, as he heard Ray approaching, already talking on his phone.
"You did? Yeah? And he's still in the nuthouse? Damn it. I was sure we had
. . . wait! What about her? Garbo? Yeah, I'll wait."
Fraser opened a cabinet and took out two mugs, holding one up and looking
at Ray with lifted eyebrows. Ray nodded, and Fraser kept listening as he made
two cups of strong instant coffee, adding sugar to Ray's. Finally Ray spoke
"Her too? Well, hell. Nah, it's good information even if it wasn't what I
thought. What? He does? Huh, go figure. You wouldn't think they'd let 'em
have Net access, would you? Anyway, thanks. And Elaine, have a good time with
Daniel, okay, and tell him I'm sorry for cutting into your date. Yeah. Bye."
He flipped the phone closed and tucked it into his jacket pocket, then looked
at Fraser with a rueful half-smile. "Both Motherwell and Garbo are still in
the nuthouse, so no go on that idea. I was so sure. . . damn. I guess my hunch-maker
needs a tune up."
"Not necessarily, Ray. You're forgetting the two."
Ray's brow crinkled. "The two what? Elaine already checked both of them out."
"The numeral two," Fraser clarified. "You said the tag read ZMII. That might
imply a copycat, rather than the original, might it not?"
Ray stared at him. "You know those skills you were worried were disintegrating?"
Ray grinned at him. "They're not. Trust me. Hey, you got a computer to go
with that cell phone?"
"Actually, I do, but my laptop had a drive failure last week and I had to
send it in for repairs, however I do have a working computer at my office,"
Fraser offered, feeling a sudden need to get out of the house and into a location
where they weren't . . . alone . . . together.
"Great!" Ray said, brightening. "Elaine says Motherwell has a website. Maybe
we might find something useful there."
"An excellent thought," Fraser said, relieved.
"Pitter-patter then, Fraser, let's get at it," Ray said, taking a step toward
the kitchen door before stopping, staring at the mugs of coffee on the counter.
"Think we've got time for the coffee?" he asked longingly.
"Not to worry, Ray," Fraser said, opening the cabinet again and getting out
two travel mugs. He carefully transferred the coffee from the ceramic mugs
to the stainless ones, put on their caps, and then handed them to Ray. "There."
Ray looked from Fraser to the mugs and then back again, shaking his head.
"We really corrupted you in Chicago, didn't we? TV, cell phone, laptop, travel
mugs. Next you'll be telling me you have a cappuccino machine in the cupboard."
"Don't be silly, Ray. That's at the office," Fraser said blandly as he opened
the door and motioned for Ray and Dief to precede him out to the Suburban.
Ray started to laugh, and then looked at him narrowly as he settled into the
passenger seat and put the cups on the dash so he could buckle up. "You're
"Not at all," Fraser said, letting Dief into the back and then taking his
place behind the wheel. "Constable McKay was originally from Vancouver. She'd
gotten homesick for what she called 'proper coffee' and in an effort to help
our retention rate, I got one for the detachment office."
"Huh," Ray said, thoughtfully. "Did it work?"
Fraser sighed, pulling out of the driveway and onto the street. "Unfortunately
it didn't prove to be sufficient incentive."
"She requested and was granted a transfer to a more urban detachment on grounds
"Hardship!" Ray said indignantly. "Working with you isn't a hardship! What
was she, a lesbian or something?"
"Excuse me?" Fraser said incredulously, staring at Ray in astonishment as
he stopped at the stop-sign.
Ray blushed and looked chastened. "Sorry. Not P.C. there. Its just, most women
would kill to work with you, you know? So I thought maybe . . . ." he let
his sentence trail off and shrugged.
Fraser turned onto the main road and shook his head. "I'm sure Constable McKay's
sexual preferences didn't enter into the matter. She simply wasn't comfortable
in such a rural setting."
Ray nodded. "Yeah. I get that. So do you, I think," he said with a knowing
Fraser nodded. "I wrote her a letter of support."
Ray shook his head. "Why am I not surprised? Hey, I just had a thought. If
we're going to your work, can I be the acting liaison?"
"I'm afraid we haven't time to file the paperwork," Fraser said, suppressing
a smile as he "It'll have to be unofficial this time."
Ray sighed. "No fair. You get all the cool titles."
"Liaison is a cool title?"
"Better than detective."
"I disagree. Liaison always sounds faintly. . . sordid."
Ray chuckled. "Yeah, that's what makes it cool."
Fraser shot him a look, and Ray's smile widened. "Li-ai-son," he murmured
throatily, giving the word a faux-French inflection. "I mean, you just know
when you say it that people are thinking: 'Yeah, I'd like to liaise with him
Ray grinned back, unrepentant. "You know I'm right."
"What you are is incorrigible."
"That's my middle name."
"I thought. . . ."
"My other middle name," Ray said with a look. "God, I've missed this,"
he said with a soft sigh.
"As have I," Fraser admitted.
Ray reached over and patted his shoulder, leaving his hand in place. It felt
heavy and warm even through his coat. They exchanged a look, and then they
both fell silent, sipping coffee from their mugs as Fraser drove. The quiet
lasted several miles, and he thought about what it might mean
that Ray had left his hand there. About his words, and deeds. Perhaps he wasn't
deluding himself. Finally, in the back, Dief whined. Fraser glanced in the
rear-view mirror to see him looking worriedly from himself to Ray and back.
"It's all right," he said softly.
Ray turned and looked too. "Yeah. Sometimes quiet's okay, you know? Just means
you don't have to always be shooting off your mouth to be comfortable with
Dief made a sound suspiciously like a snort.
"That will be quite enough out of you," Fraser said severely. "You haven't
exactly taken a vow of silence yourself."
Ray laughed, and then shaded his eyes. "That's it up there, isn't it?"
Fraser nodded, seeing the national and provincial flags waving in the wind
up ahead. "Yes. You were here before, as I recall."
"Yeah. I think Zhertak thought I was a stalker or something. Hey, you know,
if he's always that suspicious, he'd know if there were any new faces in town,
"He would," Fraser allowed. "But then, so would I, and there aren't. Well,
aside from you," he said, pulling in to his assigned space in the small parking
lot. "So, should I arrest you for arson?"
Ray held out his wrists as if ready for cuffing. "Well, if you really want
to, sure, but I warn you, I've got an iron-clad alibi. I spent the night with
A feeling of deja vu shook him. Ray in his office at the Consulate, in trouble,
coming to him for help. Trusting him to help. That feeling was quickly followed
by an odd surge of embarrassed arousal. Was Ray . . . flirting with him? He
looked into Ray's eyes, and what he saw there made him bold. "Yes, well, be
that as it may, since you weren't actually sleeping with said Mountie,
he would be hard pressed to verify your alibi."
Ray sighed and snapped his fingers. "Damn. Blew that one," he said with a
wink and a grin. "Guess tonight I better make sure my alibi is solid," he
said, and then he opened the door and got out.
Fraser stared at him for a few seconds, completely stunned, but as Ray walked
around to let Dief out he scrambled to unfasten his seat belt and follow.
He had no idea what to say. Had no idea what to do. Had no idea. . . about
anything at all. But he had what felt like a foolish smile on his face as
he escorted Ray into the detachment.
* * *
Ray had a hunch. A completely non-case-related hunch. One that had been getting
stronger ever since he'd looked up to find Fraser staring at him back there
outside of Dixon's. One that had set off more flashing lights and sirens in
his head than a Vegas slot machine when Fraser put his arm around him outside
Stevensen's. But he knew better than to try and make a case without any solid
evidence, so that was what he was after now. Real evidence. Something he could
touch. And there was really only one way he knew of to get the kind of evidence
he needed, so he did it. And his first foray had just gotten a pretty strong
positive response - if Fraser's big goofy grin was any indication.
Once inside the bunker-like detachment building, Fraser introduced him to
their dispatcher, Sally Cardinal, a Cree woman in her early fifties who bore
a startling resemblance to Sophia Loren. She was a lot friendlier without
Constable Jerklike hanging around looking at him suspiciously and offered
him a home-made oatmeal cookie. He almost took one, but then Fraser declined
and he decided it wouldn't be very nice to eat in front of him when he was
actually making an effort, so he thanked her, kindly, and followed Fraser
back to his office.
"Hey, no storage boxes?" he said, looking around in mock amazement. "What's
the world coming to?"
"Well, I did try, Ray, but Sally said they were a fire hazard, and since her
significant other is the La Rouille fire control supervisor I'm afraid I had
to do as she said," Fraser said with utter nonchalance, leaning down to turn
on his computer. "Why don't you have a seat, I'll go get a second chair."
Ray sat, and was still chuckling softly when Fraser wheeled a second office
chair into the room and maneuvered it around the rest of the furniture to
park it next to Ray. From his vantage point behind the desk, it suddenly dawned
on him that the setup of the office looked awfully familiar. "Hey! This is
Fraser looked at him blankly. "Excuse me?"
"You've got it set up just like Welsh's office. Couch in the same place, chairs
in the same place. Blinds."
Fraser looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time, his expression
thoughtful. "Now that you mention it, I can see the similarity. How odd."
"Hey, it makes sense to me. Welsh is a good guy, and you and I spent a lot
of time in that office. Probably reminds you of . . . . ." Ray barely managed
not to say 'home' and scrambled for a replacement ending. "Well, reminds you
"Indeed," Fraser said, looking around again with a faint smile. "So, did Elaine
give you the website address or do we need to search?"
"Nah, I got it," Ray said, typing, as Fraser sat down, scooting up next to
him so they could both see the screen. It was kind of distracting having Fraser
so close that Ray could actually feel the warmth of his body there. He ended
up mistyping the address twice. Fraser cleared his throat, and Ray blushed
a little and typed more carefully and got it, finally.
"Burnitdown-dot-org?" Fraser asked. "How. . . original."
"Yeah, well, the guy's got a fixation. That's why he's in the looney bin."
"Mental health facility."
"Looney bin," Ray repeated.
Fraser's voice had that faintly annoyed tone that Ray loved to provoke. He
turned his head to grin at him and found they were practically nose-to-nose.
And Fraser was looking amused, not annoyed. His eyes were bright with it,
and his mouth curved upward, and they were so. . . close. . . and then Fraser's
gaze dropped a little, just a little, and Ray knew he had to be looking
at his mouth and he found his own gaze moving lower, to that slightly lopsided
smile, and he knew if he leaned forward even just a little he could . . .
A deeply offensive crappy-tinkly version of an old Doors tune began to play
through the computer speakers, and he snapped his gaze back to the screen,
feeling heat in his face, and elsewhere as he scrabbled for the mouse to see
if he could figure out how to turn it off. Fraser reached past him and turned
the sound off on the speakers. Ray sighed in relief. "Thanks. Couldn't handle
"So I see," Fraser said.
Damn him, he still sounded cool and calm and not at all rattled. Ray snuck
a sideways glance at him, though, and his face was a little pink. Okay. Okay,
good. Not just him, then. He returned his gaze to the screen and looked at
the options. Home. Duh. Links. Maybe. History. Nah. Wait. . . there. That
was what they wanted."He's got a message board! Perfect!" he said as he hit
the button. The next screen asked him if he was registered. He clicked 'no'
and it directed him to a registration area. "Crap."
"It's all right, Ray. I believe it's an automated script generated by the
software. Give it a screen name."
"Like what? Harry Callaghan? Paul Kersey?"
Fraser smiled. "Those might tip our hand. Hmm, how about FH451?"
Ray had typed it in before it dawned on him what he was typing, and he grinned
and nudged Fraser with an elbow. "Bradbury. Smart. I like it."
"Thank you, Ray."
"What do I put for location?"
"I suggest any place other than Canada or Chicago."
"Good idea." He typed in Arizona. "Occupation?"
"I suppose 'arsonist' might be a tad obvious," Fraser mused.
"Just a little. Librarian."
"Why twenty four?"
"Old enough to have a job but young enough to still be reckless."
"Works," Ray said, putting it in. "Pretty nosey for a piece of software,"
he commented as he clicked on the button to complete the registration.
"Marketing research, probably."
Ray stared at him. "Marketing? For an arsonist?"
"For the company that makes the software. There you are. The registration
was accepted, you can now continue to the message board."
Ray nodded and watched as the page loaded. "Bingo. Archives."
Fraser nodded and leaned closer. Really close. Ray could hear the soft sound
of an indrawn breath, could feel his hair stir a little in the faint current
of air. Then Fraser . . . sniffed. Not as in sniffled. Sniffed. Breathed in
smell. And then he did it again. "Are you smelling me?" Ray asked,
not daring to look away from the computer screen.
"I was, yes. You smell very nice."
He smelled nice? He. Smelled. Nice. Fraser thought he smelled nice. He was
still staring at the computer but his eyes wouldn't focus. And he had to know,
once and for all. "Fraser, are you flirting with me?"
There was a fraction of a second's hesitation before Fraser replied. "Yes."
Ray had to suppress the urge to leap to his feet and pump a fist in the air
while whooping loudly.
"Is that going to be a problem?" Fraser asked softly.
Ray shook his head, grinning. "Nope, no problem at all." He leaned back in
his chair, his shoulder brushing Fraser's chest.
"Good," Fraser said, without any hesitation at all this time, his hand coming
up to rest on Ray's shoulder.
Ray couldn't stand it any more. He turned his head. Fraser looked. . . looked
like somebody had turned a light on inside him. He smiled. Fraser smiled back.
Ray licked his lips. Fraser closed his eyes for a moment, and drew in a long,
slow breath. Oh, yeah. Yeah. On the same page. Finally.
"Excuse me, sir, but could I see you for a moment?"
Startled, they both jumped a little. Zhertak was standing in the open doorway,
regarding them with a sour expression. Fraser moved his chair back a small
amount, and ran a thumb across his eyebrow. "Of course, Constable, what can
I do for you?"
Zhertak's gaze slid to Ray, and back to Fraser. "In private, sir?"
Fraser nodded and stood up. "Ray, see what you can find in that archive, and
I'll be right back."
Ray watched him go, wanting to go after him, instinctively sure Zhertak was
going to bitch about something - probably him. The guy seemed to have had
it in for him ever since he'd rolled into town. Ray didn't know if he didn't
like Americans, strangers, him personally, or was just an asshole on general
principles. Of course, considering his build, it could just be the steroids.
He turned his attention back to the screen, clicking through the archive to
get a feel for the tone of the board. Most of the messages seemed to be from
a bunch of people who were way too in love with the sound of their
own keyboards, all going on for page after page about how the world had to
go through a new baptism of fire. The rest of the posters didn't have a philosophical
agenda, as far as he could tell. They just thought that fire was pretty or
Most everything came back to fire, though, one way or another. Every so often,
someone posted an 'exciting offer' for a long distance calling card, but they
were chased off pretty damned fast by the regulars. Matter of fact, the only
off-topic poster who didn't get this treatment was someone named 'Omega.'
He didn't seem to post anything except random quotes from poems and songs,
but people seemed to like his stuff, given all the "Yes!" and "Okay!" responses
that always followed his posts.
The responses to his posts all came from the same eleven people, too. No,
twelve, including 'Little Nero,' who'd just started posting last Tuesday.
Right before . . . right before the fire at Stevensen's.
Ray looked around on top of the desk for something to write with. Nah, nothing
there. He pulled open the center drawer and started fishing around for a pen
or pencil. Empty Kit Kat wrapper. Packet of Fig Newtons. Half a dog biscuit.
Rubber duck? Aw Jeez. He'd wondered where the duck he used to keep on his
desk at the 2-7 had got to. Looked like Fraser took it with him when he left.
Okay, there, a pen. As he pulled it out of the drawer, he started to get a
creepy feeling, like he was under surveillance or something. He looked over
toward the office door, and yeah, there was his buddy Zhertak staring at him
with his hands in the desk, then looking pointedly at Fraser. What did he
think was going on? A daring theft of the state secrets that Fraser had stuffed
into a cookie for safe keeping?
Ray really wanted to pop him one, but Fraser moved into the doorway
of his office and stood between him and Zhertak, then looked at his watch.
"Ah. Just look at the time. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Constable."
"Are you certain you wouldn't like some assistance?" Zhertak asked, peering
around Fraser and looking at Ray.
"No need," Fraser said, ushering him out toward the front door. "It wouldn't
be fair to keep you any later than I already have on your day off. Have a
pleasant afternoon, and I'll see you bright and early tomorrow."
Sally looked up from her budget report as Fraser shut the front door behind
Zhertak, and grinned, but said nothing before returning to her work.
When Fraser returned to his office, Ray leaned back in the chair and smiled.
"The Iceman Goeth."
Fraser looked blankly for a moment, then nodded in recognition. He leaned
back in his own chair and shook his head. "Do you know, Ray, until you arrived,
I had managed to fool myself as to how disagreeable that man is."
'Yeah," said Ray. "But me being around isn't improving his personality, is
it? No one can be that big a pain in the ass all the time."
Fraser sighed. "I have to admit, he's not generally so . . . well, he's not
generally quite this annoying. But the truth is, all too often I find myself
wishing I could put some of Meg Thatcher's practices to good effect, perhaps
see my way clear to sending him out to pick up my dry cleaning occasionally."
Ray chuckled, but Fraser leaned forward in his chair and frowned. "Ray, I
. . . I wasn't quite that insufferable, was I?"
How could he think that? "You mean because Thatcher . . .hell no, Fraser.
Never." He reached over and placed his hand on Fraser's arm." "Never, you
hear me? Anyway," he said, after a pause. "She was way more insufferable than
Fraser glanced up at Ray and started to laugh. "Thank you kindly, Ray. I think."
Ray squeezed his arm again. "Freak," he said affectionately. Okay, sitting
next to Fraser, hand on his arm, laughing together. Yeah, this was good. Maybe
even better than in Chicago because Ray really couldn't remember a whole lot
of sitting around laughing and touching each other back then. Why not? Why
the hell not? He glanced back at the computer screen and shook his head. Yeah,
okay, maybe he remembered why not. It was because they were usually too busy
with their cases to pay attention to anything else when they were together.
And because, well, maybe even back then some part of him had known if he got
started touching Fraser he might not. . . stop?
Fraser looked out the door of his office, and under his hand Ray felt him
sag a little. "Actually, though, I suppose I should have let him stay. After
all, this has now become an official investigation."
Ray looked at him and frowned. "We don't need him. We're partners. A duet.
We always solved stuff just the two of us, why change now? It might jinx us."
Fraser looked back at him intently, and Ray felt himself turning red. "And,
uh, maybe I don't want to share you, okay?"
A long look passed between them, unbroken until the front door to the detachment
opened and a trio of giggling young girls dashed in, all talking excitedly
to Sally about their victory against Prince Albert's girl's hockey team and
grabbing at the oatmeal cookies Ray and Fraser had turned down earlier. None
of the girls showed the slightest interest in wandering back to Fraser's office,
but both men quickly turned their attention back to the website archive.
"Okay, Fraser," said Ray, clicking back through the screens he'd been looking
at while Zhertak had Fraser out of the room. "Take a look at this. Most of
the threads are political rants, art appreciation, that sort of thing. But
these here - the ones started by this Omega guy - are just, like, poetry and
songs and stuff. Now, on this message board, off-topic posts usually get people
flamed . . . ."
"Yeah. You know, you get an inbox full of people cursing you out, insulting
your dog's family tree, that sort of thing."
Fraser smiled. "I'm familiar with the definition of 'flame,' Ray. I was just
struck by the appropriateness of the term in this particular situation."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Okay, so like I was saying before you were struck -
Omega's getting the 'net equivalent of a bunch of bobble head dolls nodding
at everything he says, and everyone who responds has been a regular on the
board for a long time, except for this Little Nero, who just started replying
to Omega's messages last Tuesday."
"The day before the first fire took place."
"Interesting." Fraser leaned forward and held his hand over the mouse. "May
"Sure," said Ray, but he held his hand there a moment or two longer than was
absolutely necessary so that Fraser's fingers brushed against his as he was
moving his own hand away.
He laughed to himself. This was as bad as being thirteen again and taking
Stella to horror movies just so he'd have an excuse to put his arm around
her. Actually, back then, the idea of daring to touch any girl, much less The
Stella, seemed a hell of a lot more scary than Linda Blair's 360 and pea-soup projectile vomiting, so maybe this wasn't quite as bad. When he was a kid, it used to take just about the whole film before he could get himself to 'accidently' brush his hand against her elbow or her
shoulder, and half the time he couldn't even tell whether she noticed or not.
No way was Fraser not noticing, not if the grin on his face was anything to
"You find something?"
"Not precisely. I'm just considering the use of the pseudonym 'Omega.'"
"Yeah," Ray said, drawing up closer to Fraser. "It's got to be Zoltan Motherwell.
Last letter of the Greek alphabet like Zee's the last letter of our alphabet.
And 'omega' - makes sense that a guy who's all about bringing an end to things
would pick a name that usually means 'the end.'"
Fraser turned toward Ray. "I wasn't aware you were familiar with Greek, Ray."
"I'm not. I'm familiar with sitting on my butt in church during sixteen years
of Easter services. Huh."
"What is it?"
"Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. I'd forgotten until now, but
there was this Obrzed Swiatla - this service of light - every year
on Holy Saturday. Used to scare the crap out of me when I was little 'cause
they'd turn off all the lights in the church and we had to sit there in the
dark, thinking about the darkness of a world without God.. I, um . . . I really
didn't like the dark much back then. Anyway, as soon as everyone started to
freak out in the church, they'd light this really huge bonfire."
"So, then they'd light this candle off the bonfire, and the candle was decorated
- Alpha and Omega, the cross, that kind of thing. I used to draw pictures
of it in Sunday school."
"This seems to have made quite an impression on you."
"Yeah, well like I said, I really didn't like sitting around in the
Ray wondered for a minute whether he should be feeling more embarrassed about
telling this story than he was, but Fraser just nodded. "Anyway, it's got
that fire connection again."
"Indeed it does, as do the poems Omega is posting. Take a look at the Tuesday
night poem, Ray."
To show the lab'ring bosom's deep intent,
And thought in living characters to paint,
When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learn from thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight?
Still, wond'rous youth! each noble path pursue,
On deathless glories fix thine ardent view:
Still may the paint's and the poet's fire
To aid thy pencil, and thy verse conspire!
And may the charms of each seraphic theme
Conduct thy footsteps to immortal fame!
"Who's that? Shakespeare?"
"No, actually it's a poem by Phyllis Wheatley, who was . . . well, that's
not important at the moment. What is important is that not only does the poem
refer to fire - in this case, the 'poet's fire' - but it also alludes to paint
and pencil. Looking at Omega's choice of poems, it appears that each work
contains both a reference to fire and some form of art media. Although . .
"I seem to have come to an impasse with the next poem. I can't place the author
or the art medium to which the poet refers."
Fraser clicked on the post in question and shifted slightly to the right so
that Ray could get a better view of the screen.
He read the first few lines
- You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain / Too much love drives a
man insane / You broke my will, oh what a thrill - and started to laugh.
"What's so amusing, Ray?"
"Nothing really, except we finally hit some poetry I do recognize.
Jerry Lee Lewis, Fraser - 'Great Balls of Fire.'"
"Ah. And its connection to an art medium?"
"I don't know, unless . . . okay, Dixon's Masonry. That's what got set on
fire the night this was posted, right?"
"Okay, simple. It's rock and roll. Stone, rock . . . you know?"
Fraser looked pained. "I believe I 'get it.'" He frowned thoughtfully. "You
know, Ray, if Omega's messages really are some sort of arsonist's primer,
then judging by the interpretations we've seen, it seems to me that we're
dealing with someone with a rather literal mindset. Juvenile, one might even
Something about that nagged at Ray, but he couldn't quite tease it out of
his subconscious. He knew better than to try too hard, though, because then
he'd never get it. "Okay, so let's take a look at the most recent stuff from
Omega," he said to distract himself. "See what his next suggestion is."
Fraser scrolled down and found a post dated earlier in the day. He brought
up the window and read aloud.
"'Outcast, a horror to his kind,
At night he to the forest fled.
There, the birch-bark made fire for him,
The brown fern made a bed.
The river murmured lullaby,
The moisty mosses breathed of balm,
The clean stars carried light to him,
Unterrified and calm.
Aye, as they would have served a saint
Freely all served the guilty guest'. . . ."
Fraser paused, his forehead furrowing.
Ray sensed weakness and went for the kill. "Okay, who's that by?"
Fraser's frown deepened. "I feel I ought to. . . it's very familiar, yet I
can't seem. . . ah!" His face brightened. "Yes, of course. Grandmother's correspondent
from New Zealand. Blanche Edith Baughan. I believe the work is called 'On
the Just and the Unjust.' As I recall, she was quite a proponent of penal
Ray snorted. Fraser rolled his eyes. "Penal, Ray. As in prisons."
"Spoilsport," Ray said with a grin. "So, he's talking about guilt."
"Indeed. And fire, yet again."
"But we still have no idea how the copycat decides what fires to set."
"Yes and no. We do know that, as I said, he or she is very literal-minded.
So, what's in the poem that we can work with in a literal fashion?"
Ray read the poem again, and felt his stomach clench. "Oh, shit. He's gonna
set a forest fire?"
Fraser frowned. "Hm. I don't think he's quite ready for something that large
yet, although I suppose we can't discount the possibility. I think I'd best
make a call to the park officials and let them know to be on the alert. However,
I do think he's still working up to something on that scale. So far his targets
have all been local, and relatively small."
Ray read again. "I don't know, Benton. Not much there. Birch-bark, brown fern,
and moss? Pretty basic stuff. I don't think a campfire is going to get this
perp off. Not after two buildings. What are you looking at me like that for?"
he asked, looking up to see Fraser staring at him in surprise.
"Benton," he said.
"Um. . . yeah." Ray felt his face getting hot. "That okay?"
"Very much so," Fraser said, then he cleared his throat. "Birch-bark, brown
fern, and moss. You're right about that not being much to work with."
"Anything you can make from that stuff get made around here? Anybody use it
for anything? Maybe a florist?"
Fraser frowned again, and his gaze lifted, looking over the computer, at the.
. . wall? Ray looked. Didn't see anything but a weird-looking picture of dragonflies.
It was pale brown, with darker brown patterns in it, repeating, almost geometric,
kind of like those snowflakes that kids make by folding paper and cutting
with scissors, only it didn't have holes in it.
"Birch-bark bitings!" Fraser said suddenly.
"Huh?" Ray asked, feeling lost.
"It's an artistic endeavor indigenous to this region, Ray. First Nations women
once used them as beading patterns but in the last decade or two the bitings
themselves have become prized as an art-form. That's one there on the wall."
That explained that. "So it's made from birch-bark?"
"Yes, it is, and quite flammable. In addition, we have one of the region's
foremost practitioners and teachers of the art living right here in town.
Her English name is Hannah Moss."
They stared at each other for a moment.
"Moss." Ray said.
"You think he'll hit tonight?"
"Quite possibly, since he's had time not only to select a target but also
to do at least some rudimentary planning. He seems to act within twenty-four
hours of the time that the poem is posted, and the poem did say 'at night.'
You realize, though, it may not be a 'he' at all."
"Yeah, true. Maybe we've got ourselves another Greta. In which case. . . you
got a vest around here? And a spare?"
For a moment Fraser looked like he was going to protest that, but then seemed
to think better of it and he stood up and went to the door of the office.
Sally turned around. "Yeah, Corporal?"
"When you have a moment, would you get two Kevlar vests out of inventory and
bring them in?"
She frowned. "We got a problem? There's nothing on the wire about any A&D's
in our area."
"No, not that I'm aware of. It's simply a precautionary measure. Speaking
of which, please alert the Forest Service to double their firewatch until
further notice. We have reason to believe we have an arsonist operating in
the area and there is a chance he might move to a larger target."
She nodded thoughtfully. "I'll get right on it."
Fraser came back to the desk. "I'll call Hannah and let her know we're on
our way over to check for anything suspicious."
Ray nodded, and scooted his chair a little so Fraser could get to the phone
that was on his side of the desk. Which put his crotch about eight inches
from Ray's nose. He manfully resisted getting closer. It was Fraser's office,
after all, and the door was open and there was all that glass. Plus he figured
that soon as he did, Zhertak would pop up again. So, save it for later. Save
it for sometime private, when they had time. Lots of it. He decided to make
himself useful and print out the messages to start an evidence file. Turning
back to the computer, he sent the first two files to the printer, and then
got a popup telling him there was a problem. He sighed.
"These things hate me," he complained. "Make it print."
"I see some things never change," Fraser said, pausing with the phone handset
in one hand as he leaned over to turn on the printer, his groin brushing Ray's
He shouldn't. But it was pretty much irresistible. Ray tilted his head, looking
up, and Fraser froze, looking down, as the back of Ray's head came into contact
with his fly. Fraser's tongue flickered across his lips as faint color rose
in his face. Ray gave him his best wicked smile, and then slowly rolled his
head a little, as if he was easing out a stiff neck. The faint blush went
bright pink, and Fraser coughed, reaching for Ray's hair, then quickly snatching
his hand away before he could make contact and stepping back to put several
inches of air between them.
"Ray!" he hissed.
"What?" Ray said innocently. "I've got a sore neck."
"I see," Fraser said. "Perhaps I should get you an aspirin. Or some liniment."
"Nah, that's okay. It's better now."
"That's too bad."
Ray stared at him. "Huh?"
Fraser smiled almost as wickedly as Ray had done earlier. "I simply thought
you might enjoy a . . . massage later." Suddenly, as if taken aback by his
own comment, he flushed darkly again, one hand splaying out across his stomach
in a nervous gesture. "I . . ah. . . that is. . . I mean. . . ."
Ray held up a hand, cutting off his babbling. "Hey, you never know, Benton,
it might get sore again. So just keep that idea for later, okay?"
Fraser looked a little surprised, and then still blushing, he nodded and turned
away, dialing the phone with singular concentration. Ray shifted his attention
back to the computer and started printing again, listening to Fraser's half
of the conversation. It was kind of funny only hearing half, and pauses, because
he could sort of fill in the other half from his imagination.
"Yes, good afternoon, this is Corporal Benton. . . ah, yes. Yes, ma'am. Indeed.
Yes it is. I did, actually, I was wondering if my partner and I might stop
by and speak to you for a few minutes. No, not about the tickets, you know
you have to deal with the Crown on that score. What? Oh, no, certainly not.
No, I meant, well, frankly I misspoke, he's not precisely my partner, although
he used to be when I lived in . . . . Yes. Yes, he is an American. I see.
Certainly. Yes, we'll be right over. Can I. . . oh. I'm sorry to hear that.
Yes, I could do that. Anything else I can bring you? Well, then, good bye."
He hung up the phone and turned to look at Ray. "She said . . . ."
Ray interrupted. "She said you should come over and bring that weird American
guy so she can get a look at him, and she asked you to pick up something at
the store for her on the way, right?"
Fraser looked a little startled. "Actually, yes. How did you know that?"
"I'm psychic. What'd she get a ticket for?"
"Speeding. She drives like the proverbial bat out of hell," Fraser said with
a grimace. "And it's not just a ticket. It's eleven, in the past eight
months. She's had her license revoked, which is why she's asked me to stop
by the store. Her daughter, Mary, was supposed to come yesterday morning and
drive her out to the Reserve for her regular weekend visit but she's ill and
unable to come, so Hannah's stuck at home and bored and is dying to meet you,
and she's nearly out of coffee."
Ray stood up. "Well, we can't let that happen to the nice lady. Caffeine deprivation
is not a pretty thing. What are we waiting for?"
"One last thing. I need to send an email, it will only take a moment. If I
may?" He nodded at the chair Ray occupied.
"Oh, sure, no problem." Ray exited the chair and Fraser took his place.
"I thought it might be prudent to alert the RCMP Technical Security branch
about the existence of this website so they can begin a threat and risk assessment,"
Fraser said as he typed at his usual super-speed. "We may not be the only
community affected by Mr. Motherwell's literary efforts."
Ray nodded. "Yeah, good call. From the looks of it, there's a dozen other
wackos who may or may not be playing this game."
Fraser finished his email, and shut down the computer. "As you say. Now, we
can go see Ms. Moss."
Ray nodded, and headed out with Fraser at his heels, and nearly ran into Sally
who was carrying two Kevlar vests.
"You want these now, Benton?" she asked, holding them up.
"Yes, thank you Sally." He reached past Ray and took them, then extended one
to Ray. "Here you are. We can just duck into the men's room for a moment and
Ray nodded and let Fraser lead the way. The men's was a single-seater, but
large enough to accommodate both a prisoner and a guard. Ray locked the door
out of habit and then peeled off his sweater and settled the familiar weight
of the vest around himself, over his t-shirt, tightening the Velcro straps
until it fit. That done, he looked up to find Fraser standing there, still
holding his vest, with an anxious look on his face.
"What? What's up?" Ray asked.
Fraser shook himself a little and seemed to snap out of whatever he was in.
"Sorry. I'll just wait for you."
"Wait for me, why?" Ray asked, frowning. "Just put the vest on so we can go
play Mr. Coffee for the nice lady."
Fraser looked at him, then looked down, two little spots of red burning on
his cheeks. "Yes. Yes, of course. Would you mind holding this for a moment?"
he asked, holding out the vest to Ray.
"Sure." Ray took it, and Fraser turned around, facing away from him, and slowly
lifted his own shirt, pulling his arms free but leaving it bunched around
his neck. Then he reached back a hand somewhat awkwardly.
Ray didn't understand why Fraser was acting so shy all of a sudden, but he
knew he was going to have a hard time getting it on like that, so he ripped
the straps open and slid it around Fraser's torso for him like he was a little
Fraser stiffened and pulled away, holding the vest in place as he quickly
did up the straps and then awkwardly yanked his henley down over it. Clearing
his throat, he turned back to face Ray and gestured at the door. "Shall we
Ray followed him, wondering what stick he'd got up his . . . okay. He wasn't
going to think about that right now. He stopped at the drinking fountain for
a minute to gulp down a few swallows and take a minute to recover from his
wayward thoughts. Fraser went on to the door and stood there waiting. Straightening,
Ray headed for the door and on the way past Sally's empty desk he saw Dief
with his paws up on the desk-top, straining to reach something . . . a cookie.
After this morning, he was stealing sweets? Stupid wolf. He shot a glance
over at Fraser, who was digging in his pocket, probably for his keys. At least
somebody in the family had some sense. He slapped his hands against the counter
hard so it would vibrate. "Dief!"
Dief's paws hit the ground and he shot a guilty look at Ray.
From the doorway, Fraser frowned. "What's he done?"
"Nothing," Ray fibbed, realizing Fraser couldn't see Dief from where he stood
because the counter was too high. "I just wanted to get his attention so he'd
come with." He reached over and opened the little half-door to let Dief out
from behind the counter, even though he could probably jump it.
"Good thought," Fraser said, nodding.
Dief nosed Ray's hand as he fell into step beside him. Ray looked down with
what he hoped was a severe expression. "Behave or I'm telling dad," he whispered.
Dief thumped his tail against Ray's leg and looked chastened. Ray had seen
that look on him often enough to know better. "I mean it," he growled.
"You mean what?" Fraser asked, puzzled.
"Huh? Oh, um, just reminding Dief who's boss, you know?"
Fraser frowned faintly, still looking puzzled. "Ah. All right then." He glanced
at Diefenbaker, but the wolf avoided his eyes. "Shall we go?"
* * *
Listening to Ray charm Hannah Moss, Fraser's thoughts kept returning to that
moment in his office when Ray had. . . well, flirted was far too mild a word. Though it was nearly impossible to wrap his mind
around the thought, that had been an out-and-out proposition. He was simultaneously
eager and terrified. No one had touched him with honest desire in so long
he'd nearly forgotten such a thing existed. And he'd been. . . Lord. . . thirteen,
the last time he'd touched another man with sexual intent. Though he could
hardly call himself, Steve, Mark, and Innusiq men at that age.
The contest had been Mark's idea. . . he was competitive about everything.
He'd even brought a tape measure to see who could get the most distance. Innusiq
had seemed rather bemused by the whole idea. Both Mark and Innusiq had drawn
the line at kissing, though. Mark had wrinkled his nose and declared that
'girly stuff.' Innusiq just thought it was disgusting. Only later, after Mark
and Innusiq had gone home, had Steve suggested they try that, too. Ben could
still, after twenty six years, recall that first kiss. Or perhaps not the
first one, which had nearly resulted in mutual nosebleeds, but the ones after
that. He had a feeling that Ray would be far, far better at it.
"Hey, Benton, what's the goofy smile about?" Ray asked.
Suddenly wrenched out of dreamy speculation and firmly back into Hannah Moss'
living room, Fraser looked around a bit wildly. The woman was nowhere to be
seen. "I . . . ah. . . where's Ms. Moss?"
"She went to go get the coffee," Ray said, looking at him oddly. "You power
Fraser stared at him, unable to keep his eyes from focusing on Ray's mouth.
"Ah, not . . . exactly."
Ray's eyes narrowed, and then widened, and he started to grin. "Not exactly?"
Fraser nodded. Ray's grin broadened. "You know, I'm really starting to look
forward to getting home tonight."
His mouth went bone dry, and his heart-rate skyrocketed. He wasn't quite certain
whether the sensation was anticipation or fear. Perhaps both. Probably both.
He took a deep breath. Definitely both.
"Here you go, Mr. Kowalski, your coffee," Hannah said, coming out of the kitchen
with two mugs. You sure you don't want a cup, Corporal Fraser?"
Fraser cleared his throat. "Yes, ma'am. But maybe some water?"
"Sure thing." She handed Ray one mug, set the other down on the coffee table,
and padded back into the kitchen in her shearling slippers. She was a small,
stocky woman, but graceful. He knew she was a prize-winning dancer, so that
wasn't too surprising. He heard water running, and watched Ray as he sipped
his coffee with an expression of abstracted pleasure. He wondered if Ray looked
like that when . . . for God's sake, he admonished himself. Show
some self control.
Hannah returned with a glass of water, which he took and gratefully sipped.
"Thank you, ma'am."
"You wanted to talk to me about something?" she prompted, taking a seat on
the couch next to Ray, too close to Ray, and picking up her coffee before
turning to him with an attentive expression on her broad face. "Is something
Fraser‘s hands curled into fists and he shook off the urge to tell her to
move. "I'm sure you've heard about the two fires the community has experienced
in the last couple of weeks."
"Hard to miss that, eh?" Hannah asked wryly. "Most excitement we've had around
here in years. Strange to have two so close together that weren't just house fires
from somebody's candles or stove."
"Frankly we suspect the timing may not be coincidental."
Her dark eyes narrowed shrewdly, drawing parallel lines between her brows.
"You think they was set?"
"We have no irrefutable evidence of arson at this point, however the fact
that both fires affected establishments connected to artistic endeavors is
"Uh-huh," she said, looking around the room, at the stacks of bitings carefully
pressed under heavy books here and there. "Am I next?"
"Not necessarily, although the possibility can't be ruled out. We were wondering
if you've noticed any suspicious activity of late. Particularly any unusual
"Odors? You mean like gasoline or paraffin?"
"More like perfume," Ray put in. "This perp starts fires with perfume."
Something clicked suddenly in Fraser's mind. He spoke without thinking. "Aftershave,"
he corrected. "I'm quite certain it was Calvin Klein's CK."
Ray looked at him sharply. "You didn't tell me that before." Ray looked annoyed.
"What, working up here by yourself all this time make you forget that partners
is sharing?" he asked pointedly.
Fraser flushed. "Honestly, I only placed the scent just now."
Ray thought about that for a moment, and then nodded. "Okay. You're off the
hook this time."
Hannah cackled and slapped Ray on the thigh. "I like you. You don't let him
Taken aback, Fraser was about to protest when Ray shook his head.
"It goes both ways. He doesn't let me pull any crap either. That's how come
we're good together." He looked at Fraser and winked. Fortunately Hannah couldn't
see that because of the way they were seated. Fraser felt a smile curve his
mouth, and he nodded.
"Indeed, we are."
Hannah nodded. "Yeah, that's a good way to be." She looked at Ray. "I bet
you miss working together."
Ray sighed. "Yeah, I could really use Fraser back home. So, Hannah, about
those smells," he said in a deliberate change of subject. "You notice anything?"
"Nope, I haven't smelled anything funny lately. Haven't noticed a thing out
of the ordinary. Of course I keep pretty busy, even if I do have to
get folks to take me places when I need to go," she said with a pointed look
Fraser tried not to smile, and shook his head. "Hannah, you know the local
speed limits as well or better than I do."
"Yeah, but nobody ever enforced 'em around here until you came," she complained.
Fraser was trying to come up with a reply that didn't damn his predecessors
when Ray spoke in a faux-confidential tone.
"Hey, y'know, you got off easy, you just got tickets. Fraser arrested
me once. Handcuffs and all."
Hannah's eyes widened. "He did?"
"Yep. In between almost singlehandedly bringing down two different international
"Ray, don't exaggerate," Fraser said repressingly, trying to shut him up.
"I'm not. There was the guy on the train with the impromptu thermonuclear
device and then the guy in the nuclear sub with the nerve gas."
Hannah looked up at Fraser, then at Ray. "A nuclear submarine? You don't mean
that one they caught up north, 'bout two years back, do you?"
"That's the one," Ray assured her.
"I read about that in the papers! It was even on The National! I had
no idea that was our Corporal Fraser!"
"Yeah," Ray said. "I'd give my right arm to have him back in Chicago."
"My goodness! I can certainly understand how you'd want him back. He's really
wasted here, isn't he?" She looked over at Fraser. "I, ah, I'm sorry about
the speeding. I promise I'll try to do better if I get my license back."
"I'm very happy to hear that. As for the matter at hand, we're going to have
someone make regular checks on you until we have this situation resolved,
and I want you to call us immediately if you notice anything even slightly
She nodded. "I'll sure do that. I hope you find this guy. I know Nancy and
Todd Stevensen were just devastated. They've got insurance, thank God, but
it's going to take a lot for them to get back on their feet. And I'm sure
Ralph Dixon's pretty upset, too."
"We'll do our best." He looked at Ray. "I think we need to go to the trading
post and see if we can find out if anyone has recently started buying unusually
large quantities of aftershave."
Ray nodded, standing up. "Thanks for the coffee."
Hannah laughed. "No, thank you for the coffee. Before you go, come over here.
I want you to have a souvenir."
She lifted a book off of a stack of bitings, and began laying them out across
the table. Ray followed, after a questioning glance at Fraser, who nodded
Ray shook his head. "No, these are your work, I can't just take one."
"Don't insult me, Yankee," Hannah said firmly. "Take one."
Fraser watched as Ray carefully perused all the offerings, and then hesitantly
pointed at one of the smaller ones, an oval which held shadowy images of spiders.
"I like that one."
Hannah's face lit up. "That's my favorite! Nobody ever wants my spiders."
"Spiders are cool," Ray said with a grin. "They eat mosquitos."
"Smart boy. I knew I liked you!" Hannah said, picking up the biting and slipping
it into a protective envelope before extending it to Ray. "There you go. Enjoy
Ray took it gravely. "I will. I promise."
As they headed out to the Suburban, Ray looked at him curiously. "How'd you
know it was CK? No offense, but you're not exactly the cologne type."
"Generally true. However, the explanation is really quite simple. I was once
beset in Marshall Fields by a cologne-wielding sales clerk. Some of the fragrance
got on my uniform and it lingered for weeks despite several trips to the dry
cleaner. I doubt I'll ever forget what it smells like."
Ray chuckled, shaking his head. "I think I've had run-ins with that clerk
myself. Okay, so that explains part of the mystery, but how come you didn't
just figure Zhertak was using it himself when he came in smelling like aftershave?
And how did you know it was aftershave not cologne?"
"Well, the process was entirely subconscious, however, I suppose if I were
to break it down, I would say there were two main factors. The first being
the strength of the scent, which was clearly quite concentrated since I could
detect it over the other fire-related smells. The second being that Constable
Zhertak strongly favors something called Drakkar Noir, and while he has on
occasion come into work smelling faintly of Charlie, which is a favorite of
Amelia Maslow, or Halston, which I believe is Darlene Adler's preferred scent,
he has never, in the entire time he's worked here, smelled of CK. And I suspect
that our culprit is using aftershave rather than cologne because there's more
alcohol in an aftershave, thus making it a better accelerant."
"Huh. Yeah, I guess that makes sense. And you did all that without knowing
you were doing it? Wild."
"It's not at all unusual. You do the same thing all the time," Fraser said,
unlocking his door and then tossing the keys to Ray so he could do the same.
Ray caught them, and looked at him dubiously as he did so. "I do?"
"Certainly." Fraser opened the door and slid into the driver's seat as Ray
got in on the other side. "Your subconscious receives data, interprets it,
formulates a plan, then delivers the result to you as a 'hunch' which your
conscious mind can then choose to act on."
"Hey, I like that. Next time somebody asks me if I'm acting on a hunch I'm
going to remember that. Wait, hang on a second here. I can buy that you know
what CK smells like because of a perfume-wielding clerk, and that you know
what Drakkar Noir smells like because Constable Workout likes to drown himself
in it, but how come you know what Halston and Charlie smell like?"
"I was forced to share my apartment with Francesca Vecchio for several days,"
Fraser said, starting the engine and reversing out of the driveway, then heading
back toward town.
"That'd do it," Ray said, then he frowned. "Hey! You bunked with my sister?
How come I never knew this?"
"You knew all about it, Ray. Or should have, after reading the files."
Ray frowned. "Oh, a Vecchio case." He frowned thoughtfully, tapping his fingers
on the dashboard. "Carver?" he asked after a moment.
"Oh. Okay. So it was all innocent-like?" Ray asked.
"Rather more innocent than Francesca would have liked, I'm afraid," Fraser
said with smile, feeling only a slight pang of outraged chivalry.
Ray snorted. "I bet." He glanced out the window at a passing car, and his
frown came back as he swivelled around to look back the way they'd just come.
After a moment he turned back to face forward. Fraser glanced at him, trying
to keep an eye on him and the road.
"Is something wrong?"
"Hmm? No, nothing." He was still frowning. After a moment he cleared his throat.
"Um. . . you know that thing where your subconscious receives data, interprets
it, formulates a plan, then delivers the result as a 'hunch'?"
"I'm having one of those now. Turn around."
"Turn the car around. That kid in the beat-up Gremlin we just passed. I saw
him at Dixon's. He was mighty eager to get a look at that fire."
"That's hardly a damning. . . ." Fraser began, then he cut himself short,
checked the mirrors, and cranked the wheel around, making a U-turn. He knew
better than to doubt Ray's hunches.
Although the roads were practically deserted, which was of course quite common
for a Sunday afternoon in the region, the young man driving the orange Gremlin
appeared to take no notice that he was being followed. The Suburban was, in
fact, the only other vehicle on the road, but the steady 50 kph speed Fraser
maintained was certainly nothing that was likely to draw the driver's attention
Fraser glanced over at Ray, certain that he'd be frustrated that it wasn't
him behind the wheel of the car, but Ray just looked back at him and smiled.
"Nice maneuver back there, Fraser. You have been getting some driving
practice in lately, haven't you?"
That much was true, Fraser thought, sighing inwardly. All due to far too much
time in the car and far too little time on his feet. However, he was aware
that Ray's comment hadn't been intended as a criticism of how soft he'd become
of late, but instead had been meant as nothing more than a compliment about
his driving skills. He found himself feeling inordinately pleased by Ray's
words - more so, perhaps, than was warranted by such a relatively small thing
- and the pleasure he felt showed in the smile he returned to Ray before returning
his attention to the road.
"I thought, perhaps, you were missing being behind the wheel."
"Thought I was just itching to go after a suspect at 31 miles an hour? No
way, Fraser. Believe me, it's better for my rep to just be a passenger here."
"Ah, so would this be an example of 'anti-style' in driving?" he asked drily.
Ray glanced over, looking a bit worried as if what he'd said might have caused
some offense, but Fraser just grinned to let him know that he understood no
insult had been intended.
After a second, Ray nodded and leaned back. "Anyway, if driving at a crawl
was anti-style - and I'm not saying it is, okay? - it would be just right
for going after a guy driving a Gremlin. Jeez, talk about the ultimate anti-style
Fully aware that Ray's comment was meant to get a rise out
of him, Fraser tried to recall everything he had ever read about Gremlins
to see if he could retrieve an odd story, perhaps involving another pursuit,
in which the car had played a pivotal role. Unlikely that he would come up
with anything, since he was forced to agree with Ray's negative assessment
of the Gremlin, but he'd missed this old and familiar game of finding an unlikely
story to suit every occasion. From Ray's expression - a perfect mixture of
challenge and amusement - it appeared that he, too, had missed it, and was
just waiting for Fraser to 'take his turn.' He thought perhaps something would
come to mind in a moment, but before it did, Ray shifted quickly in his seat.
"Okay, heads up. He's got his turn signal on. Just like you figured, he skipped
the first turn off. But if he heads up, um, Sawmill Road there, he can circle
back around to Hannah's place, right?"
"It certainly appears that's what he's intending to do."
"So, what's the game plan, this being your turf and all?"
For a moment, Fraser felt unaccountably dispirited at the thought that so
much time had passed since they'd last worked together that Ray had to ask
what he was planning to do instead of knowing instinctively. But that disappointment
passed in the next moment when he realized he didn't actually have
any plan of action. He laughed to himself: how silly was it to resent Ray's
inability to read his mind when apparently nothing was there for him to read
in the first place?
"Perhaps we might . . . talk to him?"
Ray laughed. "That talking thing work up here? I used to have a Canadian partner
who did a lot of talking at suspects down in Chicago, but I figured it was
the shock value of somebody in the big bad city offering polite conversation
that got everyone to cough up the goods."
"Oddly enough, I used to be just like this Canadian partner you describe.
Recently, however, I've found it more efficacious to just threaten to kick
people in the head."
"More efficacious, huh?" Ray grinned. "Heh. I'll bet it's just a posture."
Fraser smiled back. As he eased his foot off the accelerator to keep his speed
consistent with the decreasing speed of the Gremlin, he glanced automatically
in the rear view mirror.
"Oh for God's sake."
Over the rise, he could see the RCMP vehicle assigned to Constable Zhertak
accelerating towards them, its lightbar flashing garishly. He looked back
at the Gremlin, which had almost begun its turn onto Sawmill, and could see
the young man turn to look over his shoulder, then cut the turn signal, take
a sharp left turn, and speed off in the opposite direction.
"Son of a bitch!" Ray yelled as he watched the Gremlin drive out of sight.
He turned around to see the car behind them and slammed his hand on the dashboard.
"What the hell is he doing here?"
"I have no idea, but I'm certainly going to find out."
Fraser pulled off the road onto the shoulder by the turn off. He unfastened
his seatbelt, got out of the car, and started to walk back to Constable Zhertak's
car, which had now come to a stop thirty feet behind his own. He could hear
the passenger door of his Suburban open and knew that Ray was getting out
of the car, but he didn't hear Ray's footsteps following him, only the low
growl of Diefenbaker from the back seat.
By the time he reached the car, Constable Zhertak had put the vehicle into
park and was standing beside the driver's side door at parade rest.
"Constable. I'm rather surprised to encounter you here. I thought you'd
gone home for the day."
Zhertak shifted uneasily in place. "Yes, sir. I had planned to do so. But
I happened to run into Dave Byrnes, who told me that one of his people, Angela
Smith I believe, had found evidence of breaking and entering through the back
entrance at Dixon's, and I thought you'd wish to be informed."
"And was it just a happy coincidence that brought you to this particular stretch
"Well, sir . . . not precisely."
Fraser raised his eyebrows questioningly, but remained silent as Zhertak flushed
before his gaze.
"I returned to the office and asked Sally for your whereabouts, but she only
knew that you had requested kevlar vests and then departed. I . . .I grew
concerned and . . . well, I went into your office to see if you had left any
indication as to your plans for the afternoon. There, I discovered computer
printouts with references to fires highlighted and your Rolodex opened to
Hannah Moss's address and, well . . . ."
"Didn't it occur to you to simply call me?"
Again, Zhertak flushed. "I'm afraid that in the heat of the moment, my concern
overcame my common sense, sir. I was quite worried that you were heading into
a potentially volatile situation without backup."
Fraser instinctively glanced back over his shoulder at Ray, who was still
waiting patiently by the car with Diefenbaker. There was his backup. Ray.
However, he was forced to admit that as an RCMP officer and his second-in-command,
Constable Zhertak deserved to be kept informed about all cases affecting the
La Rouille region, particularly one as potentially life-threatening as the
current arson investigation. It had been unprofessional not to share information
pertaining to developments in the case - or even that there was a case at
all - with anyone but the man he considered his true partner.
It was understandable that Constable Zhertak was uncomfortable with the involvement
of someone he thought of as an outsider in something he believed to be of
official interest only to the RCMP, even if his attitude toward Ray - and
by extension, toward Fraser himself - was rather offensive. And regardless
of his own desire to work exclusively with Ray as he had in the past, he couldn't
deny the fact that it was that very desire which was responsible for Zhertak's
untimely arrival on the scene - and the subsequent loss of their suspect.
"I appreciate your concern, Bose, and I apologize for not bringing you up
to speed sooner in the investigation. However, perhaps in future, you'll endeavor
to contact me before taking any action?"
"Yes, sir," he said stiffly. "It won't happen again."
"No, I'm sure it won't." Fraser sighed, and looked in the direction the Gremlin
had gone. It occurred to him that he should at least try to make Zhertak feel
as if he were part of things. "If you insist on giving up your day off, as
it appears you do, perhaps you wouldn't mind doing me a favor."
Zhertak leaned forward, his expression unusually eager. "I'd be pleased to,
"Would you radio Sally and ask her to log in to the database and pull the
registration records of a 1973 Orange Gremlin, last year's style license plate
number RBY 414, PV type, which expires in October of next year."
"Um . . . I may have to go back to the office to find that information."
"Is there a problem with your radio?" Fraser asked, glancing at the car.
"No, sir. It's just that Sally was threatening to take a baseball bat to her
monitor when I stopped by the office."
Fraser shook his head, smiling a little. He was quite familiar with Sally's
opinion of the antiquated computer she had to use. "Ah. Then perhaps you'd
be so good as to go through the paper records with Sally, assuming you don't
have to charge her with felonious assault upon the computer first."
Zhertak giggled, then evidently recalled the precarious footing he was on
with his superior officer and wiped the smile from his face. "Will do, sir.
I'll call you as soon as we get the registration information."
"I appreciate it, Constable. I'll speak with you shortly."
"Indeed. And again, Corporal, I want to apologize. To you and to your . .
. to the detective."
Fraser nodded shortly, and Zhertak headed back toward his car. Fraser thought
of something else. "Constable?"
Zhertak turned quickly, hurrying back. "sir?"
"I'd like you to stop by Mrs. Moss' home before you return to the detachment.
I was going to ask you and Constable Traynor to alternate with us doing drive-bys
to check on her throughout the night, however the more I think about it, the
more I think that may not be enough. I'm concerned about her safety, and I
think the detachment budget can cover putting her up at Marie Richard's bed
and breakfast for the night, so I'd like to ask you to take her back with
you and get that set up."
"Certainly, sir. I'd be happy to."
Zhertak hurried off to his car, got in, and drove off toward Hannah's, as
Fraser walked across the graveled shoulder to join Ray.
"Everything okay?" Ray asked. "It didn't look like you had to read him the
riot act or anything."
"Actually, he was quite contrite - and he offered a very gracious apology
to both of us."
"Yeah? He say why he'd been dogging our heels?"
"As a matter of fact, he . . . ." Fraser stopped speaking and looked away.
"What? He what?"
"It appears he was . . . worried about me."
Ray started to chuckle, and Fraser could feel his face turning red. "Ray,
I hope you don't find it amusing that my own subordinate evidently believes
me to be incapable of doing my job without a minder."
Ray shook his head, then placed a hand on Fraser's shoulder. "I don't know.
. . it doesn't feel like that to me. It's more like. . . he doesn't want to
leave you alone with me for some other reason." His eyes widened suddenly.
"You know what? I'll bet he's got the hots for you!"
Fraser frowned, shaking his head. "I'm sure you're mistaken, Ray."
"Bet I'm not!" Ray said, a little too emphatically, but a moment later he
shrugged. "I don't know, maybe. Hard to say. Just. . . why wouldn't he?"
"Even if that were true, why in the world has he been acting in such an insulting
manner toward a friend of mine? Surely he'd . . . ."
"He's jealous," Ray interrupted.
"He's . . . ah, I see."
He frowned some more. The whole idea seemed highly unlikely. After all, since
he'd arrived, Bose Zhertak had dated virtually every eligible woman in town
before settling into a somewhat precarious equilibrium between Amelia Maslow
and Darlene Adler. All things considered, he certainly didn't seem to be of
the appropriate persuasion.
On the other hand, Ray, who was now professing a far more than platonic interest
in him, had once been married. On the other other hand Ray could well
be projecting. Although even that thought was a little disconcerting. He'd
grown so accustomed to being solitary that the idea that someone - possibly
two someones - had . . . feelings for him, was all but inconceivable.
His tongue darted out to wet his suddenly dry lips, and Ray's fingers followed
the path of his tongue along his lips. He swallowed hard, and Ray pulled his
hand back, but then he touched his wet fingertips to Fraser's cheek.
"Don't flip out on me here, Benton, okay? It shouldn't be that surprising.
Back in Chicago you practically had to beat people off with a stick."
Fraser closed his eyes. "Yes, well, I should think it's apparent that things
have . . . changed since I was in Chicago."
He felt Ray's hand slide around the back of his neck. "They haven't changed
as much as you think. There was always more to you than just a pretty face."
Ray's fingers curled in to the too-long hair at the back of his head. "Later,
okay? We'll talk about this later. Anyway, what did you tell your boyfriend
that we were going to do next?"
"Ray! He's not . . . ."
"I know. " Ray grinned and bumped Fraser's arm with his own. "Just yanking
your chain. What's next?"
Fraser shook off the dazed feeling that Ray's touch had left in its wake and
nodded. "I think we should go check out Sawmill Road and see if there's any
evidence that our arsonist may have been there before."
He opened the door
of the Suburban and got in, and a moment later Ray was back in 'shotgun' position.
Just as he started the engine, his cellular phone began to ring. He got it
out and thumbed it on.
"Corporal Benton Fraser speaking."
"Ah. . . hello, sir," came Bose Zhertak's voice, sounding unusually hesitant.
"Is there a problem, Constable?"
"She says she won't go."
"Yes, sir. She won't leave."
Fraser shook his head, well aware of Hannah's stubborn streak. "We'll be right
"Thank you, sir."
The drive to Hannah's was blissfully short, although Fraser could feel Diefenbaker's
mocking stare on the back of his head the entire way. Ray got out of the car
and after he closed the door, Fraser looked back at Dief with a scowl. "I'll
thank you to mind your manners," he hissed. "Or have you forgotten that I
still control the can-opener and kibble scoop?"
Dief looked worried. Fraser felt rather reprehensibly smug. He got out, and
they walked up to the front porch where Zhertak was standing next to an angry-looking
Hannah Moss. Under other circumstances it might have been amusing to see the
six-foot-two-inch constable completely intimidated by the five-foot-if-that
Hannah Moss, but these weren't other circumstances.
"Is there a problem?" he asked politely, looking from one to the other.
Hands fisted on her hips, Hannah shot a glare at Zhertak and nodded. "You
bet there is. This idiot just come strolling up to my door, telling me I've
got to go with him for my own good!"
Ray suddenly seemed to have developed an itchy nose. Fraser strongly suspected
he was grinning behind his hand. Fraser was having a hard time not doing so
himself. "Perhaps Constable Zhertak didn't make my suggestion clear," he said
smoothly. "We simply thought it would be prudent if you stayed away from the
premises until our suspect is caught. We wouldn't want you to be come to any
harm through our negligence."
Her glare was suddenly aimed his way, and he felt a moment of empathy with
"Your suggestion? This was your idea, Benton Fraser? I guess you're the fool,
then. If you think I'm in danger, then so's my house, and I'll have you know
that I've lived in this house for thirty years, and I'm not going to run off
and leave it for some lunatic to burn down! My kids were born here, my husband
died here, and this house has kept me safe for all that time. I'm not leaving
it unprotected, you got that?"
He cleared his throat. "Ah, yes, ma'am. I think the point is clear. However,
it wouldn't be unprotected. We would have someone coming by to keep an eye
on it at regular intervals."
"Yeah, and what about when they're not coming by? It's an old house, Corporal,
well-aged pine, with paper insulation. It'll go up like a torch if it's lit
and by the time Dave Byrnes rousted his crew and got down here it'd be all
over but the crying. Nope. No way am I leaving. I'm here. I've got four fire
extinguishers and a garden hose. I'm staying."
She glared from him to Zhertak and back, apparently leaving Ray out, since
he hadn't said anything. Zhertak shot him a look that said plainly 'See?
She's nuts!' and Fraser resisted the urge to sigh. "I understand, Mrs.
Moss. We'll work around it. Would you be willing to have someone from the
detachment stay with you tonight?"
Hannah thought about it, and nodded, grudgingly. "Yeah, I suppose. It's not
like I don't have the room. And it'd be nice to have some company."
"Excellent. Constable Zhertak, if you'd be so good as to go on back to the
detachment and see to that other matter we discussed I'd be grateful. Once
that's done I'd like you to bring Constable Traynor by, she can stay here
with Mrs. Moss overnight. Ray and I will stay here until she arrives."
"Why don't you just have her drive over?" Zhertak asked, looking puzzled.
"'Cause we want things to look normal around here," Ray cut in. "You put an
RCMP cruiser in the driveway and there's no way the perp will show his nose
again. Any unfamiliar vehicle, really, doesn't even have to have gumballs
on top, and he'll spook."
"Gum. . . ." Zhertak looked confused for a moment, but then he nodded. "Ah,
yes, I understand. All right. I'll go look up that information for you, and
then I'll get Arden. . . er, Constable Traynor, and bring her back. . . in
my personal car, not the cruiser."
Fraser nodded. "Excellent idea, just in case he's watching the traffic in
Zhertak excused himself, looking suspiciously relieved as he hightailed it
for his cruiser. Fraser turned back to find Ray with his hand on Hannah's
"You okay?" he was asking softly. "You look a little upset."
"Well, of course I am!" she snapped, then she softened. "Sorry. I shouldn't
snap at you. I know you're just doing your job. It's just. . . ." Her face
crumpled a little. "I hate to think that someone around here hates me so much."
"Now, see, it's not really you," Ray said. "It's just that this guy thinks
he's got instructions to torch some kind of art that had to do with wood,
and your stuff fits the bill. So, it's not personal. It's not that somebody
doesn't like you. It's just this weird game he's playing with this other guy,
and this other guy is in a mental ward so that tells you he's not playing
with a full deck to start with."
Hannah looked slightly confused. "Who's not? The guy in the mental ward or
the guy who wants to burn down my house?"
"Well, if you ask me, both," Ray said. "But for sure the guy in the mental
ward. Hey, aren't you a little chilly, standing out here with no coat?"
Hannah rubbed her arms.. "Now that you mention it, yeah. Come on inside."
She opened the door and ushered them inside. "You boys hungry? I made a big
pot of beef-barley soup that I was going to take up to Mary's but since I'm
not going now, it'll last me forever. I'll get it out and warm it up, make
some biscuits, and we can have an early supper." She turned and headed for
Fraser opened his mouth to refuse, only to have Ray catch his eye and shake
his head, scowling, before he called out.
"Yeah, that'd be great! We never got lunch today."
Fraser waited, eyebrows lifted, and as soon as Hannah had disappeared into
the kitchen Ray put a hand on his arm and pulled him close, lips nearly against
"Fraser, moms deal with stress by cooking," he whispered, "and she's a mom.
Just go with it. She needs to do this."
A surge of warmth went through him at the feel of Ray's breath and his face
lightly touching his hair, which, oddly, evoked a shiver. He tried to convey
his understanding of Ray's words, but nothing came out of his mouth except
a strange choked-off little sound. Ray pulled back a little, looked at him,
and then smiled wickedly and leaned back in.
"You like that?" he whispered, his lips brushing Fraser's ear.
Fraser closed his eyes and nodded. He couldn't possibly form words. The warmth
spread through him like wildfire, pooling in his groin.
"I'll remember that," he said, still in a whisper. "Later." His tongue flicked
out in a rapid tease before Ray drew back, cleared his throat, and not-very-surreptitiously
adjusted his trousers.
Fraser swallowed thickly, and echoed Ray's tug. It was several seconds before
his voice returned. "Ray. . . ."
"I'm . . . looking forward to later."
Ray's smile was like sunlight breaking through clouds. "Me too, Benton. Me too."
* * *
The last time Ray could remember feeling this way - this worried he was going
to do something to mess things up and this sure everything was going to be
great and this stupidly happy all at the same time - he'd been seventeen years
old. 1977. He'd grown fast over the past year, but he was gawky and shy and
didn't have a clue about what he was going to do with his life. Every time
he thought about his last report card, he wasn't even sure he was going to
make it through to graduation.
Then one Saturday morning in late May he woke up and everything had changed.
His dad told him to get in the car, but instead of taking him to get the haircut
he'd been threatening him with for the past month, he drove him over to Bill
Adamczyk's garage - lecturing him all the way about responsibility and maturity
- only to stand back while Mr. Adamczyk handed him the keys to the GTO he'd
been admiring for months. He was going to have to work every day that coming
summer to help his dad pay it off, but it was his. His car.
Then they returned home, and when he walked in the door, there was his mom,
beaming at him from the front porch. He didn't even have time to wonder when
she'd started to get so excited about cars before she handed him an envelope
and squeezed him so tightly he almost couldn't breathe. He read the letter
and couldn't believe it. A college - a real college - had written to him to
say they wanted to offer him a place in the fall. Him - with his 62 percent
An hour later, he got a phone call that made him forget the letter
from the college. Hell, it almost made him forget the Goat for a second. It
was Stella. Stella who'd broken up with him two weeks earlier saying that
they were too young to be going steady and that now that they were graduating
and moving on with their lives, they should start seeing other people. Stella.
And she was crying and saying she loved him and she didn't want to break up
with him and it didn't matter to her if he didn't go to college as long as
they were together. And then she asked him to go with her to the senior prom.
He just sat on the kitchen floor, wrapping the phone cord around his arm and
wondering when lightning was going to strike, but thinking it was pretty much
worth it even if it did, until Stella had to ask if he was still there.
Now, twenty years later, he felt like he was seventeen all over again. He
wasn't sure what the hell was happening between him and Fraser, and it was
almost scaring him to death, but it just felt so damned great.
Maybe too great - at least at the moment. Jeez. Another few minutes of standing
here staring at Fraser, and he was going to end up jumping the guy in the
middle of a stranger's living room.
"Fraser? Let's go see if Hannah needs any help."
For a minute, Fraser just looked confused, then gave him a slight smile, nodded,
and started to walk toward the kitchen, but Ray held his hand out. "Lose the
jacket, Benton. In fact, we might as well get rid of the vests, too; I think
we're going to be here for a while."
Fraser took off his jacket, hanging it on the coat rack by the door, then
he turned his back and wrestled and wriggled until he got the kevlar vest
off, without ever unbuttoning his shirt. The whole thing was as big a production
number as he'd gone through to put it on earlier. Finally he turned back toward
Ray looking uncomfortable and slightly flushed as he tugged the bottom of
his henley out of his jeans even though he'd worn it tucked in that morning,
before he'd had to put the vest on.
Ray frowned. He couldn't remember more than two or three times before when
Fraser had worn a shirt untucked, so why . . . okay, that's why. God. He was
worrying about the way he looked. No, that wasn't quite right, this wasn't
vanity. Ray knew that. This was Fraser worrying about not being the same
guy Ray remembered, about being out of shape and . . . human, and maybe being
a little unsure of his own appeal - the kind of worries Ray used to think
Benton Fraser didn't share with the rest of the world. Maybe he could do something
to help with that.
"Hey." He closed the few steps separating them and slid his hands around Fraser's
waist, tucking the shirt back into place. Fraser sucked in a startled breath,
going as still as a proverbial deer in the headlights. Ray didn't remove
his hands from where they'd stopped, an inch below the waistband at the back
of Fraser's jeans, just tugged him a little closer. "It's okay."
It was then that Ray figured out the main difference between being seventeen
and being thirty-nine; he'd learned how to be patient, at least a little.
No, it wouldn't have taken much to just slide his hands down a little lower,
another inch at the most, until they were touching Fraser's ass - and God,
wasn't just the thought of that enough to make him wish he had a paper bag
to breathe into - but he didn't do it. There was a really nice lady warming
up beef-barley soup no more than twenty feet from them and it wasn't like this
was going to be his only chance.
Reluctantly, he slid his hands out and was perversely glad to see a disappointed
expression on Fraser's face. "Come on. Let's go in."
The kitchen was like Hannah herself; it was small but practical, and with
an underlying warmth that had little to do with the heat emanating from the
As soon as they walked in the room, Hannah glanced up from the table with
a satisfied look on her face and nodded. "Good timing, boys. Now get yourselves
washed up and let's get some food into you."
Fraser turned to look back at Dief, who'd followed them into the kitchen.
"Shall I ask him to wait outside?"
"No need," Hannah said, setting the biscuit tray down. "The more, the merrier.
Even got a beef bone here for him that I used to make the stock. He like bones?"
Fraser sighed. "I think you'd be hard pressed to find anything he doesn't
Once Diefenbaker had settled down happily under the table with his snack,
they took turns at the old-fashioned enamel basin, washing their hands, then
drying them on a faded pink dishtowel hanging nearby. Ray wondered for a moment
if it had once belonged to Tilda Johannsen and chuckled. Fraser looked questioningly
at him, but Ray just shook his head and smiled, drawing a confused answering
smile in response.
Ray hung the dishtowel over the handle of the oven door to dry, which earned
him a nod from Hannah. Fraser cleared his throat. "Could I be of assistance
Hannah snorted in response. "The day I need help serving up soup to company's
the day somebody'd better haul me off and plant me in one of them old folk's
homes down in Regina. You just sit yourself down, Benton Fraser. And you too,
Ray Kowalski. We don't want these biscuits cooling off now, do we?"
They both did as she asked, although Ray smiled to see Fraser's noticeable
hesitation over sitting down before his hostess. If Hannah was anything like
his mom, she'd be up and down like a jack-in-the-box until everything was
just right. Sure enough, it wasn't until the soup had been served, the basket
of fresh biscuits had been set down in the middle of the oak table,
and tall glasses of apple cider had been placed in front of each of them,
that Hannah finally sat down.
She pulled a napkin out from the brass holder and placed it on her lap, then
pursed her lips. "Well, come on. Dig in, boys. You know, when my kids all
still lived at home, anyone who waited around this long to start eating would've
found themselves going to bed hungry. My brood used to go through meals like
a swarm of locust." She fixed a glare that took in both of them at once -
no easy trick considering they were sitting on opposite sides of the table
- and they immediately reached for their spoons.
To be honest, Ray didn't need much encouragement to eat. It had been a long
time since they'd shared breakfast that morning, and the rich aroma of the
soup reminded him how hungry he was. Still, he'd only finished half of his
soup when Hannah got up and reached for Fraser's bowl to refill it. Fraser
began to protest, but Hannah would hear none of it.
"You don't want to insult the cook, do you? You know, there's nothing so satisfying
as seeing someone appreciate their cooking, Benton. I like a man with a good
appetite. You take another couple of those biscuits, too."
With a rueful smile, Fraser nodded and took the bowl from Hannah. "Thank you."
They were just starting to clear up after lunch when the doorbell rang. Hannah
sighed. "He's back, and he's got my babysitter with him."
"Constable Traynor isn't a babysitter, Hannah. You know that."
"That's as may well be, Benton," she said disconsolately. "But it's what it
Fraser put his arm around her shoulders. "I'm more sorry about this than you
can imagine, but we'd be derelict in our duties if we didn't make every effort
to ensure your well-being."
Hannah pulled back and stared at Fraser for a second, then turned to face
Ray. "Don't you just love the way he talks?"
Ray choked back a laugh. "Yeah, I do. Listen, you want me to get the door?"
"No," she sighed. "I may as well face it now as later."
The bell rang a second time. "All right, all right already," she called, walking
into the living room. "Hold your horses."
Fraser and Ray placed the last of the dishes in the sink, then left the kitchen
to find Hannah sitting on the couch and engaged in an animated discussion
with Arden Traynor about termites. Zhertak was still standing there with a
wary expression on his face, looking for all the world like he was worried
the wrath of Hannah might turn back on him at any second.
"Ah, Corporal Fraser," he said, visibly relieved. He walked over to join the
two men and nodded a greeting to Ray. "Sally and I were able to come up with
the information you requested. The registration for the vehicle in question
belongs to Crawford Jones."
"Crawford Jones? That's Lana Jones' oldest son, isn't it? I didn't know he
was old enough to drive."
"He is indeed of legal driving age and has been since this past summer. The
vehicle formerly belonged to his Uncle Turner, who apparently signed over
the ownership to him as a birthday gift."
"I see. And his address?"
"12A Pine, Lot#3, Duck Lake."
Ray nodded. "A trailer park."
Zhertak glanced at Ray. "Yes, it is a trailer park, Mr. Kowalski, but
how did you know that?"
"Well, first of all, that's Detective Kowalski, so there's a clue right there.
Second, it sounded familiar. I spent the first eight years of my life in a
trailer park." He paused to see if he was going to get any smart ass comments
from Zhertak, but when none were forthcoming, he grinned. "Plus, I passed
the sign for Duck Lake on my way into town yesterday."
Fraser had that expression on his face that probably looked all serious and
business-like to almost everyone else, but looked to Ray like a guy trying
real hard not to laugh.
"So, Fraser? You want to take a ride?"
"I think that would be a good idea. Constable Zhertak, would you mind keeping
an eye on the detachment? I suppose I could ask Constable Traynor if you'd
prefer to stay here and . . . ."
"No, quite all right, sir. Happy to watch over things. Call if you require
any more assistance. Really. No trouble." He was still offering his assistance
as he backed out of the door and bolted for his car.
Hannah looked up from the couch and cackled. "Scared him off, did I? Looks
like you don't scare as easy, eh, Constable?"
Arden Traynor smiled. "I don't scare at all."
Ray went to fetch a sleepy wolf from the warm kitchen, and when he returned,
Fraser had put his jacket on and was giving last minute instructions to Traynor.
". . . leaving Dief here to do outside reconnaissance, and we'll let you know
within the hour."
"No problem, Corporal. Hannah and I will be just fine."
Hannah nodded. "Run along, boys. We'll entertain ourselves somehow. I think
I'll show Arden the nest of wolf spiders up in the attic."
Ray didn't think that sounded particularly entertaining, but Traynor looked
pretty eager at the prospect of crawling around in the attic looking at spiders,
so who was he to judge?
Before leaving, Fraser and Ray took a quick walk around the sparse woods that
surrounded the house, seeing if there was any evidence of anyone having been
in the area recently. Of course, Ray knew that only Fraser'd be able to notice
anything hinky; the extent of his woodlore consisted only in knowing that
thing about moss only growing on the north side of trees - except that he
remembered Fraser once telling him that wasn't actually true, particularly
the further north you went, so he guessed his woodlore was really pretty much
But he wasn't about to pass up a chance to spend a few minutes actually alone
with Fraser, even if they were supposed to be working. Didn't take much in
the way of self-awareness to realize it was getting harder and harder to keep
his hands off him, and when Fraser - his eyes still trained on the underbrush
- reached over and took hold of his hand before clearing his throat almost
immediately and releasing it again, it looked like he wasn't the only one
having trouble keeping his head on straight.
Patience. He could be patient. Even if it was a damned over-rated quality.
Duck Lake turned out to have neither a lake, nor any ducks that Ray could
see. What it did have, though, were lots and lots of electrical cables and
mini satellite dishes attached to the sides of almost all the trailers in
the park. The Jones home was no exception. As they approached the door, Ray
could hear an all-too-familiar sound. Fraser paused before knocking on the
door and frowned.
Ray laughed. "Just a 'toon losing a fight with a train, Fraser. I thought
you said you'd been corrupted."
"I thought I had." Fraser smiled. "Evidently my television-watching has been
missing a vital component."
He knocked, and the door was opened by a young boy wearing a wrinkled Digimon
t-shirt and Nike sweatpants. Before Fraser could say anything, the boy started
yelling. "Mom! Some guys are here!"
He wandered away to join another slightly older boy down on the floor in front
of the television, but in a few seconds, they were greeted by the sight of
a harassed-looking woman waving bright red fingernails in the air in front
of her. "Colin! Bennett! I told you to turn that down or turn it off!"
Fraser tapped on the metal edging. "Lana Jones?"
She turned toward the door. "Hey! Corporal Fraser. Haven't seen you in ages.
Come on in."
"Thank you kindly. I'd like you to meet my good friend, Ray Kowalski. Ray,
Ms. Jones runs Lana's Hair Salon on Chesterton."
Ray looked at Fraser's hair curling over his collar and raised his eyebrows.
"Yeah, I can tell you haven't seen him for a while," he laughed. "Good to
meet you, Ms. Jones."
"Please, call me Lana. Everyone does," she said, looking pointedly in Fraser's
direction. "Now what can I do for you gentlemen today?"
"Actually," Fraser said, "I was hoping to have a word with your son, Crawford."
"You and me both," she muttered. "What's he done, now?"
"We're not certain he's done anything . . . Lana, but we'd like to ask him
some questions, if that's all right with you."
"If you can find him, you can ask him whatever you want," Lana said with a
smile, pushing a lock of straight, dark hair back from her face. "That boy's
getting harder and harder to keep track of these days. He took off early this
morning and hasn't been back since."
"Ah. Perhaps you might let me know where he might be. Some friends, perhaps?"
Lana shook her head slowly. "I honestly can't think of anyone he might be
visiting. Crawford . . . well, Crawford doesn't have many friends here in
La Rouille, not like those two," she said indicating the boys still parked
in front of the muted t.v. set.
Though black-haired like their mother and brother, they were round-faced and
smiling. Not much like their brother, who Ray remembered as an angular, sullen
young man from his brief glimpse outside Dixon's Masonry.
"He used to play with some of the neighbor kids when he was younger," Lana
continued. "But these days he's either planted in front of his computer or
he's pulling a disappearing act. Teenagers, huh?"
One of the boys started to giggle, and all three adults turned to look at
them, which just set both of them to laughing harder.
"What's so funny, you little hyenas?"
The older of the two started to chant, "Crawford's got a girlfriend . . .
Crawford's got a girlfriend," and the younger one hummed along, until Lana
waved them into silence with her still-drying fingernails.
"Since when? Bennett? What's this about a girlfriend?"
The older boy giggled again. "Crawford's got a girlfriend."
"Yes, so you said," Lana sighed. "What makes you think he's seeing someone?"
Bennett rolled over on his back on the carpet. "Because he's always doing
that online chat thing and whenever me or Colin get near, he threatens to
beat us up, and he's started buying that stinky stuff like girls like to wear."
Fraser and Ray exchanged glances. "What kind of 'stinky stuff,' Bennett?"
"You know, like perfume stuff. Me and Colin opened one last week and, man
does that stuff reek! We kept the windows in the bedroom open for three whole
hours, but as soon as Crawford came home he knew we'd done it. Said he'd beat
us up for that, too. Didn't do it, though."
"Would you mind showing us where he keeps this stinky stuff . . . if that's
all right with you, Lana? I must warn you that the case we're investigating
is actually quite serious and you'd be well within your rights to ask us to
leave until a search warrant is issued by the local justice of the peace."
"No, Corporal, it's all right with me. Come take a look. I swear, that boy
used to tell me everything, and now everything's a big secret."
Ray nodded. "Yeah, my mom used to say the same thing about me."
"Sure," he said as reassuringly as he could. "Happens to all of us. Well,"
he turned to look at Fraser and smiled, "it happens to most of us."
Lana led the way to the boys' bedroom, with the two younger ones trailing
after them. She opened the door and they saw a bunk bed by the window and
a twin bed along the opposite wall, plus three small dressers all jammed into
the room. Colin started to open the top dresser drawer by the twin bed, but
Bennett bumped him out of the way.
"Move it, pipsqueak."
"Hey! Cut it out!"
They started poking at each other, and finally Lana had to separate them.
"Oh, for heaven's sake! Can't you two get along for a minute?"
She opened the drawer and took a long look. "Nothing but socks and underwear,
boys. Are you sure you saw something?"
"Well, duh!" Bennett said indignantly. "There were ten whole bottles of that
gross stuff in here yesterday."
Fraser looked around the room. "Do either of you boys remember if there was
anything written on the label of the bottles?"
Bennett frowned, but Colin nodded, "Uh huh. CK, like my initials. Right mom?
Colin Kenneth is CK."
"Right you are, sweetie," Lana said, ruffling her son's hair.
The two boys left the room and went back to the living room, presumably to
go back to watching t.v., if the sudden increase in volume was any clue.
"Sorry we couldn't be more help, Corporal."
"Unfortunately, this may have been more helpful than we all might have liked.
May I ask one more question?"
Fraser winced a little, and as he spoke, Ray realized why.
"I know most of the young men in this area hunt. Does Crawford have a rifle?"
Lana paled, her eyes searching Fraser's face. "Why would you ask that?"
"It's always good to be fully prepared," Fraser said quietly.
She swallowed heavily. "He has one, but it's locked in the gun-case in my
room, under my bed. And it's staying there," she said, her voice going hard,
along with the line of her jaw.
Fraser nodded. "Lana, if your son does turn up before we encounter him, I'd
encourage you to retain counsel before speaking with us again."
Lana was visibly shaken, but her voice was calm. "And if you find him first?"
"I promise you we'll contact you before taking any action, if it's at all
"I'm trusting you with my boy, Corporal."
Fraser nodded. "I'll endeavor to be worthy of that trust, Ms. Jones."
Still looking pale and concerned, she ushered them to the door. "You be careful
on the step there, let me get the lights for you," she said, flipping a switch
that lit both the light beside the door, and one at the end of the walk that
was supposed to look like an old-fashioned street lantern on a short post.
Fraser thanked her, and after she closed the door behind them, Ray turned
and looked at Fraser. "You didn't mention the computer."
Fraser shook his head. "No. I don't have a warrant, so confiscation would
be suspect. She might have given it to me willingly, however I didn't want
to chance tipping our hand."
Ray nodded. "Yeah, true. We'll just hope he doesn't get spooked and wipe it."
"Even if he does, it could likely be reconstructed by the RCMP's Computer
Investigative Support Unit. Shall we go?"
Ray nodded, took three steps toward the car, and then stopped, glancing at
the nearly over-flowing trash can that was set out in the street for pick-up.
"Fraser. . . we need a search warrant for that?" he asked, nodding at the
"No, it's on public property."
"You got any gloves?"
Fraser paused for a moment, looking at him oddly, and then nodded and went
to the Suburban, opening the back. A moment later he returned, carrying two
pair of latex gloves, and a couple of ziploc bags, one medium, one large.
Ray accepted one pair of gloves, pulled them on, and went over, lifting out
the bag of what was obviously kitchen garbage and then picking carefully through
the less messy items left in the bin. After a moment he found a box and some
bubble wrap. Pulling it out he checked the return address label.
"eScents-dot-com," he read aloud. "And lookee here, a packing slip and receipt
to one Mr. Crawford Jones, for one dozen bottles of CK. Huh, not as expensive
as you'd think. These online places have good prices."
Fraser opened the larger bag and held it out. "If you please?"
Ray dropped the box into the bag. "Thank you kindly," he said with a cheesy
grin. "Let me see if I can find anything else. He turned back to dig in the
trash some more, and when he glanced up, Fraser had that funny look on his
face again. "What? What?"
"I. . . it's trash, Ray."
Ray looked down. "Wow, really? No kidding?"
"It's just that no one. . . I mean usually it was. . . oh, never mind."
"What, nobody ever dug in the trash for you before?" Ray asked, grinning.
Fraser shook his head. "No. Well, not without complaining."
"Well, that's why we're a duet," Ray said. "We share. Even the icky stuff."
Spotting a gleam that looked like glass he reached for it, the tips of his
fingers grazing. . . there. He had it. Pulled out a bottle. "Exhibit number
two," he said, brandishing the empty CK bottle. "Kid's not real bright, is
he? Not a hardened criminal, at any rate. He's probably just bored."
"Arson is a serious crime, Ray," Fraser said severely, opening the second
bag for him. "I can't believe you're excusing his actions."
Ray dropped the bottle into the bag and held up his hands. "Not excusing him,
Fraser. Just saying. . . I get it, you know? I've worked with a lot of kids,
and the thing is, they're dumb about stuff. Not because they have low IQ's
mostly, but because they just don't. . . think. They don't get cause and effect.
That's the thing most grownups forget. You have to remember that YOU were
just as stupid at one point or you can't deal with kids at all. Didn't you
ever do anything stupid when you were a kid?"
To his surprise, Fraser coughed, and colored enough that Ray could see it
even in the artificial glow of the nearby street and porch lights. "I. . .
ah. . . ."
Sensing a story, Ray jumped. "No ah-ing allowed here, Fraser. Yes or no?"
"Yes," Fraser admitted, blushing darker.
"Hah! I knew it. Spill! What was it?"
"Well, ah. . . It involved a goldmine, a boomerang and a tank full of gasoline.
But this isn't the time or place, we've a case to solve."
Ray eyed him narrowly. "Yeah. Okay. You're right. But don't think you're off
the hook, Benton."
"So, what's our game plan? We've got some evidence, but we don't know where
our suspect is. Seems like maybe our best bet would be to go back to Hannah's,
find a place where we stake it out without being screamingly obvious."
"My thoughts exactly," Fraser said. "Since Hannah's daughter has custody of
her van until her license is reinstated, we can probably put the Suburban
in her detached garage. And as I recall, there's a small workshop above it,
which Hannah's husband Mike used to use for woodworking before he passed away
a year ago."
Ray nodded. "It have windows?"
"On all four sides."
"Perfecto. Let's go. Dief's probably tired of walking a beat around Hannah's."
"It's good for him. He's gotten soft," Fraser said. A moment later he sighed.
"Like Mountie, like wolf."
Ray reached over and squeezed his shoulder. "Not soft, Benton. Just a little
neglected." He moved his hand slightly, trailed his fingers up Fraser's neck,
raising gooseflesh and a shiver. "You just need some. . . attention."
Fraser was staring at him, eyes slightly glazed, lips parted. He leaned forward
slightly, and Ray found himself leaning too, and just in time remembered that
there were probably at least three pair of eyes glued on them at that moment,
and he pulled back, looking around guiltily. "Let's go."
* * *
It was fortunate that there was no traffic, since Fraser drove the few miles
back to Hannah's with less than the requisite amount of attention on the road.
He couldn't believe he'd almost kissed Ray right there in the middle of the
street. What had he been thinking? A moment's thought forced him to admit
that he really hadn't been thinking at all. Simply feeling. Feeling Ray's
acceptance, his desire, his. . . love. Feeling all those things himself. To
have Ray acknowledge and echo his own feelings, on top of the satisfaction
he'd already gained by finally feeling useful, needed, and effective was nearly
"You're pretty quiet there. Penny for your thoughts?"
He glanced briefly at Ray, felt, more than saw his quizzical gaze in the darkness
inside the vehicle. "I was just contemplating how it might feel to win the
There was a short pause, and then Ray chuckled. "Ohyeah. I get that. This
is just. . . the best, you know?"
"I do indeed," Fraser said warmly.
"God, I wish. . . ." Ray began, only to break off abruptly.
Fraser knew without a doubt what he'd been about to say. He sighed. "As do
The realization that Ray would be leaving the next day kept them both quiet
for the remainder of the drive. Once they reached their destination, a few
moments conversation netted them the use of the garage to conceal the Suburban,
and the workroom as an observation post. Hannah furnished them with a large
thermos of coffee and a five-pound coffee can festively decorated with maple-leaf
patterned contact-paper, which was filled with sugar cookies. In addition, she gave them a two Hudson's
Bay blankets and the information that there were some old lawn-furniture
cushions stored in the garage that they could sit on, though the furniture
itself had long since fallen apart.
"All the comforts of home," Ray said, beating Fraser to it. "Thanks. This
is the best-equipped stakeout I've ever been on."
Hannah beamed at him. "Well, it's the least I could do." She looked hopefully
over at Fraser. "So, should Constable Traynor go home now?"
Fraser shook his head. "No, I'd like her to stay, if you don't mind. Just
in case we miss anything."
Hannah sighed, and Fraser heard Ray snort under his breath.
"Shyeah. Like you'd miss anything."
He sent a quelling glance at Ray and set the coffee and cookies on top of
the folded blankets he already held. "Why don't you take these, and I'll just
go move the truck."
Ray grinned at him irrepressibly, and nodded, heading out the kitchen door
and over to the garage. Putting down his burden, he opened the garage door
and waited for Fraser to drive the Suburban inside. Once he'd parked, Fraser
got flashlights and a packet of disposable double-cuff restraints out of the
back of the unit. Ray, blankets draped over his shoulders and still maintaining
his grip on the thermos and cookies, somehow managed to grab a couple of the
green vinyl cushions off the shelf where Hannah had indicated they could be
found and disappeared out the door with them. Fraser followed him a moment
later, closing the garage door before ascending the staircase that led up
to the workshop. Dief appeared out of the small copse to the south of the
house and followed him, grumbling about the working conditions.
Ray had put the coffee and cookies down on the workbench and was in the process
of rearranging several gallon paint cans, a sawhorse, and two sheets of heavy
plywood into a makeshift seat facing the window which fronted on the house.
That done, he put the chaise-style cushions down on the plywood and sat down
for a moment, testing his construction. When it held up, he nodded looking
pleased. "There. Not quite as good as the GTO's bucket seats, but hey, at
least we won't have to stand up or kneel the whole time, and our butts won't
"It certainly should help, thank you," Fraser said, taking a moment to orient
himself, identifying the path to the door and making sure it was clear, as
well as noting the positions of the workbench, a second saw-horse, and a table-saw
before reaching up to grasp the chain that would turn out the overhead light.
"All set?" he asked Ray.
Ray took a look around. "Hang on," he folded one of the two blankets and put
it down on the wooden floor under the workbench. "There you go, Dief. Why
should we get all the perks?" he asked, and then nodded at Fraser as Dief
curled up on the cushion. "All set. Go for it."
Fraser tugged on the chain, plunging the room into darkness. He stood for
a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust, and then moved forward toward the window.
The vantage point was quite good, showing the rear and both sides of the house,
away from the porch light that flooded the front yard with light.
"Nice view," Ray said.
"It is an excellent vantage point," Fraser said before glancing back to find
that even though they were on the dark side of the house, there was enough
light coming in the window to faintly illumine the room they occupied, and
that Ray was not looking out the window, but rather at his backside. He was
torn between feeling foolishly pleased, and feeling slightly exasperated.
"Ray," he said, trying to sound severe but succeeding only in sounding rather
fond. "We're working."
Ray grinned. "Yeah, but that doesn't mean I'm blind, Benton. From this distance,
I don't even need my glasses. And that is one world-class view you got there,
I'm telling you. And as a connoisseur, I should know."
Fraser's face went hot. "Nonsense, Ray. If you're not blind, you can't have
failed to notice that I'm . . . not in optimum condition."
Ray sighed, shaking his head, scratching at his stubble with a raspy sound
before patting the cushion beside him. "C'mere, okay? Sit."
Fraser sat, somewhat gingerly at first until he realized that Ray's makeshift
couch was sturdy enough to support him. Ray reached out and put a hand on
his thigh, squeezing lightly. Fraser's entire focus seemed suddenly to be
concentrated on that spot. He could feel the warmth of Ray's hand through
the denim of his jeans, could make out each individual finger where it lay.
He swallowed hard.
"Look, we're pushing forty here, Benton. Optimum condition left us both in
the dust a few years back. Don't sweat it, okay? I'm into the whole package,
not just bits and pieces. All of you. If putting up with your passive-aggressive
crap back in Chicago didn't put me off my feed do you really think anything
"Passive-ag. . . I am not!" Fraser said hotly, affronted.
"Tell me another one," Ray said, his voice dripping sarcasm. "Your picture's
in the dictionary right next to the definition, Benton. But that's okay, because
that's you and I got to kind of like that about you. And besides, my picture's
in there next to just plain old ordinary aggressive so it's not like I got
room to talk. Just cop to it."
Fraser thought about protesting, but then Ray's fingers shifted slightly up
and down his thigh in what could only be termed a caress, and he found himself
barely able to think. "I . . . ah. . . what were you saying?"
"You're passive-aggressive," Ray prompted.
Right. Yes. That was the topic. Fraser tried to marshal his thoughts, a task
rapidly becoming nearly Herculean. "I suppose. . . some people might. . .
view it . . . in that light."
Ray's chuckled, fingers straying slightly higher, moving toward his inner
thigh, toward the crease where thigh and hip joined. "You're breathing kind
of heavy there," he teased.
Fraser lifted his gaze from the hypnotic stroke of fingers on his thigh and
looked into Ray's face, shadowed, mysterious. His mouth was curved in a faint
smile, his eyes shone with reflected light. He hesitated for a moment, and
then remembered that Ray was leaving in the morning and he might never have
the chance to do this again. That thought was. . . unbearable. He had to know.
Had to. He had no choice at all. Lifting a hand, he slid it behind Ray's head,
feeling the plush prickle of short-cropped hair against his palm as he leaned
over, tilted his head a little, and brought their lips together.
Ray leaned into him, lips parting, breath sighing into his mouth, the hand
on his thigh tightening a little, his other hand coming up, fingers threading
into Fraser's hair, tugging a little to reposition him, and then Ray's tongue
flicked his lower lip, slick and warm, and Fraser shivered and opened wider
to let him in, shifting closer, up against Ray. He felt solid, warm, and strong.
As Fraser moved, Ray let his hand slide along Fraser's leg until his thumb
was resting in the crease where thigh met groin, and. . . squeezed.
Fraser let out a startled gasp which made Ray start laughing, and determined
to even the score, Fraser slid a hand down Ray's back until it was resting
on as much of his backside as he could reach, and he squeezed back. Surprised,
Ray twitched. Okay, it was more of a jump. The movement unbalanced Fraser,
causing him to shift most of his weight to one side. Suddenly the cushions,
plywood, Ray. . . everything, was sliding, accompanied by the incredibly
loud sounds of paint cans falling and rolling, the hollow, ringing thud of
a sawhorse hitting the floor, and Diefenbaker's startled barking. Too stunned
to react, they rode the avalanche down to the floor and lay there for a few
seconds, trying to catch their breath, adrenalin mingling strangely with arousal.
Ray lay sprawled mostly beneath him, but as he pushed up onto his hands to
look around, Fraser rolled off him and sat back on his haunches.
"Sorry, sorry! God, that was stupid!" Ray gasped in apology, looking rather
stunned. "What the fuck just happened?" He rubbed the back of his head.
"I have no fucking idea," Fraser echoed, rubbing his elbow where it had come
down hard on the floor and still smarted.
Ray stared at him, shocked, and then started giggling. "You. . . you. . .
. Holy shit, Fraser!"
Fraser found himself laughing too, it was irresistible. "That sums it up nicely."
"I think. . . Dief, shut up, okay? You're going to give it away if
we haven't already!" Ray snapped. "I think one of the paint cans fell over
and it kind of. . . snowballed from there."
Fraser surveyed the devastation. "I believe you're right."
Introducing the subject of sexual orientation really did seem something of
a moot point at this stage of the proceedings, but Fraser couldn't quite keep
his need to question entirely at bay. "So . . . you're . . . what I
mean to say is . . . have you always . . . ?" He struggled to find the right
words, but Ray just looked as if he was finding the whole situation more and
more hysterically funny every second. "Ray, if you'd just stop laughing for
a moment, I could . . . ."
"You could what? Finish a sentence?" Ray lay back down on the floor, wheezing
with laughter. "You really think you need to ask what you're trying
to ask? Now?"
It did sound a bit stupid, after all, but he was nothing if not persistent.
"Perhaps not, but if I were to ask, would you say you were . . . ."
He laughed. "Well, if I'm not, I'm going to have to have a serious
discussion with my dick because it seems to think I am."
Fraser blushed, but smiled back at his friend, then paused for a moment before
"Yeah?" Ray grinned.
"Aren't you going to ask me if . . . ."
"Believe me, I've got nothing to ask you, Octopus Boy." And
then Ray, still lying on the floor, started to laugh again until Fraser couldn't
help but join him.
After they got their laughter almost under control, they picked themselves
off the floor and put the makeshift bench and their supplies back to rights
in fairly short order. Diefenbaker, however, was not so quickly settled. He
pranced around the small workroom over and over again, stopping occasionally
to vocalize in a manner that sounded suspiciously like laughter - and not
even Fraser's quelling glare had any discernable effect on his behavior.
As he began his fifth circuit of the room, Ray reached over and stopped him
in his tracks. He placed a hand on either side of the wolf's head and turned
him around to face him. "Yeah, so me and Fraser are both idiots. I think you've
made your point already, don't you? Or do you have more to add to this discussion?"
Dief shook his head free of Ray's hands, looked over at Fraser, and barked
sharply before lying down on the blanket and curling up into a ball.
Fraser sighed. "I don't know where he acquired this unfortunate need to always
get the last word in."
Ray glanced at him. "Well, it's not from my side of the family."
Fraser frowned, unable to understand for a moment why Ray had said that -
and with such a serious tone of voice. Then he saw the corners of Ray's mouth
start to curl up into a grin, and he relaxed into the almost forgotten rhythms
of the easy banter that had once been as familiar and welcome as the purple
saxifrage that carpeted the Northwest Territory each spring in his youth.
He turned to Ray and raised his eyebrows. "I certainly hope you're not suggesting
this trait comes from my side of the family."
Ray's grin grew wider. "Hey, if the shoe fits."
"See?" Ray laughed. "You're doing it right now. Can't let it go, can you?"
Unexpectedly, Fraser found himself unable to respond. Ray's words, spoken
without rancor and clearly joking, were suddenly far too reminiscent of an
earlier - and not at all funny - exchange three years ago on the shores of
Lake Michigan. The sudden memory of angry words and punches traded on that
day spawned an unwelcome sense of foreboding. They'd come so close to ending
their partnership that day. And how close they were now to the time that Ray
would have to depart for Saskatoon and leave him once again without a partner.
He could feel rather than see Ray's worried gaze on him, and he knew he should
say something to lighten the mood, but he couldn't find the right words. Ray
began to fidget on his end of the bench, but he remained silent, giving Fraser
time to pull himself together. It wasn't until he heard a soft whine from
Diefenbaker that he was able to shake himself out of his own silence and face
He offered what he hoped was a reassuring smile, and Ray returned it with
a small smile of his own.
"Yes. I was . . . I'm sorry, Ray. Perhaps I'm a bit . . . shaken."
"Yeah, falling on your ass in a pile of paint cans and cookies can do that
to a guy."
As he forced himself back to normal, he considered how ironic it was that
when it looked as if he was finally reclaiming a passion for the work he'd
always loved, now he also had to contend with his passion for one Raymond
Kowalski as well.
It wasn't as if he had never encountered this state of affairs where Ray was
concerned, but back in Chicago he had believed that the hope of anything coming
of his desire for his partner was firmly in the realm of fantasy, and so it
was fairly simple to find a balance between thoughts of Ray and attention
on his work.
But now, the discovery that Ray returned his interest - and apparently in
no less intense a way - tipped the scales so far that maintaining any kind
of a balance was all but impossible.
Ray picked that moment to reach over and take Fraser's hand in his own. He
squeezed Ray's hand automatically, but followed that almost immediately by
pulling his hand away, leaving Ray looking visibly unhappy.
Fraser sighed. "Ray."
"Nah, it's okay. If you're not in the mood, you're not in the mood. Been there,
done that, got the tattoo."
"I said I get it, Fraser."
"It isn't that I'm 'not in the mood,' as you put it."
Ray remained silent, but turned to face him.
"The truth is, I think the exact opposite is the case. I'm too much
in the mood, and every time . . . every time you touch me I lose all sense
of where I am and what I'm supposed to be doing. We're supposed to be working,
Ray," he said, pleadingly. "I can't . . . you're too much of a distraction."
"Oh." Ray frowned for a moment, but then he started to smile. "Oh. Okay. Okay,
I get that." He laughed explosively. "Boy, do I get that. Yeah. We're on our
best behavior, both of us. Hope that kid shows up soon," he said a little
"As do I."
They both stared out the window for some time, watching intently.
"You really think he's going to show?" Ray asked, out of the blue.
"It's the logical assumption. Ms. Moss' property fits all the requirements."
Ray looked out the window, thoughtfully, then turned back to Fraser. "You
know, he's not going to show if those lights stay on. They'll scare him off."
Fraser looked over at the house, nodding. "You're probably right."
"You got her phone number?" Ray asked, pulling out his cellphone.
Fraser nodded, and got his own phone out. "I do, but put that away. There's
no point in you making a long-distance call from ten yards away," he said,
Ray laughed, closing his phone and sliding it back into his pocket. "Yeah.
For a second there I kind of forgot we weren't back in Chicago- it feels
like old times."
Ray's words brought home, yet again, the fact that tomorrow he would be going
back to Saskatoon, and the day after, back to Chicago, and Fraser would remain
behind and his life would go back to what passed for normal. Before he could
think of anything to say, Hannah picked up her phone, and Fraser pushed away
his personal pain to deal with the matter at hand. After asking her to turn
out the lights in the house, he closed his phone and put it away. A few moments
later the porch light winked out, followed a moment later by the lights that
shone in the windows, one by one. The last one to go out was on the upper
floor, Fraser assumed it was Hannah's bedroom.
"That'll help," Ray said softly, as if the darkness also required quiet.
Fraser nodded, then realized that in the lessened light, he probably couldn't
be seen. "Yes, it should. Good idea." He fell silent then. Ray didn't speak
either. After a few moments, Fraser realized that while they could see the
house, he couldn't hear a thing. He reached over and found the catch that
locked the window and opened it, then slid the window open a few inches.
"You figure freezing our butts off will keep us from jumping each other's
bones?" Ray asked, sounding amused. "Kinda like a cold shower?"
"I'm afraid we'll have to rely on will and good sense for that," Fraser returned.
"I just thought it would be helpful to be able to hear the approach of a vehicle,
or a person on foot."
"Smart. You get the east window, I'll do the south and west ones."
A few moments later they had all the windows open a small amount, and the
ambient temperature in the room had dropped precipitously. Ray shivered and
opened the coffee, pouring some into the cup-lid, taking a couple of gulps,
then handing the cup to Fraser who did the same, wanting to share that with
Ray, though the contrast of heat in his mouth and the cold air against his
face actually seemed to make him feel colder. He shivered a little too, as
he handed Ray the empty cup, which he put back on the thermos. After a few
minutes, Ray picked up the blanket, Fraser could see the pale wool plainly
as he shook it out, and then wrapped it around himself, holding one side out
like a wing.
"Come here, we can share. I promise not to get fresh."
Fraser nodded, and moved into Ray's space, taking that side of the blanket
from him to hold it around them.
"Better," Ray said after a moment. "We didn't exactly dress for a stake-out
"No," Fraser allowed. "In retrospect it might have been prudent to go home
"Yeah, but it wouldn't have been us," Ray said. "What time is it?"
Fraser shifted his arm until he could see the luminescent hash-marks on his
watch. "It's about nine-twenty."
Ray sighed. "Bet he doesn't show until after midnight."
"I don't bet."
Ray chuckled. "Yeah right. Sure you don't."
His laugh was warm, intimate. His voice more so. The right side of his body
warmed the left side of Fraser's. When he breathed in he could faintly smell
the warm, spicy scent of him . . . and warmth began to build inside him. Heat.
"Damn it!" He stepped away, out of the warmth, trying to stop thinking about
how Ray's skin had felt under his hands, about what he had tasted like, the
complete uninhibited response he had shown to Fraser's touch.
"What?" Ray asked, sounding startled, reaching to grab the trailing side of
"I. . . ." he paused, casting around for an excuse, and found one. "I'm an idiot.
I need to call Dave Byrnes." He pulled his phone out of his pocket and opened
"If our suspect actually does manage to set a blaze before we get to him,
the fire suppression unit will need to be here as quickly as possible." He
dialed, waited as it rang, and then explained the situation to Dave, who agreed
to put a skeleton crew on standby, just in case. Ending the call, he glanced
at his watch. A whole six minutes had passed. Lord. He was never going to
make it through this. It was torture.
"You done?" Ray asked impatiently.
"Good, then get back over here, I'm cold."
Ray sighed. "That's too much, too, huh?"
Fraser scowled, annoyed with himself. He wasn't that big a 'wuss,' as Ray
would say. "Certainly not," he said moving back to Ray's side, and sliding
an arm around his waist.
"Better." Ray relaxed against him, and they stood looking out at the house.
After a few minutes, Ray fidgeted a little. "You know, this was easier in
Chicago. At least there we could play the license plate game to keep sharp.
And there were convenience stores handy, most of the time. And I wasn't having
such a hard time keeping my hands to myself."
Fraser told himself he absolutely would not whimper. It was beneath him. "There
are cookies and coffee," he pointed out, steadfastly ignoring Ray's suggestive
comment. "Though I'll admit that even if we were out where we could see the
road, the odds that we would encounter any license plates other than Saskatchewan
ones are slim to none."
"'S what I thought. Guess we could sing songs or something."
Fraser looked at him, wishing he could see his face. Surely he was joking.
"Sing?" he asked cautiously. "Wouldn't that 'give it away' as you put it earlier?"
"Well, I don't mean sing sing, not like belting out Broadway show tunes.
Just sort of. . . I dunno. Hum? Whisper the lyrics?" He thought for a moment,
and made a face. "Okay, forget it. Dumb idea. Guess we'll just have to . .
. sit here."
Fraser nodded, sighing. "As you say."
"Well, look at the up side here. You won't have to hear me sing Kum-Ba-Yah."
Fraser shuddered eloquently. "Thank God. I believe that could be considered
grounds for justifiable homicide."
"Oh, yeah, you're a funny guy, Fraser. And yeah, for once I do mean 'funny
ha-ha.'" Then Ray nudged his knee into Fraser's leg, pulled the edge of the
blanket more tightly, pulling Fraser in closer to him in the process. "Of
course, 'funny weird' hasn't been taken off the list yet, so don't get too
"Don't worry, I'm not excited," Fraser said, laughing a little, only to find
himself gasping slightly as Ray's hand slipped beneath the blanket and rested
on his knee, fingers curled on his inner thigh.
"What was that you were saying about not being excited?" Ray asked, running
his fingers lightly up the inseam of Fraser's jeans.
"Ray!" He said, trying to sound stern, but succeeding only in moaning his
name in an embarrassingly loud manner. "I thought we'd agreed to . . . oh,
God. Ray, could you . . . oh, you're. Oh, yeah. Just another millimeter and
. . .mmmm."
Ray's fingers lingered for a moment, but then he pulled his hand away and
Fraser wanted nothing more than to have that hand back where it had just been.
Amazing. He had no control where Ray was concerned. None whatsoever.
He leaned over, elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands, but
no more than two seconds later, Ray reached over, took Fraser's face in his
hands, turned him slightly, and gave him a quick, hard kiss on the mouth before
returning his hands to hold the blanket.
"Sorry. I'm . . . okay, I'm not sorry
I touched you, and I'm sure as hell not sorry I kissed you, but . . . I know,
I know. Not yet. We got a job to do and we're professionals, damn it."
Ray sighed, then wrapped his arm around Fraser's own arm and leaned his head
on Fraser's shoulder. For a moment, Fraser continued to sit upright, but the
temptation to lean slightly against Ray's head finally proved to be too much.
He couldn't have said how long they sat there, holding each other - leaning
against each other - but this time, almost miraculously, he didn't find the
close proximity to Ray a distraction. Yes, he remained aware of Ray - of everything
about the man beside him, in fact. The tickle of spiky hair against
his temple. The familiar, and probably unconscious, tapping of Ray's foot
on the softwood floor. The puffs of breath that could be seen in the bright
gleam of moonlight spilling into the small, chilly room.
However, this once familiar hyper-awareness of his surroundings which had
been all but dormant for far too long and which was now waking up with a vengeance,
didn't stop with his awareness of Ray. The whisper of wind - barely audible
on this still night - rustling through the branches of the birch trees outside.
The faint smell of pine needles coming from somewhere beyond the stand of
birches. The faint sound of leaves, half buried in the light dusting of snow,
crackling underfoot . . . underfoot?
"Ray," he whispered. "I think we have a visitor."
Ray sat up, instantly alert. "Where?" he whispered squinting out the window.
"Not sure yet, I heard. . . just a moment. . . ." Fraser strained his eyes,
saw a vague movement near the back porch of the house. He waited tensely,
knowing it was as likely to be a deer or elk as a person, but a moment later
the shape resolved into a human figure as the visitor stepped onto the porch
and was silhouetted against the side of the house. "Back porch."
Ray nodded, watching intently. The shadowy figure squatted down, and began
to make splashing and pouring motions around the area where the wooden porch
joined the house.
"Got him," Ray whispered, rolling gracefully to his feet, the blanket falling
unnoticed to the floor as he picked up one of the flashlights.
Fraser surged to his feet as well, grabbing the other light, and followed
him to the door. Dief leaped up as well, dancing excitedly, though for once
quietly, at their feet. They stood for a moment, still watching, as a sudden
flare of light on the porch illuminated the figure. Fraser realized that he
had flicked a cigarette-lighter into life. "Go!" Fraser growled, and put his
hand against Ray's back, urging him forward.
Ray was already in motion. He pushed the door open, and headed down the stairs.
The sudden creak and squeal of the door's hinges sounded as loud as a scream
in the quiet night. The figure on the porch whirled, still holding the lighter.
Its fitful flicker illuminated Crawford Jones' pale, scared-looking face as
he stared at them, mouth agape.
"Shit!" Crawford yelped. The lighter went out, and the sound of breaking glass
told Fraser he'd dropped the bottle of after-shave.
"RCMP, remain where you are!" Fraser called out, not particularly hopeful
that Crawford would obey him, but he had to try.
As he'd suspected would happen, his words triggered movement, not stillness.
He saw a dark blur and could hear running steps, moving away in fast, hard
thuds against the hard ground, the sound interrupted by a periodic crunching
sound as Crawford hit patches of snow instead of winter-dry grasses and earth.
Already halfway down the stairs, Ray yelled, "Oh no you don't! Freeze, you
little dickweed! Chicago PD!"
There was a brief interruption in the sound of running feet, like as not while
the boy tried to process both Ray's colorful phrasing and the command he'd
probably never expected to hear outside of an American television show. Ray
took advantage of the moment to vault over the railing to the ground. Instantly
Crawford took off again. Ray landed, rolled, and was up and running after
their suspect before Fraser even made it down the rest of the stairs. Realizing
that their suspect was heading for the trees behind the house, and guessing
that he had parked his vehicle on the old logging road on the other side of
the copse, he calculated the best way to cut him off.
"Dief, stay with Ray!" he ordered, as he swung to the south to take a diagonal
track through the woods and cut Crawford off. A light flared on some distance
away, swinging wildly, and he realized it was Ray's flashlight, tracking Crawford
and also illuminating his own path through the stand of trees. Smart. Ray
was far less likely to injure himself if he could see roughly where he was
going. It also showed Fraser that they were quite a bit further ahead than
he had realized.
He had to get ahead of them or Crawford might be able to get to his car before
Ray caught him, and too many people, both guilty and innocent, had been killed
in car chases for him to let that happen here. He didn't want Crawford hurt.
Or Ray. Or Zhertak. Or some family heading home late from a gathering up on
the Reserve. He could do it. It wasn't that far. Three-quarters of a mile,
perhaps. An easy run, really. He ignored the breath catching in his chest,
tearing at his throat, making him feel like he was fighting for air. Ignored
the burn building in his thighs, the ache in his knees. Kept pushing himself.
Faster. Faster. Just one thought in his head. I have to get there first.
He stumbled, caught himself with both hands, wincing as they scraped
on twigs, rocks, and crusted snow.
Pushing himself upright he saw the flicker of Ray's flashlight, closer now.
Heard Dief barking. Heard the sound bounce a little. Echo. He had to be close
to the road, to hear that, because the trees would deaden and mute the sound
if he were still deep in the forest. Almost there. Almost there. He sucked
air into his laboring lungs and put every once of determination he owned into
his run. He broke out of the trees, the moon-silvered gravel of the road stretching
ahead of him. Seconds later a lanky figure burst into view a hundred yards
down the road, heading for the beat-up old Gremlin parked beside the road.
Not quite tall enough and too skinny to be Ray. Crawford.
One last time. One last time. His heart was trying to pound itself out of
his chest. His lungs burned. His legs ached. Every muscle he owned felt like
jelly. The gravel slid beneath his feet, trying to make him fall, but he dug
the cleats of his boots into the scree and managed not to, running low and
flat-out, arms pumping, and the distance closed, vanished, as he flung himself
forward and tackled Crawford like an American football player would, taking
him down just seconds before he reached the car.
The gravel tore through his jeans and bit into his knees, scraped the backs
of his hands raw. He ignored the pain and hung onto his prize doggedly as
it kicked and flailed.
"R. . . C. . . MP . . . . ." he panted. "You're . . . under arrest."
"Fraser?" He heard Ray call from behind him.
"Here!" he gasped.
Fraser heard running steps on the gravel and Ray was there beside them, the
flashlight illuminating the scene. "Restraints. . . pocket!" he managed.
He felt Ray's fingers trail over his backside as he hunted for them, and thanked
his lucky stars that he was in too much distress to respond to that touch.
"Jacket!" he snapped.
Ray's hands moved, locating the packet of interlocking plastic loops. Pulling
out a set, he grabbed one of Crawford's hands and snugged the band securely,
but not painfully, around that wrist. Crawford kept kicking, and flailing
around with the other hand.
"Give it up dickhead!" Ray growled, threading his fingers into Crawford's
long dark hair, holding him by it, not quite pulling. Yet. "Or do you want
to add resisting arrest to the arson charge?"
One last flail caught Fraser in the ribs and stole what little breath he had
recovered, but then Ray did yank, and Crawford subsided sullenly.
"Ow man!" he whined. "That hurts! Police brutality!"
Ray snorted. "You think that hurts, you ought to try my patented head-kick."
he said, taking his hand out of Crawford's hair to loop the restraint snugly
around the boy's other wrist as neatly as a cowboy roping a calf.
"He threatened me!" Crawford bleated.
Fraser levered himself off his legs and sat up, sucking in deep lungfuls of
cold air, desperately trying to re-oxygenate his system, shivering a little
as his sweat cooled him down too much, now that he was stationary.
Crawford looked at him scornfully. "What's the matter, Corporal? Too many
hash brown casseroles and cream pies from the Ladies' Auxiliary?"
Fraser felt heat flare across his face that had nothing to do with exertion.
He didn't reply, because the only reply he could give would be 'yes.'
Ray reached down and smacked Crawford lightly on the back of his head. "Yeah,
well he caught your skinny ass, didn't he?"
"Ow!! He can't do that! Can he do that?" He asked, looking at Fraser, then
back at Ray. "Who are you anyway?"
"Detective Ray Kowalski," Ray said.
"Kow. . . wait! You're one of the guys from Chicago! I remember you. You were
on the ghost ship!"
"Yeah. That's me. Corporal Fraser's partner. . . and friend." He shot a look
at Fraser that was full of warmth, then looked back at Crawford, his gaze
narrowed and glacial. "And you're in a world of hurt here, Mr. Jones. Arson.
Attempted murder. You might think about that next time you're tempted to sass
Crawford's mouth dropped open. "Murder?" he squeaked. "No way! I never hurt
"Sheer luck," Ray said ominously.
"Indeed," Fraser said, finally having enough wind to speak coherently. "I'm
afraid Detective Kowalski is right. Had you succeeded in lighting that fire
tonight, you could have killed Mrs. Moss."
"She's not even home!" Crawford scoffed. "Everybody knows she goes up to the
Reserve to visit Mary on the weekends."
"If that's so, then you'd think that 'everybody' would also know that she
didn't go up this weekend," Fraser said without trying to soften it
as he usually would, anger at the sheer thoughtlessness of the boy's actions
pushing him to make Crawford aware of just how big a mistake he'd nearly made.
"Mary is ill and Hannah stayed home."
"Really?" Crawford stared at him, looked at Ray as if to request confirmation.
Ray nodded. And suddenly all of Crawford's flippancy and attitude vanished,
melting away as tears welled in his eyes.
"I didn't know!" he wailed. "I swear I didn't know! I thought she was gone!
I wouldn't have. . . I didn't want to hurt anybody!"
Tears washed streaks through the dirt on his face, acquired, no doubt, in
his wild run through the woods. Maybe he'd fallen, wiped his sweaty face with
his dirty hands. He no longer looked like a young man, but like a little boy.
Fraser heard Ray's voice, not aloud, but a memory: 'You have to remember
that you were just as stupid at one point or you can't deal with kids at all.'
His anger seemed to evaporate. He'd done plenty of stupid things in his life,
hadn't stopped doing them once he hit adulthood, either, as his current physical
state eloquently reminded him. He reached out and gently put his hand on Crawford's
"I know you didn't. Come on. Let's go back to Hannah's. I suspect you have
something you'd like to say to her. And then we're going to call your mother,
go to the detachment, and have a serious discussion about what you've been
doing and what we're going to do about it."
Crawford nodded, sniffling, unable to even wipe his face because his hands
were restrained. Fraser pulled a clean handkerchief out of his pocket and
did it for him, even holding it so he could blow his nose, like the child
he suddenly seemed. Small and scared, never mind that he was nearly as tall
as Ray. He glanced at Ray, who nodded at him approvingly, and he felt a warm
glow in his chest as he helped the boy to his feet.
A sudden flare of light and the crunch of tires on gravel brought them all
around to watch as Constable Traynor pulled up in the Suburban and set the
brake, leaving the engine running and the lights on as she got out and headed
their way. Ray switched off his flashlight and Fraser frowned, fingering the
keys in his pocket.
"Constable," he said.
"Sir," she responded formally. "We heard. . . I mean, I thought you might
need assistance in rounding up the suspect."
He almost winced at the further proof that his subordinates felt he was incapable
of doing his job, but somehow managed not to show his dismay. "Thank you,
but Detective Kowalski and I have matters well in hand. Er, how did you. .
. ?" he nodded at the vehicle.
She looked a little sheepish. "I, ah, hotwired it, sir."
He gave her a long look, and she cleared her throat. "I'll put everything
back to normal when we get back to the detachment."
"Yes, you will," he said, refraining from further comment. "Well, as long
as you're here, you can drive us back to Mrs. Moss', and then we'll head back
to the detachment from there. And since you're carrying a radio, would you
also call in the arrest and have Constable Zhertak request that Mrs. Jones
and her attorney meet us at the detachment?"
"Yes sir!" She pulled out her radio and made the call as Fraser escorted Crawford
to the Suburban and put him in the back seat, getting in beside him. Ray let
Dief into the cargo area and then took the passenger side front seat himself.
A moment later Traynor joined them, getting in and putting the vehicle in
gear as she released the parking brake. None of them spoke, though Crawford
still sniffled periodically.
* * *
Ray paced restlessly outside the detachment, feeling unfairly excluded, halfway
wishing he smoked so he'd have something to do besides bite his nails. He'd
killed some time helping Traynor put the Suburban to rights in the big, heated
garage that took up most of the back side of the detachment building. She
hadn't really needed any help, but had let him kibitz, probably just to be
nice. Once that was done she'd taken him inside and offered him some coffee.
Cop coffee was the same no matter where you went: Thick, black, bitter, and
super-caffeinated. Which probably explained why he'd started pacing in front
of the main desk for a while, until he got tired of Traynor and Zhertak looking
at him like they half expected him to pull out a rubber hose and push his
way into the interrogation room where Fraser, Crawford, Crawford's mom, Crawford's
lawyer, and even Diefenbaker were all sitting around yakking in that
calm, polite Canadian way.
It didn't quite seem fair that he had to stay out when he'd been in on
everything else, but the lawyer had insisted and Fraser had asked him to wait
outside. What was taking so long in there anyway? How hard could it be to
book the kid and come out so Ray could take Fraser home and show him some
real appreciation. Which apparently no one around La Rouille ever bothered
to do, or at least hadn't until now. Zhertak had been almost annoyingly respectful
and admiring when they brought Crawford in. Ray was still sure that the too-buff
constable had designs on Fraser. And Fraser wasn't open for designing. He
He paced some more. Shivered a little. It was pretty damned cold outside when
you weren't being kept warm by the adrenalin pumping through you as you chased
a suspect through the woods in the dark. He finally decided he was being stupid
standing around outside freezing his nuts off, since he had plans to use them
later. He headed back toward the doors just as they opened, Fraser holding
them open so Lana Jones and Crawford's lawyer could walk out. Judging by the
looks on their faces they weren't happy, but they also weren't completely
torn up. Must've come to some sort of arrangement about the charges, though
it looked like Crawford was definitely spending the night. No surprise there.
He was, after all, an arsonist.
Ray lifted his eyebrows at Fraser who put a finger to his lips and then pointed
at the Suburban. Ray nodded and headed for it, getting in and starting it
as Fraser and Dief escorted the two over to their car, waited until they had
started it and pulled out, then they came across the parking lot to join Ray.
Fraser let Dief in the back seat and then opened the front door, pausing for
a moment before he got in, eyeing Ray in the driver's seat.
"You think you can find your way back to the house?"
Ray rolled his eyes. "Benton, this town's the size of my old neighborhood
in Chicago. I think I can manage, especially since I've done it once already.
Besides, you know I can't stand to go more than twenty-four hours without
getting behind the wheel of a car. Get in."
Fraser chuckled and nodded, getting in. "True. I wouldn't want you to go through
Ray waited for him to buckle up, and then headed for the house. "So what happened?"
"Crawford confessed to setting both previous fires, and to the attempt tonight.
He's in a great deal of trouble, but we're hopeful that the Stevensens and
Mr. Dixon will see their way clear to letting Crawford attend a sentencing
circle instead of going through the court system. He is genuinely remorseful;
discovering that Mrs. Moss was home tonight came as a great shock to him and
made him realize how dangerous what he was doing is. He's offered to lay information
against Zoltan Motherwell as well, which should help us shut down his access
to the Internet and possibly prevent repetitions of what happened here."
Ray nodded, chancing a glance at Fraser. "What's a sentencing circle?"
"It's an aboriginal justice program in which the perpetrator is required to
face his tribal elders and receive a sentence at their hands, in lieu of going
through the regular court system. It's been shown to be quite effective, especially
with youthful offenders like Crawford."
"Sounds like a good idea." He tapped his fingers on his thigh, and looked
back at Fraser. "You know, what I can't figure out though, is how the heck
Crawford got hooked up with Motherwell of all people to begin with. It's one
hell of a weird coincidence."
Fraser sighed. "Actually, it's not a coincidence at all. I'm afraid it's my
own fault. I was invited to give a talk on careers in law enforcement to local
high-schoolers, and in an effort to enliven the proceedings, I used several
anecdotes from my time in Chicago."
The light dawned. "One of them being our first case together?"
"Indeed. And as the assembly was mandatory attendance, Crawford was there.
Later he grew curious about Mr. Motherwell and looked him up on the Internet,
and the rest, as they say, is history."
Ray snorted. "Dumb kid. I can't believe he was stupid enough to think he'd
get away with it, considering he was following the m.o. from a case he knew
you'd already solved."
"That we solved," said Fraser quietly. Ray glanced over at him, but
Fraser's eyes were closed and he was leaning against the passenger side window.
"As you said yourself, Ray, young people often seem even less likely than
adults to consider the possible consequences of their actions. Crawford's
finally been forced to take a hard look at himself and his behavior, and hopefully
he'll be able to make better choices from here on out and live a life he's
proud of." Fraser paused, and laughed softly. "And, Ray, if I start sounding
like a bad religious pamphlet again would you kindly shoot me?"
Ray laughed. "Yeah. You got it."
As Ray turned the Suburban onto the main road, he thought about what Fraser
had just said. Yeah, if everything worked out right, this would probably jolt
the kid into making some changes, but whether they were going to be long-term
changes or not was another story. Down at the detachment, it sure seemed that
Crawford's mom loved her son, but if that was the case, where the heck had
she been when her kid was getting into this mess to begin with? How could
anyone pay so little attention to someone they cared so much about?
He sighed. Two other kids, a full-time job, and a loner son who'd hit the
age where everything had to be a big secret: that's how Lana had missed
the signs. No big mystery there. Maybe the real mystery was how he had
managed to miss seeing so much about his own best friend for so long.
Ray turned into the drive, put the car into park, and shut off the ignition,
but Fraser didn't move. His eyes were still closed, and he'd slumped down
a little in his seat, clearly asleep. He looked so completely exhausted that
Ray almost felt guilty waking him up, but he sure as hell wasn't going to
leave him out in the car all night. He unbuckled his seatbelt, then turned
in toward Fraser.
"Hey," he said, laying his hand on Fraser's shoulder and shaking him gently.
Fraser smiled in his sleep and turned his head slightly toward the sound of
Ray's voice, rubbing his cheek against the knuckles of Ray's hand in the process.
"Mmm . . . nice."
"Yeah, it's nice," Ray said, sliding his thumb along Fraser's cheek. "But
it'll be nicer inside."
He walked around to the passenger side and opened both doors. Dief, who'd
been curled up on the backseat, stretched himself awake and slipped out of
the car. Fraser wasn't quite so fast. Eyes still closed, he unbuckled his
own seatbelt, but he sat for a moment before finally answering Ray's smile
with a bleary-eyed grin of his own. He groaned a little as he began to straighten
his legs, and stopped to test his weight on each knee before releasing his
hold on the roof. He took a deep breath, then shut the car door behind him,
and headed slowly for the house, Ray walking close beside him.
They entered the warm kitchen. Ray held his hand out for Fraser's jacket,
and took it into the living room to hang up on the coat rack along with his
own. When he returned to the kitchen, Dief was lapping at a bowl of fresh
water, and Fraser was still standing in front of the sink, holding his hands
under the running water and wincing slightly.
Ray reached over and turned Fraser's hands over, palms up. No gravel imbedded
in them, but it looked like he'd done a number on both his hands sometime
during the chase in the woods. "Kind of messy. You got any of that pregnant
mucus stuff here?"
Fraser smiled. "I'm afraid not, Ray. There should be some antibiotic ointment,
"In the bathroom? I'll get it for you."
"You don't need to do that, Ray."
"It's not a problem. Trust me when I tell you I was heading that direction
anyway." Ray grinned. "I'll bring the ointment and some band-aids or something
out with me when I'm done, okay?" Fraser nodded, and Ray left him fixing a
bowl of food for Dief.
Fraser was sitting on the couch, his boots and socks removed and placed next
to him on the floor, when Ray joined him in the living room a few minutes
later. He was leaning against the back cushion, eyes closed, and breathing
in the steam from a mug he held in his hand.
"Hey," Ray said, laying the tube of ointment down on the coffee table. "I
found a bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. Looked like you were walking
a little stiffly when you got out of the car. You might want to take a couple
of these before you go to sleep; it'll help if there's any swelling."
"Thanks, Ray." He took the aspirin, and swallowed the tablets dry, as if he'd
forgotten he was holding a drink in his other hand. "I heated up some chicken
soup in the microwave," he said, indicating the second mug sitting atop a
magazine on the table, "but if you'd prefer a more substantial meal, I'll
see what I can come up with."
"Nah, this is good." Ray reached for the cup and took a careful sip. "I think
I'm too tired for anything more ambitious than instant soup."
Fraser opened his mouth to reply, but it was swallowed up in a yawn. "As am
"Yeah. Looks like it's time for Doctor Ray to do his thing. Give me your hands."
"Ray, I'm perfectly capable of putting antibiotic ointment on my own hands."
He sat up, but Ray pushed him backwards again. "Just go with it, Fraser. I'm
in the mood. You don't want to come between a man and his mood, do you?"
"Good lord, no," Fraser said with a grin, relaxing back against the pillows
as Ray applied cream to his hands and covered the worst of the scrapes with
"Okay," Ray said, taking the empty mugs from the table. "Be back in a second."
When he returned from the kitchen, Fraser had fallen asleep again, his head
tilted to one side. He laughed to himself. Whatever fantasies he'd been having
about a night of hot monkey sex were obviously going to have to be put aside
for the time being. He was pretty tired himself, but Fraser looked like he
was just this side of lapsing into a coma.
He knelt down on the couch and put his arm around Fraser's shoulders and squeezed
gently until he finally stirred.
"Come on, let's get you to bed."
Fraser looked away. "The couch is fine, Ray."
"For Dief, maybe. Unless . . . ." Huh. It hit Ray that maybe he'd been making
a few too many assumptions. A little groping in a cold garage didn't necessarily
mean that Fraser wanted to be sharing a bed with him. "You know, I'm not going
to boot you out of your bed again. I can take the couch if you don't want
to . . . ."
"No!" Fraser's said instantly, with a stricken expression. "That's not what
I meant at all!"
"Oookay." Then Ray waited, hoping Fraser would add something that would help
him figure out what was going on, but after about twenty seconds passed -
which had to be the longest damn twenty seconds Ray had ever sat through -
he gave up. "So . . . um, you want to tell me what you did mean?"
Fraser opened his mouth to reply, then lifted his hands helplessly before
letting them fall again and said wryly. "You know, I don't have the faintest
idea what I meant. I'm so tired I'm babbling."
Ray grinned. "Okay, that's progress - sort of."
Fraser smiled back at him through tired eyes, then pushed himself up off the
couch and held his arm out in the direction of the bedroom hallway. "Ray,
my very good friend - would you do me the honor of sharing my bed with me
"Yeah, see . . . that's better! You've got the 'formal invitation to
give a guy a sleeping-with-a-Mountie alibi' thing down pat."
Fraser smiled, and Ray stood up, and almost instantly his spot on the couch
was taken over by sixty pounds of wolf, who curled up in the warmth left by
the two men.
"Well, he's looking comfy. How about you and me go follow his lead?"
"If you insist, Ray," Fraser said, eyes bright with humor. "But I hardly think
there's enough room on the couch for all three of us."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Did you get any sleep last night?"
Fraser sighed. "It doesn't appear that I did, does it?"
"Nope. Hey," Ray said, looking back at Dief. "The wolf's already snoring."
"Yes, well . . . he isn't often allowed to sleep on the couch. I think he's
availing himself of this rare opportunity while he can."
"Smart wolf. So . . . bed?"
Within minutes, the living room and kitchen lights were shut off, and the
two men were finally heading in the direction of the bedroom, but Ray halted
Fraser's progress with a quick tug on his sleeve as they passed the bathroom.
"What is it, Ray?"
"Hang on a second. You got anything like Ben-Gay or Aspercreme in here somewhere?
Coming out from the car, you looked a little stiff . . . ."
Fraser snickered, and Ray shook his head.
"You been watching Beavis and
Butthead? I didn't mean that kind of stiff."
He didn't even make an attempt to look confused by the reference, just smiled
and said, "Top shelf of the medicine cabinet, I believe."
Ray walked into the bathroom and found an unopened tube of Aspercreme where
Fraser had said it might be. "Got it. You want to go on in to the bedroom?"
"Actually, if I could have a moment to myself here . . . ."
"Huh?" Ray looked around the room. "Oh. Oh, yeah. Let me get out of your way.
Just let me know when you're done, okay?"
Fraser nodded, and Ray walked back out into the hall, shutting the door behind
him. He supposed he could give the man some privacy, even if just having a
bathroom door closed between them felt like too much of a separation at the
He went into the bedroom and put the Aspercreme down next to the lamp on the
window side of the bed. Not exactly the kind of stuff in a tube he'd been
hoping they'd need to have handy on the bedside table, but, yeah, it had
been a long day, and it wasn't just Fraser who was wiped. He probably wouldn't
be good for much except sleep right now, either.
Ray sat down on the edge of the bed and removed his boots and socks. By the
time he'd taken off his sweatshirt, undershirt, and jeans, Fraser had appeared
in the doorway.
"The bathroom's free, Ray."
"Thanks. Just going to go wash up and brush my teeth. Be back in a second."
Ray's words were spoken easily - casually - like it was no big deal for the
two of them to be getting ready to sleep together, but inside . . . well,
inside was a different matter entirely.
The thing of it was that this should have been no big deal. Even before
their Arctic trek, they'd shared sleeping quarters - even the same bed - more
times than he could count. And on the quest, well . . . there usually wasn't
more than an inch or two separating them most nights after they'd set up camp.
But this was different. This was sleeping together with intent, even if
they were collectively too beat to really get down to business. Kind of scary,
even if it maybe shouldn't have been. But scary in a good way, like when you're
at the top of the first hill on a roller coaster and you know there's no way
to stop the damn thing and you're really, really looking forward to
the heart pounding rush that's going to come any second.
Ray broke some kind of land-speed record getting in and out of the bathroom,
but by the time he returned to the bedroom, Fraser was already under the covers
and looking a little freaked out. Okay, he was damned if he was going to get
into the bed while Fraser was looking this nervous.
Okay, he was still capable of talking. That was a good sign.
"You put any of that gunk on yet?"
Fraser glanced over at the bedside table. "No, however, I don't believe I
really need to use any tonight. I'm sure by morning, I'll . . . ."
"Let's take a look."
"Let's take a look. Slide your legs out of the bed and we'll see."
"It really isn't necessary, Ray." Fraser gave him a small smile, but at the
same time he clutched the blanket even closer to his chest than he'd been
holding it a minute before. Frightened virgin routine? No way. Not after that
scene up in Hannah's workroom. So what was this all about?
"It's necessary for me, Fraser. Don't you get that by now? Don't you
get how much I care about you?"
"I . . . ." Fraser closed his eyes for a moment, then slowly slid his legs
over to the side and out from under the covers.
Even with the awkward way Fraser was sitting, he kept the blanket held against
him as much as he was able to do while still showing his legs, and it probably
wasn't about being cold or anything since the house was nice and warm. Besides,
if anyone was going to be cold on a late fall night in Canada, it was more
likely to be him, but he was standing there in nothing but briefs and felt
perfectly comfortable while Fraser was still wearing his long-sleeved henley
and looked - well, Ray wouldn't exactly say it looked comfortable.
What was with him? Wasn't this the same guy who'd practically broken the public
decency laws of two countries the day he'd smuggled files into the consulate
for Ray? He could still remember how weird it had been watching Fraser peeling
down in front of him and Turnbull a little more enthusiastically than he'd
ever seen anyone get half-naked. When he'd started flinging clothes right
and left to get to the folders he'd hidden down his pants, Ray'd thought if
Fraser ever wanted to change professions, the Lucky Horseshoe over on Halsted
would probably be happy to hire him for Ladies Night.
Ask him? Don't ask him? Maybe it'd be better to stick with not asking
him. After spending over a year pretending he didn't notice Fraser talking
to thin air; pretending not to notice this particular weirdness would be a
piece of cake in comparison. Maybe it was just that now with everything out
in the open, he was a little nervous about getting. . . out in the open. That
was probably it.
Smiling a little at that thought, he crawled across the bed and grabbed the
tube of ointment off the table, then sat down beside Fraser on the edge of
the bed. Turning the bedside lamp up to its highest setting, he took a look
at Fraser's knees. No broken skin, which was a good thing, but they were swollen
and bruised. Fraser was probably going to be one hurting puppy come morning,
maybe even with the Aspercreme.
It struck him as funny, all of a sudden, that this was the first time he'd
ever gotten a really good long look at even this much of Fraser's bare skin,
and he was wasting time thinking about some over-the-counter medicine. Tired
or not, this was pretty ridiculous. He should at least be doing something
about getting his hands on those legs.
"Doesn't look too bad, but this stuff's going to help. Lay back against the
pillows, okay? I'll put some on for you."
"Ray, I can . . . ."
"Fraser, what did I say about wanting to do this?"
Fraser sighed resignedly, then edged back on the bed until his back was touching
the pillow and both legs were stretched out in front of him. Ray crawled over
his legs, sat down cross-legged in the middle of the bed, and flipped open
He sniffed. Not bad. Smelled sort of sweetish. Not like a doctor's office,
at least, or the rotting-stuff smell of whatever that crap was Fraser had
used on him once upon a time. A little aloe or something, maybe, but that
was all he could smell.
He squeezed some of the cream on his palm and put the tube down by his side
on the bed. Then he dabbed a little on each of Fraser's knees.
Okay, he'd been right to think this was going to be a little weird.
It felt nice, actually. Nice to be touching Fraser's warm, smooth skin finally.
But . . . knees? He had to start with knees? Wasn't exactly on the top ten
list of seduction fantasies that'd been running through his head for the past
He started to move his hands up a little on Fraser's bare thighs, but he could
feel a slight tensing in his muscles, so he decided to head the other way
for the time being. He rubbed some of the cream into Fraser's calves, relieved
when the tension that had surfaced began to dissipate. As Ray worked the cream
in, Fraser let out a small groan, and relaxed more fully against the pillow.
"Thank you, Ray." Fraser said quietly. His eyes were closed, but a contented
smile was playing on his lips. "This is nice."
"Yeah? Good." Ray slid his hands slowly up the calves and then past Fraser's
knees to the outsides of his thighs. He rubbed gently now, slow strokes up
and down, feeling the slight crisp-rough texture of hair shift beneath his
hands. "So . . . roll over, okay?"
Fraser's eyes went wide, and he stared at Ray.
"What? You got a problem with my seduction technique? Damn. It's always worked
before," Ray cackled. "No, you goof. I was just thinking I'd give you a back
rub before we go to sleep, if you want, I mean."
Fraser hesitated for a moment, and then nodded. "That would be nice, Ray."
"Good. So roll over, and give me credit for a little finesse," he muttered
as Fraser, somewhat reluctantly, complied, lowering the blanket about midway
down his back.
Ray shook his head. He knew there was no way that was going to be enough.
Ever since he'd met him - but more frequently after the Scarpa case - Fraser'd
had intermittent back spasms, and they were almost always in his lower back.
If Ray knew him, the pain he felt there every so often would probably
be enough to send anyone else screaming for a chiropractor or a surgeon or
something, but Ray had learned to look for more subtle clues than screaming
when it came to Fraser. A wince. Leaning on the edge of a desk when he could
have been standing. That sort of thing.
He couldn't get over how much he'd noticed about Fraser even before he'd figured
out what it was he was feeling for him - or how much he liked the fact that
there was finally something he could do to make him feel better. Who didn't
like getting back rubs? He tugged the covers down some more, and got started.
A minute later, he wasn't sure that Fraser actually fell into the 'liking
back rubs' category. First off, it was kind of hard to give a good back rub
through a shirt. Second, every time Ray's hands strayed lower than the bottom
of his ribs, Fraser tensed up again. And it wasn't just when he touched his
lower back. The same thing happened when his hands traveled over to Fraser's
sides, no matter how high up on his back they were, and he knew Fraser was
not ticklish. It was like trying to give a back rub to a squirming
plank of wood.
He was just about to give up when he inadvertently slid his hands down along
Fraser's sides to his waist and Fraser stiffened up like he'd gotten an electric
shock or something. No, it was more than that. This was someone who used to
stick his tongue into electrical outlets. Willingly. Electricity and him had
to be old friends by now. Ray paused - his hands stilled on Fraser's waist,
with Fraser trying his damnedest not to breathe, near as he could tell - when
his instinct finally kicked into gear and he figured out what the hell was
It was the same thing that had been going on for the past two days. Fraser
turning away to put on the Kevlar. Leaving his shirt hanging outside his jeans.
Well, fuck that, Ray thought, though he had the sense not to say it. He left
his hands where they were and leaned down, kissing the back of Fraser's neck,
the little knob at the top of Fraser's spine, and then started working his
way lower, at the same time letting his hands slide up and down Fraser's sides
in a rough caress.
"Ray!" Fraser choked.
"Shut up, Benton," he said against the small of his back. "I'm gonna get offended
here if you keep thinking I'm a shallow dickwad."
"Ray!" This time Fraser sounded shocked in an 'I can't believe you just said
that' way, instead of in an 'I'm freaking out' way.
Ray laughed, and moved up to nuzzle the back of Fraser's neck, kissing him
behind his ear. "What's the matter, that word not in your approved vocabulary?"
he whispered into Fraser's ear. "I've got a ton of 'em. I could make a sailor
blush, but I'll settle for a Mountie. Now would you just relax and let me
do this for you?"
Fraser nodded. Ray started over again, this time putting a little cream on
his hands and pushing them up underneath Fraser's shirt. After one initial
flinch that Ray thought was more surprise than self-consciousness, Fraser
began to relax into his hands as he rubbed the cream into the skin he couldn't
see, but he could feel. The thing that got to him was that Fraser didn't feel
all that flabby or out of shape. Just. . . solid. The weight he'd put on was
distributed so evenly over his frame that he didn't have much in the way of
a gut or anything, just some love-handles that even Ray had fought off and
on himself. They ran in his family. He figured he'd lose the battle one of
Fraser made a sort of contented almost-purr as Ray worked his fingers around
his shoulder blades, and he turned his head, settling onto his pillow a little
more with a sigh. That was followed a few moments later by a jaw-cracking
yawn. Ray suppressed a chuckle and kept working, until Fraser reached back,
awkwardly, and caught his hand, tugging a little to pull Ray down closer.
"What?" Ray asked quietly.
"C'mere," Fraser muttered.
Ray leaned closer, his nose nearly touching Fraser's, so he could hear whatever
it was Fraser had to say. To his surprise, Fraser didn't say a word, just
turned his face up, searching blindly until their lips met. Ray smiled against
Fraser's mouth and returned the awkward kiss. When their lips parted again,
he eased himself down alongside Fraser, one arm across his waist, their heads
on the same pillow. It felt good. Felt good. Everything finally felt right
again, after being all wrong for two damned years. He had no idea what they
were going to do about it, he just knew that he didn't want to give it up
* * *
Warm. Comfortable. Horny. Pretty typical way to wake up, Ray thought, except
that he hadn't woken up to the unmistakable presence of another person in
bed with him in so long that when he got conscious enough to realize it, he
kind of jerked a little, startled. The deep breath he took as he did was full
of a familiar scent, though, and he remembered where he was and who he was
with, and settled back again. Fraser was spooned up behind him, actually wrapped
half around him, one thigh across his, an arm around his waist, nose buried
in the crook of his shoulder. And if the hard-on poking him in the ass was
any sign, Fraser was feeling warm, comfortable and horny too. He grinned.
"Mmmm?" Fraser responded, sounding both sleepy and cautious. An odd combination.
"Just checking," Ray said.
Fraser's head lifted and his arm tightened around Ray's midriff. "You have
to check to see who you're in bed with?" he demanded, sounding outraged.
Ray patted the hand on his stomach. "Nah. I was just checking to see
if you were awake yet, so settle down," Ray said with a chuckle. He shifted
his hips, just a little, and was rewarded with a swift intake of breath and
a similar shift of hips against his.
"Ray?" Fraser's breath was warm against his ear.
"Yeah?" Ray said, encouragingly.
"I'm in. . . I want . . . I . . . ."
His hand closed around Ray's shoulder and he shifted backward, pulling Ray
back too, until he was lying flat on his back looking up at Fraser. Sleep-wrinkled,
hair sticking up every-which-way, patchy stubble, but eyes brilliant with
everything he couldn't say. He was beautiful.
"Yeah, me too," Ray said, his voice thick. It was hard to swallow for a moment.
Fraser's mouth came down on his, gently at first, in a sort of 'hi, nice to
meet you' kiss. But after they both figured out they already knew each other,
it warmed up fast. Pretty soon they were back to where they'd had to leave
off the night before when they were interrupted by a minor avalanche. And
just as quickly past that point. Fraser was apparently just as perceptive
in bed as he was out of it, because when his fingers brushed Ray's nipple
and it tightened and Ray gasped, Fraser went for the little nubs like there
was a neon sign on them or something. Stella had always thought it was weird
that Ray liked to have his nipples played with more than she did. Clearly
Fraser didn't find it weird at all.
With his few functioning brain cells, Ray realized that he could finally do
what he'd wanted to do last night, and got both hands on Fraser's ass and
squeezed. Fraser, in the middle of raking his teeth across one of Ray's nipples,
bit down almost too hard, and Ray barely managed not to yelp. Once he was
sure Fraser's teeth were clear, he petted again and Fraser moaned breathily
against his chest, clutching his shoulder as he rocked his hips, pressing the
hard length of his cock against Ray's thigh.
Ray pushed up, finding Fraser's hip, rubbing against it the same way Fraser
was rubbing on him. "Yeah," he muttered. "Good."
Fraser nodded, clutching at his hip, and lifted his head to bring their lips
together again, tongues stroking. When the beeping sounded, for a minute Ray
thought it was the smoke detector and he had a muzzy thought about that being
appropriate, considering the heat they were generating. But then it dawned
on him that Fraser had gone still. Was pushing away from him, turning toward
the night-stand. . . oh. Whew.
"Shut that thing off, okay?" he growled, reaching for Fraser. "We're up already."
Fraser silenced the alarm clock, then he sat back, flushed, breathing heavily,
and with the most. . . lost. . . expression on his face.
"We have to stop," he said quietly.
Ray stared at him, jaw dropped. "What? Why?"
Ray still didn't get it. "There some law here against sex on Mondays?" he
Fraser sighed deeply. "You should leave here in an hour if you're going to
make it back to Saskatoon in time for your court appearance this afternoon."
Saskatoon. Court. LeBeau. "Shit," he moaned, covering his face with his hands.
"But. . . we could. . . we've got time. . . I can speed!" he offered, incoherently.
"Please, Ray. I . . . let's just leave it here, all right?"
Something about Fraser's voice made him uncover his face and look, really
look, at Fraser. He looked. . . about as miserable as Ray felt.
"This isn't about. . . ." Ray stopped. How the hell could he ask if it was
because Fraser didn't feel attractive without making it sound like Ray thought
he was acting like a fifteen-year-old girl? He couldn't. And he didn't want
to push. Pushing was bad. He swallowed down his disappointment, and nodded.
"Okay. Okay, no problem," he lied. "I . . . um, don't suppose you want to
go to Saskatoon with me?"
Fraser sighed again. "I'd love to, but I'm afraid I can't. Duty. . . ."
"Yeah. Arf." Ray sighed too. "Okay. You, um, mind if I get a shower and shave?"
"Of course not!" Fraser actually looked appalled. "Be my guest."
Ray managed not to comment that 'guest' status wasn't exactly what he'd been
hoping for, as he sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bed. Standing
up, he was glad now that he'd worn his briefs to bed, because they made it
at least a little less obvious that he had a woody he could pound nails with.
He walked out of the bedroom, but Fraser calling his name brought him up short.
He turned, hoping maybe Fraser had changed his mind about not having enough
time before he had to leave, that maybe he'd figured out that what happened
next between the two of them was more important than any damn clock or court.
But all he saw was Fraser - somber and silent - holding out a fresh towel
for him, and that fantasy bit the dust.
Who was he kidding? This was Fraser. Nothing was more important than justice.
And that was right, really. He knew that. Plus, it gave them a reason to stop,
and something in him thought maybe Fraser wanted that. Maybe this was all
just a little more than Fraser had bargained for. Fraser had been lonely,
hungry for human contact. And Ray had been there and he was . . . safe,
in a way no one else was. Especially last night when Fraser was tired and
hurting and his brain wasn't firing on all cylinders.
But now in the cold light of morning things looked different. Yeah, he knew
the name of that tune. There'd been a couple of mornings right after he and
Stella'd called it quits where Ray couldn't figure out what the hell he'd
been thinking the night before. Mornings when he looked across the kitchen
counter and the near-stranger he was sharing coffee and toast with was so
obviously not what he'd imagined her to be the night before - not what he'd
wanted her to be - that he'd just sit there wishing that grown-up life
had do-overs the way kids' games did.
It didn't look like there was going to be any do-over this morning, either.
This wasn't a game - and he and Fraser weren't kids. They were adults and
they were friends, and he had to let this go, had to be what Fraser needed
him to be, even if that meant letting whatever he thought they'd been building
up to over the past two days just fade away.
Fuck! He grabbed the towel from Fraser's hand and stalked out of the room,
feeling stupid and angry with himself. He could almost feel Fraser's eyes
boring into the back of his head as he walked away. He knew if he were to
turn around he'd be met with one of those "Why are you so angry with me, Ray?"
looks that Fraser used to give him a lot back in the early days of their partnership
- before he'd figured out that an angry Ray didn't necessarily translate to
angry at anyone but himself.
He shut the bathroom door behind him, managing not to slam it by sheer force
of will. He leaned heavily against the sink, fingers curled tightly around
the edge of the basin. He was going to have to get himself under control or
he'd never be able to leave the bathroom and face Fraser. It wasn't his fault.
There was no reason to take out his frustration on the one person in the world
he least wanted to make unhappy. This wasn't all about him.
He stepped into the tub and pulled the curtain all the way around so that
the floor wouldn't get soaked, then took the quickest shower he could remember
taking in his life. A little colder than he usually liked it, too, not that
he really needed much in the way of cold water dick-wilting. Frustration and
anger had done a good enough job of taking the starch out of him that he wasn't
going to have to worry about being in pain all the way back to Saskatoon.
Not in physical pain, anyway, unless he counted the lingering embarrassment
over yanking the towel away from Fraser and stomping out of the room like
a little kid. After drying off and putting on his briefs, he stared at himself
in the mirror for a moment, blew out a long sigh, and set his jaw. Okay. Time
to face the music.
Returning to the bedroom to get dressed, Ray found Fraser was nowhere to be
seen. He got that. No reason for him to just sit there waiting for a second
go-round at being treated like shit. It looked like Ray was going to have
to do a little fence mending, make sure Fraser knew he still wanted to be
his friend. No matter how much he wanted more than friendship from Fraser,
the thought of not even having that much was way too crummy to think about.
He tossed his suitcase up on the bed and started pulling out the last of his
clean clothes. He gave the trousers an assessing look. Not bad. A little wrinkled,
but he'd be sitting in the car for five hours in any case. He could probably
get away with wearing them down in Saskatoon since they'd told him he wasn't
going to be asked to appear in open court. Of course, if they changed their
minds about that, he was out of luck. Welsh would have him on traffic duty
for a month if he embarrassed the department by looking like he didn't have
the proper respect for the Canadian judicial system.
As Ray started to zip up his bag, his eye was caught by the sight of Fraser's
henley lying on top of the dresser. What were the odds that he'd be able to
get away with 'accidentally' slipping the shirt into his bag and taking it
with him when he left? He could always send Fraser a new shirt to replace
the one he'd taken, and besides, Fraser had plenty more where this came from,
and. . . okay, if he was really going to swipe the shirt, he should just do
it and not try to justify it. Because there was no real way to justify it,
nothing that would make sense to anyone but him. He just . . . wanted it.
Furtively he slipped the shirt in with his own, then zipped the bag shut.
Leaving the bag in the bedroom for the moment, he went out to the living room.
Neither Dief nor Fraser was out there either, but he could smell something
cooking, so he followed the scent into the kitchen where he found Fraser standing
in front of the stove.
"Ah, Ray," Fraser began a bit hesitantly. "Breakfast is nearly ready. You've
a long drive ahead and I didn't want you to have to set out on an empty stomach."
"Wow," he said, glancing over at the table. It was set with green place-mats
under the two plates. A pot of freshly brewed coffee and a bowl of mixed fruit
with yogurt spooned over the top occupied the center of the table. A short
stack of french toast sat on a plate beside the stove, while Fraser finished
cooking the last two pieces. "You didn't have to go to all this trouble,"
he said, feeling even more guilty. "A cup of coffee and a leftover bannock
from yesterday would have been fine."
"Yes, I'm still familiar with your eating habits," said Fraser wryly. "But,
well, you're. . . I wanted . . . ." He shrugged helplessly, a very un-Fraser
thing to do, then turned back to the pan on the stove in front of him and
removed it from the flames. "Sit down," he asked, his back turned. "Please?"
"Yeah. Yeah, sure." Ray pulled the chair out and sat down at the table. Place-mats?
Cloth napkins, even? Jesus, how the hell was he going to get through this
meal? He was having enough trouble just swallowing the coffee. He gave himself
a good mental shake. For God's sake, take it like a man, Kowalski. Grab that
bottle of real maple syrup and choke down the damned french toast and stop
being such a wimp.
"Is the coffee all right?"
"Huh? The coffee?" He took another sip and actually tasted it this time, looked
up, surprised. "Yeah, it's great. What did you put in it?
"It's Dutch Mocha. I thought you might like it, though I'm sure it'll never
transcend the experience of M&M's in your coffee," said Fraser with a
Ray smiled back weakly. It wasn't fair. Why couldn't the man just act like
a shit? Or better yet, go back to the distant act he'd been so good at back
when they'd first met? Why did he have to be so nice and so thoughtful and
so fucking gorgeous - even in an old t-shirt and sweatpants - that Ray wanted
to jump him right here on his kitchen table?
God. He had to get the hell out of there before he did just that.
Fraser sat down and forked a piece of french toast onto his plate, then looked
pointedly at Ray, who hastily stabbed a couple of pieces, slathering them
liberally with syrup. Fraser nodded and turned his attention back to his own
meal. Ray shoveled in some food, not really even tasting it. It sat in his
stomach like a lump of lead, and once he'd eaten enough that he didn't think
Fraser would be offended, he took his dishes to the sink and rinsed them.
Finally, with a deep breath, he turned slowly to face Fraser, taking a long
moment to look at him. His friend. His partner.
"I. . . uh, thanks for the breakfast, Fraser," he said finally. "It was great."
"I'm . . . I'm glad you enjoyed it, Ray."
Almost a minute passed where neither of them said a word. Ray looked down
at his watch.
"Well, guess I'd better be hitting the road if I want to get to Saskatoon
on time. I figure Canadian judges don't like to be kept waiting any more than
American ones do."
"No, no, they don't. Can I help you take your things to the car?"
Ray shook his head. "Nah, just have the one bag." He smiled a little. "Lot
less of a load going back."
Fraser nodded. "Please give my thanks and best wishes to everyone. I'll send
notes, of course, but considering the respective postal services involved,
I suspect that you'll arrive long before they do."
"Yeah. Unless they decide they need me to stick around in Saskatoon for a
few." Ray winced a little at the eager note in his voice. "Anyway, I'll go
get my stuff. Where's Dief? Can't leave without saying goodbye."
"Outside. I'll get him."
Ray went to the bedroom to get his bag while Fraser opened the kitchen door
and called Dief. He picked up his bag, stood there for a moment with it, staring
at the bed a little blankly, and then shook his head in exasperation and headed
for the front door. Fraser was standing there next to Dief, waiting. His expression
was carefully pleasant, so Ray put on what he hoped was a similar face as
he knelt to ruffle Dief's fur. "Hey, you take care of Fraser, okay? Don't
let Zhertak hit on him. Well, unless he wants him to, I mean," he amended,
suddenly realizing he might be sort of out of line there. It was none of his
business who Fraser went out with.
"Ray! I don't. . . ." Fraser began, sounding dismayed.
Ray waved a hand, cutting off the protest. "I know, I know. You don't think
Zhertak has a thing for you. I got that." He scratched Dief's ears, staring
at him because he knew better than to look at Fraser right then. Dief whined,
and did a worried looking eyebrow-thing at him. Ray made a face. "Don't worry,
I'm good. No more fruit tarts, okay?"
Dief grumbled, but shoved his nose under Ray's hand and Ray figured that was
an agreement. He stood up, his bag in his left hand, and put out his right
hand, sort of staring past Fraser's shoulder, trying to make it look like
he was looking at him. "Well, thanks for everything. It's been real, Benton."
Fraser hesitated for a moment, then clasped his hand. His hand felt cold.
Ray couldn't ever remember that happening before. Fraser's hands had always
been warm, even on the coldest days. Before he could really process that,
Fraser was pulling him in close, wrapping his arms around him, tight, so tight
he could barely breathe. Against his ear he could feel Fraser's warm breath
as he spoke.
"No, Ray, it hasn't been real at all."
He thought he felt the brush of lips against his cheek, and then Fraser was
pulling back. The shock of it made him forget he wasn't going to look at Fraser.
Their eyes met. Fraser's were shadowed and full of regret. Ray flinched, looking
away. God, and he thought it had been bad the last time. He lifted a hand,
reaching out, then let it fall again before he could touch Fraser.
"Sorry," he whispered.
"Me too," Fraser echoed hoarsely.
For a moment they stood there, unspeaking, then Ray cleared his throat. "Well.
Guess I'd better. . . get at 'er."
"Indeed," Fraser acknowledged, opening the door.
Ray extracted the rental's keys from his pocket, and stepped out into the
cold morning air. He didn't stop until he got to the car. He unlocked the
door, opened it, tossed his bag into the passenger seat, and started to get
in. Before he did, though, something made him turn back and look. Fraser was
gone. The door was closed. He swallowed hard.
"Well, that's that, then," he whispered, and got in.
* * *
As Ray lifted his bag and turned away toward the car, Fraser could feel his
deliberately neutral expression begin to crumble. However, for Ray's sake
- and for his own, if he were to be entirely honest - he couldn't allow himself
to show how difficult this was for him.
From the very start of their partnership in Chicago, Ray - outwardly brash
and aggressive though he was - had permitted Fraser to see far deeper inside
him than he allowed the rest of the world. In particular, the still-raw wounds
of his broken marriage and the pain caused by his long estrangement from his
father over his career were so close to the surface that he'd sometimes imagined
Ray's pain was actually being spoken aloud, even when his partner said nothing
at all about it. In many ways, Ray's quip about being a poet on the inside
had been true.
Gradually the dynamic of their relationship had changed, though, and Fraser
started to allow himself moments of vulnerability with Ray. It didn't take
long for him to learn that Ray's sensitivity went both ways - or at least
it did where he was concerned. Over time, Ray's rough care and understanding
had dragged more honesty of emotion out of him than he had felt comfortable
showing to anyone since his youth. Unfamiliar as revealing his feelings was
at times, Fraser had come to believe that as long as there was some sort of
balance in the relationship, as long as he was still able to provide something
in the way of support to his partner, it might not be a sign of weakness to
accept the concern that Ray offered him.
This weekend, however, there had been no balance. Even while working the case,
it was clear Ray's primary concern had been for him, and while that
wonderful on one level, on another level it was almost as humiliating as realizing
his subordinates clearly had severe misgivings about his ability to do his
job. How could he have spent the past two days doing little but bare that
unhappiness to Ray, over and over again, when he could have spent the time
more enjoyably? It seemed incomprehensible now that he could have been oblivious
to his own unhappiness for so long, but the last thing he wanted, after everything
Ray had given him this weekend, was to fall apart and make Ray feel guilty
That was why he'd let the ring of the alarm that morning put a stop to their
lovemaking, even though he'd desperately wanted it to continue. As Ray had
touched him in ways he hadn't been touched in years, his feelings were so
intense that he knew if they'd gone any further - if they'd moved even an
inch closer to completion - it would be impossible to keep his need, his desire,
his love for Ray in control. And despite his apparently immense capacity for
denial and self-delusion, he was still well enough grounded in reality to
know that was simply not an option.
He shook his head, trying to clear it. Surely he could keep his emotions in
check long enough for Ray to walk from the house to the car. He had a lifetime's
experience with repression - how was this different? When Ray reached the
car, he could wave goodbye and Ray would wave goodbye in return - and the
two of them would be able to carry on as if some aspects of this weekend had
His hands clenched into fists at his sides as he fought down the urge to go
after him. The problem was, he didn't want this weekend to be forgotten. He
didn't want his time with Ray to come to an end at all. But it had to; he
knew that. Ray had responsibilities in Saskatoon and back in Chicago, and
he had responsibilities at the detachment. They couldn't be together.
That was the simple truth, painful as it might be.
When Diefenbaker moaned softly beside him - the sound an uncomfortable echo
of the ache growing inside him - he broke. Turning, he blindly opened the
door, and both he and Diefenbaker slipped inside the house. He shut the door,
closing himself off the only way he could, because he was just far too open
in every other way right now. He closed his eyes and leaned against the door,
chest pressed to its cool surface, his head against his crossed arms, and
stood there for a long time - barely breathing, eyes still shut, simply existing,
trying not to think - but when he was finally able to force his eyes open
and move to the side window for one last look at Ray, he was gone.
Four minutes. The clock on the mantle showed that only four minutes had passed
from the moment Ray said he'd had to go until now. How could only four minutes
have gone by? He took a deep breath, then headed for the bathroom. He was
being ridiculous. Maudlin. His father would be appalled. There was no point
in spending any more time thinking about this. He just had to accept that
Ray was gone and get on with his life.
Of course, telling himself he wasn't going to think about Ray being gone was
far easier said than done. He remembered all those times in childhood when
his grandfather would tell him to think about anything he wanted except a
caribou sitting at the kitchen table - and how for the rest of the day, he
was able to think of nothing but the imaginary caribou he'd been trying
so hard to ignore. And thoughts of Ray were far less easy to ignore than thoughts
of the caribou had been, particularly now that Ray had actually been in his
home, and everywhere he turned, there was yet another reminder of his partner.
Even showering brought its own set of problems. The soap in the holder at
the side of the bathtub was still wet and slightly lathery from Ray's shower
earlier that morning. As Fraser rubbed it over his torso, he imagined Ray's
hands on his body instead, sliding over his wet skin, down over his hips,
rubbing lightly across his thighs. The fantasy continued until he could feel
Ray's long fingers teasing at the base of his penis, at its head, fingertips
stroking down along its hard length, wrapping themselves firmly around his
shaft, sliding up and down. He started to breathe harder, could feel his penis
stiffen and thicken in Ray's hand.
No. Not Ray's hand. His own. Ray was gone. He squeezed more tightly, holding
onto himself as he'd wanted Ray to hold him. Stroking. Up and down, his hand
firm and tight along his foreskin, up and down and missing Ray and desperately
wanting this to be Ray's hand on him. He kept stroking over and over until
his body finally yielded, catching the come in his free hand, sliding it over
his stomach as Ray might have done, gasping out Ray's name as the final pulses
of orgasm drove through him. As the sensations faded he slid down along the
tiles and knelt, hunched over slightly in the tub, warm water raining down
on his head, streaming down his face, letting him pretend that was all it
* * *
He couldn't stay in the shower forever, no matter how much he wanted to. He
got out, dried himself off with the same towel Ray had used earlier that day,
shaved - carefully enough to avoid more than a single, rather painful nick
on his jaw - and then picked up his used t-shirt, sweatpants, and boxers.
Once in his bedroom, Fraser opened the hamper in his closet and threw in the
clothing he'd picked up from the bathroom floor, then turned to get the henley
he'd been wearing the previous day to add it to the hamper. He thought he'd
put it on top of the dresser, but as distracted as he'd been last night, it
could be anywhere. He searched the living room, checked the bathroom again,
and finally took a quick look in the kitchen just in case he'd left the shirt
hanging on the back of a chair, but it was nowhere to be found. He frowned,
wondering where on earth he'd left it. Was it possible Ray had mistakenly
packed it? It seemed unlikely after having seen Fraser wearing it all day,
but perhaps Ray had been distracted too.
Fraser shook his head. Why was he obsessing about a shirt? It would turn up
eventually. He got his blue uniform out of the closet, looking a bit wistfully
at the red serge tunic as he did so, and dressed for the day, then he and
Diefenbaker got into the car and drove down to the detachment.
Although it was still early when he arrived at the office, Sally was already
at her desk and talking to somebody on the phone. She nodded as he walked
in, though, and handed him a stack of telephone messages before returning
to her own conversation.
Fraser paused at the door to his office. Ray was right; it was laid out nearly
identically to Lieutenant Welsh's office in Chicago. He wondered, for a moment,
if he'd had an unconscious wish to make things as familiar as possible, or
if the similarity had been purely coincidental. He sat down and sighed; either
way, now that his attention had been drawn to the resemblance, it was going
to be impossible not to think of the 27th District every time he came to work
- as if he could ever forget. He was going to have to rearrange the furniture.
As he was saying goodbye to Henry Cooper, the elder who'd called to set up
a preliminary meeting regarding the sentencing circle - he heard a soft knock
on his office door and looked up to find Bose Zhertak standing in the doorway,
holding a mug in his hand. "Good morning, sir. I . . . uh, Sally just made
a pot of coffee. I thought you might want a cup."
"Thank you kindly, Constable. That's very thoughtful of you."
Zhertak flushed, but brought the mug over and placed it on his desk. "Sir?
Um . . . do you have a moment?"
Fraser nodded. "Of course. Take a seat." He waited until Zhertak had sat down.
"What can I do for you?"
"On behalf of all . . . well, me, really, I'd like to apologize for my behavior
over the past few days. I realize that my actions yesterday almost succeeded
in scaring Crawford Jones away before you were able to come up with any proof
of his involvement in the fires, and for that, in particular, I'm truly sorry.
I've taken the liberty of drafting a reprimand for my personnel file, and
. . . ."
A sudden feeling of deja vu swept over Fraser; God, had he ever been
so young? "Bose, that won't be necessary," he said gently. "However, we don't
want to see anything like that happening again, do we?"
"No, of course not."
"No, and since we don't, would you mind telling me why in the world you came
out after me without hearing from me first?"
Even as he asked the question, it struck him that perhaps Zhertak's answer
wouldn't be anything he wished to hear. He was almost ready to tell him to
forget it, when he heard a slightly mumbled response.
"Could you repeat that, please? I don't think I heard what you said."
"I . . . um . . . I was jealous, sir."
"Jealous?" His jaw nearly dropped. Had Ray been right when he suggested that
Zhertak had a more than fraternal regard for him?
"Not . . . not jealous in the sense of being jealous. I mean, in the
sense of . . . um . . . I mean, well, do you know what I mean, sir?" Zhertak
asked, turning a spectacular shade of red.
"Not precisely. Perhaps you'd care to elaborate," he said, rather hesitantly.
Zhertak took a deep breath, then said, "I wanted to be working with you. I'd
read so many things about you before I came here this year, and . . . sir,
did you know I requested this posting just so I could work with you?"
Fraser was sure there was a dumbfounded expression on his face, but he couldn't
do anything about it. "No, I don't suppose I knew that."
"Oh yes. We'd all heard so many extraordinary things about you through the
Depot grapevine. You're . . . you've become rather a legend, sir, if you don't
mind my saying so."
It was Fraser's turn to flush. He rubbed his thumb across his eyebrow and
dropped his gaze to his desktop, trying to find something to look at besides
Zhertak's uncharacteristically earnest expression, but apart from the phone
messages, there was nothing to see except . . . except the rubber duck, which
he immediately slipped off the desktop and held in his hand, down below the
edge of the desk.
"But then I arrived and . . . well, permission to speak freely, sir?"
"It's just . . . well, you didn't seem exactly as I'd imagined you'd be."
Zhertak bit his lip and took a deep breath before continuing. "I'm sure it's
my own fault for being taken in by tales that never sounded entirely plausible.
I mean, tracking a litterbug over 1700 kilometers of wilderness? Honestly,
sometimes I can't imagine how somebody as naive as I must have been was ever
allowed to become a member of the RCMP. But the stories were always so fascinating,
and then the part about having a deaf half-wolf turned out to be true, so
. . . ."
Fraser nodded. "It was just that the rest seemed a bit disappointing, didn't
it?" He glanced down at the rubber duck he still held in his hand, thumb rubbing
across the smooth yellow surface with careful pressure, not wanting to make
it squeak. Not attraction, Ray. Hero worship. And sadly misplaced hero
worship, at that.
"Not disappointing," Zhertak exclaimed, beginning to sound a little worried
that he'd gone too far. "And La Rouille isn't exactly a hotbed of criminal
activity, so I can see why you weren't . . . anyway, then the fires took place,
and . . . I have to admit that none of us believed it when you suggested that
the first one might have been set deliberately."
"I understand your reluctance to believe that, Constable. At that stage there
was neither any hard evidence, nor a pattern, and . . . ."
"No! That's just the point. You didn't have any hard evidence at all, and
yet somehow you still knew it was arson! And you wouldn't let it drop . .
. wouldn't let it go."
This is what engendered the sudden burst of hero worship? A combination of
intuition and obsession? "You know, Constable, much of the . . . credit for
solving this case has to go to Detective Kowalski. Without his appearance
in La Rouille, I'm not at all certain I'd have pursued the case with the same
. . . fervor."
"I have no doubt you would have, sir," Zhertak said emphatically, an intense
look in his eyes. "Although . . . ."
"What is it, Constable?"
Zhertak's gaze fell. "Detective Kowalski. There was finally something to investigate
here and, well, you seemed so happy to be working with your former partner
again. I'm not certain 'jealous' is the right word, but I certainly envied
his position. We all did, sir."
Fraser shook his head. How disconcerting to discover that his subordinates
weren't concerned he couldn't handle the investigation, but that they had
simply wanted to be a part of it - to learn from him. God. How could he have
read them so inaccurately? He suddenly felt guilty. He'd failed them as O.C.
It was his job to include them on investigations, to teach them, not
to let an outsider usurp their duties.
And to find out that he was actually being admired for being obsessive? He'd
have to set them straight about that, at least. Obsessions rarely worked out
the way one might wish, all evidence from this case to the contrary. He looked
back down at the rubber duck in his hand, still finding it difficult to believe
that he'd actually stolen the toy from Ray's desk, just so he'd have something
tangible to remember him by. If being obsessed and unrelenting was all it
took to get what you wanted, he and Ray would be together. No, it also took
. . .
For God's sake.
It also took saying something!
Ray wasn't a suspect in a criminal investigation. The point wasn't to pursue
him without his knowing anything about it.
He thought back over the past two days. Had he ever, at any point, said anything
to Ray that would have let him know that he wanted to be with him on an ongoing
basis? Had he indicated in any way the depth of his feeling? That he.
. . loved him? How in the name of God had he expected to know whether Ray
reciprocated those feelings if he never actually said anything? No.
He was doing it again. Not communicating. When he knew better.
What sort of evidence had he been looking for from Ray before he'd be willing
to risk saying something? God knows he had more hard evidence of Ray's feelings
for him than he'd had for the possibility of the fires being set intentionally
- and yet he pursued the arson investigation despite an almost complete disbelief
from his colleagues that the two fires were anything more than a coincidence.
Ray had kept in contact with him for years when all his other friends and
acquaintances from his time in Chicago had apparently lost interest. He 'stopped
by' La Rouille because he was 'in the neighborhood,' when that was patently
untrue. He was . . . he had to admit it, Ray was clearly attracted to him
despite his less than splendid condition. And Ray cared about him. So much
so that he'd been clearly desolate when he'd had to leave . . .
. . . so much so that when he had left this morning, he'd taken Fraser's
henley. That hadn't been an accident; Fraser was suddenly dead certain that
it hadn't. Ray had taken the henley for the same reason that he, himself,
had taken the rubber duck - to have at least something to hold onto
if he couldn't have the whole person.
Call it intuition. A hunch. Extrapolation based on personal knowledge of the
suspect. Call it whatever you want. But he was damned if he was going to let
the most important person in his life just disappear without finally telling
him that this wasn't just about being bored and lonely, or thinking Ray attractive,
or caring for him as a friend, but that he loved him and that he wanted to
be with him. Forever, if possible. Why had he been trying to keep his
feelings from Ray? Was he an idiot?
God. How long had Constable Zhertak been trying to get his attention?
"I'm sorry, Constable," he said, pushing his chair back from his desk and
standing up. "I don't mean to be rude and I'm sorry to leave in the middle
of our conversation, but you've just reminded me of something vitally important
I have to do immediately."
"Um.. . . quite all right, sir," Zhertak said, standing as well, looking completely
"Thank you for being so understanding. Sally?" he called as he grabbed his
jacket off the coat rack and went out into the reception area, indicating
to Dief that he should follow. "I have to leave, and I'm not sure when I'll
be returning. Take my calls, please, and I'll have my cell phone on if you
have any emergencies." He turned back toward Zhertak. "Constable?"
Zhertak popped his head out of Fraser's office. "You have an appointment,
"Of a kind. I'm leaving you in charge until I return."
"You are?" Zhertak sounded positively astonished.
Fraser was halfway out the door when he heard Zhertak ask, "Can I use your
He turned back and smiled. "Use my computer. Sit in my chair. Draw with my
colored pens. Whatever you like, Constable."
Zhertak gave a surprised-sounding laugh, then managed to assume a serious
expression and nodded. "You can rely on me, sir."
"I'm sure I can, Constable." Fraser said, still smiling. "Dief?"
Dief trotted out the door Fraser held open for him. Fraser followed and stood
for a moment, taking a deep breath of the crisp air, and then headed for the
Suburban. Realizing he was still holding that damned duck, he laughed a little
and shook his head, putting it up on the dashboard. Settling in, he buckled
his seatbelt, glanced at his watch and winced. God. He was never going to
catch up with Ray, who had an hour and a half head start. He pulled out of
the parking lot and headed east, trying to plan out his route, trying to anticipate
Ray's movements. Ray wouldn't be speeding, he was too smart to risk that with
marginal road conditions and an unfamiliar route. Even so, he must be a third
of the way to Saskatoon by now. However, if he knew Ray, which he did, he
would likely stop in Weyakwin to get gas, use the restroom, and get more coffee.
That would delay him for somewhere between ten and twenty minutes. Not nearly
enough time, but a start.
He knew a shortcut that would take a good twenty minutes off the drive, and
then once he hit the highway, well, the Suburban was better equipped for the
road than Ray's Taurus, and he was more than familiar with the route, so speeding
wasn't an issue. And it wasn't exactly proper use of RCMP equipment but he
did have a lightbar and this was an emergency . . . of sorts. But no matter
what, he'd still be behind. He might well have to chase Ray all the way to
Saskatoon. The thought was daunting, but he wasn't going to let it stop him.
Stop him. Hmm. He glanced at the radio and thought for a moment about calling
in a stop and hold order on Ray's rental car, but just thinking about Ray's
reaction to that put a halt to that line of thought instantly. Even
if he didn't get suspended for pulling such a stunt, Ray would probably kick
him in the head. Turning, he glanced at Dief. "Hang on, this is going to be
a rough ride."
Dief just grinned at him, tongue lolling.
His teeth were still rattling in his head a good ten minutes after he'd left
the graded dirt road across Sam Steele's back forty and gotten onto the CanAm.
His brain was definitely rattled as well, although some of that rattle
had less to do with being shaken like dice and more to do with the speech
he kept trying to put together for whenever he actually did find Ray. Between
that, and concentrating on the road in front of him, he nearly missed the
lone blue Ford Taurus that passed him going the opposite direction. If Dief
hadn't suddenly barked, it might not have registered at all. He slammed on
the brakes, his eyes going to the rear-view mirror. Blue Ford Taurus? What
on earth? He looked at Dief.
"Are you sure?"
Dief snorted, his expression was disdainful.
"No, I'm not questioning your eyesight. It's just. . . well, he's going the
wrong direction! How could anyone manage to get completely turned around on
a straight road with virtually no exits?"
Dief made a sound suspiciously like a laugh, and Fraser felt his face warm.
"That's a fallacious comparison. I'm talking about driving," he growled,
cranking the wheel around as he hit the brake, doing a 180 and leaving a season's
worth of tread on the road. Reaching down he flicked on the lightbar and siren,
and floored it. Ahead of him he saw brake lights flare, and a sudden wash
of near-panic flooded him. God, what if it wasn't Ray?
The Taurus pulled to the side of the road ahead, and Fraser pulled in behind
it. The rental sticker on the back of the car reassured him, but panic returned
a moment later as every potential sentence he'd composed for the moment deserted
him. What the hell was he going to say? Mouth dry, he opened his door with
a quiet admonition to Dief to stay put. Walking toward the car where Ray waited,
he could see that Ray had the window down, fingers tapping impatiently on
the door. He almost laughed at that, and he suddenly realized that Ray hadn't
really looked at the person approaching his car. He didn't know. He
certainly wouldn't expect it to be anyone he knew.
Some perverse impulse made him fumble his ticket book out of his pocket, and
take out a pen, actions Ray would expect from anyone who pulled him over,
and he took up a stance next to the car that would prevent Ray from easily
seeing his face unless he leaned down and craned his head back to look past
"Hey, sorry about the speeding," Ray said before he could speak. "I can't
seem to get that KPH to MPH conversion thing down. How bad was it?"
"I'm afraid it's worse than that, sir," Fraser said. "Grand theft is an extremely
There was a moment of silence, then Ray swore, opening his door, forcing Fraser
to step hastily aside to avoid getting what Ray once called the 'Orsini treatment,'
and then Ray was out and pushing Fraser up against the car with his hands
fisted in his coat lapels.
"Benton Frickin' Fraser," Ray growled.
"Assaulting a peace officer is a serious offense as well," Fraser said a little
breathlessly as Ray braced himself there, just inches away.
Ray snorted. "Assault, yeah," he said, bringing up one hand to cup Fraser's
jaw, fingers caressing it. "What the fuck are you doing out here?"
"I might ask the same," Fraser said, grinning foolishly. "Especially seeing
as how you're headed in entirely the wrong direction. Were you lost?"
Ray's eyes met his, grave and intent, almost gray, reflecting the cloudy sky.
"Yeah. Lost, and getting loster every minute farther away I got."
A shiver raced through him as the meaning of Ray's words sank in. So familiar.
"God, yes. Exactly."
Ray's gaze sharpened, curious. "Exactly what, Benton?"
"Lost, and getting loster," he said. "Ray. . . I . . . ." he had to swallow
down the lump in his throat before he could go on, could say the words he'd
never said to another living soul. "I need you."
Ray leaned in, his weight coming full against Fraser, touching from knees
to groin to chest, solid, warm, unbearably . . . near. "That hard to say?"
he asked, his tone strangely conversational, in contrast to the intensity
of his gaze.
"You have no idea," Fraser grated, his voice barely functioning, unable to
look away, mesmerized.
"Yeah, I do," Ray said, his eyes drifting closed as his lips brushed Fraser's.
"I know exactly how hard it is. I. Need. You," he whispered, punctuating each
word with another brush of lips, the last one prolonged as his hands came
up to cup Fraser's face, his long, oddly-jointed thumbs lying along his jaw,
stroking slightly, holding him still for a kiss that was deep, and sweet,
and no less hot for all that sweetness. When he pulled away, he smiled. "Not
just for that, either," he said meaningfully. "You know that right?"
Fraser nodded. "Yes. But that's part of it."
Ray nodded back. "Yeah. It is. Kinda scary, huh?"
"A little," Fraser admitted, since Ray had.
"No." Fraser let his hands slide around Ray's waist, pulling him closer, feeling
the hard length of his cock pressed against him, knowing Ray could feel his
own arousal nudging at his hip.
Ray sighed, and rocked against him a bit, then a little harder, before dropping
his forehead down against Fraser's shoulder with a soft groan. "Jesus, Benton,
I can't do this again. I'm gonna have the bluest balls in Canada." He laughed
a little. "Well, except for you."
A wave of heat swept into Fraser's face and he cleared his throat guiltily.
Ray looked up, shrewd eyes assessing his face, and then he gave a strangled-sounding
laugh and thumped his head against Fraser's shoulder several times, hard.
"Oh, that's just not fair, it's really not."
Fraser got a hand under his chin and tipped his face up. "It was awful," he
Understanding filled Ray's eyes, and he nodded. Fraser pulled Ray in again,
and this time he initiated the kiss. Ray responded instantly, eagerly, holding
nothing back, nipping and licking and sucking until Fraser grabbed him by
the hips and twisted, pushing Ray back against the car as he had just been,
using his weight to pin him there, thrusting against him. Ray spread his thighs,
bracing himself, his hands coming down to rest on Fraser's backside, kneading.
Fraser choked a little, moaning, one hand sliding between them, reaching for
Ray's zipper, tugging at it, needing to feel skin, needing to touch, to taste,
to smell, prove to himself this was real. An annoying repetitive sound finally
penetrated his consciousness.
". . .ser! FRASER!"
He jerked back. "What?"
"Is that an engine?" Ray asked, breathing hard.
Fraser listened. "Mmmhmm," he agreed, leaning back in, not really understanding
why Ray wanted to know. Ray pulled back slightly, lifting his eyebrows, so
he clarified. "Yes. Eighteen wheeler by the sound of it. Probably the weekly
resupply for Robinson's Trading. About two miles off, I'd say. Sound carries
"I . . . um. . . don't guess it would be really good for them to drive by
with us making out here. You being in uniform and all."
"Probably not," Fraser agreed, reluctant to push away.
"If he's two miles away and going sixty he'll be here in two minutes," Ray
said, annoyingly practical.
"Right you are." Fraser let go of Ray's waistband, stepping back with a sigh,
reaching down to adjust himself to a slightly less uncomfortable position.
Ray watched him, then looked up, slowly, his gaze smoky. "Do you have any
idea how close you are to getting molested in the back of your damned Suburban?"
"I don't believe it's considered molestation when both parties are of age
and consenting," Fraser said huskily.
"Fraser," Ray said warningly.
"Right, right," Fraser said, closing his eyes, trying to think. Where were
they? He'd passed the turn off to Weyakwin not five minutes before he'd seen
Ray. He opened his eyes. "I think we could safely take a short side-trip without
negatively impacting your arrival in Saskatoon. Follow me."
"Got a plan?"
"I do indeed."
"It involve a pirate ship?" Ray asked, trying not to smile.
Fraser shook his head. "No pirate ship," he assured Ray solemnly.
"Count me in."
Fifteen minutes later he pulled into the parking lot of the Kisseynew Cabins
& Campground and got out. Dief jumped out, looking at him knowingly. Fraser
looked past the lodge to the woods beyond, and then back down at Dief. "I
don't suppose you'd like to take a long exploratory walk in the woods? Perhaps
see if you can scare up a rabbit or a squirrel?"
Fraser shook his head. "I certainly will not. That's bribery."
Dief turned his back and looked at Ray's car, pulling into the lot.
sighed. "Please, Dief? I'd very much appreciate it."
Dief looked back at him and pushed his nose under his hand for a moment, and
then bounded off toward the woods. Fraser stared after him, somewhat stupefied
by his own success, as Ray parked next to him, stared up at the sign above
the lodge office, and shook his head.
"No. Just. . . no. I'm not doing this in a motel called 'Kisseynew,'
Fraser! I'm just not."
"It's a lodge, not a motel."
"Motel, lodge whatever, it's still Kisseynew. It's. . . cute." He shuddered
"It's not cute, Ray, it's Cree."
Fraser nodded. "Yes. It means 'it flows swiftly.' Well, actually, it could
also mean 'they salted it down' or 'it is old' or 'old number four;' no one
really seems to know for sure any more."
"Uh-huh." Ray looked dubious.
"No, really, Ray. It's named after Lake Kisseynew in Manitoba. When Rollie
Thompson decided to open a second facility here, he didn't want to pay to
have new matchbooks and pens printed so he used the same name as his other
location in Manitoba."
Ray chuckled at that. "You know, that I can believe. Cheap is the same all
over. That's all right then. I thought it was one of those cutesy things like
'Dew Drop Inn,' you know?"
"I would never subject you to such a thing," Fraser said, trying not to smile.
Ray nodded and got out. "Wait. We're just going to walk up there and get a
room, straight out, with you in uniform and all?"
"Huh. This place rent by the hour?" he asked dubiously.
"Not normally, no." Fraser walked up the three steps to the office porch.
Ray nodded. "You bet. This I got to see."
Fraser opened the door and motioned Ray in, then followed him. The desk was
empty, so he rang the bell. A moment later Clydene Waters came out of the
back room. Fraser heard a brief moment of television dialogue and determined
she had been watching a soap opera.
"Hi there, what can I do for you gen. . . ." she began, then she realized who
she was addressing and looked surprised. "Corporal Fraser! What's this about
then? There a problem?"
"No reason to be alarmed, Clydene, my colleague and I just need a quiet place
to have a conference for an hour or so."
"Conference?" She frowned thoughtfully. "Well, we don't exactly have a conference
room but there's the poker room in the back of the bar if you want."
"Actually, one of your standard cabins would be do nicely," Fraser said evenly,
hoping that he was feeling warm because of the ambient temperature in the
lodge, not because of a blush. This was harder than he'd thought.
Clydene looked from him to Ray and back, narrowing her eyes. Fraser wondered
if he had beard-burn. Ray had shaved that morning, but he did stubble up awfully
"Yes," Fraser said firmly. "Quite sufficient."
"Okay, if you say so," Clydene said with a shrug, reaching for a key.
Ray leaned closer. "You got anything kind of in the back? I'm undercover,"
he said confidentially. "Can't have anyone see me or listen in."
"Ohhh," Clydene said knowingly, eyes wide. She put back the first key she'd
picked up and got a different one, waving it at Fraser, though her eyes were
still on Ray. "Here you go. And don't worry about a thing, I understand entirely."
"I sure as hell hope not," Ray muttered, sotto voce, as they walked
out of the office.
Fraser choked on a laugh, wanting badly to kiss him. It was nearly impossible
to wait until they had picked up Ray's bag and were safely inside the cabin,
drapes drawn, before he could pull him into his arms and give in to the urge.
Ray kissed him back, laughing, peeling off his coat and dropping it next to
the door, then walking Fraser backward toward the bedroom with its queen-sized
bed. "Conference?" he asked between kisses, grinning. "Conference?
Is that what they call it up here? Gotta remember that. That mean phone-sex
lines are conference calls?" He wrestled Fraser's jacket off, dropping it
beside his own, and then started unbuttoning Fraser's shirt with one hand,
pulling the tails out of his trousers with the other. "You know I love a man
in uniform, but the clothes have to go, because I really need to have a serious
conference with your dick."
Ray steered Fraser backward until the bed caught him behind the knees. He
grabbed Ray's shoulders as he lost his balance, pulling Ray along with him
as he fell. They hit the bed and bounced a little, and Fraser took advantage
of the moment to flip Ray onto his back and push himself up a bit so he could
look down at him. "Honestly, Ray, I don't see that undercover is much
of an improvement," he teased.
Ray grinned, shaking his head. "No, not much. But hey, between the two of
us, it worked. One-two punch, just like old times."
Fraser looked down at Ray and felt his smile fade, suddenly serious. "Not
quite like old times," he said, moving a hand to the second button on Ray's
shirt, the first already lying open. His fingers shook as he eased it from
its buttonhole, then moved to the next one, opening it as well, baring Ray's
prominent collarbones, and the almost triangular indentation of his sternum.
"No, not quite," Ray agreed, just as serious. He lifted one hand to slide
it beneath the fall of Fraser's open shirt, fingers trailing the curve of
his chest, down to one nipple, barely brushing it through his henley.
Fraser gasped, startled by a shock of pleasure out of proportion to the lightness
of the touch. Ray touched him there again, more firmly, framing it between
two fingers, then pushing his shirt aside with his free hand so he could bend
his head and touch his tongue to it.
Fraser arched, fingers fumbling on the next button of Ray's shirt, tugging
impatiently until the button popped free and spun away, falling silently on
the carpet. It was all he could do not to grab Ray's shirt in both hands and
rip. He wanted him naked. Now. Sooner than now.
He managed, somehow, to get
the other buttons open, to undo belt and button and zipper and plunge his
hand below all those maddening layers of fabric to find a familiar, yet strangely
unfamiliar length of flesh, gripping it in his palm with a growl of triumph.
"Benton, God!" Ray gasped, his whole body tensed, shaking, as Fraser stroked
and squeezed with calculated roughness.
It wasn't enough. He wanted it all.
Letting go, he sat back on the bed and manhandled Ray out of his shirt. Ray
squirmed a little and he heard the telltale thumps of boots hitting the floor,
then he was squirming more. Fraser helped Ray shimmy out of his pants, leaving
only his boxer-briefs. He slipped his fingers under the waistband and hesitated
a moment, nervous, until Ray reached down and pushed with one hand, helping.
Fraser took over from there as Ray lifted his hips to make it easier.
"Oh yeah," he sighed, sliding a hand down Ray's chest, down his abdomen, spreading
his fingers to comb through the thick, sand-colored curls that surrounded
his cock, which arched hard and strong, the head damp and shining already.
He licked his lips, and watched Ray's whole body respond to that with a jerk
like he'd been shocked. He looked up, meeting Ray's eyes.
Ray pushed himself up onto his elbows, and as Fraser gave ground he sat up
all the way and looked at him evenly. "Your turn," he said, his fingers not
much surer as he helped Fraser peel off his shirt. He looked a little startled
when Fraser tugged the shirt out of his hands and tossed it on the floor.
He started to grin as Fraser discarded each successive piece of clothing on
the floor beside the bed, and when he pitched his boxers halfway across the
room, Ray started to laugh.
Rolling over on top of Ray, Fraser kissed him, tasting the curve of his mouth
and the tang of his amusement. As he settled in against Ray's long, bare body
the laughter faded, and the brilliance in Ray's eyes shaded to smoke. One
of Ray's hands swept down his back, came to rest on his hip, and tightened
a little, pulling Fraser closer against him. Fraser was shaking, felt it echoed
in Ray, though it wasn't cold in the room.
It was so different from what he remembered, only the feel of warm, satiny
skin against his own gave him a point of reference. He was glad of that. Nothing
to remind him. Just Ray, known, and dear. Long legs rough with hair, big feet,
big hands, strong hands, wide chest and shoulders. He was all planes and angles,
or mostly. Even Ray with his boundless energy and racing metabolism had softened
some over the years. Somehow he hadn't noticed that last night. It made him
smile. Ray reached up and touched the corner of his mouth with a finger.
"What's that for?" he asked.
"I'm . . . happy," he confessed in a whisper, feeling as if saying it might
somehow make the gods jealous and they'd take it away from him.
Ray's mouth curved upward too. "Me too." He put his other arm around Fraser
and squeezed, hugging him close. The action brought their groins fully together,
and they both shivered. Ray nuzzled his throat, making a sound not far different
from a purr. "'S nice, Benton. Do it again."
Fraser obliged, though he thought 'nice' was a feeble way to describe the
kiss of flesh on flesh. He rocked slowly, dragging his cock along Ray's. Ray
groaned and clutched at his hip, proving that 'nice' was an understatement
for him as well. His free hand moved up from Fraser's shoulders to his hair,
fingers tangling in it, pulling Fraser's mouth roughly down to his at the
same time he thrust upward against Fraser's hip. Fraser growled into Ray's
gasp, and ground against him, needing the pressure, the friction, the closeness.
Ray arched under him sliding one leg to the side and then hooking his calf
over the back of Fraser's thigh and knee. The intimacy of the act astonished
him, and he bit hungrily at Ray's mouth, thrusting faster, feeling Ray echo
his pace, and oh, God too soon, too soon, he felt the rhythmic clutch of orgasm
seize him, shake him, each spurt almost painfully wonderful.
"Christ, oh, Christ, Benton. Yeah. . . ." Ray pumped against him, his cock
gliding now in the slick, hot mess between them, once, twice, and then the
mess wasn't just his own and Ray was shuddering silently in his arms, his
teeth caught in his lower lip, his hands clenched bruisingly tight on Fraser's
hip and pulling at his hair hard enough to bring tears to his eyes.
The scent of sex was strong in the air, his own familiar smell, and a new
one layered with it, rich and strange. He wanted to imprint the moment on
his senses, to call up on future lonely nights when he needed comfort. The
sound of Ray's breathing, the feel of his sweaty, spunky skin, the taste of
his mouth. The taste of his throat, and his collarbone, and . . . Fraser turned
his head to pull free of Ray's slackened grip and slid down his body, licking
a swath through the thick, pale fluid coating Ray's belly where they'd been
pressed together, savoring the salt-bitter-sweetness of their mingled flavors,
feeling the swirl of wet hair against his tongue as he cleaned Ray off.
"I should've known you'd want to lick something," Ray said, gently amused.
Fraser smiled at that, then leaned in to tongue his cock. God, the skin was
so smooth, soft, silky. Emboldened by Ray's easy acceptance, he slid his fingers
under the softened length of Ray's cock and lifted it, taking it into his
Ray gasped, and gave a whole-body twitch. "Jesus!" His hand found Fraser's
hair again, lightly this time, stroking. "God, that feels. . . wow. . . but,
I. . . uh, don't think I'm going to be good for much at this point," he said
Fraser soothed a hand up and down his thigh, and shook his head a little,
not wanting to let go long enough to use words explain that it didn't matter,
he just needed to do this. Fortunately, he didn't have to.
"Yeah, okay. Got it. Knock yourself out," Ray said, chuckling a little. "Long
as you're not expecting anything." After a moment he sighed and relaxed, still
stroking Fraser's hair. "You know how long I've wanted to get my hands in
your hair?" he asked, fingers sliding through the disheveled waves. "I like
it longer like this. Course I like it short, too." He laughed softly. "I pretty
much just like you any old way."
Fraser felt a flush rise in his face. Ridiculous, really, considering the
fact that they were naked and he, at least, was sticky with semen, and he
had Ray's penis in his mouth, but he couldn't help the embarrassed delight
Ray's words gave him, every bit as amazing as the physical pleasure he'd just
supplied. With one last lick, Fraser let Ray go, and pillowed his face on
Ray's thigh, one arm across his belly. Ray kept stroking his hair, his caresses
slowing gradually, and under his arm he felt Ray's breathing even out. He
found his own breathing slowing to match Ray's, the petting almost hypnotic.
He closed his eyes with a sigh, completely relaxed for the first time he could
* * *
Ray scowled, trying to stay asleep despite the annoying scratching noise.
What was that? A branch brushing against the house? Must be a storm or something.
Except. . . storms didn't . . . whine. And that was definitely a whine. Dief?
Yeah, sounded like him. Wondering what the heavy thing making a numb and slightly
damp place on his thigh was, Ray opened his eyes, and . . .
"Fuck!" He sat bolt upright, dislodging Fraser who was using his thigh for
a pillow. "What time is it?"
Fraser blinked at him, disheveled and confused, one side of his face red from
where it had been pressed against Ray's leg, and a little shiny with moisture.
"Wha. . .?"
"Time! What time. . . ." Ray remembered suddenly that he was still wearing
his watch, and he looked, and groaned. "Oh God, I am so screwed. I'm due in
Saskatoon in less than two hours and there's just no way, short of alien intervention,
that I'm going to get there in time."
He could almost see Fraser's brain start working. The vacant expression sharpened,
his eyes narrowed, and then he reached over the side of the bed and grabbed
his pants, detaching his phone from the belt before pushing himself up to
a sitting position. "Let me see if I can do anything. Who have you been working
with in Saskatoon?"
It took him a minute. He always messed up the name. Wait, he had it. "Guy
"Aki Thobhani?" Fraser asked. Of course he pronounced it exactly the way the
guy himself did.
Ray nodded. 'Yeah, that's him."
"All right, good." He opened his phone and dialed. A moment later he started
to speak. "Aki? Hello, it's Benton Fraser. Yes. Mmm? Fine, yes, relatively
quiet, though we've had a bit of excitement lately, which is why I'm calling.
You're expecting my former partner from Chicago, Ray Kowalski, this afternoon,
to give a deposition on the LeBeau case? What? Yes, actually, he is. Yes,
that's the one. The submarine and the nerve gas, yes." Fraser rolled his eyes
at Ray with an exasperated expression on his face. "Yes, in any case, he's
been assisting me with an arson investigation in La Rouille and to be quite
frank time's gotten away from us and there's simply no way that he can be
back in Saskatoon in time for his one o'clock appointment this afternoon.
Is there any way he could. . . yes. Yes. Four o'clock? That should do just
fine. Thank you very much."
Fraser closed his phone and looked at Ray smugly.
Ray gaped. "Fraser! You just lied!"
"Yes, I did," Fraser said, somewhat defiantly, only to correct himself a moment later. "Well, after a fashion,"
Ray grinned. "Okay, now I know you love me." He paused for a moment and looked
at him seriously. "You know I do, right? Love you, I mean."
Fraser set the phone down on the floor next to his pants, then rolled back
over onto his side, facing Ray. He reached out and touched Ray's face, fingers
gently brushing back the hair from his forehead, thumb trailing gently over
his eyebrows. "I . . . hoped. And now I do."
"Good!" Ray said fiercely, wrapping an arm around Fraser's waist and holding
him tightly. "Don't ever stop knowing it, okay?"
Fraser buried his face for a moment in the warmth of Ray's neck, then pulled
back just long enough that Ray could see his suspiciously bright eyes before
he leaned back in and kissed Ray, hard, on the mouth. "I won't, Ray. I won't
stop knowing it. Just . . . keep reminding me, all right?"
"Yeah. I think I can do that."
Fraser started to smile, but it was an odd smile like Ray had never seen before
on his friend's face - and one he wasn't sure he ever wanted to see again.
Happiness was there like you'd expect to see - like you'd hope to see - in
a smile, but, God, something else was there, too. Something that pressed hard
at the corners of Fraser's mouth and eyes. Not pain, precisely. Not really
fear. Neither of those - or maybe a little of both. Something almost . . .
Ray reached up, his palms against Fraser's temples, thumbs brushing lightly
over the soft skin below his eyes, trying to erase that look of desperation
with his hands. He felt the warmth of Fraser's breath against his cheeks,
his mouth, each rapid exhalation an unspoken plea. He leaned in, closing the
gap between them until there was just a whisper of space between his lips
and Fraser's own slightly parted lips. He held himself still, felt his own
shallow breaths find entry into Fraser's open mouth, then sealed their mouths
with a kiss.
He felt Fraser's fingers stroking the short hairs at the back of his head,
tasted his tongue as it begged access to his mouth, heard the soft sounds
he made in his throat as they kissed. Then Fraser broke the kiss and spoke,
slowly and deliberately, but so softly and hoarsely that if they hadn't been
so close, Ray would never have been able to hear him at all.
"I love you."
Ray squeezed his eyes shut tightly, just for a moment, a feeble barrier erected
against the sudden sting of tears. He hadn't known how much he'd needed to
hear Fraser say those words until they were finally spoken.
He opened his eyes and looked at Fraser. God. He looked as relieved as Ray
felt, but he looked . . . surprised - like he couldn't believe he'd actually
been able to say it. Ray shook his head and smiled reassuringly. He knew that
was a damned scary thing to say when it was for real. His smile drew an answering
one from Fraser, unclouded now by the fear and pain that had been there moments
Ray wrapped his arms tightly around Fraser and smiled. "I don't need to ask
you if that was hard to say."
Fraser grinned, blushing slightly, then his expression turned serious. "Not
as hard as saying goodbye's going to be. Ray, I . . . God, I don't want you
to leave, but you have to get to Saskatoon. Aki's already done us a
great favor in agreeing to have the time changed. Our judicial system is far
less . . . flexible, I suppose you'd say, about scheduling matters than the
Chicago court system appeared to be, and we shouldn't impose upon him a second
time, particularly not when, well . . . ."
Ray nodded. "No, you're right. And you know, I do understand how much
being dishonest grates on you, even when it's a matter of life or death."
Fraser frowned. "A matter of . . . ."
"I was dying of waiting, Benton," said Ray gravely.
"Ah," Fraser said with a smile. "Of course."
Ray dropped a kiss on Fraser's too-welcoming mouth, then slid out of the bed
reluctantly and began to retrieve his scattered clothing from the floor. He
could feel Fraser's eyes on him as he slipped his briefs on and turned, about
to make a joke about charging admission, but he stopped when he saw the expression
on Fraser's face.
He couldn't remember ever being looked at with such a combination of longing
and love in his entire life. It was a little weird to be the focus of such
intensity, but he wasn't about to say anything that might make Fraser think
that any part of what he was feeling was wrong. He reached out again, but
Fraser shook his head this time.
"No, we really have to get dressed."
Ray put on his socks and trousers, but the shirt was another matter. Not only
was one of the buttons missing, but there was a tear in the buttonhole too.
Okay, so maybe there was a slight drawback to Fraser's intensity. He threw
the shirt on the bed and pulled another one from his bag.
"Good thing I still had a spare. I don't know if showing up looking like a
caveman just had his way with me would go over real big in Saskatoon."
"I'm so sorry," Fraser said, looking at the damage he'd done earlier. "I'll
replace it, of course, and . . . ."
"Nah, don't worry. It died in a good cause," Ray grinned. "Besides, I . .
. um . . . I kind of owe you a shirt, anyway."
"You do?" Ray asked, looking surprised.
"Yeah." Fraser nodded, then pushed himself off the bed and up onto his bare
feet. He walked behind Ray and brought his arms around him, his body warm
against Ray's back. "You're welcome to anything I have, Ray. When you . .
Ray waited for him to go on, but the sentence remained incomplete. "Fraser?
What were you going to say?"
"It was nothing, Ray."
"Come on, Benton," he said, turning around in Fraser's arms to face him. "It
didn't sound like nothing."
"Actually, it was. I was going to say . . . well, I was going to say that
when you wore the shirt you could think of it as if I had my arms around you,
keeping you . . . oh God, would you stop me, please?" He buried his flushed
face in Ray's shoulder.
Ray patted his back and chuckled. "Keeping me warm? You're really sweet, you
"Shut up, Ray."
Ray was still laughing when they heard the scratching sound coming from the
cabin door again.
"Oh, Lord. I completely forgot about Diefenbaker. He's been outside all this
"Man," Ray said, shaking his head. "I don't envy you. That's going to be one
pissed off wolf."
"Ray, could you . . . ." Fraser said, one foot in his boxers.
"Yeah, I'll let the guy in. Go, um, look busy or something."
Ray opened the door. Diefenbaker, after giving Ray a perfunctory lick on the
hand, jumped up on the bed and started to bark at Fraser.
Fraser paused, pants in his hands. "You couldn't possibly have heard me since,
as you have told me repeatedly, you're deaf. In any case, I have not
been watching too much daytime television."
Ray knelt down on the bed and put his hands on the side of Diefenbaker's muzzle,
turning him slightly to face him.
"Enough with the yapping, okay? First off, you're a wolf and wolves aren't
supposed to bark, right? B, you're in now, so stop complaining. Besides, if
you behave, Benton's going to get you an order of chicken fried steak and
mashed potatoes with gravy from Tilda's when you get back home . . . aren't
"Ray," Fraser said severely, trousers on now, but unfastened as he reached
for his shirt.
Fraser sighed. "Of course I am, Ray.
Ray grinned. "Good. See, Dief? Life's good."
Diefenbaker woofed in agreement and curled up contentedly on top of Ray's
"Hey! That's mine!" Ray protested, reaching to tug it out from under him.
Fraser reached out and caught his wrist. "Wait, Ray. If it's not too presumptuous
of me, perhaps you might let Dief keep it? I mean. . . I'd love to wear it
myself, but I'm afraid that's not an option, and in any case it's ruined,
so someone might as well get some use from it," he said ruefully.
Ray looked from Fraser, where he stood holding his own shirt, to Dief, happily
snoozing on his shirt, and he smiled. "Dief, huh? Well, if you can
wrestle it away from him, lemme tell you that a shirt makes a pretty good
Fraser's eyebrows drew down slightly. "I'm not sure I take your meaning."
Ray felt himself flush a little. "See. . . I, um, actually owe you two
shirts. You left one in Chicago back when you moved, and I just sort of. .
. forgot to send it back to you."
"In Chicago?" Fraser sounded, and looked, like he'd been poleaxed.
"That long ago?"
Ray nodded, feeling his blush deepen. "Yeah. Okay, so I admit it. I'm a moron.
But at least I finally got a clue, eh?"
Fraser did a bit of a double-take, and smiled. "You said 'eh.'"
"Yeah." Ray chuckled. "'Eh.' People back home keep asking me if I'm Canadian.
I also drink tea and read books and I'm even polite. Well, mostly. Except
when I'm not."
"And I drink coffee and swear and watch television. Good lord. I didn't realize
national characteristics were infectious."
Ray snorted and pulled on his shirt, buttoning it. "So what happens now?"
"Now, you go to Saskatoon and take care of your responsibilities with the
Le Beau case, and I return to La Rouille to finalize the arrangements for
Crawford's sentencing circle." Fraser said evenly, not looking at Ray as he
put on his own shirt and tucked it in, then zipped up.
"Yeah, and then what?" Ray asked, as he shoved his feet into his boots
and stamped them on. "Because I've got to tell you, Benton, my days of being
somebody's pen pal ended back when I was in sixth grade."
Fraser paused in fastening his belt and sighed. "What happens next, then,
is that we try to determine what employment opportunities are available for
me in Chicago, although honestly, I can't imagine being able to leave my posting
before . . . ."
Ray stopped in the middle of picking up his jacket off the floor. "Wait a
minute. You're thinking about moving to Chicago?"
"Well, yes." Fraser frowned, his expression going very. . . expressionless.
"Unless I misunderstood? I may have been jumping the gun a bit, but I assumed
we. . . ." He stopped. Swallowed. "But if you're not ready to make that kind
of decision yet, I understand completely. I'm certain we can . . . ."
"No!" Ray almost shouted, then he toned himself down. But he could see that
Fraser was trampolining to a wrong conclusion and he was determined to head
him off at the pass. Or something like that. Talk about mixing metaphors.
"No, of course I'm ready. Decision's been signed, sealed, and delivered at
my end. Fraser, I want to be with you - you know that. But . . . Chicago.
Wow. I guess I didn't think you'd be willing to move back there."
Fraser sat down on the bed, holding his hiking boot but not putting it on
as he looked at Ray with something like consternation. "Where else could we
be, Ray? That's where your job is. Your career. Your family and friends. I
wouldn't dream of asking you to give up all the things that are important
Ray poked two fingers at him, scowling. "Hey, get it straight. It's you
that's most important to me. Do you hear that?"
"Well, yes, but . . . ."
"No. I mean, do you really hear it? Because I'm telling you right now, Benton
Fraser, I would give up anything . . . anything, to be with you. I'm
not going to be without you in my life. Not again. And if that means moving
up here to Canada, then that's the way it's going to be." He stood in front
of Fraser with his fists clenched, ready to. . . he wasn't sure what. . .
but whatever it took to convince Fraser he meant it.
Fraser's expression softened, and he reached to take one of Ray's clenched
fists in his hand, prying at it, opening his fingers. "I feel the same way,
Ray, but you have to understand that it's no sacrifice for me to leave Canada.
Not now. You've seen what my life's been like up here. Even this weekend,
when I actually had an investigation to pursue, the pace has been, well .
. . Ray, to be honest, after Chicago, it's driving me out of my mind."
Yeah. Ray had seen that. But he'd thought it was something else. "You sure
it's not just because you've . . . um . . . been lonely?"
Fraser nodded, his gaze never leaving Ray's. "I'm sure. That's been a part
of it, of course, but it isn't the whole answer."
"Okay," said Ray slowly, thinking. "What if we moved up north? Don't you still
miss the Territories?"
"I don't know about down in the United States, but here in Canada we have
a little thing called 'a vacation,'" Fraser deadpanned.
Ray smiled, but shook his head. "Come on, I'm serious, here. I did okay on
our trip, and that was a lot tougher than living up there would be. I could
hack Inuvik or Yellowknife or wherever if it would make you happy."
"I appreciate that more than you could possibly know, Ray, but it's not necessary,"
Fraser said. "At one time, being allowed to return north would have come as
a godsend, but quite frankly, I'm no longer certain I'd be comfortable with
that degree of isolation, or the pace."
Ray turned that over in his head, and thought he understood. "People change,
huh?" he asked after a moment.
"People change," Fraser agreed, sounding relieved.
"Okay, so it's Chicago for the both of us. That's good," Ray said definitively.
"I like that. Okay, so how about I talk to Welsh when I get back? See if he
has any suggestions."
Fraser nodded, then sat back down on the bed to put on his boots. "Good idea.
For my part, I think I'll get in touch with Assistant Commissioner Underhill.
He's the one who instituted the RCMP liaison program, and . . . ."
"The liaison thing was his idea?" Ray interrupted. "I think I want to kiss
"Perhaps you'd find a hearty handshake sufficient," Fraser said, as Ray chuckled.
"In any case, he's currently serving on the commission developing a pilot
program involving the cooperation of a number of governmental agencies from
both our countries. I'm afraid I don't know as much about this as I might,
but now's as good a time as any to learn."
"Sounds good," Ray said, nodding. "Hey, you know what? I take back what I
said. Forget that Underhill guy; I think I want to kiss you, instead."
He tugged Fraser up off the bed and pulled him into his arms, kissing his
mouth, then leaned against him, just holding him. The thought of having to
lose this closeness when they'd only just found it, was more than he wanted
to think about.
"Don't want to go," he muttered.
"I don't want you to go," Fraser said softly. "Perhaps . . . ."
"I was thinking that perhaps I could come down to Saskatoon tomorrow evening
after work. Between Constables Traynor and Zhertak, I'm sure the detachment
will survive without my presence for a bit longer."
"Yeah? You really think you could get away?" Ray asked eagerly. "Or maybe
I could go back up to La Rouille. I don't think I'm going to have anything
much to do after tomorrow afternoon, and my flight back to Chicago isn't until
3:00 p.m. on Wednesday."
Diefenbaker jumped off the bed and yipped happily at Ray's heels.
Fraser shook his head. "Well, that's one vote for you coming back up to La
Rouille. You know, he's only taking this much of an interest because he believes
you to be a softer touch when it comes to contraband snack food than I am."
"I'm hurt," Ray laughed, bending down to let Diefenbaker lick him. "I thought
he liked me for my conversational abilities."
"Perhaps he does," Fraser said. "Actually, if he's anything like me, he likes
having you with him for every possible reason."
Ray looked at him with a mock frown. "Not that I don't appreciate the sentiment,
Benton, but I'm not sure I want the wolf liking me for all the same reasons
you like me."
Dief growled, and Fraser's eyes widened.
Ray laughed. "Jeez! Settle down, both of you! I was joking." He looked down
at Fraser's feet. "Finish tying your shoes, Benton, we need to get out of
here pronto." He glanced past Fraser, and winced. "Oh God. . . the bed. They're
never going to buy the conference story once they get a look at that."
Fraser, kneeling to tie his second boot, craned around, and eyed the rumpled
bed critically. "Actually, Ray, I think all we need do is straighten the covers."
"You don't think the come stains kind of give it away there?" Ray asked drily.
Fraser looked at the bed for a moment longer, and started to smile. "I suppose
they do at that." He stood up, and pulling out his wallet, removed several
bills and placed them on the rumpled bed.
"What are you doing?"
"Paying for the use of the room and leaving a cleaning fee."
Ray blinked. "Don't you. . . uh . . . ." He stopped, thought for a moment, and
looked at Fraser again, perplexed. "What, people don't gossip in Canada?"
Fraser's smile grew broader. "Of course they do."
"So then. . . ." Ray got it, like the clouds opened up and trumpets sounded.
He felt his own eyes widen. "Oh."
Fraser suddenly looked a little concerned. "Is that all right?"
Ray swallowed hard, and nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, it's fine. Except. . . what if
. . . won't you get . . . ." He couldn't say it. Pussy. He took a breath. "I'm
not going to be here to watch your back, and damn it, Benton, I do not want
to get a phone call telling me that somebody didn't back you up because of
Dief whined. Fraser looked down at Dief. "Certainly not. I think it's Ray
who's been watching too much daytime television." His gaze shifted to Ray's
face. "Do you know of any actual incidents where that happened?"
Ray thought about it. Hell, they had a bunch of gay cops on the force in Chicago.
They even had a gay community liaison. Nobody batted an eyelash. "Um, no,"
"I thought not."
"Stupid, huh?" he asked, knowing he was beet red.
Fraser smiled and shook his head. "No. Sweet."
Ray put a hand over his eyes. "Shit. It's just. . . it's you, Benton. It's
not just some 'gay cop.' It's you. I worry, you know?"
"I do know. And that's all right. I know I've worried about you ever since
I came up here, for all the everyday, mundane reasons one worries about a
cop. I know what can happen, with or without backup. But you can't. . . we
can't. . . let fear rule us."
Fear? Try sheer terror, Ray thought, but he straightened up and reached to
pull Fraser close and hug him. "I'm happy to be gossiped about, 'long as
you're part of it. And if anybody says anything mean to you I'll be on the
next plane up here to kick 'em in the head, got that?"
Fraser chuckled against his neck. "It's probably fortunate that there are
no direct flights, then."
Ray laughed. "Yeah, probably." Pulling back, he brushed one more kiss across
Fraser's lips and then let him go and stepped back, running a hand through
his hair. "I look okay?" he asked.
"You look marvelous," Fraser said huskily.
Ray put out a hand. "Down boy! I meant do I look respectable enough to talk
to a judge?"
Fraser eyed him more critically. "Yes."
He nodded. "Good. He took a step toward the door and hesitated as another
thought occurred to him. He inhaled deeply, but damn, he really couldn't tell.
He looked back at Fraser. "Um. . . do I smell like I just got laid?"
Fraser laughed. "Only to me, Ray. I don't expect anyone would detect it at
a normal distance."
"Guess I better not let anyone get too close then," he joked.
Fraser's eyes darkened. "That's right."
Ray's eyebrows shot up. Note to self: Fraser had a jealous side. Good to know.
It was okay, though. Ray knew all about those. "Count on it," he said.
He glanced around the room to be sure he hadn't forgotten anything, and saw
the money on the bed. That was wrong. He walked back over, got his own wallet
and took out a crisp US twenty dollar bill. Replacing one of Fraser's bills
with the twenty, he handed Fraser back the bill he'd taken off the bed. Fraser
didn't protest, and the look in his eyes told Ray the gesture was understood,
"All set then?" Fraser asked, pocketing the money.
Ray nodded. "Ready as I'll ever be." He opened the door and stepped outside
into chilly gray day, waiting.
Fraser zipped up his jacket, picked up Ray's discarded shirt, and followed,
Dief at their heels. They walked in silence back to where they'd parked. Ray
noticed that Clydene was watching them from the office window, and he waved
at her. They got to their cars and Fraser opened the door of his Suburban
and tossed Ray's shirt inside, then came over as Ray unlocked the Taurus. As
soon as he opened the door, Diefenbaker jumped in and squeezed through between
the seats to the back where he sat down next to Ray's duffel bag and looked
at them expectantly.
"Come on guy!" Ray protested. "Don't make this harder than it already is.
You know we gotta go different directions here." He opened the back door and
made shooing motions. "Out. You can't come to Saskatoon with me. The hotel
doesn't take wolves, okay?"
Dief just whined and lay down, his chin on Ray's bag. Fraser sighed.
"I know, Dief, but really, we can't, either of us. Not at this moment."
That got a moan, and Dief put a paw on top of Ray's bag possessively.
"Honestly, it's all right. Ray will be back. We'll see him again soon."
Fraser looked at Ray and nudged him with an elbow.
"Yeah," Ray added hastily. "Promise. Soon as I can get back here, okay? I'll,
uh, bring you something."
Dief growled and eyed him disdainfully. Ray spread his hands. "Okay, sorry.
I won't bring you anything." He looked at Fraser ruefully. "Guess bribes only
go so far."
"Nothing could possibly replace your presence," Fraser said a little wistfully.
Ray blinked hard and shook his head. "Okay, enough of that. Dief, out now.
I mean it. Do not make me come in there and get you. One. . . two . . . ."
Diefenbaker reluctantly heaved himself to his feet and exited the car. Ray
closed the door and turned to Fraser, who avoided his gaze.
"I suppose this is goodbye," Fraser said, holding out a hand as if to shake.
Ray stared at his hand, took it, and pulled him in for a long, tight hug instead.
"Just see you later, okay? Not goodbye," he said into Fraser's ear. "Hey,
you want to really give ol' Clydene something to gossip about?"
Ray cut off Fraser's question by kissing him. There was a moment of startled
stillness, and then he responded, returning Ray's kiss with as much passion
as he had earlier. Fortified by his nap, Ray's body reacted predictably and
he was half hard by the time they finally stopped. "Shit," he muttered, trying
to settle himself into a less uncomfortable position without being too obvious
about it. Kissing in front of Clydene was one thing. Grabbing himself was
Fraser nodded, licking his lips. "Indeed."
"Not up there on my list of 'greatest ideas ever,' eh?"
"Possibly not, but appreciated nonetheless." Fraser looked at the car. "Ray,
you really should. . . ." he gestured out to the south.
Ray nodded. "Yeah, I know. I have to go. I know that. I'm going. Really. Now.
"Wouldn't it help if you were actually in the car?" Fraser asked, the lines
around his eyes and mouth deepening a little as he fought to keep from smiling.
"Yeah, yeah," Ray got in and fastened the seat belt. Fraser closed the door
for him, and then leaned down as Ray rolled down the window.
"One for the road?" Ray asked, feeling stupid and needy.
Fraser kissed him again. Softly this time. Exactly what he needed. When their
lips parted, Fraser cleared his throat.
"You'd best get going, Ray. I'll talk to you tonight and we'll make plans."
Ray nodded, put the key in the ignition, and started the car. "Yeah, we will."
He pulled out, turned around and headed down the drive. Looking in the mirror,
he nearly hit the brakes as he saw both Fraser and Dief standing beside the
Suburban, watching him. Shit. How could he leave? How could he not leave?
He had to leave. This. Sucked. He dragged his eyes from the rear view mirror
and stared straight ahead. Drive, Kowalski. Just drive.
Twenty six minutes later, back on the CanAm and determinedly headed south,
he pulled over onto the shoulder and got out his cell phone, turning it on,
hitting the first autodial. A moment later his call was answered.
"Corporal Benton Fraser speaking."
There was a moment of silence. "Ray? Is something wrong?" Fraser sounded anxious.
"Other than the fact that you're headed north and I'm headed south, nope.
"Ah. Then. . . why are you calling?"
He could hear Fraser swallow. "Ray. . . ." his voice cracked a little. "Ray,
it's unsafe to use a cellular telephone while driving."
"I pulled over."
"I love you too."
Ray grinned. "Would you still love me if I hadn't pulled over?"
"I think that goes without saying."
"Okay, good. Bye."
He got back on the road. Thirty two minutes later his phone rang. "Kowalski,"
He laughed, glad the road was deserted so if he wandered a little as he laughed
and drove and held the phone it wasn't a problem. "Cripes. We're a pair aren't
"I think that's an excellent description."
"I just . . . miss you."
"Did you pull over?"
"What if I don't talk? I'll just hold the phone to my ear and you can . .
. um. . . breathe at me or something."
Fraser groaned. "Now you're making me drive unsafely."
"You didn't pull over?" Ray asked, mock-appalled. "Tsk, tsk. Hey, this
"I seriously doubt it."
"That means anybody could, like, overhear this call?"
"Guess I won't tell you what I'd really like to be doing to you right now
Ray chuckled. "How many people you think Clydene's called so far?"
"A dozen, at least. Starting with Sally."
"Good. That way Zhertak will know to keep his hands to himself because you're
"Ray, I've told you before, Constable Zhertak doesn't like me in that way."
"You just keep on thinking that."
"Ray, he has a girlfriend. Two girlfriends."
"Compensating," Ray said with a grin, constitutionally unable to refrain from
chain-yanking, then he had to slow as a drift of snow pulled at his tires.
"Hey, the road's kind of messy up ahead, I need both hands. I'll talk to you
"Yes, you will," Fraser said huskily.
He made it to Saskatoon without incident, with twenty minutes to spare, and
was really glad he'd been to the Courthouse once already so he knew where
he was going. Nobody looked at him weird and nobody sniffed at him so Fraser
must have been right about him looking and smelling okay. After he gave his
deposition, Aki Thobhani invited him to dinner along with a couple of the
other RCMP guys working the Le Beau case for a hob-nob, though it turned out
they mostly wanted to talk about the submarine thing, which was okay by Ray
because it gave him a good reason to talk about Fraser.
When he stopped outside the restaurant to call and let Fraser know his plans,
Sally answered Fraser's line and told Ray he was busy with Lana and Crawford
Jones, but that she'd tell him about the dinner thing and that he'd call him
after they got done. Then, to Ray's surprise, she told him that his visit
had clearly been good for Fraser and she hoped that he'd visit again. He'd
been blushing when he'd gone back to the table, and he wondered just how much
ribbing Fraser was going to get over that stop in Weyakwin. It looked like
everything was pretty much out in the open, which was good, but Fraser wasn't
used to it and it might be a bit much for him.
Eventually Ray made it back to the motel. Once inside his room, he went to
call Fraser but couldn't get decent cell coverage so he stripped to his shorts,
pulled back the covers on the bed, and pulled the hotel phone closer to the
bed. Finally he settled on the bed, read the instructions for how to place
a call, and dialed.
Fraser answered on the first ring. "Ray?"
"Almost in the flesh."
"It's really not kind of you to say things like that when you're two hundred
and thirty five miles away."
"Sorry. How'd it go today?"
"My day was fine, yours?"
Ray sighed and settled himself more comfortably against the pillows. "Benton,
don't you think we're past 'fine' as an answer to that question? How much
shit did you get today?"
"Well, I wouldn't precisely call it 'shit,' although I did get a lecture from
Sally for not filing a leave notification before I left the detachment this
morning, since she's responsible for maintaining our time records."
"Are you going to beat around the bush all night? How. Did. It. Go?"
Fraser's voice softened. "Very well, actually. I was pleasantly surprised
by the number of congratulatory remarks made and the variety of people who
Ray started to smile, a feeling of relief spreading through him, easing his
tension. "Yeah? Like what?"
"Er. . . well, the Episcopalian Ladies Auxiliary brought me a cake." He cleared
his throat. "I gave Dief a piece and put the rest in the freezer."
"One piece won't kill you, Benton," Ray said, rolling his eyes.
"No, of course not. I just wanted to wait for you."
Ray realized he was grinning like an idiot and would have made himself stop,
but there was no one to see so he didn't. "Oh. Uh, okay. Cool. So nobody got
"Not precisely nasty, no. There were a few less than polite comments but nothing
Ray sat up. "What did they say? Who said it?"
Fraser sighed. "Ray, will you please relax? It was nothing, and even if it
were something, I'm a trained peace officer and perfectly capable of handling
He sounded more than a little irritated. Ray swallowed his protest. "Sorry.
I just . . . ."
"I know. How did the deposition go?"
"Smooth as silk. LeBeau's going away, no doubt. Everything was by the book.
I might have to go back in sometime in the morning and answer a few more questions,
but Aki thinks they should be finished with me by noon, latest."
"Dinner was good. They all wanted to talk about you. Everybody wants to know
about the sub thing. And the litterbug thing. And the fishing over the limit
thing, but that was before my time. You'll have to get me up to speed so I
know the story for next time."
Fraser groaned. "Oh God, I'm never going to live that down, am I?"
Ray chuckled. "Probably not. Hey, there's another plus for Chicago. Nobody's
going to be asking you about that one there!"
Ray lay back and cradled the phone between his ear and the pillow. He could
almost see Fraser's blandly studied expression as he said those words, his
eyebrows arching just a little, the tilt of his head. All those were old things
- comfortable things; he'd spent close to twenty months with that blandness,
those arched eyebrows, that tilt. Longer than that without them, but that
was going to change.
He closed his eyes, then, and thought about the new things. Hair curling at
the base of Fraser's neck, the slight softness beneath his chin, the patchy
stubble on his jaw in the morning that could hardly be seen, but that Ray
had touched with his fingertips, his cheek, his lips.
He shifted in the bed, stretched his arm out just a little, then a little
more, almost as if he thought that if he just kept reaching out, he'd be able
to touch Fraser somehow. But he felt nothing under his hand except the too-slick
bedspread, and, God, that wasn't what he wanted to touch. He pulled his hand
back, his fingers curled into a fist at his chest, but no matter how tightly
he curled his hand, his arm - his body - he still felt empty. Cold.
He sighed. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm here. Sorry. I was . . . ."
"Are you all right?"
He almost said he was, but he hadn't let Fraser get away with 'fine' before,
and he wasn't going to let himself get away with it now.
"No, not really."
"What's . . . ."
"Nothing, except you're not here."
"I miss you, too."
Fraser's voice was soft and too gentle, and Ray knew he was worrying him,
but he didn't want to not say what he was feeling. And with his mouth, the
words were going to come whether he wanted to say them or not.
"It's just . . . ." He put his hand over the mouthpiece. What was the matter
with him? He'd gotten through the day okay. Through dinner with Aki and his
friends. Hell, he'd gotten through the last two years just fine. Why was it
so hard now? "It's just . . . I don't know what the hell's going on, Benton.
I'm flipping out here or something. I really need to touch you."
God, he had to stop this before he started hyperventilating or some other
dumbass thing that would probably freak Fraser out so much that he'd rethink
this whole being-together deal. Stop it, Ray. Just stop it, for Christ's sake.
"Ray. Stop it," Fraser said, the words a weird echo of his own thoughts.
"Sorry. I'm . . . I didn't mean to . . . ."
"Do something for me. Go get your bag."
"Okay," he said, shivering a little as he crawled out from under the covers.
Why were hotel rooms always either too damned hot or too damned cold?
He put the phone down on his pillow and did as Fraser'd asked. He took the
bag off the chair, dropped it down on the middle of the bed, then picked up
the receiver again. "I'm back."
"Good." Fraser paused - long enough for Ray to start worrying if he
was okay. "You . . . um . . . you said something earlier about . . . maybe
this is a foolish suggestion, but . . . Ray, take my shirt out of your bag
and put it on."
Automatically, Ray put the phone down and followed his instructions. He rummaged
though his clothes, found the henley, and slid it over his head.
"Okay, I've got my security blanket," he said. "Now what?"
"Ray, I . . . I don't want you to think I'm treating you like a child. I just
thought . . . ."
Great. Now he had Fraser worried about him and worried about trying
to help. "Nah, it's good. Don't know why I didn't think of this myself. This
"Really?" Fraser asked, disbelief plain in his voice.
"Yeah. I feel like Linus, but I also feel better." No lie there. He did feel
better suddenly. Just being able to breathe in the scent that still clung
to the shirt made it better, at least a little. "It's not as good as having
you here with me, but . . . better, yeah. Thanks, Benton. What, are you psychic
all of a sudden or something?"
"Not . . . exactly," he replied hesitantly. Ray could almost see that thumb
rubbing at his eyebrow. "I'm afraid I had a similar need for your presence,
and . . . ."
"Benton? Did you just have to fight the wolf for my shirt?"
"There was no need to fight," Fraser sighed. "I've recently discovered that
where Diefenbaker's concerned, if you just look miserable for long enough,
eventually he'll demonstrate some compassion."
Ray got back under the covers, then lay his head down on the pillow and smiled.
"Man. Playing for sympathy from a deaf half-wolf. That's kind of . . . well,
it's kind of pathetic."
"You know, Ray," Fraser said in a blandly superior voice, "I think I'll refrain
from sharing just how useful I find your assessment of 'pathetic' - and do
you know why?"
Ray heard the undercurrent of amusement in his partner's voice and laughed.
"Yeah, because you love me, right?"
"Precisely," Fraser said matter-of-factly. "Now, I think it's time we got
some sleep, don't you?"
"I suppose. Still don't like being here without you though," Ray groused.
"Being alone in Chicago until you can get things tied up here is going to
be a bitch, you know?"
"I know," Fraser sighed. "I'm not looking forward to it any more than you
are. However, there's no reason to borrow trouble. We'll be together tomorrow
night, and after that . . . well, you know I'll do my best to speed things
along at this end."
"You'd better," Ray said, stifling a yawn. "Okay, I'm just about wiped out.
'Night, Fraser." He reached over to switch off the lamp and, on impulse, pulled
the spare pillow under the covers next to his body.
"Ray? Are you sleeping with a strange pillow? Is this something I should worry
"You heard that? How the hell did you hear that?"
Fraser chuckled. "Good night, Ray."
He could hear Fraser hang up the phone. A minute later, the phone started
making a really, really annoying sound, but Ray just put his hand over
the earpiece and held the receiver tight against his chest as he drifted off
* * *
The only thing that had made that first night alone bearable for Ray was the
certainty that he and Fraser would be together again the next night. If Ray
had known how long it was really going to be until he could see him, he might
have taken a cue from Dief and just crawled into the back of Fraser's SUV
and refused to get out.
In court Tuesday morning, Aki had passed Ray a message from Fraser saying
that things were pretty slow in La Rouille and that he thought he'd be able
to come down to Saskatoon that evening, but in the end, that proved impossible.
Sometime in the early afternoon, a fight broke out between the parents of
the visiting Prince Albert girl's hockey team and some of the local parents
over a disputed call. What began with angry words soon escalated to screaming,
punches being thrown, and finally a car being driven though the rink wall
onto the ice, scattering players and officials alike and causing serious property
damage. By three in the afternoon, the small La Rouille jail was packed to
capacity, and Fraser had to give up on any chance of leaving town that night.
Travel advisories for the night aside, Ray really didn't mind the thought
of driving all the way back to La Rouille, not when he knew he had Fraser
waiting for him at the other end, but as the day went on, Ray grew more and
more sure there was a plot to keep him in Saskatoon. Despite Aki's assurance
that he'd be scheduled early in the day's proceedings, he was still waiting
around to be called at four in the afternoon. First, the judge had been caught
in traffic, delaying the start until almost noon. Then, when things did get
going, one of the Canadian officials who'd been called to testify had to have
his time moved up so that he could make a flight to Ottawa later that day.
And finally, no more than five minutes after Ray took the stand, the courthouse's
antiquated sprinkler system malfunctioned and flooded the courtroom, soaking
all the participants and postponing Ray's testimony until 9:00 a.m. the following
Aki was all apologies, but Ray knew it wasn't his fault. Sure, he was overseeing
the case for the RCMP in Saskatoon, but he wasn't to blame for screwing up
Ray's plans. There wasn't anyone to blame. Knowing that didn't make Ray feel
any better about not getting another chance to be with Fraser before he had
to head back to Chicago.
In the end, they were lucky to even get a chance to talk to each other. The
early winter storm that had been threatening the northern end of the province
finally hit with a vengeance at six in the evening, knocking out telephone
service in the La Rouille region. Ray left his cell switched on when he went
to sleep, hoping that Fraser would be able to get through, but the room was
still apparently cell-proof. By the time Ray woke up the next morning the
battery in his cell phone was dead from being left on all night.
It wasn't until Ray was already checked in at John G. Diefenbaker International
Airport in Saskatoon and waiting for his flight when he got an opportunity
to talk to Fraser, and even then it was just a too-short call with him huddled
over a payphone next to the boarding gate. There were a million things he
wanted to say to Fraser, but the blue-haired lady in the next booth was getting
way too interested in his end of the conversation. She leaned closer and closer
with each passing minute until he was about to ask her if she wanted him to
send her a written transcript when he was finished.
Then the flight - the first one, the one to Minneapolis - was called, and
Ray had to hang up without having said any of the things he'd wanted to say,
although it probably wouldn't have made a lot of difference to the way he
felt because talking was really pretty low down on the list of "Ways to Say
Goodbye to the Person You Love."
* * *
"So he didn't make it after all?"
Fraser looked up from the report he was working on, pretending he didn't know
what Sally meant. "'He?"
Her expression told him he wasn't fooling her. "Detective Kowalski."
"I'm sure he'll be here sometime today, but not for the initial ceremonies.
There were some flight delays which impacted his arrival time."
"But he's coming?" Sally prodded, frowning a little.
"Yes. He had to stay in Prince Albert last night when they closed down the
airport there and he was unable to complete his flight or find a rental vehicle."
Her frown cleared. "Okay. Good. That's good. Isn't it about time for you to
Fraser smothered a smile. "As soon as I finish up this report, yes. Thank
you for the reminder, though."
"No problem." She headed back out to the communications desk.
Fraser sighed, rolling his shoulders and glancing at his watch. It had been
three weeks, two days, 10 hours, and 23 minutes since they'd parted in that
parking lot in Weyakwin. As soon as he thought it, he smiled a little, shaking
his head. Ray would no doubt ask why he hadn't counted the seconds, too. At
some point in their lives, either he or Ray or both must have offended the
gods of travel, as they seemed to be actively impeding their reunion. The
peculiar mixture of anticipation and frustration he'd been feeling since Ray's
last call the night before left his stomach vaguely unsettled and gave him
a ache that seemed to center right between his eyes. He rubbed absently at
the spot but it didn't help.
The first call from Ray the day before had come from Minneapolis, where snow
had delayed his connecting flight for almost three hours. The second call
had come from Saskatoon, where the shuttle flight he was supposed to take
to La Rouille via Prince Albert had also been delayed, supposedly by half
an hour. Three calls later that half hour had stretched out to two and a half.
Finally Ray had called to tell him the flight was boarding and he'd see him
in around an hour.
Forty-five minutes after that, he'd gotten yet another call, this time Ray
sounding ready to kick someone in the head as he explained that he was stuck
in Prince Albert because all flights in and out had been grounded due to high
winds and low visibility and wouldn't resume until sometime late the following
morning. He'd then launched into a rant about car-rental places that closed
at six in the evening and how he was going to find out the name of the manager
so he could go roust them out of bed to rent him a car to drive the rest of
Fraser had reassured Ray that the elders would understand about the delay,
and told him to get a room in Prince Albert for the night and just come up
the next day whenever he could. Ray had grudgingly agreed, and they had commiserated
for a few moments on the universal unfairness of the delay, until Ray's phone
had run out of charge. Fraser had gone to bed to get some sleep, trying unsuccessfully
to not think about what he might have been doing instead. Sleep had
mostly evaded him, but he had drifted off sometime around three, and then
been up at seven to take Dief out for a run, then shower, shave, dress, and
polish his boots before going in to work.
He shook his head and focused on finishing his report, ignoring the soft knock
on the molding next to his door for a moment as he concentrated. "Just a moment,
I'll be right with you."
"'S'okay Benton. I'll just go steal some coffee."
Fraser stood up so fast he caught his knees on the underside of the pencil
drawer because he'd forgotten to push his chair away from the desk. "Ouch,
damn it!" he swore softly. "Ray!" he called after the figure retreating down
Ray turned, a broad smile lighting his face. "Done already?"
"You're here!" Fraser gasped, completely stunned.
Ray laughed softly. "Surprise."
"Indeed," Fraser managed, pulling Ray into a fierce hug. "God, it's good to
Ray hugged him back, and after a moment turned his head and planted a kiss
right on Fraser's mouth. His lips were a little chapped, but the kiss was
open and welcoming, a little slide of tongue sending a shiver through him.
Fraser returned the kiss without hesitation, his fingers cupping the back
of Ray's head, stroking his hair . The knot that had been sitting in his stomach
for over three weeks finally loosened up. After a moment Fraser let him go
and stepped back. "How on earth did you get here? Did they have an early flight?"
"Nah. Word was they wouldn't let anyone fly until at least noon, so Scotty
Hughes drove me up from Prince Albert."
Fraser frowned. "Scott. . . you mean Prescott Hughes? The pilot?"
"Yeah, he was the one in the cockpit from Saskatoon to Prince Albert where
we got grounded. He was going to swap out there with some other guy but we
got to talking when we were stuck. I told him about my problem, the circle
and all, and he said he had a hankering for Tilda's special caribou and turnip
stew and said I could tag along if I wanted."
Fraser frowned, trying to make the timeline make sense. "But, Ray, that's
at least a four hour drive under conditions like last night's!"
"Try six. Good thing Scotty knows the road. I'd never have made it on my own,"
Ray said rubbing his stubble, his fingers making a faint 'scritching' sound
as he yawned.
"Six. . . but that means. . . ." his voice trailed off as he realized that
Ray must have left Prince Albert not long after they had last spoken. Good
God. They couldn't have done more than about twenty miles an hour the entire
"Yeah," Ray said, stretching. "Drove all night. White knuckled it most of
the way. Well, I did anyway. Scotty was cool. Don't mind telling you I'm pretty
fried though. I seriously need coffee." He started walking toward the coffee-station
in the break room, and Fraser followed him. "So while I'm fueling up, tell
me again about this sentencing circle thing, what exactly is it I'm supposed
to say? Because I think I'm going to need cue cards or something to make sure
I get it right. In my condition I shouldn't be left to ad-lib."
"Well, you won't have to say a lot actually. It's mostly up to Crawford and
the elders, but he has to speak to everyone affected by his actions, ask forgiveness,
and find out what he can do to make restitution."
"Hmm," Ray said, reaching for one of the clean mugs by the coffee pot and
tipping the carafe over it. "That might be a bit of a problem, then, because
really we ought to be thanking him. If it wasn't for him, we probably wouldn't
have figured out what was up with us."
Fraser shot a glance at him, feeling a surge of warmth go through him as he
nodded. "True enough, however I think that stating that might run counter
to the intent of the circle so perhaps we can just make a statement about
law and community that will suffice."
"Sounds good to me," Ray said, nodding. "How long does it last, this circle?"
"It's entirely up to the elders involved, but I'm guessing three or four hours
Ray sighed. "Oh. Damn."
Fraser sighed too. "I know."
"But after that you've got until Tuesday morning off, right?"
"Good. I hope you're provisioned up because after we're done here today, we
are not leaving the house unless we have to," Ray said with a significant
The surge of warmth moved lower and intensified. "I believe you'll find the
cupboards fully stocked," Fraser said huskily.
"Good." Ray graced him with a smile that did nothing to extinguish that warmth.
"That's what I like to hear." He headed back toward Fraser's office, sipping
his coffee. "Speaking of cupboards being stocked, you still got those Fig
Newtons in your. . . ." Ray pulled open Fraser's desk drawer and stopped, staring.
Fraser's face went hot. Good God. He completely forgotten to take the latest
arrivals home on Friday. He started to push the drawer closed, but Ray beat
him to it, reaching in to pull out the top three books, and lifted his eyes
to Fraser's, his brow furrowed in confusion.
"Um. . . should I even ask why you have three copies? I mean, one I
get, hell, I have one myself. Picked it up in Boystown last week, but. . .
Fraser thumbed his eyebrow. "It's a. . . an ongoing practical joke of sorts.
They started appearing soon after you left."
Ray looked from the books in his hand, to Fraser, and his lips twitched. "Oh
Fraser nodded. "Yeah."
"It's really not funny," Fraser said sternly, obviously trying not
to smile either. "It's very unprofessional to get them at work. At home was
"At home?" Ray asked, eyebrows climbing.
"At home," he confirmed with a sigh. "Amazon and UPS have apparently been
doing a booming business in La Rouille of late, since this sort of book is
not generally found at Chapters."
Fraser hadn't thought Ray's eyebrows could get any higher, but he was wrong.
"Booming? Just how many books are we talking about here, Benton?" Ray asked,
clearly struggling with hilarity.
"Er. . . ." Fraser lowered his voice. "So far, four copies of 'The Joy of
Gay Sex.' Six of 'The Gay Kama Sutra.' Five 'An. . .'" Unable
to bring himself to finish that particular title while standing in his office,
he coughed. "Well, in any case, five copies of a book written by a physician
and published by a company with the quaint name of 'Good Vibrations,' and
an assortment of other. . . instruction manuals."
"Instruc. . . ." Ray's control failed completely and he started giggling. Putting
down his coffee to keep from spilling it as he groped for a chair and sat,
putting his head down on Fraser's desk, laughing so hard he had his hands
pressed against his stomach as if it hurt.
Fraser's own lips twitched, despite his resolve not to give in. A knock on
the door frame brought his attention away from Ray and he saw Sally standing
there watching them, a duffle bag in one hand and a garment bag in the other.
"You two better get moving if you're going to be on time," she said. "You've
only got half an hour and he looks like something the cat dragged in.
Here's your things, Mr. Kowalski."
Ray looked up at her, waving a hand weakly, trying to hide the titles of the
books with the other one. Sally shot him a knowing look and Ray blushed, coughing
a little as he fought to control his laughter. Fraser relieved her of Ray's
"Thank you, Sally. We'll manage from here. Ray, do you want to use the men's
room to freshen up?"
Ray nodded, reaching for his coffee and taking a gulp. "God," he said after
swallowing. "Sorry about losing it there. I'm punchy. I've got my good suit
in the bag, but do I have time to shave and work on the hair?"
"I think so, if we're quick, though you'll have to share the lavatory with
me as I need to change as well."
Ray chortled. "We go in there together and everyone in the building is gonna
be outside with a glass against the door."
"Nonsense," Fraser said, though he wasn't entirely sure Ray was wrong. "They're
professionals. And so are we."
Ray sighed. "Spoilsport. But yeah. Okay." He took a last sip of his coffee
and then stood up. "Pitter patter, Benton."
Fraser reached behind the door to get his own garment bag off the hook there,
and Ray took back his duffel, opening it to get out his shaving kit, and then
left the larger bag on the chair next to Fraser's desk as he followed him
to the men's lavatory. Hanging both their suit carriers from a pipe, Fraser
started unbuttoning his tunic as Ray stationed himself in front of the sink
and got out a razor and shaving cream and started to lather up. Fraser shrugged
out of the blue tunic and then unbuttoned his shirt and stripped
it off as well, leaving on just the a-shirt beneath it. As he started to unfasten
his belt and unzip his pants, something made him look up to meet Ray's gaze
in the mirror. Ray smiled, and he felt himself warm at the appreciation clearly
reflected in his expression.
"Wow, Fraser. You look good. I can't believe I didn't notice. You get a haircut
Automatically Fraser's fingers went to his considerably shortened locks. "Yes,
actually. Lana did it for me. She said she was tired of bringing Crawford
in to see me and having to look at my hair."
Ray lifted an eyebrow. "Isn't that bribery or something?"
"No, since I paid her the going rate to do it."
"That works. Looks really good. She's got talent. Of course, it's pretty much
impossible for you to look bad so it's kind of like cheating but still." Ray
gave one last appreciative look, then turned his attention back to his shaving.
If it had been anyone else saying those words, Fraser might have doubted their
sincerity. He'd never been particularly vain, but over the past few weeks
he'd had reason to think about his appearance, and despite having taken some
necessary steps toward countering the bad habits he'd adopted since leaving
Chicago, he was still out of shape. However, he knew Ray meant what he said,
and that never failed to warm him
It should have been difficult to reconcile both his own highly critical self-assessment
of, and Ray's open admiration for his looks, but oddly, it no longer was,
perhaps because he now understood that Ray's appreciation of his appearance
was a result of his love for him, and not the reverse. As the proverb went,
'beauty is in the eye of the beholder.' More than one person had expressed
a negative opinion of Ray's appearance during the course of their partnership,
while he had never found Ray anything but attractive. Disturbingly so, at
After a moment Fraser realized he was just standing there watching Ray shave,
so he finished undressing, got out his dress uniform, and pulled on the jodhpurs,
tucking his undershirt in neatly. He hesitated for a moment and resisted the
urge to suck in his stomach as he grasped the waistband and went to do up
the button, then he set his jaw and pulled the edges in. The fabric strained
a bit, but the button went into its buttonhole and held, and the waistband
didn't cut into his waist too badly. He zipped up and reached for the tunic,
shrugging into it. It was still a little tight across the shoulders and upper
arms, but the buttons fastened without gapping between each one, and the tunic
lay mostly smoothly across his chest and stomach.
A tiny sigh of relief escaped him, and he got out his lanyard and the dress
belt. Ray finished shaving and rinsed his face, dried off with a paper towel,
then straightened and looked at Fraser.
"Hey! Haven't seen that in a long time! Thought you said you couldn't wear
Fraser felt his face go hot. "I couldn't when we spoke about it on the
phone three weeks ago. But I felt I should wear it today to honor the solemnity
of the occasion and so I asked Constable Zhertak to assist me in a developing
a training regimen. Since he's unmarried but living in quarters designed for
a family, he's converted the spare bedroom into a gym of sorts with a bow-flex,
treadmill, and free weights."
"And you did it. Like there was any doubt. Still, congratulations!"
"I must admit that I found it necessary to reposition the buttons slightly."
"Whatever works," Ray said with a wink, then his grin suddenly faded to a
frown. "Hey, wait. You been working out with Zhertak? At his place?"
"Yes," Fraser answered, puzzled by Ray's reaction. "He's been very helpful."
"Oh yeah. I bet he has. I've seen those infomercials too, you know. Guy working
out on that flex thing with nothing on but skimpy shorts so everyone can ogle."
The light dawned. Fraser smiled gently. "Ray, there's nothing to worry about.
If anything I've put a crimp in Bose's social life, as he's been spending
a good deal of time with me when he would otherwise have been out with Darlene
"Sure he would. I'm telling you, he's after your ass," Ray said darkly.
"He's not, Ray, I assure you. And in any case I was fully clothed during all
of our workouts and he never once touched me inappropriately. And whether
or not he was, you can trust me," he said earnestly, trying to assuage
Ray opened his mouth, closed it, and shook his head with a sheepish smile.
"Yeah, I know. I know I can trust you. Have since the day we met. I
just have a little trouble understanding how anyone can keep their hands off
you." He reached out and let his hands rest on Fraser's hips.
Fraser closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of Ray's hands even through layers
of heavy wool. He lifted a hand to touch Ray's lips with his fingers for a
moment before dropping his hand to Ray's shoulder, sighing. "The feeling is
mutual, however, we've got seventeen minutes before we need to be at City
Ray groaned and stepped back. "Right. Right, I knew that." He turned away
ostentatiously and looked at the mirror. "Man, six hours under a toque gives
a guy seriously depressed hair. Think I can salvage this?" he asked, fingering
his very flat hair.
"I have every confidence in you," Fraser assured him.
* * *
"What are the chances we could get something like this going in Chicago?"
Ray asked, watching Crawford where he sat, his face still blotchy from crying,
talking with Nancy and Todd Stevensen after the circle had concluded.
"I'm not sure," Fraser answered. "I know it's been attempted in the States
before, in Minnesota I believe. But I didn't know there were a lot of aboriginal
youth in Chicago."
"There's a few. But I was kind of wondering if there's any way to adapt it
for inner-city kids. The whole victim-impact thing is really good, so is the
fact that the offender has to take responsibility for his actions, and work
in the community to make restitution. Plus I liked that part where nobody
else gets to say anything until you're done. No stupid 'objections' and 'overruleds'
Fraser smiled. "The Crown Prosecutor did seem to be having a bit of a hard
time with that. She's new to the area and this was her first sentencing circle,
but all things considered she didn't handle it too badly. In any case, I really
don't know if there's any potential for attempting a similar community justice
partnership program in Chicago, but we can see for ourselves once we're settled."
Ray nodded, his gaze still resting thoughtfully on Crawford. "Yeah. Maybe
Louise St. Laurent would be willing to help out. She's been working with the
juvenile program lately.
"It's worth talking about," Fraser said, taking the opportunity to really
study Ray without risking another elbow in the side from Hannah Moss.
Clean-shaven, with his hair acceptably un-depressed, wearing an unfamiliar
navy suit, crisp ivory shirt and navy tie, Ray looked marvelous, even if the
circles under his eyes and the slightly pinched look of his face betrayed
the fact that he was tired. Though as far as Fraser was concerned Ray had
looked equally marvelous prior to grooming and changing, but still,
since Ray had been placed almost directly across from him in the seating arrangements,
it had been hard not to just stare at him through the entire four hours and
forty-six minutes of the proceedings. Hannah had elbowed him three different
times in order to get his attention focused on the person speaking instead
of Ray. Of course, every time he got elbowed, Ray had been looking back at
him, so it hadn't been entirely his fault.
He'd suspected they might have a little trouble along those lines when Ray
returned. It was why they had planned for Ray to come in a half-day early,
so they could get some of that out of their systems before the circle. Unfortunately,
November weather in Saskatchewan rarely cooperated with plans of any sort,
and theirs had been no exception. His gaze rested on the line of Ray's jaw,
remembering what it felt like against his lips. . . An elbow caught him in
the ribs and he coughed and turned to find Hannah standing next to him, her
dark eyes alight with amusement.
"Put your tongue back in your mouth young man. Don't you know this is a solemn
Face burning, Fraser nodded. "Yes, it is. I'm terribly sor . . . ."
Hannah smacked him on the arm. "I'm teasing you, Benton, you look all you
want now that the serious part's over. But that's not what I wanted to talk
about. So you're really leaving us?"
"Yes, I am," Fraser admitted. "I'm returning to Chicago to work in the new
permanent RCMP liaison office under development there."
"Got both your old job and your old partner back, then? That's good.
We'll miss you, but I think you'll be happier there." She looked at Ray, then
back at Fraser, and winked. "No, I know you will."
Fraser couldn't help but smile. "Thank you. I suspect you're right. I'm afraid
I got acclimated to the pace there."
"That happens," Hannah said sagely. "I was talking to Arden Traynor earlier,
she said your replacement is coming in on Monday, and that she doesn't figure
the new guy'll be half as good as you."
"I'm sure that's not true. Sergeant Carol is an excellent officer, I had occasion
to work briefly with her when I first arrived in Chicago and took her place
there." Fraser almost smiled, remembering how then-Constable Carol had berated
him for doing precisely that, though her meaning had been vastly different.
Fraser nodded. "Yes. Sergeant LeeAnne Carol. She's transferring in from Red
Ray turned at that, putting a hand on Fraser's shoulder. "The detachment's
going from a CO with two last names to one with two first names?" he asked
with a grin. "What are the odds, I wonder? And speaking of odds, what are
the odds of getting something to eat anytime soon? I haven't had anything
but coffee since lunch in Saskatoon yesterday."
Fraser was surprised. He wished Ray had said something earlier, he'd have
given him something out of the break-room refrigerator in the detachment if
he'd known. No wonder he looked tired and a bit out of sorts.
"Yesterday?" Hannah said, sounding appalled. "Benton, take him home and feed
him, right now. You hear me?" She made shooing motions with her hands.
Fraser bit the inside of his lip, trying not to smile. "Yes, ma'am." He turned
to Ray. "Shall we go?"
Ray smiled gratefully. "I'm all over that."
They left the City Hall together, and Ray headed across the street to the detachment
to get his bags out of Fraser's office while Fraser went to the trading post
and rounded up Diefenbaker from Don Robinson who'd kept an eye on him during
the sentencing circle. Fraser let Dief into the Suburban, got in and started
the engine, expecting Ray to be right out, so when Ray hadn't reappeared several
minutes later, he turned off the engine again and got out, walking toward
the detachment. Just before he got there, Ray finally came out, looking decidedly
embarrassed. Fraser fell into step beside him.
"Is anything wrong? What took so long?"
"I, um. . . had to assure Sally that my intentions were honorable. Are you
sure she's a civilian? The way she grilled me she'd make a hell of an interrogator."
"I'm sure, though lately she's been making noises about possibly applying
to become a member. Give me your bag and I'll put it in the back."
Ray surrendered his duffel without protest, and shook his head. "Well, if
she goes for it I'd write her a recommendation. She'd make a good cop, "
"I'm sure she'd appreciate it."
They reached the Suburban, where Dief was inside going noisily crazy as he
watched them approach.
"Hey! Dief! Long time, no see!" Ray said as he stuck his fingers through the
two inch gap at the top of the window. Dief licked them happily as Fraser
went around and put Ray's bags in the back, then got in on the driver's side
and leaned across to unlock Ray's door. Ray paused a moment before opening
the door, giving Diefenbaker a stern look. "You got your licking quota in
already, so my ears are off limits, okay?"
Dief grumbled but curled up in the back seat with a little sigh, his chin
on his paws. Ray opened the door and got in. Moments later they were on the
road, heading toward Fraser's house. Ray leaned back in his seat with a yawn.
"God. Long two days. Sorry about all the screwups, Benton. Wish things had
worked out better."
"Me too. In fact, I was beginning to understand that whole 'dying of waiting'
concept," Fraser confessed ruefully.
Ray laughed. "Sucks, doesn't it?"
"It does indeed." Fraser decided it was time to change the subject. "How was
your trip? Well, aside from the last part, which I know about already."
Ray made a disgusted face. "Oh man, you do not want to know. First I slept
like crap night before last, up every hour to look at the clock 'cause I was
afraid I'd oversleep. Then I finally did fall asleep about ten minutes before
I had to get up to make the flight. Then there was this kid behind me, maybe
a year old, did not want to be there at all. Howled the entire time.
Gave me a splitting headache, which still hasn't completely let up."
"I suspect that's partially dehydration. There's a first-aid kit under the
passenger seat, aspirin included, and you'll find several unopened bottles
of water behind my seat."
"Fraser, you are a god. Don't ever let anyone tell you different."
"Surely only a demi-god," Fraser demurred as Ray dug out the first-aid kit
and found the aspirin, then reached behind the seat to get a bottle of water.
After downing several of the white tablets, he finished off the bottle of
water in several long swallows, and then rolled his neck.
"Thanks. That should help."
"I hope so." Fraser reached forward and slipped a tape into the cassette deck.
A moment later the haunting sound of aboriginal flute music drifted from the
Ray's lips quirked upward. "You into that New Age stuff?"
"I find this particular tape soothing. Hannah gave it to me."
Ray listened for a few moments, and then yawned widely. "Yeah. Soothing."
Fraser reached over with one hand and gripped the back of Ray's neck, massaging
firmly. Ray groaned, dropping his head forward, offering more of his neck
to Fraser's fingers. Fraser continued his massage for a few moments. Ray yawned
again. When Fraser let him go and put his hand back on the steering wheel,
Ray sighed and settled into his seat, leaning back against the headrest, eyes
closed. Fraser concentrated on driving, letting Ray rest his eyes. He remembered
Ray saying he'd slept badly, and suspected that by 'badly' he meant 'not at
School was letting out just as they reached it, and Fraser stopped for several
minutes to let a large group of children cross the road. He was fairly certain
that they were taking an inordinate amount of time doing so simply because
of his presence. They were gawking at the vehicle, no doubt wishing he would
turn on the lightbar and siren. Glancing over at Ray, he saw he was clearly
asleep, leaning a little toward Fraser, lips slightly parted. Fraser moistened
his own lips, then shook his head and rolled his eyes at that near-Pavlovian
response. A moment later he heard a snuffling sound and he turned to see Dief
straining forward to nuzzle at Ray's hair. Ray twitched a little and waved
a hand as if he were shooing away a fly. Fraser frowned at Dief and shook
his head. Dief slunk back with a grumble and lay back down.
Once the children were clear of the crosswalk he accelerated, slowly, so as
not to startle Ray awake. Within seconds, though, he again found himself looking
at Ray instead of the roadway. Annoyed, he forced himself to stop. As if that
were his cue, Dief was up and nuzzling again. Ray stirred slightly, and Fraser
reached back awkwardly with one hand to push Dief away. Dief growled. Fraser
growled back, albeit softly, baring his teeth. Dief, after a moment of comically
brow-furrowed surprise, gave ground and resumed his place on the back seat
with a little huff, pointedly not looking at Fraser. Fraser grinned, even
though he knew it was silly to feel smug over getting the last word with Dief
He managed to resist the temptation to look at Ray again until he'd pulled
into his own driveway and parked. "We're home, Ray."
Ray opened his eyes instantly, blinking a little, confused, until he saw Fraser
and smiled. "Oh. Okay. Home. Cool. Food?"
"Food," Fraser confirmed. "And then bed."
Ray chuckled. "A little anxious?"
"To see you get some rest, yes."
"I'm good. Don't worry about me."
"I'm not worried. I just prefer you fed and rested. I know from experience
you're much less cranky that way."
Ray cackled and stretched. "True enough." He opened the door and got out,
then let Dief out of the back. "Someone's on their best behavior today," he
said with a nod at Dief.
"Only because I threatened him." Fraser said, getting out as well, and walking
around to retrieve Ray's bags from the back.
"Whatever works," Ray said. "So what have you got food-wise that's fast?"
"We could have soup, or sandwiches, or both."
"A sandwich would be good. Got any window putty?" Ray asked with a wink, following
Fraser up to the door.
"I'm terribly sorry, I completely neglected to get any at the store the other
day," Fraser said, opening the door. "I do have roast beef, turkey breast,
and tuna salad, though."
Ray sighed exaggeratedly. "I suppose I'll have to make do. But your rep for
proper preparation just took a major hit, you know."
"I'll just have to make up for it in other arenas. Help yourself to whatever
you like in the refrigerator, I'll put your bags in the bedroom.
"Other arenas, huh?" Ray asked suggestively. "Been reading those instruction
manuals have you?"
Fraser paused in the doorway to the living room, turning to look back at Ray.
"As a matter of fact, yes."
The sound of Ray's laughter followed Fraser through the living room and down
the hallway, and when he reached the bedroom, his own laughter, slightly manic,
bubbled up suddenly, leaving him almost lightheaded by the time he could finally
draw a breath.
"Hey, Fraser!" Ray called from the other room. "Everything okay in there?"
"Everything's fine, Ray!" he called back automatically, although he was still
having a surprisingly hard time getting his breathing back under control.
"I'll be out in a moment!"
Still laughing, he placed Ray's duffle bag on top of the shorter of the two
maple dressers, then carried the garment bag over to the closet and began
to slide his own clothing to the side to make room for Ray's things. He wondered
which side of the closet Ray would prefer, whether the right or the left would
be more convenient. Or perhaps Ray might like his bag unpacked? He really
should have asked Ray for his suit jacket while he was in the other room.
The jacket would surely do better placed on a wooden coat hanger and hung
up neatly in the closet than it would do tossed over the back of an old kitchen
chair. Should he go back in the other room and get it? Perhaps Diefenbaker
would bring it in if he asked poli . . . Fraser's laughter, which had come
to a halt only a moment ago, returned in full force. He wanted Diefenbaker
to fetch Ray's jacket? Was he unhinged?
He turned around to find Ray standing in the doorway to the bedroom, jacket
slung over his shoulder.
"Good boy!" Fraser said encouragingly. "Bring me the jacket."
"Um, Fraser?" Ray said worriedly. "Are you okay?"
Was he? It was difficult to know for certain, and the look of confusion on
Ray's face wasn't helping any; all it was doing, in fact, was making him laugh
harder. Without knowing quite how he was able to accomplish the feat, he hooked
the garment bag over the closet door and then collapsed in a fit of helpless
giggles on the bed.
The next thing he knew, Ray was on the bed beside him with one arm wrapped
around his waist and his other hand stroking his hair.
"Hey, Benton," Ray asked quietly. "Any particular reason you're flipping out
"I'm not . . . ." He looked up and saw the clear disbelief in Ray's eyes. "Well,
maybe I am, just a little. I was . . . I was hanging your bag in the closet
and . . . ." He took a deep breath, bringing a halt to his now teary-eyed laughter
by sheer force of will.
Ray glanced over in the direction of the open closet door and sighed. "Started
to feel a little claustrophobic, huh? Yeah, I get that. Like . . . Stella
moving out was the same thing in reverse. I took a look at all the empty space
in the closet and started feeling all . . . what is it? Arachnophobic?"
Fraser turned his head and stifled a laugh against Ray's sleeve. "Are you
thinking of agoraphobia?"
"Yeah, that's it. Anyway, it was just a whole lot of emptiness in the closet
- sort of like a symbol for my whole life back then, you know? So I get it
if you're feeling a little crowded." Ray looked toward the hallway, then back
at Fraser. "I can put my stuff in the other room if you want."
"No, don't!" Fraser shook his head. "That's not what . . . I'm not feeling
Ray propped himself up on his elbow. "You got any clue what's up, then?"
"I think I'm just . . . nervous, Ray."
"About being with me?"
"Not about being with you, precisely, but . . . about being with anyone. I've
. . . I've never really lived with anyone, apart from my family, of course,
but that was when I was a child, and in any case, this is . . . ."
"This is different."
"Yeah. And I don't want to . . . ." He rolled over on the bed and faced Ray.
"I really don't want to screw this up."
Ray shook his head, then leaned over and kissed Fraser once, gently, before
sitting up on the bed. "We don't want to screw this up."
We. Of course. Fraser was trying to think of a way to tell Ray he understood,
and appreciated that inclusion, when an odd rustling noise made him lift his
head and look toward the door, and instantly he started to laugh again as
he saw Dief.
Puzzled, Ray craned around to look too. "What the. . . ." he began as Diefenbaker
came up to the bed, a bag full of french rolls held in his teeth. Dief nudged
Fraser's arm and placed the bag on the bed. beside them. Ray looked from the
bag to Dief to Fraser, perplexed. "What's this all about?"
"Diefenbaker is not-so-subtly reminding me that I'm remiss in my duties. I
believe he feels I'm supposed to feed you before we end up in bed."
"Like one of those St. Bernard's with the brandy?" Ray asked, chuckling. "Well,
you're definitely a lifesaver, Dief. My stomach thanks you."
He started to open the bag and extract a roll, but Fraser sat up and reached
to stop him. "No, you need more than just a roll. Come on, it won't take but
a minute or two to prepare sandwiches, and probably less than that to eat
them if I know you."
Ray grinned. "Okay, up and at 'em." He slid off the bed and stood up, holding
the bag of rolls in one hand and reaching the other out toward Fraser. "Let's
go fuel up." Ray lifted his eyebrows suggestively
Fraser took Ray's outstretched hand and let himself be pulled up off the bed.
As he'd guessed, it took them barely two minutes to fix their meal, although
rather more time than he'd estimated for Ray to eat the sandwiches he'd made
for himself. He'd finished a turkey sandwich and had started to make serious
inroads on the roast beef when he looked over at Fraser's plate with its serving
of tuna salad.
"Is that all you're having? You didn't even have a roll."
Fraser glanced over at the open bag, then shook his head. "Yes. This is plenty.
You look like you could still do with more, though." He got up from the table
and opened the refrigerator door. "I took the liberty of paying a visit to
Tilda's last night and picking up one of her tarts."
"This the same kind that Diefenbaker scarfed down the last time I was here?"
Fraser nodded, unaccountably embarrassed by the memory of that morning. He
put the tart and a bowl of whipped cream on the table, then cut a slice of
the dessert and placed it on a plate in front of Ray before sitting back down.
"Looks great!" Ray said, putting a dollop of cream on his serving. Then he
looked over at Fraser and frowned. "Aren't you having any? Tilda said this
was your favorite."
Fraser shifted uncomfortably. "It is, but I don't need any at the moment."
Ray snorted. "Having dessert every once in awhile isn't a need kind
of thing. Nobody needs dessert." He slapped the palms of his hands on the
table, pushed himself up from his chair, and started to walk out of the kitchen.
"I've got an idea. Follow me."
"Come on, Benton," Ray called in a slightly muffled voice from the living
room. "And bring the plate with you."
Fraser glanced over at Diefenbaker, but the wolf looked just as perplexed
as he felt.
"Should I just play along?"
Diefenbaker yipped once, encouragingly, before curling up on the rug by the
sink and closing his eyes. Fraser stood up, quickly put the remainder of the
tart back in the refrigerator, then picked up Ray's plate from the table.
He walked into the living room. No Ray, but there was a trail of discarded
clothing - tie, shirt, trousers, socks, briefs - leading through the room
and down the hallway to his bedroom. His pulse began to pick up in anticipation.
Stopping in the doorway, plate still in hand, he looked over to find his blankets
draped over a chair, and a grinning and quite naked Ray sprawled across the
"Found me, eh?"
Fraser smiled. "Taunt a Mountie, and he'll track you to the ends of the earth."
Ray laughed, then rolled over onto his side and propped himself up on one
elbow. "Or at least the bedroom. Okay, so here's the game plan . . . ."
"You have a plan?"
"I do. A man with a plan, that's me."
"And my part in this plan would be . . . ?"
"Your part involves getting naked, while I'm . . . here, hand me the plate.
You'll see my part of the plan as it unfolds. All will be revealed," Ray said
Fraser handed the plate over and began to remove his clothes as Ray had asked.
He knelt to remove his boots and socks, slid his braces off his shoulders,
then unbuttoned his jodhpurs and stood to step out of them along with his
boxers, face going a little hot. Finally he unbuttoned his henley, but hesitated
a moment before pulling his shirt over his head.
He told himself that his unaccustomed self-consciousness was irrational, but
it was difficult to ignore his embarrassing lack of condition entirely, despite
believing that Ray's appreciation for both his mind and body was quite real.
Feeling foolish, he took a deep breath and took the shirt off, resisting the
urge to suck in his stomach before turning around. What he saw when he looked
at Ray would have made any attempt to hold his breath useless in any case.
Ray was laying on his back again, but now his torso was now covered with the
ingredients of Tilda's tart. Custard coated his chest and mid-section while
berries ringed his nipples and navel.
Swamped by both arousal and hilarity, Fraser began to laugh. "Ray? You're
. . . um . . . ."
"Just think of me as a big serving tray. I thought this might give you an
incentive to indulge a little." He dragged a finger through some of the custard
and then licked it off before shooting a flirtatious look at Fraser. "Did
He cleared his throat. "I think I can safely say it would be hard to resist anything
served so appealingly."
"Yeah?" Ray grinned. "Then what are you doing all the way over there? Come
and get it, Benton."
Fraser took a step, then paused, feigning confusion. "I'm not at all certain
this is the same dessert I brought in. Something's missing."
"Oh yeah. Almost forgot. . . ." Ray reached over to the plate and scooped the
whipped cream up in his hand, then slathered it on his penis. "Whoa!
This stuff's kind of cold. Want to give me a hand warming it up a little?"
Fraser smiled. "I think I can offer more than a hand, Ray," he said, crawling
across the bed.
Ray stretched his arms out and grinned. "Have at it."
Still on his hands and knees, Fraser lowered his head to Ray's chest and started
to suck gently on one of Ray's nipples.
"I. . . uh, think you're missing the good stuff, Benton."
"I'll get to it, Ray," he murmured, raising his head slightly. "This is .
. . this is the good stuff."
"Mmm. Yeah. That's good stuff, all right," Ray moaned, writhing a little as
Fraser's tongue teased each nipple in turn. "Oh man, do that again."
Fraser licked a path up Ray's chest, then tilted his head up until their eyes
met. "You know, I don't recall any dessert ever telling me what to do before."
Ray grinned. "Yeah, well . . . you just never met the right one before."
With the small corner of his brain he'd set aside for thinking about anything
other than the way Ray's skin tasted beneath the sweetness of the custard
and the tart bite of the berries, Fraser acknowledged how apt those words
were. He never had met the right one before.
He'd spent so many years alone, but each time he'd come close to allowing
another person to get close - rare though those times had been - he'd always
felt an undercurrent of sheer wrongness, to use Ray's expression. Even if
he were to take Victoria out of the picture - although forgetting her wasn't
something he'd ever be likely to accomplish entirely - he still couldn't come
up with a single instance of a relationship in which he had anything resembling
the connection he'd found with Ray. Either he held too much of himself back,
which ensured that forging a true partnership would be all but impossible,
or - as he'd done with Victoria - he allowed so much of who he really was
to be submerged in the other person's needs and desires that in short order,
he was no longer able to recognize himself.
But with Ray, he always knew exactly who he was. In fact, he'd come to recognize
that he was more himself - more the man he had always believed himself
to be and had always wanted to be - when he was with Ray than when
he was without him. And being that man made it possible for him to be the
kind of person who had something to give back to a lover. Not just something,
but everything. In fact, some of his best traits were focus and perseverance,
and he could apply both now.
As Fraser worked his way down Ray's body, he suspected he was getting more
of the tart on his skin than in his mouth, but the way Ray was arching beneath
him was a clear indication that what he was doing was more than acceptable.
He lifted his head a moment and looked at the mess he was making of himself,
Ray, and the bed, but he couldn't really bring himself to care. All he was
really interested in was seeing if he could use his tongue to remove the single
Saskatoonberry that had rolled into Ray's navel.
"Hey!" Ray giggled, curling in slightly, sending most of the remaining berries
sliding off onto the sheets.
"Ticklish?" Fraser asked.
"Of course not," he said with a wink, still laughing. "Just wondering if you
were planning on getting around to the whipped cream sometime this century."
Fraser looked down at Ray's groin and bit back a smile. "You know, it'd be
a shame for you to miss out on this fresh whipped cream when you've already
foregone your share of the tart."
"So you got a solution to that little dilemma? 'Cause I'm telling you, Benton,
there's no way I'm limber enough to do that taste test."
Fraser closed his eyes for a moment, trying to shake the mental image of Ray
making the attempt, and what should have looked silly instead looked. . .
erotic. "A pity," he said huskily. "But I think I may have a solution." Fraser
reached out and took half the cream from Ray's body, then, flushing slightly,
spread it on himself. Ray was right, it was cold, and along with the slight
physical discomfort came the certainty that he'd never looked so foolish in
all his life. But maybe letting yourself look foolish was part of what relationships
were all about. "As someone once said, 'partners is sharing.'"
Ray chuckled at that. For a moment Fraser sat, indecisive, then he turned
around and stretched out next to him with his head near Ray's knees. The action
was executed a little more awkwardly than he'd imagined he'd do when he'd
played out this scenario in his imagination over the past weeks. He looked
up to see Ray's eyes widen in surprise, and he swallowed hard, hoping he was
correct in assuming Ray knew what he had in mind because he was suddenly feeling
less than articulate.
"You really have been paying attention to those books, haven't you?" Ray asked,
rubbing his hand lightly across his own stomach, his voice a husky whisper.
Fraser frowned, wondering if Ray thought he was completely untried. "I didn't
need a book for this. I'm not entirely without experience, and . . . ."
"Really?" Ray looked surprised.
"Really, what? Are you referring to my experience with mutual . . . with this?
Well, it wasn't precisely the same since she . . . ." He was starting to feel
something close to exasperation. "Do I need to furnish a resume?"
"No, I didn't mean that. . . I meant . . . oh, man. . . ." Ray started to
laugh, shaking his head.
"What's so funny?" Fraser asked, a little lost.
"You. Me. Something." Ray said, still laughing. "Never mind. Sixty-Nine, huh?
Maybe you'd better let me read one of those books of yours."
Fraser eyed him, puzzled. Was it possible that Ray was even less familiar
with this than he was? It hardly seemed likely. "Well," he said hesitantly,
"if you'd like to wait until you've read up on this particular configuration,
we could certainly . . . ."
"No, no!" Ray shook his head vigorously. "I'm good. It's just that we never
. . . I mean, it never really worked very well with Stella, she was too short.
. . and um, I'm just going to shut up now," Ray said, turning red.
Oh. Fraser finally got the picture. More of a picture than he actually
wanted. He tried to think of a way to distract Ray from those thoughts. .
. yes. He had it. "Right. Well, then," he said, starting to grin, "a quick
lesson is probably what's called for right now. I want you to think of your
mouth as a flower that opens by day and then closes down at night. All right?"
Ray laughed. "You're a freak, you know that? But I like that in a guy." He
scooted down on the bed, positioning himself so that he could slide his arm
beneath Fraser's waist and pull them closer together. "Huh," he said after
a moment. "This is a little weird. I sort of miss being able to get to your
mouth. Guess I'll have to find something else to kiss," he said with a chuckle.
Fraser shivered as he felt the first brush of Ray's tongue licking at some
of the whipped cream smeared between his hip and his belly. He took a quick
indrawn breath, tensing automatically when Ray moved his head and his hair
brushed against the tip of his penis.
"Come on, Benton," Ray murmured against the soft skin of his belly, his hands
firm on Fraser's hips, fingers stroking the small of his back. "Relax, okay?
I've got you."
Fraser took a deep breath, then slid his arm beneath Ray's leg and rested
his cheek on the lightly-furred thigh. As the tension eased slowly out of
his body, he turned to taste the smoother skin of Ray's inner thigh.
"Mmm, nice," Ray said softly, rubbing a thumb along the base of Fraser's spine.
"Like that. I like us . . . like this. God, I've wanted you. Wanted this."
"So have I, Ray." He tightened his hold on Ray's thigh, then turned his face
toward the soft dark blond curls at Ray's groin, catching the musky scent
beneath the lingering aroma of whipped cream.
He leaned in closer, breathed deeply, wishing he could surround himself completely
in the scent and taste and touch of Ray. He rubbed the side of his face against
Ray's groin, mindless of the whipped cream smearing his cheek, then raised
his head slightly, closed his eyes, and brushed his chin along the hard length
of Ray's erection.
Ray shuddered and groaned, and then shifted a hand to push Fraser's thighs
apart. He felt a sudden shock as Ray started to nibble gently at the base
of his own penis. God! There was something frighteningly erotic about that
gentle skim of teeth in such a vulnerable place, knowing he should be afraid
but trusting Ray too much to muster any fear, and aching for more. He'd never
wanted anything as much as he wanted to feel Ray's mouth around him right
then - except perhaps for the desire to take Ray's penis in his own mouth.
He angled his head slightly, almost panting, needing to know the taste
and texture and weight of Ray's cock, but he held back another moment, letting
the tease of anticipation intensify his own arousal.
Finally he let his lips brush against Ray's erection, sliding his mouth sideways
along the hard length of it. The sweetness of melting whipped cream overwhelmed
his senses first, but was fast overcome by the clean, slightly salty flavor
of Ray's skin. Just as his tongue reached the tip of Ray's cock, his own penis
was engulfed in the warm, wet heat of Ray's mouth. He gasped, losing contact
as sensation swamped him, fighting the urge to thrust. He breathed through
it, and after a moment the insistence faded a little, the warm pull of Ray's
mouth on his aching cock becoming a sensual background of pleasure as he took
the head of Ray's cock in his mouth.
Ray moaned around him, and the vibration sent shivers through him. Wanting
to duplicate the experience for Ray, he tongued the sensitive spot below his
glans and hummed. Ray clutched at his back, and the suction around him intensified
as Ray swallowed convulsively, breathing hard through his nose. Taking that
as a positive response, he kept licking and sucking and occasionally humming
until his jaw started to ache and he was getting a little lightheaded. Reluctantly
he let Ray slide from his mouth and lifted his head to take a deep breath.
Taking advantage of the moment, Ray let go of him and rolled over onto his
back, tugging until Fraser was all but blanketing him. Instinctively Fraser
tried to balance on his knees and elbows, not wanting to let all his weight
settle on Ray, but Ray wasn't having any of that. He wound his arms around
Fraser's hips and pulled him down. Once Ray began to brush his lips along
the length of his shaft again, he couldn't for the life of him remember why
he had ever wanted to be anywhere but right where he was.
They were so closely matched in height that all he had to do was lower his
head to kiss the soft skin below Ray's left hipbone, tasting a faint trace
of whipped cream there. He wanted more. More of Ray. He pressed gently against
one of Ray's knees with one hand until Ray took the hint and let his legs
fall open, drawing his knees up, giving Fraser complete access. Eagerly he
licked a path down the crease of Ray's right thigh, nuzzling crisp curls and
soft skin, chasing hints of vanilla and honey and Ray. He sucked and nibbled
at the soft weight of his testicles, until Ray moaned, his sucking and licking
at Fraser's erection faltering.
He still wanted more. Frustrated, he slid his hands under Ray and urged his
hips upward, his knees outward, and curled around until . . . yes. . . there,
he could chase the slick sweetness of liquified whipped cream down to the
root of his cock, lick there, suck there. Ray's moans seemed to turn a little
desperate, his cock tracing wet trails against Fraser's throat and shoulder
as he thrust erratically. Fraser braced an elbow on the bed and cupped one
of Ray's buttocks, his thumb pressing firmly into the smooth span below his
cock as he worked his other hand up under his chin so he could wrap his fingers
around Ray's cock.
It was awkward as hell but worth the effort, as Ray jerked and shuddered,
the movement making Fraser's hand slide against skin smeared with residual
whipping cream. His thumb brushed across the small aperture between Ray's
cheeks. Ray gasped, hips moving in a fluid surge, first pushing
his cock hard into Fraser's hand, then pushing down against his probing thumb.
A surge of heat exploded through Fraser as weeks worth of late-night reading
and desperation brought fevered images to his brain. "Oh God," he gasped,
his whole body tense with the effort of not coming.
"So good," Ray rasped, breathless.
"Can I?" Fraser asked, unable to summon words for anything more complex.
"Anything," Ray said, pushing down against his hand again. "Anything you want."
He wanted everything. But he couldn't have it. . . at least not all at once.
He had time, he reminded himself. They had time. Days of time, uninterrupted,
to learn each other, to enjoy each other, to love each other. And time after
that, maybe not so uninterrupted, but time with no foreseeable cut off. Forever
- as much of forever there ever was for a finite being. No reason to rush.
But oh, he wanted. He wanted. Everything. Shifting over to one side, he turned
once more, sliding down to the foot of the bed, his shoulders between Ray's
thighs. Once in place he returned his hands to their former positions, one
cupping his ass, his thumb right. . . there, so close, the other curled around
Ray's erection, stroking gently, slowly.
He wished Ray would give him more room. A moment after he wished it, Ray shifted,
spreading his thighs wider, raising his hips, a little. Fraser shivered. Not
a word spoken, but the desired results achieved. Communication on a nearly
telepathic level. Ray wanted him. Wanted this. Wanted everything. He squeezed
the spare curve of Ray's ass, stroked his thumb across the opening again,
and then, daring, he licked down low, right where perineum became buttocks,
close, so close, but not quite there. Even there he found hints of sweetness
along with the bright tang of sweat.
"Christ!" Ray gasped, sounding a little panicky, shaking a little, thighs
and belly taut. Slick wetness welled hotly from Ray's cock to coat his stroking
fingers. Fraser squeezed again, licked again, same place, not moving closer,
sensing Ray wasn't ready for that yet. Sensing perhaps he wasn't ready for
that yet, either. He licked once more, and tightened
his grip on Ray's cock, moving his thumb to rest directly over Ray's anus,
pressing lightly. Ray shifted, and shimmied, and pushed back, and it slipped
in with surprising ease. Ray hissed in a breath, tensing, and Fraser froze.
"Ray?" His voice shook as much as his hands suddenly did.
"'s good, Benton," Ray said breathlessly. "Just . . . give me a sec."
Fraser nodded, and rubbed his suddenly itchy nose against Ray's thigh. Ray
started to relax, he could feel it. Experimentally he tightened his hand around
Ray's cock and gave a long, slow stroke. Ray's hips followed the movement,
and the tension just seemed to flow out of him. He stroked again, and pushed
in a little with his thumb, searching. . . he knew the general vicinity to
search, just not where exactly. . .
"Holy . . . fuck!" Ray's hips bucked and he shuddered, then he was reaching
down, fingers tangling in Fraser's hair, tugging nearly hard enough to bring
tears to his eyes. "Up. Here. Now." Ray said, panting between each word.
Fraser nodded, wincing a little, and started to slip his hand free so he could
"Leave it!" Ray growled. "The rest of you."
The rest. . . oh. He thought he knew what Ray wanted. Clumsily managed to
crawl up Ray's body, but with his arm in that position it just wasn't going
to work. "Ray. . . I'm sorry, I have to . . . ."
"Yeah, yeah," Ray sighed, and twisted his hips up and away. "There."
Better. He rolled over so Ray was on top and then slid his hand down Ray's
back and stroked his thumb against the small opening again. Ray spread his
thighs, letting them drop to either side of Fraser's, and bit his ear.
"Tease," he accused.
Not wanting to be unfairly labeled, he pushed. It went in. Even more easily
this time. Ray moaned, rolling his hips, his cock sliding against Fraser's
with mind-bending results. Fraser gripped Ray's hip with his free hand and
thrust up against him. "Oh. . . Ray."
"Mmm," Ray said, licking his way around Fraser's ear, an erotic tickle, then
across his cheek, then finally tracing his lower lip with just a tongue-tip,
all the while rocking in a way that made Fraser dizzy with need.
He turned his head, and opened his mouth, catching Ray's lips with his own,
sucking at his maddening tongue, pulling Ray against him with one hand, and
using the other in a way that made Ray lose his rhythm and whimper into his
mouth. Instinct took over, his body driving hard against Ray's, again and
again, absorbed in the feel of Ray's cock riding along his own, the tight,
silky heat of him around his thumb, and his imagination melded the two sensations
into a single one and with a moan he shuddered and came, pulsing out his pleasure
over Ray's belly and cock, hands clenching.
Ray arched against him with a gasp, his cock sliding easily in the spreading
mess between them, and then he was coming too. Fraser could feel each pulse
both against his stomach, and inside Ray as well. They lay there, panting,
for a few moments, and then Ray leaned to kiss him again, tenderly this time,
stroking Fraser's jaw with his fingers, then he sighed and relaxed fully,
his head tucked into the crook of Fraser's neck. Fraser carefully eased his
thumb out, unwrapped his fingers from Ray's hip, hoping he hadn't left bruises,
and slid his hands up Ray's back and just held him.
Ray brought a hand up and curled his fingers loosely around Fraser's left
biceps, and yawned. The movement made the light from the bedside lamp glitter
oddly in his hair, and looking closer, Fraser realized for the first time
that there was silver in Ray's blond, along his temples primarily, but a few
gleaming strands scattered across the crown as well. For some reason that
made a lump rise in his throat. He lifted a hand and stroked Ray's hair with
the backs of his fingers.
Ray lifted his head, looked into his eyes, and frowned a little. "Hey. What's
Fraser shook his head. "Just. . . wishing we hadn't wasted so much time,"
he managed after a swallow.
Ray looked puzzled. "What brought that on?"
Fraser felt himself redden a little. "Ah. . . you've got. . . ." his sentence
trailed off. He wasn't sure how Ray would take it.
"I've got what? A flat ass? Crabs? What?" Ray demanded, a little irritably.
Laughing, Fraser figured his discovery was certainly better than either of
those options. "No, Ray. There's just a little grey in your hair."
"Oh. That." He traced a finger along Fraser's temple, then up higher, along
his hairline, where Fraser was all too aware he was starting a streak. "You
too." He smiled wryly. "Some detectives, huh? We can figure out anything except
how much a pound of cheese weighs on Pluto."
Fraser chuckled, remembering the rest of that conversation. 'But do you
know what's right in front of your nose?' "Indeed."
Ray yawned again. "Now can I go to sleep?" he asked a little plaintively.
Remembering that Ray had been up for nearly forty-eight hours straight at
this point, Fraser decided he could postpone his need for intense conversation
for a while. "Go to sleep," he said softly, hugging him with one arm.
Ray nodded and relaxed, dropping his head back down with a sigh. He was quiet
for a few moments, his breathing deepening, evening, then suddenly, out of
nowhere, he kissed Fraser's shoulder a little sloppily and muttered. "Love
"And I you," Fraser whispered.
Ray made a satisfied little sound and went limp.
Fraser lay there for some time with a smile on his face that he suspected
was fairly fatuous, but he couldn't really help it. After a while he started
feeling sleepy himself. Like Ray, he hadn't rested very well in the past few
days. Anticipation was not a considerate bedmate. He yawned shallowly, noticing
it was a little hard to take a deep breath with Ray relaxed and heavy against
him. He should probably have suggested that Ray sleep somewhere other than
right on top of him. Although there was something kind of nice about it, despite
the discomfort. He yawned again, more widely, eyes tearing up a little from
the stretch, and when he lifted a hand to wipe his eyes he noticed that his
fingers were... purple. And red. And sticky.
It dawned on him that some of the stickiness he'd been trying not to notice
was tart residue, not semen. The sheets were covered with the stuff, as were
both he and Ray. He really ought to get Ray up so they could shower. And the
sheets needed changing desperately. He shifted a little, put a hand on Ray's
shoulder to shake him, and . . . he stopped. The hell with it. If Ray didn't
care, neither did he. He could wash everything just as well in an hour or
* * *
Still half asleep, Fraser could sense that someone was watching him. Smiling,
he began to open his eyes, certain he'd discover Ray had woken for some reason,
but no . . . Ray was still fast asleep, curled up next to him. However, the
feeling of being under observation only grew stronger. Taking care not to
disturb Ray, he slid his arm out from under him and slowly turned to . . .
"Oh, for God's sake."
There, looming over them on the bed, was Diefenbaker, berry-coated tongue
lolling out of his mouth, looking as fidgety as a wolf could look. It dawned
on him that he could see far too clearly for it being night-time in the middle
of winter. They'd left the bedside light on the entire time they'd been asleep.
Fraser scrubbed the sleep out of his eyes and felt Ray stir beside him.
"What's up, Frase?" His voice was raspy. "We got visitors?"
"One lupine visitor, to be precise. Diefenbaker's reminding me that he doesn't
have opposable thumbs and so hasn't been able to let himself out of the house."
Ray chuckled, then rolled over and reached across Fraser to let Dief lick
at his hand. "Doorknobs are a dumb invention, huh, boy?"
Diefenbaker moaned in agreement, then jumped off the bed and went to sit impatiently
by the bedroom door.
Fraser leaned over and kissed Ray. "Good morning."
"Morning? I think your internal clock's busted, buddy. You trying to tell
me we slept through the night?"
Fraser grinned sheepishly. "Well . . . no. I've just been looking forward
to being able to say 'good morning' to you when I woke up, and now seemed
as good a time as any to start."
Ray put his arm around Fraser and squeezed tightly. "Yeah, I get that. 'Morning
to you, too." He raised his head, craning it slightly to see if he could get
a look at the alarm clock on the other side of the bed. "What time is it anyway?
The sun's down."
"You're kidding! We slept for almost six hours?"
"It would appear so. You . . .we clearly needed the rest." He lay his hand
down on Ray's forehead and brushed his thumb across one eyebrow. "In fact,
why don't you go back to sleep? I'll just see to Diefenbaker, and I'll be
back to join you in a moment."
"Nah, I'm good." He stretched and slid one hand up Fraser's arm, using his
shoulder for balance to sit up. "Why don't you let Dief outside and . . .
you want me to boil water for tea or something?"
Such a simple thing, but sitting in the kitchen late at night and sharing
a pot of tea with Ray sounded wonderful. He knew it was the kind of thing
most people took for granted, but he wasn't sure he would ever become altogether
accustomed to having Ray to share things with. In truth, though, he never
wanted to become complacent about this gift he'd been lucky enough to be given.
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak for a moment, then cleared his throat
and smiled at Ray. "That sounds good. Perhaps we could make some toast as
"Sure. I'm going to go to the john first and . . . Fraser?" he said, stopping
before he'd gotten one foot out of the bed.
"What is it, Ray?"
"I'm . . . um . . . I think I'm kinda stuck."
Fraser took his first serious look since waking at the wreckage that had once
been recognizable as his bed. The pillows had been knocked to the floor and
were laying on top of the crumpled blanket. The badly stained sheets were
stuck to both Ray's skin and his own by a combination of dried custard, berry
juice, and semen. It was even worse than he'd remembered. How could either
of them have fallen asleep in this disaster area?
He started to peel the sheet off one of Ray's legs, then started laughing.
"You know, I'm not sure this is the romantic scene I envisioned when I dreamed
about your return."
Ray grinned. "Welcome to the Fraser Arms Honeymoon Suite. Just $19.99 for
the first night."
"Is that . . . in . . . American . . . or Canadian dollars?" Fraser asked
between laughing fits.
"Canadian. This is definitely a Canadian thing, Benton."
Having freed Ray from the sheet, Fraser leaned forward to kiss his smiling
mouth, then started pulling the bed linens together into a pile in the center
of the bed. "Ray? Do me a favor and open the window."
"Why?" Ray asked, even as he crawled out of the bed. "We just going to chuck
the evidence outside and hope it's dragged away by a wild animal?"
He chuckled. "It probably wouldn't be a bad idea, but no, I'm just providing
Diefenbaker with a means to get outside while we - and the bedding - pay a
visit to the shower."
Ray pushed the storm window up two feet, letting a blast of cold air into
the room "Come on, Dief. You need some help getting out?"
The wolf gave him a disdainful glare before jumping on top of the dresser
and out through the open window.
"Should I shut the window? It's going to get pretty damned cold in here in
"Leave it open for the time-being. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to air
out the room, and in any case, Diefenbaker . . . ."
"You scared of what Dief's going to say to you if he gets locked outside on
top of not being let out when he needed to go?" Ray said with a grin.
"Of course not," Fraser said, unwilling to admit that he really didn't want
to have to listen to any longer a list of complaints from the wolf than he
already heard on a regular basis. "He's a rational creature, and there's no
reason for him to . . . ."
"This is Dief you're talking about, right? The wolf with a doctoral degree
in irrational grudge holding?"
After taking a moment to consider Ray's words, Fraser made a mental note to
purchase a supply of rawhide treats when the shops opened in the morning.
"Good point." He smiled at Ray, then looked toward the bed. "Let's see what
we can do to get some of this mess rinsed off the sheets."
"And ourselves." Ray rubbed his hand down his chest, grimacing at the whipped
cream congealed in his chest hairs. "We need to be hosed down. My thighs are
trying to stick together."
"Which would be a great pity," Fraser said with a grin.
"It would," Ray said, returning his grin.
"I'm surprised we weren't stuck to each other," Fraser said, scratching at
an itchy spot on his stomach. "I guess we both must have moved around enough
to prevent that."
"So, after we get cleaned off, you want to do some more of that 'moving?'"
Ray was . . . leering at him. There really wasn't any other way to describe
He smiled. "I think a little more 'moving' could be squeezed into the weekend
schedule." He picked up the heap of bedding and headed for the door. "Could
you bring the mattress pad along with you?"
"From an army cot to a queen-sized bed complete with a mattress pad. You really were
corrupted, weren't you?"
Fraser turned around halfway through the doorway and raised his eyebrows.
"It came with the house, and I didn't hear you complaining about the bed six
"Believe me, Benton, I'm not complaining. Viva la corruption!"
Fraser walked into the bathroom, then dropped the pile of bed clothes into
the tub. He turned the taps on, then looked up to see Ray standing in the
hall, the mattress pad draped across his shoulders like a king's robe.
"Ah. Your Majesty! Would you be so kind as to bring your mostly naked self
Ray grinned, then threw the mattress pad across the room and into the rapidly
filling tub. "Always knew you had a kink for royalty. That picture of the
Queen was a dead giveaway." He walked over to the edge of the bathtub and
looked at the purple-tinted water. "You really want to put your sheets and
us in there? Wouldn't it be less disgusting to just take everything down to
the river and beat the sheets against a rock or something?"
Fraser looked down and sighed. "It is rather unappealing, isn't it? I considered
just putting everything into the washing machine, but . . . ."
"You have a washing machine?"
"Well, yes. Didn't I mention that?"
"Nope. Come on. Let's toss everything in the machine and then we can wash
off in a tub that doesn't look like Barney the Dinosaur took a leak in it."
"He's a . . . never mind. Just be grateful you haven't had to experience the
joys of babysitting Frannie's rugrats yet. Nice kids, but after a couple of
hours, you end up singing kiddy t.v. show theme songs the whole next day,
and, trust me, that's not something you want to be doing down at the station."
He scooped up an armful of wet sheets. "After you."
Fraser led the way to the small washing machine installed in one of the hall
closets. "Do you think we should do an online search for stain removal suggestions?
I really should have taken care of this sooner, but . . . ."
"We had other priorities," Ray said, with a grin. "Nah, we don't have to go
online. You got some peroxide in the bathroom?" Fraser nodded. "Okay, go get
that and I'll get some dishwashing stuff from the kitchen."
Fraser looked up from the machine. "Peroxide and dishwashing liquid?"
"Yeah. It's a secret Kowalski family stain removal formula."
"Nah." Ray smiled. "My mom got it from Good Housekeeping. It works,
Once the 'secret ingredients' had been poured on top of the stained bedding,
Fraser turned the machine on and they returned to the bathroom. Ray looked
into the tub, which was filling with fresh, hot water. "That looks better."
Fraser nodded. "I thought it would defeat the purpose to get into a tub full
of dirty water. Perhaps this time we won't risk looking like Violet Beauregarde
when we're finished."
"You know Willy Wonka, but you don't know Barney?"
"It was a book long before it was a movie. Though clearly I have yet to catch up
with my cultural literacy in the area of children's television programming."
He tested the temperature of the water, then stepped into the tub and held
his hand out.
Ray paused before he got into the bathtub and grinned. "This going to be one
of those 'oh dear, I dropped the soap' kind of deals?"
Fraser laughed. "I was actually thinking of bathing this time, but
maybe we can try that scenario tomorrow."
When Ray stepped into the tub, they rinsed the worst of the sticky mess off
their skin under the shower, then Fraser closed the drain and as the tub filled
they eased themselves down until they were both sitting, Ray leaning back
against Fraser's chest. Fraser reached around and handed him a bar of Ivory
Soap, but Ray made no immediate attempt to use it. Instead, he put the soap
back on the edge of the bathtub, then took both of Fraser's arms and wrapped
them tightly around him before letting his head drop back on Fraser's shoulder.
"Mmm. This is nice," he murmured contentedly.
Fraser slid one arm out from under Ray's, then started to card his fingers
through Ray's hair. "It is. I wish . . . ." He sighed.
"What do you wish?"
"I just wish . . . that it could be like this all the time."
"Hey, I'm up for it," Ray said, stroking his forearm lightly. "You and me
figure out how to grow gills, we can stay in the bathtub permanently if you
Fraser snorted. "That's not exactly what I meant."
He could almost see the smile blooming on Ray's face. They lay quietly in
the tub for a while, cocooned in hot water. Fraser closed his eyes. The next
time he opened them, with a little start as he realized he'd been asleep,
the water was lukewarm and the trickle of cold air from the gap beneath the
bathroom door reminded him that the bedroom window was still open. He sat
up a little from where he'd slid down in the water. "We should finish up,"
he said decisively. "And go make that tea."
Ray jumped. "Wha? Huh?" Apparently he'd been asleep too. "Oh. . . yeah, sounds
good," Ray agreed. "Soap?"
Fraser lathered up his own hands, and then handed the soap to Ray. He figured
it was best not to offer to scrub him, since he actually wanted them out of
the tub reasonably quickly. Once they'd soaped, they stood up, opened the
drain, and rinsed off with the shower. They dried off, and Fraser gave Ray
his robe that was hanging on the back of the door, since they'd forgotten
to bring clothing in with them. The navy terrycloth looked wonderful against
his skin, and with his hair flat, Ray seemed years younger than his actual
"I'll go fill the kettle while you put something on," Ray said, then with
a grin he nodded at the door and asked, "You ready?"
"On three," Ray said. They counted to three, then Fraser opened the door and
dashed, shivering, for the bedroom, grabbing his sweats out of his dresser
and yanking them on quickly as Diefenbaker stood in the doorway and snickered.
He glared at his companion as he closed the bedroom window.
"It's hardly my fault that I don't have a pelt," he said haughtily, going
to join Ray in the kitchen where he stood filling the teakettle and frowning
"Listen, Benton," he said as Fraser came in. "What you were saying before -
I get that. I know what you're feeling 'cause I feel it too. It's just so
easy like this. Being together. Just hanging out. No stress. But you know
it's not going to be like this all the time when we get back to Chicago. In
fact, it's not even going to be like this often."
Fraser nodded as he got the bread out of the refrigerator. "I know."
"I can be kind of hard to live with," Ray continued as if he hadn't spoken.
"In case you've forgotten, I'm loud and I can be kind of manic and I have
a temper and . . . ."
"I know, Ray. It's all right," Fraser interrupted. "I can be stuffy and stubborn
and I, ah, I have a temper too." Ray snorted at that, nodding. Fraser ignored
him and went on. "But we'll be all right. We were before."
"Yeah, well, we weren't living together before," he said, setting the kettle
on the stove and turning on the burner under it.
Fraser smiled. "Weren't we?"
Ray thought about it for a moment. "Hell. I guess we kind of were. We were
together more than most married couples are, and we fought a lot less."
Fraser nodded soberly. "I know we probably can't avoid an occasional disagreement."
He smiled a little in response to Ray's cackle. "We can both be pigheaded,
but I think we learned how to keep it to the occasional carping rather than
a full-fledged fight."
"Yeah," Ray agreed. He reached over to take Fraser's hand and curl the fingers
into a loose fist, then wrapped his own hand around it. "We gotta talk. And
listen. Because I don't ever want to punch you again, and I sure as hell never
want to get punched by you again. So we have to communicate."
Fraser nodded, then lifted their hands and brushed his lips against the back
of Ray's knuckles before slipping his hand free. Putting two slices of bread
in the toaster he depressed the lever to start the bread toasting. "I have
orange marmalade or peanut butter for the toast, if you'd like."
"Both sound good," Ray said. "Did I remember to tell you that UPS delivered
the camping gear and your trunk the day before I came up?"
"No, you hadn't. I'm relieved to hear they arrived safely."
"Yeah, though we'll need to look for a new place pretty soon, because I can
already tell my place ain't big enough for the both of us, pardner."
"That's not a problem. Once we find a place acceptable to both of us. . .
excuse me, all three of us," he corrected himself as Diefenbaker gave
him a dirty look, "I'll be happy to either buy or rent. My savings should
be more than adequate to cover my share, no matter what we decide to do."
"Be nice to have a real place," Ray said, looking around the kitchen with
a slightly wistful expression. "Speaking of which, what all are we packing
out when we leave next week?"
"Just my remaining clothes, and Diefenbaker. Since this house is a furnished
rental I don't have to worry about the furnishings, other than the television
which I've arranged to donate to the Band Council."
"The band? You think they should be watching TV instead of rehearsing?" Ray
asked, eyes wide.
Fraser rolled his eyes. "You, sir, are a smartass."
Ray grinned. "Yeah. And it's your duty to keep feeding me straight lines."
"And toast?" Fraser asked, catching the slices in mid-air as the slightly
over-exuberant toaster expelled them.
"And toast," Ray confirmed.
* * *
It was really kind of weird, Ray thought, kissing his way down Fraser's naked
back, running his tongue across the cratered scar next to his spine before
moving lower, but so far nothing they had done had turned him off at all.
And in the last two days they'd done damned near everything he'd ever heard
of that two guys could do. Okay, well, just short of everything. There was
one thing Ray had been avoiding because he was afraid Fraser wouldn't like
it. Fraser seemed to want it. Acted like he wanted it. Bad. Bad enough to
lay there spread out on the bed like an invitation to a wet dream. Not that
Ray minded, since it let him return a favor from the night before, but he
wasn't sure that Fraser really knew what he was asking for. Stella hadn't
liked it. He remembered that very clearly.
Shaking off that thought, he ventured lower, reached the little indentation
right at the top of the cleft between Fraser's buttocks, and flicked it with
his tongue. Fraser whimpered, his hips curling forward, rubbing himself against
the mattress. Oh yeah. Ray put a hand on each of Fraser's cheeks and pressed
outward, just a little, then followed the cleft south a little further. Man.
He couldn't believe he was doing this, even more he couldn't believe how much
it was turning him on to do it. He was harder than he'd been since he was
sixteen years old, his breathing ragged, his whole body flushed with heat
and damp with sweat. He was so hard he almost hurt, but it was such a good
He pulled his tongue back in to moisten it, licked out again, closer. Fraser
gasped. He tasted like clean skin and sweat. Ray's fingers dug into the soft-firm
curves under them a little, pulling him open more, and he pointed the tip
of his tongue and . . .
Fraser's whole body jerked, nearly bucking Ray off. "Raaaaay!" he gasped.
Ray held on with both hands and did it again, probing.
"Oh. . . God. . . Ray!"
He squeezed, he licked, he flicked, he kissed. He felt Fraser open up for
him, relaxing, and he went for it, he delved, going deep, as deep as he could.
Kept at it until Fraser was shuddering and babbling, a mindless stream of
half-sentences and words, all variations on 'fuck me now,' spreading his thighs
wider, pushing his gorgeous ass back at Ray, asking for more. Damn, if he'd
had any clue that Fraser would be like this in bed, he'd have jumped him the
day they met.
"Ray. . . please!" Fraser pleaded. "I need . . . ."
Jesus. He sounded. . . broken. Needy. Ray's fingers twitched, He gave one
last lick, shifted one hand, sucked on his finger for a minute, and then slid
it inside Fraser in a slow, smooth push. Fraser's body tightened up around
his finger, sucking at it. His neglected cock jerked a little at that, drooling
a little puddle of pre-come onto sheets that still held faint ghosts of blue,
red and purple stains, and several more recent, less colorful ones, still
damp. They were going to have to do laundry again soon, he thought distantly,
with amusement. Thank God Fraser had three sets of sheets.
Fraser. . . undulated, using Ray's finger as a pivot. "So goood. . . ." he breathed.
"Please Ray. More."
He'd been asking that for the last day and a half. There was only so much
a man could take. Especially feeling that smooth, tight heat gripping his
finger like that, imagining what it would feel like around his cock. And he'd
already had two fingers in there at some point. . . he'd lost track of exactly
when but he knew he'd done it, helped along by the lube, thankfully not home-made.
Fraser had bought it from the same internet site that had shipped Crawford
Jones the CK. And Fraser had come like a fountain and kept asking for more.
So it was okay, right? Had to be. He dropped his forehead down to rest it
on the warm, flushed curve of Fraser's ass. Licked it, the skin peach-soft
against his tongue.
"Ray!" Fraser growled.
There was only so much 'no' in him, and apparently he'd just hit bottom. So
to speak. "Okay. Okay, you win. I give. Where's the . . . ."
"Night table drawer," Fraser said, stretching to fumble at the drawer, finally
getting it open, pulling out the little bottle, opening it. "Here."
Ray eased his finger out of Fraser's heat and held out his hand. Fraser upended
the bottle, pouring so much slick across his fingers that Ray had to catch
the drips with his other hand. He stroked himself with the extra, clenching
his teeth a little against the urge to just finish himself off right then.
The other hand returned to the cleft between Fraser' s cheeks, letting the
lube drip off his fingers, rubbing it up and down the crevice, into the little
furl, pushing it inside with first one finger, then when Fraser seemed nice
and relaxed, another one. God. Tight.
He curled his fingers forward, and Fraser jerked, hissing "Yesss!" through
his teeth. He stroked in and out a couple of times, feeling how nice and easy
it was. Tried slipping another finger in. It went in easy, too, even though
it felt like he had his fingers in a smooth, hot vise. Ray leaned around and
found Fraser's mouth with his own, kissing him as he kept stroking. Fraser
kissed him frantically, his hips moving with Ray's caresses, licking and sucking
at Ray's mouth between gasps of "Now, now!"
Ray slipped his fingers free, and settled between Fraser's thighs, rubbing
his cock between Fraser's cheeks in all that slickness there, feeling the
head of his cock catch against the little hole and dip inside just a tiny
bit, once, twice. Feeling Fraser push back each time, trying to get him in
"Tell me," he whispered fiercely into Fraser's ear. "You better fucking tell
me if you need me to stop."
Fraser nodded jerkily. Ray braced one slick hand against the sheets beside
Fraser's hip, wrapped his other hand around himself, aimed, shifted his hips
forward, and . . .
"Oh, fuck," he breathed, feeling himself sliding in. Just as tight and hot
as he'd felt around his fingers. Almost like being sucked, but different,
Fraser made a kind of a grunt. Didn't quite sound. . . comfortable. Against
his lips he could feel the flex of muscle in Fraser's jaw. Wait. Wait. He
thought about pulling back, but Fraser hadn't asked him to stop. He stopped,
just the head of his cock inside Fraser. Benton. Waiting. Felt Fraser relax.
Okay. Slow, he told himself. Slow. He pushed a little harder. Felt that snug
channel yielding to him, opening up, but just barely enough to let him in.
Felt so damned good. Fuck. Fuck. He was losing it. fuckfuckfuckfuck
. . . He held onto the word, chanting it like a litany, meaningless, in
his head, for distraction.
"Yes!" Fraser panted, making Ray suddenly aware that he'd also been saying
it aloud. "Fuck me." He made a sound in his throat, somewhere between
a growl and a purr, and pushed back against Ray, hard.
"Jesus Christ!" He was in, all the way in, wrapped tight in silky heat.
He pushed, trying to get deeper, impossible, wanting. Pulled back, almost
all the way out.
Fraser reached back a hand, scrabbling at his hip, trying to tug him back.
Ray obliged, sliding home again. Fraser moaned, pushing up onto his hands,
torso arched, head back. The new angle shifted most of Ray's weight onto Fraser's
ass, grinding Fraser's groin against the bed. Ray rolled his hips, again,
again, a fluid glide, in and out, just enough for friction. Fraser panted,
shifting his thighs wider apart. Ray kept up the rhythm, feeling Fraser tighten
up around him on every in-stroke, feeling the flex of his glutes, the slick
slide of his sweaty thighs against Fraser's.
Fraser shifted up onto his hands and knees, startling Ray for a moment, but
it took him only seconds to realize what he wanted. He braced his own knees
against the mattress and pulled Fraser back against him with one hand tight
on his hip, then reached to curl his other hand around the heavy length of
Fraser's cock, so that with each thrust of Ray's body, Fraser echoed the movement
into his hand.
"Yes!" The word was an explosive gasp. Fraser let his head drop forward, bent,
and Ray knew he was staring down the length of his own body to watch as Ray
jacked him. Each of his thrusts forward was met by one of equal strength back
against him, and he felt Fraser start to shudder under him. He tightened his
grip, moved harder, faster, and then Fraser was coming, hot slickness spurting
against his fingers, against Fraser's belly, his whole body taut and shaking.
Ray managed a few more ragged thrusts but the close, hot channel that gripped
Ray's cock seemed to pulse, squeezing him, dragging him over the edge. He
started to come just as Fraser's knees gave out. Ray pancaked down on top
of him, one arm trapped beneath him, laughing and gasping, and coming, his
whole body nearly shorted-out with pleasure.
"What's funny?" Fraser asked a few moments later, his breath caught.
Ray kissed the side of his neck, tasting the salt of his sweat. "Not a thing.
Just. . . I'm so freakin' happy."
Fraser turned his head, trying to see Ray, without much success. "Really?"
Ray carefully shifted his hips, disengaging. Fraser hissed a little and Ray
soothed him, rubbing softly. "You okay?"
"I'm. . . good," Fraser said, making good sound like so much more than it
ever had before, rolling over to look at him, a lopsided grin on his face
that made Ray want to kiss it off him.
So he did. A moment later he pulled back. "Really," he said, finally answering
Fraser pulled him close and they lay quietly for a little while. For some
reason Ray found himself thinking about Stella. She'd always said they had
a great sex life, and all the time they'd been together, Ray had thought so
too. Mostly. But at some point he'd started to realize that there was something
missing. After the divorce he'd kept trying to tell himself he was wrong,
that it really had been great, perfect, the best. But no, he hadn't
been wrong; something had been missing. Now he knew what that something had
Not to mention he was . . . gay. Apparently. He felt a little
dumb to be just figuring that out at his age. He guessed being 'in love' with
Stella all those years had kept him from thinking about what he really liked,
what he really wanted. And those post-Stella mornings sharing coffee and toast
with strange women - they could never have been what he really needed.
Because what he needed was . . . Fraser.
Maybe he should send Stella a thank-you card, though, for dumping him on his
ass and making him figure things out for himself. Might be hard to find one
like that at Hallmark, though.
* * *
As they got out of the Suburban, Diefenbaker took off like a shot toward the
empty lot next to the detachment.
"Where's he off to?" Ray asked, puzzled.
"He wanted one last chance to play in the snow," Fraser said, gazing after
him. "He is an arctic wolf, after all."
Ray rolled his eyes. "We get snow in Chicago, Fraser." After a moment he frowned,
suddenly realizing that maybe 'snow' was just a metaphor here. "You sure about
this, Benton?" he asked as they headed up the walkway toward the main doors
of the detachment. "You seem to be doing better here now. If you don't
want to leave, there's probably still time to get things put back the way
they were. I mean - for you anyway. I'd have to come up with a new Canadian
career, but at least you could stay up here." He didn't quite know why he
was asking. Okay, maybe he did. He didn't want there to come a time when Fraser
told him he hadn't really wanted to leave and he'd only done it because Ray
wanted him to.
Fraser stopped and looked at Ray, the brim of his Stetson shielding his face
from the falling snow. "I'm sure. I've never been more sure. And, for your
information, the reason I'm doing better is because there's finally a light
at the end of the damned tunnel."
Ray looked at Fraser with wide eyes, then had to blink as a snowflake hit
him in the eye. "The what tunnel?"
Fraser gave him a look.
Ray grinned. "So you're cool with going?"
"I am ecstatic about going. I can't wait to leave. I've never been so happy
to leave anyplace in my life. Well, except for that time I was assigned to
a two-man post in . . . ."
"Benton," Ray interrupted him. "It's freakin' snowing out here. Tell the story
inside if you have to."
Fraser smiled. "Just yanking your chain."
"Coolness." Ray smiled. It felt good to have Fraser teasing him again. He
looked at the building. "She here yet?"
"There's an unfamiliar vehicle in the lot, so I assume so."
"You nervous?" Ray asked as they stopped again, just under the overhang at
the front door.
Fraser narrowed his eyes at Ray, and then sighed. "I. . . a little."
"Well, just remember, you're ten times the man she'll ever be."
Fraser looked puzzled. "I expect that's true. Though I suppose she could have
a surgical gender alteration and . . . ."
"Mountie. I meant Mountie. So don't let her cow you."
"Ray, make up your mind, am I a man, a Mountie, or a cow?"
"Um. . . is this a trick question? Give me a minute here. . . ."
Ray laughed. "You're Benton Fraser. That's the important part." He opened
the door, motioning Fraser through, then as he walked in behind him, he mooed.
Fraser gave a single, startled snicker. Sally looked up from her desk, saw
who it was, shook her head and looked down again.
"Has Sergeant Carol arrived, Sally?"
Sally looked up again. "Yep. She's in your office. I gave her some coffee."
"Thank you kindly. Is everyone here?"
Sally nodded. "In the break room, nervous as cats in a room full of rocking
chairs. I told them they had to wait for you, just like you said."
"Excellent." Fraser took off his hat and peacoat and shook snow off them over
the mat in front of the door. Ray followed suit with his parka, and brushed
his hands through his hair briefly to get the snow out, and make it stand
up right. Fraser eyed him, and shook his head. "I don't know how you do that."
"Get your hair to look right without a mirror."
"Talent, Benton. Sheer talent. Let's do this thing."
Fraser nodded, hung his coat and hat on one of the hooks next to the door,
and headed for his office. Ray quickly put his coat next to Fraser's and followed
him. As Fraser paused in the doorway, Ray took moment to study
the woman sitting in one of the two 'visitor' chairs. She was about his age,
and looked like she'd be tall, standing up. Built. Pretty. Well, no, not pretty.
Beautiful, even without any makeup. She wore her long, dark-brown hair loose
and wavy, and made the boring blue uniform look good. Ray suddenly realized
she was holding his. . . Fraser's rubber duck, rubbing it with her thumb,
smiling a little. He stifled the urge to go yank it out of her hands.
"Sergeant Carol," Fraser said evenly.
She looked around and smiled. She looked even prettier when she smiled. For
a second Ray wondered if he was supposed to notice that a woman was pretty,
now that he'd figured out he was gay. Then he decided that was a stupid thing
to wonder. Attractive people were attractive people, didn't matter who you
were sleeping with.
"Corporal Fraser! It's good to see you," she said, putting the duck down on
the desk and standing up, reaching out to shake Fraser's hand firmly, sparing
Ray a curious glance.
"Indeed," Fraser said. "It's been quite some time." He moved around to the
back of his desk and opened a drawer. "In fact, I've been hoping we might
someday meet again."
He had? Ray was a little puzzled. Fraser hadn't said anything about that before.
Sergeant Carol turned red. "Oh, God," she said, putting a hand over her eyes.
"I'm so sorry about. . . what happened. To this day I can't believe I was
such a bitch about it. I was really hoping you'd forgotten. Since that's out,
I guess I'll have to hope you've forgiven me instead."
"Of course," Fraser said blandly. "Had our positions been reversed, I imagine
I might have been similarly perturbed."
Sergeant Carol shook her head. "That's bullshit, Corporal, and we both know
it, but it's kind of you to say so. I hear you're going back to Chicago."
"I am. They've instituted a full-time official liaison program there now.
I'll be working out of the 27th division with my old partner, Detective Kowalski."
Fraser nodded at Ray.
Sergeant Carol turned, holding out her hand. "I'm very pleased to meet you
Detective Kowalski! I've heard so much about you."
"Likewise." Ray shook her hand, braced a little as he waited to find out what
she'd heard. The sub probably. It was almost always the sub. Though sometimes
it was the Henry Allen. Ghosts and gold got people's attention almost as fast
as nukes and nerve gas.
"Ali Thobhani was very impressed by the thoroughness and tenacity of your
work on the LeBeau case. It's good to know we'll have such a capable officer
working with our liaison in Chicago."
Ray blinked, startled. He hadn't expected that one at all. "Thanks. It was
good to get the guy off the streets, no matter where he ends up."
She nodded vigorously.
"Please, seat yourselves." Fraser said. "Before I introduce the rest of the
members, I'd like to take the opportunity to do something that I've wanted
to ever since I saw you last."
Sergeant Carol resumed her seat. "And that would be?" she asked, looking a
Ray sat down in the other chair, watching. Fraser was up to something, Ray
could tell. He had that gleam in his eye, even though his expression was placid.
He leaned forward a little, waiting to see what would come next.
Fraser reached into his desk drawer and brought out a black metal full-strip
stapler. "I'd like to return this. You left in rather a hurry and. . . ."
Sergeant Carol started to laugh. "Oh my God! I don't believe it! You've had
that all this time. . . just waiting?"
Fraser smiled. "Well, honestly, I'm not entirely sure how I ended up with
it when I left Chicago, but when I found out who was going to replace me here,
I couldn't resist."
She shook her head. "And to think I thought you had no sense of humor! Though
I really ought to report you for appropriating RCMP property!" she said with
"Yeah, you really can't trust him with office supplies," Ray put in with a
grin. "He's got a real problem that way."
"Now, Ray, you know the incident with the CPD hole punch has been greatly
exaggerated," Fraser said with great dignity. "And as for the stapler, you
can both see that it's right here on RCMP property, being used for its intended
purpose, so it's hardly anything I could be held accountable for."
The sergeant laughed again. "Corporal, you're something else. I'm beginning
to think I was an idiot. Maybe I should have stayed in Chicago," she said
The hair on the back of Ray's neck prickled a little. He reached out and picked
up Fraser's duck. "Nope. He managed just fine there on his own."
She looked over at him searchingly, glanced down at the duck, back up at his
face, and then she nodded. "So I see." She turned back at Fraser. "Well, thank
you for taking such good care of my stapler all these years. I'll try to do
as well with your detachment here."
"I'm sure you'll do an excellent job. I've heard nothing but good things about
your work, and I recall that the liaison office was in excellent shape when
you handed it over to me."
Sergeant Carol snorted inelegantly. "You mean when I stomped off in a huff,
don't you? In any case, thanks for the compliment." She glanced at Ray again,
then back at Fraser. "And, Corporal, congratulations on your. . . new posting."
Fraser nodded. "Thank you kindly, Sergeant Carol. Let me just check to see
if everyone is here now so I can introduce you. Ray, perhaps you'd like some
Ray recognized a cue when he heard one. "Sounds good, Benton." He stood up,
pocketing the duck. "You want a refill?" he asked, nodding at Sergeant Carol's
"No, thank you, I'm fine," she responded.
Ray followed Fraser out of the office and down the hall. Fraser stopped between
his office and the break room, and looked at Ray.
"Is there a problem?" he asked softly, his voice pitched for Ray's ears only.
"She was flirting with you!" Ray hissed, scowling.
Fraser smiled. "Yes, she was. However, I wasn't flirting with her."
Ray thought about that. Nodded. "No. You weren't."
"You don't have to defend my honor, you know."
Ray sighed. "Yeah, I know. Sorry. I just. . . ." he shrugged. "Sorry," he repeated.
Benton smiled. "For what it's worth, I suspect the first time I'm confronted
with a similar situation I may have a comparable reaction."
"Really?" Ray thought about that for a moment, raised his eyebrows, and grinned.
"Cool. So, you want me to cover the com-center while you rally the troops
for the official hand-off?"
"I'd appreciate it, if you don't mind. It will just be a few minutes."
"Not a problem. But I still want that coffee."
"I thought you would. Let's just hope they've left you some."
Fraser opened the break-room door and Ray stepped through it, heading for
the coffee pot. Six pair of eyes locked on him for a moment, then shifted
away as the four constables and two community policing representatives realized
he wasn't their new C.O. He nodded at them, filled a mug and sugared it, then
went out to the front counter. Sally looked up at him questioningly.
"Fraser wants you in the break room. I'll watch the com-center, okay?"
She eyed him narrowly. "You ever work a com-center before?"
"Not as such, no." Jesus. Could he sound any more like Fraser? He shivered
a little. That was kind of scary. "But I'm a quick study." He gave her his
She shook her head, smiling a little. "I assume you can use a phone and know
what a hold button is?"
"I'm a phone ace, Sally, trust me on that score."
"All right, how about a radio mic?"
"You hold down the little button on the side to talk, right? And let it go
if you don't want them to hear?"
"Right. Okay. Well, I guess you'll do. But you come and get me right off if
you have any questions. Oh, and if anybody calls you have to remember to say
'Good morning, La Rouille detachment and then. . . ."
"And then 'Bonjour, c'est le détachement de La
Rouille.'" Ray finished for her. "I got it," he assured her. "Now go on
before you miss the show."
She looked a little startled, but she got up and went. He watched her, wondering
if it was scarier that he'd just sounded like Fraser, or that he knew how
to answer the detachment's phone in French. He sat down in her chair and went
to scoot it in, then had to adjust the height setting so he didn't feel like
he was riding a tricycle. He sipped his coffee, and leaned back. Not a bad
chair. The computer screen was set on a map of the area showing weather conditions.
He figured Sally wouldn't appreciate it if he started surfing the Chicago
real estate ads on her computer so he left it where it was.
A flash of red caught his eye and he glanced over to see Fraser escorting
Sergeant Carol toward the break room. He discovered that if he leaned just
a little to the left, he could see in. Almost a straight shot to Bose Zhertak
and the other guy Mounties. . . Will Goodrunning, plus a little of Patrice
Bourque - sideburns and beard mostly.
He pushed the chair back another inch, then one more. Okay, that was better.
At least he could see Fraser now even if he couldn't hear what he was saying.
Ray smiled. Just about everyone was doing that 'I'm nodding so you'll know
I'm listening' thing. The only one who wasn't doing the bobble-head doll routine
was Zhertak, and he was . . . Christ, he looked shell shocked. Transfixed.
Then his tongue darted out and swiped his bottom lip, and Ray just about fell
off his chair. What the hell?
He glanced back at the switchboard to make sure he wasn't missing anything,
then slid the chair back another few inches. He knew Fraser didn't think Zhertak
had a thing for him, but Ray knew infatuation when he saw it and Zhertak was
showing all the signs. Then Ray looked harder and . . . weird. Yeah, he had
that stunned look on his face, but . . . he wasn't looking at Fraser at all.
In fact, it looked like he had those adoring puppy dog eyes trained right
on Sergeant Carol.
Ray chuckled to himself as he rolled the chair back to Sally's desk. Too bad
they weren't going to be sticking around long enough to watch this story play
out. It might be pretty amusing now that it wasn't Fraser being stared at.
Heh. Looked like Zhertak had a thing for authority figures in general.
The official introductions were finished before Ray'd even gotten a chance
to check out the weather conditions in Saskatoon and Minneapolis, and everybody
started filing out of the break room. He watched as Carol shook Fraser's hand,
then went into his . . . her office. Fraser leaned in the doorway for a moment,
then joined Ray.
"Seems like that went well."
"Yeah, from what I could see, the handover went pretty smooth."
"I noted your keen interest in the proceedings." Fraser smiled. "I'm
sure she'll do fine here. Better than I did, to be honest. She's actually
eager to begin her duties here, and it looks like everyone is responding positively
to her obvious enthusiasm."
"Zhertak sure is," Ray said with a grin.
"Indeed," Fraser said, dropping his voice. "It appeared that way to me as
well. I believe there might be a bit more response than is ordinarily acceptable
under the RCMP fraternization guidelines."
Ray looked past Fraser and saw Zhertak knock on Carol's door, then enter.
"You going to say anything to her about it?"
Fraser shook his head. "No, I don't think it's necessary. In the first place,
I have a suspicion that you and I are prone, at the moment, to seeing rather
more of a personal interest between people than may really exist."
"You saying we've got love on the brain?"
Fraser flushed slightly, then cleared his throat. "Yes, that's exactly what
I'm saying." Ray grinned. "In any case, Sergeant Carol is more than capable
of speaking up for herself."
"I'll say," Sally interjected from behind Fraser's shoulder.
Both men started guiltily.
"This one seems like a pretty tough cookie. I'll watch out for her
She looked at her desk, then at Ray, and he jumped up. "Sorry. Guess I'd better
let you have your chair back, Sally."
"Thanks for looking after things, Detective." She glanced over at Fraser,
then stared hard at Ray. "Make sure you keep doing that."
Man. How many moms did he and Fraser have between them? "Um . . . yeah. I
will. Um . . . Fraser? You got anything left to do here?"
"Just packing up the last of my things here, and then I think we'd best head
for the airport."
"Okay. So . . . bye, Sally," Ray said. "It's been good knowing you."
"Same here. You're okay, Kowalski. And as for you, Benton Fraser," she said,
hugging him tightly. "We'll miss you. You go and have a good life down there
in Chicago. Just remember you've got friends here if you ever need them."
She hugged him again, and Ray could see Fraser squeeze his eyes shut briefly
as he returned her embrace. He shook his head. Couldn't help think how much
easier it would've been for Fraser these past two years if he'd been able
to recognize that he really had been accepted and appreciated by the people
in La Rouille. Looked like there were a whole lot of things in this life that
you just couldn't see until you were ready. On the other hand, if Fraser had
felt included from the start he might not be coming home with Ray, so he was
just as glad it hadn't happened.
Sally released Fraser and sat down at her desk. "Okay, run along, boys. Constable
Traynor's gone outside to round up your wolf and take the three of you out
to the airport. Then maybe things will get back to normal around here." She
"Yes, yes . . .true." Fraser's voice was a little unsteady. "I'll just . .
." He turned and started to head back to his old office, but when Ray caught
up with him and put a hand on his shoulder, he stopped.
"You okay?" Ray whispered.
Fraser turned to Ray, took a deep breath and nodded. "I'm okay." Then he smiled.
"Let's say our goodbyes, shall we?"
They said their farewells to Carol and Zhertak as they collected the last
of Fraser's personal papers and supplies in a small cardboard box. Just before
sealing the box with duct tape, Ray slipped the rubber duck out of his pocket
and in with the rest of things Fraser was taking to Chicago.
"Okay," Ray said, turning to Fraser and smiling. "I think we've got everything.
Let's get started."
* * *
"I have to admit, Ray," said Fraser as he plugged his new computer into a
surge protector, "in all the time I liaised with the 27th, I never noticed
an empty office on this side of the squad room."
"Yeah, kind of weird, isn't it?" Ray said, ripping the duct tape off the last
of the boxes. "Not a bad office, though. I thought for a while they were going
to make you work out of the supply closet. There was some talk of letting
you have the break room but that kind of caused a small-scale riot so they
had to rethink that one fast. This one's a little small, but I think it's
better than your old office at the Consulate, especially since you don't have
to share it with all the file boxes." He opened up the box on the desk, and
there on top was the rubber duck. "Don't think I didn't notice that you're
not just light-fingered with office supplies," Ray said with a grin as he
flourished the toy.
"You're a fine one to talk, Mr. 'He won't miss a shirt or four,'" Fraser said,
repositioning the duck more to the center.
Ray held out a sheaf of papers. "Guilty. Here. Put these in your in basket.
You'll look industrious."
Fraser took them, frowning. "I need to sort them out first."
"Just do it." Ray said. "Sort them out later."
Fraser hesitated for a moment, and then put them in the in-basket. Ray nodded
approvingly. A tap at the door made them both look around to see Harding Welsh
standing in the doorway, his broad, solid presence familiar and welcome.
"You've returned, Corporal," he said with exaggerated care. "Upon reflection,
I imagine that pleases me."
Fraser smiled. "It pleases me too, sir."
Welsh looked sharply at Ray. "What are you doing here on your day off, Kowalski?
Just can't stay away?"
Ray glanced over at Fraser, then back at his lieutenant. "Just helping Fraser
settle in. Um . . . sir? There's something I think we
gotta talk about."
"If it's about you and the Mountie, I figured that out years ago. Took you
guys long enough." He watched as Ray set the duck on top of Fraser's computer
monitor, and shook his head. "You know, Detective, just because the wolf's
a florist doesn't mean you have to go into interior decorating."
Ray did a double take. "How do you know about the wolf?"
"I read reports, Kowalski."
"You do? Jeez. All this time I figured they went straight upstairs and were
never seen again."
Welsh glared at Ray. "You know, it's not too late to arrange for a long-term
undercover assignment at The One Liner."
"Sir?" Fraser said quietly.
Welsh looked over at him, eyebrows lifted.
"Is it going to be a problem?"
"Not unless you make it one."
"Understood," Fraser said.
Ray nodded. A sudden commotion outside the office had Welsh turning, opening
the door. The bullpen was filled with milling figures. Welsh scowled.
"Who are all these people in my squad room?"
Fraser stepped out from behind his desk and looked through the open door.
"Well, sir, there would appear to be a construction worker, a fireman, a policeman,
albeit one from another jurisdiction by the look of the uniform. A butler,
a butterfly collector, an . . . elf?"
"What? We got a Village People reunion here?" Welsh asked, bemused.
"Look, a transvestite bride!" Ray said. "Wait. There was never a transvestite
bride in the Village People."
Welsh looked at him. "And you know this how, Kowalski?"
"Hey, I was young!" Ray said defensively "And the construction worker was.
. ." He glanced at Fraser and felt his face get warm. "Um, never mind."
Fraser lifted an eyebrow at him. Ray had a feeling they were going to have
a Discussion later.
A uniformed officer, dragging what looked like Elvis during the Fat Years,
stopped for a moment, looking harassed. "Sorry, sir. There was one of those
'murder mystery weekend' things going on at the Millennium Knickerbocker and
a fight broke out when the murderer was revealed to be Mr. Mustard in the
library with the poison rather than Mrs. Teal in the kitchen with the duct
tape. We had them all down in booking and they said they wanted to appeal
to a higher authority."
"Send 'em up to records, then," Welsh snapped. "But I want them out of my
"Yes, sir!" the uniform said, and continued his Elvis herding.
"Duct tape?" Fraser murmured, eyebrows lifted.
"We get the Red Green Show down here, too, you know," Ray said.
From outside the office, someone yelled. "It was not Mrs. Teal!"
"I don't care who killed who with what!" Welsh bellowed. "Just get 'em out.
Now!" He started out the door, and then stopped suddenly and turned to Fraser,
shaking his head. "You know, Corporal, in the two years since you left, the
strangest thing anyone brought into my squad room was a chocolate chip bagel.
You've been back for less than a day, and it's already a madhouse in here."
Welsh paused, then looked surprised. "What, you break your face or something
Ray turned to find Fraser smiling. . . the kind of smile he hadn't seen since
they'd dug themselves out of the snow after falling out of a plane. He felt
a smile tug at his own mouth as Fraser shook his head.
"No, sir. I'm home."
* * * Finis * * *
Feedback to: Beth H. and
Websites: http://www.mrks.org/~kellie and
1. For those of you looking at us in confusion, Canadian bannocks are not like Scottish bannocks, which are flat oatcakes. The Canadian version is more like what is commonly known in the U.S. as 'frybread', and is often made with the addition of raisins or other dried berries. For a site with a history of bannock and recipes, go to: http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/kamloops/fnb/FNB.htm