Rated NC-17 for graphic m/m sex.

Disclaimer: not mine, never gonna be mine, if you don't know who they belong to, why are you reading this anyway? Broke, so suing would be pointless.

Soundtrack: Joan Osborne: "Early Recordings," "Relish." Solas: Darkness, Darkness. Bonnie Raitt, Silver Lining. Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer: Tanglewood Tree. Joanne Shenandoah & Peter Kater: When Eyes Meet, Dance of the North. Clive Gregson & Christine Collison: For a Dancer. Jude Johnstone: "Coming of Age." Jann Arden: Cherry Popsicle. Susan Werner: Feel Good, Nefertiti's Dream. Katie Curtis: Looking for Heroes. Dar Williams: Family. James Keelaghan: Mirabeau Bridge, Love What a Road, Message to the Future.

Thanks to all the people who held my hand and encouraged me on this story-- I'm going to go in alphabetical order here. :-) Ardent, AuKestrel, BethH, Betty, Judi, Journey, Sihaya Black & Starfish. Special thanks to Otsoko for translation help with the French and Inuktitut bits, and to Shell, for well, if I say it here, it will give away part of my plotline so I'm going to put it in the story notes instead. ;-D I hope I haven't forgotten anyone-- its been in progress for so long that I can't remember who all I've inveigled into helping with it!


"Love, I am a compass and you are magnetic north: all lines converge upon you, a beacon shining forth."
~ 'Love What a Road,' James Keelaghan.

Playing Wolf
© 2003 Kellie Matthews

Ray looked at his watch for the fourth time in four minutes, and returned the friendly single-fingered wave of the guy waiting impatiently behind him with one of his own. Tapping his thumbs on the steering wheel, he headed for the parking place that had just opened up a block up the street. He really ought to be used to this by now. It was kind of funny that someone as regimented as Fraser was so chronically late getting off work. It was a little thing, though, one Ray could easily cope with. Not like some of the things they'd had to find ways to cope with since they'd moved in together, and not always easily. A couple of times hard enough to nearly finish things. Somehow they'd gotten through, though. Thank God they were both creative thinkers.

Waiting for a break in traffic so he could open his door, he finally managed to scramble out after the signal three blocks down went red and traffic backed up as far down as the Consulate. Wishing he had an umbrella, he dashed down the block, splashing through puddles, head down to keep at least a little of the pouring rain out of his eyes. He took the front steps two at a time, sparing a sympathetic glance for Constable Anders, who stood next to the door, rain dripping off the brim of his plastic-wrapped Stetson. Fraser had finally convinced his superiors that soaking wet dress uniforms weren't very impressive, not to mention the fact that they led to increased sick-time. So at least now Anders got to wear a rain poncho. Clear, of course, so the RCMP red showed through.

Unfortunately Fraser still hadn't been able to convince anyone that it wasn't a great idea to make some poor cop stand out in all weather just to give tourists something to gawk at. It always made Ray think of that funny song about Mounties that Fraser once played for him, 'Don't wanna have to smile for a diplomat's home videos.' Shaking his head, he pushed on inside. Canadians moved in mysterious ways.

He took a moment to wipe his feet on the runner in front of the door so he wouldn't have to hear about the effect of water on a hardwood floor all the way home, and then headed down the hall, boots squeaking faintly. The door to Fraser's office was ajar, so he knocked once and pushed it open.

"Fraser? You forget you were supposed to meet me out . . . . " He shut up abruptly as he realized Fraser wasn't alone. A woman stood next to him, one hand on the back of his chair, the other on the desk as she leaned over his shoulder, long, dark hair falling across Fraser's shoulder in a way that put Ray's hackles up. Until Ray had started talking they had both been bent over, studying what looked like a map on the desk; now they were both looking at him with almost comically identical expressions of surprise.

The stranger straightened up, studying him curiously, and Ray realized with a shock that it wasn't a woman at all. The long hair had thrown him. The guy looked to be in his early twenties, and stood close to six feet tall, with caramel-colored skin and dark hair that fell to mid-back. It looked kind of weird, but good, with the crisp blue RCMP uniform he wore. He was also one of the best-looking guys Ray had ever seen. He could give Fraser a run for his money, which wasn't something that happened real often, in Ray's experience.

Fraser pushed back his chair and stood. "I'm sorry, Ray, time simply got away from me. Constable Tselihye's flight was delayed, and I've been filling him in a little about the city and his accommodations for the conference." He turned and gestured at the young man. "I'd like to introduce Constable Michael Tselihye, from the Inuvik detachment. Constable, this is Detective Ray Kowalski of the Chicago Police Department."

Putting together the name with his coloring, hair, and features, Ray caught a clue. He rubbed his hand against his hip to get the last of the rain off and then put it out. Tselihye grasped it, and they shook, firmly

"Nice to meet you," Ray said. "You're the guy they sent down for the seminar on International Aboriginal Justice at Northwestern, right?"

"Yes, sir, I am," Tselihye said, his mouth curving in a smile that showed off very even, very white teeth. "It's a pleasure, Detective."

Ray would've wondered how much that smile cost, except he'd been to the Territories, and knew that even if the kid's folks could've found an orthodontist up there, it wasn't likely that they'd have the money it would take to fix a smile, so it must be courtesy of Mom Nature. He let go of Tselihye's hand. "Call me Ray. Fraser, how long?"

Fraser glanced at the newcomer, then back at Ray, who got a funny feeling at the almost-guilty look. "Perhaps we could speak for a moment alone?" he asked hopefully.

Tselihye, apparently a bright boy, cleared his throat. "I'll just, ah, go use the washroom," he said, brushing past Ray as he exited the office.

As soon as he was gone, Ray crossed his arms and lifted his eyebrows at Fraser. "Okay, what?"

Fraser cleared his throat. "Constable Tselihye will need a ride to his lodgings at the university."

"That all? No problem, so long as one of you doesn't mind sharing the back seat with Dief. Speaking of which, where is he?"

"In the kitchen drying off. And there was one other thing. . . ."

"That being?"

"I thought we could invite Constable Tselihye to dinner. He's only here for six weeks, and I'm sure he's feeling a little overwhelmed. Chicago is certainly far larger than Regina, and he doesn't know a soul here."

Ray bit the inside of his lip to keep himself from smiling. Fraser and his strays. He should've known this would happen. If he'd been keeping track of when the guy was due in, he'd just have planned on it. But he still couldn't resist giving Fraser a hard time. "Dinner," he said severely. "I guess this means I'd better call and tell Tony we're cancelling our regular Thursday night pizza order?"

Fraser frowned thoughtfully. "Perhaps we could just double it?"

Ray stared at him. "Double it?"

Fraser nodded. "Though I suppose we should ask Constable Tselihye what his preference would be, in case he's not partial to ham and pineapple."

"You want to invite him over? To the house?" This was new. Fraser had never wanted to have one of his strays over to the house before. Not alone, anyway. They'd invited the Consulate staff for the holidays the last two years, Canada Day barbeques and, of course, Thanksgiving in October. The Fourth of July and American Thanksgiving were celebrated with the Vecchios, usually, since Ray's dad was still kind of touchy about him and Fraser.

"Yes. We haven't really gotten a chance to talk, and I wanted to catch up on things back up north."

Right. Of course. The kid was from Fraser's old stomping grounds. They probably knew a lot of the same people. 'A lot' being relative, of course. Ray shrugged. "Sure, if you want. The place is pretty clean."

Fraser smiled. "Thank you, Ray."

"Anytime. I'll go get Dief. He got out, eh?"

"Unfortunately, yes, when Constable Anders came in to get his rain gear. And he managed to get into the trash next door."

Ray wrinkled his nose. "He need a bath?"

"Undoubtedly, but after the rain he's clean enough for the car, and I'll take care of the rest after dinner."

"And then I get to clean up after the cleaning up, right?" Ray asked wryly.

"Well, he's my responsibility, I ought to . . ."

Ray held up a hand. "Nah, partners means sharing, right?" He gave Fraser a wink and opened the office door and headed for the kitchen. As he passed the bathroom, the door opened, Tselihye walked out, straightening his tunic. Ray jerked a thumb in the direction of the office. "Coast is clear, go tell Fraser what you want on your pizza," he said.

"Excuse me?" Tselihye's asked, frowning slightly.

"Sorry. Fraser's always working on my manners but it doesn't take. You got plans after this?"

He looked at Ray searchingly. "No, no plans."

"Good. So you want to have dinner with us? I mean, it's just pizza, but I've got a couple four-packs of Fin du Mond in the fridge."

A delighted smile spread across Tselihye's face. "I'd love. . . um, I mean, are you sure?"

Ray grinned. "Yeah, we're sure. So you go tell Fraser and I'll go release the wolf from captivity."

Tselihye's eyebrows went up. "Wolf? That would be. . . Tupper? St. Laurent?"

Ray snorted. "Diefenbaker. I see you've heard of him."

The grin that brought made Tselihye look ridiculously young. "Who hasn't? I can't wait to meet him."

"Well, you might want to hold off on the enthusiasm. He's been out in the rain and the trash so he stinks right now. Plus he has a thing for licking the first person he sees, so if I were you I'd get myself down to the office so he can get it out of his system with me."

"I grew up with sled dogs, I think I can handle it," Tselihye said drily.

"Yeah, but you don't want to have to get the uniform cleaned your first day here. Go on."

The other man chuckled as he turned and headed down the hall to the office. Ray stared after him, a little puzzled. The guy's laugh reminded him of someone else's, but he couldn't quite put his finger on whose. He waited until the office door had closed behind the other man before he put a hand on the knob and opened the door about an inch. Dief eagerly shoved his nose through.

"Back off," Ray ordered.

Dief backed, a little.

"No licking," Ray said firmly.

Dief whined. Ray opened the door and Dief started to jump up onto his hind legs. Ray put a hand on his nose and shoved him back down. "No means no."

Dief whined again, and Ray squatted down and grabbed Dief's face between his hands so Dief couldn't pretend not to either hear him or read his lips. That close he could definitely tell that, yeah, he was kind of aromatic.

"There's a new guy; he's eating with us tonight. Behave yourself or no pizza."

Dief pulled away with an outraged glare and trotted haughtily off down the hall. Ray got to his feet, brushing his palms off against his slacks, and followed.

* * *

Ray stared at the guy sacked out on their couch, and shot a rueful glance at Fraser, who looked rueful right back at him and shrugged. Okay, so probably that fourth bottle of Fin du Mond had been one too many for a guy who'd been traveling all day and had spent several hours doing the Great White North Old Home Week thing with Fraser. And now that he belatedly remembered that problems with alcohol were rampant in Aboriginal populations, Ray wondered if maybe he shouldn't have given Michael any beer to begin with. But Ray wasn't Michael's keeper and he hadn't said no, so it wasn't Ray's fault. Michael was a nice drunk for a lightweight, though. Quiet. Just stared at them and smiled and blinked a lot, and then fell asleep. Didn't snore, which was a point in his favor.

Fraser motioned Ray toward the hall, and they ducked into the bathroom, closing the door.

Assuming he was in for a lecture, Ray tried to head it off at the pass. "Sorry about the beer. I wasn't thinking."

Fraser looked puzzled. "Was something wrong with it?"

Ray frowned. "Um. . . no. I just figured you were going to tell me I shouldn't have given him any."

"He's an adult, Ray, and he's not on duty, and I'm not in his chain of command. If he wants to have a beer or two. . ."

"Four," Ray put in.

"A beer or four," Fraser amended, "he's welcome to do so. However, it does leave us with a slight quandary."

Ray nodded, feeling vaguely as if he'd dodged a bullet. "Should we try to wake him up and take him over to the university?" Ray asked.

Fraser gave a thoughtful glance toward the living room, as if he could see through the walls. Sometimes Ray thought that maybe he could.

"It's too late for that, I think. Room check-in for the seminar closed for the night well over an hour ago, if I remember the literature."

"Yeah, eight o'clock, you said. Sessions don't start until Monday, right? Which means he's got all day tomorrow to get himself checked in, and the weekend to get settled. You thinking what I'm thinking?"

"That he can spend the night on the couch?"

Ray nodded. "Yeah. Or in the downstairs guest room. He'll be more comfortable on a real bed. That couch isn't good for sleeping on if you're any bigger than Frannie. Believe me, I should know."

Fraser studied him for a moment. "You're all right with it? After all, we don't really know him at all."

Ray knew what Fraser was asking. Not many people knew the reality of their arrangement, just a few close friends. Not because they felt like they had to hide it, but because it wasn't really anybody else's business. He did his own glance at the wall, and then shrugged. "Yeah. Pretty much. I mean, he's not going to come upstairs, that would be rude and un-Canadian. But hey, just in case he does, I'll wear shorts to bed so he doesn't get an eyeful, okay?" He grinned and winked.

Fraser smiled and leaned in to give him a lingering, but not a come-on, kind of kiss, and then pulled back. "Okay."

"All right. Let's get junior Mountie here put to bed," Ray said, opening the door. He crossed the hall to their seldom-used guest room and pulled back the covers, then followed Fraser back into the living room.

"Michael?" Fraser said quietly, shaking him a little with a hand on his shoulder, without much result. He tried again in a more authoritative tone. "Constable Tselihye?"

That got through. He opened his eyes and stared at them sleepily. "Yessir?"

"It's time to get some rest. On your feet."

Michael leaned forward a little, getting his feet under himself, and he made an abortive attempt to rise, which ended in him sitting down again, swaying a little.

Ray chuckled, shaking his head. "Come on, you're going to be in bad enough shape in the morning without sleeping on the couch and adding a backache to the mix."

He caught one of Michael's arms. Fraser got the other, and together they levered the young constable to his feet and walked him between them to the bedroom. They managed to get him onto the bed, and he lay unresisting as Fraser untied his boots and pulled them off, setting them neatly next to the bed. He'd stripped down to his t-shirt and uniform trousers before they'd started eating, telling Fraser it was the only duty uniform he had and that he didn't want to risk getting grease spots on it. Ray stood at the foot of the bed for a moment, indecisively, and then looked at Fraser. "Think we should get his pants off?"

Fraser considered that, and after a moment he nodded. "Yes. He'll be more comfortable, and in addition then his trousers won't need pressing."

Fraser reached down to undo Michael's belt, button, and zipper. Ray pulled from the hems and Fraser lifted Michael's hips, and together they managed to get his pants off without much trouble, leaving him in his t-shirt and boxers. Ray couldn't help but notice that the guy was really built. Everywhere that smooth brown skin was exposed, it covered muscle. Not gym-muscle, but natural muscle. He looked like a photographer's model. He probably had hordes of sharp-toothed Inuit girls after his ass. If there was such a thing as a horde in a town with a population of about twenty total.

Still holding Michael's pants, Ray looked up to find Fraser staring at the guy like he was trying to memorize him. Ray was about to get pissed about that, but then he decided it would be kind of hypocritical of him, since he'd just been doing some ogling of his own. Looking was just . . . looking. And if you stopped looking, you were dead, so, it was okay. Right? After a moment Fraser's gaze lifted to Ray's face, and he was wearing a faint frown, a little shadow in his normally clear gaze.

Wondering what was bugging him, Ray opened the closet and hung the pants on a hanger. Fraser reached down to pull the covers over their guest, and then to Ray's surprise, he slipped a hand under Michael's head, gently freeing his hair and draping it forward over one shoulder before straightening up and nodding at the door. Ray followed him out, and once the door was closed he leaned back against the wall, hands in his pockets. "What was that about?"

"What was what about?"

"That thing with the hair."

"I just thought that it might be uncomfortable, caught underneath him like that."

"Oh." Ray relaxed slightly, still feeling a little territorial. Maybe he should just say it, get it out in the open. "Good-looking guy. Bet there'll be a bunch of girls moping around Inuvik the next few weeks wishing he hadn't had to come down here for this seminar."

Fraser's frown deepened. "Well, it's quite an honor for a member of such recent standing to be given the opportunity to attend, but yes, I suppose he is an attractive man." He paused a moment, and then added. "And pleasant company."

"You suppose?" Ray asked sarcastically, trying to ignore that pause. "You know what would happen if I took him to the 27th? Within a minute every woman in the place would be hanging out at my desk. And they wouldn't be wanting to check out my fast-food menu collection either."

"But there always seems to be a group of women near your desk," Fraser said with a slightly baffled expression.

Ray chuckled. "Yeah, whenever you find time to show up, there is. A group of women who, oddly enough, don't hang out around my desk when you're not there. That's how come I know what would happen."

Fraser flushed a little. "Ah. I hadn't realized. I thought . . . " he trailed off, and reached out to settle a hand on Ray's shoulder, his thumb stroking the side of Ray's throat above the collar of his t-shirt. "I can't imagine why they wouldn't hang around there to begin with, though where I'm concerned I would have thought they would know better."

Ray leaned into his hand. "Some of them do. But you know, some just think the love of a good woman is all you need to return from the dark side of the force."

Fraser laughed. "I prefer the good man I have."

"Lucky me," Ray said, grinning. "Come on. Let's go clean up the living room and go to bed."

Fraser took a step toward the living room, then stopped with a sigh, his shoulders slumped. "Clean up," he said dully.

Ray got it. "Shit. We still have to give Diefenbaker a bath. And he's going to be pissed that we left him in the garage all this time."

"Did we save him any pizza?" Fraser asked.

Ray groaned. "We're in trouble now. Wait. . . I got it. We order another one now, tell him he doesn't get any until after his bath so he behaves, and by the time we're done, it'll be here."

"That works. You place the order and I'll get him into the bathroom."

* * *

Ray made his way downstairs the next morning to start the coffee, letting Fraser have first dibs on the bathroom. He was surprised to find Michael already up, dressed, and sitting bolt upright on the couch like he was at attention. Dief was up too, sitting at Michael's feet with his chin resting on his knee, gazing up at him adoringly. Michael was rubbing Dief's ears absently, which kind of spoiled the effect of the rigid posture. As soon as he saw Ray, Michael shot to his feet, his face a study in embarrassment and regret.

"I must apologize for my behavior last night, sir. I'm a dis. . . "

Ray waved a hand. "Can it, okay? It's nice for the guest room to get some use now and then."

Michael deflated a little, and raked a hand through his hair, pushing it back behind his shoulder. "I. . . I'm still sorry. I don't drink often, and it hit me harder than I thought it would."

"I kind of got that," Ray said with a commiserating smile. "Plus that stuff packs more punch than your average Molson's, so that didn't help. You feeling okay? You need some coffee?"

"I'd love some, sir."

"It'll be about five minutes." Ray led him into the kitchen and got out the bag of coffee. "And I'm not a sir. Sir is my boss, okay? I'm just Ray. Or Kowalski. I answer to either, it's up to you. But I'm going to keep calling you Michael, because Tselihye does not roll off my lips with ease."

"That's fine. . . Ray," he said tentatively. He fidgeted with his tunic sleeve for a moment, a faint wash of color across his cheeks. "So, ah, who put me to bed?"

"We both did," Ray said. "You were pretty out of things." He pulled the used filter with its load of damp grounds out of the coffee-maker and put it in the trash, stuck in a new filter, and shook some fresh grounds into it.

"Thanks." Michael rubbed at the back of his neck, and shot Ray a rueful glance. "God, this is so embarrassing. I really wanted to make a good impression."

Ray chuckled. "Don't worry about it; you made a great impression. You know everybody Fraser knew back home. He loved catching up."

"And then I got drunk and fell asleep," Michael said disgustedly.

"Let you in on a secret?" Ray said confidentially as he filled the carafe with water and poured it into the reservoir in the machine, then flipped the switch and set the carafe under the drip spout. "Fraser told me a long time ago that the reason he doesn't drink is because it puts him right to sleep. So I think he's probably been where you are."

"He wasn't mad about it?"

"Mad? You know, he doesn't really do mad. Well, unless you off a member of his family or pollute the environment. Then he gets pissed. But aside from that, pretty much the worst you get is peeved. And no, he wasn't peeved either."

"Huh," Michael said thoughtfully, looking relieved. "That's good. So he went home, eh?"

Ray glanced at the ceiling. "You could say that."

"I was surprised he left his wolf."

"The wolf lives here."

"He does?" Consternation was written on the younger man's face. "I thought he belonged to Corporal Fraser."

Ray grinned. "Fraser would say that as a wild animal he belongs only to himself, but between you and me, I don't think he qualifies for the wildlife designation any more."

Dief barked sharply.

"Yeah, yeah. You know, for someone who's supposedly deaf you sure manage to overhear a lot." Ray said, stooping to pick up Dief's dish. "Hand me the bag of chow from under the sink, okay?"

Michael opened the cabinet and leaned over to get out the bag, and Ray sort of incidentally observed that he could give Fraser a run for his money in the rear-view category as well as the front view. Not that he noticed things like that. After Michael straightened up and handed him the bag, he rubbed his forehead, wincing a little.

"Headache?" Ray asked sympathetically.

Michael nodded. "Yeah."

Ray put the chow down for a moment and got out a glass, handing it to him. "There's aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen in the medicine chest in the bathroom. Take your pick. And drink some water."

Yes, si. . . Ray."

He disappeared down the hall, and Ray finished dishing up Dief's breakfast, then got out three mugs for coffee. A few moments later Michael was back, a half-full glass of water in one hand.

"I think you left the water running upstairs," he said. "I could hear it in the bathroom."
Ray decided it was time to stop confusing the poor kid. "That's Fraser. He's in the shower."

"Oh." Michael processed that. "Well, that would explain the wolf, then."

"Yes, it would."

"And the decor." He looked past Ray toward the living room, which held a lot of the stuff he had picked up on the Quest: a couple of masks, a bark chest, a Haida button-blanket, some carvings.

"Actually, most of that's mine. Fraser's not big on 'stuff,' you know. For the first year I knew him, he was living in his office at the Consulate, so this place is a big step up."

Michael nodded. "Yeah. It must be hard to make ends meet, what with the exchange rate."

Ray shrugged, willing to let the other man believe what he wanted. It was what most people thought anyway, those that didn't know how much a pound of cheese weighed on Pluto, at any rate. "Coffee's ready," he said, pulling out the pot to fill his own mug, then handing the pot over to Michael. "There's milk in the fridge if you take it."

"Thanks." Michael filled his own mug halfway, then opened the refrigerator, got out the milk and poured a generous amount into his coffee. At Ray's expression, he grinned. "Grandmother always says our family likes a little coffee with our warm milk."

"Remind me to show you where the Starbucks is near campus when we drop you off," Ray said drily.

Michael chuckled and raised his cup in salute, then settled in against the counter to drink. After a moment he glanced down at Dief. "What's with him? He keeps staring at me."

Ray looked down at Dief, who'd finished breakfast and was now sitting at Michael's feet staring at him raptly. He shrugged. "You never know with him. Maybe your shoes smell like sled dogs, or caribou. Usually it means he likes you, though, unless he's growling, which he's not, so I think liking is a safe bet."

"That's good." Michael leaned down, grabbed Dief's ruff and shook it, grinning. "I like him too."

Dief reared up and licked him right on the mouth. Michael grimaced and straightened back up fast, wiping his hand across his face.

Ray laughed. "Hey, I have to get ready for work, if you're hungry there's some cold pizza from last night, some fruit in the drawer, a couple of bagels. Help yourself to anything in the fridge."

Michael looked at him, one corner of his mouth curving up. "What, no seal? No muktuk?"

"You know, we just finished off the muktuk last week. Too bad we didn't know you were coming to stay or we'd've saved you some," Ray said, grinning.

Michael snorted and grinned back. Ray poured coffee for Fraser, and headed upstairs with both mugs. The bathroom was empty when he got upstairs, and their bedroom door closed, so he thunked his head against the door to get Fraser's attention since both of his hands were full. When the door opened, revealing a half-dressed Fraser, Ray grinned and held out Fraser's mug. "Coffee?"

Fraser accepted the cup. "Thank you. Is our guest awake?"

"Awake, dressed, slightly hung-over, and very embarrassed. Be prepared for major apologies."

Fraser smiled over the rim of his cup and nodded. "Thanks for the warning," he said after swallowing. "He's a likeable sort."

That was marginally better than 'I like him,' Ray decided. He shrugged non-committally. "He's cool. Plus Dief likes him," he said, figuring that would get a snide comment.

"Dief has excellent taste," Fraser said.

Ray almost choked on his coffee and tried not to stare. That had to be the first time Fraser had ever acknowledged that Dief's opinion was good for much of anything. For some reason that bothered him. He shook it off. "Hey, I'm going to go shave and get dressed, and then we can head out. We'll drop Michael off at the university on the way."

Fraser nodded, then pulled an undershirt over his head. "Ray?" he asked, face momentarily hidden.

Ray paused in the doorway, looking back. Fraser's voice sounded a little funny. "Yeah?"

Fraser finished pulling his shirt on, and his face was composed and calm, his voice back to normal. "Nothing, never mind."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure," Fraser said, tucking in his shirt and fastening his pants.

Ray waited for a moment, then shrugged and headed for the bathroom, stifling a sigh. Whatever was bugging Fraser, he'd talk about it when he was good and ready and no sooner. Either that or he wouldn't ever talk about it at all. That was one of the few not-so-great aspects of what he had with Fraser, but one Ray knew wasn't going to be changing any time soon. If he'd learned nothing else from his years with Stella, it was that you never went into a relationship figuring on changing the other person. They'd both made that mistake. He slathered his face with shaving cream, pondering the strange but true fact that being in love with someone didn't always stop you from wanting to strangle them.

* * *

It was after midnight when Ray pulled into the garage and parked, setting the brake and rubbing the back of his head as he yawned. He'd called Fraser a little after four to let him know he couldn't pick him up because he had a breaking case he wanted to stick with. Fraser had sighed, admitting that he wished he could be there. The frustration in his voice was clear as he said it. Since there was a civilian in Thatcher's place now, Fraser was in charge of security at the Consulate, which meant he couldn't go haring off on CPD cases whenever Ray wanted him to.

About the only time he got to do any of the 'fun stuff' these days was if the case had some kind of Canadian connection they could use as an excuse. It had been easier before the promotion. They both missed their partnership on the job, even if off the job it was better than ever. Ray tried not to be petty about it. It wasn't Fraser's fault.

He pulled his keys from the ignition and got out of the car, noticing as he went to close the garage door that not only was the porch light on, but there were lights on inside the house as well. He grinned. Fraser had waited up. Usually he didn't, since there was no way of knowing when Ray would get home, and Fraser was an early-to-bed-early-to-rise type under normal circumstances. Except that it was Friday night and they didn't have to work in the morning. Which meant they could stay up half the night, and then sleep in. And then stay in bed all day.

The fatigue that had been dragging at him lifted, and anticipation hurried his pulse and his steps. Pushing the door open, Ray stepped into the house and heard voices.

"Does Henry Clyde still have that stuffed seal with the caribou antler sewn onto it that he tries to convince visiting scientists is a new species of narwhal?" Fraser was asking, his voice holding that husky sound it got when he'd been laughing a lot. Or was . . . turned on.

A snort of laughter answered the question. "Of course. Hasn't worked on any of the scientists but he's gotten quite a few tourists going over the years. Just last summer some guy offered him forty thousand, American, for it."

Fraser laughed too. Ray slipped his keys into his pocket, closed the door quietly behind himself and took off his jacket, hanging it on one of the hooks by the door. Took a breath and shook himself a little, trying to get into 'company' mode, and walked around the corner into the living room.

"Heya," he said casually.

Fraser and Michael looked up, both still smiling. They were both on the couch, and they were sitting pretty close. Dief was there too, sleeping with his chin on Michael's thigh, making it a cozy little trio. He normally did that with Ray. Drooled on his pants usually. He glanced at Michael's jeans, trying to see if there was a spot there, but they were black and he couldn't tell. But he could tell that Michael's black-jeaned thigh was right up against Fraser's blue-jeaned one. He resisted the urge to curl his fingers into fists.

"Hey, Ray!" Michael said, waving at him with a long-necked brown bottle in his hand. Ray glanced at the label, and was relieved to see it was a vanilla creme soda, not a beer. At least they wouldn't have to put him to bed again tonight.

"Hi, Michael. Benton." He studied Fraser for a moment. He looked relaxed and happy, and strangely younger. Swallowing hard, Ray rubbed at his jaw. "What's up?"

"Corporal Fraser's been keeping me entertained," Michael said, darting a glance at Fraser.

"Please," Fraser said. "I thought we agreed that if you can't bring yourself to call me Benton, you would at least drop the 'corporal' unless we're on duty."

Michael ducked his head, nodding, a faint flush on his face. "Right. Sorry. Anyway, only a few people have come in for the seminar yet, so it was pretty boring at the dorm. Fraser showed me around downtown, all the historical places. We went up the Sears Tower. I think if it wasn't so polluted you could probably see home from up there."

"That's a slight exaggeration," Fraser said with a smile.

Ray couldn't remember the last time Fraser had taken anyone sight-seeing. Fraser hated sight-seeing. "You guys have dinner?"

Fraser sat forward, looking concerned. "Yes, I made spaghetti. Didn't you eat?"

Ray shook his head. "Nah, I was busy. Is there any left?"

"In the refrigerator," Fraser said, pushing to his feet. "You look tired, sit down, I'll warm some up for you."

Ray waved a hand. "Thanks, but I'm fine, I can get it."

Fraser stood indecisively for a moment, then he sat back down. "All right."

Ray was momentarily surprised that Fraser would give up so easily, then he figured Fraser must've remembered that he didn't like being fussed over.

After a moment, he looked up at Ray again, as if surprised he was still standing there. "Join us?"

"Sure. Back in a few."

He went into the kitchen, threw some pasta and sauce on a plate and put it in the microwave to heat. Tearing a hunk of bread from the baguette on the counter, he ate it while he waited for the microwave to do its thing. The fatigue that had lifted earlier returned and he yawned again, debating whether or not to make some coffee so he could stay up with Fraser and Michael, who both looked pretty fresh for it being as late as it was. What he mostly wanted to do was eat and then fall into bed and sleep for at least twelve hours, but it was pretty rare to have company so he also wanted to stay up. At least he had himself mostly convinced that was why, anyway. The microwave beeped and he pulled out his plate, grabbed a fork, and took his dinner out to the living room.

Fraser looked up as he came in. "How did it go today?"

Appetite instantly gone, Ray put his plate down on the coffee table and sighed. "You don't want to know."

Fraser lifted his eyebrows. "What happened?"

"Remember the Eaton case I told you about? Burglary and assault?" At Fraser's nod of recognition, he went on. "We caught a break from a snitch who said this Keeley guy was pawning stuff and bragging about how he got it by smacking around some old lady. We checked out the stuff at the shop and it matched up, so we thought we had the guy and brought him in, but Mrs. Eaton couldn't pick him out of a lineup." He sighed. "More like wouldn't. I think she's scared that if she ID's him, his buddies will show up and pick up where he left off. And since that's entirely possible, it's not like I can reassure her on that score. We tried to find the snitch to get a statement from him about what Keeley told him, but he's gone to ground. Finally Keeley's lawyer showed up and we had to cut him loose."

Fraser was silent for a moment, then he spoke. "What about the pawned items?"

"He says he found them in a dumpster and we got no way to prove he didn't." Suddenly not feeling at all like socializing, Ray stood up. "Hey, I'm not really hungry after all. You can give that to Dief if he wants it. I'm going to go wash off the day and go to bed. 'Night."

Fraser was up instantly, following him to the stairs. "Ray? Are you all right?" he asked quietly, his hand on Ray's arm.

Ray pulled a smile out of somewhere. "Yeah, Benton. You know what it's like. Sometimes you just need to turn your brain off." He put a foot on the bottom stair, then stopped and dug a hand in his pocket, pulling out his keys. "Here. You can use my car to take Michael back to the university later if you want, it eats less gas than the Scout."

Fraser stared down at the keys, and cleared his throat. "I, ah. . ."

Ray looked past Fraser to the living room, where Michael was sitting and looking at the scrapbook from the quest. And he knew. And something kind of tightened inside him. "Oh. Okay. Never mind." He cleared his own throat. "All weekend?"

"If it's all right," Fraser said, looking a little anxious.

Ray told himself he was being stupid. It'd been over a year since Fraser had been home, and Michael was sort of like a short-term homesickness cure. He couldn't grudge Fraser that. "No problem." He put his keys back in his pocket. "Night."

"Good night, Ray, and thank you," Fraser said softly, squeezing Ray's arm a little before letting his hand fall. He smiled, and the smile was real and his eyes were warm.

Ray smiled back. "Anytime."

Trudging up the stairs, he decided that maybe it was time for them to plan a vacation up North. He showered quickly, wishing he could wash the frustrations of the day off as easily as he could the dirt. After brushing his teeth he headed for their bedroom and then stopped in the doorway, suddenly wondering if it would be better if he went and slept in the other bedroom. The bedroom that he'd only slept in three times since they'd moved into the house, all three times when one of them had been sick. That had been voluntary, though, to keep from spreading germs. If he did this, it would be like. . . hiding. And while they'd never flaunted their relationship, they'd never hidden it either.

He stood there for a few seconds longer, and then shook his head. "Fuck that shit," he muttered, getting into bed and switching off the light.

* * *

Ray woke to the familiar weight of Fraser's arm around his waist, Fraser's thigh across his own and the warmth of Fraser's chest and belly along his back. Not to mention the unmistakable shape of a hard-on against his ass. He smiled. Waking up to a horny Fraser was always good. He shifted a little against Fraser's cock. Fraser's hand flexed across his stomach, and he made a little sound in his throat, rubbing his nose against the back of Ray's neck.

"Morning," Fraser said, and then he used his tongue on Ray's neck instead of his nose.

"Yeah," Ray agreed. "That's nice." He pushed back against Fraser's erection encouragingly. "Real nice."

Fraser ran a hand down his side, letting it rest on his hip, fingers stroking slightly. "Mmmm," he said. "Do you want. . ." He stopped suddenly, tensing. "Ah, never mind."

Ray turned his head, trying to see Fraser's face. "Never mind?" he asked. "Never mind what?"

"I. . . momentarily forgot that we have a guest."

"What, you worried about the bed squeaking or something? Or the part where I make you scream when you come?" Ray teased.

Fraser avoided his gaze. "No, of course not," he said, not sounding at all certain about that. "I just feel a little. . . awkward."

"I don't think we're the first people ever to want to have sex when they have guests, Fraser. And I'd be willing to bet, not with money of course since that would be illegal, but I'd be willing to bet that your junior Mountie down there is not a blushing virgin."


"I'm just saying," Ray said crabbily, getting the distinct feeling that this was going to be a no-sex weekend. Not his favorite thing by a long shot. "And you know, next time you decide you want to invite someone to stay over, you might want to run it by me in private first. Now I know why my mom always got pissed at me when I brought my friends over and they were standing right there next to me when I asked if they could sleep over or stay for dinner or whatever. It kind of puts you in a bind."

Fraser pulled away and sat up, looking over at the window, his jaw set. "If you didn't want Constable Tselihye to spend the weekend you could simply have said so."

"No, I couldn't have, not with him sitting right there, probably listening to every word. It's not like we live in a mansion you know, he was six feet away. If I'd said no, it would've made me look like a jerk. And maybe I am a jerk but it's always nice to pretend otherwise in public. It's just. . . bad manners. You don't do it. Okay?"

"It won't happen again," Fraser said tightly. "I'll take him back to the dormitory after breakfast."

Ray flopped onto this back with an exasperated sigh, staring at the ceiling. "Damn it, Benton. No. You won't. He can stay. I already said he could. It's just for next time, okay?"

"Fine," Fraser said, and he got up. "I'm going to take a shower."

"You do that," Ray said, deliberately not watching Fraser grab his robe and head for the bathroom. Goddamned stubborn man. Would it kill him to admit he was wrong, just once in a blue moon? He lay there fuming with righteous indignation, but as he heard the shower start, the emotion began to fade, and he was left with an odd sort of empty feeling. He rubbed at his rib cage. Hungry. He was hungry. Yeah. That was it. He wasn't bothered by the argument. They had dumb arguments all the time. It would pass. No problem. He was just hungry.

For a second or two he thought about going and joining Fraser in the shower. Maybe seeing if he really could make him scream. Ray was starting to think it might not be a bad thing if Michael overheard them. He hadn't gotten any sense that Michael was interested, exactly, but frankly there was something weird about a twenty-something guy wanting to hang out so much with a guy nearly twice his age. Kind of a creepy 'who's your daddy' thing. Ray almost laughed at himself when he realized that what he was thinking pretty much amounted to marking territory, if a little more subtly than Dief might.

He got out of bed, pulled on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans and headed downstairs. The guest room door was still closed, and Dief was camped out in front of it. There was no sign of Michael yet. Ray went into the kitchen, started the coffee, got Dief's breakfast ready and set the dish on the floor. Like he'd figured, the wolf abandoned his post as soon as he smelled the food. Ray glared at him as he shoved his nose into his dish and started to eat.


Dief didn't look up from his dish.

"He's up to something." Ray said. "Why else would he be hanging around with Fraser?" At that, Dief did look up at him, his eyes amused, and Ray thought about that for a second. "Okay, that didn't come out right. I mean there's lots of reasons someone would want to hang with Fraser, not all of which are kosher."

Dief returned to eating. Ray watched him. "What do you think? You think he's okay? You hanging out in front of his door because you like him or because he needs watching?"

"Ray? Fraser?" Michael's voice came hesitantly from the living room.

Ray hoped like hell he hadn't been listening. "In the kitchen," he called out.

Michael came in, and Ray was glad Fraser wasn't here to see him, barefoot in sweatpants and an a-shirt, his athletic build and smooth skin making Ray feel every year of his age and then some. No, Fraser definitely did not need to see that.

"I thought you were talking to someone," Michael said, looking around sleepily.

"Just me talking to Dief," Ray confessed. "It's contagious, so watch out or you'll be doing it too."

Michael chuckled. "I'll keep that in mind."

Ray grinned back, despite himself. He couldn't quite figure out why he couldn't not like the guy. He really wanted to not like him, but he couldn't. There was just something about him that was. . . likeable. At least when Fraser wasn't in the room. "You and Fraser plan anything for today?" Ray asked.

"Not really. He said we should wait and talk about it this morning. I told him I'd like to take you guys out to dinner, but he said I should conserve my advance to make sure it lasts the whole six weeks."

"He's probably right. I know how low you guys' per diems are."

"Maybe I could cook for you?" Michael offered suddenly. "A trip to the market wouldn't cost very much, right?"

"You cook?"

Michael grinned. "Anaanatsiaq made sure I could cook. She says that a man who can't cook is a danger to himself and others."

"Who?" Ray asked, knowing the word had to be Inuktitut but not recognizing it from his meager vocabulary.

"His grandmother," Fraser said from the doorway. "Maternal grandmother, to be precise. That would be. . . Emma Tselihye, yes?" he asked.

Oh great, Ray thought. Obviously he'd missed the memo that dress of the day was a white a-shirt and gray sweatpants. The shirt showed off Fraser's great shoulders, still-narrow waist, and all that amazing pale, silky skin. The sweatpants clung to his rounded ass like Ray's hands wanted to. Jeez. Like he wanted Michael seeing Fraser like that.

Michael nodded. "Yes. You knew her, right?"

"I did. Actually, I knew several members of your family fairly . . . well," Fraser said with a strange hesitation, lifting a hand to rub at his right shoulder just below the collarbone.

Michael's gaze followed his hand, and he cleared his throat. "Angak Joseph told me once he wished he hadn't done that," he said, with a nod toward Fraser's hand. "He was sorry for it later. He said he didn't think about the teeth when he did it. He just thought it would be funny."

Fraser let his hand fall. "Joe was your uncle?" he asked, frowning slightly.

Another nod from Michael. "Yes." He was looking at Fraser with an oddly watchful expression.

Fraser nodded thoughtfully. "Ah. Well, in any case, it was a long time ago. When you see him again, please reassure him that there are no hard feelings on my part, and I hope there are none on his."

"Aniattunik?" Michael asked, smiling a little.

"Aniattunik," Fraser said firmly.

Ray was starting to feel a little left out. "Anyone hungry?" he asked.

"Yes," Michael said, without hesitation, then he smiled disarmingly. "Of course, I always am. So can we go to the market today so I can cook tonight?"

Ray looked over at Fraser, who nodded. "Certainly. That seems to be a good solution to your dilemma."

"Good. It only seems right since you're being generous and sharing so much with me. I hadn't expected anything like this." He waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the living room, and beyond it, the guest room.

"Well, hey, you're almost family," Ray said. "Are scrambled eggs okay with everyone? We've got ham and onions and red pepper I can throw in."

"Sounds great!" Michael said enthusiastically.

Dief yipped his approval, making it clear he expected to be in on the end result, and Fraser shook his head, rolling his eyes in exasperation. Ray gave him the 'he's your wolf' look, and grinned as he headed to the refrigerator to get out ingredients. Some things never changed.

* * *

Fraser settled into the seat next to him and fastened his seat belt, his gaze still trained on Michael as he walked toward the dorm. Ray was amused to see three different chicks stop and do double-takes as Michael passed them. Must be something in the water up north. After a moment, Fraser sighed, and rolled his head as if his shoulders were tense.

"You want to go home?" Ray asked.

"Very much so," Fraser said, tight-voiced. "It's been a long time, and this weekend just served to remind me of that fact."

Fraser was obviously answering a different question than Ray had asked. Already a little off-balance, the answer only made him more so. It had been a long time since Fraser had called the Territories 'home.' Well. He shouldn't make too much of it. It was understandable, really. Completely. He would probably always think of them as home, no matter what. Right. He cleared his throat. "Guess we'd better start doing some planning, then. In the meantime, did you have anything you need to do while we're out running around, or should we head back to the house?"

Fraser finally turned and looked at him, and Ray saw comprehension in his eyes. "Ah. I'm sorry, I mistook your meaning. Home, certainly."

Ray nodded and started the engine. "No problem. I could use a vacation myself. Maybe we can get out the maps and start coordinating dates."

Fraser nodded. "I'd like that."

They drove in silence for a while, then Fraser cleared his throat.

"I. . . ah, believe I owe you an apology. I hadn't realized how disruptive it would be to have Michael stay the entire weekend when I suggested it."

Ray suppressed the urge to drawl 'gee, ya think?' Admissions of fallibility were scarce on the ground around Benton Fraser, and he'd learned not to take them for granted.

"I suppose I let my enthusiasm get the best of me."

That one he couldn't resist. "You? Get over-enthusiastic? Never."

Fraser gave him a rueful smile. "Sorry."

Ray shook his head. "It's okay. He's not so bad, and at least he cooks. And hey, it could've been worse," he mused, remembering some of the people they'd met up north. "It could've been Albert Nahanni and his entire extended family."

"Oh, didn't I tell you? They're coming next week," Fraser said, eyes widening innocently.

For a tenth of a second Ray almost bought it, but then he snorted. "Yeah, right. You are so full of shit."

"Not entirely," Fraser said. "My eyes aren't brown, after all."

Ray laughed, recognizing the line from one of Huey and Dewey's lamer jokes. "Yeah, you're a quart low. Better get more fiber in your diet." He started to relax finally. Things were back to normal. Thank God that the damned seminar was only six weeks long. With any luck, either homework or some of those women he'd seen ogling Michael would keep him occupied for the next five weekends.

Once home they cleaned up the dinner dishes, and sat down in the living room, Fraser with a book, and Ray with the television. It wasn't hockey season so he clicked around until he found something vaguely interesting on the SciFi Channel and settled in to watch. After a while he became aware that although Fraser held his book and looked at it as if he were reading, he hadn't turned a page in at least half an hour. He muted the television and cleared his throat.

"What's up?"

Fraser looked up at him blankly. "Excuse me?"

"Something wrong with the book, or is it just in Middle Slovenian and you have to translate every word?"

Fraser looked at his book, seemed to register it for the first time, and then closed it on his bookmark. "No, nothing's wrong with the book," he said quietly. "I'm just. . . " He shrugged, weirdly at a loss for words. "I don't know. Unsettled."

"In what way?"

Fraser rubbed his eyebrow. "It's hard to explain. I'm not really even sure I know."

"It's probably just that we had company for two days. You're not used to it. Makes you feel all stressed."

A slight frown marred Fraser's forehead. "No, it didn't make me feel stressed. Why on earth should it have?"

Maybe because they never had company, so that in itself was a change in their routine, which was stressful. Should be, anyway. Especially for Fraser, who liked things just so. Not to say he was boring, or in a rut, but . . . oh hell. It just was stressful. Ray thought about the fact that Fraser hadn't found it stressful. Didn't like the conclusions he was jumping to. It was tempting to yell, but that rarely got anywhere with Fraser, so he didn't. "Hunh. I, uh, felt a little stressed, myself."

Fraser nodded. "I realize that. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to put you in an awkward position. I just felt a . . . connection, I suppose, to a time in my life that was better. Well, no, not better, but less complicated, I suppose."

Ray stared at his hands. Nice catch there, Benton, he thought. "How old were you? I mean, when you lived where he's from."

"Well, we moved around a lot, so I wasn't a permanent member of the community, but I first met the Tselihyes when I was ten. We'd just moved to Tuktoyuktuk from Fort Nelson. I'm afraid I wasn't particularly happy about moving and wasn't making much effort to adjust, and of course as the 'new kid' I'd have come in for some teasing in any case. Though in retrospect, I suppose it's only fair to admit that Joseph's otter attack was not. . . entirely unprovoked."

Ray stared at him, suddenly realizing what Fraser was referring to. "Michael's uncle was that guy? The bully with the dead otter guy?" Fraser once explained to Ray that the scar on his shoulder had come from being smacked with a dead otter, but he'd said it was bullying. Now he was saying it wasn't?

Fraser nodded, looking embarrassed. "I'm not saying he wasn't a bully. He was. No one liked him. But in that particular instance he may have had some justification for irritation."

"Oh. Hunh. So what exactly did you do to him?"

"I didn't do anything to him, personally. However, I . . . ah. . . painted the ends of his sister's hair with red nail polish."

Ray burst out laughing. "You what? No, no, I got it. Nail polish? Where the hell did you get that? And don't tell me your grandma wore red nail polish because I won't believe it."

"No, I found it, in Fort Nelson, one of the older girls there must have dropped it, and I picked it up thinking I could use it to paint model kits, but sadly it had a tendency to dissolve the plastic. I'd had it for months by the time I decided to see what it did to hair."

"Oh." Ray shook his head. "And you painted her hair red why? You always had a secret urge to be a beautician?"

Fraser looked at him, one corner of his mouth lifting in an uneven, endearing smile, his gaze amused and rueful. "I liked her."

"You liked. . ." Oh. Ray started to laugh again, softly, shaking his head. "You really are something, aren't you? What, you didn't have any ink handy? Please tell me she didn't have pigtails."

"Oh, no, she wore her hair in a braid. One long braid down the middle of her back. It hung over the back of her seat in class, and she sat directly in front of me, and I was in the back row, since seat assignments had been made before I arrived and the teacher didn't want to move everyone. She was two years older than me, but in the same grade. She had trouble with math. I already knew the lesson being covered, and was a little. . . bored. And since there was no acetone to be had anywhere in Tuk until the thaw, they had to cut off the bottom inch or so of her braid to get rid of it."

Ray winced. "What was her name?" he asked softly, encouraging the rare glimpse into Fraser's history. Usually he only got metaphorical stories.

"Rachel. Her name was Rachel." Fraser's gaze was distant, fixed on the past.

"Did she . . . like you back?" Ray asked, barely breathing.

"Not then, no," Fraser said wryly.

Ray started to smile, and then the emphasis sank in. "Not then. But sometime?"

"Yes," Fraser said, looking at him obliquely. "Several years later."

Whoa. Ray knew him well enough to understand what he was being told. "Was she your first?"

"My first woman," Fraser said, his voice deceptively uninflected.

First . . . Ray tried to decipher that. Got it. Christ. They had never talked about this before. Not in all the time they'd been together. Fraser knew that Stella was his first, though not his only, but Ray had never wanted to ask, worried about bringing up memories of the black-hearted bitch who'd tried to ruin his life. Apparently of the 'don't-kiss-and-tell' school, Fraser hadn't offered any information, and he'd never asked. It was almost shocking now.

"What happened?"

Fraser smiled. "We had a good time."

Ray rolled his eyes. "That's not what I meant."

That sent Fraser's eyebrows up. "Are you asking for details?"

Ray punched his arm. "No! I meant. . . how come you . . . well, I mean, how come it didn't work out?"

"Ah." He looked thoughtful. "It never was something that would work out, really. We were just playing. In pre-contact Inuit culture, young adults were allowed what to western eyes would seem a rather surprising degree of freedom for sexual experimentation. Of course, in more westernized families that's now discouraged, but the Tselihyes were traditionalists. Her mother was a bit of an activist that way. And I've always been taught to respect other cultures. In addition to that, I was seventeen." He smiled, his gaze clearly communicating the fact that no adolescent male was going to turn down no-strings sex. "In any case, even had we been serious, the Tselihyes would never have given one of their daughters to someone they felt couldn't properly provide for her."

"How'd they know you couldn't have provided for her?" Ray asked indignantly.

"Well, for a man my age, I was by their standards a woefully inadequate hunter. They didn't really differentiate between ability to hunt and desire to do so. Also, I was already planning to join the RCMP, which meant I would be away a great deal, and subject to relocation without regard to family preferences. And to top it all off, I was qallunaaq."

That word Ray knew. "White boys need not apply?"

Fraser shrugged. "Essentially. But honestly, neither of us had any illusions of permanence. We were just experimenting."

Ray nodded, trying to wrap his brain around that. With him and Stella it had always, always, been heading for permanence. It was hard for him to imagine that Benton Fraser, proper Scottish Canadian that he was, wouldn't have been the same way. "What'd your grandparents think of that?"

Fraser colored and cleared his throat. "I have absolutely no idea."

Ray laughed. "It was like that, hunh?"

"As you're fond of saying, I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid," Fraser said with a faint smile.

"No, that's for damned sure," Ray agreed.

"In any case, not long after that, the Tselihyes moved to Aklavik, and then my grandparents decided to relocate near Whitehorse to be closer to a wider array of health services, so there was no opportunity to do more even had we wanted to. Which we didn't."

"Right. Got that," Ray said. "You know, it kind of sounds like you've got a nostalgia thing going."

"Perhaps a little," Fraser conceded, and then he frowned and shook his head. "Really, I'm not quite sure what it is. I just feel like. . . I know him."

Ray just hoped like hell it wasn't a mid-life crisis. The timing was about right, and though Fraser wasn't the type to run out and buy a convertible, there was a much easier and cheaper way to kick over the traces. At least the competition would be busy for the next week. That would give him some breathing room. And now he was wondering about Fraser's other first time. Had the otter-swinging Joseph decided to make it up to him? Was that why his nephew was setting off alarms for Fraser?

Or was it worse than that? Was remembering what it had been like with a woman making Fraser realize that it wasn't like that with Ray, and never could be? Damn it. He shouldn't think about that. They'd both had their eyes open. He'd known that neither of them had come into this thing without previous experience, but it had never mattered before.

* * *

Ray had been grilling a suspect in Interview 3 for two hours when the guy's lawyer decided that he'd had enough and called it off. Frustrated, Ray went to get a drink of water and something from the vending machine. He was standing in front of the machine, debating between the Twinkies he really wanted and the apple he should probably have, when it hit him that there were no women in the break room. And there hadn't been any in the hall, come to think of it. Forgetting about his snack, he turned and went to the door to look at his desk. Sure enough, there was a group of women circling it like sharks. Shaking his head, he headed over to disperse the crowd.

"Okay, nothing to see here, move along, move along," he said, making shooing motions with his hands.

As the gathering began to thin, he saw the expected flash of red. Fraser was sitting in the visitor chair next to Ray's desk like he always did. And . . . hell. Right next to him, in a chair pulled over from another desk, was Michael. What was he doing here? Ray quickly smoothed out his frown as Fraser looked up and smiled.

"Hi, Ray."

"Fraser. Michael," he acknowledged. "What's up?"

"It turns out that the seminar adjourns daily at three-thirty, so Michael came by the consulate to say hello. I thought he might enjoy seeing the 27th and getting a feel for American police work."

Uh hunh. So long as that was all he was getting a feel of. "Oh. So you showed him around?"

"I hadn't had time to do a tour, but he's met the lieutenant, and several of the detectives."

"And several of the uniforms, and the civilian aide, and all the file clerks from upstairs, I notice," Ray said with a 'what did I tell you?' glance at Fraser.

Fraser's lips twitched and he cleared his throat. "Yes, well, it was kind of everyone to make Michael feel so welcome."

"Yeah, we're a regular welcome wagon here at the 27th," Ray said dryly. He was about to say more when his phone rang. He moved around behind his desk and grabbed it.


"Detective Kowalski, may I speak with Corporal Fraser, assuming he's there? His cellular phone must be out of range," Amrit Chopra said tersely, sounding downright cranky.

"Sure." Ray made a face and held the handset out to Fraser with his palm over the receiver. "It's your boss. Did you forget your permission slip for this little field trip?"

Fraser frowned and shook his head, but reached for the phone. "Sir? Is there a prob. . . ah. Yes. Yes, certainly. Of course." He glanced up at the clock. "Ten minutes. Yes, sir." He handed the phone back to Ray and stood up. "I have to go. We just received notice that the Armenian Ambassador has had a change of schedule and we have to rework the security arrangements before the reception tonight." He looked regretfully at Michael. "I'm sorry, Michael, I'm afraid we'll have to put this off until some other time."

Ray had a sudden vision of Michael tagging along to the consulate with Fraser, working together with him on the security arrangements, sitting close together as they looked at diagrams and maps and schedules with all that hair trailing over Fraser's arm when Michael leaned forward. . . "Why don't you leave Michael with me?" he blurted. When they both looked at him curiously, he scrambled for a reason. "I, ah, can give him a tour, right? He can't leave without meeting Mort. Then maybe we could do a sort of ride-along. See what's shaking out on the mean streets." Okay, that sounded lame even to him.

Fraser frowned faintly. "I couldn't ask you to take time away from your work," he began.

"It's not a problem," Ray said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I was done anyway. They made me let the guy I was talking to go back to his cell. His lawyer said being stuck in a room with me for two hours was cruel and unusual." He winked, and Michael laughed. Apparently he knew enough about American law, or had watched enough American TV, to recognize the wording.

"Well, if you're sure," Fraser said, still sounding unconvinced.

"I'm sure."

Fraser looked at Michael. "What would you prefer?"

Michael looked around the room, then back, and gave Ray a big grin. "I'd like to stay."

"Oh." Fraser seemed a little taken aback by that. "Well, then. I suppose I'll just. . . go."

Ray nodded. So did Michael. Fraser headed for the door, paused when he got there, looking back at them with a slight frown, then he turned and left the room. Ray turned back to Michael.

"Come on, we'll start in the basement, I'll show you where the bodies are buried, so to speak. Just don't expect me to actually be in the same room with one, okay?"

Michael looked a little confused, but he nodded as he got to his feet. "Sure. Whatever you say."

Ray led the way, trying not to think about how Fraser had hesitated before going. Like he hadn't wanted to leave Michael behind. Fuck. This was bad. Really bad. How the hell was he supposed to keep Michael away from Fraser if he got out of class at three-thirty every day, an hour and a half before Ray got off work? He wondered if he could get away with coming in early and leaving early for a month and a half. The only problem with that was he'd probably have to run it by Welsh. Which meant that he would have to explain why, and he'd be damned if he was going to do that.

"Hey, Ray?"

Ray glanced back, saw Michael looking at him curiously. "Yeah?"

"How far back do you and Fraser go?"

Despite himself, Ray smiled. "Four years." And it would keep going a lot longer if Ray had anything to say about it.

Michael nodded. "Yeah? Hunh. I saw there were pictures from when you guys went looking for Franklin, and from after that. But that was only about three years ago, and there was nothing before that, so I wondered."

"Well, before that I was somebody else, and they kind of discouraged photographs."

Michael cocked his head and studied Ray with a faint frown. "You were someone else?"

Ray chuckled. "Yeah. I used to be Italian." He made a little motion with his hand, like it was a submarine diving under the surface.

The frown on Michael's face intensified, and then suddenly cleared. "Oh! You were somebody else," he said, clearly understanding what Ray meant.

Ray nodded. "Yeah."

"And that was when you met Fraser?"

"Yeah." Ray grinned. "It was quite a day. Performance arsonists, a flaming Buick, and a homicidal wannabe movie diva."

"Sounds exciting," Michael said a little wistfully. "Nothing exciting happens up my way. Not since the Mad Trapper anyway. And that was back in 1931."

"Yeah, well. . . " Ray stopped himself seconds before he said 'keep hanging around Fraser and that'll change.' "Um, excitement isn't always what it's cracked up to be," he finished, wincing a little. Man. He sounded like his dad or something.

"You sound like my grandad," Michael muttered sourly.

Ouch. That was even worse. "Hey! Come on, I'm not that old," Ray complained. "Can't I at least just sound like your dad?"

"Well, I don't have a dad so I kind of have to go with what I know," Michael explained cheerfully. "No insult intended."

Ray tried to think of what to say to that. "Oh. Um. Sorry."

"What for?"

"Your dad."

"Nothing to be sorry for. Just a fact of life. My grandparents raised me."

"Like Fraser's did," Ray said. No wonder he and Fraser got along so well. They had a lot in common. Damn it.

Michael nodded. "Yeah. Kind of like. Except I have two aunts, three uncles, and fourteen cousins who almost all live in the same town, so I have like-- a zillion parents and brothers and sisters. At least it feels like it to me sometimes."

"I'll bet," Ray said. "Can't get away with anything, can you?"

"Not a damned thing," Michael said with a wry smile.

"That's a lot of family." He felt faintly relieved. Not so much in common with Fraser after all. "That's not usual, is it, to be stationed in your home town? I thought Fraser said they usually move people around."

"Mostly they do, but they're trying to promote Aboriginal Policing, so they usually put us with our own people. It makes a better fit. Plus I'm not actually stationed in Aklavik, I work out of Inuvik, so my territory includes home, but isn't limited to it. Besides, that way it's finally my turn to keep people from getting away with anything."

He grinned engagingly, and Ray laughed. "Right. Okay. Makes sense." Ray stopped outside the door labeled 'morgue' and gestured toward it. "Come on, let's go meet Mort."

* * *

Ray pulled into the garage a little after one. It was late, but hey, at least he'd kept Michael away from Fraser all night. Though he'd realized at some point that it probably wasn't needed tonight, since Fraser was doing security for that reception. Oh well. He was definitely going to have to figure out a Plan B, though, since keeping Michael out half the night every night was really not an option.

He closed the garage door and headed into the house, nearly tripping over Diefenbaker in the dark. Swearing, he fumbled the light switch on and looked into Dief's reproachful gaze. "Sorry," he said quietly. "Didn't think you guys'd be home yet. Or did you get banished?"

Dief gave him a superior look and Ray chuckled. "Yeah, okay, so you know how to behave around diplomats. Fraser already in bed?"

Dief whuffed, confirming his guess, so Ray scratched his ears, turned the light back off, and headed upstairs. All the lights were out so he took off his shoes downstairs and was careful not to make a lot of noise as he got ready for bed. It was weird that Fraser was already home. Consular receptions usually didn't end until two, and then there was cleanup, so Fraser rarely got home before three. If he'd known it was going to be an early evening he'd have checked in, or at least left him a message.

He slid into bed, settling into its familiar comfort with a sigh. He lay there listening to the steady sound of Fraser's breathing for a moment before turning onto his side, automatically reaching out, then he hesitated. He'd managed not to wake him up so far, he probably shouldn't push it. He pulled his hand back and tucked it under his pillow instead. He'd have time to get in some touching in the morning.

* * *

The blare of the alarm woke him. He waited for Fraser to turn it off, since they kept it on that side of the bed because Ray had a tendency to turn it off in his sleep. But Fraser didn't turn it off. That wasn't really unusual. After all those years sharing a room with Dief, Fraser could sleep through persistent loud obnoxious noises, even if the whisper of a credit-card in a door jamb brought him bolt upright. Ray rolled over to nudge him into wakefulness, and found. . . nothing. The other side of the bed was empty. In fact, it had been empty long enough that the sheets were cool under his hand.

He sighed and crawled over to shut off the alarm, and then sat up, scratching his jaw and yawning. So much for touching. He got up and headed for the bathroom, noticing absently that the sink was dry. So was the shower. He felt Fraser's toothbrush. Dry. He'd have had to get up pretty damned early for that. Curious, he abandoned the bathroom and wandered downstairs. No Fraser. No Dief. And Fraser's running shoes were gone. He must have decided to go running early, to beat the heat and humidity of his usual early evening runs. Good idea, really. Which explained why the shower was dry. No point in showering before you ran.

Reassured, Ray got ready for work, and was in the kitchen with coffee and the paper when Fraser and Dief came back. Dief headed straight for his water dish as Fraser paced the kitchen, cooling down. He was flushed and sweaty, and looked like sex personified.Which was totally unfair, especially since it had been four days now since Ray had gotten a chance to get him flushed and sweaty like that in bed.

"Good run?" Ray asked when he thought he'd had long enough to catch his breath.

Fraser nodded, his mouth set a little grimly as he bent to massage the back of one calf. "Yes."


That got a nod. Ray got up and walked over to where Fraser leaned against the door, one hand working the tight muscle. "Let me. You know I'm good at that," he said, dropping down on his knees and putting his hand on Fraser's leg.

Fraser flinched. Ray glanced up. "Bad one?" he asked, nudging Fraser's hand aside, tugging his sweat-pants up to expose bare calf. He could see the knot there and went for it, knowing just the right amount of pressure to use. Fraser steadied himself with a hand on Ray's shoulder, and when Ray started working on the knot his fingers dug in as he gasped.

"Sorry," Ray said, gentling his touch. Fraser's fingers relaxed slightly on his shoulder. "You were home early last night."

There was a short pause before Fraser replied. "Yes. Once the Armenian ambassador left at nine, there was really no need for me to stay, as Constables Anders and Chao had things well in hand, so I asked if I could leave and my request was approved."

Ray looked up, startled. Fraser never left early. "You did?"

An odd, rueful expression crossed Fraser's face. "Yes. I thought I might be able to catch you and Michael. I tried your cell, and Michael's room, but got no answer." Somehow the statement became a question.

"Shit, sorry," Ray apologized. "The cell ran out of charge, and I didn't think anything about it since I figured you'd be tied up all night. After I took Mike on the tour of the 2-7, we corralled an out of service blue and white and went for a little drive. I showed him my old beat and all that, talked about how things've changed."

"Surely that didn't take until one a.m.?"

"Nah. Then we were hungry so we turned in the car and decided to go to Tony Roma's and you know what the wait there is like."

"Indeed," Fraser said. "Was there some reason for that choice?"

Ray knew he'd subjected Fraser to his 'Tony Roma's isn't that great' rant enough times that he'd be curious why he chose that particular place. He shrugged as well as he could with both hands on Fraser's leg. "Just . . . it's famous you know? Like the Sears Tower. I figured if you could do the tower, I could manage Tony's for him."

"Ah. And after dinner?"

Ray was starting to feel like he was under interrogation, and he didn't like it. Fraser didn't need to know where Michael was every minute. "Oh, you know, the usual. Took him to a leather bar, got him drunk, and had my wicked way with him in the back seat of the GTO," he said sarcastically.

Fraser tensed under his hands, and then slowly relaxed again. "That's . . . very funny, Ray." He shook his leg free of Ray's grip. "It's feeling much better now, thank you. You'd best get to work or you'll be late."

Right. Message gotten. Ray stood up. "Yeah. Guess I'd better. I'm sure everyone at work would be stunned senseless if I was late, can't have that." He got his coffee cup and put it in the dishwasher, feeling uneasy. He didn't like leaving with this strain between them, didn't want to chance that being the last thing he ever said to Fraser. It was something a cop always had to think about, a lesson he'd learned a long time back. He turned back to Fraser, who had gotten out a glass and was filling it from the bottled water dispenser. "My turn to cook tonight, I was thinking about grilled chicken. That okay?"

"I'll be late so don't worry about me," Fraser said tersely, without turning to look at him.

Ray waited for a moment for him to elaborate on that, but he didn't. "Okay. Well, later then. Have a good day." He stepped closer, wanting something-- a touch, a goodbye kiss, whatever, but Fraser just nodded and started to drink. Ray dug his keys out of his pocket and headed out to the garage. It was not starting out to be a good day at all.

* * *

Determined not to let their morning mood continue, Ray worked through lunch so he could take off work an hour early without any crabbing from Welsh. He swung by the market for dinner ingredients and went home to cook, fast, glad they had a propane grill in addition to the traditional charcoal. While the chicken was cooking he thawed a container of rice pilaf leftover from the last time he'd made it, made a salad, and when everything was finished he put the food into plastic containers and headed for the consulate.

He pulled up just as they were locking the doors. Constable Anders waved at him and waited as he got out and jogged up the steps with his bag of goodies.

"Ray! Good to see you! How are you today?" Jeff Anders was nothing at all like Fraser, or Turnbull, or even Thatcher. And for sure nothing like Frobisher. He was just an ordinary guy. It had been kind of a surprise to Ray that ordinary guys were allowed to be Mounties, but he guessed his perception had been skewed by his early exposure to the others.

Ray wobbled a hand in a so-so gesture and shrugged. "Hey, Jeff. Guess I can't complain. Fraser around?"

Anders nodded. "Yes. Chopra's had him working on some big project most of the day, and I guess he's going to be stuck here for a while longer."

Ray held up the grocery bag he carried. "Yeah, he said he'd be working late so I brought dinner."

"You know, I might have to confiscate that in the name of national security," Anders said, eyeing the sack hungrily.

Ray held the bag protectively. "Hey, paws off. You got a wife. Go home and eat her cooking."

"Her cooking's not as good as yours," Anders said plaintively.

Ray laughed, shaking his head. "So take her out to dinner. You get better food, and score points too." He winked.

"Good idea, maybe I will," Anders replied, grinning. "Anyway, Corporal Fraser's in the formal dining room. That's the only table big enough for all the paper he's got spread out."

"Gotcha. Have a nice night."

"You too," Anders called, as he walked toward the back door and the small parking area behind the Consulate.

Ray turned right just before the empty reception desk, and headed through the ballroom to the dining room. He could hear voices. Fraser, Chopra, a woman, and another man. Hmm. Maybe he should have brought enough to share. He rounded the corner and saw that the woman was Constable Chao, the pretty Eurasian woman who had replaced Turnbull. The other man was, oh, big surprise, Michael. Ray hung back for a moment, noticing how Fraser and Chopra were both watching Denise Chao, who was flirting with Michael so blatantly it was almost funny. As he watched, Chopra cleared his throat.

"Constable Chao, it's after six."

She blinked, caught in mid-flirt, and looked at her watch. A flush rose in her face. "Oh. So it is. Time to go home."

Chopra nodded. "Indeed. We don't pay overtime without a good reason, you know."

"No, sir, of course not, sir."

While that interplay was going on, Ray saw Michael glance over at Fraser and smile, sharing his amusement at the exchange. Sort of. Except it wasn't quite a smile. It was more of a curved open mouth, with a little out-curl of tongue that looked awfully fam . . .

Holy shit.

Ray felt like he'd been punched right in the gut. No. Impossible. It was impossible. Fraser wasn't old enough. No, this had to be another one of Bob Fraser's little indiscretions, like Maggie. Except, except. . . Fraser had said he'd known one of the Tselihye girls, in the biblical sense. Which would be kind of a big coincidence and kind of sick besides if both Bob and. . . no, just don't go there. Plus Michael had said his grandparents raised him and they were the age of Fraser's parents, which put Michael's parents in Fraser's generation, not in Fraser's dad's generation.

Ray did a little math in his head. Added seventeen years and nine months to Fraser's birth date, subtracted the result from the current year and got. . . twenty two. Shit. Not impossible. Not at all. He wished he had a chair handy. He settled for leaning heavily against the nearest doorframe, trying not to stare at Michael, then at Fraser, as 'who's your daddy' took on a whole new meaning. Oh fuck. Fuck. Fraser didn't know. He had no fucking clue. Ray would bet his life on that. But Michael knew. Oh yeah. The little shit knew. Why else had he come down, ingratiating himself into their lives? What the hell did he want? Some kind of blackmail?

Just then Fraser looked up and noticed him, and his feelings must've shown on Ray's face, because the amusement faded from Fraser's eyes and he looked worried.

"Ray? Are you all right?"

Showing way too much. Okay. Get with the program here. "Yeah. Yeah, sorry. Just kind of lightheaded," he lied, trying to cover his ass. "Didn't get a lunch break today."

Fraser frowned. "Skipping meals isn't very . . ."

"Fraser," Ray said warningly.


"I. . . brought dinner." He held up the bag. "You said you were working late. I didn't know you'd have company." He glanced at Michael, scowling. They were going to have to have a little talk. Soon. In private.

"Well, I'm just going now," Chopra said heartily. "My wife worries if I'm not home on time. She thinks I've been abducted or mugged. She's still not quite comfortable here. Constable Chao, can I walk you out?"

"Of course, sir," Chao said, following him out of the room with a wistful backward glance.

Michael stood up. "Hey, you know, I need to go, too. I've got a. . . a study group. Right now. I have to go."

"A study group? For a seminar?" Fraser was clearly skeptical. Not surprising, since Michael was about as good a liar as Fraser was.

"I meant a discussion group," Michael said, his face turning a slightly ruddier shade. "We were getting together at dinner, in the dorm."

"Ah," Fraser said, not sounding convinced, but using his 'I'm not going to push it' voice. "Well then, since you're running late perhaps we can take you over to the university."

"No, that's okay, I can walk," Michael said hastily. "You have to stay and work, and your food will get cold."

Ray sensed an opportunity and went for it. "The food can reheat, but there's no need for us to both go, Frase. You stay and keep on doing. . . whatever it is you're doing, and I'll run him over to the U. and be back in a flash. Okay?"

Michael looked as if he was going to object but he'd painted himself into a corner by saying he was late.

Fraser looked from Ray to Michael and back, and for a moment some emotion flickered across his face, what was it . . . ? It almost looked like a strange combination of fear and resignation. Neither made sense, and in any case, it was gone so fast Ray didn't have time to really study it before it smoothed into bland.

"All right, I suppose that does make more sense."

Ray put the bag of food down on one of the chairs, and jerked a thumb at the door. "Pitter patter, Mike, let's get at 'er."

Michael grinned. "'Pitter patter'? That's cute."

Ray scowled. "Who're you calling cute?"

Michael looked innocent. "Nobody. Nobody at all."

Ray laughed, and then remembered he was pissed and stopped. Damn it, why couldn't he remember he didn't want to like the kid? He led Michael out to the car and waited until they were strapped in and moving before he spoke.

"He doesn't know, does he?"

Michael looked confused. "Know what?"

"Who you are. Who you really are. Who he is to you."

There was a long silence before Michael finally replied.

"You know? How. . . ."

"I'm a detective. I solve puzzles for a living. Give me enough pieces, and I can usually see the pattern."

"Ah," Michael said, his voice quiet, and serious. "No. You're right. He doesn't know. My mother never told him. My grandparents forbade it."

"You think that was right?" Ray demanded, with an angry glance at him.

"I. . . don't know. That's part of what I came here to find out."

"Which is the other thing I want to know. What the hell are you doing? What do you want from him? What kind of game are you playing? I don't care if you are his son, if you hurt him, I'll kill you."

"I know you would," Michael said softly.

It was the same exact voice Fraser always used to calm him down. Ray couldn't believe he hadn't figured it out before now. It was so damned obvious.

"I could tell that, right from the start," Michael continued, staring out the windshield. "You would, just like Dief would. You'd rip out my throat. I was . . . surprised. You surprised me. I didn't know. I never heard he was. . . I mean, he and Mom . . . ."

He stopped, clearly not quite able to say what he meant. Ray knew, though. And he felt an odd moment of relief that he didn't have to deal with making that revelation. For a brief second he wondered how Michael felt about it, but then he realized it didn't matter. It was pretty personal, after all. What it boiled down to was that Fraser might be his father but Michael didn't know shit about him.

"I was married for fifteen years. People change. You didn't answer my question."

"That's because I don't know the answer."

Ray flicked a glance at him, spotted a parking lot and pulled into it, waving his PD hang-tag at the attendant. "Bullshit. Don't lie to me. Why did you come? Blackmail?"

"Blackmail?" Michael was obviously shocked. "No! I never thought that. Not for a minute. I came for the seminar. I wouldn't have come just to come. But when I realized I would have a chance to meet him, I guess I just thought maybe if I did, I might finally be able to separate the man from the myth." He laughed, a dry, humorless sound. "Do you have any idea what it's like to grow up knowing you're the son of a legend, but never knowing him at all?"

Ray looked at him for a long moment, and then shook his head. "No. But he does."

Michael frowned. "What do you mean?"

"It's like. . . the Fraser Curse or something. Like father, like son, only his father chose to do it, and Fraser couldn't. He never had a choice. That's why this is so goddamned fucking unfair. So wrong. How could they do that? Why did they do that? It's not what he would have wanted. He would have been there for you."

"Yeah," Michael said, and Ray was startled to see a faint gleam of moisture in his eyes. "I could tell that, too. He's a good man."

"You bet your ass he's a good man. They broke the fucking mold with him."

Michael gazed back at him solemnly, his expression eerily reminiscent of Fraser. "I think maybe they did with you, too."

Ray scowled. "Do not do that. Do not flirt with me. That's just. . . wrong."

"What?" Michael squawked, taken aback. "I wasn't! I never did! I don't even like you, I mean not that way. I like girls!"

He suddenly sounded all of fourteen, and Ray could see the truth of his words reflected in his face. He stared at him for a moment longer, then nodded. "Okay. Sorry."

"You've got a weird idea of flirting," Michael muttered.

"Yeah, well." Ray shrugged.

Michael frowned. "Is that how. . . "

Ray felt his mouth trying to curve upward. "Yeah."

"Oh. I. . . that explains it."


Michael smiled a little. "He's not very. . . ordinary, is he?"

"No shit, Sherlock."

Michael snorted, then he sighed and fidgeted with his hair for a moment before looking up again. "When did you figure it out?"

"Well, what really did it was when I walked in there today and you had this . . . expression, that made you look exactly like him. And when I put that together with some stuff he told me, and some other stuff I'd noticed but not really noticed, you know, and it just sort of all fell together."

"He told you about him and my mom?"

"Sort of. How long have you known?"

"Since I was fifteen. I was totally out of control, getting into trouble all the time, and any time I got caught I played the 'poor abandoned kid' card. You know the drill, how it was all my deadbeat dad's fault for abandoning me, and my mom's fault for not wanting me, that kind of crap. So one day after Constable Van Eck brought me home after catching me at some vandalism for about the twentieth time, Anaanatsiaq got fed up with it and sat my ass down and told me exactly what happened, and why they made the decisions they did. That it had nothing to do with anyone not wanting me, but just the opposite. That they hadn't wanted to give me up to the Outside, so they made sure it couldn't happen. Then she sent me out for a week in the wild, alone, and told me to think about myself."

He looked up for a moment, and Ray nodded, just to keep him going.

"It really shook me up, to see it like that. To understand. And the more I thought about myself, the worse I felt. I was letting everyone down. My mother's people were all good, law abiding people, well except for my Uncle Joe but he's shaped up since his spell in jail, mostly. And on the other side, my dad's a Mountie, and my granddad's a Mountie. Not just any Mounties, either. Famous ones. And there I was trying hard to become a criminal, bringing shame on myself and my family, and it wasn't anyone else's fault because I had a perfectly good life. Better than most, really. It made me think. A lot. And I had to kind of try to figure out how I got myself where I was and start. . . ungetting there. And somehow in ungetting there, I ended up . . . here." He stopped, obviously waiting for Ray to say something.

Ray smiled wryly. It sounded pretty damned familiar, stirring memories of a crypt, a conversation, a confession. 'I took this bus . . .' He nodded. "You can't go forward until you go backward. You can't run away from your past, because it's in your skin, it stays with you. But you can figure out how you got where you are and what direction you need to go from there." Ray decided to press a little. "Why didn't you tell him when you first came?"

"Well, I didn't know him, and I wasn't sure I wanted to tell him if it turned out he wasn't someone I could handle in my life." He sighed, and sent a rueful glance at Ray. "I'd met Sergeant Fraser a couple of times before he died, and man, if he'd been like that, no way I could have told him. It would be better to just leave things as they were. But then I met Fraser and. . . I liked him. A lot."

"So you're going to tell him now?" Ray asked.

Michael pushed his hair back with one hand and let out an explosive sigh. "God. How do you tell someone something like that? It seems wrong to just walk up to someone and say 'Oh by the way, you're my dad.' Kind of a bombshell, you know?"

"Yeah, but you need to tell him. He needs to know. It's not right he doesn't know."

"I know. I do know. I just. . . don't know how."

"I think he's almost got it already. He's been weird ever since you got here. I thought it was because. . . well, that's beside the point. The thing is, you remind him of his past, and even though he hasn't quite caught on yet, you remind him of him. He's been thinking about that time a lot, and it's not like he forgets anything. I think if you find a way to tell him who your mom is, he'll figure out the rest."

Michael nodded. "When do you think I should tell him?"

"Now. I think you should tell him now. That thing about a discussion group was bullshit right?"

"Yeah. I just thought you guys needed some time without me around."

"Thought so. You're a bright guy, but a lousy liar. Okay, we're going back. And you're going to tell him."

Michael looked a little pale, but he nodded. "All right. But will you stay? I?d feel better."

Ray nodded. He didn't say he'd never had any intention of leaving Fraser to face that alone.

* * *

To explain why Michael hadn't stayed at the university they made up a story about how the discussion group had apparently decided to go somewhere else and hadn't left a note. They shared out the food between the three of them, Dief complaining bitterly about having to make do with kibble. After they ate Fraser made coffee and dug out some tea biscuits, and they were sitting around the table when Michael started talking about sports, which led to traditional games, and then he finally managed to find an opening.

"Do you remember playing amaruujaq with my mother?" Michael asked conversationally.

Fraser smiled. "I played wolf with pretty much everyone in Tuktoyuktuk at one time or another. It was a popular game."

"This would have been just before my family moved away from Tuk and went to Aklavik."

Fraser thought for a moment, and then his eyes narrowed and he stared at Michael. "You know, I just realized I don't know who your mother is."

Michael nodded. "I know. I didn't say. Mom's name is Rachel."

Fraser went white, the color draining out of his skin so fast that Ray actually thought he was going to pass out. Thankfully he was sitting down, or he probably would have fallen down. He opened his mouth and his lips formed words, but no sound came out. He tried again, his voice raw.

"I thought. . . I thought you were Gabe's son. Your last name. . ." He stopped, and looked at Michael, waiting. There was no need to finish the sentence.

"My last name is Tselihye because my mother and father didn't marry," Michael said quietly. "My grandparents decided that would be best."

"They did." Fraser's voice was flat, his gaze haunted. "May I ask your birth date?"

Michael gave it, and Fraser dropped his head into his hands with a shuddering sigh. Michael looked worriedly at Ray, who was worried himself. He'd known this would be hard, but it was harder to watch than he'd thought it would be.

"Michael," Fraser rasped, lifting his head, looking directly into Michael's eyes. "Am I your father?"

Michael's answer was a whisper. "Yes."

"Oh dear God," Fraser breathed. He rubbed at his forehead, his hand shaking visibly. "I didn't know. My God. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't know."

His face was a mask, his eyes dark, haunted, full of shame. Ray wanted to hold him. Wanted to hit Michael's damned grandparents. Of all the stupid fucking things to do. This was their fault, all this pain. God. And there was no way to make it easier. No way at all.

"I know you didn't know. I know that. I don't blame you," Michael said, reaching hesitantly across the table to put his hand on Fraser's forearm.

Fraser pulled back and scrubbed his fingers through his hair, looking utterly lost. "You should. I was old enough to know the potential consequences. I should have asked."

Oh shit. Ray should have anticipated this one. "Ben." He used the name he usually only ever used when they were alone together. "Come on, you were just a kid. So was she. Kids don't think."

Michael nodded. "Exactly."

Fraser stared from Ray to Michael, and then back, seeming bewildered. Finally he pushed back his chair and stood up. "I'm sorry. I . . . I have work to do." With that, he turned and walked out of the kitchen.

Michael looked at Ray, shaken. "That didn't go very well."

Ray sighed. "I should've guessed he'd go the guilt route. He almost always does. Damn his dad anyway. It could've gone worse, though. He does this. He works, and he thinks and he figures things out. I think it'll be okay. He just needs a little time."

"Yeah," Michael nodded uncertainly. "Yeah, true. I know it hit me pretty hard when I found out."

"Right. So just give him a while. You've had a long time to get used to it. He hasn't."

"I. . . should I stay?"

Ray thought about it. "No. Why don't you go on back to the university? He's going to need to. . . what do they call it. . . process? But don't worry, okay? It'll be fine."

Michael gave him a wan smile. "You think so?"

Ray nodded. "Yeah. I do." He dug in his pocket and got out his phone. "Let me call a taxi to take you back to the university."

"No, that's all right. I'll walk."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah. I think I need some processing time myself."

Ray nodded. "Okay, if you want. You know the way?" Michael shot him an exasperated look, and Ray grinned. "Yeah, yeah, I know, you navigate by the sun and stars. Look, we'll be in touch. Soon. I promise."

"Thank you. For talking to me, and for making me tell him," Michael said, looking awkward and impossibly young.

It was weird to think that he?d been that young, a lifetime ago. He nodded, holding back the 'don't thank me yet' that wanted to slip out. "No problem."

Once Michael was gone, Ray locked the front door and headed back to the dining room to check on Fraser.

"Ben? You want to. . . " He stopped in the doorway. No Fraser. He must've gone to the bathroom.

After a couple of minutes, when Fraser hadn't reappeared, he went and checked the bathroom. It was empty. He checked Fraser's office, then the other offices, and even the upstairs rooms. Nothing. Nada. Fraser was gone. He'd just left. With his work scattered across the table, the consulate unlocked, and two unauthorized people in the building. Yeah, sure, he'd know that Ray and Michael weren't going to go rifling through the drawers but still. It was completely and totally unlike him. In fact, it was so unlike him that Ray refused to believe it. He thought of all the places he'd checked, and remembered one he hadn't.

He went back into the kitchen, unbolted the seldom-used back door, and opened it. Fraser was sitting on the back step, his arms around his knees as he stared out at the overgrown garden in the small courtyard there. He must've gone out the front and walked around. It wasn't near sunset, but the building threw a sort of false twilight over the enclosure, making it feel later than it was. Dief was curled at Fraser's feet, staring up at him worriedly. For a moment the wolf shifted his gaze accusatively to Ray, and then returned it to Fraser. Ray eased himself down beside them and just sat there in silence for a little while.

After several minutes had passed, Ray snuck a glance at Fraser, and saw how taut he was, and that there was a knot of tight muscle just above the hinge of his jaw. He'd locked his left hand around his right wrist, and his right hand was clenched into a fist, knuckles white. Fraser was angry. No. Way past angry. Furious even. That startled him. He'd expected guilt. Sadness. Shock. But not anger. Though of course, once he thought about it, it made sense. Perfect sense.

He waited, watching Fraser's hands, until his fingers unclenched a little. Only then did he speak. "Let's go home, Ben."

Fraser slowly turned his head. Looked back at the building, and then at Ray, eyebrows lifted.

"I sent him back to the dorm. We know how to reach him. I told him we'd call. He's okay, he understands. Come on. Home."

Fraser nodded. Ray got up and extended a hand to him. Fraser took it and Ray braced him to his feet. Once back inside, Fraser reached for a dirty dish but Ray took it out of his hands.

"Leave it. We'll come in early tomorrow."

Fraser nodded. Still not talking. Probably couldn't unclench his jaw enough. Dief herded him past the turn-off to the dining room, though Fraser still insisted on turning out all the lights and locking up. Ray didn't turn on the radio in the car, letting the silence cocoon them as he drove. It didn't bother him. After all, Fraser was the one who'd taught him not to be afraid of silence. At home he let it continue as they changed into comfortable clothing. After giving Dief fresh water in the kitchen, Ray joined Fraser out on the glider on the back porch, shoulder to shoulder.

It wasn't silent there. Birds called. A dog barked a few doors away. Some kids were playing nearby, their voices shrill and excited. Someone was mowing their lawn. The hiss and chitter of sprinklers punctuated the other sounds. They rocked for a long, long time, side by side, as the sun finally slid below the horizon, painting the hazy sky with orange and yellow. Then the colors faded, shading down into a deep blue-gray. A few stars twinkled bravely. Ray just sat, waiting. Being there. Ready.

"I always thought I belonged, there."

Fraser's voice sounded rusty, and it startled Ray a little, coming out of the blue as it did. He waited for more.

"I thought I was like them. Part of them."

Ray bit his tongue. It wasn't his turn yet and he knew it.

"I wasn't. Otherwise they would never have made that decision for me."

There. Now it was his turn. "They might have. People make wrong decisions all the time. They fuck up. Relatives included. Maybe relatives especially. But you're partly right. It wasn't their decision to make. Not theirs alone. That was wrong."

"It was worse than wrong. It was. . . cruel. And not just to me. Rachel. . . Michael. My grandparents. My father. They never even had a chance to meet him. Christ, Ray. I've missed so much, we all missed so much. And it's gone forever. Lost."

Ray put his hand on Fraser's thigh just below the edge of his cargo shorts, rubbing lightly, feeling the dampness of sweat, the slide of hair under his palm. "I know."

Fraser stared down at his hand, and then lifted his eyes to Ray's. The soft amber glow of the neighbor's porch light let him see the fear in them. Fear? What the. . . .

"I thought I was losing you." Fraser whispered.

Ray didn't understand. He moved his hand to thread his fingers through Fraser's, and waited.

Fraser's gaze didn't waver. "You'd been. . . you liked him, I could see that. You said he was attractive. You were out so late. . . ."

Ray understood finally. With a dry laugh he lifted his hand to rub his forehead, inadvertently lifting Fraser's hand too. "Shit, Ben. I thought you. . . you kept talking about connection, and simpler times, and going home, and that you liked him, and . . . I was just trying to keep him away from you!"

Fraser stared at him.

Ray stared back, willing belief.

Fraser shook his head, a tiny smile trying to curve one corner of his mouth. "Lord, what fools. . . ."

Ray looked heavenward, shaking his head. "Christ. All that damned worry for no good reason at all, both of us!" He snorted suddenly. "You know, this whole thing seems kind of familiar. You think I want him, I think you want him, neither of really wants him, and it turns out he's related? Maggie would be laughing her ass off right about now. What's a guy got to do to get laid around here anyway, adopt you?"

Fraser laughed out loud, even if he did look appalled. "Ray!"

"It's been a week!" Ray complained. "Maybe I should head down to Boystown. . . ."

Fraser let go of his hand and grabbed his shoulders, leaning in close to rub his face along Ray's, their stubble rasping. "No," he growled.

Ray heard so much unspoken there. Responded to it, tilting his head a little, until Fraser's mouth covered his, hard, rough, still a little angry, very possessive. Ray echoed those emotions back to him. Changed them. The anger faded, the possession didn't. When Fraser lifted his mouth, and then bent his head to tongue the hollow of his throat, Ray felt nearly desperate to reclaim it. No. To reclaim him.

"Inside," he whispered against Fraser's hair.

Fraser was on his feet instantly, pulling Ray with him. They kissed as they half walked and half danced to the kitchen door. As the screen door swung closed behind them, Dief squeezed through and out into the fenced back yard. Considerate of him. They wouldn't have to interrupt anything to let him out. Ray took a step toward the door into the living room, only to have Fraser drag him back and push him up against the nearest counter, leaning into him, hands braced on either side of him. His pulse sped up as Fraser scented him, breathing in deeply as he rubbed his nose along Ray's left cheekbone, then his right. Ray reached out blindly to turn out the kitchen light, missing twice before his outstretched fingers found the switch. No need to give the neighbors a free show.

Fraser shoved his hands up beneath Ray's t-shirt, pushing it up, and finally off, with a little wrestling. Ray returned the favor. Enough of the neighbor's back porch light shone through the screen door's frame to stripe them both with bars of light and shadow that seemed to slide over their skin as they moved, alternately highlighting and hiding a nipple, then ribs, then a collarbone, then navel. It reminded him of them. Some things out in the open, visible, other things hidden, shadowed, more hidden than seen, and always changing. He turned his head, watching the light flow across Fraser's jaw, then his lips. They were parted slightly, and looked soft and sad. He needed to change that. Fraser's words echoed in his head. 'I thought I belonged.' That was it. That was it.

He caught Fraser's shoulders and pushed, reversing their positions, and then kissed him, feeling the softness and sadness surrender to his mouth. He slid one hand down Fraser's bare torso to find the button on his shorts and open it, and then easing the zipper down. Fraser cupped the back of his head to bring him closer, angling his mouth to deepen the kiss almost painfully. Ray pushed into him, forcing him back against the counter, letting Fraser take his weight as he worked a hand down beneath the waistband of his boxers and palmed his cock. He brushed his hand lightly up and down the shaft once, and then curled his fingers around the hard length and squeezed.

Fraser's breath exploded into his mouth in a gasp, and then he wrenched his mouth from Ray's and let his head fall back, baring his throat. Ray licked a swathe from collarbone to jaw, then up along the curve toward his ear, feeling the rasp of stubble on his tongue, tasting sweat, and the faintly spicy flavor of their soap. He bit Fraser's earlobe, just hard enough to get a second gasp.

Fraser shuddered. Ray let go of Fraser's cock for a moment to hook his thumbs in the sides of his shorts and boxers and maneuver them past his hard-on, then let them fall. Dropping to squat at Fraser's feet, he put one hand against his hip, wrapped the other one around his cock again, and leaned in, opening wide and taking him in, using strong suction, and stronger rhythm. Fraser's hips surged involuntarily, then stilled, his thighs taut as he held himself motionless. Ray worked him hard, breathing in the heavy scent of his arousal, familiar and hot. His own cut-off sweats were loose and stretched, fortunately, or he'd be too uncomfortable to keep going.

At first Fraser's cock tasted no different than the skin of his throat had, but after a few moments the familiar, bittersweet taste of pre-come began to spread over his tongue. He let his hand move from Fraser's hip to his ass, cupping it, fingers slipping between his cheeks, sweat slicking his fingertips as he brushed them in the crease, and then let one enter, just enough to tease. Fraser pushed back against his hand, unable to stay still, and he reached down to lay one palm against Ray's face, fingers touching his cheek where they hollowed as he sucked.

Above him he could hear Fraser breathing fast and loud through his nose. Ray looked up to see him sucking on his own fingers. He shivered. Belong. He could show Fraser he belonged. Completely. He slowed his stroking, and let Fraser's cock slip from his mouth. It nudged wetly along Ray's cheek and Fraser shuddered, and moaned his name.

"Turn around," he whispered. The first words in what felt like hours. "Spread your legs."

Fraser gave him rare compliance, turning wordlessly to stand, feet apart, hands braced flat on the counter. He was still breathing hard. Ray ran his hands up his thighs, cupped his cheeks, spread them, and leaned in, using his tongue. Fraser groaned, and his knees tried to buckle. Ray chuckled, and waited while he shifted again, taking more of his weight on his hands, his back bowed, ass out. Yeah. He went for it again, vaguely hearing Fraser's breathless, desperate grunts as he opened him up first with tongue, then adding a finger. There wasn't enough wet for two, though, so he resisted Fraser's obvious desire for more, just zoning out on the taste and the feel of him, driving him crazy.

A thump somewhere above him made him jump. There was a curse, scrabbling sounds, and then Fraser was reaching back, his own fingers sliding slickly over Ray's hand, along his finger, and then two were pushing up inside, next to Ray's. It took a moment to recognize the familiar smell of cooking oil, and if he hadn't been so turned on by the feeling of Fraser's fingers in there with his own, he would have laughed. Thank God for Fraser's uncanny ability to find whatever they needed, wherever they needed it.

"Ray. . . . " His name was a plea.

"I got you," he whispered, slipping his finger free, watching pale fingers, and pale skin striped with light as Fraser kept stretching himself. He pushed up to his feet, his knees and thighs protesting the long crouch. A puddle of oil on the counter gleamed faintly. He swiped a hand through it, shoved his shorts down with the other hand and stroked the oil over his own cock. "I got you, Ben."

He guided himself into place, felt Fraser's fingers caress him briefly as they slipped out, and then he was there, pushing in before Fraser could close up again. Fraser moaned, pushing back into his thrust, and there was a moment of resistance, then he yielded and Ray was gloved in smooth, hot flesh all the way to the root. They stopped there, both of them shaking, for long seconds. Ray could feel Fraser's heartbeats all around him, strong and fast. Fraser was his. He belonged. To Ray. His.

He pulled back, thrust again. Fraser's feet slipped, then braced wider, his hands back on the counter top again as Ray began to move, slowly at first, but as the clasp around him eased a little he picked up the pace, until they were slamming together, hard, and deep. The only sounds in the room were their panting breath, the slap of their bodies, the hum of the refrigerator. Ray slipped one of his arms around Fraser's waist, slid his slick hand down Fraser's damp belly to find his cock and curl his fingers around it. God, he was hard. So hard. It must hurt to be that hard, in that good-hurt kind of way. He played with the foreskin, sliding it over the head each time he drove into the tight heat of his ass, squeezing, stroking, pulling.

It was too good. Too good. He felt his own orgasm rising, tightening his balls, and he didn't hold it back this time. Holding back wasn't what this was about. He shoved himself in, deep, deep, and came, but didn't stop stroking. As his own orgasm waned, still-electric, Fraser groaned loudly, thrust hard into his hand, and pumped out his own release in spurts of blood-hot semen. Ray caught it in his hand, and dragged his fingers across Fraser's mouth, then before he could lick it off he leaned around and kissed him fiercely. "You belong," he whispered into his mouth.

"I belong," Fraser echoed, panting.

* * *

Ray woke up before the alarm went off. It was still dark, though the sound of rain outside meant that wasn't necessarily because the sun wasn't up yet. Fraser was curled around him like he was most every morning, and it was comfortingly familiar. He could tell by Fraser's breathing that he was awake, so he stretched a little and yawned loudly to let Fraser know he was awake too.

Fraser kissed the back of his neck, and then shifted back, pulling Ray with him so he could lean over him and kiss his mouth next, long, slow, and sweet. Ray reached up and slid his fingers into Fraser's hair, loving the way the heavy waves clung to his fingers as he stroked. Fraser pulled back and put his face in the crook of Ray's neck with a contented sound. Ray smiled. Between last night and this morning, he was definitely feeling less neglected. Last night. He sighed. Fraser lifted his head.

"What?" he asked, his voice a little husky from disuse.

"We have to go in early, clean up the kitchen."

Fraser sighed too. "Right."

He lay still for a little longer, getting tenser with every moment. Ray knew he was thinking about Michael. He waited, and after a couple of minutes Fraser stretched to turn on the light and sit up, swinging his feet over the edge of the bed, hands braced on his knees.

"I need to call Michael."

"Yeah, you do, but not at four-fifty a.m.," he said with a glance at the clock. "He mentioned the other night that the cafeteria starts serving at seven, so if you call about six forty-five you should get him."

Fraser nodded, then looked at Ray ruefully. "I have absolutely no idea what to say."

"Just say what you feel."

That drew another sigh as Fraser rubbed an eyebrow. "I don't know that either."

"Okay, that's kind of a problem," Ray said. "You up for talking yet?"

"Yeah. No. Shower first? And coffee?" Fraser asked hopefully.

"Yeah, yeah. You addict. And I know it's my fault so don't bother telling me that."

Twenty minutes later, showered, dressed, and sitting at the kitchen table with coffee and bagels, Ray brought the subject up again.

"You like him, right?"

Fraser looked up from the mug he'd been staring into, and nodded. "Yes. Yes, I do like him, very much. He's a fine young man, and if it didn't sound fatuous, I could even say I'm proud to be his father. . . except that the act of, in effect, donating sperm no more makes me his father than my living in Chicago makes me an American."

"You're right, it doesn't. . . not the way you mean. But you did have some influence over him, even though you didn't know it at the time. He told me that, after I confronted him. You need to sit down and talk to him. Find out who he is, really."

Fraser was staring at him. "After you confronted him?"

Ray nodded. "Yeah. After I figured it out."

"You figured it out?"

"Yeah. Last night, when I came over with dinner. It just kind of hit me in the face."

"How. . . how did you know?"

Ray shrugged. "He looks like you. He acts like you. You and his mom did the wild thing the right number of years back. Wasn't really rocket science."

Fraser was clearly taken aback. "If it was so obvious, then why didn't I see it?"

"I think it's a 'can't see the forest for the trees' kind of deal. You don't look at yourself for hours every day. I do."

"Oh." Fraser cleared his throat. "I see. I suppose there's some sense in that." He took a bite of his bagel and chewed thoughtfully.

Ray waited for him to finish before tackling the big question. "What it really boils down to is figuring out if you want Michael in your life or not. I don't think he'd push it if you didn't. He's not like that."

Fraser thought about it, slowly turning his coffee mug in a circle on the table. Finally he looked up. "I'd like that, yes. At this juncture it's far too late to try to act the part of parent, but I think I would like to be his friend. Or as much as that can be accomplished when we live nearly four thousand miles apart."

Ray smiled. "So that's what you tell him."

Fraser snorted. "You make it sound so easy."

"Ben, nothing about this is easy, but the hardest part is over, right? Last night. Finding out."

Fraser fidgeted with his cup again. "That was hard, yes, but he knew already. Now. . . I'm not the only person involved in this. There's my question, and his answer."

Oh. Ray got it. He nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right. There is. It's a risk."

Fraser nodded, and then looked up, smiling ruefully. "But then, I've never been one to shy away from risks when the goal is a sound one."

Ray laughed, shaking his head. "No, you haven't. Nor have you shied away from involving everyone in your immediate surroundings in them, either."

"I'll, ah, endeavor to limit the collateral damage this time."

"You do that." Ray looked at his watch. "Come on, we better get rolling if we're going to get the consulate cleaned up before everyone else shows."

* * *

Eyebrows were raised when Ray showed up in the bullpen at seven thirty. He ignored them, flopped into his chair and picked up the phone. "You get him yet?" he asked, as soon as Fraser answered.

"No, not yet. He must have gone to breakfast early. Or perhaps he's showering."

"Yeah, that's probably it. You going to keep trying?"

"Well, it will be moot after eight, but I'll try until then. If I don't reach him this morning, the conference breaks for lunch at eleven-forty-five, I can go over and see if I can find him then."

"Good idea. Let me know if you get him, okay?"

"I will."

Ray hung up and got to work, going through the O'Leary arson file, reorganizing it, trying to see a pattern, or even just get a hunch. He'd been at it for most of the morning and had it spread out all across his desk when he heard someone clear his throat and looked up to find Welsh standing in front of him.

"I need to see you in my office, Ray," he said, jerking his thumb toward the door and turning to walk back to it.

Ray sat there for a second trying to think of anything he'd done to piss Welsh off, and couldn't. Then he realized that Welsh had come out of his office instead of bellowing at him from the doorway. And he'd called him 'Ray.' Not Kowalski. Shit. He had a bad feeling about this. He got up and followed Welsh into his office.

"Why don't you sit down?" Welsh asked, closing the door.

Oh fuck. Somebody was dead. His mom? His dad? He sat, and waited, hands balled into fists on his knees.

"I just got a call from the Eighteenth."

The Eighteenth? That made no sense. His folks lived in Skokie, nowhere near the Eighteenth. He started to relax a little. Maybe this wasn't one of those talks.

"Seems there was some sort of a disturbance this morning at one of those snooty coffee places on North Shore. The uniforms show up to find two hysterical clerks, a guy restrained with ripped-up dishtowels, and another guy with a couple of pretty serious knife wounds."

Uh oh. Guy tied up with dishtowels? That sounded like something Fraser would do. But. . . Fraser was at work. He glanced at his watch. Eleven-thirty. Shit. Maybe Fraser wasn't at work. He might have left already. And part of Northwestern was over on North Shore.

"Turns out the tied-up guy is the ex-boyfriend of one of the clerks," Welsh continued. "She'd broken up with him last night, and apparently he drowned his sorrows all night, and then this morning decided to take exception to being dumped. With a knife. The stabbed guy was a customer who intervened, managed to take the guy down and get him secured, despite being injured. Unfortunately, by the time our guys get there, the stabbed guy is unconscious and he's got no ID on him, and nobody knows who he is. Later on in an interview, one of the clerks thinks she remembers he said he was a Mountie, though, and sure enough, he's got Canadian money in his pocket along with American. And since everybody knows we're Mountie Central over here, they figured they ought to let us know. Now, we don't know that it's Fraser, but I figure with the dishtowel thing, chances are good."

Ray fought back nausea. "They give you a description?"

Welsh made a face. "Not much of one. Male, about six feet tall, dark hair, wearing civvies. Oh, and the clerks both said he was 'cute.'"

God. Ray swallowed hard. Then he realized something was off. Fraser wouldn't be in civvies. Plus the timing was weird. "Wait-- when did this happen?"

"The call was logged at six fifty-three a.m."

A half-sob of sheer relief escaped him. "It's not Fraser," he said, sucking in a deep, shuddering breath.

Welsh looked a question at him, so he explained. "We were still at the consulate then, cleaning up. No way it could be him. It's got to be . . . " He was about to say 'Anders' when he suddenly remembered Michael and his preference for a little coffee in his hot milk. "Shit. You said it was a coffee bar on North Shore?"

Welsh nodded. "Yeah, why?"

"Who did you talk to, can you get them? Did they say anything about his hair?"

Welsh looked puzzled. "What about his hair?"

"Is it long?"

He saw realization hit Welsh. A second later he was on the phone, dialing, then barking a question at whoever was on the other end of the line. Ray saw the answer in Welsh's face and surged to his feet, slamming his hands down on the desk.

"Fuck! Goddamn it! Is he alive?"

Welsh nodded as he hung up. "Yeah, he's alive. They took him to Northwestern Memorial since it's only a few blocks away and they're a level-one trauma center."

"Thank God." He reached across the desk for the phone, and only as he started to dial did he remember it wasn't his. "Sorry, you mind?"

Welsh shook his head. Ray waited for as the call went through. Chao answered the phone. "Good morning, Canadian Consulate, how. . . "

"Hey, Denise, it's Ray. Is Fraser still there?"

"Hi, Ray. Yeah, he's here, though he was just about to leave. You want him?"

"Yeah. No. Just tell him to stay put, I'll be there in ten minutes to get him, okay?"

"Yeah, sure. I'll tell him."

"Thanks. And if anybody calls from the Eighteenth Division, do not let them talk to Fraser and do not tell him what they tell you, okay?"

"What?" Chao sounded confused. "Why not?"

"I don't have time to fill you in, but it's really important. I need to tell him, and I need to tell him in person, okay? So please?"

"All right, Ray."

"Great. Thanks. I owe you. Bye." Ray hung up and swiped a hand through his hair and looked at Welsh. "I need the rest of the day off. Maybe tomorrow too. I don't know yet."

Welsh looked at him speculatively. "Something I should know about?"

Ray sighed. "It's not my place to say, okay?"

Welsh stared at him a moment longer, and then shrugged. "Yeah, okay. You got the time off. Just don't waste it."

"I won't, sir, and thanks."

He used the light and siren until he was a block from the Consulate when he turned them off, in case Fraser might be waiting out front. He didn't want to freak him out. He wasn't, and Ray pulled into the loading zone in front of the building and stuck his 'official police vehicle' tag on the mirror before getting out and dashing up the stairs. One look at Denise Chao at the reception desk and he knew she'd gotten that call from the Eighteenth. He blessed whatever instinct had made him tell her to keep quiet. Her face was grim as she nodded toward Fraser's office.

With a knock, he pushed the door open. Fraser was at his desk, and looked up in surprise as Ray came in.

"Ray! How on earth did you get here so . . ." He stopped suddenly, studying Ray's face. "What's wrong?"

Ray wasn't about to put Fraser through the agony that Welsh inadvertently had done to him, so he got right to the point. "Michael's been hurt, he's at the trauma center at Northwestern."

Fraser paled, took a deep breath, and let it out, slowly. "What happened?"

"I don't have a lot of details, but what I got, I can tell you on the way. You got anything urgent you need to take care of here before we go?"

Fraser thought for a moment, and shook his head. "No, nothing. Let me just tell Mr. Chopra and Constable Chao, and ask her to look after Diefenbaker."

Ray used the light and siren again, even if he did have to talk over the siren to tell Fraser what he knew. He didn't abuse his privileges often, but these were extenuating circumstances. Figuring they were going to be there a while, he found a place in the hospital's associated garage on Huron. He set the brake, turned off the engine, pocketed the keys, and then looked at Fraser.


Fraser nodded.

They walked the block and a half to the emergency care entrance. It had stopped raining, but was still gloomy and overcast. As usual, Fraser's uniform stood out like a banner and garnered a lot of attention, which he ignored as he waited patiently for the trauma center receptionist to finish with the hysterical guy in line ahead of him whose fiancee had been in a car accident. Finally it was Fraser's turn.

"Good morning, Benton Fraser, RCMP. I'm looking for a John Doe, brought in early this morning, a stabbing victim."

The receptionist typed something on her keyboard, and then looked up. "No John Does."

Fraser frowned. "Try 'Michael Tselihye,' then."

"Michael what?"

Fraser spelled it for her. She typed, and shook her head. "Nope. Nobody by that name either."

Ray had a feeling they'd be there all day at this rate. He stepped forward, flashing his shield. "Chicago P.D. You got any stabbings brought in early this morning? Seven a.m. or so?"

"Our files aren't organized by type of trauma, officer," she said, a hint of irritation in her voice.

"Detective," he corrected her. He could do pissy too. He was pretty sure in a pissy contest, he could out-pissy her. "I need the emergency admittance list for today, then. I know this guy was brought here."

She frowned at him, but did something, and a minute later her printer spit out two pages, which she waved in Ray's general direction. "Here."

Ray took the sheets, ran his finger down the list, and rolled his eyes. "Somebody here thinks they're cute. No John Doe, but we've got a Joe Canada. That'll be him. Where is he?"

She made another entry to her computer. "Here we go. Looks like they took Mr. Canada up to the Feinberg Pavilion, room two-ninety-six, about an hour ago."

Ray felt some of the tension in his shoulders ease. If Michael had been moved to a regular room, he must be stable. He saw some of that relief reflected on Fraser's face as well.

"Thank you kindly, miss," Fraser said. "We appreciate your help."

Ray thought about pointing out that she hadn't been all that helpful, but decided to let it go. Instead he tugged at Fraser's arm. "Come on, let's go see what's what."

They found a map of the hospital campus near the elevators, and figured out where to go. As they walked, Ray looked around the quiet, gleaming corridors, and sniffed. "Doesn't smell like a hospital."

"Well, it's a brand new facility with excellent ventilation. I'm sure that makes a difference."

Ray nodded, smiling a little. "Trust you to notice the ventilation. There we go, two-ninety-six."

He pushed open the door. The room was dim and quiet, and only one of the two beds was occupied. Though someone had stuffed his hair up under a green surgical cap, it was unmistakably Michael lying unconscious in the bed, looking ashy and drawn. There was a small cut on his jaw on the left side, butterflied closed so it must not be too bad. Both hands and forearms were bandaged, as was his upper left arm, the thick gauze continuing up under the sleeve of the blue and white hospital gown he wore. From his other arm an IV tube and a couple of leads trailed to a machine that measured his vital signs, and dispensed something red from a bag that Ray didn't want to look at too closely. Fraser, however, went right over and practically put his nose on it, turning the bag slightly to catch the light.

"Fraser!" Ray hissed. "You're not a nurse! What are you doing?"

Fraser stepped back and looked at him. "He's AB-negative. If I'd had any doubts, that would certainly be a point in his favor."


Fraser smiled faintly. "Because I'm AB-negative as well. Only five percent of Inuit fall within that blood group. And only three percent of Scots, which is my primary heritage."

"In that case, perhaps you'd like to donate blood to replace what he's using. We can always use more donations from the rares," a woman said crisply. "Gentlemen, can I help you?"

Ray turned, startled, to see a tall, athletic-looking black woman in teal scrubs standing behind them. She looked to be around fifty, her regal face framed by short-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair. She had a stethoscope in one pocket, and the name badge clipped to her shirt had a little stick-and-snakes emblem and the name Dr. E. Blackwell printed on it in gold.

"Yeah, you can," Ray said. "What's wrong with him?"

She frowned. "And you would be?"

"Ray Kowalski, Chicago P.D.," Ray said, holding out a hand which she shook firmly. "This is Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police." He waved a hand toward the bed. "He's Mike's dad." The words gave him a little shock. They sounded so weird coming out of his mouth like that.

Blackwell, in the middle of shaking Fraser's hand, paused, and then brought up her other hand to clasp Fraser's between them. "Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell," she said, introducing herself. "I'm very sorry that you have to get this sort of impression of Chicago, Mr. Fraser. It's not the sort of welcome we like to give a visitor. But before we go any further, let me first assure you that your son will be fine."

"Thank you." Fraser withdrew his hand from hers, eyes on the still figure in the bed. "Actually I've lived in Chicago for some years now, so I'm quite used to this sort of thing. I assume since they moved him out of trauma care and he's not in ICU, that he's stable and in good condition, but I'd like to know the extent of his injuries and his prognosis."

Blackwell nodded. "Of course. He suffered some slash wounds to his hands and forearms, all superficial and there's the one small cut on his face, as you see. The worst injuries were a deep slash to the upper left arm, and a serious puncture of the left thigh that nicked the femoral artery and resulted in acute blood loss. Thank God someone at the coffee shop knew enough to put pressure on the wound. There appears to be no permanent damage though. He'll be fine, if sore for a while, and he'll probably need a little physical therapy for that leg. At the moment he's sedated, but he'll be coming out of that any time now." She reached behind the door and took a file folder out of the plastic pocket there. "Could you give me his correct name? 'Joe Canada' might be amusing but it's hardly appropriate."

Fraser nodded. "Yes, ma'am. His name is Michael Nuiijaut Tselihye."

Her eyebrows lifted. "Want to spell that for me, Mr. Fraser?"

Fraser spelled, and the doctor wrote the name in pen above the label. "That's better. Did you say he was Inuit?"

"Yes. Well, half."

Ray almost laughed. Fraser sounded exactly like he usually did when describing Dief.

"Right." She smiled, eyeing Fraser, who was clearly not Inuit. "I've never had an Inuit patient before. I hear he's a hero. You must be very proud of him."

Ray watched Fraser's throat work as he swallowed and nodded, unspeaking.

The doctor checked her watch. "I'm sorry, but I've got rounds to finish, gentlemen. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Fraser shook his head, so Ray did too.

"All right, then. I'll be back to check on him later so I'll probably see you then. If you decide you want to donate blood, just let one of the nurses know and they'll get it set up."

Fraser cleared his throat. "Yes, well, I'd love to, but I'm afraid I can't."

She looked surprised. "No?"

"No. I engage in something the Red Cross considers to be high risk behavior."

"Yeah," Ray snorted sarcastically. "Right." It was a sore subject. Fraser had been really torqued off when he'd discovered that simply being gay ruled out donating blood. Neither of them had even had sex with anyone else in years, they got tested every six months, and they were still considered high risk. Go figure.

Dr. Blackwell's gaze flicked from Fraser to Ray and back, comprehension written in her expression. "I see. I'm sorry about that. The rules do sometimes seem to be unnecessarily restrictive."

"Agreed," Fraser said evenly.

The doctor shook her head with a sigh, and left the room.

Fraser moved closer to the bed and reached to take the surgical cap off Michael, untucking his hair, and making a face as he combed through it with his fingers. "There's blood dried in it." He looked up at Ray. "Would you put some warm water in that plastic basin there by the sink and bring it here, along with one of those washcloths?"

Ray nodded and filled the basin, setting it on the roll-away table next to the bed, and handing Fraser the cloth. Fraser put down the rail on his side of the bed, sat down next to Michael, and began to methodically clean the blood out of his hair. Ray watched him for a moment, then pulled one of the room's two chairs over near him.

"You okay?"

Fraser thought about it for a long time, then finally he nodded. "Yes, I think so. It's just. . . very confusing. I'm not exactly sure how I should feel."

"I don't think there's a playbook for this one, Benton," he said. "What you feel is what you feel. 'Should' doesn't enter into it."

"I suppose that's true. I just keep thinking I ought to feel. . . like a father. The problem is, I don't know how a father feels."

Ray rubbed his forehead. "Yeah. Yeah, that's not something either of us has any experience at, so I'm no help." He looked at Michael's bandaged hands and arms, and sighed. "Defensive wounds. He probably got those trying to get in close enough to take the knife away."

Fraser nodded. "Undoubtedly. I'll need to contact the organizers of the seminar and tell them what happened, and alert his superiors in Inuvik, and his. . . " his voice trailed off.

Ray looked up, saw the tension around Fraser's jaw and heard the unspoken end of the sentence 'and his next of kin'. "Um, you want me to do that?"

"No. Actually I think I should do it. I've some things I need to say to them in any case."

Ray nodded. Oh boy, did he ever. He didn't envy the folks on the receiving end of that one. He reached over to squeeze Fraser's thigh, and left his hand there reassuringly. Fraser kept working on Michael's hair. Ray avoided looking at the stained washcloth and bloody water, and wondered how he'd ever managed to become a cop, considering how much he hated blood. After a few minutes, Fraser finished up and went to the sink to empty the basin and wash it and the cloth out with soap. He dried his hands, and leaned against the counter with a sigh.

"Well, I suppose I ought to make those calls," he said glancing at Ray as he pulled his cell phone off his belt. Chopra had insisted he get and carry one.

Ray nodded. Wondering if Fraser wanted privacy to make his calls, he cast around for an idea, and when an orderly rolled a food-service cart past the door, one came to him. "You want me to, um, go see if I can find the cafeteria and scare us up some lunch? Looks like we'll be here a while."

"Actually, I'm not hungry at the moment. And I don't mind if you stay," he said quietly. "In fact I'd like that. This isn't easy for me."

Ray nodded. "No, I wouldn't think so." He tried to think how he would feel if a twenty-two year old showed up on the doorstep claiming to be his kid. In another lifetime he'd wanted to be a father, but he'd always assumed it would be starting from scratch. Going through it all-- the big belly, pickles and ice-cream, the screaming delivery, and then all the kid stages from baby on up. You'd get to know the person gradually, get to shape them, a little anyway. To be presented with a full-grown adult? He couldn't imagine.

He listened with half an ear as Fraser called the consulate to tell everyone there, and to have Chao look up Michael's contact information in the RCMP personnel database for him. Notifying Michael's superiors in Inuvik seemed relatively painless. Then he got to the hard one. He sat for several minutes looking at the piece of paper on which he had written the Tselihye's phone number, then finally took a deep breath, and dialed. It seemed to take forever before he spoke, even though Ray knew it had only been a few seconds.

"Hello, this is Corporal Benton Fraser, RCMP. To whom am I speaking, please? Yes. Yes, that Benton Fraser. It's good to hear your voice too, Mrs. Tselihye. Yes, it has been a long time. I'm calling from Chicago, I assume you know I've been living here for some time, attached to the consulate. Yes, ma'am, I do have a reason for calling. I'm sorry to have to inform you that my son, your grandson, Michael, was injured today while preventing the commission of an assault. He's going to be fine, but he's been hospitalized at Northwestern Memorial for treatment and will probably be there for a few days."

Ray was impressed by how smoothly Fraser had worked 'my son' into the conversation. There was a long silence. Ray waited, watching Fraser's face for some clue as to what the old lady was saying, but there was none. After a moment, Fraser finally spoke again.

"Ma'am? Mrs. Tselihye? Are you there?"

Oh, that explained it. There was another pause, and then Fraser sighed softly.

"Yes. He told me last night. Yes. Yes, I very much think we do."

Ray noticed Fraser's voice got a little hard-edged there at the last. God, he wished this was on speaker-phone.

"I'm sure you realize that it came as a shock to me, too." Fraser said. "I don't understand how you could. . . " He paused. "What? No, really, that's not necessary. According to his doctor, he's going to be fine." Another pause, and then he sighed faintly. "Of course. I'd be happy to arrange that for you if you. Hmm? You're right, it would be better, I think. I'll get back to you with details. In the meantime, he's in Northwestern Memorial Hospital, room 296." He rattled off the phone number too, and then said goodbye and hung up.

Ray looked at him. "Well, that was kind of . . . anti-climatic."

"Climactic," Fraser corrected absently. "She's coming down, as are her husband Gideon, and Rachel. We decided that under the circumstances it would be best to have our talk face to face."

"Oh." Ray wasn't too sure how he felt about Rachel coming down. Grandma and Grandpa were fine, but the thought of Fraser seeing his old flame again put his hackles up. "That makes sense, I guess," he said grudgingly.

Fraser nodded. "Yes. It does." He went to the bed again, and reached to touch his fingers to the side of Michael's throat the way he did when he was checking for a pulse.

Ray pointed at the machine Michael was hooked up to. "You know, we're in a big-city hospital here, and they got this modern technology stuff that measures all that for you. If you look at the little red numbers there, you can see everything is hunky-dory."

Fraser shot him an exasperated look, and Ray grinned.


They both jumped, startled, and looked at Michael. The word had been more of a croak than anything, but Michael's eyes were open. He seemed a little confused, probably from the drugs. He looked from Fraser, to Ray, and he frowned.

"Where'm I?"

"Northwestern Memorial Hospital," Fraser told him.

Michael blinked, still frowning, and then nodded slowly. "Right. Guy with a knife. D' I get im?"

Ray nodded. "Yeah, Mike, you got him. You did good."

Michael looked up at Fraser searchingly.

Fraser cleared his throat. "Indeed. It was a brave and selfless act. Although, son, I believe we need to have a little talk about appropriate methods of getting a parent's attention. There are positive ways, and negative ways."

His eyes were so bright with humor that Ray couldn't believe he got it out with a straight face. He waited, breath held, to see what Michael would do, and was both pleased and relieved when his lips turned up at the corners and a dry chuckle escaped him.

"Sorry, Dad. I'll try to do better." He coughed, and looked around. "Water?"

Ray jumped up and got a paper cup from the holder by the sink and filled it as Fraser pushed the button to raise the head of the bed so Michael was sitting up more. He held the cup out and Michael tried to take it, then winced and looked at his bandaged hands.

"Ow. Can one of you. . . ?"

Ray nodded and handed the cup to Fraser who held it carefully while Michael sipped.

"If you want ice I can go get you some," Ray offered.

Michael shook his head. "This is fine. How bad is it?" he asked, lifting his hands again to look at the bandages.

"According to Doctor Blackwell, it's not bad at all," Fraser said, in the tone he usually used to reassure small children and mental patients. "The worst was blood loss from the leg wound, but they're taking care of that." He nodded toward the IV bag. "You'll be happy to know there should be no permanent damage, though doubtless you'll have a couple of romantic scars."

Michael smiled again. "Cool." His smile faded and he sighed. "I messed up. I had the knife, and I dropped it. He got it back and that's when he got my leg."

"Well, I've found things get rather slippery when one's hands are bleeding. It makes it difficult to get a good grip," Fraser said, as if that was a perfectly normal thing to say.

"True," Michael said thoughtfully. "But I missed the seminar today."

"And you'll probably miss the next few. I'm sure there's someone who can take notes for you, once we explain what happened."

Michael nodded. "Yeah, maybe Diana Ferguson. Or Sarah Spencer. They usually sit by me."

Ray swallowed a chuckle. Oh yeah, he bet they did. And he bet they'd be happy to take notes, and bring them to the hospital, and fuss over the patient. Some things were apparently genetic.

* * *

"You want to put them up here?" Ray asked later that evening as they were cleaning up after dinner.

"Who?" Fraser asked, puzzled. "Ah, you mean the Tselihyes? Absolutely not. I've already made arrangements for them to stay at the Consulate. Mr. Chopra was amenable to that. Constable Chao offered to pick them up at the airport."

"Okay," Ray said, relieved. "I just thought you might."

"I realize I can be a bit of a masochist at times," Fraser said drily. "But not that much."

Ray chuckled. "Yeah, it would be kind of uncomfortable."

"You seem to have discovered a gift for understatement."

Ray finished washing the pan he held, and handed it to Fraser to dry. "You know, there's something that's been bugging me."

Fraser lifted his eyebrows, encouraging Ray to go ahead.

"When we were up in your old stomping grounds two years ago it seemed like everybody knew everybody, you know? And a lot of people knew you. So how come nobody ever figured it out before? It's not like he doesn't look like you. But you didn't even know Rachel had a kid, right?"

Fraser dried the pan carefully, and put it away in the cabinet before replying. "Right. And that's something I'd like to know myself. Granted, I'd not been back to that particular area since we moved. I never really had time, and then my father built his cabin near Hudson's Bay, so when I did go north it was generally to visit him there, rather than west to Tuk, Inuvik, and Aklavik. I suspect some people know. They must. But the community is close-knit, and if the Tselihyes asked people not to speak of it, they wouldn't have."

"Even if they knew you too, and knew you should know?"

Fraser sighed and leaned against the counter. "The only people who were likely to know were relatives of the Tselihyes, and other Inuit. Blood is, as they say, thicker than water. And I'm sure he hasn't always resembled me. It's been such a long time since I was there, it's quite likely that by the time he was an adult, no one clearly remembered what I looked like."

Ray nodded. "Yeah, true." He didn't like the idea of them closing ranks against Fraser, but they must've thought there was a reason. He reached to pull the towel out of Fraser's hands and dried his own, then hung it up. "Can I ask something else?"

"Of course, Ray."

"What's 'playing wolf'? I thought maybe it was a euphemism, like 'hide the salami' but you said you'd played wolf with pretty much the whole family, so that kind of lets that out, unless there's something you haven't told me and that I wouldn't want to know about in any case?"

Fraser chuckled. "It's a game. Amaruujaq, 'being like wolves.' There are versions of it played all over the world. It's commonly called 'tag' or 'keep-away' here. One person is the wolf, and he or she hunts the others in the group, tagging victims with a touch. You have to touch skin to make the tag. It can be face, or hand, or. . . someplace else. It's very popular because it has something for everyone. Young men like it because they can chase the girls they like, young women like it because it lets them see who's interested in them, old people like it because it gives them the chance to run around and act silly, and young children like it because they get to see who they can outrun. Sometimes you could get twenty or more people playing."

Ray could imagine the scene in his head, people running around, adults laughing, kids shrieking, the in-between ones making eyes at each other. He could see it.

"What are you smiling about?" Fraser asked.

"I was just imagining you back then. You weren't so serious when you were younger, eh?"

"Oh, I was terribly serious most of the time. Tediously so, I'm sure. But amaruujaq gave me an excuse to not be, at least for a little while. It wasn't really that I wanted to be serious, I just felt like I was supposed to be. I always felt . . . responsible. For everything."

"Gee, I never knew that about you," Ray said, deadpan. An idea suddenly occurred to him, and he did his best Diefenbaker imitation, baring his teeth and growling. "I'm the wolf," he said, stalking toward Fraser.

Fraser's eyes widened and he took a step back. From his position under the kitchen table, Diefenbaker took exception to his statement, leaping to his feet and barking, pushing a chair out of the way as he did.

"Just pretending, okay?" Ray assured him, laughing. "I know you're the only real wolf here."

Dief eyed him skeptically for a moment, and then went back under the table, apparently accepting the explanation. Ray looked back at Fraser, lifted his eyebrows, and grinned. Fraser glanced toward the door to the living room, as if calculating the best way to get there before Ray got to him. Ray took a step toward him.

"You know, this game works better when played with a large group of people," Fraser said.

Ray recognized a diversionary tactic when he heard one. "That depends on what you want out of the game, doesn't it?"

"It also works better in a large, open, unfurnished area."

"Is that so?" Ray asked, taking another step.

Fraser nodded. "Yes. Things tend to get. . . " he broke off and darted for the door.

Ray lunged to cut him off and ran into the chair that Dief had moved. It crashed over on its side and shattered the big purple ceramic dish with "Deefinbacker" glazed on it in pink which Frannie had given them as a housewarming gift.

". . . broken," Fraser finished ruefully.

Ray had him pinned up against the doorframe, one hand sliding under the strap of his undershirt, touching the bare skin of his shoulder. "Aoooooo!" Ray howled, though he spoiled the effect by laughing as he leaned in and bit Fraser's neck. Fraser turned his head a little to give Ray better access. Ray took advantage, nipping his way up to Fraser's ear. "I won," he whispered.

"Fortunately Dief never did like that dish."

"I won," Ray said again.

Fraser sighed. "You won."

"What do I get?"

"You get to be the prey," Fraser said, looking at him with an evil gleam in his eyes.

Oh shit. Ray turned and ran.

Fraser caught him on the stairs. For all the bitching he did about having to vacuum them, Ray had never been happier that they were carpeted, otherwise he'd have bruises. He twisted, trying, not very hard, to get away. Fraser set his teeth in the back of Ray's neck and pinned him down, heavy against his back. He had just enough five-o-clock shadow for Ray to feel it rasp against his skin. When Ray stopped squirming under him, Fraser slid a hand into the loose waistband of his slacks, working it under the not-loose band of his briefs to grasp his cock firmly.

"I win," he growled.

Ray pushed his rapidly-hardening cock into Fraser's hand. "We win," he corrected. "But the last time we tried this on the stairs my knees and your back both agreed we were too old for that shit, so how about we move this game to the bedroom?"

Fraser rubbed his face against the back of Ray's neck, sending a wave of goosebumps over him, and then released him. "All right." He let go of Ray's cock and eased his hand back out of his pants, then pushed himself to his feet.

Ray got up, rubbing his ribs, and headed upstairs. Behind him, Fraser looked back over his shoulder. Ray knew he was looking at the lights they'd left on. Ray saw indecision flicker on his face, then he looked back at Ray.

"Fuck the lights," Fraser growled.

Ray grinned, and dashed for the bedroom, Fraser on his heels. Diving for the bed, he hit it hard enough to slam the headboard into the wall, then kicked his boots over the side and sat up to yank off his shirt. He was still tangled in it when Fraser nearly pulled him off the bed as he yanked him over to the edge and manhandled him out of his trousers. Ray didn't complain, even though he'd already lost two pair in similar incidents. He could afford new ones. This time, though, Fraser got them off him without the telltale sound of ripping. He couldn't say the same for his briefs, but the sound made him so hot he didn't care if he had to go commando until Christmas.

"Close your eyes," Fraser said, his voice low, as he tugged Ray's shirt the rest of the way off.

He kept his eyes closed, felt the bed give on either side of him as Fraser knelt straddling him, felt the rough rasp of wool pants against the outsides of his thighs, then, startlingly, Fraser's hand closed around his arm, thumb playing with his bracelet, dragging it back and forth across his skin. A moment later he felt lips on his belly, then a tongue circling his navel, tracing the line of hair that started there, leaving a cool, wet trail behind it. Then the touch was gone, and he couldn't help but tense in anticipation, waiting, wondering.

He gasped and jumped as Fraser licked and then sucked at his right nipple, and then moved away again. Returned a moment later to do the same to the inside of his left thigh, then his wrist, then his hip. Never knowing where Fraser's mouth was going next, he couldn't help but startle a little with each new touch. Then Fraser's mouth covered his, swallowing his gasp, kissing him deep, and wet, tongue fucking his mouth as his hand drew maddening patterns on his stomach and chest and thighs, always avoiding his cock. He reached out, fingers finding Fraser's chest, still covered by the fine-ribbed cotton of his undershirt. He trailed his fingers down until he found the tight rise of a nipple beneath the fabric, and tugged at it.

Fraser made a sound into his mouth, and his hand slipped on Ray's thigh, brushing his balls. Ray slid his hand sideways, found a suspender, and followed it down to the waistband of Fraser's pants. His fingers eased inside, found the buttons and released them. He tugged at the undershirt, pulling until it came untucked, exposing the silky skin beneath. Tracking along the waistband he found and released the other suspender, then the waist button, and pushed his hand down below wool and woven cotton to find the hard flesh hidden beneath it all. Fraser's cock was hot and damp, and he pushed it into the circle of Ray's fingers with a slow curl of his hips, groaning into his mouth. Ray let go, pulling his hand free, and Fraser broke the kiss to gasp in a deep, shuddering breath.

Smiling smugly, Ray pushed Fraser over onto his side, then swung around so they were curled like one of those yin-yang symbols. His fingers made quick work of the zipper on the uniform pants, and he pushed them open, and down, along with Fraser's boxers, just far enough to get him out. Dark-flushed, hard, and wet, Fraser's cock made Ray's mouth water. He leaned in and licked, then swallowed him, loving the way Fraser filled his mouth, and the way his pre-come made his tongue tingle. A moment later he had to stop sucking, he couldn't help it, he was too busy whimpering as Fraser took advantage of their position to take him in his mouth.

Okay, okay, get with the program, Ray. He put one hand on Fraser's hip to steady himself, and completed the circuit again. God, yeah. Warm and wet around him tongue slicking and sliding, the graze of teeth. He echoed everything Fraser did to him, using his free hand around the base of his cock, letting Fraser set the rhythm, slow at first, but quickly speeding up. They weren't going to last long, that was clear. Pleasure shimmered through him like heat off pavement, and he rocked into Fraser's wet, perfect mouth, matching him stroke for stroke, delirious with it.

Ray sang wordlessly around the thick, solid heft of him, and Fraser shuddered and clutched at his hips, and against his tongue Ray felt the surge in the channel on the underside of Fraser's cock before he tasted the bitter salt of it in his mouth. He let himself go then, as the last pulse welled into his mouth, and pleasure burst though him like heat lightning, brilliant and ecstatic, leaving him weak and gasping, holding onto Fraser's thigh like it was an anchor.

They dozed for a little while, then Fraser roused himself enough to get up and finish undressing and turn out the lights before sliding back into bed. He curled up along Ray's back like they needed to share body heat, and despite the warmth of the evening, Ray didn't protest. If he needed to touch, Ray could handle a little sweat. Fraser wrapped an arm around him and spread his hand across his chest, the heel of his hand resting just above Ray's heart. Ray could feel Fraser's pulse there where his wrist lay against his skin. It was ticking in almost perfect opposition to his own. Counterpoint. Harmony.

"Do you ever think about children?" Fraser asked out of the blue, his voice distant, almost dreamy.

"You mean, like what it would be like to have some?" Ray asked, figuring that was it because of the thing with Michael, so it made sense, but you never knew where Fraser's brain was going to wander so he wanted to confirm it.

"Yeah." Fraser's arm tightened slightly around him.

"Every once in a while maybe, like when I've been sitting for Frannie, but not often, no."

"I seem to remember it was . . . an issue for you."

"In a different lifetime, maybe. Not now. What about you? You ever want kids?"

"I wanted. . . a family," Fraser said after a long pause. "That generally involves children."

"You do good with Frannie's runts," Ray offered. "And with the older kids we've worked with. I don't mind little kids, I like playing with them, feeding them, don't even mind the whole diapers thing, which is pretty much a shocker when I really think about it. I like the older ones too, understand them, and they seem to get me, too. Really about the only kids I didn't get along with were Janet Morse's, and they were just plain brats."

Fraser chuckled. "I must admit, they were less than well behaved."

"I see that gift for understatement is going around tonight," Ray said, grinning. "The thing is, though, none of those were my kids, and I could always give them back when I got tired of them. It's different when they're yours. You can't give back your own."

"No, although they can be taken away," Fraser said quietly.

Ray didn't think they were talking about Social Services. "Yeah. Yeah, they can. But hey, you got it now, right? That family you wanted."

Fraser sighed. "This doesn't feel like family, Ray."

He sounded a little lost, and Ray reached up to rub his thumb across Fraser's arm. "I know. You missed out on all the stuff that makes it family, and that sucks." He paused for a moment, then went on, even though he was half afraid of what the ensuing conversation might reveal. "I didn't know you wanted a family. You never said."

"No. I never said. It's been out of my reach for a long time. No point in dwelling on it."

"It's not out of reach, Ben," Ray said, wondering if someday he was going to kick himself for saying this, but needing to anyway. "Your equipment works fine. Women go nuts for you. Wouldn't be hard at all. If that's what you . . . ."

Ray suddenly found himself flat on his back with a hand over his mouth. He couldn't really see Fraser leaning over him in the dark, but he had a feeling if he could, that he would be looking up at one very pissed-off Canadian.

"Don't," Fraser said darkly. "Do you honestly believe that I'm like that? That I could simply stop loving you for the sake of having some mythical 'family.'?"

Ray shook his head. Hard. Tried to talk through the hand over his mouth. It didn't work very well. Fraser tightened his hand a little, warningly.

"You're not going to finish that sentence, are you?"

Ray shook his head again, and Fraser lifted his hand.

"I didn't mean that," he grumbled. "I was kind of figuring on being there too."

There was a long silence. "Oh." More silence. "I see."

"Good." He waited a moment, but Fraser didn't move. "You too pissy to sleep now?"

Fraser eased down beside him, his hand searching until it found Ray's. "No. No, I don't hold grudges."

Ray snorted. "Like hell you don't. Fortunately for me I'm not usually on the list." He squeezed Fraser's hand. "Go to sleep. We got a long day tomorrow."

* * *

"This sucks," Michael announced as soon as they walked into his hospital room the next morning, holding up his bandaged hands. "I'm bored, the TV only gets three channels, and I can't do anything. I can't even go to the bathroom by myself!"

Ray rubbed his nose to hide a grin behind his hand and tried to look sympathetic. "Yeah? Well, hey, maybe they'll give you a cute nurse to help with that."

Michael glowered at him. "They send an orderly to help. He has a mohawk. And pierced ears. And he's built like a pro hockey player."

Ray let himself grin that time. "Well, hey, doesn't sound like a problem to me," he teased. "Cute nurse, cute orderly, same diff."

"No offense, but unlike some people in this room, orderlies don't really do it for me," Michael snorted, though a hint of a smile teased at his mouth.

Ray shook his head in mock sorrow. "Man, think of all the lost opportunities," he sighed. He looked over at Fraser to include him in the banter, and realized from the thunderstruck expression on his face that he'd forgotten to mention that Michael had figured out they were a couple. That had gotten lost in all the other stuff they'd been dealing with.

Fraser cleared his throat. "I, ah, I take it you're aware of our relationship, then?" he asked.

Michael looked from Ray to Fraser and back, clearly puzzled. "Well, yeah. I figured that out the first morning at your place. Actually, I think I knew even before that, but I wasn't sure if I was seeing what I was seeing, or if it was just the beer."

"Ah." Fraser frowned, and ran his fingers along his eyebrow. "Does it bother you?"

Michael's gaze stayed level and open. "Not really, though it was kind of weird at first. I hadn't expected it. I mean. . . you weren't always, or I wouldn't be here, right?"

Fraser looked thoughtful. "Actually, I think I was always, I just hadn't figured it out yet when you were conceived. I was very young."

Michael nodded slowly. "Yeah, that makes sense, I guess. But if you mean am I going to freak out because you're gay? No. Sure, I come from a small town, but Anna Strongquill and Laura Clark have been together since before I was born. And there was Stefan Quliqtalik, except he moved to Toronto and opened a B&B . Mom says he got tired of there not being any cute guys in the area. Anyway, nobody thinks anything about it."

Fraser coughed, his eyes wide. "Steve opened a B&B?"

"Yeah. A couple of years ago."

"Good Lord." Fraser stared off at nothing for a moment, and then shook his head the way people did to clear it of a particularly disturbing mental vision.

Steve? Ray had heard that name a few times over the years. One of Fraser's old friends. It didn't take a huge mental leap to figure that if he was gay, he'd probably been the guy Ray had been wondering about a couple of days ago. Fraser's first guy. He looked at Fraser and lifted his eyebrows. Fraser colored a little, and gave him a look that said 'we might discuss this later if you play your cards right and I'm feeling like spilling my guts, but don't count on it.' Fraser had some very talkative looks.

"Anyway, yeah, I know, and no, it's not a problem for me," Michael said.

"I'm glad to hear that," Fraser said, taking a seat, finally. He looked at Michael, then down at his hands, then back again. "I don't know quite how to ask this. Every time I've tried to phrase the question in my head, it comes out sounding not at all like what I want to say, but I haven't been able to figure out how to say it the way I mean it. If that makes any sense."

"It might make more sense if you had already asked me the question," Michael said, sounding amused.

Fraser sighed. "I've just been wondering. . . what you want from me. There, see? That just didn't come out right at all," he said, making a face. "Perhaps it's more how do you feel? No, that's not right either."

"No, no, it's all right," Michael said solemnly. "I think I know what you're asking. It's. . . all of it. Why did I come, what do I want, how do I feel, what are you to me, what am I to you. All of that."

Fraser nodded. "Yes. Exactly. I don't mean to sound like an inquisitor, but I honestly feel. . . somewhat out of my depth here. I've no idea what you expect of me."

Ray went and sat behind Fraser on the little shelf beside the window, one hand resting on his shoulder, offering support.

"I expect you to be. . . you," Michael said after a long moment. "I came because I wanted to see who you were, see if there was anything there I could relate to."

Fraser looked up. "And?"

Michael smiled. "And yeah. There is. More than I expected. You're a lot more. . . real, then I thought you'd be. I mean, I grew up hearing stories about you, you know? Even before I knew who you were. To me, I mean."

Fraser put his face in his hands, shaking his head. "The litterbug. Fishing over the limit," he moaned. "Can I tell you how sick I am of people telling me they've heard those stories?"

Michael laughed. "Sorry. But yeah, those. Though I didn't get those until I got to Depot. Before that it was other stuff. Like Mom's hair, Uncle Joe and the otter, Quinn and the caribou. Oh, and the boomerang and the gold mine."

"A boomerang and a gold mine?" Ray asked, intrigued. "You never told me that one."

"A man has to have some secrets, Ray," Fraser said. "I'm sure there are incidents in your past you'd rather not have bandied about."

"Hey, you know all my embarrassing stories!" Ray protested.

"Perhaps you have fewer."

"Yeah, right," Ray said, ruffling Fraser's hair, grinning at his exasperated huff as he reached up to smooth his hair back into order. "Like I believe that. Anyway, sorry. Didn't meant to interrupt."

Michael had been watching their interplay with a grin, and he shook his head. "It's okay. Anyway, you were always just stories to me, but the older I got, the more I wanted to know who the person behind the stories was."

"How long have you known about me?" Fraser asked.

"About seven years now."

"Not all your life then?"

"No. Only since I was fifteen. I was on the wrong road."

Ray listened as Michael told Fraser pretty much the same things he'd told Ray in the car two days earlier. When he finished, Fraser stared at him for long moments, looking puzzled.

"After hearing about me all your life, after meeting my father, you still wanted to . . . emulate us?"

He sounded so flabbergasted that Ray wanted to pop him one.

Michael nodded, a grin on his face. "Yeah. Pretty weird, isn't it? Guess I got that from your side of the family."

Fraser laughed out loud at that. "Yes, I think we can unequivocally state that. Which is why I never saw myself as any sort of role model. It feels quite peculiar to realize other people sometimes do. Now, my father, on the other hand, I can see wanting to emulate him."

"Well, I wanted to emulate you. I wanted to stay the heck away from your dad," Michael said with a grimace. "He took weird to a whole new level. I think maybe obsessive-compulsive might be a good word."

Ray nodded. "Oh yeah. You said it. That's him."

Fraser craned around to glower at Ray. "You never even met him!"

"Didn't need to," Ray said smugly. "I've met you. But see, what I don't get is how come your dad didn't see the resemblance. I mean, he saw you at that age, he saw Mike at that age, you guys look a lot alike."

Fraser cleared his throat and looked down at his hands. "Well, my father was gone for long periods of time when I was growing up, and he probably didn't re. . . ."

The sound of voices in the hallway and the opening door cut off the excuses Fraser had started to make. Fraser shot to his feet instantly, and Ray had to step to one side to see around him as three people filed into the room. The first was a short, rounded, older woman with bright brown eyes and skin like old leather. She wore her gray and dark-streaked hair up in a bun, and was dressed in a navy polyester pant-suit that had probably been around since the 1970's. Following her was a pleasant-faced man about the same size and age, with a brushy, iron-gray crewcut. He looked uncomfortable in a western shirt, dark, obviously new jeans, and cowboy boots. Bringing up the rear was a dark-haired, fortyish woman who was several inches taller than either of her parents.

She was pretty, sort of exotic, with wide-cheekbones and the Asian-looking eyes of the Inuit. Unlike her mother, she wore her hair cut short and feathery, and the jeans and a t-shirt she wore showed she had a decent figure. Shapely, but somehow solid too. Ray could immediately see echoes of Michael in her face. It was funny, until that moment he'd thought Michael looked exactly like Fraser, but suddenly he could see that he didn't. Not exactly. And where he didn't look like Fraser, he looked like. . . her. He could also understand why Fraser had been attracted to her. At nineteen, she must have been killer.

The two older folks were looking at Fraser. The younger woman was looking at the floor. Fraser was looking back at them, his face expressionless.

"Benton," the old woman said, her voice nearly as expressionless as Fraser's face.

"Mr. and Mrs. Tselihye, Rachel," Fraser returned.

The old woman shook her head and rolled her eyes. "I think you're too old for that, Benton. It's Emma and Gideon."

Fraser nodded. "As you wish."

Emma looked at Ray and nodded at him, clearly asking for an introduction.

Fraser supplied it. "My partner, Ray Kowalski. Ray, may I introduce Emma and Gideon Tselihye, and their daughter Rachel."

Ray put out his hand. "Nice to meet you," he said, shaking hands with each of them in turn. Rachel's palm was damp and she wouldn't look at him, either. Guilt, Ray figured. The older folks apparently didn't quite feel the same way. A moment after he released her hand, Emma turned toward the bed, with her hands fisted on her hips, surveying her grandson with a scowl.

"So this is what happens when we let you go Outside, eh?" the older woman asked with mock anger. "You get yourself in trouble right off."

Michael smiled ingratiatingly. "You should see the other guy."

She laughed softly and went to sit on the bed next to him. "Not a scratch on him, I'll bet, because you're a good cop." Her gaze went from the bandages on his hands to those on his arm. "You worried us."

He nodded. "I know. I'm sorry. But I had to."

"Of course you did." She sighed. "You know how we feel about this."

Michael's jaw tightened. "Yeah. But you're not going to change my mind. I like it, I'm good at it, and I'm not quitting."

He folded his bandaged arms across his chest and shoved his jaw forward in a mulish look that was so much like Fraser's that Ray almost laughed until it sank in what Michael was saying. He looked at Fraser, who looked back at him with the same frown he knew he was showing himself. This was new. Michael hadn't mentioned anything about family friction over his choice of career. Ray could tell Fraser was offended that someone would question anyone wanting to be a cop.

"I don't know why not," Emma said. "You know you could get a good job with your cousin as a guide, he's told you lots of . . . "

It was all too familiar to Ray. So familiar that his mouth was opening and words were coming out before he even realized he was going to do it. "I think Mike's old enough to make his own decisions, don't you?" he asked, deliberately confrontational.

The ensuing silence was profound, and he felt a flush in his face as every eye in the room was suddenly trained on him, but he stood his ground, looking back into Emma Tselihye's narrow-eyed stare evenly.

After a moment she looked away, and sighed. "Michael is a man, he makes his own decisions," she agreed quietly. Her gaze rose again. "And you are bold and rude to your elders," she said, but her eyes held humor, not anger.

Ray grinned and shrugged. "It's part of my charm." He glanced at Michael, who was looking at him in open amazement and then looked at Fraser, who was staring at him like he'd grown a new head. Okay, so just what was so weird about standing up for somebody? He did it all the time. Then the look in Fraser's eyes shaded into something else, something so warm and intimate that it nearly took his breath away. He heard a sharply indrawn breath from someone else in the room, he wasn't sure who, though, because when he turned his head to look everyone was looking away.

"So, what about me, Emma? Was I not a man, to make my own decisions?" Fraser's voice was quiet and even, but Ray heard the pain in it anyway. He knew Fraser too well not to. He moved closer without thinking, standing shoulder to shoulder with him.

"You're angry," Emma said, her focus on Fraser now.

Ray couldn't quite call Fraser's expression a sneer, but it was close.

He nodded shallowly. "I'm angry."

Ray put his hand on Fraser's back, just a little thing, letting him feel his support. Not too long ago, Fraser would never have admitted that he might be angry. Now, at least, he could.

"You took my son from me," Fraser continued. "You took his childhood from me, you took away my chance to know him as he grew, to see his firsts, to be part of his life. You stole all that from me."

There was another long silence following Fraser's words. Michael was watching Fraser with clear admiration. Gideon had his hands thrust in his pockets and he was staring at the floor. Rachel looked miserable. She kept trying to catch Fraser's eye, and he wasn't having it. He kept his gaze fixed on Emma.

After a moment, Emma cleared her throat. "It wasn't about you, Benton," she said quietly. "You were a good boy. We liked you. It was your father, your grandparents. We knew if they knew, they would take the baby away from us, raise him without tradition. We couldn't have that."

"You couldn't have that," Fraser said softly. "You."

"It was my grandchild," she said defensively.

"He is my son," Fraser said, changing the tense, personalizing the argument once more. "I'm sure you meant well. I can see you raised him well, and I thank you for that. Nonetheless it was not your decision to make alone. You wronged me. You wronged my family. You made assumptions that we would act in a certain way because of our culture, and our colour. And based on those, you took away my son, you took away my father's chance to know his grandson, my grandparents chance to know their great-grandson. Those things can never be made right. Sillusimajuq."

His words seemed almost ritualistic in their formality and evenness, and he seemed calm, but Ray could feel the tension under his hand on Fraser's back.

Emma looked less sure of herself all of the sudden. "Too much has been taken from our people, Benton."

"So. . . two wrongs make a right, then?" Fraser sounded almost conversational as he gazed at her with lifted eyebrows in a way that Ray knew from experience looked innocent, but was laser-like in its intensity.

She squirmed under it. "What do you want? What's done is done. The past can't be changed."

"No, it can't," he agreed.

"I don't know what you want." She looked at Ray as if he knew the answer. Ray didn't. He couldn't think of anything at all that would make it okay. After a moment she turned to her husband. "Gideon, you tell him."

Gideon looked up finally. "Tell him what, Emma? That we made a mistake? I can do that." He looked at Fraser and held out his hand. "I'm sorry, son. I can see we were wrong. We thought only of ourselves, and we were wrong."

Ray felt Fraser's back un-tense a little, and it hit him then. That was it. That was all Fraser needed. Just that acknowledgment. That recognition. Fraser stepped forward, taking Gideon's hand. "Thank you, sir."

Emma looked stricken. "Gideon!"

"No, Mom, he's right," Rachel said, speaking for the first time as she came to stand beside her father, looking earnestly at Fraser. "Ben, I'm sorry. I should have told you. I was young and I was freaked out and I just did what Mom said was right instead of thinking of you too. Later I thought about telling you, so many times, I even picked up the phone sometimes to call the RCMP and see if I could find your number, but I just couldn't figure out what to say. Then after Michael was older and Mom told him, I thought it should be his decision."

"Which he made, and I'm grateful for that," Fraser said looking at Michael. "Thank you Rachel." He looked back at Emma, waiting.

She lifted her chin. "He was my grandson," she repeated stubbornly. "I wasn't going to let qallunaaq take him from me and raise him Outside."

Fraser sighed and moved one of the chairs closer to Michael's bed and sat in it so Emma wasn't having to look up at him, then he reached out and took her hands in his. Ray noticed for the first time that they were knobby and twisted with arthritis. Fraser clearly noticed too, because he held her hands carefully.

"Emma, had I ever shown disrespect for your ways?"

"No, but your family. . ."

"Had anyone in my family ever shown disrespect for your ways?"

She thought, and slowly shook her head. "No. But you would have taken him."

"My grandparents were old and in poor health, certainly not up to taking on an infant. My father never even had time for me, let alone a grandson. I was seventeen years old and only months away from going to Depot, and in no position to take responsibility for a child. What on earth made you think the situation couldn't have been resolved in a way amenable to all concerned?"

Emma stared at Fraser for long moments, and Ray could see realization transforming her expression from defiance to grief in a slow progression. Her eyes filled with tears and she lifted one hand to wipe them, looking down at her small hand in Fraser's broad one. "I didn't. . . I never. . ." She shook her head and cleared her throat, then looked right at Fraser again. "You're right. I see it. I'm sorry, Benton. I'm so very sorry."

Fraser nodded, and Ray could see the last of the tension ease from his shoulders. "Thank you, Emma." He started to sit back, only to have her catch his hand carefully with hers.


For a moment Ray thought Fraser might pull away, but he looked down at her hand, and nodded, settling once more, leaning toward her.

"Let me tell you a story." She looked around at Michael, at Rachel, then lastly at Gideon. "This is something none of you have heard, not even you, Gideon. But it's important that you hear it now."

Ray felt like an intruder. This was clearly something for family, and he didn't really count. Fraser was kind of a stretch as it was. He cleared his throat. "I'll just . . . go get some coffee," he said, taking a step toward the door.

Emma looked at him. "No. You stay."

Well, he couldn't exactly refuse that. Still uncomfortable, Ray nodded and settled in against the windowsill behind Fraser's chair, waiting.

Emma sat back and composed herself for a moment, and then she began to speak, a faraway look on her face. "Many years ago there was a girl whose people came from near Kugluktuk, but she hadn't seen them in a long time. She was at a school where she and other girls like her had been sent, because their parents could not raise them as the government thought they should be raised. She had changed from a little girl to a young woman at the school, so had many of her friends. And like most young women, she was curious and eager to learn about boys. But there weren't any boys at the school. They were at another school, far away. There were only girls, and nuns, and the men who ran the school."

Ray had a bad feeling he knew where this story might be heading. He shifted a little closer to Fraser and reached to rest a hand on his shoulder, as much for himself as for Fraser.

"People told the girl she was pretty. Her friends with laughter, the nuns with frowns, and the men with admiration. One man in particular admired her. He was handsome, and kind, and he would bring her gifts of candy, and once an embroidered handkerchief. It was so pretty, with little purple flowers on it. He asked for a kiss in exchange, and she gave it. And then she gave him more for nothing, because she thought he loved her, and she loved him. Before long he wanted more than kisses, and she gave him that too. She liked how he made her feel special."

She paused for a moment, reached for the glass of water on Michael's tray, and sipped it. No one spoke. No one moved. Ray wasn't even sure anyone was breathing. After a moment she started to speak again, her gaze still fixed on something faraway.

"Then she started to get sick in the mornings, and to get fat, and the nuns told her she had sinned. She told them about the man, and they brought him, and he said it was her fault, that he was a married man who would not have strayed if she hadn't seduced him. The nuns believed him. She cried a lot for the next few months, but finally her baby was born, a beautiful boy. She called him Michael, after the angel, and she loved him very much, even though she'd been told he was a punishment from God for her sin. But after just a few days, the nuns came and they made her sign a paper. Only after she signed did they tell her that the paper gave the baby to his father. The man took him away to his wife in the city, and she never saw him again."

Ray couldn't look at her, and he felt his throat thicken. He'd wondered if that was where the story was going. He'd been right. God. Even after more than fifty years he could hear the pain those memories held for her.

She sighed, and sipped the water again, and then her gaze came back from the distance and she looked at Fraser. "So, maybe when Rachel came to tell me, I became that girl again. All the emotions I felt, all the fear and anger came back, and I gave in to it. I made you pay for what happened before you were born. I never forgave those people for what they did, but I hope you can forgive me."

"Of course. That was never in question," Fraser said roughly.

Ray pushed Fraser a little with the heel of his hand. Not hard, just a hint, but Fraser got it. He leaned forward and held out his arms, and the old woman went into them. For a long moment they held each other, and then Emma was pushing him back gently, and turning to look at her family, her expression one of trepidation. In a moment she was surrounded by her family, everyone on Michael's bed hugging and crying and talking at the same time.

Ray looked away, giving them what privacy he could, looking at Fraser instead. He must have sensed Ray's gaze, because he looked up, and for the first time in days the lost look was gone from his eyes. Ray felt something ease up inside his own chest, and reached out to brush his fingers along Fraser's cheek. Fraser gave him a little smile and reached up to catch his fingers, giving them a brief squeeze.

A knock at the door brought his attention up, and he saw Dr. Blackwell standing in the doorway looking quizzically at the pileup on the bed. Fraser stood, crossing the room to talk to her, low-voiced. After a moment she smiled and nodded, and then left the room. Ray got up and went over, because he felt a little overwhelmed, plus he really wanted some coffee, and he knew there as a pot down the hall in the visitor's lounge.

"Everything okay?" he asked, nodding in the direction the doctor had gone.

Fraser nodded. "Yes. I explained that the Tselihyes had only recently arrived, and she said she would come back in a little while."

"Good. You all right?"

Fraser thought about it for a moment before he answered, but finally he nodded. "Yes, Ray. I think I am."

Ray grinned. "Good. You want coffee? I'm going to get some."

"No, thank you. I'm fine."

"Yes, you are, as always," Ray said with a wink, and then headed down the hall. The lounge was empty and he stayed there longer than really necessary, sipping his coffee and thinking about Emma's story, and how it had affected everything that came after. It didn't seem to matter where you were from, people could be bad, or they could be good, but mostly they were both. And life was really, really complicated, even while it was also really simple. And boy, he really had been hanging out with Fraser way too long if he was thinking shit like that. He laughed softly at himself, and headed back to Michael's room.

Everyone was off the bed now. Michael had a longsuffering look on his face as Dr. Blackwell filled Gideon and Emma in on his injuries and projected recovery. Fraser and Rachel were nowhere to be seen. Ray tensed up at that. He knew it was stupid, but he couldn't seem to help it. It wasn't that he didn't trust Fraser. He did. He knew with utter certainty that Fraser would never cheat on him. That didn't mean Fraser would never get tired of him and leave, though. He knew that too. He was a realist. People did that. And it could be tough being two guys together, though maybe not so much now as it might have been twenty years ago. Still, it was a lot easier to go with the mainstream.

And if he was honest with himself, which he was more and more often these days, he'd admit he had always had a jealous streak. He could admit that to himself, even if he didn't want to hear it from anybody else. He just had to smack it into submission now and then. Why wouldn't Fraser want to have a few words in private with the woman who'd given him a son? Suddenly he wasn't sure what he was jealous about; Rachel, or Michael? It was a little painful to realize that all of the sudden, Fraser had something Ray had always wanted.

Trying not to think about that, Ray went to the window and stared outside. He heard Dr. Blackwell leave, and Gideon announced he was going to go get some coffee. Ray kept looking out the window, avoiding thought, realizing that if the weather were better, there would be a pretty good view. A little city, a little lake. Maybe a couple of sailboats. Unfortunately today it was rainy, just like the day before. Nothing to really distract him. After a little while he became aware that someone had come to stand beside him, and he looked over to find Emma gazing at him intently. He resisted the urge to snap 'what?' at her, and just waited for her to talk. He'd figured out when he and Fraser were on their quest that you had to do that with Elders. Finally she spoke.

"You don't need to worry."

He frowned a little. "About?"

"Benton and Rachel. That fire burned out a long time ago. Nothing left but ash." Suddenly she grinned, winked and nudged him in the side with her elbow. "Yours is still strong, eh? Plenty hot?"

He felt himself turn red. For some reason, even though he and Fraser never hid what they were, it felt weird to have someone his mom's age say something like that to him. He cleared his throat. "We're. . . good."

She nodded. "Thought so. You got beard-burn on your neck."

Ray coughed, and resisted the urge to feel his neck. He stared out the window again, wishing he could put his hot face against the cool glass. "We were, um, just playing that game, you know? Wolf?"

Emma snorted. "Uh huh."

"Aanaangilaak," Michael called out from his bed. "Quit embarrassing Ray."

She turned toward her grandson, her face all innocence. "I wasn't doing nothing."

"That's right, you weren't doing nothing, and that's why his face is the color of my dress reds," Michael said with a grin. "You forget, I know how you are."

Emma cackled, and went to the bed to ruffle his hair. He pulled away with an exaggerated grimace.

"I'm not five, you know."

"To me you'll always be the boy with the uviuraq who was so afraid of the inugarulliit getting him that he couldn't sleep when we camped by the lake."

"Hey!" Michael protested, turning a little red himself. "No fair telling stories, even if nobody here understands them!" He looked at Ray. "Come rescue me."

Ray chuckled and nodded. "Sure. Turnabout's fair play. What'd Dr. Blackwell have to say? When do you get to blow this pop-stand?"

Michael sighed. "She said I'm doing so well that I could leave today, except that I won't be able to do anything for myself for another couple of days while the deeper cuts on my hands close up enough that there's no chance of infection. So I'm kind of stuck here until I can do . . . stuff . . . without help."

Ray remembered Michael's earlier complaints and understood. "Sucks," he sympathized, and then something occurred to him. "You know, you could stay with us," he said, before his brain quite caught up with his mouth and suggested maybe asking Fraser first might have been a good idea. Plus even if Michael was cool with him and Fraser being bent, he might not want bent guys messing with the equipment, so to speak.

Michael stared at him, startled, then thoughtful. "I. . . you think Ben would be okay with that?"

"I. . . got no idea," he confessed ruefully. "Sometimes I talk before I think."

Michael chuckled. "Okay. Ask him first. I won't be upset if the answer's no. You both have jobs, and don't need to sit around taking care of me."

"You can stay with us at the Consulate," Emma said. "I'll take care of you."

"No, that wouldn't be right. People work there, they have real jobs, and I'm not making more work for anyone if I can help it. Plus, no offense, Anaanatsiaq, but I'm not really comfortable with you helping me that way."

Emma made a rude noise. "I seen you buck naked plenty."

"Not since I've been old enough to care," Michael said, glowering.

Ray understood the sentiment. At that age he wouldn't have wanted his grandmother looking after him, either, even if the alternative had been a gay guy. Probably. Maybe. If the gay guy was his dad. Which was just all kinds of weird to think about. He shook his head, and a flash of red caught his eye. He looked up to see Fraser and Rachel returning to the room. They both looked a little tense. Big surprise there. He resisted the temptation to go over and hover. Fraser didn't need that. Or. . . maybe he did. He made a beeline for Ray, standing closer than he normally let himself stand in public. Ray put a hand on the small of his back and rubbed gently, knowing Fraser tended to carry stress there.

"You okay?" he asked softly as Rachel grabbed her mother's arm and hauled her out into the hallway.

Fraser nodded. "Fine. Just a little. . . " he sighed, and rolled his shoulders, ". . . tense."

"Yeah." He managed not to ask what they'd talked about. Fraser would tell him if he wanted to. "Um, question for you?"

Fraser nodded, waiting.

"Dr. Blackwell says Mike can go home now if he's got someone to help him with . . . personal stuff for a day or two until his hands are healed up a little more. Emma wants to take him to the Consulate, but Mike doesn't want her to do that kind of stuff for him. You think we. . . I mean, is it okay if he stays with us?"

Fraser stared at him for long enough that Ray was beginning to think he'd screwed up, and then he saw one corner of Fraser's mouth lift a little, then he glanced at the bed where Michael was staring intently up at the TV like static was the most engrossing thing in the world, and frowned. "Do you think he would want that?" he asked in a voice so low it was really a whisper.

"Yeah. I think he would. If you would."

"And you?"

"I suggested, it didn't I?"

"All right then." He took a deep breath, looking nervous. "Michael?"

Michael looked up. "Yeah?"

"Would you like to stay with us for a day or two until you're able to be on your own? I'm sure Mr. Chopra would approve family leave for me."

Michael's smile was brilliant. "You want me to?"

Fraser nodded. "I. . . we. . . would." He glanced at Ray, who nodded, and then looked back at Michael, a faint hint of color on his face. "I've quite a bit of experience with wounds, so I can change your dressings and . . . assist with anything else you need, if you're comfortable with that."

"I don't suppose Constable Chao would be up for nursing duty?" Michael asked with a grin. "Or maybe Carlin, the cute blonde from the coffee bar?"

Ray snickered, and Fraser cleared his throat. "I suppose I could ask them," he said thoughtfully. "They could take turns."

"No! I was joking!" Michael said hastily. "The last thing I need is to have a pretty girl holding my. . . uh. . . well . . . it would just be kind of hard."

"Yes, I expect it would be," Fraser said blandly, only his eyes betraying his amusement.

Ray laughed and punched him in the shoulder. "Evil Mountie."

Michael stared, taken aback, and then he started to laugh, too. After a moment he sobered again. "Are you sure you guys want to have me stay? If I stay with you, my family will be in your hair until they go back home," Michael said, suddenly looking worried.

"I think we can handle it," Ray said. "The Vecchios stayed over for three days once when their place had to be fumigated. There were eight of them. Two under five. After that, anything else is a piece of cake."

Fraser sent Ray a warm glance that made him forget his doubts, and half of his jealousy. Only half, though. Rachel wasn't the problem. He almost wished . . . but no, there was no chance of that. The only person he'd fooled around with when he was seventeen was Stella, and she'd made damned sure they wouldn't end up like some of their classmates, having to get married before they were out of high school. They'd had one scare, and she'd gone on the Pill immediately after the all-clear. Told her mom it was because of cramps. There wouldn't be any twenty-something surprises for him.

"Benton?" Emma said from the doorway where she, Rachel, and Gideon hovered. "You ever come up to the Territories any more?"

"Not lately, but we've been considering a trip up there in the near future." He looked at Ray, who nodded.

Emma looked pleased. "We were thinking maybe we should have a healing ceremony, try to put things back in balance. Would you come?"

"I think that's an excellent idea," Fraser said. "Provided the timing works out."

"We'd be sure to make it when you were going to be Inside. No point in having it if you're not there. You can invite your relatives."

Fraser cleared his throat. "Most of them have passed on, or I'm out of touch, though Maggie might like to come."

"Maggie?" Michael asked.

"Maggie McKenzie."

"Constable McKenzie, from Norman Wells?"

Fraser nodded. "My half-sister."

Michael stared at him. "Mag. . . Maggie Mac is your sister?" he asked incredulously.

Fraser nodded. "Half. My father and Ellen Mackenzie were quite . . . close. . . for a time."

The Tselihyes digested that. After a moment, Gideon spoke.

"Huh. Wouldn't have figured your dad for that."

Fraser smiled faintly. "Neither did Maggie or I. It came as quite a surprise when we discovered it."

That drew some nods. Ray glanced at his watch, and then cleared his throat and looked at Michael.

"If you're coming home with us, you'll need your stuff. If you give me your room key, I'll go over to the University and get your things, and take them home, then I'll come back and get everyone."

Michael nodded, then looked puzzled. "I don't think we'll all fit in the GTO."

"Which is why I'll swap it for the Scout," Ray said smoothly. "While I'm gone you can tell the doc you're leaving and get all your prescriptions and instructions together." He and Ben had been through the 'going home from the hospital' thing enough times that he knew the drill.

* * *

Ray pulled the GTO into the garage and got out, put Michael's bag in the back of the Scout, and then decided he really needed to make a pit-stop before he got back in a car. He headed into the house and noticed the light blinking on the answering machine as he passed it on his way to the bathroom. He ignored it until after he'd finished. Dief was standing at the back door anxiously, so he let him out into the back yard, thinking they needed to put in a dog. . . or rather a wolf-door. Though it was pretty rare that Dief got left home alone, so maybe not. He checked the recorder, saw the message was about an hour old, and pushed the playback button.

"Ray? Fraser? It's me," Frannie's disembodied voice sounded stressed. "I need a favor. Can one of you watch the twins for me tonight? My sitter's sick and I've got class, mom's busy, and Maria and Tony are out of town. Call soon, you know the number."

Ray sighed, rubbing his forehead. Whenever it rained it poured. Whatever the hell that meant. He thought about it. Things seemed to be going pretty well between Fraser and the Tselihyes, it was probably safe enough to leave them alone for a few hours. It wasn't like Fraser wasn't capable of handling just about anything that came up on his own, but Ray would feel better being there, in case he needed backup. Frannie had sounded pretty desperate, though. He picked up the phone and hit the autodial. After five rings it was finally answered.

"Vecchio's, Francesca speaking." She sounded harried.

"Hey, sis," Ray said. "You still need a white knight?"

Frannie snorted. "I gave up on white knights a long time ago, bro, what I need is a babysitter."

"What time?"

"You can do it? That's great! That's really great! I thought I was going to have to miss class! Five-thirty would be good, if you can make it. I'll have dinner ready for you. And how come you and Fraser are both off work? You're not sick, are you?"

Ray rolled his eyes. "No, Frannie, I'm not sick, and neither is Fraser. I wouldn't sit for you if I was. I'm not stupid you know. Look, I have to go right now, I'll tell you all about it when I see you tonight, okay?"

She sighed loudly. "You don't know what it's like to be out of the loop all the time," she said forlornly. "But I guess I can wait. Come a little early so we have time to talk."

"I'll try. Look, I gotta go now. People are waiting for me. Bye."


He hung up, and let Dief back in, absently reaching to scratch his ruff and then grimacing as his fingers slid through wet fur. "Raining again, huh?" he asked as Dief proceeded to shake himself and spray Ray with water. At least his feet weren't muddy, so he'd stayed out of the garden. Ray washed his hands and then crouched down. "Mike's going to be staying with us again, but he's been hurt so take it easy on him, okay? Also, his mom and his grandparents will probably be around a lot for the next couple of days so mind your manners."

Dief tossed his head like he was offended that Ray had even thought he needed to say anything, and then stared at him searchingly. Ray nodded, laughing.

"Yeah. Yeah, we got it. We know. You knew right from the start, didn't you? He smells like Fraser, right? You should've said something."

Dief snorted and trotted out to lie on his sheepskin in the living room. Ray gazed after him for a moment and then shook his head. "Yeah, you're right. We probably wouldn't have believed you. So we're dumb, okay, we admit it."

Dief sighed and put his head down on his paws. Ray took a step toward the door to the garage, and then stopped, grinning. He dashed upstairs and pawed through the medicine cabinet until he found what wanted, and put the small box in his pocket before heading out to the Scout and setting off.

Half an hour later, he waited until he and Fraser were the only ones in the room with Michael, and then he dropped the box in Michael's lap. "Here. Since you're staying with us, these might come in handy."

Michael picked up the box to look at it curiously. Ray knew Fraser recognized it, because he turned red as Michael looked up at them, puzzled.


Ray grinned, but didn't say anything. Michael looked at Fraser, who remained silent, even as his face got redder. Michael looked back down at the box, and then started to smile.

"Oh. Okay. Thanks," he managed, before going off into a fit of giggles that were clearly his genetic heritage.

* * *

It wasn't until the twins were both asleep, one in the crook of his left arm, the other in his right, that Ray realized the problem with his position. He couldn't get up without waking up a kid. Okay, no big deal. He'd just watch some TV. Except for the fact that the remote was three feet away on the coffee table, so he also couldn't turn on the TV without waking up a kid.

Crap. He should have turned it on before he'd sat down in the overstuffed recliner with them. Frannie always told him to just put them down in their cribs when it was time for bed but he really couldn't deal with the heartbroken sobbing that usually ensued when he tried that, so he'd gotten into the habit of rocking them to sleep whenever he sat for her.

So what if half the time he also rocked himself to sleep? Not tonight though. Too much else on his mind. He wondered how Fraser was making out at home with the Tselihyes. He knew that though the initial conversation had gone well, there was still tension there. Issues. Fraser's feelings ran deep. Just because he carried it all down where no one could see it didn't mean it wasn't there. He might have said he'd forgiven them, but, Jesus. Ray didn't know how anyone could completely forgive something like that.

He looked around the disaster area that was Frannie's living room and wondered once again what it would be like to have kids you didn't give back after a couple of hours. Kids that you were responsible for, every moment of every day for their entire lives until one or the other of you died. His occasional stints as babysitter were nothing compared to that reality. The three days that the Vecchios had spent with him and Fraser during the fumigation incident had given him just the smallest taste of what normal people went through.

Shit. It'd been a while since he'd had that kind of thought. Fraser would be pissed. He'd worked hard to get it through to Ray that 'normal' and 'average' weren't the same thing. He and Fraser were normal, they just weren't average. Except that no matter how much he knew Fraser was right, there was still that part of him that thought normal was . . . married with kids. His parents had drilled that into him all his life. When he and Stella got married, his mom had started with the 'when do I get grandbabies' and hadn't let up until the divorce. Hell, not even then. She'd kept after him to date, to get married again, to have a family before he got 'too old to enjoy it.'

He was going to be forty next year. Was that too old? Not that it mattered. Huh. Out of the blue it occurred to him that his mom hadn't mentioned grandkids since he and Fraser had moved in together. Until this very moment, he hadn't even noticed she'd stopped. And how weird was it that he suddenly missed being nagged about it? Because not being nagged meant. . . 'not normal.' He scowled. He'd been 'normal' with Stella and what had that had gotten him? Nothing but lonely, and empty.

He must have tensed or something, because Davy squirmed, scrunched up his face and whimpered a little. Ray started rocking again, forcing himself to relax. It was stupid to think about that, to let it get to him. Because it was over and done with, and he definitely did not have to worry about that with Fraser. No lonely. No empty. Just. . . whatever the opposite of lonely was. Companied? And full. Not even in the dirty sense. It was enough. It was more than enough, really. The wanting kids thing was just his old tape playing. Probably. He looked down at Danni, drooling on his shirt, and . . .okay, maybe not just the tape, but mostly.

Until he and Fraser had taken that last step, had actually admitted the attraction they'd danced around for months, he'd never really imagined a future without kids. But even though he liked kids, he knew that didn't mean he could deal with having them around all the time. The thing he'd really noticed with Frannie was that she didn't have a life any more. If she'd had a husband, she sure wouldn't have time to have any fun with him. Plus there was the whole privacy thing, which Ray was beginning to understand, what with recent events. And Michael didn't require nearly the amount of work that a little kid would.

Ray shook his head wryly. Leave it to Fraser to figure out how to have a kid without going through all that. He always managed to make everything look so damned easy. Okay, wait. That wasn't fair. It wasn't like Fraser had wanted it to be that way. Wasn't like he'd had a choice. And just because Fraser made everything look so effortless, that didn't mean it was. Even if he sometimes envied that ability, Ray knew that better than anyone but Fraser himself. He knew first hand the toll it took on Fraser to project that illusion.

He stopped rocking the chair and propped his feet up on the footstool part. Dumb. It was dumb to be spending so much time thinking about this. When he had hooked up with Fraser he'd filed all those old yearnings in one of his many 'boxes marked done.' He needed to stop picking at the tape that sealed the box. With a sigh, he leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes.

* * *

"Ray? Ray? Ray?"

The increasing volume was accompanied by a slight shake the last time. Ray opened his eyes, looked up at Frannie, and smiled. "Hey."

She stood looking down at him, hands on her hips, shaking her head, with an exaggerated scowl. "What am I going to do with you? They never want to go to bed in their cribs for days after you sit. You spoil them."

"I'm allowed. It's an uncle thing," he said, relinquishing Danni to her mother as she reached down and took the sleeping baby out of the cradle of his arm. She took the oblivious baby into the nursery and returned a moment later to take Davy, too. He sat up, rolled his neck, and flexed his slightly numbed arms, and then got up and started to collect the toys scattered around the couch and toss them into the toy net slung in the corner.

"How was class?" he asked as Frannie came out of the nursery, closing the door quietly behind her.

"Good, it was good. I wasn't sure I'd like this early childhood education stuff, but I'm really getting into it. The Montescary and Waldork stuff is just really cool. But you're not weaseling out this time, since I'm not going to be late for class now. What's with you and Fraser being off work today? I know you'd goof off at the drop of a hat, but Fraser never takes time off."

Ray glanced at the nursery door, and then back at Frannie, and sighed. "Got any coffee?"

"You don't need coffee, it's a quarter of nine at night! If you have coffee now you won't sleep tonight, and I'll get a phone call from Fraser accusing me of making you cranky." She looked at him searchingly. "What's up, really? You guys having problems?"

"Prob. . . oh. No, no, we're good. Don't worry. It's just that Benton got kind of a surprise this week. A blast from the past, so to speak. He's been having a bit of a hard time dealing with it. Things are better now, though. I think."

"What kind of a surprise?"

"Well, uh. . ." Ray tried to think of how to say it. Fraser had said it was okay to tell her, but it was harder than he'd thought. His gaze fell on the picture of Frannie and the twins at the 27th taken just after they were born, everyone in the room with a cigar clenched between their teeth, even the non-smokers. Wait. . . yeah. "Let's just say he should be passing out cigars with blue bands on them."

Frannie frowned for a moment, and then her gaze followed his, and she gasped. "Fraser?" she demanded incredulously. "Fraser has a baby?"

"Well, not exactly a baby," he said, trying to think where to start. "He's older."

Frannie absorbed that, and then lifted stricken eyes to his. "Ray. . . it's not. . . it's not hers, is it?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper.

Ray looked at her, puzzled. "Her who?"

"Her!" Frannie hissed. "The bitch with the diamonds."

Oh. Her. "No, Frannie. It's not Victoria's." Fuck. He hadn't even thought of that one. The very idea gave him the shudders, and he hoped to hell that Fraser or Victoria had thought to use protection. He figured Victoria would have. From what he'd heard, she wasn't the sort of woman who would want the baggage of a kid, so she'd probably been on the Pill or something like it.

Frannie looked relieved. "Thank God. So, how old is he? What's he like? What's his name?"

"His name's Mike. . . Michael, I mean. He's twenty-two, and he looks a lot like Fraser, but his mom's Inuit. Fraser knew her when they were teenagers." Ray smiled. "He's a Mountie too, believe it or not. I'm starting to think there must be some kind of genetic research going on up there in the Canada using Frasers for test subjects."

Frannie laughed. "Yeah, that is kind of weird. Aren't there any black sheep in that family?"

"Ask Fraser about his Uncle Tiberius sometime," Ray said. "Anyway, things have been kind of a little weird lately, and then Mike got hurt and we. . . "

"He got hurt? What happened?"

"He intervened in an assault in a coffee bar down on North Shore yesterday morning."

Frannie pressed both hands to her chest. "Oh my God! That was him? I heard about that on the news! That was him? Is he okay?"

"Yeah, he got a little cut up, but he's okay now. He's staying at our place for a few days."

Frannie eyed him narrowly. "I'm assuming I haven't been invited over to meet him because he's not up to having visitors yet?"

"Yeah. Yeah, of course," Ray lied, not having given thought to any of that until that very moment. "He's going to be in town for about a month, so we'll do a picnic or something before he leaves, invite you and Ma."

"That sounds great! Ma would like that!"

"Good, I'll run it by Fraser. I'm sure he'll want to do something." Thinking of Frannie's mother made him think of her brother, and he frowned. "Hey. . . uh, let Fraser tell Ray, okay? I think he'll want to."

Frannie nodded. "Yeah. You're probably right. I'll keep quiet."

"Wow. That's got to be a first," he said with a grin, and then had to put his hands up to ward off the smack she sent his way.

"Brat. Just for that, I'm not sending any brownies home with you."

"Hey, why punish Fraser and Mike for my crime?" he asked innocently.

She looked thoughtful. "Yeah, true. Okay. But you stay out of them."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, still trying for wide-eyed sincerity.

She snickered. "You are such a fraud, Ray Kowalski. I know you'll have one in your mouth before you even leave the parking lot."

"Nah, I'll wait until I get home. I've got milk there."

She shook her head and rolled her eyes. He grinned, and headed for the door, only to have her stop him with a hand on his arm, her expression serious. "Ray, are you okay?"

He stared at her, wondering why she was asking. "Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"

She got that look of faint exasperation that women always got when men asked stupid questions. "Well, it's got to be kind of weird. I mean, Fraser having a kid and all."

Oh. That. "It's. . . not something I, I mean we, ever expected. Either of us. And yeah, it's weird. But that's life, you know. What can you do?" He shrugged. "You just have to roll with the punches."

She sighed, and nodded. "Yeah. You do. I know all about rolling with the punches." She looked at him with a wry smile. "You know you're darned lucky to be alive, don't you?"

Ray frowned. "Uh, yeah, but what particular reason did you have in mind?"

"That I didn't kill you when I found out about you and Fraser," she said nonchalantly.

Ray stilled. Strangely, they'd never talked about that. He'd expected her to go ballistic, and she never had. It had been quite a shock, but since he'd figured the conversation would involve crying and possibly physical violence, he hadn't wanted to look a gift Frannie in the mouth.

"I wanted to," she continued. "I honestly did. For about three minutes or so. Until the relief hit."

"Relief?" Ray asked, even though he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know.

Frannie nodded. "Yeah. Relief that I wouldn't have to put up with being scared out of my gourd every time he was out on a case pulling crazy stuff like he always did. You'd get to do that instead. I think you're probably a lot better at it than I am."

Ray laughed softly, shaking his head. "Don't bet on it. The best thing about his new job is that now he doesn't risk his damned neck every day like he used to. Just a couple of times a month instead."

"Pretty hard, hunh?"

"You have no idea." Ray rubbed the back of his neck. "But then, I'm not exactly easy myself, right?"

"No, you're not," Frannie said, smiling. "Go on home. He's probably wondering what's taking you so long."

Ray sighed. "Nah. He'll be too busy with Mike, and the Tselihyes are probably still there fussing over him, too."

"The who?"

"I forgot that part, didn't I? Mike's mom, and grandparents. They came down to make sure our hospital was treating him right."

"His. . . mom?" Frannie asked, surprised. "Wow. His mom. I hadn't thought about that part. What's she like?"

"Quiet. Pretty." Ray wished he could say she was a bitch, but he couldn't. "She seems nice. And her folks are here too. They raised Mike. They're staying at the Consulate but spending a lot of time with Mike, so it's kind of a zoo at our place."

"I bet." She was quiet for a moment, thoughtful, then she looked at him again. "Pretty, hunh?"

Ray nodded. "Yeah."

"Figures." Her gaze was sympathetic.

"Yeah," he agreed.

They spent a moment in silent commiseration, and then Frannie cleared her throat. "I'll get those brownies for you."


* * *

Ray walked into the house expecting to hear voices, so the lack of them was immediately noticeable. The Tselihyes must have gone back to the Consulate already, and Michael was probably in bed. He felt guiltily relieved by that. Detouring into the kitchen, he put two brownies on a paper towel, poured a large glass of milk, and then headed into the living room. Fraser was alone on the couch, reading. Or, well, squinting at the book in his hands.

"I keep telling you, you need to get your eyes checked," Ray said, handing him one of the brownies as he picked up the other one and bit in, enjoying the dense, chewy chocolate for a few seconds before chasing it with a swallow of milk.

"My eyes are fine," Fraser said, putting down his book and holding out a hand for the glass as Ray sat down.

"Yeah. You've always squinted when you read," Ray said drily. "Come on, it's not so bad. I've had glasses since I was six."

Fraser glared at him. Ray held out his brownie placatingly. Fraser glared a moment longer then relented and took a bite, eyes closing slightly as he chewed, his expression one of thoughtful pleasure. It was tempting to lean forward and kiss him, but he was holding the milk, so Ray refrained.

"You could always do that laser thing," Ray said after Fraser swallowed.


Amazing how much warning Fraser could pack into a single syllable. "Yeah, yeah, I know. Where's Dief?"

"With Michael."

"Traitor. When did everybody leave?"

"A little after eight."

"Everything okay?"

Fraser nodded, and then sighed, putting the glass of milk and the plate down on the end table and reaching for Ray's hand, intertwining their fingers. Ray put his brownie down so he could shift around to see Fraser's face better.

"Things were a little uncomfortable," Fraser said. "I think Rachel. . . well, we talked earlier and she understands now, but it seems she thought perhaps since I never married. . ." he let his sentence trail off.

"She thought it was like a kind of 'pining away for her for twenty-two years' sort of thing?"

Fraser nodded. "Yes. She said she accepted the reality of the situation, but I'm afraid she was disappointed."

He said it like he thought it was all his fault, which made Ray bristle. "She'll get over it," he said flatly. "She had twenty-two years to get in touch, and didn't. I don't think she was doing much in the way of pining so do not go feeling guilty."

Fraser smiled wryly. "She's been married five times."

"See? No pining." Ray bumped Fraser's shoulder with his own.

"True enough," Fraser admitted with a faint grin.

"How you doing?"

"I'm . . . unsettled," Fraser said, shifting around on the couch until he could pull Ray between his legs. Leaning back, he tugged at Ray until his back was against his chest. "It's just all so abrupt," he said, sort of talking to the back of Ray's head. "I find myself thinking, wondering, a great deal."

Ray squeezed his hand. "Yeah. Me too." He figured it would be good to get it out in the air, so he kept going. "Tonight, over at Frannie's, with the twins. . . it just kind of made me think."

He felt Fraser nod, thoughtful. "Yes. I can see how that would tend to influence you."

"That, and. . . everything."

Fraser shifted slightly, and lifted his hand to the back of Ray's neck, rubbing out the tension he hadn't realized was there until Fraser's fingers found it. "Yes. Everything. Ray. . . I'm sorry about all this."

Ray pushed away and turned to look at him. "What?"

"I'm s. . ."

"No, no I heard you. I just couldn't believe you said it. What the hell are you sorry for?"

"All this disruption."

Ray shook his head, smiling. "Benton, with you, disruption is a way of life. I knew that when I signed on. Relax."

Fraser sighed. "It's difficult."

"I know. Come on, let's go to bed. Maybe I can get you relaxed there," Ray said with a suggestive leer. He stood up, and then picked up the plate and the glass from the end table, and looked at Fraser impatiently. "Well?"

"Shouldn't we eat those down. . . "

"No," Ray interrupted. "Tonight, we are risking the wrath of the tooth fairy. We're going to eat brownies and drink milk, in bed, not worry about crumbs, and I, for one, am not brushing my teeth. That okay by you?"

"Perfectly," Fraser said, and Ray could see him trying hard not to smile as he stood to follow Ray up the stairs to their bedroom.

Putting the brownies and milk down on the nightstand, Ray stripped quickly, threw his clothes in the hamper, then slid into bed and watched appreciatively while Fraser undressed with more care. He never got tired of watching Fraser peel down. Something about the fact that he was normally covered from neck to ankle made it just that much hotter when he wasn't. He suspected Fraser knew that, too, since the way he undressed when Ray was watching was just this side of a strip-tease, completely unlike the no-nonsense way he undressed when he didn't think Ray was paying attention.

Finally Fraser had everything off, and either in the hamper or hung up, and he joined Ray in bed, lying back with a sigh, closing his eyes. Ray poked him. "Sit up."

Fraser opened one eye. "Why?"

"You can't eat lying down."

A slow smile slid across Fraser's face. "That depends on what I'm eating."

"Benton Fraser! I'm shocked! You kiss my mother with that mouth?"

"Occasionally," Fraser said, sitting up and reaching across Ray to snag a brownie. "But only on the cheek." He broke off a bite of brownie and held it out to Ray.

Ray took it, and watched as Fraser broke off another piece and ate it himself. He frowned. "Hey. That's not buddies." He picked up the other brownie. "My turn." He offered Fraser another bite, and Fraser took it, much too obligingly. Ray shot him a suspicious look. "Hang on, is this your way of making sure you get more bites?"

Fraser made innocent eyes at him, still chewing.

Ray grinned. "I'm on to you." He ate the next bite himself, and then waited, watching Fraser expectantly. Fraser broke off a piece and acted like he was going to eat it himself, then at the last moment he offered it to Ray on his palm. Ray took it, and then licked the crumbs off his palm. Fraser's fingers curled slightly, and he made a soft sound. Ray gave one last lick, and then guilelessly held out the last piece of the brownie in his own hand.

Fraser nipped at his fingers as he took it, softly, followed by a little stroke of tongue across his fingertips that made him shiver. He chewed, swallowed, and followed the bite with half the glass of milk, and then offered Ray the last piece of his brownie. Ray took it in his teeth, and held it there, carefully not biting hard enough to break it, waiting.

Fraser wasn't stupid.

It was kind of a weird kiss, full of chocolate crumbs. Fraser's mouth was cool, and milky. It was strange, and kind of gross, but somehow hot, too. Ray lifted his mouth long enough to chew and swallow, saw Fraser doing the same, and when he was done Ray pressed him down against the pillows and kissed him again, long, and slow. The heat was there, but banked. They were both tired, and a little tense. Ray kissed him one last time and sat back, urging Fraser over onto his belly.

Fraser complied without a word. It always gave Ray a little thrill when Fraser did what he asked, without arguing, just trusting him. Total trust. It got to him in ways he couldn't begin to explain. He started at Fraser's calves, and worked his way up, feeling the tension melt away under his touch. Another thing that just knocked him out. He'd once given Fraser a gift certificate for a massage, with a real, professional massage therapist, and Fraser had come back from the appointment just as tense as he'd gone. Yet under Ray's hands he was like butter in the sun. Ray did his neck last, rasping his fingers against the short-cropped hair at the back of his neck, before sitting back. Fraser sighed contentedly, and after a few seconds, he turned over, and pushed up on one elbow.

"Your turn."

Ray wasn't stupid either. He eased down, pillowing his head on his arm. The bed shifted a little, and then he was being rubbed down. Fraser started with his ass. He knew Ray's legs were kind of ticklish. God, it felt good, though, those strong, blunt fingers digging into the sore muscles that Ray never realized were sore until Fraser worked on them. By the time he'd reached Ray's shoulders, Ray felt a lot like that butter he'd compared Fraser to. When Fraser turned out the light and spooned up behind him, Ray put his hand over Fraser's forearm where it lay across his stomach and squeezed slightly in appreciation.

The way Fraser curled around him like that was comfortingly familiar. He was solid and warm, and . . . okay, maybe a little horny, judging by the hard-on pushing against the back of Ray's thigh. Ray stretched a little and pushed back against Fraser's cock. "You want to. . . ?" he asked hopefully.

"I. . ." Fraser began, and then he hesitated. "We have company."

"So?" Ray said, nudging him again. "That really matter?"

Fraser made a rude noise into his hair.

"Didn't think so," Ray said, grinning. Fraser bit the back of his neck gently, and Ray shivered. "You want to pitch, catch, or just get a little batting practice?" he asked after a few moments of lazily rocking against each other.

"Mmm. Don't care," Fraser said. "You?"

"Well, we're both kind of beat, and if I catch neither of us has to move much," he mused.

That got a soft laugh, and Fraser stretched and then settled back again. "All right," he whispered.

The popping sound of the lube bottle being uncapped sent a little shiver through him. He almost laughed, wondering what a shrink would make of his conditioned response to the sound. He shifted one leg forward just as Fraser's slippery fingers settled into place, stroking, circling, and then sliding inside him, opening him up. "Yeah," he sighed. "Fuck yeah."

A few endless moments later he was breathing hard, his hips rocking in time with Fraser's patient strokes. He reached a hand back, trying to find . . . yeah. That. His fingers curled around thick, warm flesh, stroking awkwardly, hand sliding on the pre-come Fraser was leaking. "Come on," he urged, "I hate dancing by myself."

Fraser thrust hard into his hand, as if he couldn't help it, and his breath caught. "Yes," he growled into Ray's ear. One of his hands gripped on Ray's hip, holding him still as he pulled his fingers out. Ray let go of Fraser's cock and Fraser moved in close, so close, his cock riding in the slick crease of Ray's ass as he pumped a few times, though he hardly needed the extra slick. Finally he got with the program and pushed on the upstroke, and his cock slipped in, slow, and easy.

Ray let out the breath he'd been holding with a sigh, pushing back against Fraser, encouraging him to move. Fraser did. Barely. He kept up the leisurely rocking they'd been doing before. Which would have frustrated Ray except that somehow with every thrust in, Fraser hit the exact perfect angle to make Ray see stars behind his eyelids. And he kept it up as the minutes passed and their bodies grew sweaty. Kept it slow even when the hand gripping Ray's hip slipped and clenched and slipped again, and his breath in Ray's ear sounded like he was running a marathon.

Ray didn't sound much different, each breath catching in his throat as Fraser rocked into him. Fraser hard and fast, pounding him into the wall was great, but this . . . this was the sort of thing that could drive a guy out of his mind, hovering right on the edge of coming for what felt like hours, the world narrowed down to Fraser's body in his. He concentrated on that, on the spreading pleasure. He could come this way. He knew he could. Was going to, in fact, come, from this slow, steady, gentle fucking. He could feel it rising, feel his cock starting to twitch a little.

Fraser suddenly shuddered, groaned guttural nonsense into his ear, and pushed in deep, shuddering. He panted for a minute, and then he shifted his weight, his hand closing around Ray's aching cock at last. Just that touch was enough to set him off, and he came into the warm shelter of Fraser's hand, his whole body shaking with the intensity of it.

After a few moments Fraser slipped out of him and pulled him over onto his back, leaning over to kiss him deeply before collapsing half on top of him with a sigh. Ray carded his fingers lazily through the sweaty waves of Fraser's hair, feeling boneless and relaxed. Screwing in the kitchen was hot, and intense, but there was something really . . . comforting about this. He kind of thought of it as old married couple sex, even though they weren't married. And in any case pieces of paper didn't much matter. He was more married to Fraser than he'd ever been to Stella.

* * *

Ray woke when Fraser got out of bed, pushing up on one arm and groping sleepily at the space where Fraser had just been. "'S'up?" he asked groggily.

Fraser put a hand on his shoulder and urged him back down as he tried to sit up. "It's all right, go back to sleep. I heard Michael up. I'm going to go see if he needs help."

Oh. Right. Memory stirred vaguely. Ray settled back down, listening to Fraser get clothes from the closet and slip out of the room, closing the door quietly behind himself. He lay there for a while, dozing, but not quite sleeping, registering the fact that the room was kind of light for it being night. And the fact that without Fraser beside him, the bed seemed empty. He opened one eye and squinted at the clock. Six forty-eight. Apparently getting up at the crack of dawn even when you didn't have to was another of those genetic Fraserisms.

Ray sighed, knowing Fraser wouldn't be coming back to bed, and sat up, scrubbing his hands through his hair, yawning and stretching. He could do morning. It might not be his favorite thing, but he'd lived with Fraser long enough that he was used to it. On the up side, he'd gotten a pretty decent night's sleep, nothing hurt, and he had the day off without being sick.

Getting up, he wandered into the bathroom to answer the call of nature, and thought about the fact that they were probably going to have a house full of company all day. Guiltily he hoped that the Tselihyes would be leaving soon now that they knew Mike was okay. Even though he knew he probably shouldn't, he felt a little niggle of resentment toward them. It made him a little uncomfortable to realize he wasn't quite sure if it was because of what they'd done to Fraser, or just because the decisions they'd made two decades earlier were coming back to complicate what he and Fraser had now.

Oddly, he didn't resent Mike. Or maybe not so oddly. He might have been the cause of those decisions, but he wasn't the one who'd made them, and Ray couldn't really blame him for being curious. He would probably have done the same thing, if it'd been him. Returning to the bedroom he pulled on his sweats and a t-shirt and headed downstairs. The living room was empty, and he didn't hear voices, but the coffee-maker was gurgling and hissing in the kitchen so he went in there, to find Michael sitting at the kitchen table staring sleepily at the coffee-maker.

"Hey," Ray said.

Michael looked up. "Hey. Morning."

"Where's Fraser?"

"Took Dief out for a run."

"Ah," Ray rubbed his face and yawned, then looked over to see Michael grinning at him. "What?" he asked.

"You say that just like he does," Michael said, still grinning.

"Say what?"


"Oh." Ray felt his face get a little warm. "Guess I, uh, kind of picked it up."

Michael nodded. "Guess so." He studied Ray for a moment, his gaze getting less sleepy by the moment. "How long have you guys been . . . together?"

Ray started to say it was none of his business, but then he realized maybe it kind of was. "Depends on what you mean by together," he said, hedging.

"You know what I mean."

Ray went to the cabinet to get out mugs as the coffee-maker spluttered and gasped out its last drops. "Yeah. I do."

He waited a few seconds and then pulled the pot out to fill the mugs. Replacing it he added sugar to both, then went to the refrigerator to get the milk for Michael's. After getting it doctored correctly he handed that mug to Michael, who took it a little awkwardly with his bandaged hands. Ray took a sip of his own, and noticed it was raining outside. He shook his head. Only Fraser would take Dief for a run in the rain. Finally he looked over at Michael and answered the question.

"You already know we met a little over four years ago when I went undercover to replace his former partner. We knew, pretty much from the start, but we didn't do anything about it for a long time, worried it'd blow my cover. That was rough. Pretending it wasn't there nearly killed us, almost split us up. We finally managed to work through that, though, and after that we were both tired of waiting. So we. . . stopped. Waiting, I mean. That was about three years ago now. We got this place a year and a half ago."

Michael looked impressed. "Wow. Three years, that's . . . a long time."

Ray snorted. "Yeah, to a twenty-something."

"Hey!" Michael protested. "I'm a grown up."

"You're never a grown up," Ray said with a smile. "That's something you'll learn when you're a grown up."

Michael looked confused. "I don't. . ."

Ray grinned. "Just go with it.

"Um. . . okay." Michael sipped his coffee thoughtfully, and then looked up at Ray again. "My mom's been married five times. Never for longer than two years."

Jesus. No wonder three years seemed like a long time. Ray was more of the long-haul type. "What about your grandparents? How long have they been together?"

That got a wry smile. "Fifty-two years."

Ray whistled softly. "Now that's a long time. Something to shoot for."

Michael nodded. "Yeah."

Ray thought about that much time. In fifty-two years he'd be. . . ninety one. Jesus. Fraser'd be ninety two. Wow. Cool. Ray could see himself, he'd be one of those fierce, wiry old guys who climb mountains and look like old shoe-leather. And Fraser would be. . . like the mountains themselves. Steady. Strong. Ageless. He wondered what sort of world it would be then. He wondered if they'd make it. And what they'd have left behind if they hadn't.

"What's he really like?" Michael asked, interrupting Ray's musings.

"Fraser?" Ray frowned a little at the question. "What you see is pretty much what you get. Maybe a little more bad language, a little more sarcasm, but Fraser's Fraser."

"That's . . . real then? The way it seems like nothing really touches him?"

Ray laughed softly, shaking his head. "Hell no. Sorry, I've known him so long I sometimes forget what he looks like to other people. But if you think he's like that now, you should have known him four years ago. Compared to then, he's an open book. I guess it's more obvious to me than to anyone else. Those walls have been coming down for a while now. It's slow, but it's steady. He still has a hard time letting people in, though. Most people anyway. He took to you right away."

Michael brightened. "Yeah?"

Ray nodded. "Yeah." He was just debating whether he should reinforce that by mentioning his mistaken jealousy when Fraser came in from the garage, soaked to the skin, shaking his head, and laughing.

"You have to see this," he said, waving toward the door.

"What?" Ray asked, pushing away from the counter to go to the door. "The rain?"

Fraser shook his head. "No, just look."

Michael got up from the table and joined them at the door as Fraser opened it and pointed. Dief had a dog-door from the back yard into the garage, and Ray had put one of those big cedar-and-fiberfill pet beds from Pet Palace in one corner, for times when Dief had to stay home and they didn't get back until late, or when he'd been banished for excessive flatulence or whatever. Fraser had told him it wasn't necessary, that Dief was a wolf, for God's sake and wolves didn't have fiberfill in the wild. Ray and Dief had both ignored him, and Dief loved the thing. At the moment, though, a wet, muddy Dief was sitting on the concrete floor in front of his bed with his nose on his paws, looking forlorn. When he noticed them looking at him, he gave a deep groan, and his gaze shifted momentarily from the bed, to them, and back again.

Ray followed his gaze, and he started to chuckle. The bed was occupied. By a cat. Actually, he realized after a moment, by several cats. Or rather, by a cat and several squirming, Twinkie-sized things he assumed were kittens. There seemed to be five of them, in colors ranging from black to orange. The cat, a yellow tabby, seemed awfully familiar. Ray looked at Fraser, frowning.

"Is that Harry?" he asked, suddenly recognizing the overfed feline who lived three doors down.

Fraser nodded. "It is. Apparently Harry wasn't in need of a diet after all."

"Apparently Harry is in need of a new name, though," Ray said, grinning. "Harriet, maybe? Laura and Rob are going to have. . . " he stopped himself just in time, but Fraser read his mind.

"Kittens!" he finished, giggling like a loon. "I suspect so, since they said he. . . or rather she . . . was a neutered male."

Michael looked shocked. "You mean they couldn't tell?" At Fraser's nod, he shook his head. "City people," he said with amused disdain.

Dief edged forward, apparently with the intent of claiming at least a corner of his domain. Harry lifted her head and gave him the evil eye, and Dief backed off with a deep sigh.

Ray somehow managed not to laugh as he reached down and patted him, grimacing at the feel of wet fur under his fingers. "Rough day, hunh? Guess it's not every day you come home to find you've been turfed by a family of an entirely different species. Why don't I bring you a blanket and get your breakfast?"

Dief's tail whacked enthusiastically against Ray's calf, getting the legs of his sweats all wet. Ray looked up at Fraser who was manfully stifling his laughter, then at Michael, who was hiding a grin behind a bandaged hand. Dief whined and nudged Ray's hand with his nose, and then looked over at Harry. It took Ray a minute but he got it.

"Yeah, okay, we'll feed Harry too." He looked at Fraser again, shaking his head. "Do I have sucker written on my forehead or what?"

Fraser pretended to study his face, and widened his eyes. "Why yes, you do," he said, deadpan.

Ray rolled his eyes. "Just for that, you can go find Dief a blanket while I go fix breakfast for their highnesses. Can Harry have dog food or is that bad for her?"

"I'm sure it'll be fine for now. I'll call the Stones and they can bring over her regular food later."

"Why can't they just come get her?" Ray asked, puzzled.

"Queens don't like to be moved for a day or two after they kitten unless they do it themselves," Michael offered, squatting to get a closer look at Harry and her brood. "Hey, looks like you got one there with six toes."

"Which one?"

"The gray one, the runt."

Ray squinted, wishing he had his glasses, but noticed that the gray kitten did seem to have oddly-shaped paws. "Cool."

He straightened up and headed for the kitchen. Fraser was still standing in the doorway and he had to squeeze by. He couldn't help but notice that Fraser smelled good, like clean sweat, and rainwater, and a hint of fabric softener. He inhaled deeply, and their eyes met. In Fraser's gray-blue gaze he saw an awareness of his own response, and if Michael hadn't been standing there, he'd have kissed him, but instead he just gave him an apologetic look.

"Oh for God's sake, Ray," Michael said, sounding disgusted. "I'm not gonna faint if you guys suck face."

Fraser looked at Michael, eyebrows as high as they ever got. "Suck face?"

Ray grinned. As long as he had permission. . . "Like this." He leaned in, and their lips met. Fraser pulled back for a fraction of a second, looking faintly alarmed, but then the fear faded and his eyes drifted closed, and he tilted his head so they were at just the right angle. Ray kept it 'PG' rated, no tongue, except one little lick just before he drew back, smiling. "There, see? Sucking face."

"Ah," Fraser said. "I'm surprised you hadn't enlightened me about that idiom sooner."

Ray nodded thoughtfully. "Me too, actually." Dief barked sharply, and Ray stepped back. "Yeah, yeah. Jeez. You are such a nag!"

* * *

Ray sat at his desk, talking on the phone and scribbling notes about his case on a legal pad. The bullpen was busy, and he was playing catch-up a little after being out for four days. He ignored the sounds coming from the shoe box in the deep side drawer of his desk as long as he could, but the volume kept going up and he didn't want anyone to notice so he interrupted his snitch.

"Wait, hang on Carlos, just a second," he said, putting the phone down on his desk and pulling out the drawer, reaching down to stroke the fuzzy little gray bundle with one finger. "Shhh, Mut, hang on, I'll get you in a sec, but I have to finish this first, okay?"

Mut clearly didn't think that was acceptable. She kept mewing. Surprisingly loudly. He sighed and picked her up, cradling her in one hand as he picked up the phone with the other and wedged it between his shoulder and ear. "Okay, Carlos, I'm back. Ouch! Shit," He glared at Mut, whose sharp little teeth were latched onto the ball of his thumb and her sharp little claws, all twelve of them, kneaded his palm as she tried to nurse his hand.

"You okay? What happened?" Carlo asked, concerned.

"Nothing. Go on," Ray said, gritting his teeth, thinking he should've named her Elvira, not Mutant.

"Okay. You know that shipment of illegal hockey pucks you were looking for?"

"The non-regulation ones? Yeah. What about 'em?"

"I got a line on the seller. Guy's operating out of a used sporting goods store over on Quebec."

"Yeah? Great! Got it." Ray scribbled one-handed, and managed to get the information written down. "Thanks, Carlos. I'll send the usual compensation if it checks out." He hung up, then reached into the drawer for the doll-bottle of kitten formula Fraser had bought for Mut when they'd realized that Harry had abandoned her. Ray never had liked Harry. He nudged the little rubber nipple against her mouth until she latched on and started to suckle, rooting blindly at the bottle, looking a lot like Elsa the lion cub from that movie Ray had seen when he was a kid, except a lot smaller, and darker.

"I hadn't realized we'd added animal control to our roster of duties, Detective." Welsh's voice dripped sarcasm. "I must have missed that briefing."

Ray startled and almost dropped both kitten and bottle. He swivelled his chair around so he could look at his boss. "Hey, I'm serving and protecting here," he said, then he gave an apologetic smile. "Well, serving anyway. Lunch. Fraser had to go to work, Chopra's allergic to cats, Mike's in class, and I wasn't about to leave her with Frannie, because Davy and Danni wouldn't be able to tell her from a stuffed toy. That left me, so you see, it was kind of an emergency. "

"A cat emergency?" Welsh said dubiously as he squinted at Mut. "That is a cat, isn't it?"

"Well, she will be, someday, when she's bigger."

Welsh nodded sagely. "And you ended up with this someday-to-be-a-cat how?"

"Harry from down the block had kittens in our garage a few days ago, and then moved everyone but Mut. Fraser and Mike said Harry was abandoning her because she was the runt." Ray looked at Welsh indignantly. "I couldn't just let her die."

Welsh was frowning again. "Wait-- Harry had kittens? Who's Harry?"

Ray wondered if Welsh needed coffee. "Harry is Mut's mom."

"What mutt?"

"Not what, who. This is Mut." Ray held up the hand with the kitten in it.

"You named a cat 'Mutt?' Only you, Kowalski."

"Not 'mutt' like 'dog.' It's short for Mutant. She has six toes on all her paws, see?" Ray held her up again, rotating her carefully so Welsh could see the paws she was trying to knead the doll-bottle with. It was hard to do that and keep feeding her at the same time but he managed. She was also purring, a high, fast rumble that seemed too loud to be coming from her tiny body.

Something softened in Welsh's face. "She's kind of cute." He made a little clicking sound with his tongue, the one Ray thought must be hard-wired into the human brain for calling animals. "How come she won't look at me."

"She can't. Mike says her eyes won't open for anywhere from two to three weeks. She's only four days old now."

"Oh. Who's Mike?"

"He's Fraser's so. . ." Ray stopped, suddenly realizing Welsh didn't know. They hadn't told anyone but Frannie yet, and she was out of the gossip loop.

"Fraser's so . . ." Welsh repeated, expectantly, then his eyes widened. "Son?" he asked. "Is that was you were going to say?"

Ray nodded. He could see Welsh putting together the pieces. "Mike's the guy who was in here the other day. With the hair. The one who got hurt at the coffee bar."

Ray nodded again. "Yeah."

"I'll be damned. Fraser spawned?"

Ray choked back a laugh. "Yeah."

"He never mentioned it," Welsh said, looking a little miffed. Ray supposed that was understandable. Welsh was about as close to Fraser as anybody was except Ray.

"That's because he didn't know until Monday night."

Welsh whistled softly. "Holy shit." He thought about that for a moment, then looked at Ray, a little worriedly. "How's he doing?"

"Pretty good, especially now that Mike's family has gone home to the Territories. That was the roughest part really. He was pretty pissed about not being told before, and even though he says it's okay and he understands, you know there's still some stress there."

Welsh nodded. "I'd think so, yeah." His gaze sharpened. "How are you doing?"

Ray was trying to think of how to answer the question when Zednik yelled "Hey Lieutenant!" from the other side of the bullpen.

Welsh sighed and shook his head. "You couldn't tell me this stuff when I don't have work to do? We'll talk later."

Ray was sure they would. But at least Welsh didn't seem too pissed off about Mut. And on the plus side, he'd had to leave before she finished eating and Ray got to play mommy cat by gently rubbing her belly until she peed on the wad of tissues he'd put in her shoebox. That was easier than cat litter, for now. Ray wasn't looking forward to trying to litter-box train her. Maybe he could talk Dief into it.

He'd finished Mut's feeding and the ensuing cleanup issues and was back at work on his files when the phone rang. With a quick plea to the gods that it was something important he would need to do outside the office right away, he picked it up. "Kowalski."

"Hi, Ray."

He sat up straighter, recognizing the 'something's wrong' tone instantly. "Ben, what's up?"

"I was wondering if you'd seen Michael today?"

Ray frowned. "No, was I supposed to?"

"No, no of course not. I didn't mean to imply that. I was just looking for him."

Ray glanced at his watch. "It's one-thirty, he's at the seminar."

"It's one-thirty, and indeed he should be at the seminar, but apparently he is not, according to one of the other participants." Fraser sounded irritated.

Ray snickered. "Playing hooky, huh? Can't say as I blame him."

"He has a responsibility to attend all the sessions."

"He's probably asleep. He said the pain-pills make him sleepy sometimes."

"I tried his room."

"Maybe he sleeps real soundly. Anyway, why are you trying to get him during the seminar, anyway? You'd be interrupting if he was there. Is something wrong?"

"Not that I'm aware of. I wasn't trying to reach him at all until one of the other participants phoned me, wondering if I'd seen him, because after what happened last time he didn't show up for a session they were concerned."

That got his attention. No wonder Fraser sounded worried. "Oh, lord. You don't think. . . ."

"I would hope not, but he is a Fraser in blood if not in name, and we do seem to have something of an affinity for calamity."

"I'll say." Ray sighed and rubbed his forehead. Just what he needed on a day when his paperwork was already threatening to have an avalanche. Still, if Fraser was worried, he couldn't just blow it off. And on second thought, maybe it was just what he needed. "Okay, why don't we go over to the dorm and see if he's there and just really out of it? I haven't had lunch yet so I'll come get you and grab something on the way back to make it legit."

"Ray, you don't have to do that, I can easily take a taxi."

"Oh no you don't. If one Fraser is a disaster magnet, two of you in the same place at the same time have got to be like. . . an apocalypse magnet. I'm not letting you do this without an armed escort."

Fraser was still laughing when he hung up, which Ray thought was a good sign. He was really pretty sure nothing was wrong but it wouldn't hurt to check it out. It was a gorgeous day, clear and mostly sunny, the humidity was down, and the temperature in the low eighties, just perfect really. Michael had probably gotten tired of spending every day cooped up in boring seminars. He was used to the freedom of wide open spaces, so he had to be feeling pretty stir crazy. Ray figured he was probably down on the waterfront, maybe checking out Navy Pier.

Ray picked up the shoebox and headed for the door, planning to take Mut with him, but one step out the door had him turning around and heading back inside. It was too hot to leave her in the car while he and Fraser played hall monitors, and he sure as hell couldn't cart her around with him. He stood there indecisively, trying to think what to do. Shit. What did people with kids do?

"Problems, Kowalski?"

Ray jumped a little at Welsh's sardonic tones, and turned. "Uh, no. I mean, yeah. Kind of. I have to go check out an, uh, missing person, and I was about to head out, but. . ." He held out the box, Mut curled up in it on a hand-towel, asleep. "I can't leave her in the car in this heat."

Welsh sighed, and looked up at the ceiling as if someone up there could fix the situation, then his gaze returned to Ray's face and he shook his head. "There's a reason we don't have 'bring your pet to work' day here at the 27th."

"I know, sir, and I'm sorry."

Welsh looked at the box, sighed again, deeply. "You want to leave her with me?" He motioned at the box.

"Nah, I don't want to bother you. . ." he began.

Welsh held out his hands. "Let me rephrase that. You want to leave her here with me."

Oh. Right. Ray tried not to grin as he nodded. "Yessir. She's all yours." He handed over the box obediently. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Welsh growled, retreating into his office and closing the door.

It took ten minutes to get to the Consulate and pick up Fraser, another fifteen to get to the campus, and six more on top of that to find a parking spot. He'd be lucky to make it back in under an hour. He'd probably have to call in and lie, say he was looking up a snitch. They finally found a spot not too far from the dorm and Ray put up his CPD hang-tag to keep from getting ticketed. Fraser only gave him a single longsuffering glance, having finally learned not to give him shit about that.

They headed up to the third floor and down to the end of the corridor where Michael's room was, and Fraser lifted his hand to knock when Ray suddenly managed to identify the sound that had been nagging at him since they'd gotten within ten feet of Michael's room. Jesus, the walls must be paper thin. He could practically hear words. He grabbed Fraser's wrist and pulled his hand back from the door just before it connected, then pushed him up against the wall, his free hand clamped over Fraser's mouth.

"Mmmf!" Fraser said indignantly.

"Shhh!" Ray hissed. "Listen."

Fraser nodded, and Ray lifted his hand off his mouth. Fraser licked his lips, which was kind of distracting.

"To what?" he whispered.

Ray rolled his eyes. "Just listen."

Fraser listened. After a moment his eyes widened, and his frown turned into a full-blown scowl as the sound of squeaky springs, low murmurs, and higher-pitched laughter made it very clear what they were listening to. Correctly interpreting Fraser's outrage, Ray's put his hand back over his mouth before he could say anything, and jerked his head toward the TV lounge at the other end of the hallway. Fraser resisted, but after a moment he finally gave in and they walked down the hall, taking seats opposite each other in the deserted lounge.

"Fraser . . . ." Ray began.

Fraser held up a hand. "No, Ray. I'd rather not discuss it."

Ray nodded. "Okay." He sat quietly for a few moments, until his stomach growled, reminding him he still hadn't had lunch. "So. . . it's pretty obvious he's all right, you want to stay here and wait or just head back to work?"

"I'll remain here, but you don't need to stay on my account. I can get transportation back."

"Oh no, no way. If you stay, I stay." Ray didn't think Fraser staying was such a great idea, but it wasn't his call. "But I'm hungry so I'm going to hit that snack machine I saw in the stairwell. Be right back."

"You really shouldn't hit inanimate objects, Ray," Fraser said with a faint smile.

Ray smiled back, pleased to see that. "Yeah, I know, but you gotta be tough with these things or they'll take you for every nickel you've got. You want anything?"

"No, thank you."

Ray went down to the first floor stairwell where he'd seen the vending machines, but then the smell of hamburgers drew him out and down the hall, following his nose. He found the dining hall, where a couple of food-service workers were busy cleaning up the remains of a lunch buffet. One of them, a beefy Asian kid who looked about twelve, looked up and saw him.

"Can I help you?"

Ray looked steam table and grinned. "Maybe. You just going to throw those out?" he asked, nodding toward the stack of buns and burgers.

"Yeah. Why?"

"I'd be happy help you get rid of a couple."

"You with the Native Justice conference?" the kid asked, eyeing Ray's shoulder holster and the badge clipped to it.

Ray was tempted to lie, but he didn't. "No, but a friend of mine is. I'm waiting for him."

"I guess it's okay then. Help yourself." He stepped away from the steam table with a sweeping gesture.

"Thank you kindly," Ray said, then he stopped and shook his head. Sheesh. He was going to have to watch that. Seemed like he got more like Fraser every day. It didn't seem to be working much in reverse though.

Not wanting to make anyone wash more dishes, he picked up a couple of thick paper napkins to use for a makeshift plate. He put a bun on the napkin, added lettuce and tomatoes from a tray that sat on the end of the table where it was cool, then a couple of slices of cheese from another tray, and finally topped it off with four of the thin, overcooked hamburger patties that lay in one of the steam bins. He found a couple of plastic packets of mustard and catsup and tore them open, squirting them liberally onto the meat before putting the top bun down. He thought about making one for Fraser, but was pretty sure he wouldn't eat it. If he acted hungry, Ray would share his own. Satisfied, he turned to go, only to be stopped by the kid.

"Hey, you want some of these, too?" He held a big wicker basket full of single-serving bags of chips.

"Yeah, thanks!" Ray grabbed a couple at random. "I owe you. You ever need a cop, ask for Ray Kowalski at the 27th, okay?"

The kid grinned. "Kowalski? Like in guy in that movie-- Stargate? I'll remember that."

Ray stared at him, taken aback. "Stargate?"

"Yeah. He was one of the Earth soldiers. Great flick."

"Yeah," Ray agreed. He'd liked it too, but how had he missed that there was a guy named Kowalski in it? Oh, right. He saw it with Fraser, a late showing, and they were practically alone in the theater. Right. He grinned. "Well, thanks again."

"No problem."

Ray walked out of the dining-hall, wondering when he'd gotten so old that Brando was no longer the standard reference for Kowalski, and wondering if that was good or bad. In the stairwell he saw the vending machines again and decided he needed something to drink, so he carefully put his food down on top of the machine and dug in his pockets for money for a soda. He found a crumpled dollar bill and tried to feed it into the bill slot, only to have it spit it right back out at him.

He carefully straightened the dog-eared edges and tried again. It spit it out again. He smoothed it over the edge of the machine and tried again. The rejection looked like a stuck-out tongue, taunting him. He was starting to get annoyed. He fed the bill back in, and this time he kept hold of the outside edge and pulled back on it as it started to feed in, like he wanted to change his mind. The machine instantly sucked it in and kept it. He grinned and punched the Mountain Dew button. Caffeine was always good. The can clattered down into the slot.

"Ha! I win!" he crowed at the machine.

Just out of spite, it didn't give him his change. He was tempted to smack it, then remembered Fraser's comment and didn't. It wasn't like a quarter was going to break him. He took his soda and his food and headed up the stairs.

The lounge was empty. Fraser must've gone to the bathroom. He settled in to eat, and was mostly finished when it dawned on him that Fraser was taking kind of a long time in the john. He quickly wolfed down the last of his burger and got up to go check. He wandered down the hall until he found the restroom. Empty. Weird. He washed his hands free of burger and chip grease, then went back into the hall. Passing the women's room, he heard water running inside it. He stopped there. Could Fraser be so upset he hadn't even noticed what bathroom he was in? It hardly seemed likely but. . . . He stood there for a minute, debating going inside, and then the door opened, startling him.

The woman standing nose-to-nose with him looked equally startled. In her early twenties, she was built a little like Linda Hamilton in the Terminator but with less chest-- tall, slim and wiry. She was pretty in a subtle sort of way, with what Fraser would probably call 'good bones.' She wore her pale blonde hair short and spiky, and her gray-green eyes weren't disguised at all by the heavy black frames of her glasses. She was wearing the kind of white v-necked t-shirt that came in packs of two for nine bucks at Wal-Mart, with black jeans, and comfortable-looking black oxfords. There was an overnight bag slung over her shoulder.

"This is the women's room," she said a little pointedly, her eyes narrowing.

Ray realized he'd been doing his usual detective once-over, and she wasn't even a suspect. Though she did look familiar. He'd seen her before, he was sure of it. Just hadn't placed her yet. "Um, yeah. Sorry. I was looking for someone, thought he might've gone in there by mistake."

"There was no one in there but me."

Ray nodded. "Thanks." He looked down the hall again, wondering where the hell Fraser had gotten to. "Sorry if I startled you."

"No problem." She brushed past him, and headed down the hall. He watched her, and she came to a halt in front of Michael's door and stood there, with one hand on the doorknob and a slight frown on her face, clearly listening to something.

Ray edged forward a few feet and listened too. Male voices. Two of them. Both sounded . . . pissed. Oh shit. Ray had a sinking feeling he knew where Fraser was. And he had a feeling he knew where the girl had been until a few minutes ago. She must have left the room to use the bathroom and Fraser had taken the opportunity to go talk to Michael. Wait. Wait. He realized where he'd seen her before. She and another girl had visited Michael a couple of times. She was one of the baristas from the coffee bar. Not the one with the head-case ex-boyfriend, but the other one.

She looked up suddenly and saw him watching her. "You got a problem?" she asked, scowling. Then the scowl faded a little. "Hey, do I know you?"

He sighed. "Yeah, I probably do have a problem, and he's in there." He gestured at Michael's door. "And, yeah, you know me. I'm Ray Kowalski. Benton Fraser's partner. We met at the hospital."

He saw the light dawn. She looked from him to the door and back. "Oh. That's right." Her gaze slid down him, then back up, assessingly. "I remember, because you. . . weren't what I expected."

He laughed drily. "That's what everyone says."

"I didn't mean. . . ." She looked embarrassed. "You're cuter than I thought you'd be," she offered. "And younger."

He grinned. "Nice save."

She laughed. "I thought so." She cocked her head and studied him. "You don't remember my name do you?"

Ray shook his head sheepishly, and she stuck out her hand.

"Carlin Rasmussen."

Ray shook her hand. "Nice to meet you again, Carlin."

Inside the room, Fraser's voice rose. Ray's eyebrows did too. Fraser never yelled, but he was right on the edge of it now.

". . . hard to believe you neglected the seminar, being paid for by the RCMP I might add, in order to take advantage of a young woman's natural gratitude simply to pursue physical gratification."

The young woman in question scowled, and Ray winced.

"It's not like that!" Michael protested.

"Perhaps you'd care to explain how it is, then," Fraser said in a tone that never failed to piss Ray off when it was directed at him.

Carlin apparently had the same reaction. Her eyes narrowed and she grabbed the doorknob and pushed open the door without knocking.

"Now wait just a damned minute here," she demanded. "He's from out of town, lonely, unfamiliar with the big city, why couldn't I be taking advantage of him?"

Fraser and Michael both turned to stare at her, openmouthed. Ray, not wanting to miss the party, followed her into the room in time to catch that and grin. It wasn't a look he saw on Fraser all that often.

"I . . . ah . . . ."

Wow. Speechlessness. That was even rarer than the open-mouth or the yelling. After a few seconds though, Fraser managed to reclaim his dignity.

"I don't believe we've been introduced," he said formally.

"Sorry," Michael said with a weak grin. "Carlin, this is Benton Fraser. Fraser, this is Carlin Rasmussen."

Carlin pointedly ignored Fraser's extended hand, her own hands fisted on her hips. "What business is it of yours if we want to have sex, anyway?" she asked, defiantly.

"None, if he were having it on his own time," Fraser said evenly. "However, he has responsibilities he's shirking." The look he leveled at Michael was pointed enough to draw blood. "Not to mention the other issues attendant on casual sex with near-strangers."

Ray caught his breath in shock. That was way, way over the line. He knew it. Mike knew it. Carlin knew it. From the sudden look of horror in Fraser's eyes, he knew it too.

Michael reacted first. "Whether or not I have sex, how I have it, and who I have it with is none of your damned business," he snapped, bristling. "For that matter, whether or not I blow off a day of seminar isn't either. You're not my C.O. and you're not my father!" He looked at Carlin, then back at Fraser. "And for your information, we were practicing safe sex. Which is more than I can say for. . . ." Michael cut himself off suddenly, and the look on his face matched the one on Fraser's moments earlier.

Fraser stood for a moment, immobile, even paler than usual, face unnaturally still. Then he drew in a deep breath, and let it out. His gaze dropped to the Stetson in his hands. "You're right. It's none of my business. Any of it."

He brushed past Ray on the way out the door.

Ray stood for a moment, frozen in place with shock. He looked from Michael, who looked stricken, to Carlin, who just mostly looked confused, and shook his head. "Fuck."

"Ray. . . I . . . ." Michael began.

Ray shook his head. "Later, Mike. Call me later. You know the numbers. I need to be somewhere else right now." He sighed. "And just for the record, that was one major fuck-up there. I'm not saying Fraser didn't fuck up too, but between the two of you. . . damn."

Without waiting for a reply, Ray took off after Fraser. Except. . . he couldn't find him. Which was ridiculous since he'd been no more than a minute or two behind him. He checked the car first, figuring he'd be there, waiting. He wasn't. Then he started looking for real. After twenty minutes of looking, he came to the realization that Fraser didn't want to be found. It was the only explanation, seeing as how a six-foot-tall Mountie in dress reds was not exactly inconspicuous.

He went back to the car and leaned against it, waiting hopefully, and realized he needed to check in with Welsh. With a sigh he got out his cell and hit the speed-dial for Welsh's direct line. Welsh answered on the third ring.

"Hey. It's Kowalski. I. . . um. . . I need some time off. I've lost Fraser."

There was a moment of silence before Welsh replied, his voice surprisingly hoarse, and even more surprisingly profane. "Fuck, Ray, I'm sorry. I can't believe it. Not Fraser! What the hell happened? Where are you? Why haven't we gotten a cop down call?"

Shit. He needed to ask Frannie about that backward Mercury thing she was always talking about whenever everything people said got messed up. It must be happening now. "No, no, no! I don't mean I lost him. I mean I lost him. I can't find him. He and Mike had a fight and . . . he's gone. Disappeared."

"Kowalski," Welsh said in the deceptively calm voice that Ray had learned to dread. "Remind me to strangle you when you get back to work."

"Yes, sir," Ray said meekly.

"In the meantime go find him. And what do I do with this cat?"

"Um. . . ." He looked at his watch. "She'll probably be hungry soon. She'll start meowing when she is. There's a can of kitten formula in my desk drawer for her and the doll bottle's in there too. The directions are on the can, and it should be warm, like you would for a baby. Not hot, just like, skin temperature. She knows what to do with the bottle. If she pees or anything just flush the tissues and put new ones in her box."

"If she. . . " Welsh began, then he stopped and sighed, and Ray could almost see him shaking his head. "I can't believe I'm playing nanny to a mutant cat," Welsh muttered. "You owe me, Kowalski."

"I owe you, sir," Ray agreed. "Thanks."

He closed his phone and sat there, rubbing his forehead and trying to think. Where would Fraser go? Not home. That was too easy. Not back to work, he wouldn't want anyone to see him upset. So where? Where did Fraser associate with being pissed off and upset and unhappy and . . . Yeah. That was it. Ray got in the car and headed for the docks.

* * *

He parked and got out, slanting a look upward at the corrugated steel siding of the warehouse, remembering like it was yesterday the skid of gravel under his feet as he tried to find shelter under the meager overhang while people shot at him. Remembered the absolute panic, and the sheer, blinding rage he'd felt as he went over the edge, following Fraser like he always followed Fraser, even though he was sure he was following him into the end of everything.

Maybe he had. The end of everything. And the beginning. He closed the car door and locked it, then turned and walked toward the water, toward a place that even now made his chest ache. And yeah. There he was. Sitting on the edge of the dock, staring out across the water like he could see all the way to Hudson's Bay. He'd taken off the tunic and the Stetson, they were stacked neatly beside him. Ray made his way over and sat down next to him. Fraser didn't turn to look.

"Hey," he said, just to let Fraser know he was there and ready to talk whenever Fraser felt like it. If he felt like it.

After a minute he reached over and put his hand on Fraser's thigh, just letting it rest there against the wool of the jodhpurs. They made his palm itch a little, but he ignored that. It took a good fifteen minutes before Fraser finally spoke, his voice rumbly.

"How did you find me?"

Ray squeezed his thigh a little. "I had a hunch."

Fraser laughed shortly. "Of course." He sighed. "I don't suppose Michael would come down here and punch me?"

Ray looked out at the water thoughtfully. "Dunno. Maybe. Want me to call him and ask?"

Fraser shook his head. "No. No, that's all right. I suspect I ought to find another solution."

"Me too."

Fraser's fingers worried his eyebrow for a moment, then he looked over. "I've never been so appalled at myself in my life. Christ, it was almost as if my father was talking. There I stood, being every bit as awful as he was at his worst. I had no right to say any of that, none at all. Especially not in front of Ms. Rasmussen."

Ray nodded again. "No, no, you didn't. So why did you?"

"You know, I'm still not sure."

"Come on. You don't usually have that big a stick up your ass. What was up with that?"

Fraser stared into the distance, thinking. He did that for a good long while. Ray knew enough to stay quiet, and he just watched the water, sort of zoning out.

Finally Fraser sighed. "I . . . ah." He cleared his throat. "I think I was jealous."

Ray frowned. "Jealous? Of Mike? Of Carlin?"

"No!" Fraser looked at Ray, dismayed. "No. I mean. . ." He looked frustrated. "I don't know how to say this."

"Just tell me what you were thinking, I'm good at following your trail."

Fraser nodded, smiling faintly. "All right. I'll try. While you were getting food, I was sitting there in the lounge, comparing Michael to myself at that age. And it was just so clear how much freer and easier he is with people than I ever was. No one expects him to be anyone but himself, no one expects him to live up to some impossible standard set by his father, or in his case, his grandfather."

"Right, makes sense. Because you always had your dad held up as your example."

"Yes, exactly. I think I became jealous of how . . . simple. . . everything is for him, and how free he is. I would never have thought of taking a day off from an official function simply to enjoy myself. I was too bound by expectations; my own, and everyone else's. I think my own were the worst, actually. I suspect anyone who knew my father would have cut me a good deal of slack. I just didn't see that at the time." He sighed. "Clearly it's a good thing Michael was raised by his grandparents. I'd have made a total hash of it."

Ray reached over and put his hand on the back of Fraser's neck, rubbing softly. "Nah. You'd probably have muddled through. Problem is, unlike the GTO, people don't come with maintenance manuals. It's all trial and error."

"More error than not, it seems."

"Yeah, but somehow people manage to get through it anyway. So seems to me that now that you've figured out that your dad's in there lurking," he pointed at Fraser's head, "you can stuff him back in when he tries to get out."

Fraser looked taken aback. "That's a rather appalling mental image."

Ray grinned and shrugged. "Sorry. You know what I mean."

"I think so, yes."

"Good. So what are you going to do now?"

"I have no idea," Fraser said, leaning into Ray's hand where it gripped the back his neck, rolling his shoulders a little. "I suppose I should call him."

"Yeah, that'd be good. Well, depending on what you say to him, I mean. No more Bob Fraser specials."

"Aye, there's the rub," Fraser said with a wry smile. "An apology would be in order, I expect."

Ray nodded. "Yeah." They sat quietly for a few more moments, and then Fraser sighed.

"I should go back to work."

"Call in sick."

"I'm not sick."

"This counts, and you have twenty gazillion sick days. They can live without you for a couple of hours. Come on. You got here on the bus, right? I'll take you home, but I need to go by the 27th first and pick up Mut."

"Oh lord," Fraser groaned. "Diefenbaker. I forgot about Dief."

Ray stared at him. "You for. . . ." Ray swallowed the rest of the word. Clearly Fraser was upset enough about it without Ray rubbing it in, but he'd never ever forgotten Dief before. "He's at the Consulate?"

Fraser nodded, still looking stricken. "Yeah."

"Then we'll go there too. Look, seems like this stuff's getting to you worse than you've been letting on. I think you need a couple of days off doing nothing. Not playing nurse, not spending time with Mike, not working, just to kick back and take time to figure out what you're feeling."

Fraser rubbed his forehead, and then nodded. "Yes, you're right. That sounds good."

Ray hid his surprise. For Fraser to agree he needed time off meant he really was in bad shape. He let him stay silent as they swung by the 27th and he tried to retrieve Mut, only to be told that he 'didn't need to be worrying about a cat when he had bigger problems at home' and that Welsh would grudgingly take care of her for him. Ray snickered all the way to the car. Looked like the 27th had a new mascot. And he was never gonna fall for that gruff routine again.

Fraser stayed quiet all the way to the Consulate, where Ray rounded up an offended Diefenbaker from the little garden by the alley while Fraser and Chopra talked privately. Finally Fraser came out looking a little shell shocked, but with a week's leave arranged. Chopra seemed pretty sympathetic so Ray figured Fraser was just traumatized by having to ask for time off, not that he'd gotten in trouble for it. They were most of the way home when it dawned on Ray that as usual, Fraser had managed to talk around part of the problem instead of about it.

When they got home, Fraser made it up to Dief by feeding him, and then he wandered into the living room looking a little lost, and sat down on the couch, staring at the empty fireplace. Ray sat down next to him.

"So how are you feeling?"

Fraser frowned slightly. "I already told you how I feel."

"No, you told me half of how you feel. But I mean about what he said, not about what you said."

Fraser tensed under his hand, closed his eyes, and drew in a deep breath. "Have I ever told you how annoying it is when you do that?"

"When I do what?"

"Point out the thing I'm deliberately trying to avoid thinking about."

"Oh that." Ray suppressed a grin. "Only a few million times. So . . . talk."

Fraser sighed. "He's right, of course. As we discussed before, I'm not his father. I'm a total stranger with whom he happens to share a percentage of DNA. Nor am I his commanding officer, despite the fact that I outrank him. He was also right to point out the hypocrisy of my commenting on sexually risky behavior. So it really doesn't matter how I feel about it, does it?"

"Jesus!" Ray dropped his head into his hands, pulling at his hair in frustration for a moment before looking up again. "How can you say it doesn't matter how you feel just because you did something wrong?" He pointed at Fraser with both hands, scowling. "You know better. At least I hope to God you do, because I sure as hell don't want to try to live up to that."

"Well, that wasn't precisely what I meant," Fraser said, a little flustered.

Ray stared at him for few seconds and then lowered his hands. "Okay. So what did you mean?"

"I wasn't generalizing. I simply meant that how I feel doesn't change the essential facts of the matter. I may be his biological father, but I didn't raise him, and I have no ethical or legal right to feel anything or to have any expectations of Michael whatsoever. My feelings aren't relevant to the situation."

Ray sighed. "Maybe not, Benton, but what you feel matters to me. Right now I couldn't care less what Mike thinks."

"Oh." Fraser was quiet for a moment, then he sighed, looking pained. "Can we. . . do I have to . . . ."

Ray shook his head. "Yeah, okay. Never mind." He wasn't exactly Mr. Touchy Feely himself, but compared to Fraser he was practically Yanni. "You hungry?"

"Yes!" Fraser seized on the idea of food like a drowning man would a styrofoam cooler. "I'll cook. What would you like?"

"I'm easy." He grinned. "And yes, I do mean it that way so if you're hungry for something other than food . . . ."

Fraser smiled back, slowly. "Actually, I'm famished."

"Good." Ray reached over and slid his hand under the tails of Fraser's uniform tunic, searching for the button and zipper on his pants. He was good at this. Could do it blindfolded after all this time. He thumbed open the button, eased down the zipper. Underneath he felt the softness of knit cotton, and he leaned in, nipping Fraser's ear. "You stealing my boxer-briefs again?"

Fraser shivered. "They're comfortable."

"Get your own."

"I like yours," Fraser rasped, shaking his head.

"Guess I'll just have to take them back," Ray said, tugging at the waistband.

"You can try," Fraser said, a little smile curving his mouth.

"You're so not-subtle, Benton Fraser," Ray laughed licking his ear again, and then pushing his hand down past the elastic, finding the hot, slightly sweat-damp handful he was looking for.

Fraser pushed up into his hand with a throaty rumble of pleasure. Ray curled his hand around the rapidly-hardening length and stroked a couple of times, relishing the slide of foreskin over slickening cock, and the way Fraser tried to spread his legs wider to give him more room to work, his head tipping back, exposing his throat above the collar of the tunic.

With his free hand Ray reached up and ripped open the velcro fasteners there and let his tongue find the sweaty skin beneath. Wearing the serge in the summer seemed stupid to him, but he had kind of a fetish for sweaty Fraser. Hell, who was he kidding? He'd developed kind of a fetish for doing Fraser in his uniform just on general principles. There was something hot about exposing just enough to do the job. The urgent throb in his own groin reaffirmed that he hadn't lost his taste for that.

Still stroking with long, slow tugs, he nuzzled the collar aside, ignoring the scrape of the gold-bullion crests against his cheek, and sucked at Fraser's collarbone, leaving a faint red mark. It wouldn't purple up. He prided himself on never leaving hickeys behind. He didn't have anything to prove. Fraser's breathing was getting shallower, his hips rocking, and Ray didn't want to just make it a quick hand-job on the couch. Fraser deserved better than that. He eased off on his stroking and slid his hand free.

"Hey!" Fraser protested, reaching to grab Ray's wrist and push his hand back down. He was a lot less polite when it came to sex, which always made Ray happy.

"Relax," Ray said, freeing his hand from Fraser's grip and quickly opening the bottom two buttons on the tunic. He pushed the tunic tails back, undid the suspenders so he could get more play in the jodhpurs, then pulled Fraser's hips forward until he was right at the edge of the couch, pushing the coffee table out of the way with one foot. "Hips up," he said, moving off the couch to squat next to it.

Fraser put his hands on the couch and lifted his hips off the couch long enough for Ray to tug jodhpurs and boxer-briefs down enough to free his cock. Pushing Fraser's thighs wider, he knelt between them, wrapped his fingers around the base of Fraser's cock, and leaned in. The musky scent of Fraser was all around him, making his own cock ache. He flicked his tongue delicately against the head of Fraser's cock, then repeated the tease until Fraser grabbed his head in both hands and pushed his cock against his mouth.

With a soft chuckle, Ray opened let him in, feeling the shaft slide against his tongue, and nudge the roof of his mouth. He pushed with his tongue, rubbing it against the underside of Fraser's cock, and started to suck, using his hand to work the base and keep him from going deep enough to gag. Fraser moaned, his fingers tightening in Ray's hair as he thrust shallowly into Ray's mouth.

Ray sucked harder, and let his hand move down between Fraser's thighs, cupping the soft weight of his balls, feeling how tight they were already. It was clear he wasn't going to last long. Ray started to hum softly, something he was sure Fraser would recognize.

Fraser tensed, shivered, and started to come and laugh at the same time. Ray rode him through it, sucking, swallowing, until he was sure Fraser was done, and he sat back, wiping a little excess wet off his mouth with the back of his hand as he grinned triumphantly at Fraser, who slid slowly sideways down onto the couch in a debauched sprawl, one leg crooked on the cushions, the other foot on the floor, still giggling as he tried to catch his breath. Finally he managed to get a little control over himself, and he put his hand up to his eyes, wiping away tears of laughter.

"Christ, Ray. It's hard to salute and come at the same time."

"Is it?" Ray made innocent eyes at him.

Fraser laughed again, shaking his head. "What the hell am I supposed to do when I get an erection at the next official event?"

Ray smirked and reached out to flick the tunic back down, hiding Fraser's now-lax, still-damp genitals. "Isn't that why they make these things so long in the first place? All you Mounties get hard when you get to be all official-like. Never knew such a bunch for getting off on protocol." He eyed Fraser for a moment thoughtfully. "'Course if my uniform was as cool as yours I might, too."

"It's a good thing I'm too relaxed to take you to task for that comment," Fraser said, rolling onto his side and pulling his pants up. "However, if you'd like to move a little closer, I'd be happy to . . . ." He reached out for Ray, hooking a finger in one of Ray's belt loops.

Ray's cell phone started to ring, startling him. He pulled back a little, and Fraser nearly fell off the couch as Ray automatically fumbled it off his belt and answered it.



Ray's hard-on wilted instantly. "Yeah, Dad. What's up?"

"Your mother wants you to come for breakfast Saturday."

Ray sighed. "Dad, it's not a good time. Fraser and I have . . . some stuff going on, and I need to be around."

There was a short pause. "You two having. . . problems?"

Ray wished his phone was one of those Dick Tracy wrist-TV's so he could see his dad's face. He didn't sound gleeful at the prospect of problems between him and Fraser. In fact he almost sounded concerned, which was downright weird, considering that he'd pretty much been pretending Fraser didn't exist for the past two years. "No, we're fine," he said. "It's just . . ." he shot a look at Fraser, who sighed, and nodded, clearly reading the question in his face. "Fraser's son's here visiting."

There was a long, long pause. So long Ray thought maybe he'd lost the signal but a quick check showed him the signal bars were at full strength. Fraser pointed down the hall and got up, heading toward the bathroom. Finally his father spoke.

"Fraser's son?"

"Yeah, Dad. His son."

"Oh." There was another pause. "Didn't know he had one."

Ray snorted. "It's a long story."

"I see. Well then, I suppose I'll tell your mother that breakfast is out."

"Thanks, Dad. Tell her I'm sorry. We'll try again soon."

"All right. Oh, and last time you were here, you said your car had been acting up. What's wrong with it?"

"Not the Goat, Dad, the Scout. There's some problem with the cooling system, it's red-zoning on us way too fast. We haven't had time to pin it down, but it hasn't been a big problem so far since we don't use it that often."

"What year is it?"

"It's a seventy-nine," Ray said, just as someone knocked at the door. Since Fraser was still in the can, Ray headed for the door, still talking.

"Huh. Could be the fan, or maybe the thermostat. It's pretty old, could be it needs a new radiator. Next time you come over, bring it, and we'll take a look."

"Will do. Look, I gotta get the door. I'll talk to you later, okay?" He headed for the door.

"Sure thing. Take care, Raymond."

"Thanks, Dad, you too." He clicked off and opened the door, and almost got nailed in the nose by Michael's fist, as he was in the process of knocking again. Ray stepped back, startled. "Mike!"

Michael snatched his hand back, looking appalled. "Jesus! Ray, I'm sorry. I didn't. . . ."

"Nah, it's okay. Not your fault. I just wasn't expecting to see you."

Michael nodded, a rueful look on his face. "Yeah, I bet. Hang on." He turned away toward the street and waved at someone.

Ray looked over his shoulder, and saw Carlin wave back at Michael from the driver's seat of a beat-up old Jeep, and then pull away from the curb. Michael turned back to Ray.

"She wanted to make sure you guys were home before she left me here. Um, Fraser's here, right? We went by the Consulate first and they said he went home."

Ray sighed. "Yeah. He's here." He didn't move out of the doorway. "Look, I know this is none of my . . . ." He stopped. "Never mind. It really isn't any of my business. Sorry." He stepped back and gestured toward the living room. "Come on in."

Michael eyed him dubiously. "You sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. Unless you're here to start up the fight again."

"No. Just the opposite. I mean, I hope. I just. . . I guess I just wanted to talk to him."

"That's what I thought." Ray looked at him meaningfully. "You got that talking thing from him, you know."

Michael looked away. "Yeah. Sure didn't come from my mom's side, anyway." He gave Ray a weak grin as Fraser came out of the bathroom and then stopped dead in place right where the hall turned into the living room as he saw Michael. He looked wary.

"Michael," Fraser said.

"Fraser," Michael replied.

"Well, glad we got that straight," Ray said, rolling his eyes. He put his hand on Michael's back and pushed him into the room. "Do I need to stay and play referee or can I go to the store to pick up something not frozen to grill for dinner?" he asked, knowing they ought to be alone for this, even though he really wanted to stay.

They both looked sheepish, and Fraser cleared his throat. "I'm sure we'll be fine, Ray."

Michael nodded.

"Okay, then. I'm off. Dief, if things get out of hand, you break it up, okay?"

Dief barked agreement, just as Ray's phone rang again. Feeling a little overwhelmed, he snapped it open. "What?" he barked, without looking at the Caller I.D.


"Oh, Geez. Sorry, Mom. What's up?"

"Your father told me that Benton's son is here visiting?"

"That's right."

"I see. And you couldn't be bothered to tell us? You didn't think we would want to meet him? After all, Benton is family now, so his family is our family. You bring them over on Saturday for breakfast. Benton, and his son too. I promise your father will behave himself if I have to stick a sock in his mouth and tape it in with duct tape."

"Mom. . . no. I . . . we can't."

There was a short silence. "You embarrassed that we live in a trailer, aren't you?"

"No! Mom, no. I'm not embarrassed . . . it's just. . . and it's kind of . . . um . . . " he looked up to see both Fraser and Michael watching him, and sighed. "Can I call you back in a minute?"

"I suppose," she said, sounding as if he'd just broken her heart.

He winced. "Mom, I promise I will call you back. I just have to go someplace with . . . better reception." Not to mention some privacy.

"Oh. All right then. I'll be waiting."

Right next to the phone, he was sure. "Okay, bye, Mom."

He closed the phone and looked at Fraser. "That was Mom."

"So I surmised," Fraser said drily.

"She wants us to come over for breakfast Saturday morning. All of us. You. Me. Michael. Probably Dief, though I didn't get that far. I'll tell her we . . . ."

"I'd like that," Michael said firmly. "I'd like to meet your parents."

Ray stared at him. So did Fraser. "You would?" Ray asked dubiously.

Michael nodded. "I would. We're family now, right? That means your family is my family."

"Okay, that's just weird," Ray said.

"Your family is weird?" Michael asked, surprised.

"No, well, yeah, aren't all families weird? But what I was talking about was that you just quoted my mom, word for word, and you didn't even hear her."

"Sounds like we'll get along, then."

Ray looked at Fraser. "You okay with breakfast on Saturday then?"

Fraser nodded. "Yes."

"Oh, damn it. . . wait," Michael said. "I'm sorry. I forgot that I already asked Carlin out for breakfast on Saturday."

"That's okay, she can come too. Mom always makes enough blini to feed an army." Ray figured the more people who showed, the better his dad would behave. Though, actually, he had to admit that his dad had been behaving himself a lot better in the past few months, even asking after Fraser sometimes.

"I guess we're set then," Michael said. "I'll tell her."

"I'll let you know about the time and stuff when I get back from the store." He opened the door and stepped outside, then looked back in at them. "Now talk."

* * *

Ray woke up with a start, heart racing, trying to clear his mind of the last image from his nightmare. God. He shivered, and lay there for several minutes staring at the ceiling before deciding he could risk a look at Fraser. The ambient glow from porch and streetlights outside that shone through the window combined to show him a perfectly normal-looking Fraser, and he gave a soft sigh of relief. Another few minutes made him realize that getting back to sleep right away was not going to be an option. He felt too hot and he was too keyed up.

Carefully he got out of bed, grabbed shorts and a t-shirt out of the laundry basket, and padded downstairs, avoiding the creaky ninth tread before he remembered that Fraser had taken Michael back to the university so he didn't have to be quiet. He wondered again what they'd talked about while he was at the store, and later, on the way to the dorm.

He stopped in the living room to put on his clothes and get the afghan off the couch. On his way through the kitchen he got a beer out of the fridge, and then headed out to the back yard. Dief ambled out with him and went over to check for cats or 'coons in the bushes. Ray shook the afghan out and put it on the grass, then lay down on it, staring up at the stars. He didn't usually do that in Chicago, because it was sort of depressing to realize how few stars he could actually see, but they were up there so he looked at them. Tried to decide if he really wanted to open his beer or not. It had seemed like a good idea three minutes ago but now he wasn't sure. Instead he pressed the cold beer against his forehead and closed his eyes, willing away the incipient headache there.

"Ray? What's wrong?"

"Jesus!" Ray dropped the beer and sat up, craning around to find Fraser standing behind him. "Don't sneak up on me like that!" he hissed.

"I'm sorry," Fraser said quietly, dropping down to sit next to Ray on the afghan. "I was just trying to be considerate of the neighbors. I thought when you got up that you were just going to the bathroom, but when you didn't come back I was worried."

It figured. Fraser slept like the dead, except when Ray wanted him to. "Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you up."

"I know that," Fraser said gently. "So are you going to tell me what's wrong or just pretend nothing is? If the latter, I suppose I'll go back to bed."

Ray gritted his teeth. "Nothing's wrong. Just had a stupid dream."

"A nightmare?"

"Um. . . yeah. Mostly. Just freakin' weird. And if you ask me if I want to tell you all about it I may belt you so just don't." He saw the flash of Fraser's teeth at that, and glared at him in the dimness. "Think that's funny?"

"Actually, yes," Fraser said, sounding amused.

Ray sighed. "It's a sad day when I can't even intimidate my partner."

"Threats of violence lose their effect when one never follows through on them," Fraser pointed out reasonably.

"I know, I know." Ray opened his beer and took several long swallows before lowering the bottle. "Look, I'll tell you about it if you promise not to freak out."

"Do I usually freak out?"

"No, but this was. . . pretty out there. And it was about you."

"Ah." Fraser paused for a moment, then reached for Ray's beer and drank several swallows. "There. I believe I'm fortified now. Go ahead."

Ray shook his head and leaned over to kiss him briefly, enjoying the unfamiliar bitterness of hops on his mouth. "Okay, so in this dream, you were . . . um . . . well . . . ." Ray let his sentence trail off. How the hell could he tell Fraser this?

"Was I dead?" Fraser asked calmly.

"Huh? What? No!" Ray remembered it was after one in the morning, and winced. "No," he whispered. "You weren't dead. Or well, not yet. You were . . . pregnant."

There was a long silence. Very long. "Pregnant?" Fraser finally asked, in a very even tone.

"Yeah. You were huge, way out here," Ray held his hand about a foot in front of his stomach. "Like you had a basketball inside. And you were trying to have the baby but there was no place for it to, uh, come out. And we were someplace. . . looked like half the places we camped while we were looking for Franklin. Middle of nowhere. No one around to help. And I knew I had to . . . had to do it. Had to cut you open to get it out, before it killed you. But there was no guarantee I wouldn't kill you trying. Shit." He drained the bottle, staring up at the pale stars, not daring to look at Fraser. "Pretty fucked up, huh? I mean, I never had a dream about Stella being pregnant when we were together! So why you?"

"Actually it sounds like a fairly standard anxiety dream. Especially considering recent events," Fraser said, sounding way calmer than Ray would be in his shoes.

"Standard? Dreaming that you're pregnant is standard? On what planet?"

Fraser laughed softly. "On this planet, Ray. It's really quite understandable when you break down the symbolism. You feel I'm having difficulty becoming a parent and you want to help me, but aren't sure that your help won't do more harm than good."

Ray thought about that, and felt a rush of relief as he realized his subconscious wasn't trying to tell him he wanted Fraser to have a baby. Whew. "Oh. Yeah, I guess if you look at it like that, it makes sense. Um, speaking of which, I guess things are okay between you and Mike, since nobody had a black eye and he stayed for dinner. I was going to wait up and talk to you after you got back from dropping him off, but I kind of. . . fell asleep."

"That's quite all right, Ray, everything is fine. We both apologized."

Ray waited. Fraser didn't go on, so he prodded. "And?"

"And what?"

"Exactly. And what?"

"And what . . . what?"

Ray rolled his eyes. "What else did you talk about?"

"What more was needed?"

He could almost see Fraser's wide-eyed innocent look, even in the dark. God, sometimes Ray wanted to strangle him. "Nothing. Never mind." He lay back on the afghan and closed his eyes. It was very quiet at night. Except for the traffic noise that never really stopped. And the bug sounds. And Dief rustling around in the bushes. And the sporadic zzzzt-zzt sound of a bugzapper. And his own breathing. And the faint, faint sound his shirt made as Fraser's hand slid under it.


Fraser's voice was low and husky. His 'I'm seducing you' voice. Involuntarily Ray found himself smiling. "Yeah, Benton?"

"We, ah, were interrupted at a . . . critical point this afternoon."

"Were we?" Ray mused, pretending not to remember.


"Huh. What were we doing?"

"I had just . . . gotten mine, as you're fond of saying, however, you didn't get yours."

"Oh yeah, that's right. I didn't."

"We could . . ." the hand moved down his chest to his navel, dipped below his waistband, ". . . rectify that."

"Hmm, not sure I want to be rectified. Sounds sort of kinky."

"That's odd, I had the distinct impression that you were fond of rectification."

"Well, I suppose I can enjoy a good rectification as much as the next guy," Ray said with exaggerated thoughtfulness. "Well, provided there's no spanking involved, 'cause that doesn't really turn my crank."

A strangled giggle escaped Fraser before he managed to get his voice under control again. "No, no spanking."

"So you gonna rectify me right here in front of God and the neighbors?"

"I thought I might, yes." Fraser brought his mouth down on Ray's, and at the same time pushed his hand down into Ray's shorts and cupped his hardening cock.

God, that mouth. Even after all this time he could get drunk on it. Ray opened to Fraser's tongue, which stroked into his mouth in the same intoxicating rhythm as the hand on his cock. Involuntarily, Ray thrust up into Fraser's hand, and then remembered where they were and dragged his mouth away, panting. "Are you nuts? You want to get us arrested for public indecency?"

Fraser licked his ear, and sucked on the lobe, making him shiver. "Relax, Ray. The willow screens us from the Clarksons on the north, and the poplars from the Martins on the west, and there are no windows on the east side of the Romanow's house. No one can see us." Fraser's grip loosened, fingers sliding up the length of Ray's erection with a light, almost tickling touch. "Even if they could, it's well after one in the morning and everyone's asleep."

"You, uh, shit, stop . . . God!" Ray arched as Fraser's other hand slid up into the loose leg of his shorts to cup his balls. "You got it all scoped out, huh?" he asked breathlessly. It all sounded so . . . reasonable. That ought to scare him.

"Of course," Fraser assured him, sounding amused as he continued to stroke and caress. "I wouldn't want to get you in trouble."

Before Ray could make a sarcastic comment, Fraser's mouth was back on his in a rough, demanding kiss, and he knew he was lost. The harshness reminded him of the first time they'd kissed, out on the snow, when months of repression had gotten too big to be contained any more and in the middle of a stupid fight about whether to have freeze-dried chili or canned stew for dinner, Fraser had grabbed him by the front of his parka, yanked him in close, and kissed him for all he was worth. That kiss was permanently imprinted in his memory, tasting the blood from where his chapped lips had split under the pressure, feeling the faint tingle of peppermint from Fraser's lip-salve, the scrub of two-week-old beard against his own, and more than all of that, the desperate, aching need of it, and the sheer, joyous rightness of it.

A rough jerk at his shorts focused Ray's attention back on the present as Fraser tugged impatiently at the draw-cord, which had managed to get knotted. Ray tried to help, but didn't get very far before Fraser growled and grabbed the cord in both hands, pulling until it snapped like a flimsy piece of string-- which was hot as hell. Then he pushed Ray's shorts down to mid-thigh. He felt incredibly . . . exposed. More naked than he usually did in their bedroom, wearing nothing at all.

Fraser stroked him roughly a few times, then with his hand wrapped around the base of Ray's cock he leaned down. It was too dark to see more than the pale blur of Fraser's face as his mouth enclosed Ray's aching penis, but oh God could he feel it. Fraser had a big mouth, in more ways than one, but only one counted right now. Big, wet, warm, welcoming. Fraser's tongue rubbed against the underside of Ray's cock as he started to suck with a gentle, almost lazy rhythm that he echoed with his hand. Trying to stay quiet, Ray clenched his hands in the afghan and pumped up into Fraser's mouth. Fraser rode his thrusts easily, not letting Ray control the action, and he nudged Ray's knee with his elbow. Taking the hint, Ray spread his legs wider, and Fraser's free hand dropped down to cup his balls, rolling and rubbing.

Ray gave up trying to thrust and just let Fraser set the pace. It was clear Fraser wanted to be in charge, and Ray had no problem letting him do that. Tonight. Next time would be a different story. Fraser sensed his surrender, and made a pleased growl. The sound vibrated along Ray's cock and he bucked upward. Fraser pressed him down again, and continued his maddeningly slow sucking, swirling his tongue around the head of Ray's cock, teasing the slit, then retreating. He uncurled his fingers from around Ray's cock and began to slide them up the shaft, into his mouth, rubbing alongside his tongue. Ray started to shake, his balls tightening in Fraser's hand. Fraser gently encircled them with his hand and tugged them carefully down, short-circuiting Ray's orgasm, backing it down.

"Fuck!" Ray hissed, half-angry, half-appreciative.

Fraser skimmed his teeth along Ray's cock, then seconds later he followed the same path with his tongue and fingers, pulling off almost completely, so only the head of Ray's cock was still in his mouth, as wet fingers stroked the rest of his length. After a few seconds, Fraser lowered his head again, engulfing cock and fingers. Ray shuddered, pushing up into the welcoming heat and wetness. Fraser began to rub at his testicles again, gently, maddeningly, until they started to tighten again, and Ray's hips jerked upward involuntarily in time with Fraser's sucking.

He whimpered, and Fraser's hand deserted his balls to cover his mouth, two fingers, the last two, slipping into his mouth. Ray sucked on them as the fingers on his cock slid away, leaving just Fraser's mouth on him. He gasped and shuddered as Fraser started to suck, hard, simultaneously sliding two spit-slicked fingers between Ray's cheeks and up into his ass.

He came so hard he saw flashes of light, like meteors, against his closed eyelids. Wave after wave of pleasure pulsing through him, and spilling out of him. Fraser swallowed it all, and then gentled him down from the peak, licking softly, rubbing his stomach and thighs. As he lay there, drained and gasping a few moments later, he realized that it was a good thing Fraser'd had most of a hand over his mouth or he'd have woken up the whole neighborhood. As it was, the noise had been confined to a single strangled bellow and a lot of extremely noisy nose-breathing.

"You're insane, you know that," Ray said hoarsely.

"Of course," Fraser said, sounding smug, and a little breathless.

That reminded Ray that he had pretty much just been lying there letting Fraser do everything and not reciprocating at all. "Hey," he said, reaching over to where Fraser lay beside him, sliding a hand down Fraser's chest, trying to find the hem of his shirt so he could get under it to skin. "Your turn to get rectified."

Fraser cleared his throat. "That, ah, won't be necessary."

Ray was still trying to figure out why Fraser would turn down his offer when his hand encountered the big, hot-but-rapidly-cooling wet spot on the front of Fraser's shorts. "Oh." He grinned. "Got a little wound up, huh?"

"Mmm," Fraser said sleepily, curling in toward him, throwing an arm across his chest.

"Hey. Inside," Ray said.

"Nice out here," Fraser muttered.

It was. Pretty much a perfect late-summer night. Or rather, morning. Still . . . "You may not mind getting chewed up by mosquitoes at first light but personally I'd rather not."

Fraser sighed. "Have I ever mentioned that there are times when you're altogether too practical?" he complained.

Ray snickered. "Well, somebody has to be. Come on." He got to his knees and held out his hands to help Fraser sit up, then he stood, one hand holding up his shorts. "You owe me a pair of shorts. Oh, and briefs from the other day."

"Just put them on the list."

"Hope you're saving up," Ray said. "That list's getting kind of long. Dief? You around?" There was no answer from Dief. Ray figured he'd gotten disgusted with human mating behavior and gone through the wolf-door into the garage and was sleeping in there, now that it was kitten-free once more. He reached for the afghan, and nearly lost his shorts. Fraser leaned down and picked it up, and followed him silently into the house and up the stairs. Ray shucked down and crawled into bed as Fraser mopped himself off with his shorts and then joined him.

Ray stretched against the sheets with a sigh. "Nice not to have to wear anything to bed," he said. "That's one thing I don't like about having company. Hopefully Mike won't decide he'd rather bunk here than at the dorm."

Fraser was slow responding, and Ray thought he was just sleepy until he finally spoke. "I . . . doubt he will."

Ray turned to look at him, but it was too dark to see his face. He leaned over and turned on the lamp on the nightstand so he could see the look he'd thought he'd find there. The same sort of look he sometimes got when describing an aspect of his childhood that had been lacking, a sort of resigned sadness. "Thought you said everything was fine."

"Everything is fine."

"Fraser, you know, sometimes I really want to smack you. If everything is fine howcome you look like someone just told you that you couldn't have a Red Rider beebee gun?"

Fraser looked at him, puzzled for a moment, then obviously he remembered the reference to the movie Ray had gotten him hooked on two Christmases before, because he smiled, a quick flash of real humor. "You'll shoot your eye out," he murmured, then he shook his head. "I'm just trying not to make assumptions, Ray. That's all."

"What kind of assumptions?"

"There's really no reason for Michael to spend time with me. As he said, I'm not his father. Not in any way that counts."

Ray sighed. "I thought you said he apologized."

"He did. That doesn't invalidate his point."

"Didn't you talk about it?"


"Why not?"

Fraser looked at him like he'd lost his mind. "How on earth am I supposed to talk about something like that? What am I supposed to say? 'So, Michael, do you think you would like to have a closer relationship with me?'"

Ray thought about it. "Okay, you got a point. It sounds weird. But don't jump to conclusions that he doesn't want to be around you, either. He came over, right? He stayed for dinner. He volunteered to meet my folks. He wanted to be here. If he hadn't, he would have hung out with the hot chick."

Fraser scowled. "Ray! She has a name."

"I know that. She's still a hot chick. Anyway, what I'm saying is he had options, and he opted to come here and be with you. Sounds to me like he already answered the question you aren't asking."

Fraser nodded thoughtfully. "I suppose when put that way, it does seem logical."

"Wait." Ray goggled at him. "I was just logical and you were just emotional? What's wrong with this picture?"

Fraser's lips quirked upward faintly. "Well, you know they say old married couples start to act like. . . ."

Ray shut him up. Fraser kissed him back, and yawned in the middle of it, then looked apologetic. Ray waved it off. "Nah, it's okay. It's past our bedtime." he reached over and clicked off the light. Fraser spooned up against him, one arm resting across his chest. He was just about to drift off when Fraser shifted a little, and sighed. Recognizing the sound of Fraser's brain kicking back into gear, Ray was instantly awake. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong, per se," Fraser said. "I was just thinking."

Ray snorted. "There's a surprise. What were you thinking about?"



Fraser laughed softly. "Yes, ah."

"What about it?"

"I was just wondering if, had I been involved in raising Michael from the start, would I have managed to avoid repeating my father's mistakes. Given my reaction earlier, I'm not sure I would have."

He sounded rueful. Ray shifted in the bed, and reached over and turned the light back on. It wasn't an in the dark kind of talk any more. "Today wasn't really a fair test, you kind of got thrown into the deep end. If you'd been involved from the start, you'd have had time to learn to swim first." He chuckled, suddenly reminded of another time. "Bloom, close. . . ."

"Kick 'em in the head," Fraser finished, sounding amused. "True enough. It just dismays me to find that my first reaction was so. . . regrettable."

"Yeah, well, you're not the first parent to say something they regretted," Ray said. "And Mike's not the first kid to do it either. Hell, if I had a buck for every time I told my folks I hated them I wouldn't have to work for a living."

Fraser sighed. "I know. I just. . . "

"Expect too much of yourself," Ray finished. "So cut it out."

"What would you have done?"

"God, who knows?" Ray thought for a minute. "That kind of thing doesn't tick me off like it does you in the first place, but I guess if I'd been worried I might've gotten kind of pissed. I probably would've told him he should have let his friends in the seminar know he wasn't going to show, so they wouldn't call out the search and rescue team."

"So, you'd have given him suggestions on how not to get caught in the future?" Fraser asked after a moment. He sounded a little puzzled.

Ray laughed. "Yeah, I guess that's about what it boils down to. Though I was thinking more along the lines of making sure people don't worry. I know you don't approve of playing hooky, but he's a grownup, not a kid. It's his call."

"What if he was a kid?"

"You mean what if he was still a kid and skipped school or something?"


"Then I'd have been all over his ass, because even if you hate school it's stupid to skip. All you do is get in trouble, and get your folks in trouble, and you got nothing to show for it in the end."


"Hmmm what?"

"Isn't that a bit of a double standard?"

"Yeah," Ray said cheerfully. "But the thing is, once you're a grownup it's your call, and nobody's going to rag on your folks for your stupid shit and you have to deal with the consequences all yourself."

Fraser moved closer, so they were touching all along their sides. "I keep hoping some of your pragmatism will rub off on me."

"And instead I just keep rubbing you off," Ray teased. "Actually, you're a lot better than you used to be. One of these days you may be able to get that titanium rod out of your. . . ."


" . . . spine." Ray finished, grinning.

Fraser let out a deep, dramatic sigh. "I begin to have more empathy for parents."


"Well, not mine in particular, just parents in the generic sense. There's not necessarily just one correct solution to a given problem with children, is there?"

"No, there's not. And sometimes the correct solution isn't the right one in any case."

Fraser was silent for a moment, pondering that. "That makes a certain strange sense," he replied finally. "You're a very wise man, Ray Kowalski."

"I guess, sometimes. Sometimes I'm dumb as a rock, though. You do better on the wise front most of the time. This is just a new area for you. You'll figure it out."

"It's kind of you to keep making excuses for me."

"Not excuses. Reasons. They're different things."

"I suppose," Fraser said dubiously, then he fidgeted, raking his thumbnail across his eyebrow, which he almost never did around Ray any more. Hell, he barely even did it around aggressive women any more. Ray started to get worried.

"What else is going on in your head? I can tell there's something."

There was a long pause before he replied. "I. . . the other night you mentioned that you'd put aside thoughts of having children when we became a couple," he said, clearly as a lead-in.

Whoa. Okay. Ray studied him for a long moment. "Um . . . yeah."

Fraser cleared his throat. If he'd been wearing his dress uniform he'd be tugging at the collar. He looked at Ray, his expression a weird combination of worried and earnest. "I just wanted you to know that should you still feel it important, I would be happy to . . . I mean, I'm willing to. . . if you want . . . . that is to say adoption is always a possibility, or possibly surrogacy, as you suggested before."

Ray thought about how easy Fraser had always been with kids, how patient. Thought about that little scene with Michael at the dorm. Thought about how it felt to hold a sleeping child. Imagined what it would be like to have to worry about the kid all the time, for eighteen years, maybe more. Imagined watching a child grow up. Imagined all the millions of ways you could fuck up. Thought about the shit he dealt with at work on a daily basis, and how that sometimes made him short-tempered and mean.

Fraser could cope with that, but Fraser was a grownup, plus he was Fraser. But then, Ray's dad was sometimes short-tempered too, and Ray had managed to survive it okay. Maybe that was just normal. But what he had with Fraser was . . . balanced. He didn't want anything to tip them one way or the other. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard.

"I. . . God. I don't know." He raked a hand through his hair, and then rubbed at his chin, feeling the rasp of stubble against his fingertips. "You. . . want to?" he asked, studying Fraser closely.

Uncertainty flashed across Fraser's face, quickly masked, but Ray knew him too well not to see it. "I, ah, it's not so much that I want, but I know you want . . . ."

Ray shook his head. "Oh, no. No. This isn't just about what I want, Benton. We're a 'we' not a 'me.' We both have a say here. Do you want to?"

"I'd be willing to . . . ."

"Willing and wanting are two different things."

"Ray, please, just tell me, do you want a child?"

"Do you?"

Fraser was silent for long moments, and when he lifted his gaze, it was full of conflict. "I'm afraid."

"Of having a kid?" Ray asked, surprised.

Fraser shook his head and looked down at his hands. "No. Of saying the wrong thing."

That felt like a punch in the stomach. "God. Yeah. Me too."

Fraser looked up. "Really?"

Ray nodded, smiling weakly. "Really. If I say the wrong thing then you won't be able to tell the truth."


"Yeah." Ray sighed.

"Perhaps we should . . . write it down?"

Ray shook his head. "No. No, on three, okay? Just say it, on three. I will too."

"I. . . very well." He took a deep breath. "One."





They looked at each other for long, long seconds, and then Fraser let out a shaky laugh. "Well. That was. . . ."

"Traumatic." Ray said.

Fraser nodded.

Ray let out his breath in a long sigh, feeling some of the tension ease from his body as he did. "I thought you'd say yes," he admitted.

Fraser's gaze met his evenly. "I thought you would."

Ray nodded. "I won't say I haven't thought about it, a lot, but finally I decided that it's not something I really need."

A tiny hint of smile lifted the corners of Fraser's mouth. "I have all I need."

Ray closed his eyes and let that wash through him. "Yeah," he breathed. "Yeah."

"Can I admit to feeling some relief?" Fraser asked with a sheepish look.

"Just some?" Ray asked, deadpan. "I think that's about a ten on the Richter scale of relief."

"The Richter scale is no longer. . . ."

"Fraser. It's the thought that counts."

"Right you are." Fraser reached over and clicked the light of this time, and they settled into bed once more. Ray was a little tense, but starting to relax when Fraser spoke again.

"I wish I could think of something to do with Michael this weekend, something . . . social. I'm afraid of boring him to tears. I know I'm not the most exciting person to ever draw breath."

"Hey, you excite me," Ray pointed out.

"Which delights me, however, I fervently hope I don't do the same for Michael," Fraser said drily.

Ray chuckled. "Yeah. You can say that again. Hey, what about baseball? The Cubs are playing tomorrow. It's kind of late notice but we could see if we can score tickets. My dad and his friends sometimes don't use theirs. I think there's a three-game home stand against the Expos so you can even root for the home team, sort of."

"He might enjoy that," Fraser said thoughtfully. "I doubt he's ever been to a major league game."

"Great. I'll see what I can do. In the morning," Ray said emphatically, and then he yawned. "Now can you turn your brain off, or have you got one more last thing you need to keep me awake for?"

Fraser chuckled. "Yes, I can turn it off, for now. Go to sleep."

Ray leaned over and kissed him, his lips landing half on his mouth, half on his cheek. Fraser turned his head so they were lined up right, and kissed him back. Ray could still taste himself there, faintly. When the kiss ended, he settled back against the pillows, thinking about how right that was.

* * *

"He's a beautiful young man."

Ray turned and looked at his mother, who was looking out the window over the sink toward the extra parking pad beside the house where Fraser, Michael, and Ray's dad were all standing next to the Scout, staring into its innards and talking seriously. "Mike? Yeah. Looks like Fraser."

"Yes, he does." She handed him another wet dish. "Carlin, would you bring me those glasses from the picnic table?" she asked.

"Of course, Mrs. . . Barbara," she amended, as his mother arched her eyebrows at her. "Do you want the tray too? I think that's all that's left."

"Yes, good thinking."

Carlin went outside to get the rest of the dishes off the picnic table under the trailer's extended awning, and Ray's mother looked at him. "You could have knocked me over with a feather when your father came in here and announced that Benton had a son visiting."

Ray chuckled, drying the plate. "You think it was a surprise to you, try being me and Fraser."

She looked at him oddly. "You didn't know?"

He shook his head. "No. It was a shock. One of those. . . whattayacallit. . . youthful indiscretions. Fraser was seventeen, the girl was a year or so older. She never told him. He and Mike are still kind of feeling things out."

"Well, that explains why they seem a little . . . careful around each other."

"Yeah." Ray watched Fraser as he bent over to pick something up. Nice ass. Really nice.

His mother nudged him with an elbow. "Stanley. Plate."

"Huh?" He looked down and took the plate, starting to dry it. "Oh. Sorry."

She laughed. "You're so predictable. But Benton does have a very nice rear-end."


Carlin, having caught the exchange on her way back in with the dishes, laughed. "You can say that again."

"Benton has a very nice rear-end," his mom repeated, giggling, as she finished washing the crepe pan and handed it to him.

"Don't drool over Fraser, as my mom, you are definitely not allowed to drool over my partner," Ray said.

"How about me? Can I drool?" Carlin teased.

Ray mock-glowered at her. "Nobody drools over Fraser but me! You can drool over Mike. Or hell, even my dad," he said with a wink.

"Hey!" his mom protested.

"What, you can dish it out but you can't take it?" Ray asked.

His mother popped him one on the arm with her damp dishtowel. "Disrespectful child."

"Ow!" Ray rubbed the spot. "That stings!"

"Serves you right, sassing your mother." She looked over at Carlin. "I hope if you ever decide to have children, they grow up more respectful than my Stanley did."

Carlin looked at Ray. "Stanley?"

"Come on, Mom," Ray grumbled. "Even Dad calls me Ray now."

She sighed. "I know. I try, but I'm just set in my ways. To me you'll always be my little Stanley. Ray just seems so. . . grown up."

"Mom, I'm thirty-nine years old," Ray said with amused resignation. "I am grown up." He was glad Michael was outside and couldn't remind him of his 'you're never a grown up' speech. This was different.

"Says the man who was just ogling his significant other like a teenager," she said with a grin. "Where did you say you were from, dear?" she asked Carlin.

"Minnesota, Mrs. Kowalski. A little town called Noyes."

"I don't think I've heard of it," his mother said after a moment's thought. "And it's Barbara," she reminded her again.

"That's not exactly surprising," Carlin said drily. "It's about three hundred miles north of Minneapolis, and the population is around sixty-seven. Not many people have heard of it unless they've gone through on their way to or from Canada."

"Sixty seven?" his mother asked, beating Ray to it.

Carlin nodded. "Yeah. Unless old Mrs. Thorson finally passed on, but I think she's too ornery. It's not much of a town, we had to go across the state line to Pembina, North Dakota to go shopping. But my dad was a Customs agent, and Noyes is a point of entry, about a mile from the Canadian border, so it was convenient for him."

"Yeah, I can see that. How'd you end up here in Chicago?" Ray asked. "We're a long way from Minnesota."

"I, ah, got a scholarship to Northwestern," she said, looking a little embarrassed.

"That's wonderful!" his mother said. "What are you majoring in?"

"'Human Development and Psychological Services,' it's part of the Education school. I'm taking my last class this summer. I finished my practicums last spring, but I had one course to go for my second major."

"So you're a teacher?"

"Sort of. My primary degree is more related to counseling, but I doubled-majored in English so I can teach. I'd eventually like to find a small community where someone with both skills would be an asset."

Ray almost mentioned that Inuvik was a small community, but he figured Carlin probably knew that by now and it might be kind of overkill on the yenta front. His mother finished washing the tray, and handed it to Ray, then dried her hands off on another towel.

"There, that's the last of them. Thank you both for helping, now let's go out and see what my husband is up to out there with Benton and Michael."

Carlin was out the door almost before the words left his mother's mouth, making a beeline for Michael. Ray wasn't too surprised. Michael had taken off his shirt when they'd opened up the hood of the Scout, and was out there in nothing but jeans and a tank. He'd wondered how long Carlin would be able to resist touching. He held the door for his mother, giving her an amused look. "You got that sock and duct tape you were talking about?"

She laughed. "No. Actually, I think he's been behaving very well, don't you?"

"Yeah, I have," Ray admitted. "I've kind of been wondering what's got into him."

"Well, he's been softening for a while now, at least to me, but I think what clinched it was when one of the regulars in his monthly poker group passed on about a month ago. I think it reminded him he won't be around forever, and he finally saw that he's already spent too many years on bad terms with you because of his own damned stubbornness. It gave him a little kick in the pants, so to speak."

"Whatever the reason, I appreciate it, and I know Benton does too. He's been worried that he's keeping me and Dad apart ever since we got together."

His mother sighed and nodded. "I know. He's a good person, your Benton. If nothing else, maybe that finally got through your father's thick skull."

"Thick skulls seem to run in the family. The male side anyway," Ray said quickly, before she could get offended.

"They sure do," she agreed.

"Who sure does what?" his dad asked, turning around as they walked up.

"Kowalski men have thick skulls," his mother said breezily.

His dad chuckled. "Yeah. That we do."

"A fact I'm grateful for every time I get whacked on the noggin by a perp," Ray said.

"As am I," Fraser said.

Ray smiled at him, and his father cleared his throat. "Glad you came out, Raymond. I could use a hand."

"You got a couple of hands, right there," Ray said, nodding at Fraser.

"I think your father was hoping for someone who knows what he's doing," Fraser said wryly. "I'm afraid my inexperience renders me somewhat superfluous, and Michael can't really do much with his hands yet."

Ray looked at his father. "He'll never learn how to do this stuff if I always do it for him."

"Well, no offense meant, but putting in a new radiator isn't a job for an amateur."

"Okay, true," Ray admitted. "But tell you what, next time the Scout needs an oil change we're not going to Jiffy-Stop. We're going to come over here and you can put him to work."

Fraser looked dubious. "Perhaps we ought to do one at home first, so I don't look like a complete idiot."

Ray's father laughed. "That's all right, son. Raymond told me how you never had a car growing up in the North, so you never really had a chance to learn, and even if you had, your dad wasn't around much to show you important things like that."

Ray felt himself getting a little warm under Fraser's intent gaze. So maybe Fraser had never told him anything like that, it was pretty safe to assume, right?

"Even so," his father went on. "You've been here a while. I can't believe after all this time Raymond hasn't shown you how to find your way around an engine." He looked at Ray, shaking his head. "What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking I wouldn't want him to learn from anything less than the best," Ray said smoothly.

His father stared at him for a moment, and then guffawed, smacking him on the shoulder. "You're such a kidder, Raymond. Come on, let's get to work."

"She needs a new radiator, huh?" he asked,

"Yeah, considering her age, I'd say so. And from the sound of her, the plugs could use changing, though that wouldn't affect your heat problem."

"Nah, they've got lots of life left," Michael said. "They just need a good cleaning. Points probably do, too."

"Why clean them off when you can replace them with good new ones?" his father asked.

Michael shook his head. "Why replace them when they'll be fine after a little work with some steel wool? No reason to throw something out if it's still got some life left in it."

Ray stifled a grin. That pretty much pointed up the differences between his dad's typically American 'everything's disposable' mentality, and Michael's typically Northern 'use every last scrap and make soup out of the hide' outlook.

"Guess, that's true," Damian allowed grudgingly . "No point in throwing the baby out with the bath water."

"So you guys haven't actually checked anything out yet? Or tested the thermostat?" Carlin asked, leaning in to look at the engine. "Is there any sign of leaking, either from hoses or couplings, or the pressure cap? It could be something as simple as that. And I know it's summer, but has anyone tried the heater? Because if the heater's not working that's a pretty sure sign that the thermostat is shot. These old babies use a Superstant if I remember right, stainless steel. But if you want to keep the Scout and it turns out you really need a new radiator, you might want to think about getting a custom-built instead of a rebuilt, because any rebuilt you get is going to be just as old as this one and will be showing metal fatigue, unless it's been sitting in a junk yard for years, so the solder joints won't hold for long."

Michael, Ray, and his dad all gaped at her.

After the silence got noticeable, Carlin looked up, her expression a little uncertain. "What?" she asked. "Do I have something on my face?"

Fraser looked equally puzzled, but Ray's mom laughed, shaking her head.

"No, honey, it's just that finding a pretty girl who knows her way around an engine is a little like getting a real diamond ring from one of those supermarket gum machines."

Carlin rolled her eyes. "Come on, guys, get a clue. This is almost the twenty-first century, you know. I can excuse them, but you ought to know better," she said with a sharp glance at Michael.

"Hey! I was just . . . admiring your knowledge of automotive maintenance just like I admire Mr. Kowalski's," Michael protested.

"Is that so?" Carlin asked. "Then why don't you get in there and check the pressure cap for cracks and seal problems so I can admire yours? I know you can't do much with your hands yet, but I don't think taking off the cap should be overdoing it."

Michael cleared his throat and glanced around at everyone else hopefully. No one volunteered to do it for him. After a second he smiled ruefully, grabbed a rag, and leaned in to remove the pressure cap. Carlin took a step back, nudged Ray's mom with her elbow, made a cupping motion with both hands, and winked. His mom giggled and Ray frowned at them both, shaking a finger. His father looked scandalized. Fraser looked like he was trying hard not to laugh out loud.

Michael looked back over his shoulder. "Do I want to know what the giggling is all about?"

"No," everyone chorused.

* * *

"I can't believe nobody in your ticket pool wanted to see the game today," Ray said, leaning over so only his dad could hear him. "That's some kind of weird coincidence."

"Yeah, coincidence." His father cleared his throat and coughed, a slight flush coloring his cheeks.

Ray looked at him narrowly. He was a cop, he knew guilt when he saw it. "Okay, spill. Just what did you have to do to get these tickets?"

His dad tried an innocent look, and Ray snickered. "Cut it out, Dad. It's really not you. Now 'fess up."

"Prmsdmfreetnups," he muttered.

"What was that? I didn't quite catch it."

"I promised them free tune-ups." He refused to meet Ray's eyes.

Ray stared at him in surprise. "You promised five people free tune-ups to get them to give up their tickets? For us?"

"Only four," his father said defensively. "My ticket was already mine, and Milt wouldn't give his up."

Ray shot a glance at Milt, in his seat, staring fixedly at the field, his Walkman headphones firmly in place. "So I see. Good thing Mom had her bridge club today." He looked back at his dad. "I really appreciate you doing this, especially. . . well." He decided it was best to let that drop, since it was only the second time his father had voluntarily done anything with Fraser since Ray had told him they were moving in together, and not just as roommates. "Let me know when you have to ante up, and I'll try to come over and help, okay?"

"Don't have to," he said gruffly.

Ray bumped his shoulder against his father's. "I know."

His father looked embarrassed, and Ray grinned. That earned Ray a feeble glare, before his dad looked out at the field ostentatiously. Ray looked out too, just in time to see the umpire call Morandini out on a pitch so low the catcher had to scoop it out of the dirt. The ump seriously sucked. He'd been calling crap like that ever since the game had started.

Fraser looked at them indignantly. "Did you see that? It's outrageous! The man's a disgrace! It's hardly satisfying for a team to win on the strength of poor officiating rather than skill." He stood up and waved a hand in the umpire's direction. "Hé, Monsieur aveugle! Est-ce-que vous avez besoin de lunettes? Donc, je peux vous prêter celles de mon ami!" he yelled down toward the field.

They were close enough that the man actually turned, looking up in their direction, clearly puzzled.

"Frase, just because the team's from Montreal don't mean the umps are," Ray pointed out with a grin.

Fraser frowned. "True. I suppose it doesn't necessarily follow. Still, it was a bad call."

Ray's father looked at Fraser approvingly and nodded. "Yeah, Morandini's not the best player in the world but that was definitely no out. That ump needs glasses."

Carlin snickered. "That's what Fraser just said. Then he offered to give him Ray's."

His dad snickered. "That's a good one!"

"Hey!" Ray objected. "He can get his own glasses! I need mine!"

"True, and you have to qualify at the range in two weeks, so I guess I'll have to let you keep them."

Ray snorted. "Big of you."

Fraser's lips twitched, but he turned to Carlin anyway. "So you speak French?"

"Oui, m'sieur," she standing up to give a little curtsey that looked pretty goofy with her in shorts and a tank-top. "I had three years in high school, two in college, plus a year in Bordeaux on Study Abroad," she continued, with a little shrug. "Unfortunately it's not a skill I get to use much around here, other than for steering the occasional lost tourist."

"Well, if you ever visit Canada it might stand you in good stead," Fraser said. "Since it's one of our official languages.

Carlin and Michael shared a look, and Michael grinned. "Yeah, I, uh, kind of mentioned that."

Fraser's lips curved up a little. "I see."

So did Ray. Clearly Mike was a little more serious about Carlin than they'd realized if he was already talking about having her up for a visit.

Carlin nudged Michael with an elbow and shook her head minutely before turning back to them. "Today though, my problem is that I don't speak baseball fluently. . . I've never really been able to figure out what on earth the infield fly rule is."

Ray watched Fraser open his mouth to explain, and then stop and turn toward his father. "Actually, although I became familiar with many aspects of the game when Ray went undercover as a baseball player, there are still areas where my knowledge is lacking. Perhaps your father would be kind enough to explain it."

Ray almost blew it by razzing Fraser about his failing memory, but a glimpse of the grin on his father's face served as a clue-bat just in time. Duh. He settled back to listen to his dad hold forth on the infield fly rule, its history and application, and shot a wink at Fraser when he was sure no one was looking. Fraser winked back.

The day was warm and sunny, humid as usual, and Ray was getting thirsty, and hungry. He stood up. "Any of you guys want anything?"

He was inundated with requests, and was about to protest that he'd never remember them all when Fraser whipped a pencil and paper out of . . . well, Ray wasn't quite sure he knew where from and also wasn't quite sure he wanted to know, and took it all down and then handed the paper to Ray. As Ray sidled past him and started up the stairs, Fraser caught him by a belt-loop. "Wait. What are you getting?"

Ray pretended uncertainty. "Not sure yet. Got to see what they have." He knew very well what he was jonesing for. It was what he always wanted at a ball game.

Fraser studied his face, shook his head, and sighed. "Just. . . eat it up there, all right?"

Ray grinned. "You got it."

The concourse that housed the concessionaires was dim, crowded and noisy. He felt a sense of nostalgia, remembering all the times as a kid that he and his dad had left their seats to stand in line, listening to the roar outside and wondering what they'd just missed. They would excitedly tell each other what they'd imagined happened, and sometimes that had been more fun than what was actually happening on the field. Now there were big TVs tuned to closed-circuit of the game so you could see what was going on.

For a minute he kind of wished that he'd asked his father to come with and 'help carry' which was what his dad had always asked him to do when he was a kid, but . . . that was then and you couldn't go back. You could only go forward. Still, it was great to be at a game with his dad again. Better still that Fraser had been included. Ray wasn't sure what had changed. Maybe his mom was right, and it was just his dad feeling his mortality. Whatever it was, he wasn't going to ask and maybe screw it up.

As he waited for his turn in line he watched the TV. When the inning ended there was nothing much going on out on the field, so the camera panned around the crowd, lingering on a cute chick here, and there. He turned his attention to the excessively cheerful teenage girl behind the counter as he got to it, and placed his order, then looked back up just in time to see the camera focus in on Fraser. Well, actually, Fraser, Mike, Carlin, and his dad. Somehow the cameraman managed to avoid Milt. Good trick. Ray grinned as he watched them. They looked good. They looked like they were having fun, all of them. Mike was talking animatedly, and Fraser then said something and his dad laughed, and punched his arm like he usually would Ray's. The back of his nose stung suddenly, and he had to blink to clear his blurred vision.

"Did you hear me, Mister?"

Ray snapped his attention back to the teenager, whose smile had gone a little tight. "Sorry, they were just showing my family," he explained. "What's it come to?"

"Thirty-four dollars and twelve cents."

Getting out his wallet, Ray shook his head. "Man, when I was. . . " he closed his mouth abruptly. He was not going to be one of those guys who reminisced about how much better life had been when he was a kid. "Highway robbery," he said, instead of finishing his earlier sentence.

The girl grinned. "Yeah, but hey, at least the chili dogs are good!" She put his into the big bag with the rest of the food. "We use Chelly's chili."

Ray's mouth watered. "Really? Cool." He laughed, realizing that was all too appropriate, since the guy who owned Chelly's was an ex-Blackhawk. "Literally."

"Yeah." She laughed at his cheesy joke, and got out a beverage carrier and started loading it with drinks, realized they wouldn't all fit in one, and then looked at him dubiously. "You carrying all this by yourself?"

"Nah, I'm helping," a familiar voice said, from behind him.

Ray turned. "Dad! Did somebody think of something else they wanted?"

"Nah." His father nodded at the spread on the counter. "Benton was going to come help you, but I said I'd take care of it. No need for him to miss the game."


His dad reached for the drink carrier. "You got the food?"

Ray nodded and picked up the bag, and the extra drink. "Got it. But hang on, let's go over there for a second." He nodded toward an empty table. "I have to eat mine here."

His father followed him over, taking a seat across from him, and watched as he pulled his foil-wrapped chili dog out of the bag and opened it.

"How come?" he asked, just as Ray took a bite, then looked sheepish as Ray glared at him. "Sorry. I'll wait."

Ray chewed and swallowed. "'Cause Fraser knows way too much about food safety and sanitation to ever watch me eat a hot dog."

"Heh. He's a smart fella. You notice I don't eat 'em either. But you've always had a cast-iron stomach." He looked at Ray, his expression suddenly serious. "I was wrong, you know."

"About what?" Ray asked, taking another bite.

"Well . . ." his dad hedged. "A lot of stuff. But I was thinking about what I said to you when you told me you wanted to become a cop. I don't know how you do it, but somehow you come out smelling good."

The sudden lump in his throat made it hard to swallow his bite of hotdog, but Ray managed to choke it down. "Yeah. It's hard work some days. Real hard. Though Benton helps. He helps a lot."

His father nodded, not looking at Ray as he pulled his beer out of the carrier and took a long gulp. "Yeah. Wrong about him, too," he said, fast, and then he held up his plastic cup. "Hear they got Polish beer over at Comiskey."

Ray knew a diversionary tactic when he saw one, and decided not to push. "Yeah? You gonna switch over to being a Sox fan so you can get good beer?"

His father looked outraged. "I can get good beer any time."

"Thought that's what you'd say," Ray said. "Just two more bites and we can go. If you turn your chair you should be able to watch the game on the big screen."

"That's all right, Raymond." His dad looked around, and a little smile quirked the corners of his mouth. "Been a while. Kind of reminds me of old times."

"Me too," Ray said. They stared at each other for a minute.

His father cleared his throat. "Benton said something about you going under-cover as a baseball player?" he asked, clearly curious.

"Yeah. Down in Williston. I didn't tell you about that?" His dad shook his head, and Ray laughed. "Jeez, you must be the only person I didn't torture with that tape."


"I hit a homer. I got it on videotape, at home, if you want to see."

"A homer? You're putting me on!"

Ray shook his head. "Nope, I'm not."

"That I've gotta see. My boy, hitting a homer."

Ray grinned. "Cool. Someone else to torment. Not even Dief will watch it any more. Remind me when we get home," Ray said, and then he finished his hot dog and scrubbed the napkin across his mouth to rid himself of any telltale chili. "Come on. Let's go back out before we miss history being made. Fraser says Mark Grace is coming up on two-thousand, might get it today."

"That'd be something to see, wouldn't it? He's been a good, solid player for a long time. Hope he gets it." He got to his feet, and then glanced at Ray. "Fraser keeps up on that sort of thing?"

Ray stifled a grin. "Yeah." He didn't embellish. That would be pushing it.

His dad nodded thoughtfully and picked up the tray of drinks. "Well, pitter patter, Raymond, let's get at 'er."

"Pitter patter, Dad? That's cute."

His father fixed him with a narrow glare. "Who you callin' cute?"

* * *

"So what next?" Mike asked as they made their way back up the pier toward the parking area.

Ray was sort of worried that they were trying to cram too much into too little time. . . baseball the day before, then Navy Pier today, and now it looked like Michael wanted to do more. They were going to run out of tourist stuff soon, and Michael still had several weeks to go. He was about to say maybe they should save something for the following weekend, when Fraser answered.

"How about one of the museums?" Fraser asked. "After all, there are several world class institutions within a few minutes of here."

Ray groaned. "Oh God, here we go. Culture, with a capital K."

Fraser shot him an exasperated look. "There's more to Chicago than baseball and amusement parks, after all."

"There is?" Ray asked in mock astonishment.


"Yeah, I guess it won't kill us to do some culture, since we've done fun already."

Fraser looked hurt. "Culture is fun, Ray."

Ray managed not to snort. "Whatever you say."

"Do I have to bring up the fact that we have a bookcase at home devoted to your art books? An entire shelf to Monet alone?" Fraser asked, lifting his eyebrows.

"Okay, okay, you win!" Ray said, holding up his hands in surrender. "Culture it is."

"Excellent." Fraser turned to Mike and Carlin, who had been watching their exchange with amusement. "Where would you like to go? There's quite a selection. The Field Museum of Natural History, The Museum of Science and Industry, the Holography Museum, the MCA, or the Art Institute of Chicago, the Oriental Institute, the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum. . . ."

Dief barked, and Carlin looked at him, then at Fraser. "Dief says he wants to go to the Art Institute."

Fraser looked at Dief and shook his head. "I know, he's been after me to take him for weeks, but this is Michael's dec. . . ." his voice trailed off and he stared at Carlin.

Ray was staring at her himself. So was Mike.

She looked from Fraser, to Ray, to Mike, then back to Fraser, defensively. "What?"

Fraser cleared his throat. "You, ah, understood him?"

She frowned. "Of course. Don't you?"

"Well, certainly I do."

"So what's the problem?" she asked.

"No problem," Ray said placatingly after realizing Fraser and Mike were too flummoxed to respond. "Just don't find too many folks down here who speak Canadian Wolf."

Her expression lightened. "Right, okay. I get that," she said. "Come on, Dief, let's go check out that ice-cream vendor."

The woman and the wolf headed off toward the vendor cart a few yards away, leaving the three men staring after them.

"Don't find too many people who speak Wolf up there, either," Mike muttered, shaking his head.

"No, you don't," Fraser agreed. "In fact, she's the only person other than myself I've ever seen do it."

"Hey!" Ray protested. "I get him."

"Yes, after a fashion and with practice. But not instinctively as Carlin apparently does. She's quite unique."

Mike grinned. "Yeah, she is." He turned and jogged away, wincing a little every time he came down on his left leg.

Ray started walking toward the vendor, Fraser at his side. He glanced over to see Fraser was frowning. "What?"

"He shouldn't overtax his leg like that."

"Give me a break, Fraser. If it was you, you wouldn't just be doing a three yard jog, you'd be doing your usual ten-K. I wonder how she learned Wolf?"

"I don't know, it's quite surprising, considering that she's from . . . ." His voice trailed off and his frown deepened. "Actually, I'm just realizing how little we know about her. Just that, judging by her last name, she's of Danish extraction, and works in a coffee shop."

"True. So why don't you ask her?"

"Well, I, ah, it's not really any of my business."

Ray nudged him with an elbow. "Of course it's your business. In fact, it's sort of your duty, since you're his dad."

"Even if that were more than nominally the case, it's hardly polite to go about interrogating her."

Ray rolled his eyes. "Fine, I'll do it. I'm an American, we're allowed to be rude." He didn't mention that he already knew a few details. It was more fun that way.

"Ray!" Fraser began.

Ray ignored him and dashed over toward the ice cream cart. He figured he'd let Fraser stew. Geez. It wasn't like he was going to haul her down to the station and get out the halogens and rubber hoses. As he got close to the cart, he saw Dief dancing around, begging. Carlin looked up as he joined them.

"Can Dief have a treat?"

Ray looked at the menu written on a piece of blackboard in neon chalk, saw something reasonable, and nodded. "Yeah, he can have the vanilla frozen yogurt pop."

Carlin grinned and elbowed Michael. "See, I told you the yogurt would be okay."

"Better safe than sorry," Mike said getting out his wallet to pay for the Bomb Pops he and Carlin already held. "You want anything Ray?"

"Yeah, a Dreamsicle. And throw in another yogurt pop for the Mr. Tour Guide over there," Ray said, nodding at Fraser who had been stopped by an elderly Asian couple, and appeared to be giving a complicated set of instructions, complete with hand waving and pointing and bowing.

The vendor dug in his refrigerated cart, got out a yogurt pop and handed it to Carlin. She unwrapped it and put it down for Dief as Ray got out his wallet.

Michael shook his head. "Put that away, it's my treat."

Ray shook his head. "No, I'll get it."

Michael's jaw went square and his chin lifted just like Fraser's did when he got obstinate. "It's not like buying ice cream's going to bankrupt me."

Ray snorted. "That's what you think. You haven't seen the total yet. These are tourist prices."

"Ray," Michael began, only to break off in surprise as a jogger suddenly careened into them, knocking Michael into Ray, who stepped on Dief's foot. Dief yelped, and Ray jumped back, losing his balance again. Mike steadied him as the jogger stumbled into Carlin and then twisted away and took off running again.

"Hey!" Carlin yelled indignantly. "Hey you!" She dropped her ice cream and took off after the jogger, feet flying.

Ray looked around, confused. "What's the. . . ." he began.

"Why is she. . . ." Michael asked.

"Hey! That guy stole your friend's bag!" the ice cream vendor said.

About that time, Fraser sprinted past them in hot pursuit of Carlin and the jogger. Ray and Michael looked at each other, and followed. Dief brought up the rear, limping a little. As he wove his way through the crowd, Ray cursed the fact that there were so many people on the pier. Most of them seemed to be Asian, probably a tour group. Most of them were taking pictures. He finally made it to the end of the pier where it opened onto the access and parking areas, and looked around, trying to figure out where Fraser and Carlin were.

Loud voices caught his attention and he backed up a few feet until he could see around the information kiosk. There they were. Carlin and the bag-snatcher, a skinny but muscular white guy with ratty blond dreads, were playing tug-of-war with the small backpack she carried instead of a purse. A small crowd was watching avidly, doing nothing. Jesus, sometimes Ray really hated people.

"Give it back!" Carlin snarled, yanking on the bag.

"Let go, bitch!" the thief snarled back.

He glanced around and saw Fraser to his left, working his way through the crowd toward the struggling pair. Fraser's gaze met his, and Ray nodded at him to let him know he'd stay put until Fraser got into place. Michael and Dief limped up just as Fraser reached them. Fraser lifted his eyebrows at Ray. Ray nodded, and reached into his pocket, bringing out his CPD badge wallet which he flipped open. Michael and Fraser each moved around into position on either side of the pair still fighting over the bag. It was weird how time seemed to . . . change, when they were in a situation. Like it slowed down for everyone else and speeded up for them. As soon as Mike and Fraser were in position, Ray stepped forward.

"Chicago P.D., hands in the air!" he called out loudly, holding up his badge.

The guy looked at him, his eyes widening. Mike took a step forward, reaching for Carlin. The thief saw him and then used the strap of the backpack that Carlin was still holding to yank her toward him, locking an arm around her throat. The bag fell to the ground, as he scrabbled a short bladed knife from beneath his loose shirt and waved it threateningly. "Get away from me!"

Oh. . . shit. Shit-shit-shit. Ray froze. So did Michael. Carlin stopped struggling, but she looked more pissed than scared. Ray was afraid she might try something and he caught her gaze and shook his head infinitesimally. She couldn't respond. He just hoped she understood. Now what? He decided to try the Fraser gambit.

"Look, you really don't want to do that. Right now it's just petty theft. You don't want to add assault to the charge. Things will go a lot harder on you."

Fraser shot him an approving look. "That's right, sir. It really would be wise to let the young lady go."

The thief's head swivelled to take in Fraser less than a yard to his left, then his gaze shifted to Michael, then back to Ray again. Ray realized his pupils were widely dilated. Just what they needed. The guy was hopped up on something. Fraser shifted slightly. He didn't even take a step, just moved, and the thief brought the knife up against Carlin's throat.

"Stay back!" he screamed, his voice shrill as he backed away, pulling Carlin along with him.

The crowd behind him parted, giving him an open path to the curb, though his way to the parking lot was blocked by a double-decker open-top tour bus idling at the curb, probably the source of all the Asian tourists. He'd have to maneuver around it to get to open ground. That might give them a shot. Or if that didn't pan out, Ray figured if he had a car, he'd probably have to let go of Carlin in order to get his keys and unlock it. That would probably be their best chance.

Backing up, the thief bumped into the bus, and began to edge along its metal bulk toward the front and freedom. As he neared it, his gaze flickered toward the open door of the vehicle, and Ray suddenly got a very bad feeling. He looked at Michael and saw that same feeling reflected in his gaze. Fraser was frowning too. He was just about to call out to distract the guy when he suddenly turned and darted into the waiting bus, dragging Carlin up the stairs with him.

"If you don't want blood all over your fucking bus, you'll do what I say!" he screamed at the driver.

Ray could vaguely see the driver. He looked alarmed, and held up his hands as if the guy had a gun not a knife.

"Okay, man, okay! What do you want?"

"Drive! Just drive?"


"South, out of the city! Do it now!"

"All right, calm down! We're going," the driver reached over and pulled the lever that controlled the door, and it swung shut, blocking any sound but that of the engine as the bus pulled away from the curb, leaving Ray, Michael, and Fraser standing helplessly behind.

"Fuck!" Ray and Michael snarled in unison.

Ray lunged for the back of the bus, but Fraser grabbed him around the waist and pulled him back. "No, you'd never be able to hang on. We'll follow them."

Fraser was already moving, running toward the lot where they'd parked. Ray was on his heels immediately, with Michael and Dief bringing up the rear again. Reaching the Scout, Ray jumped in, popped the passenger door open for Fraser, and then reversed out of their space as Fraser buckled himself in. He kept reversing down the aisle, stopped just long enough for Michael and Dief to fling themselves into the back seat, and then threw it into gear and lost half a year's tread as he took off after the bus.

"What's the plan?" Mike asked, leaning forward, a hand on the seat behind Ray's shoulder, to peer intently through the windshield.

"We follow them," Ray said.

"Wait until they stop, and try to gain access then," Fraser added, then he frowned. "Unfortunately, it'll be virtually impossible to do that without being seen."

Michael grunted assent, and all three of them were silent for a moment, contemplating that. Suddenly Fraser spoke again.

"It's a double-decker bus. Open top. There will be access stairs from the upper deck."

"Good. That's good. If we can get you on top of it without him seeing you, you're in."

"Exactly. But that's still problematic. How do we get above it?"

"Wait. . . what about. . . " Michael paused a moment, and Ray felt his fingers drumming on the seat back. "Isn't there a pedestrian overpass near Comiskey Park? I remember seeing it when you were driving me around."

Ray got it instantly. "Yeah, at 35th. You're thinking we can get to the upper deck from the overpass?" At Michael's nod, he went on. "Yeah. The jump should only be a few feet, if we can get him there. Problem is, how do we keep him there long enough for you guys to climb the stairs and . . . shit. That overpass is jumper-proofed," Ray said, frustrated.

Fraser flipped open the small sheath on his belt and pulled out the multi-tool Ray had given him after the Henry Allen thing. He opened it to the wire-cutter and held it up. "Don't leave home without it," he intoned.

Ray grinned. "Perfect. Now we just have to figure out how to get the bus there, stop it long enough and distract him so he doesn't notice while you play handyman, and hope he's deaf so he doesn't hear you hit the roof."

"Couldn't you sort of . . . guide him toward it with the Scout?" Michael asked. "I wouldn't try it in anything small, but this thing's built like a tank."

"It may be built like a tank, but it's no match for a bus," Ray muttered. "Still, the driver was pretty spooked, he won't be wanting to play chicken. It could work."

"Ray, there's a hotel three blocks ahead. When you get there, pull over for a moment," Fraser said, interrupting.


"There's a taxi stand there. I can take a taxi to the pedestrian overpass while you herd the bus in that direction, that way I can be waiting when it arrives. You won't even need to stop it, just slow it down."

"What's this 'I' shit? Michael protested. "You can't do this by yourself and you know it. It's going to take two of us to take him down, if we want to make sure Carlin doesn't get hurt."

Fraser craned his neck to stare at Michael. "I'm afraid your recent injury precludes your active participation in anything strenuous."

Ray snorted rudely. This from the guy who chased down a perp with a knife in his thigh? The guy who got the crap beat out of him and still went after Warfield? "Kind of a double standard there, Benton," he muttered.

Fraser glared at him.

Ray pulled to the curb next to the hotel. "He's your son, Fraser," he said softly.

There was a moment of silence, then Fraser nodded, and opened the door. "Michael, Dief, with me."

Within seconds, Ray was alone. He pulled back out into traffic, keeping an eye on the bus several blocks ahead and easing the Scout from lane to lane as he maneuvered his way closer to it. He wished he had some help, maybe a couple of blue and whites to divert traffic. As soon as he thought that, it dawned on him that he probably should call in, but he didn't want to spare a hand for the cell phone at the moment, so he didn't. There were probably units on the way in anyway, surely someone at the pier had called 911.

He wove his way around a step van and was suddenly beside the bus. He accelerated enough that he was pacing it in a spot where the driver could easily see him, and vice versa, though he couldn't see Goldie-dreads or Carlin. That bothered him a little: he wanted to know where the perp was, so he could keep an eye on him, and where Carlin was, so he could make sure she was okay. The driver still looked a little freaked out. Understandably. Ray glanced at a street sign as he passed it. He had about six blocks to go before he had to force a turn. Thank God it was a right, not a left.

Half a block ahead the light turned red, bringing traffic to a stop. He used the time to dig in his pocket and get out his ID again. He waved broadly a few times until the movement caught the bus driver's eye, and then he held up the badge. The driver's eyes got big, and he stared at Ray hopefully. Ray gestured ahead, held up six fingers, and then pointed right.

The driver looked confused. The light turned green, so Ray waited until they'd passed another cross street, then held up five fingers, and pointed right again. It took a minute for the guy to notice, by which time Ray had to change it to four fingers. That apparently got through. The driver reached up to scratch his neck with four fingers extended, then leaned his head to the right as if stretching out some tension. Ray curled his own fingers into an 'OK' signal and then dropped back a little so he could fall in behind the bus to make the same turn. He started signaling a block away from the turn, for added insurance. He was relieved when the bus driver put his turn indicator on as well.

Following the bus around the corner, Ray pulled up alongside it again, pacing it as the street signs flashed past and they got closer and closer to their destination. He hoped that whatever cabbie Fraser had found had been willing to break a few laws to get them there fast, because cutting a man-sized hole in the chain link shielding on the overpass would take some work

After a few minutes of stop-and-go, he spotted a gray smudge that seemed to float above the street. It resolved itself into a concrete arch as he got closer. He could make out a dark blur of moving figures atop it, and prayed they were Fraser and Michael as he pulled in front of the bus and slowed the Scout abruptly. For a few seconds the bus kept getting closer and closer in his rear-view mirror, and he braced for the hit, but finally it began to drop back a little as it slowed too. He pulled out his phone and dialed with one hand, figuring that he could make it look like he was going slow because he was on the phone, and get some backup at the same time, all without making Goldie-dreads suspicious. The number connected, rang twice and was picked up.

"Twenty-seventh, Welsh here."

"Lieutenant, it's Ray.


"Yeah. Look, I gotta make this quick. I'm in the Scout, almost at the pedestrian bridge near Comiskey at Thirty-fifth street, and there's a bus behind me with a guy and a hostage on it. I'm in front of it, slowing it down, 'cause Fraser and Mike are up on the bridge and they're going to try to get on the bus from there and take down the perp. Send somebody out to back us up, okay?"

"Kowalski, what the hell kind of weirdness are you . . . ."

"Sorry, gotta go. Just send backup!" He thumbed off the phone, but continued to hold it like he was talking into it as he slowed even more, all the way down to seven miles an hour as he passed under the cement arch of the bridge. He was too close to be able to see if Fraser and Mike jumped, he just had to assume they had. The bus honked, probably at Goldie-dreads' prompting, and Ray dropped the phone and speeded up a little, then shifted over a lane to let the bus pass him. As he fell in behind it, he saw Fraser and Michael on the upper deck, making their way toward the front of the bus.

Despite not being a religious kind of guy, Ray prayed to whatever powers there might be that they could pull this off. As the two figures disappeared, probably slipping quietly down the stairs, Ray caught a glimpse of a white tail waving like a flag, and realized Dief had made the jump as well. Not knowing what was going on was driving him nuts. Normally it would be him up there with Fraser. It felt wrong to be out of the loop. He wished they had radios or something so he could tell what the hell was going on. The bus turned toward the on-ramp for the Dan Ryan, and Ray grabbed his phone again. Before Welsh could even bark out his name, Ray was talking.

"He's heading for the expressway. I'm on his tail, and the guys are on board. Gotta g . . ."

"Kowalski, don't you dare hang up!" Welsh roared. "What the hell is going on out there?"

"Some wacko on the pier snatched Mike's girlfriend. We've been on his tail since then. Hang on. . . . " He dropped the phone and drove, making the turn onto the expressway, merging into traffic, and then managing to get behind the bus again. Finally he picked it up again. "Sorry. Had to drive. Where's our backup?"

"There's two units on their way right now, and I called the Highway Patrol too. They should be there any time now."

"Great. Ask them to. . . . Wait. Something's happening. They're slowing down." The bus moved to the right, heading for the shoulder. Ray followed as the bus rolled to a halt, emergency flashers on, and he stopped behind it. "They stopped, I'm going out," he said, shutting the phone and jumping out of the car.

Cautiously he sidled along the back of the bus, keeping his head down so he couldn't be seen. A quick check along the side of the bus revealed no one, so he slid around the corner and crouched his way toward the door, one hand groping for his gun before remembering he wasn't carrying. Fraser'd talked him out of it on a family outing. Shit. As he neared the door, it suddenly opened with a pneumatic hiss, startling him half to death. He froze, and a glance behind him showed him four sets of gumballs approaching fast. He was trying to decide whether to keep going or wait for them, when someone stumbled out of the bus and sat down, hard, on the gravel. A glance showed him the uniform and ashen, strained face of the tour-bus driver.

"Hey. . . you okay?"

The guy jumped about a foot. "Oh, it's you." He shook his head. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little shook up."

"How about everyone inside?"

"They're okay. Everyone's okay. Well, except for the freak with the knife." Surprisingly, the man chuckled. "I don't think the dog really hurt him, but the girl's something else. Wouldn't want to meet her in a dark alley!"

"Wolf," Ray corrected, feeling relief wash through him. He started for the stairs, then paused as a pair of State Patrol cars and a pair of Chicago PD cars screeched up, boxing in the bus. He flashed his badge at the guys piling out of the cars behind the bus, weapons drawn. Recognizing Beery and Chaplin from the 27th, he walked over to meet them.

"I think the situation's under control, guys, but I'm going in to check it out. That's the driver there. He's not hurt, but he's a little stressed out. I was off-duty when I took this one, can I borrow a weapon and a set of cuffs?"

Beery nodded, handed over his primary, and reached for his backup piece at his ankle. Chaplin forked over a set of cuffs. Ray tucked the cuffs into his belt and checked the gun, took off the safety, and headed for the door again. Pausing beside it, he called out, "Fraser? Everything okay?"

"Quite fine, Ray. We could use your official assistance, if you would be so kind."

Ray grinned and swung up into the bus. "You got it."

He paused a moment at the front of the bus to take in the tableaux. The group was halfway down the aisle. Dief, hackles still raised, had a piece of the guy's sleeve in his mouth and was growling threateningly. Mike and Fraser flanked Goldie-dreads, who was writhing and moaning on the floor between the rows of seats, both hands clamped between his legs. Carlin stood two rows back from the other three, somehow managing to look both pissed-off and triumphant. Ray suddenly had a real good idea what had just happened, and he had to fight back a completely inappropriate grin.

"We need an ambulance?" he asked instead.

Fraser nodded thoughtfully. "It might be a wise precaution, if simply to preclude later accusations of neglect."

Ray nodded. "Why don't you go ask Chaplin to call one? Mike and I can keep an eye on things here. We'll get Chaplin and Beery to take statements from you and Mike, it'd probably be a little iffy for me to do it, all things considered."

"Best to avoid any suggestion of impropriety."

"Yeah. Think it's okay for me to talk to Carlin, though?"

Fraser thought for a moment. "Probably. You're just acquaintances, there's no relationship there."

Ray nodded. "Okay. I'll handle that then. Go on and get the ambulance ordered up."

Fraser nodded and slipped past him in the narrow aisle. Ray turned to the others. "Everyone okay?"

They both nodded, though Carlin was starting to look a little pale. "Carlin, why don't you sit down?" Ray said quietly. "Mike, take this and cover me while I cuff him," he said, handing Beery's gun to Michael, who held it steady as Ray tugged the cuffs from his belt and leaned down toward the guy on the floor. "Hey you. I'm gonna cuff you now, but I'm gonna be nice and do it in front. Don't make me regret it."

The perp shook his head, still moaning, and reluctantly let go of his gonads long enough for Ray to cuff him, then he put his hands right back down there when Ray was done. Ray straightened up, looked at Carlin, who'd taken his advice, and grinned at her.

"Nice shot there, Ms. Rasmussen."

She grinned back weakly. "Thanks, Mr. Kowalski."

He turned to Michael. "Where's the knife?"

Michael nodded toward the front of the bus as he put the safety back on the gun and handed it back to Ray. "Three rows up, under the seats. We left it alone so we wouldn't mess up the forensics."

"Smart. Oh, here we go. Hey, Chuck, good to see you. You want to take a statement from Mike here?"

Chaplin nodded. "Sure. Wally's taking a statement from Fraser." His gaze swept the scene. "Who's this?" he asked, looking at Michael.

"Mike Tselihye. He's RCMP, like Fraser. Mike, this is Chuck Chaplin, he's from the 2-7 too."

Michael put out his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Officer Chaplin."

"Likewise. Oh, hey, are you Fraser's. . . " he paused, cleared his throat. "I mean, the guy who took down that domestic at the coffee shop a few weeks back?"

Michael nodded. "Yes. And I'm Benton Fraser's son, if that's what you were going to ask."

Ray shot him a startled look. It was the first time he'd ever heard Michael acknowledge Fraser's paternity to someone outside the family. Michael wasn't looking at him though, he was looking past him, his eyes fixed on some point behind Ray, his chin up, a look of pride on his face. Ray turned to look, and as he'd suspected, Fraser was there, standing on the top step, his expression an indescribable mixture of emotions? pride, pleasure, guilt, pain. . . . all of which vanished as Fraser smiled, slowly, but brilliantly, blindingly.

"He is indeed," Fraser said softly, and then he shook himself a little, composure dropping like a curtain over the naked emotion on his face. "The ambulance will be here in a matter of minutes, and I've arranged to give my statement to Officer Beery. Officer Keaton is speaking to the driver."

"Good. Chuck, you talk to Mike, and I'll take Ms. Rasmussen. And can I borrow a couple of sheets out of your notebook?"

Chaplin nodded and pulled out his notebook, tearing out several blank pages and handing them over. "Sounds fine to me. We'll keep an eye on our friend here." He nudged one of the guy's shoes with a toe. "Not that he's going to be moving fast any time soon."

Ray squeezed past him to where Carlin was sitting, and took a seat across the aisle from her. "You think you can talk to me about what happened?"

She nodded jerkily. "Yeah."

Ray studied her for a moment, noticing how pale she was, the way she had her hands pressed hard against her knees, and the way her gaze kept sliding towards the man on the floor. "Hey, it's pretty stuffy in here. Let's go topside, okay? Get some air."

Carlin nodded gratefully, and got up, following him past the perp, who had finally stopped writhing but was still curled up in a ball, half under a seat. She edged past him gingerly, and then practically bolted for the stairs that led to the upper deck. Dief let go of the guy's shirt and followed, pushing past Ray to get to the stairs at the same time as Carlin.

She paused for a moment on the first step, smiling a little as she looked down at the wolf. "You have no idea how happy I was to see you," she said, reaching down to scratch his ears. Dief whined, and she put her hands on her hips indignantly. "I did not! But I think he did when you grabbed his arm!"

Dief grinned at her, his tongue lolling out. She rolled her eyes. "You're evil." She looked at Ray. "Did you know he was evil?"

Ray nodded solemnly. "Oh yeah. Devil incarnate, that's him. Wolf of the Baskervilles."

Carlin giggled and headed up the stairs. Ray reached to rub Dief's ears himself. "Thanks."

Dief nudged his knee and trotted up the stairs ahead of him. He emerged into the sunshine, the passing cars stirring the air enough that it wasn't miserably hot, as it had been starting to feel inside. Carlin had found a seat at the very front and was staring off into the distance blankly. He took a seat beside her. "You okay?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah. I'm fine. I'm okay. Fine." She shivered suddenly, and rubbed her arms. "God, this is so stupid."


"It's hot, but I feel cold."

"Yeah, adrenaline does some weird things to you. It's normal," he said reassuringly. "So you ready to talk to me about what happened?"

"Well, you saw what happened."

"Only the start. I need to know what happened after . . . ."

"After I got myself kidnapped?" she snapped, and then she stood up suddenly and went to stand at the very front of the bus. Ray followed her, standing far enough away to not intrude on her personal space, but close enough to let her know he was there. She was silent for a moment, her body tense, her knuckles white where she clutched the safety rail as she stared out at the traffic flying by. Finally she looked at him, her expression almost bewildered, but at the same time angry.

"God! Do I have the international symbol for hostage tattooed on my forehead or something? I can't believe this! Twice in a month! I don't understand, I'm not naive, I'm not soft, and I've taken self-defense, and. . . . " Her voice broke, turned away from him, one hand over her face, her shoulders shaking.

Ray had been waiting for that. He'd dealt with enough victims to see it coming. He reached over and put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently. "Hey, it's okay. You didn't do anything wrong."

She said something into her hand that sounded suspiciously like 'Yes, I did.'

"No, you didn't," Ray said decisively, in his best 'trust me, I'm a cop,' voice.

Unfortunately that didn't have the effect he wanted. Instead of calming down, she suddenly flung herself at him, hid her face against his shoulder, and started to cry in earnest. Startled, Ray just stood there for a moment, before patting her back awkwardly.

"Hey, it's okay, come on now," he said soothingly, wishing Fraser were there, since for some reason women never cried on him. Maybe because they didn't want to get all red and blotchy around someone who looked like Fraser.

"I should've let him have it!" she wailed.

Shit. Unfortunately, she was right. "Look, we all make mistakes, we're human. You couldn't know he was violent. Most purse snatchers aren't," he lied baldly, having no idea if that was true or not. Fraser would know. "I'd have done the same thing in your shoes," he said. And that wasn't a lie. He knew he'd have done exactly what she'd done, stupid as it might be.

That seemed to get through. She sniffled. "You would?"

He chuckled. "Yeah. So would Fraser."

She leaned back to look at his face. He gave her a level look back. And sure enough, she was red and blotchy.

"Really?" she asked dubiously. "Fraser?"

"Oh yeah. Fraser is the world's biggest risk-taker. Living with him is pure hell sometimes. I have jumped off buildings with that man. Gone down in sinking ships. Jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. It's a wonder we're still alive."

"Huh. Cool." She looked cheered by that, and wiped her eyes and sniffled again.

If he was Fraser, he would magically have a clean handkerchief on hand, but Ray had always thought handkerchiefs were disgusting so the best he could do was a couple of napkins which he'd absently shoved in his pocket at the baseball game the day before. He offered them to her, apologetically. "Here. They're kind of wadded-up but they're clean."

She took them and wiped her eyes, then blew her nose. "Thanks." She cleared her throat and looked at her feet. "I, uh, sorry about the melt-down."

"Hey, you earned it. Being a hostage twice in one month is more than anyone should have to put up with. Um. . . and maybe I ought to give you a little warning, just in case."

"A warning?" She looked at him warily.

Ray stifled the urge to grin. "Yeah. See, Frasers are born with this kind of magnetic attraction for weirdness and chaos. Now, granted, Mike hasn't got the last name, but he seems to have inherited at least some of the Fraser weirdness genes. So if you're going to be hanging around with him, it's probably a good idea to be aware of that."

Carlin nodded, wide-eyed. "How do you deal with that?"

Ray sighed. "You just kind of have to learn to roll with the punches. On the up side, along with the weird-magnet thing, they're also incredibly lucky, and that seems to rub off on whoever they're with. So even if you get caught up in the weird, you usually come out of it okay."

"So you're telling me this is all Mike's fault, but that it's just as well?"

"Well, no, it's mostly Fraser's fault, with a little help from Mike. Though really it's probably more Fraser's dad's fault, for all he's dead, since he's the one who started it."

"So it's Fraser's dead dad's fault?"

Ray nodded earnestly. "Yeah."

She laughed, shaking her head. "Has anyone ever told you you're a freak?"

Ray grinned. "No, that's usually my line, but I'll wear the title with pride. If you're ready to talk now, can you tell me what happened after you guys got on the bus?"

Carlin ran a hand through her hair, rearranging her spikes, and sighed. "He told the driver to keep driving, and the driver wanted to know where he wanted to go. The guy didn't know, he seemed to be having trouble thinking clearly. I think he's high."

Ray nodded. "Yeah. So do I."

"Anyway, finally the guy said he wanted to get to Joliet."

"Joliet?" Ray asked, amused. "Well, he may get there in the long run."

Carlin snickered. "Yeah. Kind of ironic. The guy kept yelling that he was 'gonna stick' me if the driver didn't drive, and the driver kept saying he was driving, and the guy should just calm down. We hit a red light, and the guy wanted the driver to go through it. The driver said he wouldn't, because it could cause an accident, plus it would attract the cops. That seemed to calm him down a little."

"Where were you at that point? When I pulled alongside, I couldn't see you."

"Yeah, after the driver mentioned the cops, the guy got worried that someone might notice us standing there, so he sat down on the floor behind the driver and made me sit in front of him."

"Ah," Ray said, watching the ambulance pull up, lights only. He guessed someone must have told them it wasn't too big an emergency. "Lucky for me, since that meant he couldn't see me either, but the driver could."

"I guess so. After a while the driver turned, and the guy wanted to know why he turned, and the driver said he had to get to the expressway if he was going to Joliet and he thought there was an on-ramp there."

"Smart. The driver really kept a cool head."

Carlin nodded. "Yeah, he did. I could tell he was scared but he stayed calm. We drove for a couple of minutes, and then the driver suddenly slammed on his brakes. For a second I thought the guy was going to cut me then, but he didn't. He started screaming, wanting to know why the driver did that, and he stood up, and dragged me up too. The driver said that there was 'some dumb guy' in front of us, talking on his cell phone instead of driving."

Ray grinned. "Yeah, that was me. I was calling for backup, and letting them know where we were, not to mention getting the bus slowed down."

"Yeah, I knew it was you as soon as I saw the Scout. Well, you, or Fraser. Those polar bear plates are a dead giveaway. I figured you were up to something, so I just kept my mouth shut and waited. Then we saw the overpass thing, and the driver kept saying he thought the bus might be too tall, he was worried about getting stuck under it."

"Shit. We never thought of that," Ray said with a soft whistle. "Guess we got lucky."

"Yeah. Anyway, the guy said to keep going so the driver did, real slow, and there was this weird sound . . . three thumps, from up top. The driver was all freaked out then, he thought he must have scraped the top of the bus, and he kept saying his boss would kill him. The guy got pissed off then and said if he didn't shut up, he'd kill him, and just then I saw Dief at the foot of the stairs and I realized what those thumps had been."

"Yeah. That was Mike's idea, to get onto the bus from above," Ray said. "He was really worried about you, but he came up with a great play."

She gave him an amused look. "I already like him, Ray, you don't have to try so hard."

Ray shrugged, unabashed. "I'm just saying what happened. So you saw Dief, and then what?"

"I heard Fraser say "Dief, take!' and then Dief was suddenly on the guy, grabbing his knife arm. The guy was distracted then, but he managed to get his hand free when his shirt tore and he started slashing at Dief. I was afraid he was going to hurt Dief, so I just hauled off and bashed him in the nuts with my elbow as hard as I could, and he dropped the knife and went down like a rock. Mike and Fraser took over from there."

Ray winced involuntarily, even though the guy had deserved it. "Remind me never to piss you off," he said fervently. "Here's where I'm supposed to tell you that you shouldn't do that, that you should cooperate and all that, but I think you handled it pretty good, really. You kept your head, you cooperated when you needed to, but when you had a good shot, and backup, you took it."

She looked surprised. "You really think so?"

"I really think so," he said firmly. "You're alive, aren't you? That just proves you did the right thing."

She looked away, biting her lip, her jaw tight, blinking hard. She shook her head hard. "Sorry, I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me." She scrubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Stupid."

Ray pulled her into a one-armed hug. "Hey, it's not stupid, okay? It's normal. You went through something pretty scary. We've got a counselor at the 27th if you want to see someone. She's good. I've talked to her a couple of times myself after a really bad incident."

She nodded. "Yeah. That might. . . I. . . guess I'm a little more freaked out than I thought."

"Hey!" Michael said, from the head of the stairs, arms crossed in mock anger. "I'm telling Dad you're up here pawing a girl."

Ray grinned and put his hands up. "It was innocent, I swear."

Carlin giggled, but it caught in her throat and turned into a sob. Ray jerked his head toward her, and Michael quickly crossed the distance to pull her into his arms, holding her, rocking her gently. Ray headed discreetly down the stairs, leaving them alone. He had the information he needed, it would just take a few minutes to get it down on paper. As he headed down, it dawned on him that he'd never heard Michael spontaneously call Fraser 'Dad' before. That was kind of cool. He wondered if he ought to mention it, or just let Fraser hear it for himself next time. He decided that it would be more fun the second way.

"How is she?" Fraser asked, waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs.

"Shook up, but coping pretty well," Ray said, glancing upward. "Mike's with her now. She'll be okay. I need to give her Rose's number though. I suggested it, and she said thought she'd like to talk to her."

Fraser nodded. "That's a good idea." He sounded faintly surprised.

Ray smiled wryly. "I do sometimes have them."

"No, I didn't mean. . . " Fraser began, looking stricken.

Ray waved him off. "I know. But I'm not usually Mr. Sensitivity."

"Yes, you are," Fraser said firmly. "Perhaps not in any mundane sense of the word, but you're more sensitive than anyone else I know."

Ray put a finger to his lips. "Shhh. Don't let that get out or it'll spoil my reputation. You think Keaton is done with the driver?"

Fraser turned and looked out the door of the bus. "It appears so."

"Good, I want to talk to him." Ray brushed past him, giving Fraser's shoulder a slight bump on the way past to make sure he knew he'd been teasing. Fraser bumped back, and then followed him over to where the driver stood, smoking a cigarette. The guy tossed away his cigarette as Ray approached, and grinned.

"Hey, nice bus-herding there," the driver said, grinning.

"Thanks. Nice bus-driving there," Ray said, sticking out his hand. "Ray Kowalski, Chicago PD. Glad to meet you."

"John Andretti," the driver said, taking his hand and shaking it firmly.

Ray took in the olive complexion, dark, curly hair, and broad white smile, and lifted his eyebrows. "Any relation?"

Andretti snorted. "Would I drive a bus if I was?"

Ray laughed. "Well, I bet if you had a Formula One car, you could give them some competition. Anyway, I wanted to thank you personally. See, Carlin, the hostage, is my partner's son's girlfriend." He jerked his thumb at Fraser on 'partner' to identify him.

"Well, that explains the circus act, then," Andretti said, nodding at Fraser. "You guys had extra incentive."

Ray chuckled as Fraser shook his head.

"I'd have done the same even had I not known Ms. Rasmussen personally. It's my job."

Ray refrained from rolling his eyes. Somehow Fraser always managed to make that sound dumb, even if it was true. "This is Corporal Benton Fraser, RCMP, by the way."

Fraser put out his hand and they shook. Andretti eyed him. "RCMP? Aren't you kind of out of your territory?"

"Don't ask," Ray said, having learned long ago when to interrupt. "He works at the Consulate, and sometimes if he's been a really good boy they let him liaise with the CPD."

"Oh," Andretti said, nodding, even though he looked a little puzzled. "That was quite a show you guys put on. Not to mention the dog."

"Wolf," Fraser corrected.

"Oh, right. Detective Kowalski said that before. Sorry."

"I wouldn't say anything, but he's rather sensitive about it," Fraser explained apologetically.

"Yeah, well, I can understand that. You guys make a good team. Speaking of which, where's the other guy? I'd like to shake his hand too."

Ray pointed back at the bus, and up.

Andretti followed his gesture and looked at the upper deck, then grinned as he saw Mike and Carlin wrapped around each other. "Guess I'll have to wait. So he's your son?" he asked, looking at Fraser.

Fraser's gaze went to the couple on top of the bus. "Yes, he is."

"You must be proud of him."

Fraser turned to look at the driver. "I am," he said simply.

Ray waited for the usual disclaimer about how he wasn't really Mike's dad, but it didn't come. He was pleased. Both of them seemed to be coming to terms with things. That was good.

Fraser glanced up at Michael again, still in a clinch with Carlin, then looked at Ray, one corner of his mouth lifting in a wry smile. "I have a hunch our guest room won't be needed tonight."

Ray cracked up.

* * *

Ray was in the middle of typing a report when his phone rang. Glad of the interruption, he grabbed the handset and leaned back in his chair, stretching. "Kowalski."

"Hi, Ray. It's Michael."

"Mike! Hey, long time no talk to!" It had been four months since Michael had gone home to Aklavik. Ray had missed the last couple of calls at home, though Fraser kept him up to date, and Michael usually included him in the emails he sent. "Fraser's at the Consulate today, if you're looking for him."

"Actually, I, ah, I was calling you."

The hesitation got his attention. "Yeah? What's up? Anything wrong?"

"I was . . . um. . . I was just wondering if. . . . No, never mind. Forget it. Forget I called."

Ray straightened up. "Hang on, hang on! It must be important or you wouldn't have called. What? You and Fraser have a fight or something?" Ray thought Fraser would have said something if they had, but sometimes Fraser could be kind of oblivious and not notice that he'd pissed someone off.

"No! No, we're good." There was a moment of silence, then a sigh. "It's Carlin."

Oh ho. Girl trouble. Ray still wasn't sure why Michael wanted to talk to him, though. "You sure you don't want Fraser?"

Michael snorted. "Come on, Ray. If you wanted to talk about a problem you were having with a woman, would you ask Dad?"

Ray laughed. "Uh, no. Good point. So what's the problem? Long distance relationship not working out?"

"God, Ray, I don't know. Mostly things seem to be great, but sometimes I get these. . . mixed messages from her. We talk all the time on e-mail, and on the phone, and everything seems fine until. . . ."


"Well, when I first came home, we were talking about her coming up to visit. We were both busy though, she was finishing up school, and I was getting back into the groove here, so we kind of back-burnered it. But I've got some time off coming, and since she's finished with her program now I asked if she wanted to come up. And all the sudden she started making excuses why she couldn't come. I figured she was too broke, so I offered to fly down, and now she's finding excuses why that won't work either."

"You think she's trying to dump you?"

"If it was anyone else, I probably would. I mean, I know trying to keep things going when we're four thousand miles apart isn't exactly easy. The thing is, Carlin's pretty up-front. It's not like her not to just say 'let's end it,' if that's what she wants. So I don't know what to think." Michael sounded depressed. "If she wants to break it off, why does everything seem fine, except when the subject of actually seeing each other comes up?"

"You got me," Ray admitted. "It sounds pretty weird. But then we are talking about a woman here. They're an entirely different species. I'm afraid I can't really think of anything to say that would help, except that maybe you should just ask her straight out. Honesty being the best policy and all that."

"Yeah, except. . . well. . . I'm not sure I really want to know the answer," Michael said morosely.

Ray knew that feeling. "I get that. I sure didn't want to know when Stella, she's my ex, gave me the heave-ho. Look, you want me to go talk to her? Sound her out a little?"

"Would you?" Michael asked. "If you could . . . I mean, without making it seem like I sent you?"

Ray chuckled. "Hey, I did undercover for years. I can do subtle when I need to. She still work at that coffee place?"

"Yeah. She's working full time now that she's not in school. They made her the assistant manager. She works Tuesday through Saturday from two to close."

"Perfect. I'll just stop in for a cup of coffee, 'happen to run into her,' and talk old times, see what I can scout out."

"You don't mind?"

"Not at all. She's cool, it's not a hardship."

"That's great! I'd really appreciate it, thanks."

"Don't thank me yet. You want me to say hi to Benton for you?"

"Nah, I'll call him tonight and we'll catch up."

"Okay, no problem. I'll give you a call after I get a chance to talk to Carlin. And, Mike. . . ."


"Hang in there. I know it never feels like it at the time, but . . . things work out the way they're supposed to."

There was a short pause, then a chuckle. "Ray, you've officially been living with Dad way too long."

Ray laughed. "Yeah, I know. Later, okay?"


Ray hung up, and glanced at his watch, thought for a minute, and then stood up and headed out. On his way past Welsh's office he hesitated, wondering if he ought to tell him what was up. He was always good about personal time, but he liked to be in the loop. He detoured over to stand in the doorway, waiting for him to finish his call. Welsh waved him in, pointing at the chair in front of his desk. Ray went to sit, and found it occupied. Mut opened her eyes and looked up at him, opening her mouth to greet him with a silent meow. He grinned and picked her up, then settled into the chair, holding her on his lap.

"Hey there, how's my favorite Interactive Victim Assistance Device?" he asked, stroking her head.

The title was a station joke, they'd managed to get official permission to keep her on the premises by calling her that. Of course, it just happened to be true. She'd proven to be a real pro at calming people down, especially kids, who were fascinated by her toes.

She purred, and kneaded his thigh, razor-sharp claws pricking through his pants. He winced and slipped one hand under her paws, absently rubbing under her chin with a finger as he listened to Welsh bawling out some reporter for contaminating a crime scene. It was always fun to listen to a good Welsh ream-job, so long as he wasn't on the receiving end.

"Freedom of the press my ass," Welsh growled. "If you ever do it again I'll get a restraining order restricting you from every crime scene in the city, you got me?" Apparently he was gotten. Welsh grunted and hung up, then looked at Ray. "What can I do for you, Detective?"

"I wondered if you'd mind if I took a little time off today?"

"You sick?" Welsh asked, eyeing him critically.

"Nah, I'm fine. It's not sick leave. I just got a call from Mike and he asked me to do him a favor, that's all. Girl trouble. He wants me to go see what I can find out."

Welsh chuckled. "And he didn't feel Fraser was quite cut out for that duty, I take it?"

"Uh, not exactly, sir."

Welsh considered that, and lifted his eyebrows. "So how's it feel to be a parent, Kowalski?"

Ray smiled ruefully. "Kind of weird, actually. But kind of cool, too."

"He's a good kid."


"So what are you sitting around my office for? Go on! Get going!"

Ray stood up. "Yes sir, thanks." He put Mut back down on the chair, where she complained about being abandoned.

Welsh looked at her sternly. "You, pipe down. He's got work to do."

Mut stared at Welsh for a moment, and then ostentatiously started to wash her face. Ray leaned against the door. "So, how does it feel to be a parent, Lieutenant?" he asked, grinning.

"Get outta here," Welsh growled, but he was smiling.

Ray saluted, and headed for his car. It took him longer to find a place to park than it did to drive to the coffee shop, but he finally found one. Sat there for a few minutes until he'd thought up a cover story, and then he walked the two blocks to the shop. Stepping inside, he got in line. It was surprisingly busy for three-twenty in the afternoon. He didn't see Carlin, even though Michael had said she should be there. Damn. He hoped he wouldn't have to come back.

He was two customers from the counter when the bathroom door opened and Carlin came out, hurriedly tying her apron as she slipped behind the counter and asked the guy in front of him for his order. Ray studied her for a moment. She looked okay. A little stressed. And a little different, somehow. It took him a minute to put his finger on what it was, but once he did, he started to smile, suddenly having a good idea why Carlin was being hesitant about seeing Michael.

Women were so weird about their weight. If they put on a couple of pounds they thought the world was coming to an end. It actually looked pretty good on her, rounding some of the angularity from her face, and incidentally giving her a little more up top. Which he hadn't really been looking at, he'd just sort of noticed because of the way her apron fit. He'd just have to sit her down and tell her she looked fine, and point out that Michael was raised with Inuit standards of beauty, which meant that a few more pounds were a good thing, not a bad thing. The only thing that detracted from her looks were the dark circles under her eyes and the little vertical line of tension between her eyebrows.

The other girl working the counter helped the woman in front of him, so Ray moved over to where Carlin was just finishing making a mocha latté for her customer. As he stepped away she looked up from the cash register with a practiced smile.

"Hi, can I help. . . ." Her voice trailed off and all the color drained out of her face as she recognized him. "Ray!" she gasped.

He sure hadn't expected that reaction.

The other girl shot her a concerned look, and stepped away from the espresso machine for a moment. "You okay, hon?" she asked softly, then glared at Ray. "What did you say to her?"

Ray spread his hands. "Nothing! I didn't say anything!"

"No, Becca, it's okay. I was just surprised to see him," Carlin said reassuringly, putting her hand on the other girl's arm. "Really."

The suspicious look faded a little, but she still looked worried. "You should go sit down. You're white as a sheet."

"No, I'm fine," Carlin protested.

"I said go sit down," she said firmly.

Carlin scowled. "I'm the manager, not you."

"Please?" the girl said. "You're on your feet too much."

On her feet too much? What was that all. . . . Ray stared from one woman to the other, and suddenly felt like maybe he needed to sit down too, as it dawned on him that maybe Carlin hadn't just put on a couple of pounds. That maybe this was something else entirely. Their eyes met, and she blushed, and he knew he was right. Becca scowled.

"Carlin, he's not the . . . ."

"No!" Carlin said hastily. "No. Ray, let's go sit. There's a table in the back. Becca, can you handle things?"

"I'll be fine. Yell if you need anything."

"Yeah. Ray, you want a coffee?"

Ray nodded. It would give him something to fidget with. Carlin poured a cup for him, and got herself a glass of water, and led him over to a tiny table wedged into a back corner of the shop. They sat down, and Ray distracted himself putting sugar in his cup for a few seconds before he looked up at her again. "Is it Mike's?"

She sighed, and nodded. "Yeah."

"I, uh, thought you guys were being . . . safe."

"We were. Except for that night after the thing with the bus. We got careless. Once. I thought it would be okay, I thought I was safe." She gave him a rueful smile. "You've heard that old joke? 'what do you call women who use the rhythm method?'"

"Mothers?" Ray supplied the punch-line, feeling an echoing rueful smile lift one corner of his mouth.

She nodded. "That's the one. Oh so true." She turned her glass in a circle on the table, leaving a wet ring behind, staring into the glass as if she could see the future in it. "You probably want to know if I've told him," she said, without looking up.

Ray shook his head. "No. I know the answer already. I was supposed to come in here today and pretend this was just a coincidental meeting, but it wasn't. He called me, and asked me to come see you. He's pretty confused, and worried. He thinks you want to dump him and just can't figure out how to tell him."

She put her head in her hands and raked her fingers through her hair. "God. I was afraid of that."

"So you don't want to dump him?"

She looked up, her gray-green eyes flashing angrily. "No! I . . . damn it. No. But . . . ." She stopped, and shrugged helplessly.

"Okay, so he doesn't want you to dump him and you don't want to dump him. I guess I'm not seeing the problem here."

Carlin rolled her eyes, looking annoyed. "Come on, Ray! You're not stupid. Of course you can see the problem here. It's pretty obvious." She poked a finger at her stomach.

"No, it's not obvious. Why don't you just tell him?"

She stared at him, looking utterly miserable. "How can I? It makes everything seem. . . suspect. Like I don't really love him, like I just want him to support me. It's so classic, the woman just out for her M-R-S degree. He's got a good job, he's responsible, it would look like I just wanted to use him. I won't do that to him."

Ray frowned. "That's a pretty selfish attitude."

Her eyes widened. "Selfish? How can you say that?"

Ray was silent for a moment, trying to decide if it was his place to do what he wanted to do. But he was Fraser's partner, and sort of Michael's stepfather, so he figured that made it his business. "Did he tell you about him, and Fraser? About why they had only met for the first time just before he met you?"

"I. . . a little. He didn't go into detail, and I didn't want to pry, but he said his grandparents raised him. That Fraser didn't know."

"That's right. He didn't know," Ray said flatly. "Nobody told him. They never gave him a chance to decide if he wanted to be involved. Never gave him a chance to know Mike as he was growing up. Never gave him a chance to see Mike's first steps, hear his first words, teach him to snowshoe or swim. Never . . . ."

"Stop," she whispered, covering her eyes with one hand. "Please. Enough."

Ray stopped. He'd made his point. "You have to tell him," he said gently.

There was silence for a long time. He waited her out. Finally she sniffled, and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, then looked at him red-eyed. "How?" she asked hoarsely. "If I'd just found out, then maybe I could. But now. . . how do I tell him now?"

He could barely hear her last words. He sighed, and nodded. "Yeah, it's going to be hard, no way around that. But you know it's right."

She nodded jerkily. "I know, I know, but, Ray, I can't! I don't know how. He'll be so mad. I feel so stupid." She stared at her hands, picking at her cuticles. "I'm scared."

He reached over and took one of her hands in his, squeezing it a little. "I know. It's okay. Look, come over tonight for dinner. Talk to Fraser. He can probably figure out the best way to do this. He's really good at that kind of thing."

She looked at him again, a faint gleam of hope in her eyes. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. When do you get off work?"

"Usually I close, but I was going to take off at six tonight. Is that all right?"

"It's fine. Just head on over when you get off. You remember the way?"

"Yeah, I think so, but why don't you give me your address and phone number, just in case?"

Ray fished out a business card and wrote on the back of it, then handed it to her. "There. Call if you get lost. Um, anything we should avoid, food-wise?"

"Anything like corn or tortilla chips," she said with a grimace. "For some reason the smell makes me sick."

Ray grinned. "I think I can manage that. You want me to break the news to Fraser, or do you want to do it when you get there?"

"You tell him," she said hastily. "Please. It's bad enough thinking about facing Mike with this, let alone Benton."

Ray nodded. "Yeah. I had a feeling. But don't worry. I think he'll be cool with it."

She made a face. "Yeah. I still remember how 'cool' he was with me and Mike sleeping together."

Ray gave her a stern look. "Hey now, give him a break. It was just the circumstances."

"I know. Sorry. I just. . . I'm feeling a little paranoid, I guess."

"Yeah, I get that. What about your folks? Do they know?"

Carlin's expression went from nervous to sad. "No. My folks are . . . gone. Car accident, two years ago. They got caught in a bad snowstorm, and went off the road. By the time anyone managed to find them, it was too late."

"Oh man." Ray put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry."

She nodded, reaching up to touch his fingers with her own. "Thanks." She looked at him, head cocked a bit to one side as she studied his face. "You know, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but you kind of remind me a little of my dad."

"Yeah? Is that good or bad?" he asked jokingly.

She smiled. "Good. Very good."

Ray felt a blush warm his face. "Oh. Well, cool, then. Anyway, I'm heading out. See you this evening?"

She nodded. "Yeah. I'll be there. And, Ray?"

He looked at her, eyebrows lifted. "Yeah?"


He grinned. "No problem."

He headed home, wondering what to do for dinner, and thinking about take-out from Ming Ha, but when he walked into the house he found that Fraser had beaten him home and was already working on dinner. He'd changed out of his uniform, and was barefoot in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, and Ray took a moment to enjoy the view before he leaned in to kiss him, and then reached across the stove and turned off the burner under the skillet that Fraser was about to drop the chicken into.

"Like the barefoot-in-the-kitchen look there, Ben. We got any more chicken in the freezer?"

Fraser frowned. "Yes, why?"

"'Cause Carlin's coming over for dinner. I invited her."

Fraser sighed, exasperated. "You might have let me know earlier."

"I know, sorry, I figured I'd be home before you. You get off early?"

"No, I got off on time, for once. When did you see Carlin?"

"About forty minutes ago." Ray opened the freezer and pulled out another package of chicken and stuck it in the microwave to defrost, then reached over and caught Fraser's hand, tugging him toward the table. "Sit for a second. We need to talk about something."

Fraser's expression went a little 'deer-in-the-headlights.' "Talk?" he asked, resisting Ray's pull toward the table.

"Yeah. Relax. It's not an 'us' talk. Not really. I mean, it's us, but it's not us if you know what I mean."

Fraser nodded, and then shook his head. "Actually, I have absolutely no idea what you mean. Dief, don't even think about it," he admonished Diefenbaker, who was standing beside the counter, ostentatiously sniffing the air just below the plate of raw chicken. Dief gave him a dirty look and ambled out toward the living room.

"Sit down, will you?" Ray asked, taking a chair and waving a hand at the one across from him. Fraser sat, finally, so Ray went on. "I mean it concerns us, in a way, but it's not about us. Remember that talk we had a few months back about how we don't really want to be parents?"

Fraser eyed him warily, frowning. "Yes," he said slowly, drawing out the word.

Seeing the trepidation in his eyes, Ray couldn't resist. "I'm pregnant."

Fraser stared at him. Rolled his eyes. "Very amusing, Ray. Now what did you really want to talk about?"

"Okay, um. . . well, how would you feel about being a grandparent, instead of a parent?" Ray had rehearsed that line in his head all the way home. It sounded a lot weirder out loud than he'd thought it would. Grandparent. Whoa.

Fraser shot to his feet so fast he nearly tipped over his chair, but managed to catch it with his fingertips just before it went over. "What?"

Ray sighed. "It's kind of a weird story. I got a call from Mike today."

"You got a call from Michael?"

"'S what I said, right? Yeah. He called me. He was down because Carlin was acting weird and he thought she wanted to dump him but was too nice to just do it. He asked me to go talk to her, sound her out a little."

"He asked you," Fraser said, with odd inflection.

"Yeah, he asked me." Ray paused for a few seconds, waiting, and then looked at Fraser expectantly. "Are you done being jealous now or do you need another minute?"

A slight flush spread across Fraser's face. "I'm not . . . ." he began, only to break off, and made a face. "All right, yes, I am. Why did he call you, not me?"

"You really need to ask that?"

Fraser thought for a moment, and then sighed. "No, I suppose not."

"I didn't think so. Besides, I was kind of flattered. Made me feel like part of the family."

That got a smile, finally. "I'm glad to hear that. Go on."

"Well, I went to see her, like he asked. It turns out the reason she's been all weird is because. . . well. . . they kind of got a little careless the night after the hostage thing."


Ray nodded. "Yeah." He watched Fraser's gaze go distant as he analyzed that, and then suddenly Fraser's eyes widened.

"You mean . . . ."

Ray nodded again. "Yeah."

Fraser sat down abruptly. "Holy shit."

Ray almost laughed. "Yeah."

"She'd be. . . what, about four months along?"

"Sounds about right."

"I. . . I don't understand," he said, looking lost. "Why didn't Michael tell me?"

"Well, that would be because he doesn't know."

Fraser's head snapped up and he stared at Ray, jaw dropped. "He doesn't?"

"No. Carlin hasn't told him, she was worried about looking like a gold-digger or something," Ray explained. "And it's been so long now that she can't figure out how to do it. That's why I invited her over. I thought maybe we could brainstorm."

"She hasn't told him," Fraser repeated, frowning. "All right, that's just downright odd. I mean, first my father, then me, now Michael? How can that possibly be?"

"I dunno, maybe your dad pissed off some old gypsy. But it stops now. No more of this crap. It's not going to happen again, not on my watch."

"No," Fraser agreed. "God. Poor Michael."

Ray scowled. "What about poor Carlin? She's scared half out of her mind. She didn't say, but from the looks of her, she's pretty stressed out, trying to do it on her own, and not let on to Mike what's going on."

Fraser nodded. "Yes, I imagine so."

"I. . . I think she's worried Mike's going to blow up and not want anything to do with her."

Fraser frowned. "Considering the circumstances, I hardly think that likely."

Ray shook his head. "Well, so do I, but this is a lot to handle. I was thinking maybe we could sort of. . . I don't know. Make sure she knows we'll be there for her, no matter what. It might make things a little easier for her, a little less scary."

"What about her family?"

Ray shook his head. "Her folks are dead, she's got no one. No one but us, I mean. If we . . . ."

Fraser reached across the table and covered both of Ray's hands with his own, gazing at him with an expression that put a lump in Ray's throat.

"Of course we will. Ray, I know I don't say it often . . . ."

Ray shook his head. "You don't have to say it."

"No, but I should anyway. I don't know what I've done to deserve you, but. . . ."

"Yeah, you must have been a serial killer in your last life, to get stuck with me," Ray joked. He knew Fraser wasn't comfortable talking like this.

"Ray," Fraser said severely, "if you don't stop interrupting me, I may have to throttle you. I'm serious! I love you, damn it!"

They stared at each other for a few seconds, and then burst out laughing. Ray leaned across and kissed him. "I love you too," he said. "Now, I suppose you want me to straighten up? Well, the house, I mean."

If it was up to Ray, he'd leave things alone, the house didn't look bad, but Fraser had a thing about not having company over if the place looked like anybody lived there, and Ray figured it wasn't worth fighting over. At least now he did, after the first six months of getting in arguments every time they had company. Ray had given in on that one. But he'd won the one about the large-screen TV, even though he'd had to invoke curling and hockey to get his way. It was a good trade-off.

"I would, yes. Preferably before Carlin gets here."

"I'm on it. You cook."

Ray was cleaning the bathroom when the doorbell rang. He gave the toilet one last scrub, and flushed, then washed his hands and headed out. Fraser was already at the door, opening it just as Ray came around the corner from the hall. Carlin stood on the porch, looking a little uncertain, bundled in a heavy coat against the snow that had started falling. Fraser smiled, and Ray was glad to see it was a real one, not one of his convincing fakes.

"Carlin! Come in, please. It's good to see you again!"

The look on her face shifted to one of relief, and she stepped inside. "Thanks, it's good to see you again, too."

Diefenbaker came down the stairs at a run, headed for Carlin, and skidded to a stop inches away with a peculiar look on his face. He sniffed audibly, and then made a soft vocalization, looking from Carlin to Fraser. Carlin's face paled a little, but she lifted her chin and looked Fraser in the eye.

Fraser nodded. "I know, Diefenbaker. It's all right," His words were more directed at Carlin than at Dief. "That's part of why she's here. Carlin, may I take your coat?"

She nodded, looking relieved again as Fraser took her coat and went to hang it up. She reached to scratch Dief's ears and murmur something to him. He whined back, and Carlin frowned. "No, no, I have my own, thanks." She looked up, puzzled. "Why does he think I would want his bed?"

Ray laughed. "Long story, involving some kittens." He noticed she'd changed her clothes, putting on a nice pair of slacks and a heavy, tunic-length sweater. Dressed up. Or at least dressed up for her. She was nervous. He nodded at Dief. "He figured it out?"

She looked up. "Yeah. I guess I must smell different or something."

"Makes sense. You hungry?"

She nodded. "Definitely," she said, sniffing audibly. "Something smells great."

"Fraser cooked. Chicken with a kind of bread-crumb-mustard-parsley crust and a white wine sauce. It's got a French name I can't remember, but it's really good. I think he made kasha too. And green beans. Sound okay?"

"Sounds wonderful." She grinned. "I get kind of tired of my own cooking."

Ray grinned back. "I know what you mean."

Fraser came back from hanging up Carlin's coat. "It looks as if the snow has started in earnest. How are the streets?"

"A little slick, actually. Well, the side streets anyway. The main ones are clear so far. But I didn't have any trouble getting here."

"Good. If it keeps up, though, and you've any concern about driving home, you'd be welcome to stay the night here. In fact. . . ." Fraser shot a glance at Ray, and then reached in his pocket and pulled out his keys, taking one off the ring and extending it to her. "You're welcome here at any time. Please consider this your home."

Ray nodded his approval at Fraser as Carlin took the key, staring at it. After a moment her gaze lifted, went from Fraser, to Ray, to the key and back, and she opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She tried again.

"I. . . I don't . . . ." she covered her mouth with a shaky hand.

Ray had a funny feeling she was going to . . . yeah. There she went. Tears started to streak down her face. Ray moved without even thinking about it, steering her over to the couch, sitting down next to her, his arm around her shoulders. Fraser disappeared for a moment, then returned with the box of tissues from the bathroom which he set down on the coffee table before taking a seat on the other side of Carlin. She turned toward Ray, hiding her face against his shoulder as she gasped and hiccoughed her way into silence. Finally she reached out, groping blindly. Fraser pulled out a tissue and put it in her hand. She wiped her eyes, blew her nose, and looked embarrassed.

"I'm so sorry. I cry all the time any more. It's the hormones, my midwife says. I feel like such an idiot." She looked down at the key clutched in her left hand and shook her head. "I can't believe this. Why . . . why would you do this?"

"Because you're family," Fraser said simply.

* * *

"Benton, would you relax? Geez, you'd think you were meeting the Queen, not going to a wedding," Ray grumbled as Fraser tugged at the collar of his dress tunic for about the twentieth time, and then thumbed an eyebrow into unnecessary submission.

"I'm perfectly relaxed," Fraser said evenly. "Frankly you could stand to relax yourself. You've been tapping or wiggling some portion of your anatomy or another ever since you got in the car."

Ray leered at him. "Hey, wanna wiggle some anatomy, Gramps? Or are you too old?"

That got a little snort out of Fraser. "May I remind you that not only am I not officially a grandfather yet, but you're a scant six months my junior, and we proved last night that our advanced age is no barrier to . . . how did you put it. . . 'hot 'n horny man-love'?"

Ray cackled. "Liked that, did you?"

Fraser shot him a sultry look. "The act, if not the vocabulary, yes. Sadly, we haven't time right now for a reprise."

"No, but I asked for a corner room at the Mackenzie, so we can give it a shot later. We can always book the room on the other side if you're worried about waking up the neighbors."

"I imagine some duct tape would solve that problem," Fraser mused.

"Kinky!" Ray laughed. "Hey, I think that's it. Isn't that it? It looks like the picture they sent. Purple, right?"

Fraser looked where Ray was pointing, and nodded. "Yes, that's it. Good spotting."

"All the cars parked around it kinda gave it away," Ray said. "Definitely looks like party central."

Fraser found a spot near the brightly painted A-frame and set the brake, then looked at Ray and took a deep breath. "Well. We're here."

"So we are," Ray agreed.

Fraser tugged at his collar, and Ray reached over and caught his hand before he could lift it to his eyebrow, bringing it up to his lips.

"It'll be fine."

"I know. I'm just. . . this is. . . ." He stopped, sighed, and started over. "I suppose I'm just a little nervous about my reception. This is the first time I've seen most of these people since I found out I'm Michael's father, and the healing ceremony isn't scheduled for another week."

Ray sighed and shook his head. "Benton, they've known you were Mike's dad as long as Mike's been around. You're the only one who's not used to it. They'll take their cue from him, and you know he likes you."

"I hope so."

"Ben. Stop it. You know so."

Fraser looked at him, puzzled, then he got it. "Oh! No, sorry, I didn't mean I hoped Michael likes me. I just meant that I wouldn't want to think that Joseph still carries a grudge after all this time. And Rachel has three sisters, what if they don't like me?"

"Benton, the woman hasn't been born who doesn't like you, with the possible exception of my ex-wife, but I think that might've been what-do-you-call-it. . . transmission."

"Transference. And there's always a first time," Fraser said glumly.

Dief gave a disgusted groan from the back seat, and Ray rolled his eyes. "Stop being a pansy and get out of the car. If somebody doesn't like you, you can use The Force or something. Nobody will notice that you're manipulating the space-time continuum."

Fraser stared at him for a long moment, and then shook his head as if to clear water out of his ears after a swim. "Ray, has anyone ever told you that you're . . . odd?"

Ray grinned. "Oh, one or two people, maybe. Come on, they're probably wondering what the hell we're doing just sitting out here. Look, see? That curtain just twitched, somebody's watching. You wouldn't want to be rude, now would you?"

That did it. Fraser unfastened his seatbelt, opened the door, and stepped out. Ray did the same, closing the door, then opening the back door to let Dief out, standing back as Dief jumped out and danced around a little. "You know, you owe us, mutt. You cost us a lot of extra dough, so I hope you're happy now. You just couldn't stay back in Chicago with Frannie, oh no. You had to come too, or you'd pine away to nothing. Geez. You've sure got somebody wrapped around your paw."

"I wonder who that might be?" Fraser asked blandly. "Considering who it was that paid for his airfare without consulting me."

"Oh shut up," Ray muttered, going around to stand by the trunk, old, hard-packed snow crunching underfoot. "Open this up so we can get the presents. Speaking of which, maybe we should give them Dief as a present. He's better than a stuffed animal any day. He can babysit."

Dief gave him a long look, and then deliberately lifted a leg and peed on the tire nearest where Ray was standing. Ray stepped away quickly to avoid the splashback as Fraser opened the trunk.

"You can't give someone a sentient being, Ray. That would be slavery, and it's illegal."

"Spoilsport," Ray said, lifting out the cheerfully-wrapped box that held the baby car-seat he'd brought all the way from Chicago. Top of the line.

Fraser reached in and picked up the other package. It was small, flat, and wrapped in a subdued blue paper.

"I still want to know what you got them. That's a pretty small box," Ray said, wishing he had x-ray vision.

Fraser smiled his Mona Lisa smile. "You'll see," he said, turning to walk up to the house.

The front door opened as soon as they set foot on the front porch, and Michael was standing there with a huge grin on his face. Like Fraser, he was wearing his dress uniform, and looked pretty amazing in it.

"Dad! Ray! You made it!"

Michael grabbed Fraser and hugged him. Fraser hugged back, without even getting all tense. Maybe he'd learned something from Ray over the years. Then Michael let him go and hugged Ray, which surprised him so much that he got a little stiff, before he relaxed and pounded Michael on the back in an acceptably manly fashion before stepping back.

"We wouldn't miss it. Besides, Carlin would have my head if I didn't show."

"Yeah, she's been yelling down about every ten minutes asking if you're here yet. Now we can get this show on the road. Come on in." He stepped back and let them into the house, which was filled with people. "It's kind of a madhouse, we didn't think everybody we invited would actually make it," he explained with a sheepish smile.

Once inside, Ray suspected they had invited the entire population of Inuvik, considering how many people were crammed into the small living room. He could see more people in the kitchen off to one side. He spotted four different people in RCMP dress reds, not even counting the groom and his father. There were people of all different sizes, shapes, and colors, though a good percentage of them were dark-haired, brown-skinned, and came about to Ray's shoulder. There was also one very tall guy in his late forties, built like a linebacker, who got a really peculiar expression on his face as soon as he saw Fraser. On seeing him, Fraser stopped, cleared his throat, and put out his hand.

"Hello, Joseph, good to see you again," he said in his 'I'm going to be polite if it kills me' voice.

Joseph put out a paw and gingerly shook hands. "Good to see you again too, Benton," he rumbled. "Uh. . . you're not still mad about that otter thing, are you?"

Oooh. Ray suddenly understood. This must be otter-boy. Or rather, man. Geez he was big. Had to be six-four and about three hundred pounds.

"Of course not," Fraser reassured him. "You're not still mad about Rachel's hair, are you?"

Joseph shook his head. "Nah. Got over that a long time back. Besides, you gave me my favorite nephew so I guess I'm kind of beholden to you."

Fraser nodded. "And I'm grateful to you for your part in raising my son, so I could say the same."

Joseph laughed. "You wouldn't say that if you knew all the stuff I put him up to. But he turned out good despite me."

"Hey!" Michael called. "Uncle Joe, let Dad and Ray by, you're holding things up!"

The man-mountain stepped back and waved them past, shooting a curious glance at Ray as he passed. Ray followed Fraser through the maze of people until they made it to the front of the room where Michael had stopped next to a short, salt-and-pepper haired man with a face as weathered as those old bog guys Ray had once seen in a National Geographic.

"Dad, Ray, this is Marv Pitseolak, he'll be doing the ceremony."

Fraser shook hands with the man. "A pleasure to meet you, sir. May I ask, are you angakkuq?"

Marv grinned. "Nah, just a justice of the peace."

"Ah." Fraser looked slightly embarrassed.

Ray distracted the guy by putting out his hand. "Ray Kowalski. I'm Benton's partner."

"And he's standing up for the bride," Michael added as they shook hands. "Who is upstairs waiting impatiently, so you should probably go up and tell her we're ready to start."

Ray nodded. "On my way."

He put down his gift-wrapped box next to the stairs and headed up to the second floor. Emma Tselihye was sitting on a folding chair outside a closed door with her arms crossed, and an irritated look on her face.

"Hi?" Ray said tentatively.

"She won't let me in the room. Won't let anybody in the room. Not me, not Gideon, not Rachel, not Mike. Said something about bad luck," Emma grumbled.

"Oh." Ray had always thought that was just the groom, not the groom's whole family. Unless maybe Carlin was tired of being fussed over. Knowing her, that was probably it. "Yeah, that's, uh, a tradition in some places," he lied.

Emma looked skeptical. "Uh huh."

"Can I. . . .?" He pointed at the door.

"Be my guest." Emma stood up. "I'll go see if things are all set downstairs."

"Good idea," Ray said, moving to tap on the door. "Hey, Carlin. It's Ray."

"Ray?" Carlin sounded a little uncertain.

"Yeah. Ray. Kowalski. From Chicago," he added, just in case.

Emma shook her head and disappeared off down the stairs.

There was silence for longer than he liked, and then he heard the sound of a toilet flushing. Okay, that explained it. Then the sound of water running and . . . he thought that was tooth-brushing. Finally he heard Carlin's voice again. "Is Emma gone?"

"Yeah. She went downstairs."

"Okay, then. You can come in."

He heard the sound of the door being unlocked, and then it swung open. Carlin stood there, looking. . . well, pretty awful really, though he wasn't about to say that to her. She was wearing a velvety dark green dress that fit like a tent, but still did nothing to hide the fact that she looked like she belonged in the delivery room, not at a wedding. Though the color did kind of go with her complexion, which was decidedly greenish.

"Hey, kiddo. You okay?"

She nodded. "Yeah. I'm okay."

He stared at her. "You sure? You don't look okay."

"I'm fine," she repeated, forcefully. "I'm just. . . ." She sniffed, and then grabbed him, leaning into his chest. "God, I'm so glad you're finally here!"

He patted her back, trying not to think about how weird the hard press of her belly felt against his side. "Look, seriously. What's wrong? You having second thoughts? Did you have a fight with Emma? With Mike? You want to back out?"

"No!" she said, the word muffled by his jacket. "No. I love Mike. I adore his family. I want to do this."

"You're not convincing me," Ray said. "Remember, I'm a detective. If you love Emma why was she sitting in a chair outside the room?"

She sighed, and pushed away from him to look him in the eye. "Because I needed to be alone. I want to do this, really. No second thoughts. I love Mike, I love his family, I love it up here. I feel so at home here, I really do. I just need this part to be over. Right now."

Ray remembered how nervous he'd been on his wedding day, and grinned. "Yeah, okay. I get that. But you might want to put some makeup on or something so people don't think Mike's been holding you hostage."

She giggled and went to look in the mirror. "God, I do look pretty bad. Give me a second. Are they ready?"

"Yeah. They sent me up to get you, so I guess they're just waiting for us."

She nodded, doing something arcane with a couple of brushes, and when she turned back to face him she looked marginally more normal. "Better?"

"Yeah, better." Well, that wasn't a lie. Not exactly.

"Okay, then. Let's do it."

He shrugged out of his coat and tossed it on the bed, and her eyes widened.

"A suit?"

He grinned. "Only for you would I wear a tie."

"Oh, Ray. . . ." She looked like she was going to start crying.

"Well, for you, and all the judges I have to appear in front of," he said with a wink, trying to head that off. It seemed to work. "Benton wanted me to wear my uniform, but I wasn't about to inflict that on anybody, including myself."

She laughed at that, and then put her hand on the arm he held out for her. They took two steps toward the door, and then she stopped, her hand clenching on his arm. He looked at her sharply, but she had her eyes closed as she took a deep breath, let it out, then did that twice more. For a second he was afraid she was going to ralph right there in the middle of the room, but she didn't, and finally she opened her eyes and tugged him forward.

"Are you sure you're okay?" She glared at him and he held up a hand. "Okay, okay. Let's go then."

They paused at the top of the stairs until Ray got Emma's attention. She waved at someone else, and the familiar, pre-recorded strains of Mendelssohn's Wedding March began. Ray lifted his eyebrows at Carlin, and she made a face and mouthed "Emma" at him. He gave her a sympathetic smile and took a step forward to start down the stairs, only to have her clutch at his arm again. He stopped, waiting, as she repeated her deep breathing exercise from before, and then opened her eyes and nodded at him.

This time when he stepped forward, she did too, and they made their way down the stairs together. It was a little awkward; the stairs weren't really wide enough for two people side-by-side, especially not when one of them was eight-plus-a-little months pregnant, but Ray sort of turned a little sideways and they managed to make it down the entire flight without getting stuck, though it was slow going. Finally they reached the bottom of the stairs and the guests parted, making a pathway to the front of the room where Fraser, Michael, and Marv stood waiting.

Ray looked at Carlin, noticing that there was a fine sheen of sweat on her face. She really didn't look good at all, even with the makeup. He waited for her to let him know she was ready to go. After a moment, she moved forward, and he escorted her over to stand next to Michael, and then started to step back, as they had planned over the phone. Carlin refused to let go of his arm, and she shot him a pleading look. He assumed that meant she wanted him to stay where he was, so he did.

Marv put on a pair of half-glasses, pulled out a little book, and started with the traditional "Dearly beloved. . . " stuff, but Ray kept his eyes on Carlin, worried about her. As he watched, she did her 'eyes closed deep breathing' thing again. Except this time she bit her lip, and a faint, faint whimper escaped her as her nails dug into his arm hard enough that he could sort of feel it even through suit-jacket and shirt-sleeve. There was definitely something. . . .

Suddenly all the clues slotted into place and he knew what was going on. Shit. No wonder she wanted the wedding over in a hurry. He put his hand over hers and squeezed reassuringly. Or at least he hoped that's how she would take it. At the same time he thought back to how long he'd been watching her and how many times she'd had to deep-breathe, and tried to figure out how close her contractions were. He didn't like the answer he got. He hoped Marv moonlighted as an auctioneer, so he'd get through the ceremony faster.

Carlin let out her breath, and met his eyes. In them he could see that she knew he knew. He jerked his head minutely toward the stairs, and she shook her head just as minutely, her mouth set in a stubborn line.

Marv cleared his throat. "I said, 'who gives this woman?'" he said, looking at Ray intently over the tops of his glasses, like a librarian waiting for him to fork over his overdue fine.

Ray winced, realizing he'd missed his cue. "I do," he said, taking her hand and moving it over to Michael's arm instead. He stayed in place beside her, though, ready to catch her if she passed out.

Carlin smiled at him wanly. Originally he hadn't wanted to do it, since they weren't really related or anything, but she'd insisted, and he had caved as soon as she got teary. Fraser had teased him about that for days.

Fraser, standing next to Michael, looked at him and frowned. Ray knew he was wondering why he hadn't moved away like he was supposed to. He stared back, trying to psychically communicate the answer. Fraser's frown changed a little, then his eyebrows rose, and his gaze swung over to Carlin, then back to Ray. Ray nodded. Fraser looked worried. Ray looked at Michael. Fraser nodded, and while Marv was asking if anyone objected to the marriage, he leaned in close and whispered something to Michael. Michael's eyes widened, and his head whipped around as he stared at Carlin, and nodded at the stairs. She scowled and shook her head again. Firmly.

Marv cleared his throat again, looking from Fraser to Michael, to Carlin to Ray, and then back. "Am I interrupting something?" he stage-whispered.

"No," Ray hissed back. "Just hurry, okay?"

Marv nodded. "Do you Michael, take this woman. . . ."

"Yes." Michael said decisively.

Marv looked a little put out, but he gamely went on. "And do you, Carlin, take this man. . . ."

"I do," Carlin gritted out through clenched teeth. She was angled forward a little, and Ray could see her clutching at Michael's arm. He could also see the slight tension in Michael's arm as he supported her, and realized that wasn't just for show. She was leaning on him, hard.

Marv frowned, surveyed the four of them, and then shrugged and shook his head. "Well, then, I guess I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."

Michael pressed a quick kiss to Carlin's mouth, and then bent to lift her in his arms. Ray's back twinged in sympathy.

"Uncle Joe!" Michael snapped. "Get the Jeep warmed up. We've got to get Carlin to the nursing station, fast."

"I don't think there's time," Ray said. "I'm counting less than two minutes between contractions."

Michael hesitated, looking torn. "Shit. I don't . . . ."

Fraser stepped forward. "Take her upstairs. I've done this before."

"So have I," Emma said. "More times than I can count."

Ray refrained from pointing out that he'd been trained in emergency childbirth too. He'd never had to put it into practice, though, so he figured he'd let the people who actually knew what they were doing take over. Emma and Fraser stared at each other for a few seconds, and then Emma smiled.

"I wouldn't mind some help, though, Benton. My hands aren't so good these days."

Fraser nodded gravely. "I'd be honored."

"We'll need to get some things from the kitchen," she said. "Come on."

Michael took Carlin upstairs, and Fraser followed Emma, leaving Ray behind. Dief came up and nudged him, and he looked down. "Looks like it's time for us to find an out-of-the way spot, huh?"

Dief whined, and Ray looked around, spotting a little alcove to the left of the wood-stove that was out of the way. "Over there looks good, come on."

They retreated and watched the commotion as Emma yelled for Gideon to call the nursing station. Rachel conferred briefly with Marv and two other women who looked enough like her that Ray assumed they were her sisters, and then they started herding all the guests out of the house, saying that they'd pack up the refreshments and head over to the community center to have the reception so the bride and groom could have a little peace and quiet for the birth, and besides, otherwise all the food would go to waste. Within just a few minutes, all the guests were gone. Ray saw Rachel start toward the front door with a big box of food from the kitchen, and Ray dashed over to take it from her.

"Let me, I can do that," he said. "Where do you want it?"

"Sure, thanks. You can put it out in my car, the blue one there," she said pointing. "I'll be right out after I get my coat. That way I don't have to make two trips."

Ray took the box out to the car, which was unlocked, so he opened the door and put the box in the back seat. As he straightened up, shivering a little in the shade, Rachel appeared, zipping up her parka, and holding her keys.

"Thanks, Ray. I'll see you later."

Ray stared at her in surprise. "You're leaving?"

She nodded. "Yeah. Gotta go over and supervise the reception. Make sure Joe doesn't make off with all the presents."

"But. . . uh. . . don't you want to be here?"

She looked a little puzzled for a minute, then she laughed, shaking her head. "I'll let you in on a little secret. . . I pass right out at the sight of blood. Even my own. When Mike was born, Ma held him up to show me, and bam, I was out like a light. So I'll go take care of things at the reception where I know can do some good, and come back after I get the all-clear."

With that, she got into the car, and drove off, waving, leaving Ray staring after her in astonishment. And he'd thought he had a problem with blood. At least he didn't pass out from shaving cuts. Thank God. He shivered again, and decided that it was kind of dumb to be standing around outside without a coat, so he headed back inside. Fraser and Emma were still in the kitchen, looking in drawers and cabinets for whatever it was they needed. The teakettle started to whistle, and Ray found that oddly reassuring, having some vague idea that delivering babies required boiling water, though for the life of him he couldn't imagine why.

Still trying to stay out of the way, he sat down on the sofa, and Dief came over and put his chin on his knee with a soft sigh. Ray scratched his ears. "Yeah, I know. Me too."

Fraser went up the stairs, carrying a dishpan full of assorted stuff, and a box of trash bags. Emma followed a moment later, stopping on the bottom step to look back into the kitchen. "Gideon, I need you to go home and get my old birthing kit. We're short some things. It should be in the hall cupboard, on the top shelf."

"Sure thing," Gideon called back. "Be right back."

Emma went on up the stairs, and Gideon walked past Ray, nodding briefly at him as he pulled on his coat, and then was out the door, leaving Ray and Dief alone on the main floor. It seemed like it had barely been five minutes since they'd gotten there, and the place was practically deserted. He glanced up at the ceiling, wondering what was going on, feeling more than a little envious that Fraser got to be up there in the middle of everything. He wondered if it was a problem that Carlin was in labor so early. He'd been early himself, though, and he'd turned out okay, so hopefully it wasn't anything to worry about. He sighed and sat back, wishing he had a book or something.


Startled, looked back toward the stairs to see Michael standing there, looking at him.


"Carlin asked me to see if you'd like to come up."

Up? There? Him? "Me?" he asked uncertainly.

"Yeah, we'd really like it . . . Carlin and I, I mean. You're our family too."

Well, hell. How could he argue with that? He remembered what Rachel said about blood, and pushed down some anticipatory queasiness. He could do this. He could. "Okay," he said, taking a deep breath. "So what do I do?"

"Whatever Anaanatsiaq tells you to do," he said with a grin. "Mostly just be there with us."

Ray nodded, and stood up. Dief stood too, and whined, nudging Ray's hand. "What about Dief?"

Michael looked at him thoughtfully, and then smiled. "He can come up, but he has to stay out of the way, maybe over by the door."

Dief yipped, tail wagging like the doggy ancestor he pretended not to have. Ray followed Michael up the stairs slowly, as nervous as if it was his kid, not Michael's. Stepping into the room, he didn't see Fraser or Emma, but he could hear their voices and the sound of running water, so he assumed they were in the adjoining bathroom. He was surprised to see Carlin still on her feet, standing next to the closet, buttoning up a faded blue work shirt so big it came down to mid-thigh on her. The green dress lay discarded on the floor next to her, as were her shoes, assorted underthings, and what looked like a couple of damp hand towels. Ray avoided looking at them. He didn't want to know.

"Hi," he said, as Carlin turned toward him and smiled wanly. "Let me just apologize in advance if I pass out or anything," he said, only half joking.

"You won't," she said. "If I don't, you won't, right?"

Ray nodded, crossing his fingers behind his back. "Right."

"Would you see if you can find me some socks?" she asked. "They're in the bureau over there, second drawer on the left."

Happy to be given something to do besides stand there like an idiot, Ray went to the bureau, opened the suggested drawer, and found a pair of thick, blue socks. He figured they went with the shirt so he pulled them out and turned to see that Michael had guided Carlin over to the bed.

"I'm not supposed to lie down," she said. "Emma, Miriam, and June all say it's better to walk."

Michael sighed. "You don't have to lie down, but you do have to sit down long enough to get those socks on."

"Oh." Carlin looked chagrined. "Okay."

She sat, and Michael looked at Ray. "Would you help her with the socks? I need to go get something I didn't think we'd need for a few more weeks out of the storage shed."

Ray nodded, and Michael turned back to Carlin. "You're okay?"

She nodded. "I'm fine. Go."

Ray moved over to stand next to her, holding out the socks. "Here."

She looked down toward her feet, then back up at him with a wry expression. "I can't even see my feet, let alone reach them. Would you mind?"

Duh, Ray. "Sure." He dropped to his knees and picked up one of her feet. Michael was right, he realized They were like icicles. He rubbed her foot between his hands, trying to warm it up. "Geez, they really are cold! Were you standing out in the snow or something?"

"Actually, I was standing in cold water in the tub," she said sheepishly. "I heard somewhere that it was supposed to slow down labor. Didn't seem to work, though. It just made my feet cold."

"Why did you want to slow it down?" Ray asked. "For that matter, why didn't you just tell someone?"

"I'd like to know that, too," Emma said, coming into the room with a stack of towels, followed by Fraser, who still held the roll of plastic garbage bags in one hand.

"Everyone was coming for the wedding, and . . . ." Carlin's explanation trailed off in a gasp as she bent over, her hands clamped on Ray's shoulders hard enough to hurt as she panted her way through the contraction.

Emma came to sit beside her, one hand slipping up under her shirt to touch her belly, a faint frown on her face as she waited for Carlin to relax again. It seemed like forever before her hands eased on his shoulders, and she sat up a little.

"I just didn't want to spoil it for everyone," she finally managed. "At first I thought it was false labor, because I'm not due for three more weeks. Then when I realized it wasn't, I figured it would be hours? everyone says that your first takes forever. Twenty, thirty hours. I thought I could make it."

"When did the contractions start?" Emma asked, sliding her hand out from under the shirt again.

"I don't know exactly, but they woke me up around four this morning. My water broke just after that."

Emma nodded thoughtfully. "So, seven hours, give or take. Have you been pushing?"
Carlin shook her head, hard. "No."

"Have you wanted to?"

"God, yes. So hard not to! Oh, damn. . . ." Her face contorted into a grimace. "Sorry," she panted. "Sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Emma said, patting her shoulder. "You're doing just as you should. Ray, breathe with her."

Ray had no idea what that meant, but he gamely breathed with Carlin, in shallow little pants. Michael showed up at the door just then, lugging what looked like a big basket. Ray thought it was for the baby to sleep in, he'd seen something like it in a movie or tv show, he was pretty sure. Emma waited until she'd finished, and then put a hand on Carlin's arm.

"All right, ukkuark, can you stand? We need to ready the bed."

Carlin nodded and Ray helped her get to her feet again.

Emma looked at Ray. "Stay with her."

"I'm here until you tell me not to be," he said firmly.

"Good. Michael, strip the bed of everything but the bottom sheet, put trash bags down, and then cover them with towels, two layers," Emma ordered, like a miniature Patton. "Benton, go wash up. I need your hands." Fraser headed for the bathroom, unfastening his tunic as he walked, and Emma turned back to Carlin. "We have to see where the baby is before we can let you push, but my arthritis is too bad, so Benton will have to do it. Do you understand?"

"Yes." Carlin nodded "It's all right," she managed, before she started breathing funny again and grabbed Ray's shoulders, grimacing as she started to pant again.

"Good." Emma got up and moved over to the bed. "As soon as you can move, I need you on the bed so Benton can check you. Michael, are you ready?"

"In a minute," he said, struggling with his lanyard. "I have to get out of. . . I can't. . . damn it . . . ." his voice trailed off as he concentrated on the small knots.

Ray saw how his fingers were shaking, and looked at Carlin. "You okay for a second?"

She nodded, and he let go of her and turned to Michael. "Let me help. I've had a lot of practice de-uniforming Mounties," he said with a wink.

Michael laughed, and put his arms out to the sides like a little kid waiting to be zipped into a snowsuit. In a matter of moments Ray had removed the lanyard, and the dress belt, which was a lot less complicated than the Sam Browne, and slipped the buttons so Michael could shrug out of the tunic and toss it at the bureau as Ray knelt and unlaced his boots. A moment later his boots were off and kicked under the bed, leaving Michael in his jodhpurs and a t-shirt. Less encumbered, Michael crawled onto the bed and sat cross-legged with his back against the headboard, pulling a pillow onto his lap.

"Okay, ready now. Sorry."

"Carlin?" Emma said softly.

Carlin nodded and eased herself down onto the bed with her head in Michael's lap. Michael reached forward to take her hands in his, brushing a kiss across the back of each.

"You're so brave, aippaapik," he whispered. "So strong."

Feeling like an intruder, Ray went over to the window and looked out, giving them some privacy. There were more low-voiced words exchanged. After a moment, Carlin called his name.


"Yeah?" He turned, carefully focused on her face.

"Sit by me?"

Since she and Michael were mostly on the right side of the bed, most of the left side next to them was empty. He looked at Emma. "Is it okay?"

"Sure, just stay out of the way," she said.

Ray distracted himself by taking off his jacket and tie. Emma smiled at him and patted his shoulder reassuringly as he sat down beside Carlin. Fraser reappeared from the bathroom, shaking water off his hands. He'd removed his tunic too, and rolled the sleeves of his henley up above his elbows. He looked so calm and competent, that if Ray didn't know him so well, he'd assume that he wasn't a bit concerned, but he could read the tension in Fraser's body, and the faint line between his eyebrows. He was worried. That made Ray worried, even if he didn't know what he was worrying about.

"What do you need me to do?" Fraser asked quietly, coming to kneel at Carlin's side.

"I need to know how much she's dilated, and if the baby seems to be in the proper position," Emma said.

Fraser nodded, and shot a glance at Ray, then put his hand on Carlin's shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "This will be uncomfortable."

"Wait. . . " Carlin said. "Another one. . . damn it, ow, ow, ow. . . ."

The 'ows' trailed off into what Ray could only call grunts as she braced herself against Michael's shoulders much as she had done against Ray's earlier. He saw her knuckles go white as she rode out the contraction. Michael breathed along with her, in a regular, rhythmic pattern, huffing out breaths in time with her grunts. Ray figured that must be what Emma had meant when she told him to breathe with her. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Fraser pull on a single latex glove, probably from an RCMP forensic kit unless Ray missed his guess. Fraser held out his gloved hand, and Emma picked up a familiar-looking tube from the assortment of things in the dish-pan, and squeezed some onto Fraser's gloved fingers. For a second Ray couldn't figure out what the hell that was about, and then he remembered that lube did have uses that had nothing to do with two guys.

Fraser waited until Carlin started breathing more normally again, and then shifted closer. "Ready?" he asked.

Carlin nodded, and Fraser spread his un-lubed hand across her belly as the other eased between her thighs, up under the tails of the shirt. Carlin sucked in a breath over clenched teeth, a little whimper escaping her throat. Ray and Michael both winced in sympathy. Fraser's hands were pretty wide. Carlin put a hand over her face, breathing hard as Fraser examined her.

"Well?" Emma demanded after a few moments.

Fraser slipped his hand free turned toward her. "She seems to be completely dilated, and the head is in place and beginning to traverse the cervical ring."

Emma nodded briskly. "Well then, if we're that far along, we definitely don't have time to wait for anyone from the nursing station to get here."

"Agreed," Fraser said. "I think this is up to us."

Emma took a deep breath. "All right then, Carlin, on the next contraction, you can start to push."

"It's about friggin' time!" Carlin growled, starting to lever herself upright.

Emma put a hand on her shoulder. "Stay there, ukkuark. Since this is your first, I think we want you on your side."

Carlin shook her head. "That's not traditional," she said, still trying to sit up. "I'm supposed to squat. I read that. . . ."

"I've been doing this before you were born, so don't presume to tell me what's traditional," Emma cut in sharply.

Carlin subsided, biting her lip, teary-eyed. Ray was about to get into it with Emma when she leaned over and touched Carlin's face gently.

"Remember, lovey, a book can only say what its writer knows, not the experience of a people. Next time, you can do it the other way if you want, but I think this will be best for you, and your baby. Will you trust me?"

Carlin sniffled and nodded, wiping her eyes, leaving raccoonish shadows from her mascara.

Emma smiled. "Good. You'll need to turn over on your side, whichever feels more comfortable. Ray, you sit so she can use your thigh for a head-rest, and Mike, you move down so she can rest her leg on your shoulder when we need to get in there, because we can't expect her to keep it out of the way and push at the same time. Benton, be ready to catch, this little one seems to be in a hurry."

Carlin maneuvered herself onto her left side and Ray shifted over next to her as Michael took his place at the foot of the bed. Carlin rested her cheek against his thigh for a moment with a sigh, and then suddenly she gasped and grabbed his hand, the grimacing fiercely as she started pushing for the first time. Ray tried to imitate Michael's breathing, timing it to match her grunts. It made him a little light-headed at first, but then he got the hang of it. Time became a blur of breathing, and sounds that reminded Ray that humans weren't so different from animals when it came right down to it.

He carefully kept his gaze high, not wanting to risk losing his cool, or his breakfast. From time to time he heard Emma and Fraser speaking, but didn't really register words, concentrating instead on the feel of her hand in his, and the sound of her breathing. Occasional glances up showed him Michael, looking tearful and amazed as he encouraged her, rubbing her feet and calves. Showed him Fraser, intent and focused. Emma the same. Her grip on his hand grew painfully tight, and Fraser's voice came again, calm, surprisingly close.

"That's it. Just a little longer, Carlin," Fraser said, his voice rough with emotion. "I think just a little more and you'll be past the worst. "That's it, keep pushing, keep pushing. Just a little more. . . ."

Carlin bore down, nearly crushing Ray's hand, making a keening sound that escalated into a shout at the end, not a scream, but a shout.


Three other voices offered harmony to her shout. Ray figured that was a good sign.

"Perfect," Fraser said. "There we go. Stop pushing now for a moment, Carlin. Emma, will you clear its mouth, and check for the cord?"

Carlin sagged, panting, against his thigh, obviously glad of the respite, and Ray couldn't help it, he looked down. Caught a glimpse of a tiny face, just for a moment, before Emma moved in and blocked his view as she did something he couldn't see.

"All right," Fraser said. "You're doing great. Another push and we'll have the shoulders free, and the rest will be easy as pie. Can you give us one more?"

Carlin could, and she did. And Emma had moved back just enough that Ray could watch as a glistening little form slid into Fraser's waiting hands. The baby was bluish, covered with blood and some kind of whitish stuff, and it was really as disgusting as all hell, but it was also the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. Then Fraser started to do something with the umbilical and Ray hastily looked away.

"It's a girl," Michael said.

Ray was startled, though after a second he realized he would have been equally startled by a boy. It was just the whole idea of it.

"A girl?" Carlin asked, her voice shaky, trying to look.

"Is she. . . ." Michael asked at the same moment, a hint of fear in his voice.

It dawned on Ray then that the baby hadn't cried yet. That she was that weird bluish color. Oh God, he thought, wondering if that was what Fraser had been worrying about, feeling like his heart was going to break. Don't let her be. . . .

"She's perfect. Anirniq comes to her now. She is just perfect. A beautiful arnalaaq."

Fraser shifted position a little, and for a moment Ray could see the baby again. He heard a brief, reedy-sounding cry, saw a flush of pink suffuse the little face, and then she opened her eyes. They were the same cloudy blue-gray as Fraser's eyes. He knew all babies' eyes were like that, but he hoped hers wouldn't change. She looked bemused, as if amazed by what she saw. But then, she was seeing for the very first time. Of course she was amazed.

"Lie back, Carlin," Emma said. "Ray, help her unbutton her shirt."

Ray helped her ease over onto her back, and started unbuttoning. She looked like death warmed over, ghastly pale, with her hair all sweaty and plastered to her head, lips chapped and bitten, and for a second he was worried, but then she smiled at him and his worry disappeared.

"Thank you," she whispered.

Not trusting his voice, he nodded, and finished unbuttoning. As soon as he got it done, Fraser laid the baby against her bare chest. Ray could see her clearly for the first time for a moment before Fraser laid a folded thermal blanket across both mother and child. She had a thick cap of hair, dark, like Michael's, but it was spiky all over her head like Carlin's. And like Ray's. Her eyes had a faintly Asian shape, courtesy of her Inuit heritage, Ray figured. Her eyebrows were a little short, just like Fraser's. She was gorgeous.

"See if you can get her to nurse, all right, ukkuark?" Emma said, reaching to caress the tiny form.

Carlin nodded, laughing and crying at the same time as she cradled her daughter, shifting her lower, sliding her other hand in to guide the small face to her breast. Realizing he was pretty much in the way now, Ray relinquished his place to Michael, who took it eagerly, leaning close to see his daughter more clearly.

As he moved away, he could finally see Fraser's face, and saw there were tears on it, even though he was grinning like a fiend. Of course, there were tears on his own, as well. He didn't feel a bit ashamed of them. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and grinned back.

"You're not quite done yet, lovey. You'll need to push a little more until the afterbirth comes," Emma said.

Carlin nodded. Ray knew he really didn't want to see the next part, so he walked over to the window and stared outside to make sure he didn't look by accident. He saw a pair of ravens spinning lazily in a thermal and watched them dance for a while, not watching, not listening, until he heard Emma speak again.

"Okay, there we go, good job. You're all done."

"Thank God!" Carlin said fervently.

Ray waited a couple more minutes before daring to turn around. He sidled closer, wanting a better look, as Carlin settled back against the stack of pillows that Michael had adjusted for her. She stared down at the little form in her arms, now clamped on and rooting a lot like Mut used to with her bottle.

"Oh," she said, her voice breaking as she looked up at Michael, who was leaning close. "Bedstemor wasn't just saying that. She really is beautiful."

"Absolutely," Michael said, his voice hoarse.

"Of course she is," Ray said. "It runs in the family. Both sides."

"Do you have a name picked out?" Emma asked.

Michael nodded. "We each picked a name. Carlin chose Astrid, for her mother, and I chose Ulluriaq."

"Oh!" Emma gasped.

Michael smiled. "For you, Anaanatsiaq. So she'll be as brave and wise as her avvaq."

A loud knock sounded from downstairs, and a woman's voice called out.

"Hello the house? It's June."

"Upstairs, June," Emma called out. "Come on up."

Ray heard footsteps on the stairs, and looked over to see a heavyset Inuit woman in a fur-trimmed pink parka standing in the doorway, holding a medical bag.

Surveying the scene, she shook her head and smiled. "Sorry to take so long. I was working on a broken leg over at the Tyler's backyard rink, and Miriam's gone out on a call to Aklavik, and they told me that Emma was here along with two Mounties so I figured you guys could handle it. Though it looks like I could've saved myself a trip."

"No, it's good you came," Emma said. "You can check to be sure everyone's fine the modern way."

"Sure, I can do that." The woman took her coat off and tossed it onto the chair Emma had left outside the door, and then she started to step inside. Dief surged to his feet and blocked her way with a soft growl.

"Dief, let her in," Fraser said. "It's all right."

The woman looked up from the wolf, her expression startled. "Benton Fraser? Is that you?"

"Yes, do I. . . " he stopped, eyes widening. "June Ungalaaq! I don't believe it! You're a nurse now?"

She laughed. "Believe it. I found a job where I don't have to boil water. Carlin and Mike told me you were coming up, and I hoped I'd get to see you. I should've known you'd be right in the middle of things." She turned to look at Emma. "I thought you retired when your hands got bad."

"Benton was my hands," Emma said. "He was very good."

June laughed. "Ittuq sanaji, eh, Benton?"

"You could say that," Fraser said drily. "Since you're a year older than I am, I suppose you're allowed. Plus I am a grandfather now."

"So you are. All right everyone, would you clear out for a few and let me check out mom and baby here? Then you can come back in and keep this poor girl awake when all she wants to do is sleep after her hard work." she asked, looking at Carlin.

Carlin laughed, and then coughed. "Mike, could you get me some tea?"

Michael nodded, easing away and then standing up. "Yeah, I'll be right back with it."

Ray knew a hint when he heard one. So did Michael and Fraser, apparently. Not that Ray blamed her, he wouldn't want a crowd around when he got a prostate exam, which he figured was about the closest comparison he could make. They all went downstairs, and Michael headed for the kitchen as Ray sat down on the couch in the living room again, and Fraser sat down next to him, elbows on his knees, hands dangling laxly as he stared off into space.

Ray nudged him with an elbow. "Hey."

Fraser turned his head and looked at Ray, and a huge, goofy grin spread over his face. "Hey."

"Pretty cool."

Fraser nodded.

"I didn't faint," Ray observed.

"Jesus," Michael said, to no one in particular.

They both looked up at him. He was standing next to the wood-stove, with a grin just as big and goofy as Fraser's. "I'll never forget my anniversary, will I?"

Ray laughed. "No, I bet you won't. What name are you going to use? For every day, I mean, not for when she's in trouble?"

Michael chuckled. "Ulluriaq. Ulli for short."

Ray nodded. "Nice. What's it mean?"

"It's Inuktitut for 'star,'" Fraser said.

Ray stared at him. "You're kidding."

Fraser shook his head. "No."

Ray started to laugh, though it sounded alarmingly like a giggle.

"What?" Michael asked, sounding bewildered.

"Ray's ex-wife's name is Stella," Fraser said, saving Ray from having to make the explanation.

Michael looked stricken. "Oh man. Ray. . . we didn't know. . . ."

Ray shook his head and found his voice. "Nah, don't worry. It's pretty funny, actually. I'm good with it. I like it."

"Good," Michael said, obviously relieved. "Oh damn, I need to go call Mom. I'll be right back."

Ray watched him go into the kitchen, and then a warm hand on his neck pulled his attention back to Fraser, who was gazing at him very seriously. "Thank you, Ray."

Ray looked back at him warily. "What for?"

"For . . . everything. For pushing me. For letting me act like a jerk sometimes. For making me talk. For making me feel. For understanding."

Ray shook his head, smiling. "Back at you, Ben."

"I'm serious," Fraser said.

"So am I," Ray answered, and then just because he felt like it, he leaned over and kissed him. A real kiss, not a peck, soft and warm. His lips were faintly salty. Ray wondered if his own were, too. Finally he sat back, and looked up to find Michael standing in the doorway to the kitchen watching them indulgently.

"You guys want some coffee?" he asked, holding up a steaming mug. "Somebody made a pot earlier and most of it's left. Or if you'd rather, I put water on to heat for Carlin's tea, and it'll be ready in a minute or two."

"Coffee," Ray said gratefully. "Haven't had my quota today."

"Coffee would be most welcome," Fraser agreed. "We didn't get much sleep last night."

Ray snickered, and Fraser turned red. Ray loved it that Fraser could still blush.

"Sleeping in a strange bed in a strange city isn't conducive to good rest," he said, with a quelling glance at Ray.

"Well, the bed was normal," Ray corrected. "But Edmonton's pretty strange all right," he said with a wink. "I think I only heard two sirens all night."

Michael laughed. "Yeah, after Chicago that would seem strange all right. Come on. I don't know how you guys like your joe."

Ray got up and headed for the kitchen, and his toe caught the box he'd stashed next to the stairwell, a lifetime ago. He picked it up and set it on the little table there so no one else would trip over it.

"What's that?" Michael asked.

"Present," Ray said.

"Well, I figured that much," Michael said drily. "I guess someone forgot to take it over to the community center."

"Nah, it didn't go over because I brought it, and I didn't go over either."

"Oh." Michael looked at it curiously. "Big box."

"Yeah, they hated me on the plane."

"What's in it?"

"You could just open it," Ray said with a grin.

"I. . . ." For a moment he looked tempted, then he shook his head. "No, that wouldn't be right. Not without Carlin."

Ray rolled his eyes. "Then take it upstairs. But let me get my coffee first."

"I don't think we're allowed back in there yet," Michael complained with a hint of the famous Fraser pout.

"So, wait until you are. What are you, six?" Ray asked, moving into the kitchen and making a beeline toward the coffee maker that sat invitingly on the counter.

"Nah, seven, at least," Michael said cheerfully, sitting down at the kitchen table.

Ray poured coffee into two mugs, handed one to Fraser, sugared the other liberally, and sipped with a sigh of pleasure as he took a seat across from Michael. In the center of the table was a tall, white-frosted wedding cake. Instead of a plastic bride and groom on top, someone had put a little painted wooden carving of two figures sitting on a bench, holding hands. One was a Mountie, and the other wore a green dress and had blonde, spiky hair. They were both quite recognizable, though the woman was quite a lot thinner than Carlin had been earlier. Ray grinned and nodded at the figures. "Cute."

"Yeah. Ataatatsiaq Gideon carved it for us. I wonder why they didn't take the cake to the party?"

"They probably didn't want to break tradition," Fraser said. "The bride and groom are supposed to cut and eat the first piece to ensure prosperity."

That got a chuckle from Michael. "Really? I thought it was just an excuse to get the best piece."

"That too," Ray said.

The kettle started to whistle, and Michael got up to go pour the water over the tea-bag he'd already put in a mug. Ray could faintly smell the distinctive scent of chamomile. Fraser sometimes drank it when he was stressed out and couldn't unwind. It was a pleasant, flowery sort of smell. Michael was just spooning honey into the cup when they heard footsteps on the stairs and turned to look.

"Hey," June said, coming into the room. "I'm all done. Everybody's doing fine, healthy and happy. You guys did a great job. I'll come back tomorrow to check on things again so you don't have to take the baby out in the cold just yet. I got a cord-blood sample to send in for typing and lab work, but I need one more piece of information for the certificate. I can put down a guess if I need, but I thought maybe someone noticed what time she was delivered."

"She took her first breath at twelve-twelve p.m," Fraser said. "I looked at the clock."

"Great, thanks." She made an entry in a small notebook she held, and then looked up again. "That's it then. I'll get the certificate printed up and bring it for signatures when I come tomorrow, then I can get it filed so everything's official. Congratulations on your daughter, Mike. Benton, good to see you. Hope to see you again before you leave town." She nodded politely at Ray, and turned to leave, tucking the notebook into her bag and snapping it closed.

"My daughter," Michael echoed, looking a little shell-shocked.

"Yeah," Fraser said. "Your daughter."

The front door opened, closed, and then a moment later opened and closed again, and Gideon came into the kitchen. "Saw June on the way in, she said it's all over, and everyone's good. Guess I didn't need to get this after all," he said, holding up a worn leather bag with colorful beading on it. "It wasn't in the hall cupboard at all. It was out in the storage shed. I had to look all over for it and it took me forever." He paused, and looked at Michael. "Got a girl, huh?"

"A girl," Michael confirmed.

Gideon reached into his pocket, and brought out a tiny figure, which he placed carefully in the lap of the carved woman on the cake. A baby, wrapped in a carved blanket painted the color of old roses.

"Ittuk!" Michael exclaimed. "How did you know it was a girl?"

Gideon grinned. "I didn't. I had one of each, just in case. What'd you name her?

"Astrid Ulluriaq, but we'll probably call her Ulli," he said, looking at Gideon like a kid waiting to be told if he'd made the team or not.

Gideon reached out and hugged him roughly. "Ulli. That's a fine, fine thing. Em hasn't gone by that name since she was a girl, but she always loved it. You've done good."

"You want to see her?" Michael asked, then turned to look at the others. "Come on. Let's go up." He took two steps toward the stairs, and then stopped, and turned back, grinning. "Oh, and, Ray? Bring the present."

Ray laughed, and nodded, putting down his mostly-empty mug so he could pick up the box and take it upstairs with them. Carlin was in bed, looking a lot better than just a few minutes ago, color beginning to come back into her face. She still held the baby in the curve of her arm, though it was clear she was no longer nursing. Michael went over to sit next to her, taking a good look at the baby, touching her face with a tentative finger. She opened sleepy-looking eyes to stare at him, wide-eyed, as Carlin shifted her into his waiting arms. He held her like he was afraid he would drop her, awkwardly, but tenderly, and stared down at her with an expression of dazed wonder.

"I thought babies cried all the time," he said out of the blue.

"She hasn't any reason to," Emma said. "She can feel that this is a good place, that she's come to good people."

Fraser nodded. "Yes, she has. Very good people."

Michael cleared his throat, and carefully stood up, walking over to where Ray and Fraser stood. "Will you hold her, Ataata?"

Fraser nodded, and Michael carefully transferred her over. Fraser held her far more easily than Michael had, with more confidence, looking at her with such intensity that Ray thought he must be trying to memorize her. Ulli yawned suddenly, and when the yawn finished, she blinked up at Fraser and a small hand flailed out, brushing his chin. She made a face that could've been a smile, or maybe was just gas, Ray wasn't sure, but she didn't cry, or fuss. She just lay there, perfectly content.

Fraser lifted his gaze to Ray's, and Ray had to close his own for a moment against the depth of emotion there. He didn't want to tear up in front of everyone. When he opened them again, he looked at Ulli instead of Fraser. God, so small. So perfect. He almost reached out to take her, then stuck his hands in his pockets instead. Geez. Greedy much? He wasn't even related to her. Fraser must've seen the movement, though, because he turned toward him.

"Would you like to hold her?"

"Me?" Ray pretended surprise. "Nah, that's okay. You're family, I'm not."

"Ray," Carlin said softly. "Of course you are. I adopted you, remember? Before I came up here, I officially asked you to be my new dad, and you said yes. And you gave me away at the wedding, and you held my hand when she was born. You can't back out now."

"And you're my family, Ray," Fraser said firmly. "So any way you look at it, you're kin."

Damn it. Looked like he wasn't going to get out of this without crying again. He did a quick swipe of his hand, pretending he had something in his eye. "Yeah. Guess I am, at that." He gave what he hoped was a convincing smile. "And yeah, I want to hold her, but Fraser hasn't hardly had a chance yet. I can wait a little bit."

Carlin nodded. "Okay, then come sit by me. What's that you've got there?" she nodded at the package he'd set down next to him.

Relieved to have the attention off him, Ray picked up his gift, setting it on the bed next to her. "Something for the little lady there," he said as she ripped the paper off the car-seat carton. "I know you can't keep a kid totally safe, especially not a kid with Fraser genes, but hey, at least you can try."

"This is perfect, Ray!" she said, leaning to kiss him on the cheek. "Isn't it, Mike?"

Michael nodded. "Yeah, especially since we were going to borrow one from Jim and Renée, but they'd be needing it back in couple of months. Maybe it's a good thing Ulli was in such a hurry to get here, otherwise we'd have had time to get everything before she was born, and no one would've had anything to give us."

Carlin nodded. "True, and she was definitely impatient."

"Bet you didn't know you could inherit personality traits from adopted grandparents, did you?" Ray asked, grinning. "Guess who else was impatient?"

Carlin bumped his shoulder. "And you turned out all right, so I guess we don't need to worry."

Fraser made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a suppressed snort, and Ray gave him the eye. "Watch it."

"I didn't say a word, Ray."

"No, but you thought one. Hey, it's your turn now. Give her your present."

"It's in my left tunic pocket," he said. "Would you get it?" he asked, clearly unwilling to put down his burden.

Ray nodded, and went to get the tunic out of the bathroom where Fraser had draped it over the shower rod. He dug around in the pockets until he found the small package, which he took out and handed to Carlin. She peeled open the paper, and looked down, puzzled, at the book in her hands, then lifted her questioning gaze to Fraser.

"Thomas Paine?" she asked, puzzled.

Fraser smiled. "There's a long tradition in my family of giving children age-inappropriate gifts," he explained. "My grandparents gave me thought-provoking books on every possible occasion. Needless to say I didn't appreciate them very much."

Everyone gazed at Fraser expectantly, clearly waiting for the revelation. Clearing his throat, he went on.

"Growing up, the gift I most wanted was a close, loving, and demonstrative family. Sadly, I had to wait until well into my third decade to find out what that was like." He looked directly at Ray for a moment before shifting his gaze to Michael, and then Carlin. "Since I don't think Ulluriaq will ever want for that gift, I needed to find another. After a great deal of thought, it came to me that since my partner frequently asserts I have none, it behooved me to make sure that my granddaughter doesn't lack for 'Common Sense.'"

At that, everyone started to laugh, except for Ray, who looked at him seriously. "Hey, I got enough common sense for both of us. What you have is a lot rarer."

Fraser looked wary, clearly suspecting he was being set up. "That being?"

Ray smiled. "Un-common sense."

* * * Fin * * *

Okay, now I can thank Shell for helping me with the details in the childbirth scene. :-)


Story Notes: I started this story over a year ago after AuKestrel gifted me with the book "Confessions of an Igloo Dweller" by James Houston (© 1995, Houghton Mifflin). The book is an account of a qallunaaq who lived for years with the Inuit in the far North, some of those years with a growing family, much as Fraser Sr., must have. Some of the aspects of Inuit culture covered in his book made me wonder if Fraser would have been quite as sexually naive as I had always assumed. Of course, Houston was writing about life with the Inuit a few years earlier (1948-1960 or so) than when Fraser would have been there, but I suspected that some things probably had not changed all that much by the early 1970's. Thinking of Fraser being a sexually active teen led, of course, to speculations about consequences, and that led to wondering how an adult Fraser would react to the revelation that he was a father. This story grew from there. Of course, I had to go insane and decide to write the entire thing from Ray's POV. . . sometimes I think my masochistic streak is as wide as Fraser's. ;-D

In addition to the Houston book, I also did quite a bit of reading about the Residential School system, in place for nearly a century, which took Aboriginal Canadian children (Inuit & First Nations) away from their parents to be educated in 'western culture.' In Emma's story I tried to hint, to a small degree, at the abuses endemic in that system, and the devastating effect the system had on Aboriginal cultures. The topic is a sensitive one and I hope I handled it respectfully.

"Don't wanna have to smile for a diplomat's home videos" is a line from "The Mountie Song" by The Arrogant Worms.

Bedstemor is Danish for 'grandmother.'

After watching the films Dance Me Outside and Smoke Signals I was struck by Adam Beach's resemblance to Paul Gross. (He even does the 'tongue thing' sometimes! :-)) After seeing that, he was firmly cast in my mind's eye as Michael Tselihye, even though he's First Nations (Saulteaux), and not Inuit. Keep in mind I'm not casting Adam as he is now (say, in Skinwalkers ), but the younger version from Smoke Signals. If you haven't seen these films and want to see what I'm talking about, check this pic on my website: http://kellie.mrks.org/images/misc/beach.jpg . Though a still does not do justice to the resemblance.

Inuktitut Glossary (mostly from http://www.nunavut.com):

Aanaangilaak: Grandmother, I say.

: A dear spouse.

Amaruujaq: "being like wolves" ? a game of chase.

Anaanatsiaq: maternal grandmother

Angak : uncle

Angakkuq: shaman

Aniattunik: Letting go of pain and wrongdoing.

Anirniq: Breath, spirit of life.

Arnalaaq: tiny girl

Arnaliaq: A girl delivered, or "made," by a midwife; they then have a kind of godmother/ goddaughter relationship.

Ataata: Father.

Ataatatsiaq: Maternal grandfather.

Avvaq: One who shares the same name.

Inugarulliit: Small human-like beings said to have lived near the shore. If you looked at them from their feet up they would look very large. They are very strong. They suffocate people with their groins.
Ittuq: Grandfather, or old man.

Muktuk is the outer covering of the whale. It includes the white skin, approximately 1-2 inches (2 1/2 - 5cm) thick, plus a thin pinkish layer immediately underneath. Preparation: After taking blocks from the whale, leave 2 days hanging to dry. Cut into pieces 6 x 6 inches (15x15cm). Have water ready to boil. Cook until it tests tender when pierced with a fork. Keep in oil in a 45 gallon (206 litre) drum after it is cooled. Store in a cool place and you will have muktuk all year. Most Inuit prefer to eat muktuk raw, as it has tender-crisp texture and tastes like fresh coconut. (www.visi.com/~wick/axe/cookbook.html)

Ukkuark: daughter-in-law

White man/non-Inuit.

Literally: one who 'creates' or 'makes'. The midwife at a birth.

To have one's feelings hurt. Feeling hurt by something that was done to one.

Ulluriaq: star

Uviuraq: A pacifier for a baby, often walrus blubber.