The Usual Disclaimers: Ray and Fraser (not to mention Stephen and sorta Marty, and Mrs. Flannigan) ain't mine, ain't never gonna be mine (damn!), and I make no money off writing about them so go sue somebody else. Rated NC-17 for graphic M/M sex. If you're underage where you live, or if M/M sex is not your bag, hit the back button now. I mean it.
Soundtrack: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Broken Road. Lowen & Navarro: All Is Quiet, Not Like You, I'll Set You Free, Maybe Later; from "Broken Moon." Bonnie Tyler: Total Eclipse of the Heart. Cyndi Lauper: True Colors, I Drove All Night, Primitive. Rufus Wainwright: Tower of Learning.
Mucho thanks to my betae, in alphabetical order: AuKestrel, Beth H., Betty, Journey, Judi, and Otsoko. Without you guys, this would be full of errant commas, purple culminations, you name it. Y'all are the best. --Kellie
© 2001 Kellie Matthews
What were the odds, Ray wondered, that someone Fraser knew would end up sitting right next to him at The Mane Event while he got his hair worked on? If it was anyone but Fraser he'd figure the odds were astronomical, but somehow Fraser had this weird effect on odds. Things just never quite seemed random around Fraser. Still, it seemed weird that this chick would show up at the same place he was.
Of course, it was a popular salon and he did go there pretty regularly. Once a month, like clockwork, ever since the time Stella had convinced him to lighten his hair. They'd gone to her stylist, Debbie, since his then-barber probably didn't know a bottle of bleach from a bottle of catsup. Stella had loved the results, so he'd kept on doing it. Well, to be honest, he probably would have anyway. He liked it too. He might not be the vainest guy on the planet but he knew what looked good on him.
As Stella had moved up through the ranks at work, she'd also moved on to a more expensive salon, but Ray liked Debbie, who was thin, blonde, wore her own hair experimentally, and appreciated his willingness to do the same. Not to mention they had the same taste in women and could talk about that if the conversation lagged. So he'd kept going there. The only part he hated was sitting around doing nothing while the bleach and color worked. He got bored out of his skull, and Debbie was usually busy doing another cut at the same time. So he'd kind of gotten in the habit of eavesdropping as a means of entertainment.
"So, you still seeing that guy you told me about? The really good-looking one?" the other stylist, Marty, asked his client.
The chick sighed. "You mean Ben?"
Ray probably would have ignored the conversation, but the name had caught his attention. He kept listening as he flipped through the magazine looking at old pictures of Madonna and Tom Cruise.
"I don't remember the name, but you told me about him last time you were here. He's Canadian, right? Some kind of military? I just remember you talked about how hot he looked in his uniform."
Ben. Canadian. Uniform. He was hooked. It was a little bit weird to be sitting in a hair salon eavesdropping, but hell, being nosey was sort of his job. And could he help it if Marty and his customer were right next to him, and not whispering or anything? And could he help it if the People Magazine he had in his lap while he was waiting for his hair to process was nearly a year old?
The chick sighed again. "Yeah. That's him. Ben. He's a Mountie. He works at the Consulate."
They had to be talking about Fraser. Turnbull's first name wasn't Ben, and neither was Thatcher's. He caught himself leaning forward, trying to hear better. Okay, so it was none of his business, but they were talking about his partner, for God's sake! And, yeah, he was curious. Fraser hardly ever talked about anything personal. He didn't even know Fraser was seeing anyone. When the hell did Fraser have time to see anyone? He basically worked two jobs, and hung out with Ray most of the rest of the time.
"That's right, I remember now," Marty said.
Ray looked into Marty's mirror, trying to see the chick's face. All he could tell was that she was a blonde, but Marty had most of her hair in her face at the moment so Ray couldn't get a good look.
"So why the big sighs?" Marty asked, snipping away.
"Oh, it's nothing," she said. Marty snipped some more, and she sighed again, then almost immediately she continued. "He's just so frustrating!"
Ray almost nodded in agreement. Yeah, that sounded like Fraser.
"In what way? Tell me?" Marty prompted. "Maybe I can help. After all, I'm a guy too."
Ray shot a look at the electric-blue snakeskin-print leather pants Marty was wearing and kept his mouth firmly shut. If he let on he was listening they'd shut up.
"Well, he's just. . . so wonderful. He's so handsome, and kind, and considerate."
"And that's frustrating?" Marty asked, sounding surprised. "Isn't that every woman's dream come true?"
Ray decided yeah, he was a guy after all.
The client sighed. She did that a lot. "I know. Sometimes I think I'm crazy. We go out, have tea, and wonderful talks, and go to interesting events, and we have so much in common, but . . . well, maybe he's too polite. There's more to a relationship than holding doors open and saying 'thank you kindly.'"
Too polite? Ray wondered if that meant what he thought it meant.
"Too polite?" Marty asked, obviously on the same wavelength.
"I'm not even sure he knows what a kiss is," she said morosely.
Ah-ha. Okay, Ray was starting to get it. She wasn't scoring. That explained the frustration.
"Oh, honey," Marty said sympathetically. "How old is this guy?"
"A little older than I am," the chick said. "Thirty-five, thirty-six, somewhere in there."
"Hmmm," the stylist muttered thoughtfully.
"Hmm, what?" Blondie prompted.
"Is he married?"
"Of course not!" she said indignantly. "I would never date a married man!"
"Sweetie, believe me, you might not know."
"Ben wouldn't lie. He's not married."
"Hmmm, divorced, then?"
"No. He's never been married."
"Not that I know of."
"Uh-hunh," Marty said, as if that explained something. "Well, I think I know what the problem is, but I don't think you're going to like it."
The girl let out a nervous, high-pitched giggle that instantly triggered recognition. He knew who it was now: the property-inventory chick. The one who liked bark tea and Inuit throat-singing. And who provoked that same nervous laughter in Fraser.
"No way!" she exclaimed.
Ray wanted to echo that. Fraser, gay? On what planet? He was just Canadian. Just because he wasn't the kind of guy who kissed on the first date didn't mean he was gay.
"Trust me, hon, I know the signs," Marty said drily. "They're all there." He held up a hand and started ticking off points. "Thirty-something guy who's never had a long-term relationship with a woman. Incredibly good-looking. Takes care of himself. Smart. Good conversationalist." He ran out of fingers and had to start on the other hand. "Polite. Works in a field that requires the wearing of a uniform. Never kisses or gets out of line. Oh yeah. He's gay all right."
"But. . ." The chick sounded bewildered. "If he's gay, why would he go out with me? Why wouldn't he tell me?"
"He's probably in the closet. Most military gays are. They have to be. He goes out with you for camouflage."
"Camouflage?" Now she sounded pissed. "You mean he's only seeing me so people will think he's straight?"
"Well, maybe, maybe not," Marty said, backpedaling, probably realizing that pissing off his clients was a bad idea. "Maybe he doesn't know it himself, or doesn't admit it to himself. Lots of guys do that."
"Let's check your color, Ray," Debbie said, startling him as she took the shower-cap off his head. He hadn't even noticed she'd returned from whatever she'd been doing in the back. "Looks good. I think it's time to rinse. Come on back to the sinks."
He wanted to stay and listen, but he didn't want to end up looking like Billy Idol like he had that one time she'd forgotten about him. He nodded and got up, following her to the back where she rinsed, and shampooed, and conditioned, then she took him back to her station and hit him with the gel and the blow-dryer. By that time, Marty's client had gone and he was standing watching Debbie finish up with Ray. As he usually did, he gave Ray an admiring look when she finally took off the bib-thingy and let him stand up.
"Looking good there, Detective Ray," Marty said. "As usual. I'd be proud to have you as my date to the Policeman's Ball."
Usually Ray didn't mind Marty teasing him, but this time it bugged him. He glared. "Look, just because somebody does or doesn't do stuff, that doesn't make him gay."
Marty blinked, taken aback by Ray's abrupt change from their usual routine. "What?"
Oops. Ray shook his head. "Sorry. Um. Nothing." He turned to Debbie, digging out his wallet, pulling out enough cash to cover his bill, and leave a hefty tip. "Thanks. Gotta run."
* * *
"So, Fraser, you seeing anybody?"
Fraser looked up from his soup, startled. "Excuse me?"
Ray wished he could take back his question. It was none of his business. He'd been telling himself that for nearly a month now. None of his business whether Fraser was or wasn't seeing a chick. Or a guy. Or anybody at all.
But that damned conversation in the salon had been niggling at him for weeks. And he'd found himself watching Fraser, watching the way he acted with women. And the way he acted with men. And. . . well. . . he was starting to think maybe Marty was onto something. Not that there was anything wrong with that. It's just that it made him think about things. Things he didn't usually think about. Things he'd forgotten about. Things he couldn't stop remembering.
"Do you mean . . . like a psychiatrist?" Fraser asked cautiously.
Great. He'd made Fraser think he thought he was a nutjob. Well okay, he did, but that was beside the point. "No, no, not that kind of seeing someone. I mean, like dating."
Fraser didn't look comforted by the clarification. "Ah. Why do you ask, Ray?"
Ray waved a hand dismissively in the air. "Just. . . you know. Guess I was hoping somebody was getting some action, since I'm not. Sort of, what do you call it, victorious pleasure."
One side of Fraser's mouth lifted infinitesimally. "Vicarious pleasure?"
"Ah. Well, I hate to disappoint, but no, I'm not seeing anyone."
"Oh." Once again, his mouth went on without him, sort of on autopilot or something. "What about that chick from the property office?"
"Chick from the. . . you mean Ms. Cosgrove?"
"Dunno her name. Blonde. Giggles a lot."
Fraser nodded. "Mary Cosgrove. We occasionally meet for tea, conversation, and the odd cultural event, but I'm not seeing her romantically."
"No?" Ray asked, resisting the urge to ask just how odd the cultural events were.
He shook his head. "No."
"How come? She's cute. She's got the hots for you."
"I'm just saying."
"Well, you can just stop saying. It's inappropriate. Ms. Cosgrove is a very nice young lady."
"Fraser, she's what, two, maybe three years younger than we are? We're not in wheelchairs yet. Give the young-lady thing a rest."
"Yes, well, be that as it may, it's still inappropriate. In any case I'm sure you're wrong. Ours is a purely intellectual relationship."
Ray snorted. "Oh yeah. She just wants to think about getting into your pants."
"All right, all right. But it's the truth."
Fraser cocked his head and regarded Ray quizzically. "You really think she's interested in me romantically? I hadn't gotten that impression."
"Is the moon a big, dusty ball of rock?" Ray asked, deadpan.
Fraser looked disturbed by that news. "Oh dear."
"Oh dear? Why 'oh dear'? She's not bad looking. Seems nice enough."
Fraser sighed. "Well, to be honest, she reminds me of the younger sister of an old friend. It's difficult to feel romantically inclined about someone who resembles someone you used to babysit."
Ray nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah. I could see that. Plus that giggle. . . no offense, but doesn't it get wearing?"
Fraser looked at him ruefully. "Yes, actually, it does. Worse, it seems to provoke a similar response in me."
"It's nerves. She makes you nervous."
Fraser frowned a little. "I hadn't thought about it, but perhaps she does."
"Most women make you nervous," Ray said, thoughtlessly.
Fraser looked away. "Yes, well, I don't have your facility with the opposite sex."
"Facility? You make me sound like a parking garage or a public john. I got no facility, Fraser. I've had one relationship in my life. Nobody else gives me the time of day."
Fraser glanced at him, then away again. "What about Luanne Russell? And the lady with whom you went to Acapulco."
Ray snorted. "Let me tell you, Fraser, she wasn't a lady. And as you know, those worked out real well. Thing is though, I'm used to that. Once a geek always a geek, you know, and women don't dig geeks unless they have as much money as Bill Gates. But pretty much every woman we meet wants to go out with you, so I don't get what the problem is."
"There is no problem, Ray. I'm simply not interested in being a 'trophy boyfriend.'"
Ray sat back, startled by the cynical tone in Fraser's voice. "That was kind of un-Mountie-like there."
"Forgive me, I didn't realize I was required to be 'Mountie-like' during my off hours," Fraser snapped.
Wow. That'd been downright snarky. He was hitting some nerves and he wasnt sure why or what to do about it. "Well, you don't have to be Mountie-like. But you usually are anyway."
Fraser sighed. "Is there some reason why we're continuing this conversation?"
"I. . . " Ray said, and then stopped. No need to dig the hole any deeper. "Nope. No reason at all. Forget I said anything."
"An excellent suggestion." Fraser said shortly.
Ray went back to practicing his observational skills. Two weeks later, after spending four hours in the car with Fraser on stake-out, with another four to go, his mouth got him in trouble again. He was bored. He was thinking. A dangerous combination. He poured a cup of lukewarm coffee from his thermos, sipped it, looked at Fraser, and opened his mouth.
Fraser didn't take his eyes off the building they were observing. "Yeah?"
"You ever have a steady girlfriend?"
Fraser turned and looked at him, frowning. "What?"
"A steady girlfriend. You ever have one?"
"What kind of a question is that?"
"It's an 'I'm curious about my partner' question. Anything wrong with that? I mean, jeez, Fraser, for a guy who talks all the time, you never say anything about you. It's all about solving crimes, and philosophical stuff. I just wanted to know, okay? Look, you know everything about me. You know about my folks. You know about Stella. You know about my crappy school record. You know about my commendations. You know how I like my coffee and probably what color underwear I have on. Hell, you know I pissed myself in front of a bank robber when I was thirteen. But me? I know bupkus about you."
"Bupkus?" Fraser echoed, bemused.
"Do not start with me," Ray said threateningly. "You can figure it out from context."
Fraser didn't argue the point. For once. He just changed tactics. "You want to know whether or not I urinated in my clothing when I was a teen?" he asked.
Ray sighed and put his head back against the head-rest, eyes closed. "Never mind."
The silence lasted about ten minutes. Fraser buckled first.
"No," Fraser said into the stillness.
"No? No what? I'm not even doing anything," Ray protested, a little confused.
"No, I've never had a steady girlfriend," Fraser said after a moment.
"Oh. Hunh," Ray said, thoughtfully. "How about an unsteady one?" he joked.
Fraser went very still, and something like a shadow passed across his face. He swallowed and looked out the window again, a muscle flexing in his jaw. "Yes. But you knew that."
Ray's first reaction was relief. Okay, so Fraser wasn't gay. Good. That settled that. But then he realized there was something odd about the way Fraser had answered him. He narrowed his eyes, and wished Fraser was looking at him. But he wasn't. So who was he talking about? Lady Shoes? Janet? Neither of them really counted, did they? "I do?" he asked, finally, hoping for elaboration.
Fraser's back got stiffer, if that was possible. "I'm sure you've read the file, Ray. Isn't that why you asked?"
File. Read the file. What file? He had to mean case files. Fraser? Case file? Girlfriend? He ran his brain frantically back through all the case files he could remember, especially those involving Fraser and someone female. Mackenzie King? No. Katherine Burns? No. Maybe? Wait . . . suddenly it hit him. He knew. Oh fuck. They'd been really careful in that file, to word it in such a way that it didn't leap out. But it was there. 'Although he asserted that she had spent considerable time there, no trace evidence from the suspect was found in Constable Fraser's apartment.' It was so obvious, how the hell had he missed it? God.
"I . . . sorry, Fraser. It was a joke. A stupid joke. I. . . I forgot. I'm really sorry."
Fraser nodded once, but didn't look at him. It was very quiet in the car for the rest of their shift. Ray had often wished Fraser was less talkative, but he hadn't meant like this. It sucked. And it lasted. And it got worse. The next day, Fraser was completely missing. He called, apologetic, to say he had to attend to some consulate business. The day after that, Turnbull called to tell him Fraser was too busy to call. Ditto the third day.
Ray wasn't stupid. After the third day, the message was pretty damned clear. He'd fucked up, bigtime. And he had to put it right. Had to make things right with Fraser. He . . . missed him. In fact, it was kind of weird how much he missed him. The only thing he could compare it to was that it felt a lot like the way he used to miss Stella when they had a fight and she'd storm off to her parent's house for a few days.
That realization kind of freaked him out a little so he stopped thinking about it and tried to figure how you apologized to another guy. He knew how to apologize to women. His mom liked roses-- that lavender kind that matched Elizabeth Taylor's eyes. With Stella it had been a bottle of wine and a box of expensive chocolate. But he couldn't exactly take Fraser flowers. That would be weird. Plus Fraser didn't drink, and taking him chocolate would be as weird as flowers.
"Hey, Ray!" Frannie's voice was as grating as always, but when he looked up he saw she looked a little mopey. Her big, sad brown eyes made him think of a Basset hound without the bags. Even her dark-brown hair seemed limp and listless.
"What's up, sis?"
She rolled her eyes. "Hardy ha-ha, bro. Where's Fraser?"
"Busy," Ray said. He should have figured that was what was bugging her. "Turnbull said they're busy."
"Oh," She sighed and turned around, then stopped. "Hey, I almost forgot. You have a message from somebody named Debbie. . . ." She lifted her eyebrows at him. "Reminding you about your date tonight." She waved a 'While You Were Out' memo at him. "Are you nuts, taking a woman out to a boxing match?"
Ray stared at her. Date? Debbie? Boxing match? Was he sleep-dating? He pulled the note out of her fingers and figured it out. The Mane Event. Except Frannie had spelled it 'main event.' That explained it. "Maybe my date likes boxing," he teased. He wasn't going to tell her it was a reminder about the trim and root-job he had scheduled after work. That was the only bad thing about his hair. Maintenance. He'd let Frannie think it was a date. No harm in that.
"Ray, no woman likes boxing. If they say they do they're lying to impress you. See, this is why you don't have a girlfriend. You just want to do all the guy stuff."
He wanted to protest that he liked to dance, liked to do dinner, he was a romantic, really. But what was the point? He did like to do that, but he liked the other stuff. . . better. And to be honest, he hadn't much missed the romance all that much. Well, aside from dinners out. But he went out to dinner with Fraser all the time. At least he had, before he'd fucked up. And, okay, so there was one other kind of romance he missed. Long, slow, sweaty love-making. By candlelight-- that was the romantic part. He wondered idly what Fraser looked like by candlelight.
Whoa. Where the fuck had that thought come from? He shook his head to clear it. "Thanks for the message, Frannie. Guess I better head out, don't want to be late."
She nodded. "Have a nice time. Don't do anything I wouldn't do." She winked broadly. He winked back.
"You got it."
He was still trying to think of how to apologize to Fraser when he got to the salon. He was surprised to find Debbie there alone. She didn't like to be there late by herself.
"Where's Marty?" he asked, looking around.
"In the back. He thought maybe he ought to stay there until you left," she said pointedly.
Ray sighed. Great. Another guy he had to apologize to. "Hey, Marty!" he called out.
The curtain across the entry to the back room twitched a little and Marty looked out.
"Hey,"he said, a little tentatively.
"You don't have to hide, you know."
"I thought maybe you had a problem with me," Marty said, stepping fully into the room.
"Nah. Just. . . overreacted. Sorry."
"Thanks, glad to hear it."
Ray nodded, and Marty went over and started messing with stuff at his station, rearranging the supplies on the rolling cart. Looked like he was getting ready to do a perm. Debbie trimmed Ray up, dabbed the bleach onto his roots and then went in back to make a phone call. Once she'd gone, Marty turned to look at Ray.
"Did I say something that pissed you off, last time?"
Ray shook his head. "Not really. It's just, you were talking about how some guy was probably gay. And I was kind of listening. Shouldn't have been, I know, sorry. But the guy you were talking about is my. . ." Ray suddenly decided that discretion might be called for, since Mary was still Marty's client. "I mean the guy you were talking about sounded a lot like my partner. And it got me wondering about him, which was kind of unsettling."
"Why would it be unsettling?" Marty asked, frowning.
"Just because I never thought about it. Never thought he might be. And he's my partner, so I figure if he is, I ought to know it, right? I mean, that's a big thing. So I was kind of feeling pissed that he might be and I didn't know it."
Marty nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, okay. I think I get that. So, did you ask him?"
"Did I . . . hell no! He's. . . not the kind of person you can ask that kind of thing. But I figured it out anyway. He's not."
"How did you figure it out?"
"He had a girlfriend once. Bad news type, but he had one. So he can't be."
Marty looked at him pityingly. "One? Ray, I've had about a dozen girlfriends."
For a second Ray just stared at him. Finally he got his mouth working. "Oh."
Marty nodded. "Yeah."
Ray scowled. "I did not need to know that."
"Sorry," Marty said, but he didn't look sorry. He dinked around with the perm stuff some more, then looked at Ray again with a mischievous expression. "You know, if your partner really is gay, I feel sorry for him."
Ray sat up, indignant. "Hey! I wouldn't hold it against him! I'm cool with that! I may be a cop but I'm open-minded."
Marty chuckled. "Settle down, cowboy. I just meant that it would be hell being gay and working with you, because you're sort of Gay Fantasy Number Twenty-two, but it would be all 'look-but-don't-touch.'"
Ray wasn't sure his eyes could get any wider. "Me?" he asked, his voice coming out with a squeak he hadn't heard since seventh grade.
Marty nodded, grinning "What, you think I've been joking about that Policeman's Ball thing all these years?"
"I . . . uh. . . guess I never thought about it at all." He looked at Marty again, frowning. "Hey, how come I'm all the way down at twenty-two?"
Marty burst out laughing. "Because you're not wearing leather, and a wife-beater, and you don't smoke."
"Oh," Ray said again, slightly mollified. Just then the timer went off.
"Marty, I'm stuck on the phone, would you check Ray out?" Debbie yelled from the back room.
Marty snickered, and Ray grinned.
"Sure thing," Marty called back, and came over to stand behind Ray, lifting the plastic and inspecting a couple of strands. "He's done, should I take him out of the oven?"
"Please," Debbie said.
"Okay, up, let's go rinse," Marty said, nodding at the sinks.
Ray got up and followed him, leaning back in the chair, closing his eyes, feeling the warm water like fingers on his scalp, washing away the itchy solution. It was kind of strange to have Marty working on him after he'd just confessed to finding him attractive. He remembered that Fraser had said he was attractive, too. Of course, he'd asked first. What the heck kind of question was that to ask your partner, he wondered. And what kind of partner answered it, flat out? Well, the answer to that was clear enough. A Fraser kind of partner.
And now he was back to square one on that, too. Wondering. Not knowing. And worse, realizing that while he'd confided all kinds of stuff to Fraser, apparently Fraser didn't feel free to do the same in return. It bothered Ray, bothered him a lot that Fraser couldn't talk to him about his problems. Or his past. Judging by his reaction, he needed to talk to somebody about the psychokitty he'd apparently done the nasty with. God, he still could not believe he'd read that file and not realized what was up. He had to hand it to Vecchio. That had been one slick whitewash.
The water shut off and Ray opened his eyes to find Debbie standing over him. Kind of a shock. He had been so deep in thought he hadn't even noticed the handoff. Weird. He sat up, taking over towel duty and scrubbing at his hair. She surveyed him critically, and nodded. "Looks good. Sorry about abandoning you there, my sister's having a crisis."
"That's okay, family comes first."
"You want the usual?" she asked as he stood up.
He shook his head, declining the gel and blow-dry. "Nah, actually, I think I'm just going to head out. I need to try to catch someone and grill him."
"No, my partner," Ray said with a grin, raking his hands through his hair and studying the result in the mirror. It would do. He got out his wallet and took out double the usual amount and handed it to her. "Half's for Marty," he said, and looked over at Marty. "Thanks guys."
He headed for the Consulate, hoping to catch Fraser alone, but to his surprise Fraser, Turnbull, and Thatcher, were all on hand, along with a half-dozen guys in suits, cowboy boots, and cowboy hats, who were milling around in the foyer. He managed to sidle over to Turnbull, since he couldn't catch Fraser's attention, carefully avoiding the piles of luggage.
"Who're all the good ol' boys?" he asked, nodding at the group.
"Members of a cattleman's association, here for a trade convention sponsored by Ottawa. There was a mix-up with their hotel reservation and they've been staying here for the past three days. Fortunately, they're leaving later this evening. Unfortunately, not until after dinner, so I must get back to the kitchen."
Ray frowned. "So you're sort of running the Canadian Consulate n' Guesthouse here?"
"Essentially, yes, Detective."
Okay, so maybe Fraser hadn't just been avoiding him. That made him feel better. He watched Fraser deep in conversation with a beefy guy with a string tie, and sighed. He could tell he wasn't going to get any quality time with his partner tonight. "Okay, thanks. Look tell Fraser to call me when he gets time, okay?"
"I certainly shall."
He went home and fixed tuna sandwiches for dinner, which he ate in front of the TV watching ESPN. He felt antsy and the game didn't hold his interest. He found himself cleaning up the house because he needed to be doing something. He loaded and ran the dishwasher. He put clean sheets on the bed and started a load of laundry. He even cleaned the bathroom. His mom would probably take his temperature if she saw what he was doing.
He was on his way down to the laundry room to retrieve his stuff from the dryer when he rounded a corner and ran smack into Fraser, who was on his way up the stairs. They nearly went down, which could have been bad, but Fraser somehow got an arm around Ray's waist while the other one clutched at the railing and he managed to keep them upright. They ended up close. Front-to-front close. Really close. Like closer than Ray could ever remember being with another guy who wasn't his dad.
Funny thing was, Fraser didn't let him go right away, which made Ray remember a lot of other times when they hadn't let go right away. It hadn't always been Fraser not letting go, either. Oddly, he realized that he couldn't ever remember seeing Fraser touch anybody else as much as he touched him. That was. . . interesting. It was also interesting that he didn't mind, at least until Fraser suddenly leaned forward and. . . sniffed.
Ray craned back and stared at him. "What?" he snapped, weirded out.
Fraser shook his head, let go, and stepped sideways on the stair, separating them by several inches. "I thought I detected. . . ah, nothing, never mind. Turnbull said you wanted to see me?"
Ray shook his head, sighing. "I told him to have you give me a call when you got time. I didn't mean you had to run over here as soon as the Cartwrights left."
Fraser looked puzzled. "Who?"
"The cattlemen's association guys."
"I don't believe any of them were named Cartwright."
"Fraser. . . the Ponderosa, Little Joe, Hoss. . . . ah, never mind." He dug in his pocket and got out his keys and handed them to Fraser. "Here. Let yourself in. I have to go get my laundry."
Fraser nodded and headed up. Ray dashed down to the basement, pulled his stuff out and piled it in the basket, then dashed back up. Fraser was sitting on the couch, elbows on his knees, staring blankly at the TV. Ray put his laundry-basket down next to the couch and waved a hand in front of Fraser's eyes.
"Earth to Fraser. . . you forget you don't like TV?"
Fraser looked up. "Sorry. I'm just very tired."
Ray nodded. "Yeah. Guess it could've been worse. Could've been Shriners. Then you'd be cleaning up all those little stick-on jewels and stray fringe."
Fraser smiled a little at that, and stifled a yawn. Then his nostrils flared a little as he inhaled deeply, and cocked his head to look at Ray with a slightly puzzled expression. But he didn't say anything, so Ray groped around for something to break the silence.
"You want some tea?" he asked finally.
Fraser nodded. "Please. Something caffeinated."
Ray fired a finger at him. "You got it. Caffeine coming up."
He went into the kitchen and nuked a cup of water, then dunked a tea-bag in it until the water turned the color of coffee. He figured that was probably strong enough, and took it out, only to find Fraser folding his laundry.
"Hey, you stop that! Jeez!" He snatched a pair of briefs out of Fraser's hand. "You're not my maid, Fraser!"
Fraser looked embarrassed. "Sorry. I've done so much laundry the past few days it was just force of habit."
"Thatcher had you doing their laundry?" Ray asked, appalled. "For God's sake, Fraser! You're a cop! A great cop! What the hell is wrong with that woman?"
Fraser beamed at him. "Thank you, Ray. That's very kind."
"It's not kind. It's the truth. Look, you drink your tea, I'm going to get my laundry out of folding range."
He leaned over to pick up the basket, and Fraser sniffed. Again. Real subtly, but noticeably. It was making Ray a little paranoid. Unless he had completely lost his sense of smell, he was fine, but he had to know.
"Fraser, what is with you? I showered today."
Fraser looked embarrassed. "Oh dear. No, it's not that. It's just, well, something smells like peroxide."
Ray felt relieved. "Oh, that. Yeah. Just got my roots done."
He'd never seen Fraser with his jaw dropped. It wasn't a really good look on him, but it was kind of fun. Fraser finally shut his mouth, only to open it again.
"Your. . . roots?"
"I, ah, didn't realize you . . . ." he stopped, clearly at a loss.
"Colored it?" Ray asked. "Yeah. Have for years." He sighed dramatically. "You've lost all respect for me now, haven't you?"
Fraser looked distressed. "Of course not! Why would I . . . "
"Joke, Fraser. Joke." Ray said hastily. "Okay?"
Fraser settled, looking relieved. "Ah. Yes. Well. I do, though. Respect you."
"Glad to hear it, buddy. Be right back. Drink up." Ray took his laundry into his room and set it down, and took a step toward the living room just as the phone rang. He was closest to the bedroom extension so he picked it up there.
He sighed. She was never, ever, going to call him Ray. "Hi, Mom. What's up?"
"Well, I was shopping today, and there was a wonderful sale on dress shirts at the men's store. I thought I might go back tomorrow and pick some up for you."
"I don't need any shirts."
"A man always needs more shirts. Especially a man who does laundry once a month," she said pointedly.
"I did laundry just today!" he protested.
"That's lovely dear, I'll come by on Monday to iron for you."
"Mom, you don't need to do that."
"I just like to be useful, you know."
Ouch. Okay. Round one to Mom. "Okay, yeah. You can iron. But I don't need any new shirts."
She hesitated. He could visualize the disappointed expression on her face and he felt guilty.
"It's such a good sale. . . ."
He sighed. Round two to Mom. "Okay, mom. One shirt. One."
"What color?" she asked brightly.
He went to his closet, looked at what he had. "Grey? Or maybe olive. Something neutral. No primary colors. They don't go with anything I own."
"Wonderful. I'll see what I can find."
"Thanks, Mom. Talk to you soon."
"Bye Stanley, love you."
"Love you too, Mom."
He thumbed off the phone, hoping no one was tapping it, because conversations like that would probably blow his cover. Shaking his head, smiling a little, he walked into the living room.
"So, where's Dief. . . ." His voice trailed off as he looked at Fraser, who was still sitting bolt upright on his couch, apparently sound asleep. At any rate, his eyes were closed, his lips slightly parted, and his breathing slow and regular. Ray supposed he might be meditating, but he kind of didn't think so. Fraser still held his mug between his hands, propped on his knees, apparently untouched. That was dangerous. If he relaxed too much, he'd end up with a lapful of hot tea. Just thinking about it made Ray cringe.
He went over and knelt beside the couch, checking up close to see what sort of grip Fraser had on the mug. It looked pretty loose, so he very carefully reached over and eased the mug out from between his hands. Fraser barely stirred. In fact, he was so out that Ray wasn't sure a bomb going off in the next room would wake him up. Grinning, he shook his head and put the mug down on the coffee table.
It was strange to be this close, to be able to look at Fraser, really look, and not have to worry about getting caught doing it and having to try to explain. Something-- something he'd been guilty of on more than one occasion. Everybody did it, so he didn't feel too badly. He couldn't really help it though. Ever since that first moment in the bullpen when he'd heard someone call his name, and turned around to register. . . well, okay RED was the first thing he registered, which tipped him off to the identity of the person calling his name. But the next thing had been: "Jesus God, that's the most beautiful man I've ever seen." Followed swiftly by "I will never ever get another date if I hang around with this guy."
Which, oddly enough, had not turned out to be true. In fact, he'd had more success in the dating department than Fraser had. Though that wasn't saying much. And now he was back to that again. Could you tell if someone was gay by how they looked? By how they acted? No, not really. Not unless they were into the whole stereotype thing. No. Fraser was just Fraser. Weird. Wacky. Wonderful. WWW. His brain tried to take a detour to www.Fraser.com but he stopped that before it got out of hand and went back to using this rare occasion to study Fraser closely.
He was still the most beautiful man Ray had ever seen. Handsome just didn't cut it. Handsome was more rugged than Fraser was. Fraser was beautiful. Up this close Ray could see crows-feet developing at the corners of his eyes, a scar on his chin, and one that ran along the bridge of his nose. None of that detracted from his extraordinary good-looks. A peppering of beard-shadow darkened his jaw. Ray wondered what he would look like with a beard. He couldn't quite get his imagination to go there, though. His dark hair was a very fine, a little wavy, and shot through with random threads of bright silver.
Whoa. Fraser was going gray. Ray found himself fingering his own hair. If he stopped getting it colored, would it have gray in it too? They were nearly the same age. It probably would. That was strange to think about. Not so much for him, as for Fraser. That made him seem more human, somehow.
So did the crows-feet, and the scars. Just like his lopsided smile, and that crooked eye-tooth. Ray knew if he ever kissed Fraser, his tongue would want to find that tooth, see if he could feel that twist. . . and. . . what the hell was he thinking? Kissing Fraser? He stood up so fast he bumped the coffee table and knocked over the mug. He swore under his breath and started mopping with the newspaper he'd left there.
"Ray?" Fraser sounded confused.
Ray jerked around. "Fraser! Hey. Sorry. I was just, um, trying to move the cup. I didn't mean to wake you up."
Fraser opened his mouth soundlessly, closed it, and his face turned pink. "I'm terribly sorry, Ray. You must think I'm inexcusably rude."
Ray shook his head, folding up the wet newsprint in some dry pages. "Nah, I think you're tired. What, they have you running out for booze and hookers at three a.m.?"
Fraser turned even pinker. "Ah. . . well . . . ."
Ray stared at him. "You didn't!"
"Of course not, Ray! I did make a liquor run for them, as they had threatened to do it themselves in their rental car and I could hardly allow them to drive in their condition. I do, however, draw the line at trafficking in human beings."
Ray put a hand on his chest and breathed a sigh. "Thank God. For a second there I was worried."
Fraser quirked an eyebrow at him. Ray grinned back, and they both laughed.
"So, what did you want to see me about?" Fraser asked.
Ray stood there for a moment trying to remember. Then he did, and sobered instantly. Oh yeah. "I, um. Jeez. I don't know how to do this with a guy. Sorry, Fraser."
Fraser got a very strange expression on his face. Sort of watchful, and oddly . . . hopeful? "You don't know how to do what with a guy, Ray?"
Ray looked down. "If you were Stella I'd have wine, and maybe chocolate."
"If I was Stella?" Fraser asked, starting to frown a bit.
"Yeah. And my mom's big on flowers."
Fraser now looked thoroughly confused. "Your. . . mother?"
"Yeah. That was her on the phone," Ray said, unnecessarily. "Okay, the thing of it is, I wanted to apologize," he said, wishing he wasn't standing there like an idiot with his hands full of wet newspaper.
Fraser still looked confused. And a little disappointed. "Apologize?"
"The other day. I was out of line. But I wanted you to know it wasn't on purpose. I mean, yeah, I wanted to know about you, but I never twigged about the Metcalf chick until after you said that. I wasn't pulling your chain."
Now it was Ray's turn to be confused, because there was no doubt about it. Fraser definitely looked disappointed. His relaxed posture tightened into its usual ramrod straightness.
"Ah. I see. Well, thank you. In retrospect, I should have known that. You've never been deliberately hurtful. I do appreciate the apology, though. And you mustn't feel that anything more is needed." Abruptly he stood up and reached for his leather jacket, which lay across the back of a chair. "Well, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll head on back to the consulate."
Ray started to put out a hand and grab him, but couldn't, since his hands were full. "Hey, what's your hurry? You just got here."
"I am rather tired," Fraser said a little stiffly, their earlier rapport gone.
"Oh. Yeah. Sorry. Look, let me drive you home. It's my fault you came all the way over here. I owe you."
"Nonsense, Ray. A good walk will help me sleep more soundly. Good night."
Ray dashed to shove the newspapers into the trash, and met Fraser at the door. "You sure I can't give you a lift?"
"Quite sure," Fraser said crisply. "Good night, Ray."
"'Night, Fraser," Ray said, watching him stride down the hallway toward the stairs, wishing he knew what the hell had just happened. He closed the door slowly, locked all the locks, then went and washed newsprint off his hands. As he washed, he reviewed the last few minutes, and something Fraser had said hit him like a ton of bricks. 'You've never been deliberately hurtful.' Did that mean he'd accidentally been hurtful to Fraser?
That thought kept running through his mind as he got ready for bed, and then as he lay there, trying to go to sleep. He made himself stop thinking about it. Then other things started up. Things like how slow Fraser was to let go of him on the stairs. Things like how often Fraser touched him. Things like how often he touched Fraser. Things like the fact that thinking about those things was beginning to have a certain surprising physical effect on him. He sat up, snapped on the light, and went into the living room where he turned on the TV and watched Godzilla Versus Rodan until he fell asleep.
* * *
Fraser had good lips. Not thick, not thin, though the upper lip was thinner than the lower. But then so was Ray's. They looked soft. They were never chapped. Just pink enough to catch attention, without being too pink. And he had that maddening habit of letting his tongue just sort of slide out across them now and then, whenever he was thinking through a particularly difficult problem, or when he was amused. His mouth often carried a subtle curve, as though Fraser found something very amusing, but was sure no one else would so he was keeping it to himself. That smile was the worst, for Ray. It made him. . . it made him want. . . things he shouldn't want.
Ever since that first time Ray's brain had jumped the track, the thought of kissing Fraser had kept coming back. No matter how much he tried not to think about it. It was like that old joke about not thinking about an elephant. And sometimes it happened at the weirdest times. Like yesterday when they were questioning a suspect and he started wondering what Fraser might taste like. He was somehow sure it wouldn't be anything normal, like old coffee, or the onions from the salad at lunch. And none of that was anything he ought to have been thinking about while working a case.
". . . Ray!"
Fraser's exasperated tone made Ray realize he'd already said his name at least four times already. He snapped his attention up to Fraser's eyes. "Yeah?"
"Do I have something in my teeth?"
Ray blinked. "What?"
"You were staring at my mouth."
"I was?" Smooth move, Kowalski. "Didn't know I was. I was just kind of. . . spacing out," he lied.
"Ah. I see." Fraser said, in that voice that said he didn't see at all. He looked at Ray with a worried expression. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Me? Yeah. Fine. Why?"
"Well, over the past few days, weeks actually, you've seemed a bit. . . distracted. Is anything bothering you?"
Yeah, like he was going to tell Fraser what his problem was. Uh-hunh. He still wasn't sure one way or the other which team Fraser played for, but he wasn't about to trot out the fact that he was starting to think of Fraser the way he used to think about Nastassja Kinski. Hell he wasn't sure what team he was playing on any more, as far as that went.
"Ray?" Fraser prompted.
Shit. Did it again. "Nothing's bothering me, Fraser."
Fraser's eyes narrowed. Ray could almost feel the x-rays scanning his brain. He kept his mouth closed. Finally Fraser sighed.
"I'm sorry you don't feel you can confide in me," he said, with that sort of pompous tone he got when he was upset and trying not to show it.
Ray felt guilty. "Look, Fraser, if I could confide in anybody it'd be you."
Fraser pounced. "So there is something wrong."
"Nothing is wrong," Ray said with deliberate emphasis.
Fraser studied him, then nodded. "But something is bothering you."
Ray sighed and put his head down on his desk, turned slightly to the side so he could still see Fraser's face a little. "If I admit that do I earn a 'get out of questioning free' card?"
"Ray, aren't we friends?" Fraser asked, his gaze soft and concerned.
"Of course we are!"
"Then why can't you confide in me? Unless . . ." a shadow darkened Fraser's gaze. "Unless I'm the problem," he finished, his voice way too quiet.
"Fraser, it's not you!" Ray yelled, frustrated.
Everyone in the bullpen turned and looked at them. Ray felt his face getting hot. Fraser got pink too, and cleared his throat.
"Yes, well, perhaps we ought to continue this conversation outside?"
"Perhaps we shouldn't continue this conversation at all," Ray muttered, then he sighed, knowing he had to clear things up or Fraser would just go on thinking he was Ray's problem. Actually, he was Ray's problem but that wasn't his fault. "Okay. Fine. Let's go for a drive."
"Excellent idea," Fraser said, pleased. "Diefenbaker?"
Dief stuck his head out from under Frannie's desk and whined. Fraser sighed. "Now, Dief."
Dief grumbled, but complied. Ray led the way out to his car, thinking it was a good thing he had a job where nobody thought it was weird if you just got up and left sometimes. He unlocked the driver's door, and then tossed the keys to Fraser, who caught them neatly. After Fraser unlocked his side, he got in and handed them back to Ray as he buckled up. Ray started the car, pulled out, and drove for a while. Fraser managed to not say anything until about six minutes had passed, then he cleared his throat.
"So. . . our conversation?"
"Yeah. Look. It's just me being weird, okay? I've just got a lot going on in my head, a lot of stuff to think about. You didn't do anything wrong."
"Is it anything I can help with?"
Oh, what an opening. Be strong. "Nah. Just. . . you know, sometimes life just kind of seems to take a little step to one side. You go along thinking you're one thing all your life, and then all the sudden you find out maybe you're something else entirely."
Fraser looked at him sharply, and then just as quickly looked away as he nodded. "Yes, yes, I know exactly what you mean." Without looking at Ray, he spoke again. "What aspect of your life is it that has. . . slipped sideways?" he asked gently.
"That's not important. I just wanted you to know it isn't you."
"It is important, Ray, if it's causing you distress. Is it work-related?"
"No," Ray said, before he remembered he wasn't going to say anything.
"Ah. Assistant State's Attorney Kowalski, then?"
"No. Look, it's okay. Everything's fine."
Fraser frowned. "Clearly everything isn't fine. If it's not me, and it's not work, and it's not Assistant State's Attorney Kowalski, then I confess I'm at a loss. Your parents, perhaps?"
Ray was starting to get annoyed. "Just let it go, Fraser. You don't want to know."
"But I do want to know. Whatever it is, you can tell me."
"No, I can't. Okay?"
"No, it's not okay. I don't understand why you won't talk to me about this. Don't you trust me?" Fraser asked, clearly hurt.
Shit. Ray knew from long experience there was no help for it now. Once that cannon went off, it was all over but the shouting.
"Goddamnit," he growled, and took a quick right turn into a parking lot where he stopped the car, and looked at Fraser. "You want to know? You really want to know? Fine. Okay. Don't say I didn't give you a chance to not know this. I do trust you. I trust you enough to tell you something even though I know it's going to really fuck things up. And when it screws things up, do not come whining to me, because you're the one who just had to know."
"Had to know what, Ray?"
"That I want to know what your mouth tastes like! Okay? You happy now?"
His outburst was followed by a good thirty seconds of total silence. Fraser's eyes got huge. His tongue stole out to moisten his lips nervously. "I. . . ah. . . you what?" Fraser finally asked, incredulously.
"You heard me, Mr. Bat-Ears. I want to kiss you."
Ray knew he was coming off with more attitude than he should, but he wasn't really sure how not to. He'd never been in this situation before. He didn't know the rules. Then Fraser surprised him. He'd been expecting blushing, stammering, and revulsion. What he got was a faint, puzzled frown.
"I see. And how long have you felt this way?"
"A little while."
"May I ask what precipitated it?"
Ray couldn't quite believe they were sitting there calmly discussing this as if they were talking about a case. "How the heck should I know?" he snapped. "I just sort of realized it one day."
"Ah. I take it this isn't. . . usual?"
"Hell no. I just. . . keep wondering, you know. I've never kissed a guy." It sounded stupid, so he shrugged, trying to make light of his own admission. "And if I was going to kiss one, I figure you'd be it."
Fraser looked at him steadily. "This is why you've been sounding me out as to my romantic relationships, isn't it?"
Caught. Ray felt himself blush. "I, um. . . yeah."
For a moment Fraser's gaze softened, and warmed, and a tiny smile started to curve his mouth, then in mid-smile everything changed. He tensed up and looked away, a muscle in his jaw tightening. His normally fair skin seemed to pale further. "I see. Perhaps you ought to take me home."
Ray stared at him, a little confused. "Home?"
"The Consulate," Fraser said clearly.
"You're freaked out," Ray said, morosely. "I knew it."
"I'm not 'freaked out,' as you so quaintly put it. I'm . . . ." Fraser stopped, and Ray saw him slowly clench a fist, and then unclench it, just as slowly. "I'm just disappointed in you. I would have thought that even if you had somehow determined that I've some experience in the field, as it were, that you would know better than to think I'm that sort of person."
Ray was even more confused now. "Wait. . . hang on. . . what? What experience? What sort of person?"
Fraser's gaze met his, full of bitter irony. "Surely you can say it, Ray. Experience with a male lover. And while I understand that my familiarity might make things easier for you if you're finding yourself questioning some aspects of your sexuality, I should also think that familiarity would also lead you to realize it's not in my nature to be casual about such a thing."
Ray was speechless. Had Fraser really just said what he thought he'd said? Had he just flat out admitted he was gay? He ran the words through his Fraser-to-English translator again just to be sure, and got the same result. "You're. . . gay?"
Fraser actually rolled his eyes. "Don't be disingenuous. You already knew that."
"I. . . no. I wondered, but . . . I mean I thought maybe, but then I thought not, but . . . ."
"Enough. Please," Fraser said wearily. He glanced out the window, and then opened the door and got out, putting the seat forward. "Dief, come on. We're walking home."
Wait. No. No, this wasn't right, Ray thought. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. He had no idea how it was supposed to go but he was pretty sure this wasn't it. He slammed the car-seat back into place with his arm, smacking Dief in the nose with it and getting an aggrieved whine as a result. He leaned across and craned his neck to see Fraser where he stood next to the car. "Fraser! Come on. I'll take you back."
"Thank you, I'd rather walk. I could use the exercise."
"You're not being fair!" Ray blurted. "I told you I didn't want to tell you. I wasn't going to tell you. I didn't think you would. . . do that. You made me tell you. I said you wouldn't like it!" And he'd been right, though for drastically different reasons than he'd been thinking.
Fraser frowned. "That's true," he said after a moment. "You're absolutely right. It was unfair of me."
"So get back in the car!"
"I. . . I'd really rather not, Ray. I need a little time to think. I'm sorry. May I let Dief out?"
Ray sighed, and nodded. "Yeah. Okay. I won't hold the wolf hostage." He leaned back and let Fraser put the seat forward again. Dief hesitated this time, with a glance at Ray that looked worried. Ray liked to think he was worried about him, not about getting smacked in the nose again. Finally he gave a soft whuff, and jumped out of the car. As Fraser returned the seat to its normal position, Ray leaned across again.
"See you tomorrow?" he asked, trying not to sound anxious.
Fraser hesitated a moment, then nodded. "Yes. Certainly."
"Great. That's greatness. Tomorrow."
Fraser nodded again, and then set off in the direction of the Consulate. Dief started after him, with a last glance back over his shoulder at Ray.
Ray watched them go, his stomach in a knot. "That was not cool," he announced to no one. "That was so not cool."
* * *
Curiosity. Was that it? Ray had thought about it all night, since sleeping was pretty much out of the picture anyway. The more he'd thought about it, the more he thought maybe Fraser was right. He'd never thought about kissing Fraser before that day at the salon when Marty had said he figured Fraser was gay. Well, okay, except for that time on the Henry Allen, and Fraser had said that wasn't a kiss and since he didn't lie Ray had to believe him. And yeah, they did touch a lot. But maybe Fraser had touched Vecchio a lot too. Maybe that was just how he was with his friends. It wasn't like he had a lot of friends that Ray could watch him with to check.
The next day he tried hard not to think about the part where Fraser had said he had experience with guys. Tried not to wonder who. Where. When. How. Jesus. The more he tried not to wonder the more he wondered. He wasn't all that well-versed in the hows but he wasn't clueless, either. He'd found a Blue Boy in a locker at the gym one time and had been downright fascinated by it. Maybe that should have tipped him off. Any normal guy would probably have burned the thing. He'd kept it instead, safely hidden in the same drawer as his Playboys and Penthouses.
Hunh. He hadn't thought about that in a long time. Those magazines had gone into a box when he'd moved into his own place and were still there, down in his storage locker in the basement. But. . . wait. What did that mean? He'd still been married to Stella then, and he'd kept it? That was kind of weird for a mostly-happily married guy. He sat there for a while wondering about that, and worse, thinking about going down to the locker and finding that box when he got home. Fortunately he'd managed to distract himself from that thought by going over interviews on his last case.
Unfortunately even that wasn't enough to distract him from wondering if Fraser was actually going to show or not. Around two-thirty he heard Frannie go into 'coo' mode and looked up to see Fraser walk into the bullpen. He let out a sigh of relief and felt a big, goofy grin spread over his face. Thank God. Before Fraser could notice, he quickly looked down at his files. He didn't want Fraser to think he was checking him out or anything.
A minute or two later Fraser escaped from Frannie's clutches, sat down in the chair next to his desk and cleared his throat. "Good afternoon, Ray."
Ray looked up, doing his best Steve McQueen casual. "Hey, Fraser. Didn't see you come in," he lied. "How's things at the Consulate?"
"A bit hectic, actually. There was a film crew in today and Constable Turnbull managed to trip over a cable and sprain his ankle. Then Inspector Thatcher inadvertently ignited a fire by using her blow-dryer and hair-spray simultaneously. If you ever find yourself in need of an impromptu incendiary device, you might keep that in mind. Fortunately no one was injured when the hair-spray cannister blew up, as she had the presence of mind to throw it into the alley behind the building. Unfortunately the bathroom window will need to be replaced now, as she neglected to open the window before throwing the can."
Ray stared at him, wondering when he'd gotten to the point that things like that sounded normal, and then nodded. "Thanks for the tip, you never know when something like that might come in handy," he said, refraining from adding 'Especially if you're involved.' "So what was the film crew doing there?"
"Filming a documentary on Canadian consulates. Unfortunately their grant from Telefilm Canada is rather small, so the scope of their documentary is of necessity limited to locations they can reach by car, or rather, van. Though they might stretch that to include some of the Central American consulates as well."
"Yeah. That ought to be fascinating. I bet none of the other consulates is nearly as interesting."
"The director did comment that on the whole, his experience here had been much livelier than he'd expected."
Ray snorted. "Oh yeah. So, you want to read the latest on the Berenboim case?" he asked, holding up the file.
Fraser started to reach for the file, the hesitated. "Ray, about last night. . . ."
Ray held up a hand. "Over and done with, Fraser, over and done with. Water under the bridge, as they say."
"But, Ray, I . . . ."
Ray shook his head. "I mean it. Just consider it never happened."
Fraser looked like he was going to argue, but finally he nodded, even though he was still frowning a little. "Very well, Ray. If that's how you want it."
"How I want it don't matter. It's how it's got to be," Ray said simply, and he handed Fraser the Berenboim file.
Fraser looked at him assessingly for a long moment, then he opened the folder and started to read.
There. That wasn't so bad. Ray just hoped he wasn't fooling himself that he could do that. Hoped Fraser wasn't either.
* * *
So much for hoping, Ray thought, after dropping Fraser off at the Consulate. He watched the other man walk up the stairs and let himself in, watched the door close behind him, and sighed. Nothing was different, but everything was different. Fraser never touched him any more. In fact, he never got closer than about a foot, which made it pretty tough when they were both trying to hide behind a dumpster to keep from getting shot, because there wasn't enough room for both of them plus a foot of clearance. He'd had to bodily drag Fraser out of harm's way today. Fraser hadnt seemed too happy about it either.
Ray had felt compelled to made a bad situation worse, by pointing out the bullet scar on the bricks not three inches from where Fraser had been standing when Ray had yanked him back. Fraser's jaw had tightened up then, and Ray had dropped it, but it was typical these days. Things were almost as bad as they had been back before the Henry Allen. Which he really shouldn't be thinking about, damn it. Ray ran a hand through his hair, then looked at his watch and swore, pulling out into traffic and nearly causing an accident. Somehow he managed to get to the salon only five minutes late.
He noticed Marty's station was all tidied up and empty, and he nodded at it. "Where's Marty?"
"He has a hot date tonight," Debbie said. "He had to get home and make himself beautiful. He knew you'd be here in a few minutes and that you'd stay while I closed up. You will, right?" she asked, a little anxiously.
Ray knew Debbie had been nervous about closing alone ever since she'd been robbed a couple of years back. He nodded and plopped himself down in the chair. "Sure. Got nothing else to do." Not since Fraser stopped spending the evenings with him, anyway.
Debbie lifted her eyebrows at him as she whisked the cape around his neck. "You okay?" she asked.
"Peachy," he snapped. Then he sighed. "Sorry. No. Not really. But I shouldn't yell at you because my life's a mess. How could you tell?"
She tapped a finger against one of the tendons in the back of his neck. "When you're stressed out these get really tight. What's up? Do you want to talk about it?"
"No," he said. Then he thought about it for a minute, and looked up, meeting her eyes in the mirror. "Maybe. At least you'd understand, I think."
"Why's that?" she asked, mixing up her solution in a blue plastic bowl.
"Well, you've been through it. Sort of."
"Been through what? Beauty school?"
Ray chuckled. "Yeah, can't you see me working here for a living?"
She laughed. "In a word, no. You've got me curious now. What have I 'sort of' been through?"
He shivered a little as she started painting the goop onto his hair. It always felt cold. "You've been through finding out you're attracted to chicks."
She grinned at him in the mirror. "That's your big dilemma? I hate to break this to you, honey, but this is not news. You've always been attracted to chicks," she teased. A moment later she sobered abruptly and turned the chair so she could look into his eyes, frowning just a little. "Ray, are you trying to tell me you think you're gay?"
"I don't know. Maybe. Or bi or something. See, lately I've been. . . ." He stopped for a moment, having a hard time trying to find the right words, and having to remember to keep Fraser's name out of it.. "There's this guy. And he's . . . different. And suddenly, well, for a while now, I've been feeling kind of . . . interested. But I don't know. . . maybe it's just because I haven't been laid in about a year. Maybe it's just curiosity. Maybe it's an early midlife crisis. Who the hell knows? All I know is, I want to kiss him. I want to. . . um, never mind." He hoped she wouldn't notice his blush. She didn't seem to. She just nodded, made a little 'hmm' sound, and went back to painting his hair.
"So . . . you have feelings for this guy?" she asked from behind him, frowning slightly.
Ray watched her in the mirror, and nodded. "Yeah. But he thinks it's just because I'm nosey or something."
"You talked to him about it?" she asked, surprised.
"Sort of. Not really. Just a little."
"Hmm. And what did he think about it?"
"He was . . . pissed. Well, as pissed as he ever gets. He thinks it's just because I figured out he's been with guys, and it made me curious."
Debbie daubed the last bare spot of his hair and then came around to the front so she could look at him again. "Is he right?"
Ray sighed, and shrugged. "I. . . don't know. Maybe. Could be. I don't think so, but. . . I don't know."
"Hm. So, tell me about him. What's he like?"
Despite his mood, Ray felt himself starting to smile. "He's. . . one of a kind. He's like. . . like a Sherlock Holmes who licks mud and jumps off buildings. Thinks he's Superman or something. He's kind of annoying sometimes because he's so damned good at everything, but he's the kind of guy who makes people better just by being around. You sort of have to be better whether you want to or not."
Debbie looked thoughtful. "Interesting."
"What's interesting?" Ray asked, worried. There was something scary about the way she'd said that.
"Well, I asked about him and you told me about him. Not about what he looks like. Not about how he acts with you. You told me about him. What he's really like. Quirks and all. You admit he's annoying, but you're attracted anyway. That tells me you like him for him. Not just because he's cute, or because he flatters you or anything."
"Well, he is cute," Ray said. "Well, cute's not really the word for it. But yeah, I like him for who he is. I have for a long time. Before I started feeling. . . before I started wanting. . . well anyway. Yeah. I like him. We're friends." He sighed. "Or we used to be."
"What does that mean?"
"It means I fucked up. Ever since I told him, things have been screwed up. Weird."
Debbie sighed and nodded. "Yeah, I've been through that. There was this woman once, we were friends. I really liked her, but when I told her I was interested in her, it kind of messed things up. But it will get better. It'll just take some time."
"I hope so, because right now it sucks."
"Yeah," Debbie patted his shoulder sympathetically. "So, hey, the important stuff: what does he look like?"
"He's about my height, but bigger. Not fat or anything, just built different. Sort of like the GTO-- sleek but with muscles. Dark hair that's a little wavy when he lets it be, but usually he doesn't. Blue eyes-- but not like Paul Newman blue. They're darker, almost gray, sort of dusty. Like a dark blue car where the paint got kind of oxidized."
Debbie laughed, shaking her head. "Ray, my friend, you've got it bad. Any time a guy starts comparing someone he likes to a car, you know he's in deep."
Ray felt himself turning red again. "Yeah, well. He's really good-looking. Women fall all over themselves when he's around."
"And how does he react to that?"
"He usually just kind of stares at some spot on the wall and pretends it's not happening. He's a pretty straightlaced kind of guy."
Debbie snickered. "He can't be that straightlaced if he does guys."
Ray smiled. "You don't know Fraser." Shit. He wanted to call back the name. He was just so used to using it that it had slipped out.
She cocked her head, looking at him curiously. "Fraser? Isn't that your partner? The Canadian?"
Ray nodded, sighing. "Yeah. I forgot I wasn't going to say his name."
"Don't worry, Ray, my lips are sealed. You know I can keep a secret. I've never told a soul that you took my girlfriend to that party where you knew you were going to see Stella about a month after the divorce."
"For which I am eternally grateful. And to her, too. And I know you won't say anything, I'm just. . . well, you know what the road to hell is paved with." He shrugged and smiled wryly.
"I sure do. And anyway, you're right, I don't know him, but I'd like to meet him some time."
"I'd bring him in, but he gets his hair cut down at this barber shop on West Racine near where he used to live. Says he can't go anywhere else because Mr. Lingenfelter would be upset."
"West Racine?" Debbie asked, surprised. "Up, time to rinse. You mean that place with the old-fashioned barber pole out front?"
"That's the one," Ray said, getting up and following her to the sinks.
"Wow. I thought only guys over sixty went there."
"Guys over sixty, and Fraser."
"Does his hair look really bad?" she asked, turning on the faucet and testing the temperature.
Ray grinned. "It wouldn't dare. Hey, you know, I think I've got some pictures of him out in the car. I could get them after you're done."
"You have pictures of your partner in your car?" Debbie asked.
From her tone Ray guessed this was not something she considered normal behavior, so he explained. "They were duplicate copies of the ones Frannie took at the department picnic a couple of months ago. She gave them to me and I put them in the glove compartment and kind of forgot they where there until just now."
"Uh-hunh," Debbie said, in obvious disbelief. "Put your head back."
Ray did. He figured he wasn't going to convince her in any case so why try? She rinsed, then toweled him off and took him back to the chair to trim him up. When they were both happy with his look she took the drape off him and stood back.
"Okay, beautiful, go get your pictures. You've got me curious what kind of guy could lure you off the straight and narrow."
Ray snickered. "Good one. I'll be right back."
He dashed out to the car, hoping he was right and the pictures were still there. They were, and he pulled them out, also hoping they hadn't melted together during that hot-spell back in early September. Fortunately they seemed to be fine. He headed back inside and handed them to Debbie with the best shot on top. Fraser, 'dressed down' in jeans and a gray RCMP t-shirt, Dief at his side. Dief had a hotdog in his mouth. Fraser was deep in conversation with Lieutenant Welsh. Debbie glanced at the photo, and then looked up at Ray wryly.
"Am I right to assume we're not talking about the guy who looks like an oversized bulldog?"
Ray shuddered. "That's my lieutenant. I am definitely not warm for his form. Fraser's the other one."
She nodded and studied the picture.
Ray watched her expression change, surprisingly, to one he was all-too familiar with. "I thought you liked chicks," he said grumpily. "And don't drool on it."
She looked up from the picture. "Ray, I haven't slept with a guy in twenty years, but this?" She pointed at the picture. "This could almost make me change my mind," she winked. "I completely understand why you might be curious about what this guy is like in bed."
Ray winced. "It's not that!" he protested.
She looked at him, eyebrows up. "Weren't you just telling me a few minutes ago that you thought it was?"
"I, um. . . yeah," he sighed, trapped. "I don't know, Deb. I'm just all mixed up."
"Yeah, I bet you are. Hey, I have an idea. Why don't I take you out on Friday night and you can see if anyone else trips your trigger?"
Ray stared at her, puzzled. "What?"
"There's a bar over on Halstead, Sidetrack, it's a mixed place. Lesbians, gays, a few token straights. It's not my usual hangout but I know people there. Marty likes it, for instance. We can go and you can kind of . . . test the waters."
He thought about it. Testing the waters didn't sound too bad. Well, other than the fact that he was a cop planning to go to a gay bar. But then again, any other cop he might see there would probably be just as happy to keep his mouth shut in return for the same favor, so. . . . He looked at Debbie threateningly. "This better not be like the time you took me to that lesbian bar and I was the only guy there and everybody thought you were dating some really butch chick," he said threateningly.
Debbie laughed, shaking her head. "Oh God. I'd almost forgotten about that! No, I promise you won't be the only guy there this time. Actually, we've even gone there before, do you remember? Not last time, but the time before that, when you and Marty and I went out after I finished your hair?"
He thought back, and nodded slowly. "The place with the videos?"
"Yeah. That's it."
He remembered it. Like she'd said, there had seemed to be people of all persuasions there, so even if someone did see him there, they probably wouldn't think anything of it. Last time it hadn't really even registered on him that it was a gay bar. He supposed he should have been tipped off by the fact that there had been a lot of really good-looking men there, and Marty had seemed to know all of them. Debbie would be there to steer him. . . well, maybe steer him straight wasn't quite the right term, but something along those lines. And he had nothing else to do. No pressure. He nodded, slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, that would be cool.
She smiled. "Great. See you Friday, then. Dress nice, but casual."
He nodded. "Where should I pick you up, and what time?"
"Why don't I pick you up?"
Ray frowned. "But I . . . ." he started to object.
Debbie shook her head. "Ray. It's a whole new ball game, don't get stuck playing by the old rules. I don't drink, so if you need...well...if you want a drink or two, it won't be a problem."
"You saying I'm going to need to get drunk to get through a night with you?" Ray asked with a grin.
Debbie smacked him on the back of the head. "That's enough out of you, if you still want to do this."
"Hey, watch the hair! And yeah, I do." He ignored the tight knot in his stomach that seemed to be forming at the idea of going cruising . . . for guys.
"Good. I'll pick you up at eight, then."
"Okay. Friday at eight. I'll wait for you out front." Ray said firmly. He wouldn't back out. He wouldn't. He would be there.
* * *
After work on Friday Ray went home, ate, showered, shaved, and then stood in front of his closet trying to decide what to wear. In the end he took so long that Debbie had shown up at his door before he was dressed. When she knocked, he'd looked at his watch, swore, yanked on his black jeans and his Bulls sweatshirt, and answered it.
"You chickening out?" she'd asked challengingly.
"No," he said, giving her attitude right back. "But what the hell does 'nice, but casual' mean? I know what Stella would've meant but that's probably not the same thing you mean."
Debbie's brown eyes were bright with amusement. "I seriously doubt it," she agreed. "Come on. Madame Deborah is here for a consultation. Take me to your closet."
He did. She'd hmm-ed and perused, made snarky comments about his ability to dress himself, and then finally pulled out the black commando sweater he'd gotten when he'd been loaned out to S.W.A.T. for a while as a marksman.
"This," she stated firmly. "This is perfect. You look good in black. It sets off your hair. It goes with everything. It has very manly vibes. Put it on."
"Manly vibes?" he asked dubiously as he skinned out of the Bulls shirt and pulled the sweater on over his gray tank.
"Yes. And do something about your hair. I'm not going to be seen with you like that, you might tell someone I did it. Get moving."
"If I wanted to be bossed around by a chick I wouldn't be going to a gay bar," he complained.
She just laughed.
* * *
It was a lot weirder being in a gay bar when you knew it was one, Ray realized, after only having been there for half an hour. It must be like being Spiderman, and having your Spideysense going off all the time. What would once have just sailed right over his head, now suddenly had meaning. When a guy looked at him a few seconds too long, he wasn't necessarily wondering if he'd gotten the sweater at the Army Surplus store, or sizing him up as a potential threat. No, these guys were sizing him up for some other potential entirely.
That had freaked him the first couple of times, until Debbie had gotten a couple of tequila shooters down him, and found some guy she knew to take him out to the dance floor. Dancing he knew. Dancing he was comfortable with. And hell, he'd danced with other guys for years at all those stupid school dances that Stella's parents wouldn't let her go to, and Ray's parents had insisted he attend. So he danced. And when he finished that one, another guy asked him. And it got easier each time.
Really, it wasn't so different from what he knew. Actually it was better in some ways. At least he was the one getting asked, instead of always doing the asking, and getting turned down most of the time. But after about four songs he was thirsty, and headed back toward the table. As he got close, he saw Debbie talking with a statuesque, auburn-haired woman who looked eerily like that Warrior Princess actress from TV, so he detoured to the bar to give her some space. Debbie usually went for petite blondes, but he didn't want to cramp her style in case she was branching out.
He asked for water, and the bartender got out a bottle of Evian. Ray winced.
"Um, hang on," he said, before the guy could open it. Okay, he might be in a gay bar but there was no way he was drinking Evian. "How about club soda with a twist, instead?"
The bartender nodded, put back the Evian, and got Ray his club soda. He sat at the bar sipping his drink, wondering how long he ought to give Debbie, when someone sat down next to him.
"I'll have whatever he's having."
Ray turned to look at his neighbor, a slightly heavy guy in jeans and a dress shirt under a sport jacket. He looked nice, with dark, curly hair and gray-blue eyes.
"Um, you may not want to do that," he said, figuring he ought to warn the guy.
"Why not? It looks good."
"It's just club soda," Ray said, feeling silly.
The guy just nodded. "Yeah, dancing really works up a thirst. I saw you out there. You're good."
Ray knew he was blushing, and hoped it would be put down to exertion. "Thanks," he muttered, and turned back to his glass.
The bartender came back with the guy's drink, and a few moments were taken up by the exchange of money for beverage. Ray glanced toward the table, trying to see Debbie, but couldn't from where he was sitting. He shifted position so he could see the dance floor instead.
"Would you be interested in dancing with me?" the guy next to him asked.
The formality of the question reminded Ray a little bit of Fraser. Actually, a lot about him reminded him of Fraser. He felt a faint flicker of. . . something. Not quite interest. But something he hadn't felt dancing with those other guys before. Trying to calm his racing pulse, he took another sip, then nodded. "Sure. Just give me a few here."
"Of course! I meant after you finish your drink, and cool off," he said a little apologetically. "I'm Stephen, by the way."
Apparently first names were all that was needed. "Ray," he said.
Stephen smiled. Really nice smile. "Nice to meet you, Ray. I don't think I've seen you here before."
Okay, points off for the lousy line. But then, no one was perfect. Okay, almost no one. Ray shrugged. "I've been here before, but not for a while." It was true, barely, but it made him sound more experienced than he was.
"That would explain it," Stephen said, taking a sip of his drink. "What do you do?"
Ray had practiced in the mirror for this one. "I'm in security," he said, without missing a beat.
Stephen looked interested. "Computer security?"
Ray laughed. He hadn't even thought of that interpretation. "No, the other kind."
"Oh." He sounded disappointed.
"You?" Ray asked, just to make small talk.
That got a little smile. "I'm a database administrator for a consulting firm."
"Which explains your question," Ray said, grinning. "Sorry, I'm afraid I have to have help just to make a computer print."
"Well, if you're trying to make a computer print, that might explain the problem, since you need a printer for that," Stephen said, then he immediately looked embarrassed. "I mean, that was a joke, you know?" he explained earnestly.
Ray laughed. The guy really did remind him of Fraser, right down to the blush. "I know, relax."
"Thanks." Stephen's expression was rueful. "I'm just not very good at this." He waved a hand vaguely, indicating the bar, its patrons, and, Ray assumed, the general scene.
"You and me both," Ray said, draining his water. "So, uh, you still want to dance?"
"I. . . um," Stephen hesitated, then nodded. "Sure."
As Stephen downed the rest of his own drink, Ray wondered why he'd hesitated. Then after he set the glass down and started toward the dance floor, Ray understood immediately. Stephen had a limp. A bad one. He probably hated dancing. Ray caught up to him in two steps.
"You know, on second thought, I'm not really into this song. Would you mind if we just talked?"
A look of gratitude flashed over Stephen's face and he nodded. "I'd like that."
Ray smiled. "Greatness. Come on, I'm here with a friend; we can go invade her table."
Stephen hesitated again, looking worried. "Her?"
Oops. Probably confused the poor guy. "Yeah, she's my stylist. Last I saw her she was talking to a red-headed Amazon, I'm thinking she might need rescuing, since she usually goes for that type." He nodded toward a sweet-looking blonde woman who was walking toward the bar.
Stephen relaxed. "Oh. No problem. Where?"
Ray pointed, and they made their way slowly around the periphery of the dance floor and up to where Debbie was sitting, alone now. He introduced them, first names only, and then as Stephen was sitting down Debbie glanced at Stephen and then at Ray, and lifted her eyebrows a little. Ray scowled at her and she grinned.
"So, where'd the Amazon go?" Ray asked, looking around.
"Off to greener pastures. She's not my type. Speaking of which, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go try my luck with that blonde over at the bar," Debbie said, standing up. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do. . . um. . . on second thought, never mind that." She grinned and winked and headed for the bar, making a beeline for the chick Ray had pointed out to Stephen just minutes earlier.
He laughed. "What did I tell you?" he asked, nodding toward the bar.
Stephen followed his glance and grinned. "I'd say you know her pretty well."
"Yeah. Pretty well. So, you go by Stephen, or Steve?"
"Either. Even 'hey you.'"
Ray chuckled. "Yeah. I know that one."
"So do you do-- what do they call it-- personal security?" Stephen asked, half-shouting to be heard over the music.
"Sometimes," Ray said carefully, thinking of the times he'd had to escort prisoners.
A strangely bitter smile twisted Stephen's mouth. "Could've used some of that a few years ago."
Ray looked at him sharply, hearing something in Stephen's voice. . . putting things together. "Somebody hurt you?"
Stephen sighed. "More like I hurt myself, but I wouldn't have had to if . . . shit. Never mind. I don't want to talk about that."
Ray nodded, tamping down his curiosity. "Fair enough. You're a database administrator, hunh? What exactly does one of those do?"
As Stephen launched into a mostly incomprehensible explanation, it hit Ray all of the sudden that they weren't just two guys who'd met in a bar and were talking just for conversation. This was a pickup. Or at least the start of one. His mouth instantly went dry and he wished he'd gotten another drink to bring back to the table. He looked at Stephen, and instead of seeing a nice ordinary guy, he was seeing a guy who wanted to take him to bed. Because he knew that's what was going on here.
He ruthlessly slowed his breathing to control his incipient panic, and glanced around for a waitress. Spotting one a few tables away, he flagged her down with a quick apology to Stephen for the interruption. He wanted water. He wanted something harder. He compromised and got water, and a beer. Stephen ordered a beer too. Nice. Normal.
Ray hoped like hell he didn't look as scared as he felt. Stephen seemed like a nice guy, but even with women Ray didn't go to bed on the first date. And this wasn't even a date. And he wasn't anywhere near ready for . . . anything that serious. But he'd said he'd dance, then he'd brought Stephen over to the table, was that leading him on? He didn't want to do that. Or to hurt the guy's feelings.
He was just trying to figure out how to let Stephen down gently when it suddenly hit him that Stephen hadn't been the only one thinking about potential sex. He had. Almost. Stage two of his panic attack set in immediately. He had thought that Stephen was attractive. That he seemed nice. Just a hair short of wondering what he'd be like in the sack. Worst of all, he'd done it for no more reason than because Stephen kind of reminded him of Fraser. And that was bad, shallow, and just plain wrong.
"I'm boring the hell out of you, aren't I?" Stephen asked, conversationally.
Ray jerked himself out of his thoughts and looked at Stephen, registering the self-deprecating smile and the wary pain in his eyes. "No! You're not. . . I didn't. . . I'm just. . . shit." He sighed and shook his head. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I'm just having a minor freak-out here."
Stephen started to look a little worried, and Ray realized he sounded like a head-case.
"No, don't worry, I'm not a crack-head and I'm usually pretty stable. It's just that to be honest, I've never done this before and I'm not sure I should be doing this now."
Stephen looked completely confused now. "You've never done what before?"
God. How was he going to explain it? He sighed. "See, I kind of lied before, when I said I'd been here before. I mean, I have been here before, once, for a drink with a couple of friends. That's it. I've never come here with . . . intent. Hell, I'm not even sure I have intent now."
He hoped that was enough. He waited while Stephen worked through his fairly cryptic comments, praying it would be.
"Oh," Stephen said, finally, and his gaze met Ray's, understanding and sympathetic. "I get it."
Ray sagged in relief. "Good. Okay. That's good. Look, I'm really sorry."
To his surprise, Stephen shook his head and smiled. "No, that's okay. I'm glad you said something. It's better than thinking you were backing off because I'm overweight and . . . damaged, like most guys do."
Ray scowled, feeling guilty. "Maybe you're talking to the wrong guys."
"Maybe so," Stephen shrugged. "But that's the story of my life. Wrong guys." He laughed humorlessly. "You'd think I'd've learned a long time ago not to talk to strangers."
Before Ray could ask what that meant, the waitress returned with their drinks. Ray paid for both of them, over Stephen's protests, and took a long pull at his own beer, letting the cold bitterness wash the taste of panic off his tongue.
Stephen took a drink of his own beer, and raised his bottle to Ray in a toast. "Thanks for being honest," he said. "And for the beer. I'll head back over to the bar now."
Ray shook his head. "You don't have to. Why don't you tell me again what you do and I'll listen this time?"
Stephen looked surprised. "I thought. . . ."
"Nothing wrong with talking, right?" Ray asked. "And since I'm feeling guilty that you think I'm honest when I lied to you twice, I'm going to 'fess up to the other one, too. I'm not 'in security.' I'm a cop."
Stephen stared at him, clearly shocked. "A cop?"
Ray nodded and took another swig of his beer. "Yup."
"What the hell are you doing there, then?"
Ray smiled ruefully. "Good question. Trying to figure myself out, I think. Now, I know cops aren't most folks favorite people, so I won't feel offended if you want to scram."
"No way. Now I'm interested," Stephen stopped suddenly, and looked apologetic. "I mean, not that way." He stopped again, and his uncomfortable expression deepened. "Well, yeah, that way, but I was always interested that way. Now I'm interested in other ways. . . shit." he said, laughing and shaking his head. "I'm just digging myself a deeper hole here, aren't I?"
Ray laughed out loud. "How about if we just sit here and drink our beer and talk about the Bulls?"
Stephen nodded. "That sounds like a really good idea," he said fervently.
Both of them were much more at ease after that. Ray wasn't sure how long they'd been talking when he heard a familiar voice.
"Yo, Detective Ray? Is that you?"
He turned around, doubly glad now that he'd 'fessed up to Stephen. "Yeah, hi, Marty."
Marty was looking unusually sedate in a faded jeans and a white tank, with a blue camp-shirt festooned front and back with silver dragons. As usual his dark blond hair was perfect, his goatee was flawlessly trimmed, and Ray was pretty sure he was wearing mascara and blue eyeliner. He kept looking from Ray to Stephen and back, clearly curious and surprised. "What are you doing here?"
Ray raised his beer. "At the moment, having a beer and shooting the shit," he said, knowing full well that wasn't what Marty wanted to know.
Sure enough, a faintly irritated expression crossed Marty's face, but it was gone in an instant. He looked pointedly from Ray to Stephen again, and Ray realized a little belatedly that he was waiting for an introduction.
"Marty, this is Stephen. Stephen, Marty. Marty works with Debbie."
They shook hands, and then Marty looked at the empty chair next to Stephen. "Mind if I sit?"
Stephen shook his head. Marty sat, and studied Stephen for a moment.
"You have great hair," he announced. "It's naturally wavy, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Um, thanks," Stephen said, looking a little taken aback.
Ray chuckled. "It's okay. Marty and Debbie run a salon. Mane Event."
Stephen relaxed. "Oh."
"Sorry, I assumed you knew Debbie, since Ray mentioned her. Though I'm sure I would've remembered if you'd been in the salon," Marty said, letting his gaze slide down, then back up again. "Yeah, I would definitely have remembered you."
Ray rolled his eyes, and gave Marty's ankle a kick under the table to warn him to tone it down. Subtlety was called for here. Marty shot him a startled look.
"Actually, I don't really know Ray or Debbie," Stephen said. "Ray and I just met. But, you know, I could use a trim," he said, with a look at Marty that Ray could only term interested.
Marty grinned at Ray with a 'so there' expression, and dug a hand into his pocket. Ray couldn't help but notice where Stephen's gaze was directed as he did so, and he stopped feeling quite so guilty for having inadvertently led Stephen on. Maybe things would work out okay after all.
Marty finally managed to locate what he was searching for, pulling out a slightly bent business card. "Got a pen?" he asked, looking from Stephen to Ray.
Neither of them did, so they had to snag one from a passing waiter. Marty used the pen to scrawl something on the card, gave the pen back to the waiter and handed the card to Stephen.
"Here you go. The one in pen's my home number. Call anytime."
Stephen fingered the card, looking surprised. "Um, thanks," he said, then shot a slightly worried look at Ray.
For a second Ray couldn't figure out what he was worried about, then he got it, and smiled at him, hoping that conveyed the fact that he wasn't pissed off that Marty was making a play for Stephen. Or that Stephen didn't seem to mind. Hell, as far as he was concerned it was great.
"So, what do you do?" Marty asked Stephen.
Ray and Stephen looked at each other and laughed.
Marty looked bewildered. "What?"
"Nothing. Just deja vu," Ray said, grinning. "But if we're going to talk, maybe we should see if we can find a quieter table."
"Ain't no such animal," Marty said. "But there's a great coffee bar not far from here where you can actually hear yourself think, and the food's good if you're hungry."
"That's a great. . . oh, shit," Ray said.
"What?" Marty and Stephen said, in unison.
"I forgot. I caught a ride here with Deb. I can't really take off."
"I can give you a lift home later," Marty said. "She won't mind. In fact, she was in hot pursuit when I saw her a couple of minutes ago, and looked like she might just have landed her catch. Wait here, I'll go tell her we're kidnapping you."
It dawned on Ray suddenly that Marty and Stephen might prefer he didn't tag along, but it was too late, Marty was already halfway across the room. Oh well. He could always get a taxi if need be.
"He's. . . pretty. . . um. . . " Stephen said, letting his sentence trail off. He shrugged.
"Yeah. He is." Ray agreed with a grin. "Marty's cool."
Stephen looked at him and one corner of his mouth quirked upward in a smile that was astonishingly like Fraser's. "I'd say he's hot."
Ray chuckled. "That too. He seems to like you."
"Yeah," Stephen said, a little wonder in his tone. "He does." He seemed to shake himself, and looked back at Ray apologetically. "I. . . um, I'm afraid this is a little awkward for you, I'm sorry."
Ray shook his head. "Nah, not a problem. Like I said, I probably shouldn't have even come here tonight."
"Well, I'm glad you did," Stephen said with surprising warmth. "And you've given me a whole new outlook on cops."
Ray laughed drily. "Just don't tell my boss, okay?"
"Not a word. Couldn't even if I wanted to, since I don't even know your last name."
"True enough. You know, if you and Marty want to go by yourselves, I can stay here. I won't be offended."
"No!" Stephen said vehemently, shaking his head. "I'd rather you came along. I. . . don't like being alone with people I don't know well."
There was fear in his reaction. The kind of fear that prickled Ray's cop senses. "What happened to you?" Ray asked, quietly.
"Nothing. Never mind. Just. . . please?"
"You don't know me very well either," Ray pointed out reasonably.
"No, but. . . you're a cop," Stephen said.
Okay, Ray got it. That made sense, even if it was based on a mistaken assumption that he'd be safe with a cop around. Ray didn't think it would be smart to shatter his illusions. "You got it. But if you change your mind, just give me the signal and I'm out of there."
Stephen smiled, and nodded. "Thanks. I appreciate it."
"And by the way, it's Vecchio. I work out of the 27th."
Stephen's gaze warmed. "Miller. Stephen Miller." He held out his hand and they shook. "Glad to meet you Ray Vecchio." He shoot Ray an odd look. "You know, you don't look much like a Vecchio."
Ray snorted. "You wouldn't be the first person to say that."
* * *
Ray woke to knocking at his door. Not banging or pounding. Knocking. Polite, but insistent. Mormons, probably. Or maybe Jehovah's Witnesses. He groaned. It wasn't fair. It was Saturday, he wasn't on call, he wanted to sleep in, and he got missionaries. He sighed and lay there, barely breathing, hoping they would go away if he was quiet. He could go back to sleep then. What kind of people came around knocking on people's doors at . . . he squinted at his alarm clock. Uh-oh.
He grabbed his glasses for a better look. It didn't help. The number on the clock steadfastly refused to change into a seven. It was one-twenty-three. P.M. He'd been supposed to meet Fraser at twelve-thirty at the Consulate to go over the logistics for the car-wash Turnbull was holding the following Saturday to aid dispossessed Canadian country singers in Nashville. Obviously Fraser had waited around a while before setting off. But why hadn't he called? Then Ray remembered turning the ringer off on the phone before he fell into bed around three in the morning. Shit.
He rolled out of bed and grunted as his back and hip protested, but forced himself to bend down and pick up his jeans and sweater off the floor
"Coming!" he yelled, dragging his jeans on and up. He skipped pulling the sweater on and buttoned up as he walked, undid the bolt and lock, and opened the door. Oh yeah. Definitely Fraser. Definitely pissed. That smooth, bland expression didn't fool Ray for an instant. He could see the little bulge of tension in the muscle along his jaw.
"I am really sorry, Fraser, come on in, I'm getting dressed. Went to Sidetrack last night, then out for coffee. Anyway, I was up really late, and I forgot to set my alarm and the ringer was off on the phone."
Fraser stared at him. Blinked. Swallowed. "Ah," he said after a moment. "Did you enjoy yourself?"
"Yeah, mostly," he said as he pulled on his sweater and sat down on the couch to dig his boots out from under the coffee table. Leaning forward hurt, and he winced. "Ow. Met a really nice guy named Stephen. And Marty was there. We hung out."
Fraser's blank look transmuted to one of concern. "Are you injured?"
"Nah, just strained my back a little last night."
A really peculiar expression came over Fraser's face. "Strained . . . I see. And how did you do that?"
Ray shook his head. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you." He barely believed it himself. Walking out of the coffee-bar last night and stepping on a stray skateboard was something that usually wouldn't happen to him unless Fraser was around.
"I'm sure I probably wouldn't," Fraser said, just a hair short of snippy.
Ray closed his mouth on the explanation he'd been about to offer. "Anyway, sorry. Come in. I need coffee, you want some tea or something?"
"No thank you."
Ray nodded and headed for the kitchen to run the water on hot and make some coffee. He spooned instant coffee into the water, added about a tablespoon of sugar, and tasted it, making a face. It would do, considering he was in a hurry. Taking the coffee back out to the living room, he sat down on the couch next to Fraser, and winced again, trying to remember if his insurance covered chiropractic.
"I really am sorry, Fraser. Is Turnbull upset?"
"Last I saw him he was locked in the bathroom."
Ray sighed. "I suck."
Fraser opened his mouth, then closed it again, almost primly. Ray got the message.
"Okay, okay, let me drink this, get my shoes on, and I'm good to go."
Eclairs from La Madeleine soothed the wounded Turnbull, but cut no slack with Fraser. Ray tried to be conciliatory, even volunteering to wield a chamois. It didn't help. The last time he could remember apologizing to anyone as much as he had during the meeting had been the day Stella told him she wanted a divorce. Except that time he hadn't really known what he was apologizing for. After he'd gone home he realized that maybe there wasn't that much difference after all. For some reason, he had a feeling oversleeping wasn't the real problem.
For the first time, Ray experienced being on the receiving end of Fraser at his most polite, and finally understood how intimidating that could be. Though he hadn't said a word that Ray could interpret as particularly negative or threatening, he just exuded a feeling that something sharp and steely was lurking under the surface, a trap for the unwary. He'd never seen that before. Or rather, never had it directed at him. He didn't like it, and he wished he could fix it, but without a working time machine he didn't have a chance at that. All he could do was make sure that Fraser didn't think he was still after him, 'that way.'
Of course the problem there was that Ray had a hard time lying to Fraser, and he did want him 'that way.' Sometimes when Fraser bent his head to look at something, Ray found himself staring at the nape of his neck and wanting to put his lips against it, to feel the smoothness of the skin there. The slow slide of Fraser's tongue across his lower lip while thinking that Ray used to think was just a little goofy had suddenly taken on erotic significance. He wanted to follow that path with his own tongue. Wanted to taste Fraser's lopsided smile. Wanted to take off the tunic and henley and boots and jodhpurs and boxers and explore every inch. None of which made it any easier to lie, even by omission, to Fraser. Or to himself.
Still, come Monday he would do his level best to put Fraser at ease with him again.
* * *
By Thursday Ray wasn't sure how long he could keep it up. Being perfectly professional around Fraser was driving him out of his mind. He hadn't realized how much he'd come to count on Fraser as a friend, not just a partner. He . . . missed him. Missed just hanging out, eating together, talking together, God help him, he even missed the Inuit stories. Most of all he missed the touching. It hadn't even been the erotic kind of touching, but Fraser was the only person who touched him at all, and Ray really, really missed that. He hated that he'd messed things up, messed them up, because he couldn't keep his brain above his zipper.
Fraser still showed up every day to work. They still solved cases. But as soon as they had wrapped up their cases for the day he was gone. Didn't even ask for a ride home. He didn't seem to miss Ray at all. Dief, on the other hand, did. He was cranky and badly-behaved, and Ray had caught Fraser having heated words with the wolf several times that must have been about him, since Fraser shut up when he saw Ray. Ray pretended not to notice, and managed to sneak Dief goodies on the side when Fraser's back was turned, which made him marginally less surly. Fraser didn't understand that going off sugar cold-turkey was rough. Going off Fraser almost cold-turkey was rough, too.
Thursday was chilly and rainy. They'd spent most of the day tracking down a reluctant witness to an armed robbery. They'd found him at a bus stop, and had to chase him down when he took off. Finally they'd caught him and had ducked under an overhang to take his statement. Fraser had left his hat in the car, not wanting it to get too wet, and on the way back to the 27th Ray had stopped at a stoplight, glanced at Fraser, and somehow his attention got caught by the beads of rainwater glinting in Fraser's dark hair. Ray wanted to reach over and smooth his fingers through the thick, heavy curls. The next thing he knew the car behind him was honking and Fraser was staring at him like he'd lost his mind. Maybe he had.
"Sorry. Spacing out," he muttered as he put the car in gear.
Fortunately they were only a few blocks from work by then, and Ray managed to keep his attention on the road the rest of the way. Getting out of the car, Fraser started to walk away in the direction of the consulate, and Ray couldn't stand for him to go yet.
"Fraser, hang on!"
Fraser stopped, and looked at him, eyebrows lifted in query.
"I. . . um. I'm not sure I got the whole statement right. Could you hang on until I get it typed up and double-check me?"
Fraser frowned slightly, but nodded. "Of course, Ray."
Okay, so it was lame, but it worked. Fraser sat down by Ray's desk as Ray booted up his computer and started to transcribe the statement from his notes. He'd gotten three sentences finished when Frannie came up with a sheaf of 'while-you-were-out' memos.
"Good, you're back. You can call these guys, they've been driving me bats."
Ray took them, glancing at the names. Two were from Stephen Miller, the other three were from some guy named Martin Robbins. Ray didn't recognize the name, so he figured that was something about a case, though the number was naggingly familiar. Still, work should come first, and he was kind of a little nervous about calling Stephen back. He looked apologetically at Fraser.
"Sorry, hang on. Got to make a call before I can finish."
Fraser nodded. "Certainly," he said politely. Sitting down next to Ray's desk, he pulled out his handkerchief and started dabbing at some mud splashes on his pants.
Ray picked up the phone and dialed. The line was answered on the third ring.
"Mane Event, Marty speaking."
"Marty?" Ray asked, surprised. No wonder the number looked familiar. "It's Ray. Hey, I thought I was calling some guy named Martin Robbins. . . oh." He got it suddenly. He hadn't even known what Marty's last name was until that moment. "Let me guess, your mom and dad were into country music?" he asked.
Marty sighed. "Yeah. I guess I'm just lucky our last name wasn't Twitty, or Presley."
"Believe me, I can relate," Ray said. Marty knew what his real name was, since he'd known him long before he became Vecchio, so he knew Ray really did understand. "Look, what's up? I got three messages from you. Somebody rob the store? Is Deb okay?"
"Yeah, she's fine, there' s no problem at the store. No, it's Stephen."
Ray frowned. "Stephen? You mean Friday night at Sidetrack Stephen? What about him?"
"I really liked him, Ray. Like, a lot."
"That's cool. What's it got to do with me?"
"I want to go out with him."
Ray felt like he must have missed something important. "You want to go out? So? Do I look like his mother? You need my permission or what? Ask him."
"I did. I called him and asked him out for tomorrow night. He said he won't go out with me unless you go too."
Ray sat there for a minute, trying to make sense of that. "He said what?"
"He won't go out with me unless you go too," Marty repeated.
Okay, weird didn't begin to cover it here. "He wants me to go out with both of you?" Ray asked, just to be sure he'd heard it right. "Look, Marty, I'm flattered but I don't really think. . . ." Ray began.
"I think he's afraid of me," Marty said sadly, interrupting Ray. "Did I come on too strong? What did I do wrong? Maybe the eyeliner? Should I take off the nail polish?"
"How the heck should I know?" Ray asked, still confused, but starting to put together pieces. Stephen was afraid to be alone with strangers. Marty asked him out, and Stephen called Ray. Hmm. "Wait, wait. Look, he didn't turn you down, right?"
"Well, not exactly, I guess."
"Good, that's good. He wants me to come too, right?"
"Yeah. But I don't understand why."
"Maybe I do. Look, let me call you back. I need to make another call first, and check on something. But don't worry, I think this is okay. It might even be good. And, hey, I'm free Friday night, so if you guys want me, I'm there."
"Really? You mean it? I mean, I know it's not your thing, so . . . ."
"Well, I always said I'd try anything," Ray said with a grin. "Just keep your pants on. I'll call you back."
"Okay. I'll be here."
Ray hung up and looked at Fraser, who was still dabbing distractedly at the same mud spot. "Fraser, just give up and get those cleaned," Ray said. "Look, can you do me a favor? Go over and ask Frannie to see if she can find anything on a guy named Stephen Miller. Brown and blue, about six-feet, mid-thirties. Works in computers."
Fraser's gaze went sharp and hard. "This man is a criminal?"
"No. At least I don't think so. Damn. Have we got a way to look for victims?"
Fraser frowned a little. "Not as such, no. There may be a way, but I suspect that attempting it would be far beyond Francesca's abilities."
"Oh." Ray sighed. "Never mind then. And I probably shouldn't in the first place-- it hasn't got anything to do with a case."
"I. . . ." Fraser hesitated. "I could try."
Ray looked at him sharply. It was the first time in ages Fraser had done anything that even held a hint of being personal. "Yeah?" he asked cautiously. "You'd do that?" God. He sounded so . . . needy. "That'd be great," he said, trying for a more level tone.
Fraser nodded. "It may take a few minutes."
"Not a problem. Hey, I really appreciate it. Really."
Fraser nodded and headed over toward Frannie's desk. Ray picked up the phone and dialed Stephen's number. An answering machine picked up on the fourth ring, one with a pre-recorded generic message. Ray sighed. "Stephen? Hey, it's me, Ray. I'm returning your. . . ."
There was a click, and then a real voice. "Ray?"
"Yeah. Hey there. You called?"
"Yes. I know this is an imposition, I'm sorry."
"Nah, it's okay. What's up?"
"You know your friend Marty?"
Ray played along. "Yeah, what about him?"
"He asked me out."
"Did he? You want to go?"
"I . . . yeah. I do. It's just. . . ."
"Just what?" Ray prompted.
"Remember what I told you the other night? About being around people I don't know very well?"
"Ah," Ray said, and only after he said it did he realize he'd sounded just like Fraser. "Yeah. I remember. So you don't know Marty well enough yet?"
"Exactly," Stephen said, sounding relieved. "So I was wondering if you would mind coming along with us."
"So, I get to play chaperone?" Ray teased. "Make sure you keep your hands off each other?"
Stephen laughed nervously. "Well, uh. . . . "
"Nah, I get it. Don't worry. If it gets to that point I'll make a graceful exit." Fraser reappeared then, with a sheet of paper which he placed on the desk in front of Ray. "Hey, thanks, Frase," he said, picking it up. The name Stephen Miller was featured prominently. "Okay, sorry, back to you now, Stephen. Just let me know when and where, and I'll be there."
"Thanks, Ray. I owe you."
"Yeah, you do. I'll think of some way to collect."
Ray hung up and started reading the print-out Fraser had given him. He didn't recognize the format, and glanced up at the header, eyes widening as he realized it wasn't even a CPD case. Hell, it wasn't even an American case. The information had come from the RCMP. His eyes narrowed as he read on. Kidnapping. Leg-hold trap. Apparently the perp, one Floyd Lucas, had committed suicide and tried to take his daughter, Dolores, with him. Fortunately he hadn't succeeded, or nobody would have known about Stephen. He whistled softly. "Oh man. Okay. This is starting to make sense now. Jesus. No wonder he's screwed up."
"Do you think he's in need of psychological care?" Fraser asked, his voice quiet, but urgent.
He looked up to find Fraser watching him worriedly, and he shook his head. "Stephen? Yeah, probably. But he's not like, violent or anything. More like scared. He's nice enough, I don't get any bad vibes off him, he's just kind of . . . damaged. But then, hey, aren't we all?"
"Are you sure you should be . . . associating with this person?"
Ray felt his jaw drop a little. Had Fraser, the man who thought even the worst people had some good in them, actually said that? Yeah, he had. Whoa. The End Times must be near. Apparently Fraser realized he'd just done something uncharacteristic, because he cleared his throat.
"That is to say, perhaps you should encourage him to see a therapist?"
"Yeah. Good thought. But how I'm going to do that without letting on that I've been abusing my connections in order to get information on him is a good question," Ray said drily.
Color washed across Fraser's face, and he looked away. "Yes, well, I really oughtn't have. . . ."
"Yeah, you oughtn't have, but I appreciate it. Helps a lot. Thanks."
Fraser nodded, slightly more relaxed. "You're welcome," he said, probably out of habit. Then his expression grew more uncomfortable. "I, ah. . . ." He ran his fingers along his eyebrow and cracked his neck. "I would appreciate it if you would destroy that when you finish with it."
"You got it. Just call me Fawn."
To his surprise that drew a ghost of a smile from Fraser. "Shredding should indeed be sufficient. Well, I should be getting back to the Consulate, we have a reception tonight."
"You want a ride? If you hang on for about ten minutes I can do that for you."
For a moment it looked like Fraser was going to say yes, but then he shook his head. "No, I'll walk, thank you."
Oh well. Looked like the detente was over. Ray suppressed a sigh. "Okay. It's your feet. See you tomorrow?"
"Ah. . . likely not. The visiting dignitaries for whom we are having the reception will still be with us tomorrow."
"Oh. Okay." Once upon a time Ray would have asked him to do something on the weekend, but he'd had enough of getting turned down so he didn't bother any more. "Well then, Monday?"
"I expect so."
"Great. Have a good weekend."
"Thanks, you too." Fraser turned, took a step, then stopped and looked back. "Ray, please be careful," he said quietly, then he turned and walked quickly away.
Ray stared after him for a moment, wondering what that was all about. Not coming up with any answers, he shook his head and looked at the paper Fraser had given him again. It was kind of weird that Stephen was Canadian. He wondered how he'd ended up in Chicago, since Stephen didn't have the excuse of being on the trail of the killers of his father. Well, not that Ray knew of, anyway. Trying not to think about Fraser, he picked up the phone to call Marty back.
* * *
Friday night started awkwardly, but armed with what he knew about Stephen, Ray steered the conversation carefully. Within a few minutes Stephen knew that Ray had known Marty for almost ten years, knew where he worked, that he and Debbie were co-owners, that he was currently unattached, had a good sense of humor, and most importantly, wasn't into anything involving chains. Stephen started to relax visibly. When Stephen relaxed, Marty started to relax too. And from there on the evening turned into subtle torture.
They'd made Ray pick the restaurant. He was in the mood for Chinese so he suggested his favorite place in Chinatown, not far from the Riverwalk. Bad plan. He'd eaten there with Fraser so many times that as soon as they walked in the door, Mr. Ming had come over to ask where Fraser was. Very bad start. That had started him thinking about Fraser even more. Remembering the first time they'd eaten there together, which had been the same day they'd met. Trying to make small-talk, he'd told Fraser about going there with his parents as a kid and drinking the fingerbowl, thinking it was soup.
That had led to Fraser telling him about the first time he had lobster, on a date no less, and using his utility knife on it because no one had ever taught him how to eat one. Not that there was a nice, polite way to eat a lobster. God, he missed trading stories with Fraser. He missed a lot of things about Fraser. Even though Fraser hadn't actually gone anywhere, he might as well have.
Then there was Marty and Stephen. They were clicking. Ray could see it happening. Clicking the way he and Fraser used to. Only better, because they both wanted the same thing. Each other. He watched the subtle touches of hand to shoulder, hip to hip as they shifted together and apart on the booth's bench. Remembered having that. Knew he wanted more. He missed what he'd had, and wished for what he couldn't have. And he wanted that time machine even worse. If he couldn't have more, he wanted everything to be back the way it was.
He must have said something, made some sound, because suddenly both Stephen and Marty looked at him. He stared back, trying to think of something to say but his brain was full of Fraser and wanting and hurt and he couldn't. Marty's gaze flickered down, then back up to his face, and he frowned.
"Ray? Are you okay?"
Ray looked down at his plate, realized he hadn't eaten a shred of his Szechuan beef with broccoli. That must have been what Marty had noticed. "Yeah, fine," he said. God. He hadn't even sounded convincing to himself there.
"Nothing. Sorry. Look, you guys mind if I head on out?"
Stephen and Marty looked at each other, and Ray started to relax. He was going to get away with it, they were at that stage where nothing mattered but them. Then they both seemed to nod at the same time, and Stephen spoke.
"Yeah, we mind."
It took a minute for him to process that. He hadn't expected it. "You. . . oh." He clenched his jaw, then relaxed the muscles enough to talk. "Well, that's too bad, 'cause I'm going anyway." He slid along the bench and stood up, threw some bills on the table to pay his part of the tab, and stalked out of the restaurant, happy to have something to be pissed about. So, they thought they could tell him what to do? Not hardly. He headed for the parking lot and his car. Just about then his shadow thrown on the ground by the streetlight multiplied, growing twins, one on either side. He tensed, ready for a fight if it turned out to be a mugging.
"Hey there, cowboy," Marty said. "Slow down. Talk."
Oh, great. Babysitters. Ray shoved his hands into his pockets to hide his fists, and shook his head. "No."
"Why not?" Stephen asked, on his other side.
Ray stopped and glared at him. "Do you talk to everybody about all the shitty stuff in your life?" Stephen flinched, and Ray instantly felt badly, knowing what he knew about Stephen. "Hey, that was out of line, I'm sorry," he said quickly.
Stephen shook his head. "No, no it wasn't. And no, I don't talk to everybody about . . . my life. In fact I don't talk to anybody about it. But that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. After eight years, I think I'm finally beginning to realize that."
Whoa. That was. . . way more than he'd bargained on. Ray wanted to tell him that he knew, but he couldn't. He didn't want to get Fraser in trouble.
Marty tugged on his elbow. "Hey, we're not far from Ping Tom Park. Let's take a walk down to the river, we can talk there."
Ray let himself be steered down to the park, with its pagoda-like pavilion. A few other people wandered through the area, but it was a little chilly for just hanging out so they mostly had the place to themselves. The sound of the river was soothing. Ray walked over to where he could see the moving water, and leaned against one of the pillars. He told himself that he could feel the sinuous dragons sculpted on it through his coat, but he really couldn't. The park's lamps spread pools of light and shadow around the area.
"So, you gonna talk to us?" Marty asked, standing in front of him, arms crossed, trying to look belligerent. Stephen mirrored his stance.
Ray looked at them and smiled. "Guys, I'm a cop. I do third degree for a living, and this ain't it."
Marty sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Friends shouldn't need to use interrogation tactics," he said seriously.
"Oh, fine. Guilt. Guilt's good. Guilt works," Ray sighed. He tipped his head back looking up at the few bright stars that managed to flicker feebly through the light-haze, feeling the pillar cold behind his head. "I've just been. . . kind of confused, lately. And I think I fucked things up with my partner."
"Your. . . partner?" Marty asked, startled. "I thought you were straight."
Ray laughed a little. "Yeah. So did I. That's the problem. But I meant the other kind."
"Oh, right. Fraser. The Mountie."
Stephen did a double take. "A Mountie? How the hell can a Chicago cop be partnered with a Mountie?"
Ray smiled wearily. "That's a long story. It takes about two hours to tell, so we won't get into the details, just go with it."
"I. . . okay."
"Wait," Marty said. "Go back. What do you mean that's the problem? Are you telling me you're not straight?"
"You guess not? What makes you think that?"
"Well, to get kind of personal, when you realize you're thinking about a guy instead of a chick when you're. . . well, taking care of things, that's a pretty clear sign, right?"
Stephen snorted. "I'd say so. Sounds familiar to me, anyway."
"There you go then."
"So your partner's a homophobe?" Marty asked, frowning.
"I almost wish he was," Ray sighed. "No. He's not. Not at all. In fact, you were right on the money about him. He's gay. Or bi. Whatever."
"I was right about him?" Marty asked, puzzled. "When did I ever say that?"
Ray sighed. Time to 'fess up. What was one more thing? "Um. . . well, you were talking about him one time when you didn't know you were. Remember a couple months back when I yelled at you?"
"Yeah," Marty said guardedly.
"Well, you were talking to that chick about a guy named Ben who works at the Canadian Consulate. And there's only one Ben that works at the Canadian consulate, and that's my partner, Fraser."
Marty nodded. "Right, right. And I told her I thought that from the description, he sounded like he was probably gay. Yeah. I remember that now. I don't get it, though. . . if you're gay and he's gay then why did you get mad at me for saying that?"
"Because I didn't know he was, yet, and I didn't think I was. But after you said that, I couldn't stop thinking about it. About him. About him in ways I hadn't before. It just kind of got stuck in my brain and now it won't come out."
He chanced a look at Marty, found him staring, wide-eyed. "Oh shit. Ray. . . ."
Ray shook his head. "Nah. Not your fault. It probably would have happened sooner or later anyway. I mean, I was already three-quarters of the way there on my own. I just didn't know it yet. You were just. . . what do they call it, a cata. . . cat. . . . " he struggled for the word, it was on the tip of his tongue. God he hated it when he did that. He knew the word, he just couldn't shake it out of his memory.
"Catalyst," Stephen said softly.
"Yeah. That," Ray said, nodding his thanks. "Catalyst.
"What did you do?" Stephen asked. "How did you fuck things up?"
"I told him."
Both Stephen and Marty looked perplexed. "And that was a problem?"
Ray wished he had a couple of those tequila shooters from last week. This would be a lot easier. "Yeah. You could say that. When I told him I wanted to kiss him. . . guess I should be glad I didn't tell him the rest of what I wanted, hunh? Anyway, when I told him, he got pretty upset, and nothing has been the same since."
"He got upset?" Stephen asked, sounding confused.
Ray nodded. "Yeah."
"Hmmm," Stephen said.
"Yeah," Marty agreed.
"What?" Ray asked, staring from one to the other. "What the hell does 'hmmm' and 'yeah' mean."
"Well, just that it's kind of weird," Marty said. "You sure he's gay?"
"He said he had. . . experience."
"Hunh. I don't know too many guys who'd turn you down if you said you wanted to lay one on them. I mean, it wasn't like you were asking him to marry you. Just for a kiss. I don't see why that's a problem."
Something about Marty's words resonated. For a few seconds Ray had the feeling he was on the verge of an epiphany, but he couldn't hold it, and whatever it was slipped away. He shook his head and tried to explain. "See, it's just that Fraser's. . . different. He doesn't do anything without believing in it. So he wouldn't do something just for the hell of it."
Marty sat down on one of the benches, legs crossed, elbow propped on his knee, and his chin on his fist. "Sounds like a pretty boring way to live."
"Just because a guy has integrity doesn't mean he's boring," Ray snapped, compelled to defend Fraser. "He's not."
"Whoa, okay, I take it back!" Marty said, spreading his hands.
"Can I ask something personal?" Stephen said.
"Yeah, why not? It seems to be true confessions time here."
"Have you ever even kissed a man?"
Ray thunked his head back against the column a little. Not hard enough to hurt, just sort of trying to knock some sense into himself. "You mean other than my dad when I was a kid? No. I was going to see if I could, but. . . " he shot a rueful glance at Stephen. "It didn't work out." He could see the light dawn on both of them, and chuckled. "What can I say, Marty? You have good taste."
"Ray. . . I had no idea. I mean, I thought. . . ."
"Yeah, I know. Not a problem. It's better this way."
They were all quiet for a moment, the lap and murmur of the river, and the sound of traffic insulating the night from total silence.
"So you don't really even know if you're attracted to men," Stephen said.
Ray stared at the ground between his feet, the concrete looking like old ivory in the lamplight. "Well, yes and no. I don't have any hands-on experience, but I know how I feel about Fraser. That doesn't necessarily mean anything. Fraser thinks it's just a combination of curiosity and familiarity. He could be right. Wouldn't be the first time I've deluded myself into thinking something's more than it is."
"So, why don't you go back to that part of your plan? Give it a shot?"
Ray's head snapped up as he stared at Stephen, frowning. "Give what a shot?"
"Find yourself a guy and kiss him. See if you like it or not."
Ray snorted. "Oh yeah. That's easy. Just walk up to some guy and plant one on him? Yeah, that'd go over well."
Marty cleared his throat. "Um. . . ."
Ray stared at him. So did Stephen.
"Well, if we're just talking kissing," Marty said, a trace of mischief in his expression.
Stephen chuckled. "Way to go on the recruitment thing there, Marty. Don't forget about the free toaster."
Marty laughed, and Ray had the feeling he was missing something, but it didn't really matter. He looked from Stephen to Marty and back. "But. . . ."
"Some of us aren't quite as uptight as others," Stephen said gently. "Anyway, it's in a good cause, I think."
Ray thought about it for a few seconds, then shook his head. "This is just too weird," he said. "I can't just . . . do that."
Marty cocked his head and stared at him challengingly. "Why not? Scared?"
"Hell yeah," Ray said feelingly.
Marty looked surprised. "Really? I mean, Jesus, Ray. You're a cop. If I got out of line you could probably have me on the ground in three seconds flat. What's there to be afraid of?"
"Oh. . . maybe discovering thirty-six years of kidding myself?"
"Hardly that," Marty said, grinning. "Twenty, twenty-two maybe, unless you were pretty precocious."
Ray snorted. "Okay, yeah. I'm overreacting."
"Yeah. I mean, in the words of an old song, a kiss is just a kiss. It's not more unless you make it more. How many women have you kissed, without it ever meaning anything important?"
Oh, not a good question. "A few," Ray admitted, carefully keeping the actual total to himself. It was pretty pitiful and he knew it.
"See? Just think of it like that."
Could he? Maybe. He closed his eyes, psyching himself up for it. Next thing he knew there were lips on his, and the wiry brush of trimmed goatee against his skin. He jerked back, shocked, and whacked the back of his head against the column, not on purpose this time. He stared into Marty's amused hazel eyes.
"Sorry, you surprised me."
"Want to try again?"
"Um. . . okay."
"Close your eyes again, it'll be easier."
Ray closed his eyes. This time there were hands on his skin first, one on either side of his face. Holding him still, probably, he thought with a momentary flash of amusement. Then there was a warm touch against his mouth. Soft at first, but then firming. He felt the goatee again, mostly soft, but one sharp prickle that made him jump a little. He'd never realized how a beard felt from . . . the other side. It was really weird.
Marty pulled back a little. "Relax, Ray," he said. "Try not to think."
Don't think? Oh yeah, that was going to happen. Right. He tried. He really did. Zen. Nothing. Lips moving on his. Warm. Soft. Nice. Tongue. Open. Fraser. . . no. Not-Fraser. Nice but not-Fraser. Marty drew back again, looked at him with lifted eyebrows.
Ray licked his lips unconsciously, and smiled a little. "Nice."
Marty beamed. "All right!"
"But. . . and I mean, it was nice, I didn't hate it, but. . . there's no spark, you know?"
Marty's face fell a little. "Oh."
Marty shook his head. "No, that's okay. It was a kiss. . . but not a kiss, right?"
"Yeah," Ray said, and glanced at Stephen, saw him standing with his back to them. He looked like Ray had felt a lot of the time lately: lonely. He felt badly. This was supposed to be Stephen and Marty's night out. They weren't supposed to be spending all this time on him. He nodded at Stephen.
Marty followed his glance and nodded solemnly. He crossed to where Stephen stood, and slid an arm around his waist, his other hand on Stephen's shoulder. They spoke for a moment, quietly. Ray couldn't hear words, just the murmur of voices. Then Marty's hand moved from Stephen's shoulder to his face, turning it a little, and he kissed Stephen.
It wasn't a curious, experimental kiss like the one Ray had just gotten. Ray could feel the heat from where he stood. Something stirred and curled inside him. He looked away quickly. What, he was a voyeur now? Got turned on watching other people kiss? Great. He guessed it said something, though, that he could get turned on watching two guys kiss.
A few seconds later he heard one of them clear his throat and looked up to see they'd separated, both of them looking a little flustered. Neither of them looked at each other. Thinking about the kiss with Marty, and the difference between his reactions then and now, it suddenly hit Ray what the difference was. He snapped his fingers.
"That's it," he said.
"What's it?" Stephen asked, looking at him. Marty was too.
"I think I know what the problem was."
"Problem?" Marty asked.
"Yeah. Why no spark. No offense, Marty, but you're not exactly my type."
"Oh," Marty said, nodding. "Okay, yeah. That makes sense. It's not much of a test case if you're not attracted to begin with. So, what is your type?"
"Um. . . ." He really didn't mean to do it, but Ray's eyes went to Stephen's face. Stephen's gaze met Ray's, and he seemed to startle, eyes widening a little. Ray looked away, but not fast enough.
"Oh," Marty said. "Duh." He paused a moment. "What do you think, Stephen? Is it worth a shot?"
"Well, would that mean I get the toaster?" Stephen asked thoughtfully.
Marty chuckled. "Sure, I'll forfeit."
Ray suddenly realized where this was going. "Um, that's okay. . . I don't need to . . . ."
"Now, Ray," Marty said. "You don't want to hurt Steve's feelings now do you? I mean, fair's fair."
"Yeah, what am I, chopped liver?" Stephen asked with a put-upon air.
Ray sighed. "No fair."
Stephen moved closer. "Nobody ever said life was fair. Close your eyes."
From the first touch he knew it was going to be different this time. Maybe not perfect, but . . . righter. Marty was lean and wiry, like Ray, and hadn't felt right at all. Stephen had the same kind of solidity that Fraser had, and if there was more of him, that was hard to tell through coats and clothing. And, God, don't think about naked Fraser. Think about . . . yeah. No beard. That was good. Stephen was clean-shaven, like Fraser, his skin fine-grained and smooth. Shit. Back to skin again. Stop that.
Lips brushed his. He shivered. Stephen's fingers touched his jaw, turned his head slightly, changing the angle. Yes. Better. This was how it should be. This was how it would feel, with Fraser. He felt moist heat against his lips, and he opened to it, one of his hands coming up to cup the back of Stephen's head, fingers threading through the heavy, silky waves. Tongue teased his, and he teased back, feeling heat spread through him, feeling his breath and heartbeat quicken, feeling that stirring again, down deep.
Stephen drew back, slowly, their lips parted almost reluctantly. Ray opened his eyes, ready to protest, and met Stephen's uncertain gaze. That brought him abruptly back to reality, reminding him where he was, what they were doing, and who he was, and wasn't, with.
Marty's voice broke the last thread of intimacy between them. Ray blinked and cleared his throat. Stephen stepped back, and moved closer to Marty. Ray smiled a little bit at that.
"Yeah, um, makes a difference," he said, not sure how to diplomatically say he'd definitely felt more than just 'nice' this time. But then, he really hadn't been kissing Stephen. Not in his head. He knew that. Maybe not fair, but. . . he couldn't help it.
Marty nodded. "So. You find out what you needed to know?"
Ray sighed. "Yeah. I did."
"You don't sound very happy about it," Stephen said, looking worried.
"Yeah, well . . . it's good and bad. Good to know, but it makes things. . . complicated, you know?" Ray shrugged. "Hey, thanks, though. For talking, and for the . . . test drives," he said with a wink. "But I don't think you guys need me around any more, so I'm gonna head on out now, okay?"
"You're sure?" Stephen asked.
Ray nodded decisively. "Yeah, I'm sure. Have fun. It's been a kick."
"Call if you need to talk," Marty said.
"Yeah. I will. Thanks." He put his hands in his pockets and headed back up the path the way they'd come. He had a lot of thinking to do.
* * *
For the first time in his life, Ray understood that old saw about how the brain is the biggest erogenous zone in the human body. He'd always thought that was a load of bullshit, until now. His brain was suddenly in full-out rebellion. He kept telling himself to just quit thinking about Fraser like that, and it seemed like the more he told himself that, the less obedient his brain was. How could it be that even though he'd never touched Fraser in anything but a platonic fashion, suddenly all he could think about was the way Fraser would feel in a definitely-not-platonic way?
He'd thought once he'd kissed a guy, the curiosity would go away. He'd know, and it would all be okay and he could go back to normal. . . or well, whatever was passing for normal these days. He wouldn't be lying on his couch with his fingers remembering the resilience of Fraser's shoulder, and the strength of his grip. He wouldn't be thinking the taut, round curve of Fraser's ass against his inner thighs that time Fraser had practically been sitting in his lap in that sub. God. He would not be thinking about Fraser's mouth, and wondering how much better it would feel than either Marty's or Stephen's, just because he was . . . Fraser, and he was always better than everyone else.
He grabbed a throw-pillow and put it over his face, wondering if it were possible to smother himself. That would solve the problem. Unfortunately the pillow smelled like. . . Fraser. Damp wool. Leather. That indefinable woodsy scent that he shouldn't have, not living in downtown Chicago, but did. Fraser had last sat on his couch over a month ago, yet the pillow still managed to smell like him. That just wasn't fair. Not at all. Ray threw the pillow across the room. It hit the aquarium and startled Ringo, who fell off his rock.
"Sorry," Ray said, and got up to go get him some fresh lettuce in apology. "Way to go. Scare the turtle. What did he ever do to you, Ray?" he muttered, opening the top of the aquarium to put the lettuce in. He waited for Ringo to stick his head out again and after a minute or two nudged the lettuce closer. Ringo stretched out his neck, and grabbed a leaf. Ray felt better. Sort of.
He latched the aquarium top back down and stepped away, rolling his shoulders, which felt like he'd just gone ten rounds with a heavy bag. His whole body seemed tense and achy. Maybe he was coming down with something. Yeah. That was probably it. He couldn't be held responsible for what his brain thought when he was sick, could he? No. He was pretty sure you got a pass on that.
He went in the bathroom and looked in the medicine cabinet to see if he had any cold medicine. He did, but he wasn't sure enough he actually had a cold to take it. He also had some ibuprofen, though, so he took a couple, then worried belatedly that he thought he'd read somewhere that you weren't supposed to take the stuff on top of alcohol, and he'd had a shot of scotch when he'd gotten home. Or was that acetaminophen you weren't supposed to take with liquor? Oh well. Too late now in any case.
If he was getting sick maybe he should just go to bed. Try to nip it in the bud. He peeled out of his clothes and threw them in the hamper next to the sink, brushed his teeth, and then headed for bed. He got in, pulled up the covers, turned out the light and as soon as he started to relax, those insidious Fraser thoughts started up again. . . no. Damn it. He was not going to do that. He wasn't. Not this time. It was kind of skanky to do that. He felt guilty every time he did it, which made it more a pain than a pleasure. But. . . .
He threw back the covers and sat up. Shower. He would go take a cold shower. He stomped into the bathroom and turned the water on hard and cold, gritted his teeth, and stepped in. The shock just about killed him. He stood it for maybe four minutes, shivering so hard his teeth chattered, then turned off the shower, grabbed a towel and huddled into its soft warmth. His shoulders were even tighter than before. It occurred to him that if he was getting sick, a cold shower maybe wasn't the brightest thing he could have done. He wasn't real good at forethought tonight. He dried off, got back in bed, and pulled the covers up, still shivering now and then. Closing his eyes, he willed himself to sleep.
* * *
He was on his way up from the laundry room with his stuff from the dryer when he rounded a corner and ran smack into Fraser. They nearly went down, but Fraser somehow got an arm around Ray's waist while the other one clutched at the railing and he managed to keep them upright. Deja vu. Ray was sure this had happened before. They ended up close. Front-to-front close. Really close. As close as Marty, and Stephen had been when they'd. . . .
Fraser didn't let him go right away. He looked at Ray very solemnly. "Let's go upstairs."
Ray nodded. "Yeah. Okay."
Fraser led the way, and when they got there, the door was open. Ray didn't remember leaving it open, but for some reason that didn't bother him. They walked in, and Fraser turned and closed the door behind them. Locked it. Turned back to Ray and took the laundry-basket out of his hands and put it on the table.
"Close your eyes, Ray."
Wondering what was up, Ray closed his eyes, hoping Fraser didn't have some awful thing he was going to make him taste. He felt little pulls at the front of his shirt. His shirt? Did he own a plaid flannel shirt? Oh, yeah. He'd stolen one from Fraser that one time. He felt the shirt fall open, and felt the tails of the shirt slowly tugged out of his jeans. Weird. Maybe Fraser was going to put a wire on him for some undercover job.
A little twitch below his waist. Another. Another. Two more. Okay. He didn't usually have to shuck his jeans for a wire. But he trusted Fraser so he'd go with it. He was tempted to open his eyes, though. Warm palms ghosted up his sides, almost tickling, almost. He felt his shirt slipped off his shoulders. The cuffs weren't buttoned, so it fell to the floor.
"Fraser?" he said, uncertainly.
"Shhh," Fraser said.
Lips touched his, too briefly, moved to his cheek. He turned his head, searching for them, but missed, and they found their way to his collarbone. Tongue slid across the skin of his throat, moved downward to a nipple. He gasped, reached, held, his fingers tangling in silky curls, holding Fraser's mouth against him. God. Oh God. Yes.
Fingers moved down his ribs, a fingertip dipped into his navel, traced the line of fine hair downward, into the thick mesh at the juncture of his thighs. Juncture. He'd been around Fraser way too long if he was using words like that. Way too long, and not nearly long enough. A warm hand slipped into the open fly of his jeans, pushed them out of the way, cupped his rapidly hardening cock.
"Fraser!" he whispered. "Please."
Mouth tugged hard at his nipple, hand tightened, perfectly. Stroked. Ray was afraid to open his eyes. It would all go away if he did. He needed it to stay. Needed the sure, strong touch. Wanted that mouth on his. Hot, wet, and hungry. He moaned. Fraser pushed him back against the wall, and covered his mouth with his free hand as his other one stroked harder, faster, pushing him, pushing him, pushing him. 'No, too fast, not so fast,' he thought. 'I want it to last. I want it forever. I want you for. . . .'
It hit him then, the rush of mindlessness, the trembling, pulsing gush of pleasure. He shuddered, choked out a cry that was trapped between 'forever' and 'Fraser.' And opened his eyes.
* * *
By Monday his cold was a full-blown reality. Ray went to work anyway, hoping somewhat meanly that he could give it to Dewey, so he used his computer to access some rap sheets, hopefully getting germs all over the keyboard. Fraser came in, watched him for a few minutes, and then disappeared. Great. Some partner. Couldn't even say hello before taking off to someplace less contagious.
Ray coughed and sneezed his way through finishing a report for a case file, figuring he could infect Welsh, and maybe the file clerks as well. Share the joy. He was wondering if it was at all possible to infect Fraser or if germs just lined up in orderly columns and marched away at the sight of him, when Fraser came back and set a tall Styrofoam container on the desk in front of him. Ray looked up at him blearily.
"Chicken soup from Fleischmann's Deli."
Soup. Fraser had gone out and gotten him soup. Even though things were crappy between them. Ray felt about two inches tall for thinking mean things about him.
"Wow, thanks," he said stuffily. "That's really nice of you."
Fraser frowned at him, probably translating since Ray could barely understand himself, and then nodded. "I'm sure you would do the same under similar circumstances."
Guilt dug its claws deeper. Ray took the lid off the container and attempted a sniff. Whoa. Even as stuffed up as he was he could smell that. "Enough garlic in there to choke a whole flock of vampires."
Fraser beamed. "Precisely. Garlic is an excellent natural specific against the common cold. And I'm sure your system will be glad of the proteins and fat rendered in the stock."
Yuck. Ray wasn't sure how, but somehow Fraser had just managed to make chicken soup sound unappetizing. Still, he was sure it tasted better than DayQuil. He took a cautious sip, and could almost feel his congestion loosen as the hot liquid went down. He took another sip, a bigger one. The phone rang. He swallowed. "Can you get that? I sound like Elmer Fudd."
A corner of Fraser's mouth twitched. Ray instantly felt better. An almost-smile. He hadn't seen one of those in ages. Fraser nodded and picked up the phone, holding it slightly away from his mouth, no doubt to avoid contact with Ray's bugs.
"Twenty-seventh division, Major Crimes, Detective Vecchio's line." He paused a moment, listening, then unconsciously shook his head as he replied. "No, I'm afraid Detective Vecchio isn't available at the moment. May I take a message?" There was another pause, and Fraser pulled a notepad over and picked up a pen. "Yes. Yes." Suddenly he went. . . stiff. His lips thinned and his jaw tightened. "Yes, certainly. I'll see that he gets the message. Thank you, I'm sure he'll appreciate the warning."
Without writing anything down, Fraser hung up the phone very precisely and turned to look at Ray. "That was a gentleman named Marty, calling to tell you to be sure to take extra vitamin C, because both he and another gentleman named Stephen appear to have come down with bad colds."
Ray made a face. "Too late."
"It would appear so," Fraser concurred. He was silent for a moment, started to speak, stopped, and then apparently couldn't resist any longer. "I hope you'll take that as a lesson."
Ray stared at him, puzzled. "Hunh?"
"I hate saying 'I told you so,' but I did suggest that you take care in your associations."
Okay, that was just enough. Enough. It didn't matter how he felt about Fraser, he wasn't putting up with that. "Uh huh. Yeah. So I'm not supposed to associate with people who have colds? Fine. I'll let you practice what you preach, then." He stood up, grabbed his coat off the back of the chair, and walked over to Frannie's desk. "I'm going home. I'm sick."
"It's about time," Frannie said, brandishing a spray-bottle of disinfectant in his direction. "If I come down with that cold you're in big trouble, bro!"
"Don't worry. Only people with low associates catch colds," Ray growled, his sarcasm somewhat muted by his stuffed-up nose.
Frannie looked puzzled and mouthed his words to herself as she tried to figure out what he'd said. Ray left her to it, and headed for his car. He was just unlocking the door when he heard footsteps.
"What?" he growled, opening the door without turning around.
"You forgot your soup."
Ray counted to five. Turned around. Fraser was standing there, all pristine and perfect, holding the Styrofoam container in his hand. Ray reached out and took it, looked from it to Fraser, then back. "You know what? You keep it," he said, and let go.
The soup made a satisfying splash as it hit the ground. Fraser's startled yelp was even more satisfying. Ignoring the soup splattered on his own pants and shoes, Ray got in the car, slammed the door, and burned rubber. It felt good.
* * *
Ray got home, crawled into bed and fell asleep. When he finally woke up, he was feeling almost human again. He felt like he'd finally gotten a good night's sleep, for the first time in ages. He was still stuffy, but nowhere near as badly. Not sneezing any more. Eyes not watering. Yeah. Human. He took a shower, a long, hot one, pulled on his favorite flannel sleep-pants and a t-shirt, and headed into the kitchen to see what he had to eat.
Nothing looked good. He didn't want a salad. He didn't want a sandwich. He didn't want take-out. His leftover beef stew didn't appeal. He closed his eyes, rolled his tongue around in his mouth, trying to figure out what he was in the mood for. And. . . yeah. That was it. He opened the cabinet and pulled out a can of soup. Chicken noodle. He found the can opener, cranked it around, and when he unlatched it, the lid fell into the can with a plop, splashing a little soup onto the counter. Ray stared at the dribble of soup, and suddenly remembered. . . .
He'd sullied The Uniform. He was going to burn in hell for all eternity for that one, with the Ice Queen stoking the fire. He wondered if he could claim temporary insanity. Abruptly he found he didn't want chicken soup any more. He dumped the contents of the can down the disposal and ran it, the whole time imagining his mother lecturing him about wasting food. He got out the leftover beef stew and heated it in the microwave, figuring that would quiet her down. It did.
He ate slowly, without much pleasure. The cold made everything taste funny, plus he had to breathe around his food. Still, he needed to eat. He heated water and made a cup of the ginger tea that his mom had left in the cabinet for when he was sick. She swore it cured just about anything, and it didn't taste half bad with a little honey. He made it last as long as he could, but finally he had to face things. He sighed, and reached for the telephone.
The message light was blinking. Three quick blinks. Pause. Three quick blinks. Pause. Three messages. God, he must really have been out of it to sleep through three calls. He hit play. The first call was a hang-up. The second call was a breather-- well, sort of. Just a few seconds. The third call was . . . .
Ray sagged. Trust Fraser to beat him to it. He braced himself for the next words.
"I . . . ah. Well. This is rather difficult, on the machine. I wish you'd pick up." There was a pause. "Perhaps you're out. Or in the shower." Another pause. "Well then, please call me when you get this message. I think we need to talk. Face to face."
The machine clicked off and beeped to let him know that was the end of the message. Like he couldn't figure that out. End of the message. Yeah. In a lot of ways. Ray touched the phone, fingers hovering over the playback button. No. It wouldn't matter how many times he played it. It wouldn't change. He sat there for a long time, thinking. He needed a plan. Had to have it figured out, before he called. Before they talked. If he didn't go in there with a plan, then the game would be Fraser's from the start, and he knew they would end up saying apologies they didn't feel and pretending like nothing had ever happened.
He didn't have a lot of options. Not any more. He thought about going to work every day, seeing Fraser there. It was bad enough seeing Stella there all the time. Seeing Fraser the same way would be . . . well, he just wasn't that big a masochist. So. Time to do what he should have done months ago. He sighed and picked up the handset, punched in Fraser's desk phone number, one that was as familiar as his own.
Fraser answered it on the first ring. "Canadian Consulate, liaison officer Benton Fraser speaking."
Fraser sounded surprised. And . . . happy? What, had he thought Ray would just ditch him? As soon as he thought it, it occurred to Ray that yeah, Fraser probably did think that, after Vecchio took off the way he did. And before him, there was the nutcase. Oh, yeah. Fraser was used to people ditching him. His game plan underwent some hasty revisions.
"You're right, we do need to talk, and in person is better. You. . . want to come over?" Ray asked.
"Ray it's. . . ." Fraser started to say, then he stopped. "Ah, yes. I would. I'll be there shortly."
"I'll be here," Ray said. Neither of them said goodbye. He hung up the phone after Fraser did, rubbed his face, and went to clean up his dishes, straightening up out of habit. It wasn't until he went to wipe off the stove that he looked at the clock, and stared in surprise. It was a quarter to midnight. He almost reached for the phone to call Fraser back and tell him not to come, but he knew it wouldn't do any good. He was already on his way. It was too late. No wonder he'd hesitated. Why the hell had he agreed to come in the first place? Unhinged. As usual.
To kill time, Ray cleaned his coffee-maker and made a pot of tea in it. Be prepared. Wasn't that Fraser's thing? Proper preparation? He started to neaten up the living room a little, but hadn't gotten very far when someone knocked at the door. He was confused. There was no way Fraser could have gotten there yet, but who else would be knocking at midnight?
Cautiously he went over and stood just to the left of the door. "Who's there?"
There was a pause, like whoever it was had to think about it, then finally:
"It's me, Ray."
'Me.' Oh, that was informative. But of course he knew the voice. He opened the door and let Fraser in. It always seemed strange to see him in civvies, but he looked good in them. Leather bomber jacket, blue sweater, jeans that had probably been fashionable about 1980 or so. "How the hell did you get here so fast? You change in a phone booth somewhere and fly?"
A faint smile tried to shape Fraser's mouth but didn't have much success. "I took a taxi," he said, taking off his hat.
Fraser took a taxi? This was worse than he'd thought. "Come on in. Take off your coat. Have a seat. You want some tea? Where's Dief?"
"Thank you, tea would be very nice," Fraser said, taking off his jacket. He held it for a moment, turning toward the coat closet, then seemed to think better of it and folded it and placed it, with his hat, on the little catch-all table beside the door. "I left Diefenbaker at the consulate. It's difficult to find drivers who'll permit a wolf to ride in their cabs."
Wondering if Fraser was preparing for a quick getaway, Ray went into the kitchen and made two cups of tea, one with, and one without sugar. He took both out to the living room. Fraser was sitting on the couch, or, well, more perching on it. Ray handed Fraser his mug and sat down in the wing chair. They both sipped their tea for a moment.
"So, I. . . ." he started.
"I feel I. . . ." Fraser began, simultaneously.
They both laughed a little, and Fraser inclined his head. "After you."
Ray nodded, took a deep breath, let it out, and started over. "Look, I'm really sorry about the soup thing. That was really juvenile. Send me the cleaning bill, okay?"
"Certainly not!" Fraser protested. "I wouldn't dream of it. Frankly, I feel that. . . ."
"Fraser, it's still my turn," Ray said firmly.
Fraser shut up, although clearly reluctantly. "Of course, Ray."
"Okay. So I've been thinking about this. I know I fu. . . messed things up. No, let me finish," he said as Fraser opened his mouth again. "I did. And there's just no way to put it back the way it was. Hitting me probably wouldn't work, and besides we don't have a boatload of fake dead guys to get us operating on the same frequency once it's done. It's not your fault, it's my fault. I should have just kept my mouth shut, but I never did know when to do that. Anyway. . . ." Ray looked away from Fraser's curious, concerned gaze, knowing he'd never get through the next part if he didn't. "I know I'm not happy, and I'm pretty damned sure you're not happy. And I'd rather have nothing at all than just this. So under the circumstances, I think it'd be easier on both of us if I asked for a transfer."
Startled, Ray looked back at Fraser. He looked like someone had just smacked him upside the head with a two-by-four. Stunned, and . . . in pain. Ray swallowed, trying to hang onto his resolve.
"Ray. . . I . . . no! I can't allow you to do that."
Okay, that helped. Got his back up. "I don't see how there's any allowing to be done here, Fraser. It's my call."
"No, I know that, I just meant. . . ." He rubbed his forehead, shook his head. "God! I can't. . . ." Fraser smacked his thigh with a clenched fist. "I didn't know. . . I had no idea. . . I'm so sorry. I didn't know I made you feel you have no other choice. Clearly I did."
Ray shook his head, annoyed that Fraser was trying to make this about him. "Look, I told you it wasn't your fault, Fraser. This is all me. I managed this on my own."
"That's not true, Ray. I'd like to offer an explanation. Not an excuse, mind you. I have no excuse whatsoever. But I do have an explanation. One that reflects far more poorly on me than on you."
Ray sighed. "Don't, Fraser. I knew you'd do this, try to say it was your fault. It's not, okay?"
"Please hear me out, Ray. I think you owe me that. We've shared a great deal . . . ."
"You mean I've shared a great deal," Ray muttered.
"What?" Fraser said, looking stricken.
"You never share anything," Ray said belligerently.
"I. . . ." Fraser seemed suddenly at a loss. "I'm sorry," he said stiffly. "You're quite right. I'm just not. . . used to sharing. It's not easy for me."
Ray sighed. "Okay. Go on. I still owe you for the soup thing anyway."
"The 'soup thing' was well deserved. I've been thinking about it since this morning, and have come to the conclusion that I've been a complete jackass," he said, looking disgusted.
Ray stared at him, Fraser said 'jackass'? And come to think of it, he'd said 'God' a minute ago. He must really be wound up. Cautiously he fished for more information. "Okay, I'm not saying yes or no on the whole jackass thing, but maybe you could explain?"
Fraser sipped his tea. Ray sat quietly, waiting, recognizing the signs of a man trying to marshal his thoughts. Finally Fraser sighed.
"I'm afraid I did exactly what I accused you of doing, making assumptions about your behavior. Assumptions that were patently uncharacteristic and outright offensive. And I apologize."
Ray thought back over the last few weeks, and started to frown. "Just what were you assuming?"
Fraser set down his tea. "I . . . ah, that's. . . somewhat embarrassing."
"Yeah, well, you brought it up," Ray said, putting his own cup down and crossing his arms. "So spill."
Fraser nodded, and stared down at his hands. "As you probably recall, I accused you of making certain assumptions about my sexual proclivities."
Ray nodded. "Yeah, I remember. What's that got to . . . wait a second. Hang on here." Things suddenly started clicking."You thought I was doing the nasty with Stephen and Marty, didn't you? That's why the cracks about being careful. And the 'associating' thing. Jesus Christ, Fraser!"
Fraser looked miserable. "I told you I was being a jackass."
"You can say that again! That's rich. Really rich. You tell me to get lost, find somebody else to experiment with, and then you get pissy because you think I'm doing what you told me to do? That's. . . that's. . . hypocritical!" Ray said, triumphant at getting the word right the first time.
Fraser looked even more miserable than he had a second before. "I know. I know that. You're absolutely right. It's reprehensible."
A lot of things were starting to make sense, but something was still missing. He had the criminal, and the crime, but not the motive. "Why, Fraser?"
Fraser lifted his gaze to meet Ray's, and Ray knew he'd never seen so much pain in anyone's eyes. Ever. It literally took his breath away for a moment.
"Because I was jealous," Fraser said, his voice a rough whisper.
"You were jealous?" Ray tried to process that. It made no sense. None. "What do you mean you were jealous? How could you be jealous if you didn't want to do anything with me?"
"I never said I wanted nothing to do with you," Fraser said.
Ray stared at him. "Now hang on there. I distinctly remember you asking me to take you home."
"I did," Fraser agreed.
"You said I should have known better than to hit on you."
"No, I didn't," Fraser said.
"Yes you did. You said. . . ." Ray thought about it. What the hell had Fraser said. . . oh, yeah. 'It's not in my nature to be casual about such a thing.' He stopped, thought about it more carefully, and scowled, leveling accusing fingers at Fraser. "You deliberately said that in a way I wouldn't get!"
Fraser sighed. "Yes. I did."
Having expected Fraser's usual protestation of innocence, Ray was left momentarily speechless by his admission. "You. . . did?" Ray ventured after a moment. "Why?"
Fraser sat forward, rubbed both hands over his face and through his hair, a gesture Ray had never seen him make before. He stared at his feet. "I was. . . I mean, I am, really. . . God. I can't do this. I'm sorry. I thought I could." He stood up abruptly, and headed for the door.
Ray was there in a flash, putting his body between Fraser and the doorknob. "Oh no you don't. I am not going to try to figure out what the hell you're thinking based on one lousy incomplete sentence. You talk to me, damn it! What the hell is going on in your head?"
Fraser stepped back, looked at the windows, and for a second Ray thought he was going to make a break for it, but apparently he remembered they were on the third floor and thought better of it.
"Please let me go, Ray."
Ray leaned back against the door and folded his arms across his chest."No."
"This is false imprisonment," Fraser rasped.
"No, it's frickin' real imprisonment," Ray snapped. "I could get the cuffs out if you want."
"Ray," Fraser grated, his jaw taut, his hands clenching. "Let me out."
Ray had a hunch. And he always played his hunches. He shook his head. "No. Look, I was ready to give up tonight. I really was. Call it quits. It's over. Sayonara. But you just made me hope again, God damn you, and I am not going to let you run away. This is too important. Just answer one question, and if you still want to go, you can go. Deal?"
Fraser nodded warily, staring at him through narrowed eyes.
Ray sucked in a deep breath. "Do you love me?" he asked in as normal a tone as he could manage. His voice was even, controlled, but with maybe just a hair too much emphasis. . . and he wished like hell that he could re-say it, but it was already out.
For a few seconds Fraser seemed frozen, not even breathing, then he closed his eyes, an expression of abject terror flashing across his face. "Yes," he whispered. "Yes."
Jesus H. Christ. Yes? He said yes? Ray reached for him, pulled him in close, wrapping his arms around Fraser's stiffly unyielding form, shaking his head. "Fraser, you are such a jerk," he said happily, squeezing hard.
Fraser let out his breath in a kind of grunt, and then nodded against Ray's neck. Ray wasn't sure if he was agreeing about the jerk thing or just still saying yes. Not that it mattered. 'Yes' was all that mattered. Though there was something niggling at him. Something. . . what was it. . . something about Fraser's expression? Yeah. That was it.
Ray had never seen such naked fear on Fraser's face before. He didn't get that. Fraser had done the guy thing before. Ray was the one who should be scared. So it couldn't be that. It had to be. . . oh. Oh yeah. Okay. Don't be a moron. He and Fraser might be polar opposites in most ways, but not in this one. Fear was something you learned through pain. And he'd been there, too.
"Fraser," he said softly, just to get his attention. "It's not casual."
Fraser relaxed ever-so-slightly against him. Just enough so that it didn't feel like he was really trying to pull away. 'More, he needs more,' Ray thought.
"It's so not-casual," Ray said, and suddenly he was scared, too. Really scared. Which didn't make sense. He'd never had problems saying it to Stella. Why was he wussing out? Was it just because Fraser was a guy? Well, fuck that. "Fraser, I love you."
Fraser pulled back. "Yes, I know that," he said, and he sounded. . . sad.
Ray didn't get it. "Fraser, that's supposed to be a good thing."
Fraser gave him a wan smile. "It is a good thing. It's just. . . I know you love me. You think you want me. But in my limited experience loving and wanting aren't always. . . enough."
Ray felt like a cartoon lightbulb over his head had just lit up. He nodded, equally solemn. "No. No, it's not. But you know, we have the other things. The things that all add up to enough."
Fraser cocked his head and looked at Ray with a slightly confused expression. "Those being?" he asked.
Ray smiled. "Friendship, Benton Fraser. Friends first, last, and always. Trust. Commitment. The rest is just . . . icing on the cake," Ray said, and catching Fraser's chin in his fingers, he leaned forward and covered Fraser's mouth with his own.
Ray had meant it to be a friendly, 'getting-to-know-you' kind of kiss, but Fraser made a startled sound, took a noisy breath through his nose, and then one of his hands came up behind Ray's head, the other one grabbed his waistband, pulling him in close. Ray went from being confidently in control of the situation to not being in control of anything. Especially not his pulse, breathing or libido.
Fraser kissed like he was hungry. Deep, and hard, and wet. Demanding. Ray answered that demand, met it with his own. This was how it was supposed to be. Marty and Stephen had been pale shadows of this-- flirtatious and cautious. This was need meeting need, answering need. Fraser's tongue slicked against his, explored, dipped into the well between teeth and lip. Ray shivered, and licked back, searching, searching. . . there. His tongue slid across that twisted tooth, enjoying the slick-sharp feel of it against his tongue. Yeah. Oh yeah. This was definitely Fraser.
Fraser pushed him against the door, and Ray felt the hard ridge of his erection against his hip. He shifted a little, rocked against that hardness. Fraser gasped, his fingers clenching in his hair, pulling hard enough to make his eyes water. He reached back and brushed his fingers against Fraser's knuckles, and turned his head enough to break the kiss at last.
"It's okay, I'm not going anywhere," he panted.
Fraser's lips skated across his cheekbone, brushed his ear. "No. You're not," he said, his voice a husky growl.
Shit. He was torn between objecting to that assumption, and coming in his pants. Fraser's tongue slid into his ear, and the scales tipped alarmingly toward the latter. He unclenched his hands from Fraser's sweater and pushed him away a little. Fraser objected to moving and kept leaning forward, teeth tugging gently at Ray's earlobe.
"Jesus! Leggo! Settle down, Fraser. Give me a minute here. You might've done this before but I haven't!"
Fraser sighed into his ear and reluctantly stepped back. Ray turned his head sharply and hunched his shoulder to scrub his ear against it, trying to get it to stop tingling. He watched Fraser lick his lips, and wondered why the hell he'd just told him to stop. Talk about unhinged. Then he remembered. They still had some issues to work out. Issues. Right. Oh the hell with issues. He reached for Fraser again, but this time it was Fraser who shook his head, his gaze worried.
"Wait, Ray. Are you sure? This is. . . irrevocable."
Ray shivered a little. "You know those big words turn me on," he said, and winked, then he sobered, and nodded. "Yeah. I'm sure. Been sure for a long time. Just thought I couldn't, you know?"
Fraser closed his eyes and nodded. "Yes. God, yes. I know. Do you have any idea how hard it's been for me?"
Ray nodded. "Yeah. I think I do." He shook his head. "Are we stupid or what?"
"Not any more," Fraser said, and reached for him.
Ray twisted sideways and caught Fraser's hand in his, laced his knobby fingers through Fraser's smoother ones. "Maybe we uh. . . ought to, um, go to the . . . ." He hesitated, feeling a little uncertain.
"Bedroom," Fraser finished, reading his mind. He pulled him in close for a quick, fierce kiss, then walked him backward toward the bedroom. Ray discovered a newfound respect for Ginger Rogers. He was going to have to have a discussion with Fraser about leading. He had a feeling that Fraser was better at doing things backward than he was.
When they reached the bed, Fraser tugged Ray's t-shirt off over his head and urged him down onto his back before joining him, leaning down to kiss him again, just as hungrily as before. Ray slid his hands up under the bottom of Fraser's sweater, then worked one, with effort, down inside the back of his pants and boxers. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Fraser's ass felt every bit as good as he'd imagined. Solid, but soft; skin warm and silky. Ray squeezed, and Fraser made a sort of grunt and rocked his hips into Ray's. It was the hottest thing Ray had ever heard.
Fraser rocked twice more, each time rubbing his jeans-covered erection tantalizingly along Ray's, then he abruptly sat back, breathing hard. Ray had to let go of Fraser's ass as he straddled Ray's legs, one hand fumbling to loosen the tie to his sleep pants. Two tugs and his double-tied drawstring yielded without a protest. Fraser eased a hand beneath the waistband, found his cock, and closed around it. Ray closed his eyes and moaned, thrusting into the warm, close confines of Fraser's hand. Okay, Fraser was good at doing things frontwards, too. Big surprise there.
Fraser let go of him for a moment, and Ray opened his eyes just in time to see Fraser's sweater go flying. Ray grinned, and was thinking of making a smartass comment about not hanging it up but then he was distracted by the sight of Fraser deftly unfastening his jeans, lowering the zipper with a sigh of relief that Ray viscerally understood. Yeah. Yeah, been there, though not since the end of the disco era when he'd decided he liked being able to breathe.
Fraser kicked off his boots, then stood up and shimmied out of the jeans. Ray was disappointed that he didn't peel the boxers off at the same time. He shifted position on the bed and reached out, grabbing Fraser's hips, pulling him back a little, giving Fraser's left cheek a playful mock-bite right through the thin, blue cotton. Fraser yelped satisfyingly and turned around, fast, rubbing his ass with one hand.
Ray grinned unrepentantly, and gave his teeth a long, slow lick. Fraser's eyes narrowed, and before Ray had time to brace, Fraser was on him again, pinning him to the bed, his body a warm, solid, weight against his own. And this time they were skin to skin, at least down to waist level. It felt. . . right. Amazingly right. Ray slid his arms around Fraser, letting his hands roam newly exposed skin as Fraser bent his head and brought their mouths together again.
These kisses were slow, sweet, and thorough. Ray felt as if he were some new territory Fraser was exploring with lips and tongue, and. . . God. . . teeth, he registered, as Fraser nipped at his lower lip, tugging gently. He was rocking against Ray softly, instinctively. Without Fraser's jeans and sweater between them, Ray could feel Fraser's cock much more clearly. Even though he'd spent a lot of time lately thinking he might enjoy that, he was a little surprised to find just how much he was enjoying it. How much he wanted more.
He filled his hands with the rounded slopes of Fraser's shoulders, then moved on from there, down his broad back, feeling the play of muscles under sleek skin, following the faint ripple of spine lower, lower, down beneath his boxers to chart the narrow curve of his waist, the fingertip indentation just above his cheeks where his tail-bone ended. Fraser went still, and Ray could feel him trembling slightly, tension in his body that Ray didn't understand. He brought his hands up and hugged him close, then broke the kiss. Fraser ducked his head into the space between Ray's shoulder and neck, burrowing his hands beneath Ray to return the hug.
"God you feel good," Ray breathed against Fraser's ear.
Fraser pushed up a little to look in his face, studying him with an intensity he usually saved for things he'd picked up off the ground. "You really think so?"
He grinned. "Yeah. I really think so."
Fraser smiled back. A real smile, finally. The kind that lit up his face, and made Ray feel like someone had just sucked all the air out of the room. The kind he'd only seen a handful of times since they'd known each other. He hoped he might see it more often now. They both sat there grinning foolishly at each other for a moment, then Fraser reached out and touched the pad of his thumb to Ray's mouth, tracing it along his lower lip.
It felt a little strange, ticklish, and Ray couldn't help but follow the movement with his tongue. He saw Fraser's eyelids droop a little as he did that, and turned his head slightly, moving to catch his thumb in his mouth and suck on it. Fraser sighed, his eyes closing, his hips rolling sinuously against Ray's. He stroked a hand up and down Fraser's back, and encountered the odd lumpy-smooth texture of scar tissue just above his waist, next to his spine. He moved his fingers away from it-- having a couple of those himself, he knew it felt weird when someone else touched a scar and he didn't want anything to interfere with the mood.
Trailing his fingers lower, he found the waistband of Fraser's boxers again. That was starting to annoy him. "Off," he mumbled around Fraser's thumb, tugging at the elastic.
Fraser laughed, shifted his weight to his knees and lifted up. Ray tugged with one hand, and Fraser pushed with the other one and between them they got him naked. Then Fraser sat back and Ray got a look at Fraser naked for the first time. Jesus God. It just wasn't right for a man to be that pretty. And wasn't white skin supposed to look pasty or something? Not like . . . Fraser.
His nipples were small, pink, and at the moment, tight. His chest and belly were smooth and muscular without being 'cut.' A light trail of fine dark hair started at his navel and headed south, spreading and thickening between his thighs, framing. . . whoa. It was really weird to be looking at another guy's dick. Weird, but . . . cool. He was a little shorter than Ray, but also little thicker. He was uncut, which was . . . different, though that difference was getting less noticeable as he got harder. Which he was definitely doing. And he was the stimulus for that, which was pretty damned amazing. Some annoying movement and noise pulled his attention away, and he finally started paying attention.
"Ray. . . Ray!" Fraser was saying, with just a touch of exasperation as he pulled at Ray's waistband.
Oh. Oops. He looked up into Fraser's face and grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. Guess it's my turn?"
"Yeah," Fraser said succinctly. "Now."
Okay. Now. Now was not the time to panic. He'd gotten through getting Fraser's shorts off. He could get through this. After all, he got undressed every day, and this was no different. Well, except he usually did it standing up. Okay. Fixing his eyes on his feet, Ray lifted his hips, pushed his pants down, squirmed a little bit until the fabric was bunched around his ankles, then used his feet to push them the rest of the way off. There. Done.
Beside him, he heard Fraser breathe in sharply, and he hoped like hell he wasn't about to start laughing. Most of the time Ray had a pretty decent self-image but he knew his collarbones and ribs tended to stick out, and he kind of had that elbows-and-knees thing going. On the other hand he had great skin and nothing to be ashamed of in the cock department. Though that was harder to tell at the moment.
"Oh, Ray," Fraser said, and his voice sounded funny, kind of breathless.
Ray looked at him, wondering vaguely about asthma, but one look told him there was nothing wrong with Fraser that couldn't be cured right there in bed. He was all flushed, and dark-eyed, and mussed, and pretty much looked like a living breathing wet-dream. Ray forgot all about being shy, and reached over to drag Fraser down on top of him.
Holding Fraser was even better now, with bare skin everywhere. Hot, and smooth, and wonderful. He loved the silky slide of it against his own, loved the feeling of Fraser's strong, heavy legs tangling with his. And how he could really feel now, that the firm, slippery thing poking him in the abdomen was Fraser's cock. He shifted a little bit, until his own cock nudged up against Fraser's, and then he gave a tentative thrust. Sparks shivered along his nerve endings. Good. Really good.
Fraser made that wolfish noise again. He spread his thighs, letting his legs fall to either side of Ray's, and pushed up on his hands, concentrating his weight on Ray's groin. Then he rocked, stroking his cock against Ray's, in slow, rhythmic thrusts. Ray's hands went to his hips, holding on, holding Fraser like he was afraid he might stop. Fraser dropped his head down and kissed his temple, the corner of his eye, his cheek. Ray lifted his chin and turned his head and caught Fraser's mouth with his own.
This time it was his kiss. Long, and slow, almost lazy, using his tongue to echo the rhythm their hips set. Fraser's breath came harsh and quick through his nose, but he didn't break the kiss, or the cadence of their bodies. Ray's hands slid up, and back, cupping the firm rounds of Fraser's ass, feeling the muscles flex and slide under his skin with each movement. Dancing. It was like dancing. Like flying. Like loving.
Sweat started to slick their skin as they kissed and rocked. The sea-scent of sex rose to surround them, musky and rich. Ray's fingers slid on Fraser's hot skin, straying into the valley there. Fraser moaned into his mouth and bucked, disrupting the hypnotic swing of their dance. He touched there again, curious and deliberate, drawing the same response. And there was no way he could mistake it for a negative one. He slid one finger up and down the crease, circled his finger around the little opening, and tentatively pressed in, just a bit.
Fraser pulled his mouth from Ray's, gasping, and his hips slammed into Ray's, hard, a stutter of explosive reaction. Out of the corner of his eye, Ray could see his hands fisted in the bedspread. Fraser leaned his forehead against Ray's shoulder, panting.
"Ray. . . please. . . ." he said, his voice husky. "Do you have. . . ?"
Ray probably shouldn't have known what he wanted, but he did. He'd done some research, and indulged in some pretty graphic fantasies. "Yeah, yeah, hang on." He stretched, twisted, managed somehow to reach the nightstand and get the drawer open without dumping Fraser off him. It was harder to reach inside the drawer, his wrist had to bend at a funny angle and the edge of the drawer hurt, but. . . yeah. Right there. He pulled the tube out, hoping it was still good. It had been in there, unused, for nearly two years.
Holding the top in his teeth, he unscrewed the tube. A little drip of cool gel oozed out onto his throat. Yup. Still good. He was about to tell Fraser that when he pushed upright, still straddling Ray's hips, and grabbed the tube out of Ray's hands. He squeezed some onto his fingers, then reached around behind himself and . . . oh Lord. Ray nearly came right then and there. He whimpered, biting the inside of his cheek hard, telling himself 'no' as firmly as he could.
If his wrist hadn't still hurt from reaching in the drawer he would have thought he was dreaming, because there was just no way it could possibly be happening for real. But it was. He was naked, in bed, with Fraser, who was also naked, and horny, and slicking himself up. Something Ray had never, ever, imagined, not in his hottest fantasies. This was hotter than all of them put together. Thank God he couldn't see it, only imagine it.
He could see Fraser's face, though. His eyes were closed, his teeth worrying one side of his lower lip, a faint frown on his face as his arm shifted a little. His breath caught and he sort of . . . winced, then breathed in, and out, and . . . relaxed. His arm muscles flexed again, and the wince came back. This time the breath in-out was faster. So was the relaxation. Ray couldn't stand it. He had to know. He ran his hand up the back of Fraser's thigh, over the sweet curve of his cheek, and found Fraser's fingers right where he'd thought they must be. Two of them. Pushing inside.
"Fraser!" he gasped, desperately worried he wasn't going to make it, not wanting to leave Fraser hanging. That would be so not-right.
Fraser opened his eyes, looked down at him, dazed, and debauched. "Yes," he whispered. "Yes." His slick fingers eased free, then reached down between his thighs to find Ray's cock. The slick was hot. Smooth. Ray shuddered as Fraser stroked him, his hand sure and strong.
"Hurry," he managed.
Fraser nodded, and dropped the tube on the bed, found Ray's hand and guided it to his own cock, urging his fingers around the base. "Hold on," he said softly.
Ray did, angling his cock to where he thought it needed to be. Fraser shifted forward a little, and then eased down. God, this was harder to do when he couldn't see the target, and when the target was so . . . small. He had a momentary panic that there was no way on earth it would work, and then Fraser gave a little huff of breath, and he pushed back and Ray pushed up and something gave and he was moving in, slowly, just a half-inch at a time.
Fraser gasped. Worried, Ray tried to pull back, but Fraser shook his head, and just kept on sinking down onto him. It took forever, or it seemed to. God, so hot, so tight. No amount of fantasizing could have prepared him for the sensation of having Fraser all around him this way. He stared up at Fraser, at the taut curve of his throat, his head back as if it was too heavy for Fraser to hold upright. His lips were parted, his eyes closed, sweat glued dark curls to his forehead and temples. He looked like those paintings of 'St. Theresa in Ecstasy.' He looked like Fraser, blissed-out.
Ray thrust up. He couldn't help it. Fraser moaned, putting a hand on Ray's shoulder for support. His cock drooled a heavy thread of liquid onto Ray's belly. Ray shuddered, and reached for the swollen length, wrapping his fingers around it, rubbing his thumb across the gleaming tip. Fraser gasped, and Ray felt him clench. . . all around him. He rubbed again. Fraser grunted, and started to rock, his thighs flexing. For a minute Ray felt sort of stuck, pulled and held so tightly, but then slowly he started to slide a little as Fraser loosened up a little around him.
Oh yeah. The slide was good, it was great. Fraser seemed to think so too, because his cock was leaking harder, especially whenever Ray hit this one certain spot. Ray started pushing up a little when he got there, and Fraser reached down and put his hand over Ray's on his cock, urging his fingers tighter, urging him to stroke faster. They had it. Had it just right. Ray pushed and stroked and Fraser rocked and moaned, and they both sweated and panted. It was amazing.
Without warning, Fraser's hand tightened on Ray's shoulder and he shuddered, grunted, and came, the first spurt so strong that it ended up in Ray's hair. The second hit him in the chest, the third around his navel. And the whole time Fraser was coming his ass was clamped tight, tight around Ray's cock, like a fist, milking him. It was more than Ray could stand. He gave one last thrust and let loose, riding the waves of pleasure until they finally let him go.
* * *
Ray woke up with a sneeze ringing in his ears. It took a minute for his groggy brain to figure out that it hadn't been him sneezing. The bed shifted a little beside him and he looked over to see Fraser finish sitting up. Fraser. Oh Jesus. No, definitely not a dream. Dreams didn't sit up in bed next to you, naked, face all scrunched up by a second sneeze.
"Frase? You okay?"
Fraser sniffled. "I'm . . . not sure," he answered, sounding strangely like The Terminator.
He didn't sound okay. In fact he sounded pretty much like Ray had the day before. Uh oh. Ray grabbed the box of tissues off his nightstand and held it out. Fraser grabbed one and blew his nose.
"Thanks," he muttered, rubbing his forehead. "I feel. . . terrible," he said, apparently having finally reviewed his condition enough to come to that conclusion.
Ray sighed. "Sorry, Fraser. My fault. I was pretty much better, so I didn't think about being contagious. If it's any consolation, it's nasty, but quick."
Fraser nodded, and blew his nose again.
"On the other hand, I guess that's what you get for not being too careful who you associate with," he said, still kind of stung by that.
Fraser lifted his head from the tissue and looked at Ray miserably. "I should never have said that. It was inexcusable."
Ray instantly felt guilty for making Fraser feel worse than he already did. "And I shouldn't have brought it up. That was mean."
"No, no you're quite right to have brought it up. We never really finished that conversation last night."
Ray grinned. "Well, yeah. We did get kind of . . . distracted."
Fraser smiled back, then instantly sobered. "Yes, we did. I'm afraid I rather rushed things."
"Fraser, I'm good with rushing," Ray said, getting the feeling that Fraser was worried he might be having morning-after second thoughts. Then it hit him-- maybe Fraser was the one having second thoughts? "I mean, if you're good with it. I know you weren't really keen on the whole idea."
Fraser looked confused for a second, then he shook his head. "Oh, no. That wasn't the problem at all. I guess you could say I was too keen on the whole idea."
Ray looked at him, feeling as confused as Fraser had looked. "You know, you probably shouldn't be trying to make sense right now. Not with a cold. Hang on, I'll be back in a minute."
"What are you. . . ."
"I said hang on. Okay? Don't worry, it's nothing bad."
"I wasn't worried," Fraser said a little grumpily. "Just curious."
"You know what curiosity did to the cat, Fraser," Ray said with a wink, as he got up, grabbed his sleep pants off the floor and pulled them on, then headed out to the kitchen, putting on water to boil and getting out the ginger tea-bags. They'd seemed to really help him. Hopefully they'd help Fraser too. Though Ray wasn't sure, really, if it was because of the tea or the decongestant he'd taken later. He turned to go get one of those out of the medicine chest but heard the bathroom door close just then. That was okay, he could wait.
He potted around, looking to see what he could feed Fraser. He usually skipped breakfast, opting for caffeine and sugar to start the day instead. He had frozen waffles though, and frozen heat-and-serve breakfast sausages that would do. He kept them around for dinner on nights when he was too tired to cook, but he could deal with eating them at the normal time instead. He even had maple syrup. The real kind. He'd bought it at the grocery store one time after noticing it was imported from Canada. Of course he wasn't about to tell Fraser that. He had some pride.
He wondered what was taking Fraser so long in the bathroom, and had a momentary worry that he'd been too rough with him last night and managed to damage something. But no, Fraser might be weird but he wasn't that weird-- if he'd been hurting he wouldn't have come like a stallion. And he would have said something last night during clean-up phase. Ray listened hard, heard water running, and he suddenly realized that Fraser, the idiot, was getting ready to go to work. He picked up his cell phone, stomped over to the bathroom door and knocked.
"Fraser, you stop that right now."
There was a moment of silence, then Fraser spoke. "Excuse me?"
"I know you're getting dressed in there. Stop it."
"I can't very well go to work naked," he said in that reasonable tone he got whenever he thought Ray was being un-reasonable.
"Exactly," Ray said. "Open the door."
"Ray! There is such a thing as privacy."
"Fraser, you've got nothing I haven't got, seen, or handled, okay? Just open the door."
There was a short pause, then Fraser opened the door. He had one of Ray's towels wrapped around his waist, and he was hanging onto it like he was afraid Ray was going to take it away from him. He was half-shaved, clearly having commandeered Ray's razor and shaving cream. Ray ignored that violation of staying-over etiquette, figuring Fraser hadn't had much of a chance to learn the American rules, and held out the cell. "Call in sick."
"I. . . ."
"Do not argue with me. Call in sick."
Fraser gave him what could only be termed a dirty look, but he took the phone. "I suppose it would be best if I didn't expose my co-workers," he said hesitantly, clearly trying to find a good excuse.
"Exactly," Ray said encouragingly. "I mean, just think, if the Ice Queen got sick . . ." he let the sentence trail off.
"Right you are," Fraser said, and started dialing.
Ray pushed past him, opened the medicine cabinet and got out the 'just in case' toothbrush that had been there as long as his 'just in case' tube of lube in the bedroom, and unwrapped it, putting it on the sink. He could deal with sharing a razor but he drew the line at his toothbrush. Fraser nodded his thanks as he started to leave a message on the Consulate answering machine. Satisfied he was really calling in, Ray left him to it and headed back toward the kitchen, only to stop again as it occurred to him that Fraser didn't have any clothes except what he wore over last night.
He tapped his fingers thoughtfully on his thigh, and then went into the bedroom. They were pretty much the same height, and once Fraser got his tunic off he didn't look quite as broad as he had before. He probably only had about twenty or twenty-five pounds on Ray. His track pants shouldn't be too bad on Fraser. They were a little loose on Ray, and they had the stretchy thing going on. And he had no doubt at all that Fraser had been wearing a t-shirt under his sweater.
He picked up Fraser's sweater off the floor and sure enough, found a t-shirt inside it. He pulled it free, then dug his fleece-lined track-pants out of the laundry basket and sniffed them. They weren't too bad. All he'd done in them was lounge around. He took them to the bathroom, noticing that Fraser had left the door open this time, and was finishing shaving. Ray supposed he could allow that. After all, it would be weird to run around all day half-shaved. "Here. You can wear these," he said, putting the clothes down on the back of the toilet. "The pants might be a little tight but they've got to be more comfortable than your jeans." He made an 'adjusting' motion, and grinned.
Fraser grinned back. "I suspect you're right."
"You need to stop living in the eighties, Fraser. Didn't you know they found out tight pants are bad for your health?"
"Is that right? And did 'they' discover that around the same time 'they' decided that routine was the silent killer?" Fraser asked, his eyes bright with humor.
Wow. Fraser was teasing him. "Yeah, exactly," Ray said, teasing right back. He liked this. Hell, maybe him using Ray's razor wasn't such a problem. After all, it wasn't like he was shaving his legs with it. "I'm going to go make breakfast," he announced. "Be out in five minutes."
"Breakfast? Five minutes?" Fraser asked, frowning slightly, as if the two ideas were mutually incompatible. Maybe they were in his world.
"You heard me. Be there, or forfeit your sausage."
Fraser made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a choked off laugh. "I believe you've already gotten that forfeit, Ray," he said blandly.
Ray laughed all the way to the kitchen, shaking his head over the fact that Fraser could manage to be that quick-witted with a head-cold. Not to mention downright dirty. Who'd have thought Fraser had it in him? Ray snickered at himself. In him. God, he was doing it too.
Fraser appeared at the table just as Ray was about to stick a fork in his sausage and snag it.
"I still had twenty-eight seconds left," he said, giving Ray a severe look.
Ray pulled the fork back, looking innocent. "I was just . . . um. . . fixing the presentation."
Fraser regarded his plate critically. "Ah. So I see. Very attractive."
They both snickered then, and Fraser sat down and picked up the mug of tea at his place and took a swallow. He blinked, coughed, and looked at Ray in surprise.
"Yeah. With honey. My mom says it's a sure cure for the common cold," Ray explained.
"Well, if nothing else the aromatic oils will help clear the sinuses, at least temporarily. Your mother's a wise woman."
"Well, mostly, except for letting Dad name me Stanley. But I guess I can't hold that against her since she was probably out of it from the anaesthetic at the time."
"I think allowances should be made, yes," Fraser said, picking up his fork, cutting a bite of his waffle.
He had the bite halfway to his mouth when Ray frowned. "Aren't you going to use butter, or syrup?"
Fraser looked down at his waffle as if such a thing had never occurred to him. "They're fine like this."
"It's real. The syrup, I mean. Maple. See?" Ray turned the bottle so Fraser could read the label. "Not that fake Mrs. Butterball stuff."
Fraser read it and smiled. "Well, in that case," he said, reaching for the bottle, and pouring a small amount on his plate, and proceeding to dip his bite in it, and eat it with obvious enjoyment. "I didn't know you had a waffle iron," he said, after swallowing.
Ray snorted. "Fraser, you know me and irons don't mix," he said, pointing to the counter where the bag the waffles came in was sitting. "Toaster city. Eating frozen waffles is a new thing for you, hunh? Kind of branching out-- exploring American convenience foods."
Fraser poked at his sausage with his fork, not eating it, just playing with it. "Is that what you were doing with Stephen and Marty?" he asked after a moment. "Exploring? Branching out?"
Ray stared at him for a moment, and then slowly started to grin. "It's just killing you isn't it?" he asked.
"No, of course. . . ah, well. . . yes," Fraser admitted, turning red, his gaze fixed on his plate.
Ray went around to crouch down beside Fraser, one hand on his thigh. "Hey. Look at me."
Reluctantly, Fraser did. He didn't look very happy, to put it mildly.
Ray sighed. "Look, Nothing happened. I wouldn't have done what we did last night, if anything had happened with me, and Stephen, or me and Marty, or me and Stephen and Marty." He shook his head in amazement. "Jeez, I never knew what a dirty mind you had. I'm the 'try anything' guy and even I didn't think of a three-way!"
Fraser frowned a little. "But. . . the cold?"
"Yeah, the cold," Ray said, running his hands through his hair. He should've known Fraser would want an explanation. "I kissed them both. Once each. Don't look at me like that, I didn't lie to you. I don't count that as 'doing something,' okay?"
"I see," Fraser said, a little primly, avoiding his gaze again.
Ray glared at him. "Don't give me that. You're not Snow White here, Fraser. You're the one who knew what to do with the lube."
Fraser blushed again. Darker. Stared at his food. "Quite true," he said quietly.
"Okay, then. We're even," Ray said, patting Fraser's thigh before standing up and going back over to his chair, glad they had that settled.
After a moment, Fraser finally looked up from his plate. "Ray, about associations. Aren't you curious about mine?"
Ray nodded vehemently. "Hell yes! But it's really none of my business."
"On the contrary, after last night it's very much your business. There's a reason why they say that when you make love with someone you're also sleeping with everyone they've ever had sex with."
Ray snorted. "In that case you've got a damned short list to worry about on your side. And I know she didn't sleep around . . . our sex life was never the problem."
Even as he spoke, Ray noticed that Fraser had gone from 'making love' to 'sleeping with' to 'had sex.' Interesting progression. He knew Fraser well enough to know that meant more than just that Fraser knew three different synonyms for 'fuck.'
Fraser was looking at him though, curiously. "Do you mind my asking just what the problem was? Was it the lack of children?"
"No, I don't mind, and the answer is no. Children was just. . . what I dressed it up as. What it really came down to was just that we needed different things out of life. She needed . . . people. Lots of them. Dinners out. Double dates. Parties. Especially parties. She's a real social animal. Nothing wrong with that, it just wasn't me."
"And what did you need?"
"I. . . just home, you know? Quiet. Spending time with just us, nobody else. It didn't have to be sex, could be reading, or watching TV, or hell, playing Scrabble."
Fraser had been nodding sympathetically until he got to that last one, and then his eyebrows went up. "Scrabble?"
Ray grinned. "Yeah. I always beat the pants off her. Drove her absolutely nuts. She could never figure out how I did it."
"Well, it's obvious really. Not only do you have a good vocabulary, you're an excellent strategist. Also, Assistant States Attorney Kowalski doesn't strike me as much of a risk-taker, while I doubt you're one to play it safe when you're playing to win."
Ray grinned. "You got that right."
Fraser got an odd look on his face suddenly. "I'm afraid I've digressed again. I'm having a little trouble keeping my mind on topic."
"It's the cold," Ray said forgivingly. "It'll do that to you. Well, that plus mind-altering sex."
Instead of smiling, Fraser sighed. "Which is what I meant to talk to you about. In fact, we should have addressed this last night, and I'm sorry that I let my . . . enthusiasm. . . get the upper hand."
"I'm not," Ray said with a wink. Fraser was clearly not amused, so he spread his hands placatingly. "Okay, fine, tell me. What horrible dark secrets do you have in your past? You used to turn tricks down on Halstead? What?"
"Just kidding. Come on, get it out of your system. How many guys, how long ago, and did you use protection?"
"Ah. . . just one. About three years ago. And yes."
"Then we're good."
"Not. . . exactly. There was . . . someone after him."
"I thought you said only one?" Ray said, confused.
"Only one man."
Ray looked at him for a minute, still puzzled, and then he got it. "Oh."
"We didn't use protection."
"Okay. . . ?" Ray said, leadingly. It was clear Fraser wasn't done.
"I've been tested several times since then. I appear to have been fortunate."
Ray nodded. "I knew that."
Fraser looked puzzled. "How could you possibly know that?"
Ray looked at him evenly. "Because I know you. You wouldn't risk it if there was a problem."
"You can't possibly know that!" Fraser protested, scowling. "Ray, you should never just trust blindly like that."
"With anybody else, I wouldn't have. And it's not really a matter of trust, Fraser. Not with you."
Fraser was clearly shaken. "You have no idea, Ray. It's not. . . I'm not. . . promise me you'll never do such a thing ever again."
"Will I need to?" Ray asked, looking him straight in the eyes.
Fraser frowned. "I'm not psychic, Ray, how should I know whether your future. . . ."
"Fraser." Ray interrupted. He had to put a stop to that line of thinking right now. "Will I need to?"
Fraser got it. He paled, then he blushed. His mouth opened and closed a couple of times. Finally he shook his head. "No, Ray. You won't."
Ray smiled. "Good. Now can we eat?"
Fraser nodded, looking at him with an expression that was half bewilderment and half pleasure. Ray let him keep being puzzled. It was good for him.
"You want me to warm that up?" he asked, looking at Fraser's plate.
"No, it's fine as it is. You don't have to go to any trouble."
"It's no trouble. I'm reheating mine. That's why God made microwaves."
Ray watched Fraser start to refuse again, and then stop himself, with an oddly exasperated expression, like he was annoyed with himself.
"In that case," Fraser said, "please."
Ray speared Fraser's waffle and put it on his own plate, stuck it in the microwave and nuked it for a few seconds, then brought it out again, plunking the plate down on the table and transferring the waffle back to Fraser's plate. They ate in silence, a comfortable one this time. Eating breakfast, just like they'd eaten breakfast together a hundred times before, no different. But. . . different. Fraser ate his waffles, drank his tea, coughed, and sniffled, and Ray remembered about the cold pill he'd meant to give him.
He got up, headed into the bathroom and scrabbled through the medicine cabinet for his over the counter stuff. Generic liquid cold-medicine gelcaps. Horse pills, but better than drinking the liquid stuff. It was the nighttime kind but that didn't matter since Fraser wasn't going to work. He wrestled them out of their blister pack and headed back to the kitchen, only to find Fraser standing at the sink doing dishes. Ray sighed and walked up behind Fraser, making a gun-shape with his index finger and thumb.
"Okay mister, put the dishes down and back away from the sink and nobody will get hurt," he said, jabbing his finger-gun into Fraser's ribs.
Fraser jerked and giggled. Surprised, Ray repeated the motion, experimenting, and Fraser twisted away, laughing, which turned into a coughing fit as Ray stared at him in stunned surprise, then looked at his hand, then at Fraser again.
Fraser wheezed in a breath, and tried his wide-eyed innocent look.
Ray grinned. "Hey, it's okay, don't worry. Your secret is safe with me. Wild horses couldn't drag it out of me."
"I'm relieved to hear that."
"And in gratitude you're going to take these," Ray said, holding out the virulently green gel-caps.
Fraser eyed them mistrustfully. "What are those?"
"Cold pills. Just take them. Believe me, you'll be glad you did."
Still looking dubious, Fraser accepted them, and swallowed them dry. Ray winced as he stood there swallowing again and again, obviously trying to get them to go down the rest of the way. He leaned over to grab Fraser's mug off the counter and handed it to him. After a couple of mouthfuls of tea he seemed to be all right again.
"You're supposed to take them with something," Ray pointed out helpfully.
"Apparently so," Fraser said, a little irritably.
"Sorry. Next time I'll remember you're from Mars where they don't have cold pills," Ray said, unfazed. "Oh man, I just realized, I forgot to call in."
He grabbed the phone and dialed, got connected to Frannie, who said he sounded better, so when she put him through to Welsh he deliberately hoarsened his voice and sniffled a lot as he went on about how he still wasn't quite one-hundred percent, but that he was going to come in anyway, he'd just be a little bit late. . . . As he had figured, Welsh told him to stay home. He looked like a big old bulldog but he was more bite than bark. And Ray had learned a lot, watching the way Fraser did things. There were ways to get your way, and then there were ways.
Grinning, Ray hung up the phone and turned to tell Fraser, who wasn't in the kitchen. He looked around, didn't see him in the living room, and figured he'd gone to the bathroom. When he hadn't reappeared in ten minutes though, Ray went looking and discovered the bathroom was empty, and finally noticed that the covers on his bed weren't lumpy because they were rumpled, but because Fraser was under them. Sound asleep. Between the sex, the cold, and the cold-pills he was clearly out for the count.
Ray stood there and watched him sleep until it dawned on him he was acting pretty goofy, and he shook his head and went and took a quick shower, then got dressed. He needed to hit the grocery store. And as long as he was out he figured he'd go collect Dief, who was probably getting pretty pissy at being 'neglected,' even though Fraser had asked Turnbull to look after him. Turnbull was no substitute for Fraser, though. Nice guy, loyal as anything, a tad on the goofy side, and definitely . . . not Fraser.
* * *
The Consulate seemed unusually subdued when Ray walked in. Turnbull sat at the reception desk date-stamping a stack of forms, the Ice Queen was nowhere in sight, and judging from the fact that Turnbull had a Clint Black CD playing on a small boombox at his feet, Ray figured she must not even be in the building. He stood in front of the desk for a moment, waiting for Turnbull to look up, and when he didn't, he rapped slightly on the desk to get Turnbull's attention.
"Yo, Turnbull, how's it hanging?"
Turnbull jumped, obviously surprised. "Welcome to Canada, Detective Vecchio! I'm terribly sorry, I didn't hear you knock."
"Thanks, Turnbull, always nice to come for a visit. And you didn't hear me knock because I didn't. Crude American and all that. Sorry. Not used to knocking here. I just stopped by to pick up some sweats for Fraser so he can lounge."
"That's quite all right, Detective. And how is Constable Fraser? It's quite unlike him to take time off work."
"He's miserable, of course. He was going to come in anyway but I told him he had to stay away. After all, he wouldn't want to infect the Inspector, right?"
"Oh, my, no!" Turnbull agreed enthusiastically. "In fact, Inspector Thatcher decided to stay away from the Consulate entirely today, since there might already be infectious germs lurking. I understand you're lending Constable Fraser a venue for recuperation?"
"Yeah, he's home sleeping in my bed," Ray grinned. "Hey, I feel like one of the three bears. 'Who's been sleeping in my bed?'" he said in a singsong voice.
"'And it was juuuust riiight,'" Turnbull responded with a broad wink.
Ray stared at him. What the hell had me meant by that? Did he even want to know? Probably not. He cleared his throat and looked around. "So, where's the Diefster? I was going to reunite him with his pack."
"Ah, an excellent idea. He is, at the moment, sulking in Constable Fraser's office."
"Yes. I refused to play the tape of last year's Golden Broom event for him again. He's already seen it three times today."
"Well then, I better get him out of your hair, right?"
"Im sure hell be much happier," Turnbull said. "Give Constable Fraser my best wishes for a speedy recovery. Do you think flowers would be in order?"
"Flowers?" Ray asked blankly. "It's just a cold, not pneumonia. Just. . . carry on. Maintiens le droit!"
"Maintiens le droit!" Turnbull exclaimed joyously. "You're learning to speak Canadian!"
Ray pointed at the RCMP seal on the big paperweight at Turnbull's elbow. "Not hard, T. So, I'll just go get Dief and let you get back to work," he said, sidling past, half afraid Turnbull was going to hug him, and there was only one Mountie he wanted hugging him.
"Yes, sir, thank you kindly."
The door to Fraser's office was slightly ajar, so Ray pushed it open and found Dief lounging morosely on Fraser's cot, his nose and paws drooping over the side. He looked up as Ray came in, thumped his tail once, weakly, and sighed dramatically as Ray opened the file cabinet he knew held Fraser's official RCMP sweats.
Ray suppressed the urge to laugh. "Hey, get up off your furry wolf butt and come on. We're going out."
Dief made a sound, his little eyebrow-hairs lifting.
Ray glared at him. "I am not bribing you to come along, you either do it or you don't. But Fraser's at my place and that's where I'm going. If you want to stay here and watch Turnbull stamp papers, knock yourself out."
Dief appeared to contemplate that, and then he stood up and stretched, yawning insolently, then he started to turn around in circles like he was making a nest.
Ray bundled up the clothing he had picked out and took a step toward the hallway. "You know, I just happen to be carrying some groceries in the trunk, which might or might not include doughnuts, and a big old soup bone," he said nonchalantly, walking out of the room. Behind him he heard a soft 'thunk' and then the skitter of claws on the hardwood floor, and he grinned. Gotcha.
"See ya, Turnbull," he said on his way past the desk.
"I'm sure we shall see each other again," Turnbull agreed. "Have a nice Constable Fraser."
Ray stopped short, one hand on the Consulate doorknob, and turned around, wondering if he was hearing things. "What?"
Turnbull turned as red as his tunic. "I . . . ah . . meant have a nice day off with Constable Fraser, of course."
Ray stared at him. Turnbull gazed back innocently. Too innocently. Ray felt his lips trying to curve in a smile. He saw Turnbull's doing the same thing. He nodded, slowly. "I'll do that, Turnbull. You enjoy having the place all to yourself."
"Oh, I shall," Turnbull said firmly. "Rest assured, I certainly shall."
Ray let himself and Diefenbaker out. Some days he thought Turnbull was crazy. Other days he thought he was crazy like a fox. He was never quite sure. Today was one of the second kind. He let Dief into the car and got in himself, starting it up, then looking over at Dief. "Fraser's got a cold, be nice to him."
Ray shook his head. "I don't think they make cold pills for wolves."
Dief leaned over and sniffed Ray's ear, then stuck his nose into Ray's crotch.
"Hey!" Ray protested, shoving him away.
Dief sat back and gave him a knowing grin, tongue lolling.
"I took a shower," Ray muttered, feeling ridiculous. Not only was he talking to a deaf wolf, he was blushing at a deaf wolf. "No way can you smell. . . that."
Dief yawned. Ray nodded. "That's better. Okay, we're off. Stay in your seat and no distracting the driver."
* * *
Once back at the apartment, Dief trotted into Ray's bedroom, circled the bed, sniffing, then he came back out and fixed Ray with another one of those amused, knowing looks. Ray managed not to blush this time.
"Yeah, well, what's it to you?" he asked, putting away the groceries. He took the box of doughnuts out of the grocery bag, and watched Dief track it like it was a rabbit. He put them away in one of the upper cabinets and shook a finger at Dief. "Oh no. Not unless you start keeping your nose where it belongs," Ray said, ostentatiously putting the soup bone in the fridge. "You can just stick with the Eukanuba."
"Ray?" Fraser called, sounding puzzled. "Are you talking to me?"
In the middle of putting away a box of cereal in the low cabinet next to the refrigerator, Ray glared at Dief. "See what you made me do?" he hissed. "We woke him up." He shoved the generic raisin bran aside to make room for the muesli. "Yeah, Frase, I'm gonna make you eat dog food," he called out jokingly, then, slightly worried that Fraser might take him seriously, he revised it. "Nah, not really. Just talking to your wolf. He's being uppity."
"That's not particularly surprising," Fraser said, sounding amused, sounding. . . close.
Ray straightened up and turned around to find Fraser standing in the kitchen entryway, watching him with a faint smile. He was barefoot, bare-chested, and wearing Ray's soft, shiny track pants, which clung gleamingly, to every curve. Ray swallowed hard, fighting the urge to go nuzzle. "What's not surprising?" he managed to ask.
"Dief being uppity. I believe he thinks it's his duty to bring all humans down a peg or two."
"Oh," Ray grinned. "Yeah. That fits. Hey, I, um, brought some stuff from your office for you. Your sweats, some fresh boxers, and socks."
Fraser looked down at himself, then back at Ray. "That's very kind of you, but actually, these are quite comfortable. If you don't mind, I'd like to keep wearing them."
Ray grinned. "You saying you like being in my pants?" he teased.
Fraser's gaze darkened. "Very much so," he said huskily.
Ray had to shift a little to stay comfortable. "Yeah? You. . . um. . . feeling better?"
"Quite a lot better, yes," Fraser said. "You were right about the cold pills."
Ray grinned. "Told you. You're sure my stuff's not too small?" he asked, eyeing the way the fabric hugged certain more interesting areas.
"On the contrary, I would say the fit was . . . perfect," Fraser said with great deliberation.
Ray got the feeling they weren't talking about his track pants. He smiled. "Anything else of mine you want to. . . try on?"
"I can think of quite a number of things, actually," Fraser said blandly.
Ray leaned back against the counter. Two could play the innuendo game. "Yeah? Well, Feel free. Mi casa es su casa and all that." He was pleased with himself for remembering that phrase from his abortive trip to Mexico with a woman he'd barely known, and hadn't had any business being with in the first place. This was so much better.
Fraser stepped into the kitchen and went to his knees. "Gracias, mi vida," he whispered.
Ray had no idea what Fraser had just said, except for the 'thanks' part, but the intensity in his voice was enough to shake him. He watched, stunned, as Fraser deftly unfastened his pants, and slid them, and his briefs, down around his knees. His cock hadn't had time to get hard yet, but Fraser didn't seem to mind, he just cupped it in his hand, lifting it, and sucked the head into his mouth, stroking it with his tongue and fingers.
It felt amazing, getting hard inside his mouth, watching Fraser open wider to accommodate him, finally having to back off a little, let some of him slide out. Fraser's lashes were dark against his cheeks as he sucked, an almost dreamy expression on his face. His tongue stroked the underside of Ray's cock rhythmically, and his mouth was warm, wet, and amazing. He reached down and cupped Fraser's head, stroking his jaw with his thumbs and Ray could feel Fraser's throat work against them as he swallowed. He had to close his own eyes for a moment, trying to block out some of the overwhelming sensation. It was wonderful, but he wanted more. Wanted the incredible mutuality they'd had last night.
"Stop," he whispered.
Fraser stopped sucking, stopped stroking, but didn't let go of him. Ray opened his eyes again, looked down to find Fraser looking up at him, eyes dark, pupils dilated. That was very nearly enough to send him over the edge. Only the faint worry line between dark eyebrows kept him from it.
"Not just me," he managed.
He saw the smile in Fraser's eyes, felt it around his cock, then he finally let him go, licking his lips, then leaning in, wrapping his arms around Ray's waist, his cheek against his belly.
"All right," he said simply.
Ray hugged him back, awkwardly because of the position, and put his hands on Fraser's shoulders and gently eased him away. "Come on. Bed."
Fraser nodded, and stood up, wincing a little as he did, leaning down to rub his knees. Ray smiled, shaking his head as he hauled his pants and briefs up so he could walk.
"Next time you decide to give me an impromptu blow job, make it someplace with carpet."
"A wise plan," Fraser agreed, a rueful smile shaping his mouth.
Ray pulled him close and kissed him gently, then let him go again, tugging at his hand. "I got lots of wise plans. Come on."
He led Fraser into the bedroom where they stood, kissing again, beside the bed. Fraser stripped the bedcovers down, and then his hands were back, roaming over him, up under his t-shirt to splay warmly against his back. He returned the favor, and for a moment he couldn't figure out what was strange, then he realized it was the fact that Fraser was wearing nothing but Ray's track pants. Nothing else. No layers. No wool. No leather. None of his usual . . . armor. It felt strange to hold him and feel him so close to the surface.
Fraser sighed into his neck and just held him, rocking slightly, not with his hips, but with his whole body, his arms almost uncomfortably tight. It came to Ray suddenly that Fraser had missed the touching as much as he had. Because, really, who ever touched Fraser? Nobody. Hell, not even Frannie dared. He was the only one who got to touch. And now he got to touch . . . all of him, not just the socially acceptable shoulder or arm.
He proceeded to do so, letting his hands roam Fraser's back, his sides, his hips, and then his ass, firm and sleek under the silky knit of the pants. His fingers seemed to go naturally into the deep cleft between his cheeks, and Fraser made a sound against his neck that sounded like a purr, and swayed his hips a little, letting Ray feel the firm length of his erection against one thigh. He smiled, fingers tracing the back-seam of the pants again, getting a firmer sway as a reward. He remembered last night well. Very well. Remembered worrying, too.
"Does it hurt?" Ray found himself asking.
Fraser pulled back a little and looked at him, clearly puzzled. "Does what hurt?"
"Um. . . when I'm inside you."
Fraser stared at him for a moment, his expression telling Ray he didn't really want to answer the question, but finally he did. "Well. . . there can be a momentary discomfort," he said slowly, then his gaze warmed. "But I assure you, it's very much worth it."
"Yeah?" Ray asked, still wanting reassurance, not liking the idea that it hurt at all. But Fraser had wanted him to do it, so it couldn't be that bad.
Fraser smiled. "Yeah," he echoed. "It's the most amazing thing in my experience, which admittedly isn't vast."
That made Ray curious. "No, but you're one up on me. So. . . what happened, with the guy?"
Fraser sighed. "It . . . just didn't work out. Couldn't have, really. We were simply too different by then. He wasn't the same person I'd known as a boy. Neither was I. To be honest, I don't think either of us actually wanted it to work out. But he was gentle and experienced, and he taught me a lot about myself. Not that I wanted to know it at the time. For a long while afterward I told myself it was just a fluke. It took meeting you to show me that it wasn't."
Ray felt heat rise in his face. "I . . . uh. . . well, you know, for me, I was with Stella so long I never really had a chance to figure it out before. But I was curious, even when we were together. Just never did anything about it."
Fraser nodded. "I would expect no less of you," he said softly.
Damn it. He was blushing again. He covered his embarrassment by kissing Fraser, letting the kiss escalate until they both had to stop to catch their breath. He slid his hands down Fraser's sides and under the waistband of his pants, stretching the elastic out to ease them past his erection before letting go. They dropped to the floor, pooling around Fraser's feet.
He took a moment to admire the result, thinking that whoever the guy was that Fraser had been with before must have been an idiot to give him up. Not many people were as beautiful on the outside as they were on the inside, but Fraser was one of them. Maddening, irritating, stubborn, smart, amazing, beautiful Fraser. His Fraser, he thought, and had to shake off the urge to suck on the smooth skin of Fraser's shoulder, to mark him.
No, don't cross the line, he thought with a peculiar pang of something that was close to despair. Fraser was no more his than Dief was Fraser's. But Dief stayed with Fraser of his own volition. He had to trust that the same would hold for Fraser and himself. He looked up to find Fraser watching him, his head tilted to one side, his gaze assessing.
"Ray?" he asked quietly. "Is anything wrong?"
Ray closed his eyes and shook his head. "No," he said, and his voice came out appallingly husky. "No, just counting my lucky stars."
Fraser took a step forward. "Me too," he said, his fingers tugging at the hem of Ray's t-shirt, pulling it up and off, leaving Ray momentarily dizzy. "Like the night sky."
He moved his hands to Ray's slacks, gently tugging the waistband from his hand where he held it up, letting them fall, and then peeling off his briefs. Ray helped him, and then toed off his boots and clothing together. When he was finally naked, Fraser pulled him close for a long, tight hug, and then he tipped them over so they fell onto the bed together, making it bounce loudly against the wall.
His odd mood broken, Ray started laughing, looking down at Fraser beneath him. "Freak," he said affectionately. "We're going to have Mrs. Custis pounding on the ceiling any minute now."
Fraser looked at him smokily. "She went out earlier, I heard her leave. We can make as much noise as we like."
Ray interpreted that as a challenge and he grinned, wondering just how noisy he could make Fraser get. He'd been pretty quiet last night, but Ray had a feeling that might not be Fraser's preferred modus operandi, considering what a mouthy bastard he was under normal circumstances. He stretched out over Fraser, laced their fingers together above their heads, and rocked his hips slowly against Fraser's, feeling their cocks slide together. He shivered, and so did Fraser.
Lowering his head, he dropped brief, teasing kisses on Fraser's mouth until, with a frustrated growl, Fraser shook a hand free of Ray's, grabbed him by the hair and dragged him down for a rough, searing kiss, licking deep, like he was trying to memorize Ray's mouth. Ray kissed back the same way, learning Fraser's taste, and smell, and feel, what made him shake. He snaked a hand down between them and found Fraser's cock, wrapped his fingers around it, stroking each time he licked into his mouth. Fraser bucked up into his hand, and groaned, the sound trapped in his throat, vibrating through their tongues. Ohyeah. That's what he wanted. Noise.
He lifted his head, breathing heavily, shifting to one side so he could stroke Fraser's cock more easily, fascinated by the slip and slide of his foreskin. It was just so. . . different. Fraser seemed really sensitive, too. When Ray slid a thumb across the exposed tip of his cock he jerked like he'd been shot, hissing an encouraging 'Yes!' and humping Ray's fist with a sharp thrust. His hand was getting slick with the stuff Fraser was leaking, and without thinking he lifted it to his mouth and licked his fingers, tasting the bittersweet flavor of Fraser for the first time. Fraser gasped. Ray shot a look at his face, found Fraser's gaze locked on his lips, his mouth. . . . He smiled. Oh yeah.
He slid down until his shoulders were even with Fraser's thighs, and stroked a couple more times, then stopped, holding Fraser's cock up and away from his belly, his foreskin eased back to expose the flared head, gleaming with moisture. Slowly he leaned in and licked, like he might lick an ice-cream cone-- if he wanted to tease the fuck out of whoever was watching him eat it.
Fraser's hands clenched in the bedclothes. "Raaaaaay," he sighed.
A little louder, but not good enough. Ray grinned, and did it again. Then again. Finally he let the heavy shaft slide across his tongue and into his mouth. The taste was stronger. Richer. He. . . liked it.
"God!" Fraser gasped explosively, his thighs going taut as he fought the urge to thrust.
Ray might never have given a blow job before, but he'd sure as hell gotten them. He knew what felt good. He used his tongue to probe the little slit at the tip of Fraser's cock, then swirled his tongue around the head. He got a moan. Finally he sucked, letting his tongue sort of click against the underside of the shaft in his mouth.
Fraser bucked hard and nearly went down his throat, and Ray coughed and backed off fast. He wasn't ready for that. Fraser didn't seem to have really noticed his abandonment, though, he was just lying there, sweaty and panting, waiting for Ray to do something. So Ray did. He moved lower, opening his mouth wide, sucking in one dense globe, rolling his tongue across it, before moving to the other side, where he did it again.
Fraser made the most amazing sound: something between a grunt and a moan, breathless and urgent. He brought his knees up, spreading his legs wider. Remembering the previous night, Ray licked a finger and stroked it across the little opening exposed there.
"Ray. . . please," Fraser moaned.
Ray stopped, and pushed up on one arm to looked down the long sweep of naked Fraser into his partner's half-focused gaze.
"What? Tell me what you want me to do," his own voice was more than a little hoarse. He'd been successfully ignoring the insistent throb of his own cock, but it was getting more and more difficult. "I'll do it. Anything. Anything you want."
"Fuck me, Ray," Fraser growled, loud enough that Mrs. Custis would definitely have heard him if she'd been home.
Yeah. There it was. Volume. And bonus, a bad word. He'd known Fraser had it in him. Just had to peel off enough layers to get to it. He was down to the essential Fraser now. Raw and uncut. He almost laughed. Definitely both. He had a sudden flash of body-memory, his cock held tight in Fraser's ass, and lost all urge to laugh, almost lost it, had to roll and grab, quick, to keep himself from shooting off just from remembering. Jesus. Hair trigger. He wasn't going to last long this time around. He just hoped it would be long enough.
He waited a few seconds to be sure he wasn't going to have a relapse, and then let go and reached for the lube on the nightstand. It was cold on his fingers, so he rubbed them together to warm it up, and then reached down, smoothing, stroking. Fraser opened up easy for him, took both fingers in like he was sucking on them. He managed a few more strokes, feeling him loosen a little, enough, he thought, and with a moan of his own, slipped his fingers free and shifted position, kneeling between Fraser's thighs.
He hesitated then. There were things in the way that he wasn't used to dealing with. Well, not like this, anyway. He was trying to work out how to proceed when Fraser reached out and pulled him forward, hooking his calves over Ray's upper arms as Ray planted a hand on the bed to either side of Fraser's chest to keep from nosediving into Fraser's face. Okay. That worked. Everything was out of the way now, and it all lined up like it was made for this. Come to think of it, maybe it was.
He braced himself on one hand and reached down, positioning himself, pressing in that first little bit, watching Fraser's face as he entered him. His head was back, his throat arched. His expression was taut, eyes closed, breath hissing softly through clenched teeth. It looked to Ray more like pain than pleasure. He faltered, starting to pull back, and Fraser's eyes flew open, locked with his, his hands clamped around the backs of Ray's thighs, keeping him from moving.
"Need you," he growled. "In me."
Fraser shifted a little, and somehow, Ray wasn't sure how he did it considering their position, he pushed, and took Ray in deep in one long, slow slide. He felt Fraser's fingers bite into his flanks, felt the tight, hot clasp around him, and . . . lost it. His hips shifted forward, hard, and he shuddered, and was gone, falling into bliss.
His brain started working again a little while later with the vague realization that Fraser couldn't be comfortable bent like that, with Ray's full weight on him. He needed to move. The next realization, as he eased his mostly-soft cock out again, and Fraser stretched out with a sigh, was that the thing poking him in the hip was not a knee or an elbow. He took a quick look, just to be sure, and . . . yeah. He felt his face get hot, and hid it behind one hand with a moan of humiliation.
"Sorry," he managed to say, out from under his hand.
Fraser moved, sliding out from under him, brushed his lips softly across Ray's. "No. Don't be," he said, and Ray felt the bed give as he got up.
Through his fingers, Ray watched Fraser walk toward the bathroom, disappearing into it. He didn't close the door, and Ray heard him open the linen closet, heard water running for a bit, then Fraser was walking back again. Ray quickly closed his eyes. Fraser sat down on the bed and Ray felt something warm and wet envelop his flaccid cock. Startled, he sat up, looking down to find Fraser had a washcloth in each hand, one soapy, one not.
"Hey. . . I can do that," he said, embarrassed.
Fraser looked at him, his face serene. "Yes, you could. But I'm doing it so there's no need."
He finished plying the soapy cloth with disconcerting thoroughness, making Ray wonder how he'd managed to get messy all the way back there, and then he used the other washcloth for the rinse cycle, carefully removing all traces of soap. It was really weird to have someone else washing his crotch.
"I'm sorry," he said again, still embarrassed, not knowing what else to say. "You just. . . it was so. . . good. You can't believe how good it feels," he explained stupidly, then realized he was wrong and tried to backtrack. "Well, I mean, you do know how it feels, but I didn't know so it's kind of new for me, and it's so amazing, and well . . . ."
"Ray," Fraser interrupted, his voice practically a growl.
"Shut up," Fraser said, pushing him down, grasping Ray's chin in his hand, holding him still for a kiss.
It wasn't like he had a choice, but he'd have shut up even if he had. He wasn't turning down deep, drenching kisses, full of insistent, provocative tongue. He didn't understand how it was possible to be getting turned on this fast after just coming. Not that his cock was up for doing anything but feeling faintly tingly, but it was definitely the beginnings of turn-on.
Next thing he knew, Fraser's mouth left his, left him feeling vaguely abandoned, until he felt tongue at the base of his throat, then against a nipple. He'd always had sensitive nipples, and the soft, wet lash of heat against one, followed by the graze of sharp teeth, left him gasping, clutching Fraser's head to him with both hands. Fraser didn't seem to mind. He just licked and sucked and nibbled until Ray thought he might just go out of his mind, and then Fraser switched sides and did it all over again.
Fraser finally let him go and slid lower, touring his ribs with soft lips, placing a quick, darting lick into his navel; giving a broad, slow slurp along the trail of fine, blond-brown hair that led downward from there; a butterfly-gentle kiss on the head of his half-hard cock. He expected him to linger there, but . . . he didn't. He shouldered Ray's thighs apart, urged his knees up, and put both hands under his ass, lifting him up so he could . . . .
"Ohfuck!" Ray moaned, as that tongue proved just how strong it was. Unbelievable. Unbelievable. Fraser wasn't . . . God. . . he was. He was. And how come nobody ever told him how amazing that would feel? He shivered and shuddered and tried to help out, trying to keep himself tipped at the right angle, but after a couple of minutes he forgot, and Fraser had to hoist him up again. After that happened twice, Fraser growled, grabbed his hip, rolled him over onto his frontside and dove back in from behind. Ray grabbed the headboard and held on.
After a couple of minutes it hazily occurred to him that he wasn't supposed to be on the receiving end here. He already got his. He tried to look over his shoulder and couldn't turn his head far enough, so he pushed up on one arm and looked under it.
"Frase. . . wait. I should be doing something for you!"
Fraser lifted his head, licked his lips, and smiled a smile that would probably have sent Ray running if Fraser had ever tried it on him in a dark alley. "You are," he husked.
He licked a slow, wet path down Ray's spine, starting between his shoulder blades and ending between his cheeks. Ray moaned and dug his knees into the mattress and pushed back into that touch, wanting more, feeling himself yield to the soft insistence of that probing tongue, and as it breached him he finally realized where Fraser was heading.
He supposed he ought to freak out. After all, he'd been raised to think letting some other guy put his cock up your ass was the ultimate Bad Thing. But the inclination to freak just wasn't there. Caught between the lazy bliss of having just come, and the itchy insistence of the pleasure Fraser's tongue woke in him, he just couldn't summon much outrage. And after all. Fraser'd let him do it, twice. And Fraser was neither a wimp or an idiot, or all that masochistic, though Ray couldn't deny Fraser had a little streak of that. But then, chasing after his ex for nearly two years proved he did too, so when Fraser lifted his head, and pressed a fingertip against him, cool and slick, Ray just sighed, shivered a little, and went with it.
"Wow!" he gasped in astonished pleasure a few seconds later.
Fraser moved his hand a little, causing a repeat of the spark-shower inside him, kissing the small of his back. "Okay?"
"Hell yeah," he managed. "Do that again."
Fraser obliged, and Ray moaned. "Christ, Fraser! Never feels like that at my annual!"
"I should hope not," Fraser said tartly, pressing a second finger against him, pushing slowly past the token resistance Ray's body offered.
For a moment there was a too-stretched, uncomfortable heat, and then his body relaxed around those fingers, accepted them. For a few moments Fraser just held them there, letting him get used to the feeling. Then he started to move them, to stroke, to push, and pull, and twist. Conflicting sensations rippled through him. Weird feelings. Full. Tight. Open. Almost-pain. Definite pleasure. His hips rocked with each movement, rubbing his cock against the mattress. He was still shy of a full erection, but it was more than halfway there. That wasn't something he remembered ever having happen before. It usually took him at least half an hour to even think about getting it up again.
"Ray?" Fraser's voice was a whisper.
"Will you. . . can I . . . ?"
"Yeah. Oh, yeah," Ray said, saving him from having to ask. It figured Fraser would have trouble asking, even if he clearly had no trouble doing. "Anything," he asserted. "Everything."
Fraser's fingers slipped free of him. He missed them. Wanted them back. Then Fraser was shifting him up onto his knees. Ray let him, and pillowed his face on his crossed arms. Newly slick-cool fingers probed again, and he sighed. Fraser made a sound. . . a smothered moan, and then his fingers withdrew once more, replaced by something . . . else. Slippery hands gripped his hips, held him shakily, as that thick, hot shaft moved slowly into him.
Into him. Into him. Fraser was inside him. Fuck. His cock twitched, thickened, tightened, with each inch Fraser slid into him, weird, amazing, and wonderful. On the edge of his senses there was an ache, a burn, but that only seemed to make the good that much better. As he felt the soft crush of pubic curls against his ass, Fraser's hands clutched at him, sliding on his sweaty skin.
After what seemed like an endless moment, Fraser gave a soft exhalation, then drew back, and slid in again. Ray closed his teeth around his forearm, stifling the gasp of discomfort at the outstroke, only letting out the sigh at the instroke. Fraser did it again. Again. Each time it got easier. The third time he sighed both times.
"Ray!" Fraser moaned. "Ray?" He sounded like he was afraid Ray was going to bolt.
Ray had no intention of bolting. "Here. Yeah. Go for it," he grated out, feeling the muscles in his thighs tremble with anticipation.
Fraser went for it, deep and fast. Yeah. God. Each thrust made Ray see stars against his eyelids, and wonder what the hell he'd ever seen in women. This was what he wanted. What he was made for. Fraser in him. Up him. All around him. This perfect belonging. Pounding hard into him, reaching around to fold his sticky-slick fingers around Ray's cock and stroke him in perfect counterpoint to his thrusts. It took about four strokes to bring him off, and his cock pulsed and jerked, splashes of come painting his belly and chest, ecstasy trying to flatten him under Fraser's weight.
A heartbeat after Ray's own last pulse shook him, Fraser groaned, wrapped his arms and legs around Ray in a bear-hug, and shoved himself deep, shuddering, gasping his name brokenly. It was amazing. He could feel Fraser come, pulsing inside him. He could barely breathe with the clutch of arms and legs around him. He didn't care.
Eventually the wet heat of semen eased the tight seal between their bodies, allowing Fraser to slip free of him. They both sighed a little, a sound of loss. Fraser kissed the back of Ray's neck, his ear, his cheek, whispering his name. Finally he turned Ray over and kissed his mouth. Ray tasted salt on his lips, and lifted a hand to Fraser's face, feeling wet streaks at the corners of his eyes. Worried, he pushed Fraser away a little.
"Hey, you okay?" he asked hoarsely, thumb smoothing the wet trail away from one temple.
Fraser's gaze met his, their gray-blue depths stunningly solemn. "Ray, you have no idea," he said softly.
Ray smiled. "I think I do, Benton Fraser. I think I do."
Slowly, Fraser smiled back, and nodded. "Perhaps you do, at that."
He leaned in and kissed Ray again, their lips clinging a little. They lay quiet for a little while, and then Ray spoke again.
"This is gonna sound funny, but being here like this, with you, makes me glad I spent all those years with Stella."
Fraser tensed, looking at him with worried eyes. "Why?"
"Shh, relax. Just because it means that you got to be first, you know? Like I said, stupid. But. . . I'm glad anyway."
Fraser looked like he was going to get damp again, but he blinked and the sheen went away. "I'm glad, too. I wish . . . ."
Ray put his hand over Fraser's mouth. "Don't. Don't say it. Somebody here had to know what the hell they were doing. You got elected. It's good."
Fraser nodded, and kissed his palm. Ray shifted his hand, tracing his fingertips across Fraser's mouth, waiting a moment to be sure Fraser wasn't just waiting him out, before lifting his hand and letting it settle, instead, on the back of Fraser's head, pulling him down. With a soft sigh, Fraser let his weight settle against Ray, his head on Ray's shoulder. Ray stroked his hair, trying to get used to the solidity of Fraser against him. Stella had been so small that Ray had sometimes been afraid he might be too rough by accident. Fraser was his own height, and a little heavier. He felt right. He felt good. And Ray knew he could roughhouse with him and play and never have to worry.
He could do this. He could do this for a long time. The kind of long time that he'd once thought he would have with Stella. Everything about this, now, felt right. Surprisingly so, considering how it was supposedly all wrong. Ray frowned a little, thinking about that. Fraser must have sensed the change in his body language, because he lifted his head.
"Sorry. Just thinking."
"About. . . us."
"Us?" Fraser asked cautiously, wary, like an dog that's had its nose smacked one too many times when it hadn't done anything wrong.
"Yeah. Us. There's definitely an 'us' here now. Don't you think? I mean, there always was an us, but there's more of an us now." Ray shook his head, frustrated. "Jesus. I sound like an idiot."
One corner of Fraser's mouth quirked upward. "No, you don't. I understood you perfectly. And yes, I think there is an us."
"Good. That's good. Because it's important that we're both on the same page."
"I'm definitely right there with you. I believe it's the dictionary entry under 'good thing.'"
Ray chuckled. "Yeah. Yeah, I think so. At least for us. But you know people are going to think that 'us' is a problem."
Fraser sighed. "Yes. I know."
"Well, I just want you to know, I don't. Okay?"
Fraser smiled, though his eyes were still serious. "I'm glad you feel that way. It may not be an easy thing to maintain, though."
"No. No, you're right. So what do we do?"
"What do you want to do?" Fraser asked, still wary.
Ray laughed. "You'd probably have me committed if I told you what I'd really like to do."
Fraser cocked his head a little, studying him curiously. "Have you committed? Usually I'm the one people think should be institutionalized."
"Yeah, well, most people are stupid," Ray said, giving Fraser a look that dared him to challenge that statement.
Fraser didn't take him up on it. He cleared his throat, and looked at Ray with an expression that said he was desperately curious but couldn't bring himself to ask again. Ray couldn't hold out against that. He sighed.
"If I was really me, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But I'm not me right now, you know? I'm Vecchio. And I don't think he'd like it if word got around that you were shacking up with him." A sudden, terrible thought occurred to him and he stared at Fraser. "Oh shit. . . it . . . it wasn't him, was it?"
Fraser looked puzzled for a few seconds, then apparently he got it. His own eyes widened. "Good God, no!" he exclaimed.
Ray relaxed. "Okay. Okay, good. I mean. . . it's your business but that would have been kind of. . . weird."
Fraser made a noise that was sort of a cross between a laugh and a snort. "I'll say. And I daresay you're right. I don't think he would be particularly happy to return to a reputation as a . . . man's man. He's always prided himself on the opposite."
Ray chuckled. "So I've heard. The Italian Stallion and all that. So, did he know? About you swinging both ways, I mean?"
Fraser tensed a little against him. "Yes," he said after a moment. "He did."
"And he was cool with it?"
"Ah. . . not exactly 'cool,' no. But we came to an understanding about it eventually."
"That neither of us would mention it."
"Oh." That definitely didn't sound cool.
"Ray wasn't overly impressed with either of my previous relationships," Fraser elaborated after a moment. "However, he did allow that at least Mark wasn't a murderer."
"Ouch. That was real nice of him."
"Well, he was right," Fraser said with a sigh, shifting a little, putting his head back down against Ray's shoulder.
"Just because it's true doesn't mean you have to rub it in," Ray said. "That's not buddies. He's not gonna like me either, is he?"
Fraser looked up, startled. "Why would you say that?"
Ray snorted. "Well, just look at me. And look at you. It looks like I won the lottery here, but I think you got the short end of the stick."
Fraser scowled at him. "Don't do that," he said harshly.
Ray hadn't really been all that serious, but he knew an irritated Fraser when he saw one. "Yeah, okay. Sorry. Old habits you know."
"She was wrong," Fraser said softly. "Very wrong. There's nothing about you that isn't exactly as it should be."
Ray felt himself blush. "I wasn't fishing."
"No, I know that." Fraser smiled. "But it bore saying." He sighed and ran his hand down Ray's arm, fingers lingering briefly over his tattoo before continuing on, until his hand covered Ray's and their fingers intertwined as he rested his head on Ray's shoulder again. "Ray, I don't think you should be committed," Fraser said quietly. "Or, if so, then perhaps we both should be."
It took him a minute to get what Fraser was really saying, but when he did, Ray smiled against Fraser's hair, and nodded. "Yeah. Okay. So, it's a date then. After Vecchio gets back, it's you, me, and the classifieds."
"I'll be there," Fraser affirmed, yawning. "With bells on."
Ray hugged him, still smiling. "That I've got to see."
* * *
"Really, Ray, there's no reason for this at all," Fraser said as they approached the salon. "I understand how the situation came about and I have no problem with it. Honestly."
"Uh-hunh," Ray said drily. "And that's why you keep asking me what Stephen looks like, and how long I've known Marty, and if I've seen them lately."
Fraser's face turned a dull red that contrasted unattractively with the red in his buffalo-plaid jacket. "I. . . hadn't realized I was doing that."
"Well, it's not every day, but it's more than once. And last time I went to lunch with them you sulked for two days."
"I don't sulk!" Fraser protested.
"Yeah, and I still believe in Santa, too. Give it a rest, you do sulk. It's very attractive, but it's definitely sulking."
"Attractive?" Fraser spluttered.
"Yeah. You get that dark and brooding look, like the guys on Frannie's romance novels."
Fraser made a face. "Please be kind enough to mention it next time you see me doing so. The thought that I'm a walking cliché isn't pleasant."
Ray gave Fraser a sympathetic look. "Hey, I know all about being possessive, okay. Remember a certain alderman? So because I know, I also know the best way to make this not a problem is to let you see for yourself that it's not a problem. So just take it like a man, okay?"
Fraser shot him a slightly sour look. "I shall endeavor to behave myself."
Ray grinned. "That's the spirit." He reached for the door and swung it open just in time for Debbie to walk through it. "Hey Deb, heading out?"
"Yeah, done for the day. Marty's just cleaning up. He's expecting you." She glanced at Fraser, then back at Ray.
Ray knew a hint when he saw one. "Fraser, this is Debbie Dvorak, my friend and ace stylist. Debbie, my partner, Benton Fraser."
Fraser shook her hand firmly. "A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Dvorak. And may I say you do an excellent job with Ray's hair?"
Debbie shook back, equally firmly. "It's a pleasure to meet the legendary Fraser," she said, looking him up and down. "I must say you live up to your hype." She ignored the worried glance he shot at Ray and continued. "And thanks, it always helps to have good material to work with," she said with a wink and a smile at Ray. "Well guys, I'd love to stay and chat but my sister is expecting me and I've got to get a move on. Ray, bring him by sometime when I'm going to be here a while. Like your next appointment?"
"Sure thing, have a nice night."
"You too," she called back, heading for her car. Ray motioned Fraser into the salon, and then followed him. Marty looked up from where he was sweeping up around his chair.
"Hey, Ray! Be done here in a minute," he said, and then his gaze took in Fraser, who was in the process of removing his hat, and he stared, and then blinked. "Whoa. Okay. I think the light dawns," he said, looking from Ray to Fraser and back again. "You've got a type, my man."
Ray smiled ruefully. "Yeah. Apparently so."
"I'm Marty Robbins," Marty said, holding out his hand for Fraser to shake.
"Const. . . Ben Fraser," Fraser said, taking it, staring at Marty.
Ray wasn't sure what was up with the staring since it wasn't the first time Fraser had ever seen a guy wearing a little eyeliner. Not by a long-shot. He had that vaguely perplexed look that people usually wore when trying to place a half-recognized face. He was also surprised by the 'Ben' part. He made a mental note to ask Fraser about it later. He was so used to calling him Fraser that it sort of hadn't occurred to him to call him anything else, but he kind of liked the sound of Ben.
"Pleased to meet you," Marty said, staring back at Fraser every bit as rudely. "Wild," he said after a moment, glancing at Ray.
Ray grinned. "Must be something in the water up north."
"Or maybe some hush-hush government program," Marty speculated.
Ray chuckled. "Yeah. Hell of a secret weapon."
Fraser looked from Ray to Marty, clearly puzzled. "What are you talking about?" he asked.
"Nothing. You'll see," Ray said cryptically, then he looked around. "Speaking of Stephen, where is he? I thought he was meeting us here?"
"He is, but he's running a few minutes late. He's on his way. Where do you want to go?"
"How about that coffee-bar you took us to that one time. On Diversey?"
"Jillian's? Yeah, sounds great. But. . . are you sure you want to go back there? You just about killed yourself last time. We could do Buddies instead."
Ray rubbed his back ostentatiously. "Nah, you fall off the horse, you gotta get back on. Otherwise I may never drink espresso again."
Marty snorted. "Yeah, right. Mr. Coffee says this? Uh-hunh. We'll just scout for skateboards before we leave." He turned back toward Fraser and walked around him in a slow circle, at one point reaching out to flip up the back of Fraser's coat.
"Oh yeah," he said appreciatively.
"I beg your pardon!" Fraser said indignantly, yanking his coat out of Marty's hand.
"No need, really," Marty replied irrepressibly. "Very nice. This one's a keeper, cowboy," he said to Ray, with a wink.
Ray nodded. "Yeah, I think so too."
Marty circled one last time and studied Fraser thoughtfully. "Definitely. But we really need to do something about that hair, it's a disgrace."
Fraser's fingers went to the hair behind his ear, his expression concerned. "It has gotten a little long. Mr. Lingenfelter has been on vacation visiting his grandchildren in Florida for the past three weeks, and isn't due back for another week."
Marty grinned broadly. "Well, we can't have an official representative of Canada looking ragged around the edges, now can we? Have a seat and I'll take care of that right away." he said, gesturing at his chair. "We've got time to kill before Stephen gets here."
Fraser shot a look at Ray, clearly asking if it was safe. Ray grinned and made shooing motions with his hands. "Go on. He won't be happy until he gets his hands on you and that's the only way I'm going to let him."
Fraser handed Ray his coat and hat, and sat down a little gingerly. Marty lifted his eyebrows at Ray and smirked. Ray had no trouble at all deciphering that look and he felt himself turning red, glad Fraser couldn't see him from where he was sitting. Marty laughed soundlessly and turned back to Fraser, running his fingers through his hair, pulling a few strands out straight to test their length. The unconsciously intimate gesture gave him a little twinge of. . . discomfort. He tried to ignore it.
"Okay, up again," Marty said, startling both Ray and Fraser. "You have very unhappy hair, Ben. Come on over to the sinks, I want to do a wash and condition, too. What do you use on your hair anyway? Soap?" he asked as he led Fraser across the room.
Fraser, taking a seat on the reclining chair, cleared his throat. "Ah, well . . . ."
Marty sighed, shaking his head as he tested the water temperature. "Thought so. Ray, I expect you to take him in hand."
Ray snorted. "Not a problem."
Marty laughed, pushing Fraser down and back so his head was over the sink. "That's not what I meant."
"What, you can dish it out but you can't take it?" Ray said, maturely.
Marty stuck out his tongue, pumped a handful of shampoo into his palm, and started massaging it into Fraser's hair. Ray watched Fraser's eyes drift shut, his face reflecting the pleasure he felt, and had to stop himself from going over and grabbing Marty's hands. He wasn't going to be a jealous s.o.b. Marty was happily involved with Stephen. A few minutes of harmless flirting never hurt anybody. And Marty wasn't really even flirting at the moment, he was working.
Ray knew it felt good to have someone else wash your hair. It wasn't anything more than that. Just the same, Ray decided he'd suggest a shower together the next time they spent the night together, and he'd wash Fraser's hair for him. A long, slow, soothing kind of wash, so Fraser would remember his hands, not Marty's.
"Mmm," Fraser said, his voice low. "That feels very nice."
Ray clenched his hands and counted to ten under his breath.
"Good. It's supposed to," Marty replied, very matter-of-factly.
Ray forced himself not to look. The bell hung on the door jangled, announcing a new arrival, and Ray looked up gratefully as Stephen came in, shaking rain off his coat. Ray hadn't noticed it had started raining.
"Hey guys, sorry I'm late. We lost a server this morning and our I.T. guy's on vacation so I had to fix it since I'm his backup. Everything's back up and running now." He finally looked up from his coat and saw what Marty was doing, and stopped, looking chagrined. "Oh. . . sorry, Marty. Didn't know you had a customer."
"That's just Ben," Ray told him. "Marty says his hair's a disgrace."
Stephen looked at Marty fondly. "God, you can't turn it off, can you? Always got to have your hands in someone's hair."
Marty grinned and shrugged. "I didn't see you complaining last night."
Stephen blushed. "Uh. . . no. So, how's life, Ray?" he asked, in an obvious attempt to change the subject.
"Life is actually pretty damned good," Ray said, rescuing him. "You?"
"The same. And it's been a long time since I could say that. I took your advice, too."
Ray frowned, trying to remember. "I gave you advice?"
"Okay, well, it wasn't exactly advice, but you said something about talking to people about the bad stuff in your life, and I haven't, and I figured it was about time. So I'm talking now. To Marty, and to a counselor. And it's . . . hard, but it's helping, I think. So I owe you, twice over. For Marty, and for that."
"Well, except for you and Marty I'd probably be working in some other division and completely Fraserless, so I think we're even," Ray said.
"No you wouldn't be," Fraser put in from across the room.
Ray looked over at him where he still had his head in the sink, the water still running. "How the hell did you hear that? No, never mind. It's the bionic hearing thing. So, I wouldn't be, hunh?"
"No, I wouldn't have let you."
"Yeah, you and whose army?" Ray asked, trying to ignore the subtle warmth spreading through him at Fraser's words.
"I expect I could have gotten assistance from any number of your associates at the station. Francesca, for instance."
"Yeah, okay, that'd probably have done it," Ray said, laughing. "Marty, get a move on, I'm hungry."
"This conditioner's got to sit three minutes before I can rinse," Marty said. "Besides, don't you know better than to rush an artist?"
Stephen shook his head and 'tsked.' "Really, Ray, what were you thinking?"
Ray gave a longsuffering sigh and wandered over to pour himself a cup of coffee from the ever-present pot by the waiting area, adding creamer and sugar because he figured it'd be as bad as the stuff in the station after sitting there all day. He took a sip, and grimaced. It was definitely just as bad.
"There," Marty said, finally letting Fraser sit up. "Now back to my station and we'll be out of here in no time."
Fraser stood up, but instead of going over to Marty's station he detoured over and offered his hand to Stephen.
"Ben Fraser, Ray's partner," he said, and Ray got the feeling he was marking territory in a polite sort of way.
Stephen shook hands. "Stephen Miller. So, you're the Mountie, eh?"
Fraser nodded. "I am, yes."
Stephen smiled and nodded toward Fraser's hat, where it sat on the chair beside Ray, on top of his coat. "Never thought I'd say it, but the hat kind of makes me homesick."
"Ray said you were Canadian, where are you from?" Fraser asked conversationally.
"Grew up in Brandon, Manitoba. You?"
"Inuvik, in part, but all over the Territories."
Marty had come up beside them, and he whistled softly. "You're a long way from home."
"Home isn't necessarily where one grew up," Fraser said, glancing at Ray for a moment before his gaze returned to Marty, his eyes lingering in a way that made Ray nervous. Fraser was being almost rude about it.
Marty must have felt a little uncomfortable too, because he cleared his throat. "Something wrong?" he asked bluntly.
Fraser blinked and looked away. "No, not at all. You just remind me of someone I know," he said, his gaze sliding toward Ray for a moment before returning to Marty's face. "And you would be from . . . British Columbia?" he asked. "Vancouver, I think? Though not recently."
Ray started to correct Fraser, but the look on Marty's face stopped him.
"How the hell did you know that?" Marty asked, amazed. "You're the only person who's ever guessed that!"
"I have an ear for accents," Fraser said. "Though yours is more difficult than most. The layering threw me at first, I think there's a bit of Texas in there? An unusual combination."
Still looking thunderstruck, Marty nodded. "Yeah, Mom's from Austin. Dad was from Coquitlam. After they split up I lived with Dad until he kicked me out. Then I hooked up with Frank and moved to Van, stayed there until he. . . died." Marty's habitually cheerful expression faded a little for a moment, then he shrugged, and went on. "By then Mom needed help so I went down to take care of her. She decided she wanted to be in Chicago to be close to my aunt, and that's how I ended up here."
Ray listened in amused wonder as Fraser worked his usual magic, within minutes learning more about Marty than Ray had found out in years. For a few seconds he worried that Fraser might be bringing up something Marty didn't want people to know, but the fact that Stephen was nodding like he already knew everything told Ray that they'd already gone into their personal histories.
"Which was lucky for me," Stephen said after Marty finished. "Though what are the odds that two Canucks would end up falling for each other in Chicago, of all places?"
"Well, that would be rather difficult to compute, however if you calculate the rate of emigration. . . . "
"Fraser, that was one of those rhetorical questions," Ray said, cutting off what he knew would be several minutes worth of rambling.
"Ah, so it was," Fraser said, looking a little embarrassed.
"So, Marty, are you actually going to cut his hair or is that a new experimental style you're trying out?" Stephen asked.
Fraser's hands went to his hair and he turned to look in one of the mirrors. They all regarded him for a moment, and then Fraser shook his head. "I believe the experimental hairstyles are best left to Ray."
"Yeah, I think you're right," Stephen agreed.
"I don't know, a little gel, maybe some streaks. . . ." Marty began.
Marty looked a little put out at having all three of them veto him, but he shrugged as he steered Fraser over to his chair. "Okay, fine. I can do traditional. You want the full-out jar-head look or something a little less severe?"
Fraser stared at him in bemusement. "Jar-head?"
"He means like a Marine, Fraser. And no, just shorten it up some, make it neat," Ray said.
"You know, Stephen was just saying at breakfast this morning that he wanted me to let my hair grow out a little, to give him enough to hang onto." Marty said with a wink, picking up his scissors.
"Marty!" Stephen said, blushing. "Man! See if I cook breakfast for you tomorrow."
"Not a problem, it's my turn tomorrow anyway," Marty said, starting to work on Fraser's hair. "But you've got laundry duty."
Ray looked from Stephen to Marty and back. "Wait. . . you guys are living together?"
"Yeah, we decided to move in last weekend," Stephen said, grinning broadly. "My lease was up for renewal, and we got to talking about it and just decided to go for it."
"Whoa," Ray said, startled. "Isn't that kind of . . . fast?"
Marty looked up from his work, scissors paused. "You know, life's too fucking short to let anything stand between you and someone you love. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and take the plunge."
In the mirror, Fraser's gaze met Ray's, solemn and steady. Ray felt something in his chest tighten a little, almost painfully. He nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, sometimes you do."
* * *
Compared to Chicago's, the classifieds in Yellowknife were pretty sparse, but they had a few choices. They'd been offered one of the RCMP housing units, which were subsidized, and would be easy on the budget, but Fraser felt uncomfortable taking one when there were married folks with kids waiting for those. So they were out looking for civilian digs. The first stop was a boring, cement and brick apartment building that sat about six blocks from the RCMP post in one direction, and about four blocks from the garage that had hired Ray in the other direction. As they approached the building, Ray kept hearing a faint chiming sound. It persisted as they went inside and looked at the nondescript two-bedroom apartment on the ground floor that was being offered. The sound stopped once they got back in the car, so Ray figured it was just something in the area.
The second stop was a duplex. Nice, modern, all the amenities. Unfortunately it had no 'je ne sais quoi,' as Fraser put it. Diefenbaker wasn't impressed, either. That sound kept coming back. Ray was starting to think he had a hearing problem. Maybe all those years of playing with guns had done some damage that was just starting to show up now. As they stood in the kitchen debating the merits of the duplex over the apartment, Ray finally couldn't stand it any more.
"Fraser, do you hear that?"
Fraser looked at him blankly. "Hear what, Ray?"
Ray sighed. "Never mind. Nothing. So, what's next on the list?"
Fraser took the folded paper from his pocket and unfolded it, perusing the listings as if he hadn't looked at it twenty times already."There's only one place left that would suit, and I'm afraid it's a bit expensive."
"Which, translated from the Fraser, means it's more than you've paid in your life but probably half what my place in Chicago ran," Ray said with a grin. "Let's check it out. It's not like we're indigent."
"It's far larger than we need."
"You never know what you need until you need it," Ray said cryptically, and jerked his head at the door. "It's not like they have people beating down their door right now. You told me that since it's fall a lot of folks are leaving for the winter. If we decide we want this one, it'll still be here in half an hour, right?"
"I suppose so," Fraser allowed.
"Come on, you know I'm right."
Once again, the noise stopped when they got in the car. It couldn't just be his hearing if it stopped in the car, could it? Ray almost asked Fraser about it again, but figured he'd get some sort of complicated explanation about air pressure and the magnetosphere, and decided to skip it.
The last place was way out on the edge of town, on a huge lot, complete with a sagging barn. The house itself was an old two-storey Victorian that badly needed a paint job and some fixing up. Fraser shot him an odd look as they sat in the driveway staring at it. Ray looked back at him, figuring he had to be thinking one of two things. Either 'it's perfect,' or 'you've got to be kidding.' Knowing Fraser, Ray was pretty sure it was the former.
To be honest, he kind of liked the looks of it himself. The gingerbread was weathered to a silvery sheen, the porch railing tilted a bit, and the mullioned windows looked like they hadn't been washed since the first World War, but it had that French stuff Fraser wanted. In Ray's parlance, it had personality.
"They expecting us?" Ray said after a minute. "I don't see any cars around."
"Yes and no. When I called to make an appointment for a viewing, Mrs. Flannigan told me we didn't need one, that she left the key under the mat when she moved to the assisted living facility three weeks ago."
"Mrs. Flannigan?" Ray asked. Trust Fraser to know her name. "How come she needs assistance?"
"Well, she's eighty seven, and her husband passed away some years ago. They had no living children, and she said that the place is just a bit much for her to handle any more."
Ray whistled softly. "Yeah. Eighty seven. Wow. I can't even imagine."
Fraser looked at him, an odd smile curving his mouth. "I can."
Ray grinned and shook his head. "Yeah. You probably can. "Well, come on, lets go see the inside."
As soon as they got out of the car, Ray started hearing that sound again. He was definitely going to have to go get his ears checked. Dief took off to explore the grounds as they walked up to the house. The porch stairs creaked underfoot, and Ray stood back and admired the way Fraser's ass filled out his jeans as he bent down to retrieve the key from under the sisal mat. Just in case Fraser was wrong and there was someone home, he resisted the urge to fondle. After knocking three times, loudly, Fraser used the key, unlocking the door smoothly, opening it and stepping inside.
Fraser called out a hello to the house, obviously thinking along the same lines as Ray. Following him inside, Ray started looking around. The outside of the house hadn't prepared him at all for the inside. Outside it looked terrible, inside it was. . . homey. The floors were wooden, scarred and worn with time but well polished. It was fully furnished, which was a surprise. He'd figured the place would be bare. Plus it wasn't the frilly, dainty kind of furniture that you'd expect in a house owned by an old lady. No, it was sturdy, and comfortable-looking. Lots of pine and plaid. Sort of guy-looking.
The parlor held a couch and armchair, both facing the fireplace. A real fireplace, not a woodstove. Ray had a sudden image of Fraser stretched out there, naked, firelight dancing on his skin. Yeah. Oh yeah. Okay, time to stop thinking about naked Fraser. Ray sniffed. The house didn't smell musty at all. And it didn't have that 'old people' smell either. It just smelled. . . nice. A little woodsy. A hint of something that made him think of cookies.
Kitchen. He walked toward the back of the house, figuring the kitchen would be there. The kitchen was important. And apparently it had been to the Flannigans, too, because it was a big, open kitchen with lots of counter and cupboard space. The stove was gas, and about twenty years old, but in good shape. The refrigerator was new, or close to it. An ancient, chest-style freezer hummed away next to the door to the back yard. Ray bet Mr. Flannigan had been a hunter.
He heard Fraser's boots on the stairs and left the kitchen to follow him up to the second floor. And damn it, there was that infernal sound again. It had let up for a few minutes there, now it was back. Frickin' annoying. Their investigation of the upper level yielded the fact that there was a single bathroom with an ancient clawfoot tub, a gas room-heater, and a laundry chute down to the basement under the sink. There were three bedrooms, one sat empty, one was furnished as a guest room with a narrow single bed, and a small nightstand. The last one held a pine four-poster that was about as king as they came. Ray had trouble imagining a little old lady sleeping in that huge bed. The late Mr. Flannigan must have been a bear of a man.
The bed was covered by a plain blue comforter, and a piecework quilt was draped over the rail at the foot of the bed. Once again Ray experienced a momentary flash of Fraser, lying across that bed, back arched, Ray sprawled between his thighs. . . he shook himself. He really had to stop doing that before they signed the lease. He had no doubt they were going to do that. None at all. Fraser walked over to the window and opened it, letting in a cool breeze that smelled of fallen leaves. As he stepped back from the window, the chiming sound got louder, and Ray suddenly realized that the only times he couldn't hear it were when Fraser wasn't moving, or wasn't in the room with him. His eyes narrowed and he crossed the room in three quick strides.
"All right, where is it?" he demanded, hands sliding up under Fraser's jacket, searching.
"Where is what?" Fraser asked, too innocently, trying to catch Ray's hands.
Ray had done too many pat-downs to let Fraser stop him. On his second pass down, his fingers caught on a small nub protruding from Fraser's belt on his left side. It jingled. He tapped it again. It jingled again. He pushed Fraser's coat open and . . . yep. A bell, fastened to Fraser's belt loop with a garbage bag twist-tie. He looked at it in complete bafflement, then looked up at Fraser's face. Fraser was smiling, grinning really, his eyes bright with humor.
"Okay, I know you're chronically unhinged, but would you mind telling me why . . . . " Ray stopped himself abruptly, as something stirred in his memory, a months-old conversation. He felt his mouth curving in a grin that matched Fraser's. He shook his head, laughing. "You goofball. I thought I was losing my hearing, or my mind, one or the other!"
"I was just keeping a promise," Fraser said, reaching for him, pulling him close. "I did say . . . ."
"With bells on," Ray finished for him. "You know, I only see one bell here," he said severely. "You wouldn't be hedging on that promise would you?"
Fraser's smile grew sultry. "Why no, I wouldn't."
"So, where's the other one?"
"I suppose I could tell you. Or you could find it the same way you found that one."
Ray had a feeling he knew where it was. He hadn't spent all those years as a detective for nothing. He just hoped Fraser hadn't used a twist-tie there, too. "You sure no one's home?" he asked, looking around the room.
"As sure as one can be, without having personally inspected every room."
"Rent include the furniture?"
"There a washer and dryer?"
"According to the advertisement, yes."
"Good," Ray said, walking Fraser backward until the bed caught him behind the knees and he sat down abruptly. "We'll tell her to pro-rate the first month's rent from today, at . . . " he checked his watch. "Three forty-eight p.m.," he finished, pushing Fraser over onto his back and following him down. "And hope to hell nobody else comes by to look at the place in the next hour."
"Hour?" Fraser asked, sliding his hands down the back of Ray's slacks to cup his ass. "Is that all?" He sounded disappointed.
"Well. . . for round one, yeah," Ray said, working a hand between them, popping the button on Fraser's jeans, dragging the zipper down. "After that it's negotiable."
* * * Fin * * *
comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
For those of you who might be wondering (and going "Naaah, she wouldn't have, would she?") the answer is: Yes. My lunatic habit of a) writing crossover fic and b) wanting to make everyone in fic-land happy has resulted in this being, obliquely, a crossover with due South, Cold Comfort, and Frank's Cock. Yes, I know I'm weird. What can I say? And if you can tell me where Mrs. Flannigan came from you get a virtual gold star. ;-D