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Ray would have been swearing if he'd had enough breath left. The perp had a solid lead. A half-dozen more steps would take him out of the alley and onto State Street where they'd lose him in the crowd for sure, and it was all Fraser's fault he was about to pant out a lung over a goddamned purse snatcher --
Where was the music coming from? It sounded like the beginning of "Stairway to Heaven" as played on a computer in hell.
And the perp was slowing down. He didn't stop running or drop the purse, but he fumbled, hopped on one foot, hauled something out of his pocket.
Ray was gaining. Fraser was a couple of steps behind him, a red blur in the corner of his eye.
The music came again, cut off in the middle by -- jesus. He's running from the cops and he answers his cell phone?
"Baby -- gonna have to call you back, you caught me at a kind of bad time." The guy was out of breath, but he still had enough wind to talk and run at the same time, so he was doing better than Ray.
But Ray was almost there.
"Aw, sugar, don't be that way," the guy said, still running. "Gimme half-hour, tops." And then he barreled out of the alley and right into an old lady, and they both went flying.
"Hah!" A burst of speed and Ray was on him, pinning him to the ground -- not as tough as you might expect, because the guy was still talking on the phone.
"On my mother's grave I swear I am not with another woman," he panted. Ray's hopes for this relationship were not high, but maybe the guy would get a Jerry Springer appearance out of it.
Fraser, Ray noted, was helping the little old lady up. She had on the brightest green pantsuit Ray had ever seen. It clashed hideously with Fraser's uniform, setting up an irritating flicker in his vision.
Ray pried the purse out of the guy's hand, wrenched the hand behind him, and dutifully began, "You have the right to remain --"
"What," the guy said into the phone, "everything's about fear of commitment? A guy can't ever just be too busy to talk on the phone?"
" -- can and will be used against --"
"Aw, baby, don't -- shit." The guy looked at Ray, shrugged. "Chicks."
"Yeah," Ray said sympathetically. "Where was I?"
"If you cannot," the guy said.
"Oh, yeah. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be ..."
The guy folded up the phone one-handed and got it into his pocket again, then stuck that hand behind him so Ray could cuff him. Ray pulled out his own phone to call for transport, swinging the guy around so he could keep an eye on him and Fraser both.
Fraser was trying to straighten the old lady's flowered turban, but since she kept backing away, he kept having to go forward to help her. Little old ladies usually loved Fraser, but this one was looking at him with something like terror, and clutching her hand over the throat of her coat.
Ray followed them, dragging the purse-snatcher along behind him. You never knew what kind of trouble Fraser was going to get into.
A sudden movement knocked the turban sideways, and as her hand came up to steady it, Ray got a glimpse of what she'd been hiding: a round, flat pin with a picture of a weirdly suggestive yellow tulip. Kind of racy for her age.
Fraser was looking at it, too. And the old lady was looking at his red uniform, nostrils quivering. "You're ... Canadian, aren't you?" She said the word the way other people might say "armed."
Fraser looked confused, but he nodded.
"Oh, my gracious," she said, clutching the pin. And she fled as fast as her little gold sandals would carry her.
"A piece from the Davies collection? Constable, are you sure?"
That doubt in Thatcher's voice always set Ray's teeth on edge; it was like an unspoken accusation. But Fraser didn't seem to notice.
"Quite certain." He quickly sketched the pin and passed the drawing to her. "Hopeless love, I believe. Not the very finest of the early brooches, to be sure, but an unforgettable piece just the same."
"Indeed," she said, handing the paper back. "And you ... chose not to detain the wearer?"
Ray fielded that one. "Woulda had to arrest her. Woulda had to chase her down and then arrest her." He turned to Fraser. "We have any reason to do that, Fraser?"
"Strictly speaking, I suppose we could have held her on suspicion of knowingly buying stolen property," Fraser said. "I preferred simply to ask her a few questions. I had no expectation that she would flee the scene when she learned that I was Canadian."
"Probably scared you were gonna take her guns. We hate it when you guys do that," Ray said.
"This is a serious matter, Detective," Thatcher said. Ray squelched the desire to stick his tongue out at her. "Marian Davies had the most valuable and extensive collection of art nouveau jewelry in North America, if not the world, and its theft was a great loss to Canada and to fashion history. And if a piece of the collection has come back on the market now, and the wearer is afraid of Canadians, then that suggests ..."
She stopped, frowning. "What does it suggest, Constable?"
"I have no idea, sir," Fraser said.
"Maybe it was a fake," Ray said as he held the Consulate door open for Fraser and Dief.
"Possibly," Fraser said in a tone of voice that meant 'No way.' "It was genuine enameled gold, and I'm not aware of anyone manufacturing high-quality reproductions of Laurent de Manderley jewelry. Leave it, Diefenbaker." Dief gave an irritable snort and dropped the half-eaten hot dog he'd found on the stairs.
"No," Fraser went on, "what I suspect is that, since five years have passed since the burglary, the thief now feels safe putting a few articles on the market. And if that's the case, we may be seeing more of them."
"We'll have to keep our eyes open," Ray said, and promptly forgot all about it.
But two weeks later, as they were searching the Art Institute's gift shop for a birthday gift for Turnbull, Ray came face to face with a reminder -- a little round yellow flower six inches from his nose, attached to the cuff of a middle-aged guy who was reaching for a book on the Impressionists. Ray went to get Fraser from where he was examining The Child's Introduction to Surrealism.
"Hey, Fraser, you remember that old woman who ran away?" Fraser nodded. "Check out the cufflinks on that guy there."
Fraser raised his eyebrows. "Very observant, Ray. I can't be sure, but I think perhaps we'd better have a talk with him."
"Least you're in civvies this time," Ray muttered. "Hat's suspicious, though."
"Excuse me, sir." The guy must have been military -- he all but snapped to attention at the sound of Fraser's voice. "I wonder if I might take a look at your cufflinks."
The guy's eyes turned suspicious. "You're Canadian," he accused.
Before Fraser could answer, Ray stepped in. "No, he went to boarding school. I'm Detective Ray Vecchio, CPD. My partner and I got a report there's some stolen jewelry coming on the market, and we need help tracking down the thief." He glared at Fraser to make him keep his mouth shut.
The old guy reluctantly worked a cufflink out of his sleeve. "I can tell you that you fellows are on the wrong track. These were a gift from the private collection of a very dear friend, practically a member of the family."
Ray looked at the cufflink, but flowers were flowers to him, so he passed it to Fraser. Fraser turned it upside-down, examined the back, twisted the mechanism, raised it to the light, and passed it back to Ray. "Thank you kindly," he said.
The guy's eyes narrowed.
Ray handed him his cufflink. "Right," he said. "We'll just need to ask you a few questions."
"I really wouldn't want to do anything that might cause trouble for dear Lainie ..."
"It's possible," Fraser said, "that some malfeasant has cheated your friend by selling him or her stolen goods without his or her knowledge," Fraser said. The word "malfeasant" made the guy narrow his eyes again, and he began to frown at the "him or her," but he shook a business card out of his wallet and handed it to Ray.
"I doubt that," he said. "She told me it had been in her family since the twenties."
"Be that as it may ..." Fraser began, and the guy suddenly stiffened.
"You are Canadian," he said furiously. "I knew it. I won't speak to Canadians on this matter, and if you want to speak further with me, you may contact my attorney."
"Sir, please reconsider," Fraser said. "Canada is a well-established democracy, and one of the United States' nearest neighbors, and it behooves the two countries to --"
"Canada, sir, can go hang," the man said. And he stalked off.
"It's most provoking," Fraser said as they entered the Ice Queen's office. "I can't think why anyone would have such a violent reaction against Canada."
"I'm gonna be nice here and not mention Celine Dion," Ray said.
Thatcher looked up from her copy of Farsi for Diplomats. "I take it you've found another Davies piece, Constable?"
"A late one this time," Fraser told her. "I declare war against you."
What? Ray squinted at them, but the Ice Queen just nodded, like that made sense to her. Canadians.
"And this wearer also refused to speak to anyone from Canada?"
Fraser sort of flinched. "Yes, sir," he said.
"We did get his business card," Ray put in.
"But the likelihood of our getting any useful information from him is --"
"He's gonna hang up on us," Ray said bluntly.
"Constable, I don't need to tell you how important it is to Canada that we retrieve as many Davies pieces as we can, and if possible catch the thief and the seller," she said. "I suppose we'd better report this to Ottawa."
"The Davies collection." Even through the speakerphone, Inspector Micheletti's voice suggested raised eyebrows, or perhaps even rolled eyes. "If you'll give me a minute, Inspector Thatcher, I've got somebody who needs to be in on this. -- Constable Bowman! Got a minute?"
"Certainly, sir." The voice was a lot louder than Ray expected, as if this Bowman had been just hanging around the office door waiting to be called in. "I couldn't help overhearing, sir." Ah. That was exactly what he'd been doing. "And I'm sure you're well aware of my interest in the Davies collection --"
"To put it mildly," Micheletti said. "But maybe you could sum it up for the gang in Chicago. Briefly, Constable."
"Of course, sir." There was a moment's pause, as though Bowman was taking up a position behind a podium. "As I'm sure you're aware, in March of 1992 --"
There was a throat-clearing noise from Micheletti.
"You're already familiar with the burglary, then," Bowman said.
"Yes, Constable," Thatcher said.
"Very well." Bowman sounded disappointed. "Then you'll be aware of the long and agonizing period when it seemed that this cherished part of our nation's heritage had vanished without a trace, leaving us bereft of -- very well, sir."
Ray grinned at Fraser. Evidently other Mounties knew what it was like to be shushed in the middle of their Inuit stories.
"At any rate," Bowman went on irritably. "Last September I spotted a young man wearing one of the later tie tacks. Touch me not. Naturally, I escorted him to an interrogation room and detained him for extensive questioning, though I'm sorry to say he was less than cooperative. I feel sure that he was on the verge of releasing all information on the name and whereabouts of the seller when certain representatives of the legal profession intervened."
Ray could imagine the expression of aggrieved innocence on Bowman's face. He wondered how many hours that poor man had to spend listening to Bowman go on about his tie tack. Didn't Canada have any human rights regulations at all?
"It was a great loss to justice that day, I can tell you," Bowman said.
"Justice would have suffered a lot more if the guy hadn't been willing to settle out of court," Micheletti put in.
Bowman ignored him. "I feel confident that the gentleman conveyed the message to the miscreant who was selling our nation's stolen history. Canada will, if I may, maintain the right. Canada will not give up."
"Yes, I'm certain that message was received," Thatcher said. "This has been very illuminating, Constable, and I --"
"Perhaps I could come to Chicago to assist in your investigation?" Bowman said eagerly.
"That won't be necessary," said the other three Mounties in unison.
"Well," Thatcher said as she turned off the speakerphone. "I suppose this clears up the question of why the seller is warning the buyers away from Canadians."
"Unfortunately, it also severely limits my participation in the case," Fraser said. "And yours as well, sir."
Thatcher gave Ray a serene smile. "Well, Detective," she said. "It appears that you're about to become an expert in Art Nouveau jewelry."
"Wait, wait, hang on," Ray said, kicking his phone out of the way to make room on his desk for his feet. "Talking flowers?"
"In a manner of speaking," Fraser said. "The Victorians assigned meanings to a variety of flowers -- red rose for 'I love you,' and so on. Eventually the language of the flowers became so sophisticated that it was possible to convey quite a variety of sentiments --"
"Oh!" Frannie was walking by with both hands full of faxes. "The language of the flowers. It's so romantic!"
"Because god forbid they just go and talk to each other," Ray said. "So this Manderley guy was doing a bunch of I-love-you type stuff on the jewelry?"
"Well, not quite," Fraser said. "It's a tragic story, Ray. De Manderley fell in love with his teacher's daughter, Delphine. His earliest pieces were love messages to her, but when they married things began almost at once to go sour, and the jewelry likewise began to convey --"
"Stuff like 'I declare war on you,' " Ray said. "I thought you two were nuts or something. So what happened to him?"
"Well, it was terribly sad. It turned out that the flowers he was using as models were stolen from the private gardens of a wealthy Parisian. He was arrested for trespassing, but before he could go to trial, he expired from an unfortunate case of enamel poisoning, a very rare disorder." Fraser got a thoughtful look. "Though in a way it was a blessing. If he had spent a normal lifespan creating jewelry at the same rate, it's estimated that more than thirty percent of the gold in France would have been tied up in Laurent de Manderley creations."
"OK," Ray said. "So how do I recognize the real thing?"
Fraser picked up a stack of papers from the floor beside his chair and handed them to Ray. "This," he said, "is a photographic reference of the entire de Manderley oeuvre. As I don't have access to a complete listing of the Davies collection, it would be wise to memorize them all. This," and he gave Ray another handful of sheets, "is a list of the characteristics of a genuine de Manderley, from artistic factors to metal content. And this," and he placed a hardcover book on top, "is the best-known reference to the language of the flowers, which may be helpful for --"
"You know what?" Ray's eyes were already glazing over. "Instead of making me a jewelry expert, wouldn't it be quicker to make you an American?"
Dewey looked up over his desk. "Fraser's going to be an American?"
"Congratulations!" Huey was halfway to the stairs, but he backtracked to offer his hand, which Fraser shook with a bemused expression. "If you need any help with the citizenship exam, just let me know."
"I'll give you a hint," Dewey said, dropping his voice conspiratorially. "The le-gis-la-ture is bi-cam-er-al."
Frannie shoved the last of the faxes carelessly at Huey. "An American? Congratulations!" she squealed, beaming.
"Do you think his English is good enough?" Huey asked.
"We could make him some flashcards."
"Guys." Ray rolled his eyes. "He doesn't have to be American. He just has to pass for American."
Dewey's face fell. "That's much harder."
Huey gave Fraser a hard look. "An immigrant, yes. A native? He'll never make it."
"Don't be such a pessimist," Frannie said. "Fraser can do anything he puts his mind to, can't you, Fraser?"
"Thank you, Francesca," Fraser said, looking rather uncomfortable.
"Call me Frannie. Everybody does." She looped her arm through his. "Now. The secret is in how you walk. You carry a lot of tension in your shoulders. You know, I'm taking a class at the Learning Annex in personal massage, and I could help you with that. This would be a lot easier if you took off your shirt --"
She was interrupted by the arrival of Welsh, looking like he was just itching for an excuse to yell. "I have an unshakable faith that one of my detectives will have a logical, nay, compelling, explanation for this spectacle."
Everyone answered, and then no one answered, and at last Ray managed to get the whole story out. "So, see, it's totally simple. Fraser pretends to be my partner, which he is, and then he pretends to be American, which he's not, and then nobody runs away."
"I see," Welsh said. "In that case, everyone go on about your business. Detective -- Constable -- come into my office," he added ominously.
When he was comfortably seated, Welsh laced his fingers together and gave Fraser and Ray a hard stare. "I don't wish to nitpick, Detective, but I see a small flaw in this plan of yours."
"Impersonating a police officer is a crime, remember?"
"He does have a point, Ray."
Damn, this meant it was back to memorizing jewelry all weekend. "But, sir, if we're gonna trace this Davies collection, we gotta have Fraser involved, because he's the only one who knows the whole --"
"Detective. He's not going to impersonate a Chicago police officer."
Welsh's voice had a ring of finality. Shit.
"He's going to be a Chicago police officer. Frannie!"
Frannie stuck her head cautiously in the door. "Yes?"
"Fill out some adjunct papers for the constable here, will you? And Frannie?"
There was a sudden flash of light.
Welsh held out the camera to Frannie. "Get Detective Ben Fraser here a new badge."
The badge was still hot from the laminator when Ray snatched it out of Frannie's hand. "Hey, congratulations, Ben. You made detective. Shit -- not only that, but you're six foot three. We never shoulda let Frannie print out the badge." Ray shook his head. "Well, whatever. Next thing, we gotta get you a holster." At Fraser's stubborn look, he held up a hand. "Don't start. You know as well as I do nobody's gonna buy you as a cop if you're not packin'. We don't gotta load it or nothing."
The shoulder holster seemed to make Fraser stiffer. "All right. Now. Gonna have to work on your posture, next thing."
"Posture?" Frowning, Fraser stood up even straighter.
"Jeez. Fraser. Siddown. Look. American spines got a little bend to 'em." He dropped onto a seat to demonstrate. "Lean back. Let the chair take some of your weight, right? Now -- lean your elbow on the back -- yeah -- good. Better." Fraser was still too stiff, though -- what was off? Oh, yeah. He rolled closer and tapped one foot on the inside of Fraser's knee. "Spread."
"Like me. See?" Fraser nodded, but his face was still puzzled.
"More. Further. Fraser, come on. In America, a guy sits like he's got a fuckin' Harley in his jeans, right? Give the boys some room there."
Fraser might have been blushing, and he might have been suppressing a smile, but at least he finally let his legs relax into the natural splay.
Ray stood up and walked around him, looking at him from all angles. Yeah, he looked pretty natural. He looked ...
He looked hot as hell.
Ray pushed a hand into Fraser's hair, flopping a lock down onto his forehead. Oh, yeah. Fraser the American looked totally hot.
Fraser the Mountie was pretty hot, too, in that please-corrupt-me way that got to Ray like a plaid skirt did to a guy who went to Catholic school. But this Fraser -- this Ben, sprawled out on a rolling chair, hair mussed -- jeez, but he was eye candy in a serious way.
Ray was grateful, and not for the first time, that Fraser was too clean-minded to guess what his partner's dirty little imagination was getting up to. He hoped that Fraser would stick with this undercover job long enough for him to take some pictures.
"Wanna try walking now?"
Fraser gamely took a turn around the bullpen, but his walk was not as successful as his sitting posture.
"He needs to lower his center of gravity," Huey said to Dewey.
"And loosen the movement of his arms in the sockets," Dewey said to Huey. "Like this."
"Try it with your hands in your pockets," Frannie suggested.
"Drag your feet a little," Dewey said.
"Or maybe --"
"Everybody shut it," Ray announced. "Fraser, we're gonna take this outside."
Fraser looked sheepish as they walked out onto the sidewalk. "I'm afraid I'm not doing very well."
"Well, it's no wonder, when you got so many coaches," Ray said. "Look, you got any experience at all with impersonation?"
"I'm afraid not, Ray. I was cast in the role of Alfie Doolittle for our high school production of 'My Fair Lady,' but on the night of the performance, the auditorium had to be closed due to the migration of ... it's not important."
"Yeah, well, I never been onstage, but I done a little undercover work here and there. And the thing I learned, you can't be generic. You gotta be specific." They waited for the light, then started across the street. "I mean, you can't go to a meet thinking, Small-time runner looking to make big. You gotta have somebody in particular in mind, somebody you can think about and sorta get in the state of mind. See, you been trying to be some generic American, but that won't work. You gotta be somebody in particular." Ray steered them into the shade of a bank's awning. "You got it?"
Fraser gave him a serious look. "I -- think so." His thumb came up in the direction of his eyebrow, and then he seemed to catch himself, and his hand stopped halfway to his face.
"Yeah, you can't do all that fussy little fidget stuff there, Fraser. Shake it out." Ray shook out his arms encouragingly.
Fraser began to follow his lead, shaking -- hands, arms, shoulders. Rolling his head on his neck, rolling his shoulders, and shaking, shaking.
With every shake his shoulders got looser, his movements more fluid.
Until at last he bent his head, leaned his shoulders against the bank's brick wall, stuck three fingers in his jeans pocket, and looked up at Ray through his eyelashes.
Jesus. He looked like sex on a stick over there.
"Who," Ray said a little hoarsely, "who the hell are you supposed to be?"
Fraser raised his eyebrows and gave Ray an open-mouthed grin.
Even Fraser's walk was different, like all his joints were looser. Did Ray look like that, walking? Like he knew everybody was looking and he liked it?
Ray pushed his mind away from that thought. The important thing was that something had clicked and Fraser was actually going to be able to fake this American thing. He was doing fine, he was gonna be able to do it --
"Please. Allow me."
Ray stopped in his tracks and turned around. There was a girl in a power wheelchair coming out the door of a brokerage, and Fraser had stopped mid-strut in order to hold the door open for her, his spine instantly straightening as he extended his arm. Shit. Maybe this wasn't going to be so easy after all.
And then Ray had a sudden inspiration.
"Hey, you in a hurry?" he asked the girl. "Or could you help us out here?"
The girl looked at Ray and Fraser. "I could give you a few minutes," she said, with a look that added, Assuming you're not psychos.
"See, the thing is, my friend here is Canadian."
She looked at Fraser still holding the door. "My condolences."
"Thanks. So anyway, for reasons that don't need exploring at-- right now -- he's gotta pass as an American. Which means he's gotta practice not being so damned polite all the time, right? So what I want you to do is go back in and come out again and we'll see how well he manages to walk by without helping you."
The first time, Fraser stopped dead on the sidewalk, twitching with the effort of not running for the door. The second time he slowed his steps and looked at her longingly. By the seventh or eighth try, though, he was able to stroll right past, and eventually he even managed to ignore her when she called out, "Excuse me."
Finally, Ray said, "OK, you got it."
"Good." And Fraser went back over and held the door. "Thank you," he said to the girl, reaching to tip a nonexistent hat. "I hope you won't hold this against me. I assure you, it was done to further the cause of justice."
She looked at him, then at Ray. "You're probably going to have to medicate him."
Fraser probably needed a couple of weeks of practice to pass as an American, but he didn't get it. That very day at lunch, he suddenly stopped still, his chopsticks halfway to his mouth. "Another one."
Ray looked. Sitting all alone, meditatively eating spring rolls, was a rather overdressed young woman. And pinned to her cashmere sweater was an oval with a big red carnation on it. "That's a Davies piece?"
Fraser was already wiping his mouth and sliding out of the booth. By the time Ray put down his napkin and followed, Fraser was standing by the woman's table, hands behind his back, posture perfect. "Pardon me," he began.
Oh, she knew something. She stiffened visibly, and her hand crept up toward the brooch, though she wasn't so obvious as to actually cover it up. They weren't going to get anything out of this one, either.
Except that when Ray came up behind Fraser, her eyes went down to the badge clipped to his holster, and she visibly relaxed. "Oh, you're policemen," she said. "For a moment there I actually thought you were Canadians. What can I do for you? Did I park in a handicap zone again?"
"Would you mind if we sat down?" Fraser said. "It's about your brooch." She touched it, frowning. "A piece meeting that description was part of the antique jewelry collection of Marian Davies of Toronto, which was stolen five years ago. May I ask where you acquired that piece?"
"It was a gift," she said, eyes wide. "It couldn't be stolen. Maybe it's a reproduction?"
"May I have a look?" As he said that, Fraser stopped waiting for permission and slid into the booth across from her. She unclipped it and handed it to him.
He turned it over and showed her the back. "No, it's original. Laurent de Manderley, one of the foremost designers of art nouveau jewelry in the eighteen-nineties. Can you tell me more about the circumstances of the gift?"
"It was to cheer me up after my divorce."
"And the giver's name was?"
Fraser and Ray glanced at each other.
"I -- I actually don't know."
"You and Lainie must be very close to exchange such very valuable gifts."
She blinked. "Well, we'd lost touch over the years. But we met again at the first opera performance after Jeff and I split up. She was wearing this, and she came right up and reminded me of her name and took it off and pinned it to my stole."
"Did she ask for anything in return?"
"Of course not! It was a gift. Friends do things for each other."
"And have you done similar favors for Lainie?"
She smiled proudly. "She spent the whole winter in my vacation house in St. Louis. Her place was being remodeled, and besides, Ottawa's so cold in the winter ..."
"Lainie is Canadian, then?"
She nodded. "Poor thing. Do you know, her insurance company was threatening to investigate her because she didn't have some kind of stupid papers on some of her things? They even said if she didn't find the papers they could arrest her. At least here we've got freedom, I told her."
She looked closely at Fraser. "You're not Canadian, are you?"
"Nah," Ray said. "His parents were preachers."
"I'm afraid someone may have sold Lainie stolen goods without her knowledge," Fraser said gravely. "If we could talk to her, perhaps we could help her get her money back. Can you tell us how to contact her?"
"Um ... I don't know." She looked embarrassed. "I think she must have originally been from Jeff's set -- all the really upscale people were."
She looked like she was getting ready to go off on an divorce story, and Ray hastily said, "Thanks," to forestall her.
Fraser, catching a clue for once, stood up. "You've been very helpful. Here's -- ah -- Ray, could you give Ms. Chase a card? Please contact us if Lainie gets in touch with you."
"So this Lainie -- you figure she's the fence?" Ray was trying hard not to watch Fraser walk. It wasn't easy.
"It seems likely. You'll notice she doesn't seem to be selling the jewelry outright."
"Six months in a mansion on the river, though -- that's pretty steep for a pin."
"Not at all," Fraser said. "I'd estimate that brooch was worth at least forty thousand dollars."
Ray choked. "What? But it's not even, like, diamonds or anything." He squinted at the pin in the evidence bag. Still just looked like an ugly picture of a flower to him.
"No, but it's a one-of-a-kind art object, and an antique as well."
"I guess." Ray shook his head. Rich people.
They'd reached the Consulate now. When Fraser swung loosely in out of the sunshine, the Ice Queen was at the other end of the hall. And Ray, blinking in the sudden darkness a couple of steps behind him, had never thought much about the phrase "her face lit up," but now he saw it happen for real. She gave the warmest smile Ray had ever seen, and hurried toward them.
"Welcome to Canada, sir," she said. "I'd be more than happy to personally assist you with any --" And then she came to a sudden stop. "Constable Fraser?" Jeez, a blush that fierce had to hurt.
Her expression was rapidly going from puzzled to angry. "Is this your idea of a ... a joke?"
Ray stepped forward hastily. "He's undercover," he told her.
"As ... a man in street clothes?"
"As an American."
Ray thought the whole plan to solve the Davies case would warm her up a bit, but it didn't. "If he can't be Canadian, then he's of no use to me. Constable, consider yourself an employee of the Chicago Police Department for the duration of the exercise."
"Thank you, sir." Fraser looked like he was looking for a hat to hold.
Dief appeared at the door, mouthing half a sandwich that he'd probably swiped from Turnbull's lunch. "I suppose you'll be needing us to look after your wolf in the interim?" the Ice Queen said.
Dief looked pleadingly at Fraser, but Fraser nodded, and both Dief and the Ice Queen sighed.
"Try to return my subordinate to me without any permanent damage, all right?"
"No, you go ahead. We're not in a hurry." Fraser stood aside, and the woman smiled at him and followed the hostess to a table. Their table. Damn it.
Ray sighed. At this rate they were never gonna eat. "Fraser, listen. If you're gonna be an American, you gotta get over this 'You go ahead' thing."
"But, Ray, she was elderly."
"I don't care if she's dead, Fraser. You gotta have a voice in your head all the time that says, I was here first, I'm in a hurry, I need it more than you, so the hell with you. OK? Try it."
"I was here first. I'm in a hurry. I -- Ray, this is no way to carry out public life."
"Sure it is. Works just fine if everybody does it. You just run into trouble when everybody's doing it but one -- that's when you get bottlenecks."
Fraser didn't look convinced. "Look, Fraser, you grew up on the tundra and all, and it's like shipwreck or something -- everybody's gotta work together, everybody puts everybody else first, or else you're not gonna make it, right?"
"That's very insightful, Ray."
Ray grinned. "I know. But you're in civilization now, and you gotta do what civilized people do, which is to try to grab stuff away from other civilized people." Finally the hostess came and took them to a booth.
Ray leaned across the table to Fraser. "I'm gonna teach you the mantras of an American. Repeat after me. I was here first."
"I was here first. Although actually, Ray, from a historical perspective --"
"Shut up, Fraser. Say it: I'm in a hurry."
"I'm in a hurry."
"I got important business here."
"I've got important business."
"I know what I'm doin'."
"I know what I'm doing."
"If I want it, I deserve it."
"If I want it, I deserve it."
"You lookin' at me?"
"Ray, I really don't think I can --"
"OK, never mind, we'll save the de Niro for the advanced classes. You think you can do this?"
Ray reached for the bread, but Fraser took it right out from under his hand. "Perhaps I can at that."
Ray was already in the break room next morning when he heard Fraser's voice in the hallway. "Good morning, Francesca."
"Morning!" Frannie caroled. "Are you doing all right? Are you still carrying all that tension in your shoulders? Because I --"
Oh, lord. Ray stirred his coffee hastily and got ready to go rescue Fraser.
"Fr -- Frannie." Whoa. Now that was a new tone. "I -- like you. You're sweet and lovely and funny, and you have a warm heart. But I want to be your friend. Just your friend. You understand?"
There was a pause -- hell, even Ray required a minute to process this -- and then Frannie said quietly, "Guess I was kinda making a fool of myself, huh?"
"It's nothing to be ashamed of." Fraser's voice was gentle. "You see what you want and you ... go for it. I admire that. I -- I envy that. "
Frannie's voice was warmer when she replied. "You can do it too," she said. "You've got to. It's the American way."
"Hey," Ray said next day as they finished interrogating the participants in a pushcart rivalry that had turned violent. He hoped he never had to smell relish again. "What's the wolf up to?"
"Sulking, I'm afraid," Fraser said. "He rather resents me for not including him in this investigation."
"There is no way an American cop --"
"Yes, I've told him as much. Repeatedly. He feels sure he could pass as a police dog."
Ray didn't even bother to comment. "We got Sunday off," he said. "Maybe we oughta take him someplace nice. Have a picnic or something. How's North Beach sound?"
North Beach, as it turned out, sounded like a thousand Chicagoans who'd all decided to get away from the crowds at the same time. Ray drove right past it, out of town, under a bridge, past a half-built subdivision, and down a long, featureless road. Yep, the sign was just where he remembered.
"Benjamin Franklin Czernowicz State Park," Fraser read.
"You just gotta know the city, Fraser. You bring the picnic, I'll bring the towels."
The riverfront beach was narrow but clean, and except for three teenage girls with a jet-ski, they had the place to themselves. "I'm impressed, Ray," Fraser said. "I didn't think solitude could be had this close to the city."
"Yeah, well, we're going to take advantage of it to teach you to be an American at the beach," Ray said. "Shirt off -- no, both shirts off, Fraser, jeez, it's summertime, you won't catch anything." Ray pulled his own T-shirt off, then kicked his shoes in the general direction of their towels.
"So listen," he went on, "you're doing pretty good staying in character, but there's still gah." Because there he was, Detective Ben Fraser, CPD, shirtless and barefoot with his jeans turned up to show his ankles, looking 100% edible.
"Yes?" At Ray's blank look, Fraser clarified: "You still have suggestions?"
Ray tore his eyes away. "Yeah, OK," he said. "You, uh, sometimes you slip back into talking Canadian."
"Do I?" Then he corrected: "I mean -- yeah?"
Ray grinned. "Yeah."
"It might help me to be more consistent," Fraser said thoughtfully, "if I could stay in character even when I'm not on duty."
"Good idea, Fraser."
"Which means, of course, that I'll need you to call me Ben whenever you can remember to do so."
Oh, good point. "OK, I'll give it a shot. Ben." It felt strange, and the sudden warmth in Fraser's -- Ben's -- eyes was even stranger.
Dief made a little whining noise and poked at the bag with his nose. "Quite right," Ben said, and then, "I mean, yeah, good idea." He opened the bag and tossed Ray a bottle. "You wouldn't want to get sunburned."
Uh-uh. No way in hell. "Already put some on at home."
Ben's nostrils flared. "So you did." And he flipped the cap open and tipped back his head, rubbing a sheen of lotion onto his throat. Damn, having him put it on himself was just as bad as having him put it on Ray. Ray decided that scratching Dief's ears required his full attention. Dief gave a little snorting noise that left no doubt that he saw right through this fiction.
"Is my body language improving?" Now Ray had to look. Ben was sitting cross-legged, applying sunscreen to all sorts of places Ray always forgot -- his nose, the tips of his ears, the back of his neck.
"Um. Yeah. You're looking a lot more relaxed. You could slouch a little more, but it's OK -- people probably assume you're ex-military." Ray dropped down on the other towel. "Hey, that reminds me -- you keep forgetting to mess up your hair."
Ben shook his head vigorously, and a lock fell forward onto his forehead. "Better?"
Ray nodded wordlessly. Way too good to talk about.
Ben tilted his head to one side, as though he'd just been given a clue. "And attitude?"
"Gettin' a little better." Ray decided he was better off not looking at Ben too much while he was so marvelously messy. He looked out over the river instead. "You just gotta get it in your head: I'm an American -- I deserve to have what I want."
"Yeah?" Ben's voice was strange.
By the time Ray turned his head, Ben was on his knees.
And then Ben's hand was on the back of his neck, and Ben's mouth was moving softly over his.
"Oh," Ray said, and Ben took a stronger grip, and one of Ben's lips moved between his, just slightly moist, and, "Oh," he said again, and reached up to grab one bare, lotion-slick shoulder, and Ben drew back to look at him.
"This is something I want," Ben said huskily. "Is it something you want?"
"Fuck yes." And Ben closed his eyes and kissed Ray for real.
Having gotten a yes, Ben wasn't waiting around for any more permission. He pressed Ray's mouth open and brought one hand around to cup his jaw while the other hand took a strong grip on Ray's thigh just above the knee and began moving very slowly upward. Ray realized he was just sitting there, and he grabbed for the first skin he could reach, which turned out to be Ben's ribs, and Ben made a soft grunt and lunged suddenly forward, pressing Ray down on his back, half on the towel and half on the sand.
"Fraser," he said as that heavy weight came down on top of him, "Fraser -- Ben -- yes --" And Ben breathed Ray's own name down into his mouth a half-second before his tongue followed it in.
And oh, god, yes. He rolled his hands down his partner's smooth strong back, over the waistband of his jeans --
And a sharp bark recalled him to his senses.
Ben raised his head and said irritably, "Dief, what --"
Ray tried to drag him back down, but Dief barked again, and Ben closed his eyes. "Public indecency?"
Ben rolled off and lay on his back, chest heaving. "Oh," he said, and flung his arm over his eyes. "Oh, hell."
Ray dropped the towels three times on the way back to the car.
Ray stalked up the apartment stairs without looking back him, jamming his key into the lock, flinging the door open behind him. He was jumpy, he was twitchy, he was restless, he was irritated --
He was nervous. This wasn't just anybody. This was Fraser.
Or, to be precise, it was Ben. Who was almost Fraser, but --
"Fraser," he said as the door clicked shut. "Not that I'm complaining, but that was all outta left field --"
Fraser gave him a heartstoppingly sexy slow smile. "Ben," he said.
"Yeah, well, that's exactly my problem," Ray said tightly. "What, I'm gonna have to arrest you for Necking While American? Is this for you or for Ben?"
"Ben is me," Fraser said impatiently, and reached out, wrapping a hand around Ray's wrist, over the bracelet. Ray pulled his hand free.
"Tell me you've thought this through," he demanded. "Tell me this doesn't just go away as soon as the red coat goes back on, because Fraser, that would --"
And then his back went thud against the wall and Fraser went thud against him, and he was being kissed with deep concentration and no finesse at all. When Ray gasped for breath, Fraser put his cheek against Ray's. "I know what I'm doing," he said into Ray's ear. "I'm in a hurry --" and now there was a smile in his voice. "If I want it, I deserve it --"
Ray whacked the back of Fraser's head with his open hand. And then he gave in and went back to kissing.
Fraser's fingers made a slow journey down Ray's back, thumbs exploring the ridge on either side of his spine through his T-shirt, and Fraser's mouth came back to his, slow and unbearably tender, as Fraser's hands reached the bottom of the shirt and made the trip back up underneath the fabric. The shirt bunched up as they moved higher, and when he reached Ray's shoulders, he simply lifted it off.
Ray gripped the front of Fraser's T-shirt and pushed, then pulled him. Off the wall, down the hallway, into the bedroom, and Fraser unceremoniously shut the door in Dief's face with one foot while one hand went down the back of Ray's jeans and the other came down roughly on the fly buttons.
Button fly, damn it, not a good choice, not if he'd had any idea he wouldn't be the one unbuttoning them. But apparently buttons -- like knives, and ropes, and baseballs -- were subject to the Fraser magic, because at his first tug, the pants just fucking laid themselves open for him.
"Uhh --" Ray would have liked to say something suave when Fraser's hand shaped his cock over and then under the thin cotton knit, but apparently his cock was subject to the Fraser magic, too. It stood up for him, it fucking jumped for him, and Fraser was breathing in his ear, "Oh, Ray -- I never hoped --" and Ray breathed back at him, "Anything, you can have anything."
Fraser didn't quite take that the way he meant it. Fraser took that by dropping to the floor, hands still holding Ray's pants and jockeys so that they went down when he did, and Fraser's hands were maneuvering them over Ray's feet even as Fraser pressed his nose to Ray's groin and let out a happy little sigh.
Ray had allowed himself to imagine this occasionally, on special occasions, on nights when life sucked so bad he needed the best comfort his imagination could muster. He'd always pictured Fraser being deliberate, curious, exploratory.
Maybe Ben had a whole different outlook from Fraser, because after a couple of those amazing deep sniffs, Fraser simply took him in deep, backed off, took him in deeper, and went to work driving him out of his mind at breakneck speed.
The sheer pleasure of it made Ray's legs wobbly, and he staggered a step and sat down on the edge of the bed. And oh god, Fraser followed him, Fraser followed him on his knees and sucked his cock down again, and it had only been a couple of minutes, but Ray could already feel the buzz start.
"Fraser, wait -- you don't want to --"
Fraser released him and looked up -- still fully dressed, hair mussed, mouth wet, eyes hot -- and Ray lost it, let out a wail that was half ecstasy and half humiliation, coming, coming, can't stop -- and he was a couple of spurts into it when he felt that hot mouth close around him again as he shook apart with pleasure.
He pitched forward, curving his body over Fraser's, arms reaching down his strong broad back, and waited for his brain cells to stop vibrating. Fraser held Ray's cock gently in his mouth until the moment before it would have started to hurt and then released it, wrapping his arms around Ray's waist, stroking soothingly over his lower back, kissing Ray's belly for a moment before raising his head. The whole left side of his jaw was shiny, and there was a drop of spunk in the hair behind his ear.
"Oh, god," Ray said, "Fraser, shit, I'm sorry, I --" He reached out a shaking hand to wipe at the shiny wet streak on Fraser's cheek.
And Fraser's eyes went even hotter, and he turned his head and licked Ray's fingers clean, nostrils flaring. And when Ray came down off the bed into Fraser's lap and licked his jaw, Fraser made a noise that was closer to a growl than to any word Ray had ever heard, and stood up, pushing Ray roughly to lie across the bed and then flinging himself down on top of him, kissing him and chasing the taste of him in a way that made Ray's cock do its utmost to come back to life again.
Ray fumbled at Fraser's fly with his right hand and grabbed a handful of his shirt with his left. When he finally got under the shirt and hit bare skin, Fraser shuddered all over and his hips thrust forward violently. Ray lost his grip on the button, and he reached down to cup Fraser's cock through the jeans, and Fraser let out a grunt and pushed into Ray's hand, and right through the denim Ray could feel his cock jerking as he came.
Fraser lay heavily on Ray for a moment, panting. Then he lifted himself on his elbows, eyes still closed, and kissed his way rather clumsily from Ray's jaw to his cheek to his mouth for a slow, soft, concentrated kiss. It was a little embarrassing how much the sound Ray made resembled a whimper.
"Jesus, Fraser," he whispered.
Fraser gave him a smile that looked almost smug. "Yeah," he said. His eyelids were already drooping, and Ray wanted, suddenly and fiercely, to see Fraser asleep in his bed. He rolled them both over sideways and said, "At least let me get you out of these," and he was shocked when Fraser rolled to his back and passively let Ray pull the wet jeans and shorts off him. Ray stood there for a moment stupidly considering how long it would take to wash and dry them, and did he have anything else to make a load, until Fraser opened his heavy eyes and said drowsily, "Come back," and Ray dropped the clothes on the floor and let Fraser pull him down into his arms.
And as it turned out, he never did get to see Fraser asleep, because by the time he woke up, Fraser was already watching him.
Ray wasn't really that disoriented, but it was certainly an unusual sensation to wake up in the middle of the afternoon with a naked Benton Fraser, and he had to rub his eyes. "Time is it?"
"Not quite four," Fraser said. "I was wondering whether perhaps you'd like dinner."
"Americans say 'maybe.' Ben," Ray said, and then ruined his authority with a jaw-cracking yawn. "But yeah. Want me to run by the Consulate, get you something to wear while we get those washed?"
"I was hoping we could perhaps -- maybe order in."
"OK. I might have a shirt someplace you can borrow."
"It's fine, Ray." Fraser shrugged. Actually shrugged. "I can eat pizza without getting dressed, I'm sure."
Ray stared. "Damn," he said finally. "You shoulda defected years ago. Does you good."
Twenty-four hours ago, Ray would have said working alongside Constable Benton Fraser was the biggest temptation he could imagine. But that was before he spent the day at the station with Detective Ben Fraser.
Ben. Who sprawled, who slouched, who snarked, who -- god help us -- swore.
When Ray went hunting on the computer for information on the Davies collection, Ben read over his shoulder, leaning in so close that Ray could feel his breath, feel his warmth all down his back -- and didn't that put his imagination into overdrive.
"Ben!" he hissed.
"Hm?" Ben said softly, breath stirring the hair behind Ray's ear. So close -- jesus, somebody was gonna notice for sure --
"Um, guys?" Frannie's voice was smug.
"Yeah?" Jesus, Ben didn't even straighten up, just turned his head in her direction.
"If you're looking for a complete list of the stolen jewelry, I've already got it. With pictures."
She held out a pile of papers, and now Ben stood up to take it. "Thanks, Frannie."
"Anytime, Ben." She gave him a brilliant smile that turned sharp as she turned it on Ray. "Next time, ask me before you wreck the computer, bro."
He set off toward his own desk, and Ben followed -- shoulder to shoulder, in perfect step. Shit, now, somebody was going to notice that for sure. "Ah. There. That's the one I saw on the man at the museum."
"Ben, c'mon --" Ray was interrupted by the sound of Welsh clearing his throat. Shit. Now they were in for it.
"Vecchio? Are you forgetting something? Hello, Detective Fraser."
"The Scottoline report? Which should have been on my desk on Tuesday?"
"Oh ... yeah. Um. OK. Get to it right away." He finally freed himself by ducking under Ben's arm. "So we're gonna, what, call all the rich people in Chicago and ask them to show us their jewelry?"
Ben rolled his eyes. "Oh, that'll work."
"You got a better idea?"
"I was going to suggest that we capitalize upon -- that is, that we keep on doing what works."
Ray blinked at him.
"We've encountered three Davies pieces just by chance. If we begin intentionally infiltrating places where the wealthy go -- significant weddings, charity events, and so on -- odds are good that we'll find more."
"Hm." It did sound like a good plan. "OK, right. You and Frannie get a copy of the Trib and track down some likely stuff and I'll go take a little break." He got two steps away before Ben grabbed him by the shoulder holster. He grinned. "Can't blame a guy for trying, yeah?"
Ben's fingers curled around the holster, cool under the hot leather, and Ben gave him a heated look and tugged on it speculatively.
"Ben." Ben blinked, as though coming back from a long way away. "The newspaper?" Ray said, and Ben shook himself like a dog and went off in the wrong direction, then stopped and spun around before finally heading for Huey's desk, where the newspaper always landed when Dewey was finished with the personals.
Just then Welsh stuck his head out of his office, phone in hand, and said, "Vecchio! Was Leo Thinh one of your informants?" and Ray said, "Was?" and Welsh said, "Yeah, before they found his body at the bottom of a barrel of white paint in the stockroom at the Ready Remodel?" and they were off.
So as it turned out, it was a perfectly ordinary day, in the sense of them talking to way too many people and getting way too little information. Ray almost missed Fraser's uniform -- it was what he was used to when he was running while being shot at -- but Fraser was still the same old Fraser, pausing to admire the vertical blinds display while Ray cuffed the shooter.
The only unusual thing was when he stopped outside the car to call and check if Frannie had gotten any faxes, and as he was shutting the phone, Ben came up behind him and said very softly, "When you wear that long coat, I always imagine putting my arms under it and putting my hands in your back pockets."
Ray was so startled he nearly dropped the phone. "What the -- what's gotten into you?" he demanded as he folded the thing up.
Ben shrugged again. Ray tried to remember if he'd ever seen Fraser shrug. Maybe the uniform somehow made it so you couldn't. "I've just wanted to do that for ... a very long time," he said, looking down.
"Really?" They were two feet apart. Ray thought nobody could see them but the rats in the dumpsters. He wished he could be sure of that. "Got any other urges you been hiding?"
"Oh, Ray," Ben sighed. "You have no idea." He leaned closer, speaking very softly. "You spend a great deal of your time leaning on various surfaces, Ray, had you noticed that? And every time you do that, I want to come over and press you back against the wall or the car and kiss your eyes and kiss your mouth ..."
Oh jesus. They weren't touching anywhere, there was a foot of space between them, Ben wasn't even looking at him, and he was so turned on he could feel the air moving in his mouth as he breathed.
"Ben. Home." His voice was barely audible. Ben didn't answer at all, just turned abruptly and went around to his side of the car, not quite running but with visible haste. Ray fumbled the door open with fingers that were primed to be touching something other than cool metal.
After seven blocks of silence, Ben said softly, "Your couch is rather narrow."
Ray frowned. "Well, if you're planning on --"
"I've often imagined," Ben went on, staring straight ahead through the windshield, "that if I wanted a satisfactory opportunity to touch you, I'd have to lay you out on it and kneel on the floor beside it, lay you flat on the cushions and --"
"Jesus, Ben!" Ray could hear his own breath. The steering wheel was hurting his hands.
Now that he'd gotten started, Ben didn't seem to be able to stop. "Your hair, the place where it stops on the back of your neck. When you get a haircut the skin there is so pale." His voice was tight. "Button-front jeans," he said very softly, and there was a pause, and "Once you were sitting on the hood of the car," and another pause, and "Your hands, Ray, your fingers --" and they were there, and Ray threw the car into Park, but he didn't dare look over.
Ben flung the door open and grabbed Ray's hand and pulled. "Come on," he said impatiently. Then he seemed to figure out that that was a stupid idea, and he pushed instead. "Go. Go!"
Ray went. Up the stairs a couple of steps behind Ben, unlocking the door with shaking fingers. He hooked an arm around Ben's neck and they collided in the doorway, separated, collided again just inside the door and moved loosely in.
Ray stopped in front of the couch. "Here?"
Ben grasped his wrist and pulled him to the bedroom. "Here," he said, and gave Ray a push that sent him stumbling across the room. Ben stumbled after him and they went down on the bed, Ray face down with Ben on his back.
By now Ray had figured out that any effort to participate was just slowing everything down. So while Ben explored the back of his neck with tongue and teeth, and at the same time used his feet to push off Ray's shoes and his hands to drag the raincoat off Ray's arms, Ray confined his participation to gasping.
But when Ben's hips began to drive against him, and Ben's breathing became panting, he pushed himself suddenly to his knees, breaking the rhythm. "Nope, nope, nuh-uh," he said, dislodging Ben from his back and pinning him to the bed where he fell. "This time you're getting naked."
Ben lay there for a moment, breathing hard. Then he suddenly smiled. Holding Ray's eyes, still with that smile, he unbuttoned his plaid shirt, unzipped his jeans, kicked his loafers off. He lay there for a moment, as though he knew how hungrily Ray was soaking up the picture of him all dressed but unfastened, then sat up and flung his clothes onto the floor.
He and Ray tackled Ray's clothes together. Their hands bumped once at the hem of his sweatshirt, again at the button of his slacks. When they bumped a third time at the bottom of his T-shirt, Ben said, "Stop it," and knocked his hand away, and finished without any further help or hindrance from Ray, all the while muttering, "You're the one who's supposed to be some kind of spontaneous free spirit -- what the hell is the purpose of all these clothes?"
Ray began to say something about the pot and the kettle, when it suddenly struck him how quickly Ben had undressed -- he hadn't been wearing anything under that shirt! Damn.
"I put 'em on just to piss you off, Ben," he said.
Ben said, "I suspected as much," through clenched teeth and clumsily tugged Ray's khakis off.
He immediately dove for Ray's cock, and Ray covered it with his right hand and caught Ben's head with his left. "Wait, wait," he said, and Ben gave him a look that clearly said, "Are you insane?" Ray half agreed, but strangely, there was something he wanted more.
"Hang on, not so fast, you got something there you don't want me to look at, Ben?"
"I didn't wait all this time for you to look at me." There was a fine edge of desperation in Ben's voice, and he shook off Ray's hands, but Ray caught him again and tipped his face back, making Ben look at him.
"I did," he whispered. "Please, Ben," and Ben closed his eyes and took a deep breath and nodded, though he didn't look too happy at the prospect.
Ray rubbed his cheek soothingly. "C'mon," he said. "I -- we're here, OK? No takebacks. Lie down with me, Ben, make it real, OK?"
He lay down on his side on the bed -- right way 'round this time -- and pulled Ben down into his arms, feeling the big body shudder as skin touched skin. "Oh, yeah," he whispered, rubbing Ben's back, entangling their legs. "Wanted this for forever."
Ben's arms tightened around him, but he only had a moment to revel in that full-body embrace before Ben rolled him over for a kiss that was not pushy or sloppy but somehow miles deep. Ben was holding himself up on his elbows, and his hands were on either side of Ray's face.
When Ray was completely drunk on kisses, he stretched up his arms over his head and said, "OK, you can do what you want now. Knock yourself out."
Maybe, he thought a few minutes later, maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to interrupt Ben's momentum, because now Ben seemed prepared to spend the next week or so torturing Ray to death with pleasure. Slowly.
He spent what seemed like hours on one nipple, and then wandered off down the sensitive skin on the inside of Ray's arm without ever touching the other one. Ray waited as long as he could bear it and then took care of the other one himself. Fraser lifted his head and made a little noise in the back of his throat, eyes riveted on Ray's hand, and then said, "Keep on, don't stop," and bent across Ray's body to lick around and over Ray's still-moving fingers.
"Fuck -- Fraser --" His voice was mostly air.
"I like this," Ben said in a conversational tone. "Let's try it -- elsewhere --" And he gave one last lick over Ray's fingertips and then drew Ray's hand down to Ray's cock and followed it with his mouth.
"Oh." Ray arched up into that familiar-unfamiliar pressure. "Oh, shit, I can't --"
"Yeah," Ben said against his skin, and Ray couldn't stop himself from tightening his grip as he felt Ben's tongue swirl around the head of his cock. Ben's mouth fitted itself into the V of his thumb and forefinger and they moved up and down together, with Ben's tongue leaving its work now and then to lick at his knuckles.
Ray lifted his head, pushed himself up on his elbows to look -- and then he was coming helplessly into Ben's mouth, collapsing again, muscles giving out at the expression of closed-eyed ecstasy on Ben's face.
"God! Fraser -- oh --" Ben was kissing his fingers now, the back of his hand, his wrist. He turned his hand up and stroked Ben's face, and Ben nuzzled into his palm, panting. He tugged and Ben came up into his arms, hesitated a moment, and then opened fully for his kiss.
Ben's body was angled away. Ray scooted closer and Ben gasped when their bodies touched.
"Good, you waited for me," Ray said, grasping Ben's cock and smiling as Ben pushed into his hand. "What do you want? You can have anything you want, Ben," he murmured, stroking rhythmically. "You want me to suck you? Want to come in my mouth? Or you want to --"
Ben said -- shouted -- "Ray!" and came into his hand.
Ray stroked him gently. "Geez," he said softly. "Or I could just talk you to death."
"Ray," Ben sighed, and turned his head up for another kiss.
"You're something else," Ray said against his mouth.
"Than what?" Ben said sleepily. Before Ray could think of a suitably smart-assed answer, the slackness of Ben's muscles told him that he was asleep.
For three days the heard nothing at all on the Davies jewels, and Ben hung around the 27th, doing Ray's paperwork and being delectable in street clothes and a good American slouch. He was having less and less trouble staying in character. Sometimes Ray had to watch him for more than an hour to get a glimpse of Benton Fraser, RCMP.
On the fourth day, when Ray was just about ready to suggest staking out a fur coat store or something, they got a call from Winnetka, so they went north to pay a visit to a Kim Conant.
The Conant home showed signs of a recent professional redecoration, and Kim perched on the edge of the shiny striped couch like she was afraid of breaking it. She was thirtyish and freckled and seemed just as uncomfortable in her clothes and her glasses as she did on her furniture. Ray began to wonder whether she'd married money.
Not quite. "IntelliCom," Ben whispered. "She's married to Tom Cross. The two of them started a high-tech company to offer --" The rest was geek to Ray, but it told him what he wanted to know: This was new money.
"Tom gave it to me," Kim said, indicating a pin, "and Lainie gave it to him."
Surely those couldn't be dandelions? "Coltsfoot," Ben said. "Justice will be done."
"A late piece," Ray said.
Like all the other Davies flowers, these looked like they were getting ready to have sex. The whole thing looked pretty odd pinned to her all-black clothes.
"That's a valuable gift. Is Lainie an old friend?" Ben asked.
Confusion flashed across her face. "I think she's part of Tom's old Northwestern crowd," she said.
"And did he give her any money in exchange?"
"Well, he didn't write her a check in the pew at Missy Carson's wedding," she said tartly. "But he wanted to do something nice for her, and we needed to upgrade our car anyway -- Tom wants to get into politics, and a Miata just wasn't cutting it with his new friends, so ..."
"Do you know where we could reach Lainie?"
"Tom might. All I know is that she went back to Toronto -- oh," she said suddenly. "you're not Canadian, are you?"
"Nah. He did a lot of acid in the sixties," Ray said. Jeez, neither of them even blinked at that.
"Lainie was so afraid she'd get in trouble -- something about insurance problems. And you kind of look Canadian," she said to Ben.
Ray waited for the polite half-truth, but what Ben actually said was, "I'm not." Nice smooth lie, just what the situation called for. Ray felt that he should be happier about that than he was.
"So it's the same story with Tom?"
"Except that he thinks Kim knew Lainie from MIT."
"And she can't be reached?"
"Starting her own business, moving, will be in touch." Ben glanced at Ray for permission, then took the last piece of the rotisserie chicken they'd picked up at the grocery.
"Is it just me, Ben, or do none of these people seem to know Lainie very well?
"It had crossed my mind that perhaps none of them knew her at all," Ben said. "But I can't figure out, if they're strangers, how she knows whom to approach."
"I beg your pardon?"
"An American would say who. You eat this salad if I save it, or should I throw it out?"
Ben smiled. "An American would throw it out." And he got up and did it himself.
Ray was washing out the last of the glasses when he felt Ben's arms wrap around him from behind and Ben's hands slip into his pocket. "I like you American," Ray murmured. "You just go for it."
"It makes no sense," Ben said against the back of his neck, "that I should find it sexy that you're washing dishes."
"Mm. Makes perfect sense." Ray put down the sponge and leaned back into Ben's arms. "It's homey, you know? Like we're shacking up," he added cautiously. Ben hadn't been home to sleep at the Consulate since that first afternoon in Ray's bed, but Ray had a superstitious dread that if he pointed this situation out, his good fortune would vanish.
"Mm," Ben said, kissing along the collar of his shirt. "I never shacked up with anyone before. Though of course I've been in a number of shacks." He moved his mouth upward toward Ray's ear. "I think I like it."
"Me too." Ray turned around to kiss him, dangling his wet hands over Ben's shoulders until the air dried them enough that he could put one in Ben's hair and the other on Ben's ass. Mmyeah, kissing in the kitchen. Nothing better.
Ben was brushing his fingers gently over Ray's face, over his neck and ears and hair. It felt good, and Ray closed his eyes and hummed appreciatively, and Ben said, "Ray," and the hesitated. Ray opened his eyes and smiled.
"Something you want?"
Ben looked relieved. "Yes. If you don't mind."
"If it involves whipped cream, I can tell you right now it ain't as much fun as it sounds like." Ben just looked confused. Ray stroked his face reassuringly. "Yeah," he said. "Whatever. I don't mind."
"Are you wearing underwear?"
"Uh, yeah." He grinned. "You want me to take 'em off?"
"Yes -- no. Not here. Could you ... take them off and put the jeans back on, and wait for me in the bedroom?"
As Ray obeyed, he could hear water running in the kitchen. Only Fraser could issue an order like that and then finish the dishes. Ray sat on the bed, then lay down, one arm behind his head.
Ben surely couldn't be planning on doing anything right through the jeans, could he? That would be hot as hell to watch, but in real life it would be chafe-o-rama. Though he had to admit it kind of turned him on to think about it. He rubbed his cock idly through the jeans. Not bad as long as he was gentle, but at a certain point you didn't want gentle, you wanted --
Ben was standing in the doorway, watching him. Ray gave a guilty start and moved his hand.
"No," Ben said, and Ray put it back. "Good. Just let me --"
Ben sat down on the bed and leaned over, stroking Ray's throat and starting on the buttons of his denim shirt. Ray hadn't bothered to tuck it back in, and Fraser parted the sides and let them fall on either side, exposing Ray's chest.
He hesitated a moment then, and Ray reached up to touch his face, smiling in a way that he hoped communicated total, unquestioning acceptance.
Or maybe sluttiness was a better word.
Anyway, it must have worked, because Ben ducked his head and undid the button of Ray's jeans. Now he seemed to feel that an explanation was called for. "I saw a photograph," he said softly, eyes on his fingers, which were slowly pulling down Ray's zipper. "At the Museum of Contemporary Photography. And I -- I pictured --"
Ray blinked. "The Museum of -- Fraser, that was two Christmases ago."
"Mhm," Ben agreed, tugging the sides of Ray's fly apart just slightly. He raised Ray's right hand and brushed it against his cheek, then arranged it with the fingertips just inside the open fly.
"All this time --" Ray said, amazed.
"All this time," Ben confirmed, standing up again. "You look so --" God, the hunger in his eyes ought to be scary, the way Ray was all offered up like the dessert tray at a fancy restaurant. But Ray wasn't scared. It wasn't fear making his heart beat like that.
He stroked his fingers up to his navel. "Wanna take a picture?" His voice sounded way too breathless considering Ben'd hardly touched him. "Got a camera on the top shelf of the closet." He stroked his fingers downward.
Ben swallowed. "It couldn't do you justice." His voice was rough, too.
"I don't need justice, I need mercy." Ray stroked upward.
Ben's eyes flicked back down to his hand. He moved his fingers in a circle around his navel -- a shivery strange feeling. It gave him goosebumps, pulled his nipples up tight. He stroked up over his belly to rub one with his thumb. Ben's nostrils flared.
Down again, slowing as his hand approached his open fly. When it edged to a stop, Ben looked up at his face. Raised his eyebrows.
Ray gave him a long look. Ben was leaning against the wall, one leg bent, arms crossed. There was a sizable lump at his groin and a wicked dare in his eyes.
Ray put two fingers through his belt loop and slowly pulled on one side of his jeans, making the fly open, biting his lip at the feel of the fabric sliding over his sensitized flesh. He knew without looking down when he'd pulled far enough, because Ben swallowed and let his hands drop, one hanging at his side and the other spread on the thigh of his bent leg.
Ray watched Ben's face and Ben watched Ray's hand as it left the belt loop and dipped inside his fly. He began pressing and rubbing the base of his cock. Ben would know what he was doing from the movement of his arm, but he wouldn't be able to see his hand. Ray shut his eyes for a moment, then opened them to see Ben licking his lips.
"This more or less what you had in mind?"
Ben nodded, wide-eyed, and Ray rewarded him by moving his hand, and his cock, into view. He had to close his eyes now, concentrating on the sensation.
"Mm." Ben's voice was closer than he expected -- was, in fact, right there beside him. Ray turned his face up, hoping for a kiss, but he didn't get one.
"Is this how you do it?" Ben said. God, he must have been thinking about, wondering about, maybe picturing --
"Faster," Ray gasped out. "And tighter." He demonstrated.
Ben licked his lips. "And the other hand?"
God! "De -- depends. If I wanna slow down, here" -- pressing on his lower abdomen -- "or here" -- rubbing that same nipple, harder this time. "Here -- if I'm close --" He dropped his hands to cup his balls, pressing them up against his body.
"And what do you think about? The last time you did this, what did you --"
"You," he gasped, "you, Fraser, your mouth --"
Ben's mouth was on him in a heartbeat, and just in time, too. Ray heard himself make a totally unfamiliar noise into the air as he came.
It was a moment or two before words came back to him.
"Oh, god -- oh, god, Fraser, you're gonna kill me." Ben murmured something into his hip. Jesus, he still had a shirt and jeans on, and Ben was still completely dressed.
"You --" His voice broke. He tried again. "You ever gonna let me do that to you?"
"Oh." Ben sounded both turned on and surprised -- how could he be surprised? "Oh, Ray, any time, any place --"
Ray shuddered. That "any place" really was going to undo him. "Like now?"
Ben drew a breath like he was actually going to answer. Ray sat up and tugged at his jeans.
"Stand up," he said. "Lean on something." Ben stumbled up and Ray pushed him back against the wall, already falling to his knees, tugging impatiently at the zipper --
He looked up at Ben. "How did you know?" He ran a fingertip softly over the light-gray cotton.
Ben flushed even redder. "I, ah, looked in your laundry pile."
"You snooped?" Ray stroked Ben's cock through the fabric with his thumbs, and Ben gasped. "What, for research? For the case?"
Ray smiled. "You are definitely something else." He tugged on the jeans. "Get rid of these. Lemme see you in 'em."
They looked damned good, plus there was that little wicked extra of Ray being able to pretend that they belonged to him, that Ben had rooted them out of his laundry pile and put them on. And who knows, maybe he had, put them on and thought of Ray, rubbed himself through them, getting the feel, imagining ...
He hauled them down roughly and dove on Ben's cock, wanting to be rough and tender and fast and slow all at once, wanting to imprint himself with the feel and taste and smell of Fraser.
Fraser, who'd been thinking about this since two Christmases ago.
Ray suddenly remembered that he'd slipped on an icy spot and turned his ankle as they were climbing the steps into the Museum of Contemporary Photography. And Fraser had insisted on examining his foot, had knelt on the marble floor and run cool fingers over Ray's ankle, and even then, even then --
Ray was moving with Fraser's rhythm now, one hand at the base of Fraser's cock so Fraser could thrust without worrying, could give him that incredibly sexy snap of the hips that said he was close, close, almost --
And Fraser's hands came down, fingers running over his hollowed cheeks, and Fraser said thickly, "Ray --" and took a deep breath, and said again, "Ray --" and came in his mouth.
After a few moments Fraser fell to his knees, arms around Ray's shoulders, still whispering his name.
Ray kissed his ears and then his mouth. "Fraser," he said, meaning all sorts of things he couldn't put into words. "Oh, yeah."
"So. Fast the only way you like it?" he said later when they had staggered to bed, and he was too wiped out, again, to really appreciate the wonder that was Benton Fraser naked.
"Fast, Ray?" Oh, how he'd missed the Clueless Mountie voice. And it was so at odds with their current intertwined state that Ray had to smile.
"Fast. Yeah. Like get Ray so hot he goes off like a sophomore fast. Like that. You don't like it slow?"
"I --" For a minute Ben seemed like he was going to get all embarrassed and mumble. And then it was like he found his Inner American or something, because he raised his eyebrows and said darkly, "Is that a challenge, Ray?"
Oh jeez. "If I actually was a sophomore, I could probably show you tonight, Ben." His own voice was getting smoky. "But I think I'd rather have a good night's sleep before I give you a demo."
Ben gave him the most satisfied smile he'd ever seen. "Tomorrow, then."
They managed two more interviews the next day, and by now the pattern was clear. This Lainie person was coming down to Chicago for any event that attracted the fingerbowl classes -- weddings and parties and charity events and what-have-you. She was choosing people who weren't quite plugged into Chicago society, offering them a Davies piece as a gift, then talking them out of some equally valuable "gift" in return. She'd already unloaded a half-dozen pieces and walked away with a couple of easily sold paintings, a fur coat, and even a racehorse.
Most of the victims, while hotly defending Lainie from any accusation of wrongdoing, had quite willingly given up the jewels. As the software chick had said, conspiratorially, "It's really a bit much, isn't it?"
"You thinking what I'm thinking, Ben?" Ray said as they returned from the second interview.
"I'm thinking we need to infiltrate the Art Institute fundraiser."
"Yep, you're thinking what I'm thinking."
"I am ... concerned, though, Ray. I can apparently pass as an American for short periods of time, but I have no confidence that I could pass as a wealthy American. Especially since we've already established that this Lainie is skilled at spotting those who don't fit in."
"That's why you're not gonna pass as a rich American, Ben. You're gonna pass as something that's totally invisible to rich Americans: a security guard."
Ben looked dubious. "Trust me," Ray said. "I know this from experience. If you look like you're paid by the hour and your feet hurt, they won't even see you." He sighed. "Ask me about my wedding sometime."
"Ray, would you mind terribly if we stopped by the Consulate?"
"Sure, no problem. What's up?"
"Well, I thought, since I'm not wearing any of my uniforms, it would be an opportune time to have them cleaned. And the boots are due for new heel taps."
"You know, I got only your word that heel taps aren't illegal." But Ray didn't mind. Give him a chance to say hello to the wolf. He kind of missed the big smelly moocher.
Kind of missed the Consulate, when you came right down to it, the smell of floor wax and lemon Pledge, the queen looking down from the honored spot Turnbull had chosen for her.
Ben's hiking boots sounded all wrong on the wooden floor. "Bet it's weird to come in here as an American," Ray said.
Ben nodded. "But I'm sure we'll wrap up the case and everything will be back to normal in no time."
"Stop! Stop, Ben, stop."
Ben didn't stop. Ben murmured "No" and shook his head, scrabbling his face against the back of Ray's neck, and pushed his hands deeper into the pockets of Ray's slacks, where they'd already driven Ray half mad with pleasure, even though it had only been about ten minutes since Ben had climbed out of Ray's shower and said "Your turn" and then pushed Ray's face up against his closet door.
Ray lifted his flushed face off the cool door, gasping. "Fraser, I'm serious here." He mustered all his inner resources and pushed hard against the door, shoving them both backwards, then broke free, panting, and turned around.
Ben opened his eyes, breathing hard. "Why?" he said petulantly.
Ray fought the desire to just lay himself open and say, All right, fine, anything, just don't stop. He scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I want something else," he said finally.
Ben gave him a slow nod. "All right," he said.
What he wanted was Benton Fraser naked in his bed before he was too sated to appreciate it. And it turned out all he had to do was ask.
When he had that, he hardly knew where to begin. But he figured you could never go wrong by starting at the mouth and working your way down.
Ben's nipples apparently weren't as sensitive as Ray's, but his whole belly seemed to be one big hot spot, and he made a beautiful variety of gasps and sighs and whimpers as Ray explored it. He had a fine line of hair from the bottom of his breastbone to his navel, and a heavier line from the navel down.
His cock had a pronounced leftward tilt. It made Ray smile a little -- at least there was one thing about the guy that wasn't perfectly symmetrical. He settled down between Ben's legs and ran his lips over it gently, trying not to go too fast. He didn't know how long he had before Ben got impatient, and he had lots more he wanted to explore.
He nuzzled Ben's balls and got back a deep sigh. The thigh muscles under his hand tensed when he tried to go lower. Ray pushed. Ben resisted. Ray changed tack, rubbing Ben's cock soothingly with his lips. "Sh," he said. "It's OK." He stroked his thumb down the crease between thigh and groin.
Ben shuddered, and Ray could hear his head sliding on the pillow. His leg muscles were still tense, and they got even tenser as Ray followed that path with his tongue, licking the smooth skin behind his balls.
"Oh. Oh. Oh." Each syllable calmly spoken in a tone of great wonder, just as if Ben wasn't writhing and shaking and clawing at the sheets as Ray licked his way further back. Ben's thighs were still tense, but now they were pushing up to meet Ray's mouth. It made it easier to go still further, and Ray did, and when he passed his tongue over Ben's hole for the first time, the long muscles relaxed and Ben's legs fell to the side.
"Yeah," Ray said against him, "yeah, it's good, I like it, I want to --" and felt Ben shudder as his tongue went back to its work.
"Ray --" Ben's voice was breathy. "You -- would you -- do you want to --"
"Yeah," Ray said. "If you'll let me."
Ben's legs parted further. "You can," he said. "I'll let you. Don't hurt me."
"Never," Ray said fervently, and he half sat and scrabbled under the bedside table where he'd last seen the slick.
Ben said "Oh" again when Ray's finger breached him shallowly, and when after a moment Ray went deeper, Ben let out a shuddering sigh. His voluntary muscles flexed experimentally around Ray's finger, and Ray felt suddenly lightheaded with desire and tenderness. He bent his head as best he could in the tight space and licked Ben's flesh, tongue tickling at the base of his own finger, and Ben's next sigh carried a faint moan in it.
Ray withdrew, laying a fingertip on the flexing hole, and Ben breathed, "Please."
"Yeah," he agreed, "yeah, I got you." He manhandled Ben's limp form over, pulling Ben's right knee up and gathering pillows into a comfortable nest. They were here for the long haul. Then he slicked himself up as well as he could bear and draped himself over Ben's broad back.
At first he just held his cock in his fist and rubbed the slick head back and forth over Ben's opening, and Ben breathed, "My god," and after a moment, "Ray -- stop or --"
Ray didn't stop. Instead, he pushed a little, in and then out, and Ben's shoulder tensed and shook under his face. "Good," Ben sighed. "More."
So slow, like being in some kind of trance, while his patience was rewarded and Ben opened for him, fraction by fraction, silent now and breathing hard, until they were fully joined.
"OK?" he said softly. "Doesn't hurt?"
"A little." Ben's tone was dreamy, like the pain was somewhere else, distant and unimportant. He shifted a bit, reached a hand underneath him, and then Ray felt Ben's fingertips at the root of his cock where they were joined. "You -- you're really -- we're really --"
Oh god. At the feel of Ben's fingers, all the urgency he'd been putting aside just slammed back into him, leaving him breathless. "Gotta," he said, "have to --" and Ben said petulantly, "What are you waiting for?" and pushed back, driving Ray in deeper.
They both gasped at the same time, and Ben cried, "Ray!" in a surprised voice as Ray brought them apart and together with a slow smooth roll of his hips, and another, and another.
"OK? Fraser, is it OK?"
"My god." Ben was breathing wetly beneath him. "It's so -- it's so good it almost hurts -- "
Ray reached a hand around, ran it down over Ben's chest and belly to his cock, found Ben's hand already there. At the touch of Ray's hand on his moving fist, Ben shuddered all over and groaned deep and shot over his own fingers and Ray's.
"Oh -- oh -- oh --"
His voice got softer with each word, and he let his cock go and gripped Ray's hand tight, slippery fingers twining together. Ray slowed down, and Ben said, "No, no, you too, please --"
He reached back over his shoulder to touch Ray's lips. "Oh, fuck, Ben," Ray said, hips moving again, "I want your mouth, I'm dying to kiss you --" and Ben squeezed around him, and that was it, he was gone, crying out and coming so hard the hair stood up on the back of his neck.
After a moment they both collapsed into an undignified heap, and Ben rolled over beneath him and pulled him into a fierce embrace. Ray got his weight up on his elbows and his arms behind Ben's neck. "You OK?" he said softly in Ben's ear.
"I'm -- overwhelmed," Ben said, and then with a smile in his voice, "I'm not sure, Ray, whether your virtue will ever be safe from me in public again."
Ray raised his head. "You molest me at the Art Institute, Benton Fraser, and the Ice Queen is gonna see it on the evening news."
Ben winced. "Perhaps I'd better rein in my baser impulses."
"At least till we get home," Ray agreed. "Then you can be as base as you want. The baser the better."
Karin-with-an-I, the events coordinator of the Art Institute, was a terrifyingly upbeat young woman in a neon orange minidress. She was very cooperative when they laid out the situation. "Though," she added, giving Ben a look of open appreciation, "we're going to have some trouble fitting you with a uniform, Detective Fraser. Believe me, if we had any guards with your measurements, I would definitely know it."
On the night of the benefit, Karin (wearing lime green this time) met them at the door with her arms full of navy blue. The main floor was already flickering with candlelight and gleaming with glassware, and a string quartet was tuning up in one corner. She led them back to the elevators, hissing orders at waiters all the way.
The dingy white halls of the basement hardly seemed part of the same building as the glamorous main floor. Caterers with trays and technicians with amplifiers scurried up and down the halls as Karin showed them to a small utility room, where a washing machine, a dryer, and a floor scrubber left barely enough room for them to change clothes.
Once Ray put on the uniform, he suddenly understood why the guards at the Art Institute always looked so sour. Jesus, the shoes alone were enough to drain all the cool out of your body. By the time he'd clipped on the name tag ("Cochrane, D."), he felt like his own nightmare of where he'd be if he hadn't been able to hack police academy.
Ben's uniform was loose and ill-fitting, and his name tag said, "Puccinelli, R." What was worse, though, was that as soon as he shrugged on the twill jacket, his spine stiffened and his chin went up and here came all the old Fraser dignity and gravity.
And the thing was, Ray liked the dignity and gravity, he'd missed the dignity and gravity. But dignity and gravity were two things you would not expect to see on a museum guard pulling down a couple of hours' overtime keeping rich people from stealing the silverware. He stuck out like Welsh on roller skates.
"Jeez, is it some complex I don't wanna know about with you and uniforms?" Ray poked Ben's ribs, but Ben didn't unbend. "Ben, if you go in there with your guard duty posture, everybody that looks at you is gonna know you're undercover. It's written all over you."
"Oh, dear." Ben shook out his arms again in an effort to loosen up, but he just couldn't seem to manage it. It was like once he was in the uniform, he wasn't flesh and blood like everybody else.
"Hang on," said Ray. "I got an idea." He tried the door. Damn, there was no lock. Well, there was more than one way the cat gets the canary. "Come over here a minute."
As soon as Ben was within reach, Ray took him by the lapels of that perfectly awful jacket and shoved his back against the door, smothering his protest with a kiss.
And it must be Ben and not Fraser underneath all that blue twill, because after that first surprised "Ray --" he didn't make a single move to protest, and by the time Ray came up for air, Ben had a hand down the back of Ray's pants and was doing some serious groping.
"Ben, that --" Ray paused to lick the ear that presented itself and got a hand under Ben's jacket to pinch a nipple through the scratchy shirt, making Ben grunt. "Ben," he tried again. "That door?'
"Yeah?" He sounded dazed. Ray stilled his hand on Ben's fly for a minute, because this was important.
"That door behind you? Don't let anybody open it." Then he dropped to the scarred tile and did backwards what he'd just finished doing the other way on himself: hook and inside button and finally zipper.
The pants were loose, and they immediately fell to the floor, trapped by the big clunky black shoes. Ray smoothed his hands down over the gray boxer-briefs, then up again under them, and then he tugged those down and went to town.
Outside the door they could hear footsteps and conversation. Ben's thighs quivered under his hands, probably half nervousness and half excitement, and Ray once again passed up delicacy in favor of speed. Ben was with that program, he was with it all the way, and he got a hand on the back of Ray's head and flung his head back against the door with a thunk and just went with it.
It seemed like only seconds before Ray could feel him coiling to come. Now he needed a little grace note, just something to make it more than a quick tension reliever. Ray leaned back just a bit, pushing back against Ben's hand, making Ben look down, and held his gaze, watching Ben fight against the need to close his eyes, watching him lose the battle as he came in Ray's mouth.
Ben stumbled forward, caught his feet in his pants, and nearly fell. "Ray!" He sounded slightly scandalized.
Ray pulled the shorts and pants back up. Got him all tucked away and respectable-looking, and then stood up and was gathered into a full-body hug. "Oh, god," Ben breathed in his ear. "Ray -- please -- can I --"
"No time," Ray said. "I'm OK till later. But if you get to feeling all stiff --" He took Ben's hand and smoothed it over his groin. "Think of me all stiff, OK?"
There, that was better. Loose-limbed, flushed, lips bitten, looking half embarrassed and half indulgent. "C'mon, Puccinelli," Ray said. "Let's go stare at rich people."
They'd looked at all the photos they could find so they wouldn't mistake some tycoon's daughter for the mysterious Lainie. So Ray recognized most of the faces he saw. In truth, mostly what he did was watch Ben.
Ben -- still recognizably Ben and not Fraser, still with that loose-limbed American walk he'd practiced. And just as Ray had intended, every time his back touched a wall, his eyes would flutter. Remembering.
Their eyes met, and Ben gave him the wickedest smile he'd ever seen. God. Ray scowled at him, trying his best to send "You owe me one big-time" across the museum.
They were truly invisible here, and the clothes on the guests rivaled those on the dukes and earls on the walls. Ray wanted badly to snag some champagne from one of the passing trays, but he talked himself out of it. Better not to draw attention to himself.
The next time he caught Ben's eye, he held it for a bit longer. And Ben would never do anything so obvious as to make kissy faces at him, but there was something on his face that just said, "I know what you look like under that uniform," and god, wasn't that an image to make his mouth go dry, Ben peeling back the ugly fabric piece by piece --
He shook himself, then risked a glance at Ben. His face was very slightly flushed. Good. If Ray was gonna be in no state to work, at least he'd be in good company.
He kept his eyes away for as long as he could -- look, a painting of a couple of spoiled-looking kids and a dog that probably never put a paw on dirt in its life. Look, a painting of a dead bird bleeding all over the table. Jeez, these people were morbid.
Eventually, inevitably, his eyes were drawn back to Ben -- who was already looking at him. Staring at him, really, with a strange kind of intensity, like he was something Ben had never seen in his life. Then Ben caught him looking and started to smile just a little.
And then his eyes skated past Ray, and he frowned. Ray followed his gaze.
There was a pretty brown-haired woman, mid-twenties and lively and honestly a bit underdressed, talking, with great animation, to an old woman who was looking puzzled and pleased. They were close to the end of the buffet table. Ray moved closer.
"No, no, I won't hear of it," the girl was saying. "I just know Mama would have wanted you to have it. She was so thrilled when your daughter married Drew Kullberg -- she said it made you practically family."
The old woman murmured something sympathetic, and Lainie beamed. "You're sweet to say so," she said. Ray could sense Fraser moving closer, so he faded back a bit, getting a tall flower arrangement between their faces and his so he could still see through the blooms.
He saw the girl's hands wrap around the old woman's. "Please," she said. "It will look so lovely on that green dress." Hesitantly the old woman opened her hand, revealing a quarter-sized brooch with an overblown red carnation on it. She began to pin it to her jacket lapel, and the girl lifted it out of her hands and pinned it at the throat of her dress instead. "Oh," she sighed, "it could have been made for you. Please say you'll take it. At least one of Mama's precious things that I won't have to sell off to pay the debts -- I couldn't save the Lincoln, of course, that was the first thing to go -- the memories! dearest, I'm sure you know! But that's not important ..."
And ten to one Dearest had a Lincoln of her own, and Lainie would be driving it home tomorrow, Ray thought.
"Just one thing, darling -- if you take your usual summer jaunt to Vancouver Island, I'd appreciate it if you left this little trinket home. The Canadian insurance authorities are Nazis, dearest, you wouldn't believe it, and you know how absent-minded Mama was. I don't have proper paperwork on anything, and if the authorities in Canada get wind of this they'll ruin me, they might even arrest me ..."
Dearest was murmuring sympathetically: "Well, my dear, the Canadians! Why, they're practically Communists. But how very sad about your mother's Lincoln! And here I am driving this year's birthday gift from Jenna and Drew, and last year's just sitting there in the garage ..."
Ray moved to the side, putting the entire flower arrangement between him and the women, and Ben met him on the other side of it. "Heard enough?" he whispered.
"Yeah," Ben said, and before Ray could say more Ben was gone, and he heard Lainie say "Oh!" and Dearest say, "Oh dear," and Ben say, "You have the right to remain silent ..."
Lainie didn't even try to run, just gave Ben and Ray a charmingly apologetic smile. "A terrible misunderstanding, I'm sure," she said to Dearest. "Why, you can look at this one and tell he's Canadian."
"Terrible!" But Dearest gave up the brooch to Ben while Ray searched Lainie's purse and then called up Frannie to ask for the search warrant.
"Hotel room and car for Helene Jance Hamilton, Frannie -- we'll pick the paperwork up when we bring her in --"
"No, no, Lainie, darling, I won't hear of it," Dearest was saying. "I'll call Drew's lawyers immediately. We can't have you going up against Canada all by yourself."
They left Lainie in a holding cell, where Ray was willing to bet she'd scam all the working girls out of their navel rings in an hour or less.
In her hotel room -- paid for on the credit card of yet another member of Chicago's high society -- they found six more Davies pieces, and Ben alerted the Mounties in Ottawa to search the address she'd given the hotel, where he was confident they'd recover the rest of the collection.
"I imagine we'll have to go to Canada to testify," Ben said, then frowned thoughtfully at Ray. "Do you suppose you could pass as Canadian?"
"Fuckin' A, dude," Ray said.
"We probably won't be able to keep Lainie behind bars for long, Ray."
"Hm?" Ray had been distracted by a drip of tomato sauce on Ben's breastbone. When he started giving Benton Fraser American lessons, he'd never figured that his reward would be to have the guy eating spaghetti naked in his bed.
"Since she never actually accepted money in exchange for the jewelry, and since it's unlikely we'll be able to link her to the burglary itself ..."
"And since there's no reason why her charm-the-rich act shouldn't work on a jury -- yeah." Unable to resist, Ray pushed Ben back onto his dry-cleaning bag in a crinkle of plastic and licked off the tomato sauce while Ben laughed helplessly and tried to keep from overturning his spaghetti plate on the bed.
"Ray -- wait -- the sauce --" Ben was still laughing as he squirmed out from under Ray, set his plate on the floor under a chair, and grabbed his uniform off the bed to hang it on the back of the door. Ray suddenly didn't feel so amused.
"So you, uh, you gonna be glad to get back to Canada tomorrow?'
Ben must have heard something in his voice, because he gave Ray a soft look. "I've quite enjoyed my period of dual citizenship," he said.
Uh-oh. That sounded a bit too final for Ray's taste.
Ben had opened his duffel and was examining his belt with a critical eye. "This really could use a polish, but I suppose it can wait one more day."
"Hey." Ben looked up from the belt, eyebrows raised. "Put it on for me," Ray said.
"The whole shebang." Ray settled back on the bed, arms behind his head. "Watch a Mountie get dressed -- man, this has got to be the kinkiest thing I've ever done."
"Then you need to broaden your horizons." But Ben was pulling things out of the duffel.
Oh, man. He was gonna do it.
The shorts first. White and stiff -- Fraser seemed to stand a little taller wearing them.
Stupid puffy pants, all unlaced at the ankles and unzipped at the fly.
White undershirt. No, it wasn't his imagination. Ben was getting more stiff-postured every moment. Ray's heart was pounding.
Suspenders, buttoned on and then shrugged off again. White overshirt. Tucked in, pants fastened, suspenders back up.
Ben glanced at him, then looked quickly away and sat in a chair to pull his boots on. Instead of tightening the laces, though, he pulled the plastic off the dry-cleaner's bundle. Carefully, where Ben-the-American would have just ripped it.
He lifted out the jacket, put it on, buttoned the buttons with slow, particular care. Ray's mouth went dry.
Belt around the waist, belt over the shoulder. Ben glanced over as Ray sat up. Ray nodded.
Cord around his neck. Shoulder flaps buttoned. He looked up again.
"Fraser," Ray breathed. "The hat? Please?"
Fraser, frowning slightly, picked up the hat. Held it carefully in both hands. Finger-smoothed his hair, put on the hat, straightened it just so.
Ray didn't know he was moving until his knees hit the floor.
He couldn't speak, but Fraser read the pleading in his eyes and walked slowly across the room, stopping a couple of steps away.
Ray closed the distance on his knees and laid his face against Fraser's belly, breathing in the leather-wool scent. He never wanted to open his eyes again.
Fraser's hands came down to stroke his hair, his ears, the back of his neck. "Ray --" He sounded confused and a little distressed.
Ray suddenly burst into action, scrabbling at the uniform, tugging on buttons. And Fraser was helping him, Fraser was undoing fastenings one-handed, with amazing speed, while his other hand held Ray's head, drew him in, pulled him closer to that gap where he could see flesh through all the layers of wool and cotton, and Ray dug for it, Ray wanted it, he was starving for it --
But after only a minute or two Fraser's hands were back, pulling him off, drawing him to his feet, pulling him in for a kiss, the uniform scratchy against his bare skin and Fraser's mouth hungry against his.
"Ray," Fraser sighed against him. "I want something else. I want --"
"Yeah, anything, anything, Fraser."
It took four hands twice as long to get the uniform off as it had taken two hands to put it on, and Fraser finally pulled the tangle of cords and leather and coat off over his head and left it where it fell, pushing Ray back onto the bed roughly, flinging himself down beside him, pulling them roughly over until Ray was on top. Ray groped on the nightstand, narrowly missing his plate of spaghetti before closing on the slick with a grunt of triumph.
Slow, slow, now, stupid, you can't hurt Fraser -- but Fraser was making hungry noises now and pressing up against Ray's hand, and Ray pushed back his knees and pushed softly, asking, begging, feeling Fraser make room for him, open for him, absorb him. Slow and patient, Fraser breathing hard, eyes closed and neck stretched back and hands pulling Ray closer, and --
"You," Ray said, eyes stinging, unable to keep still any longer, watching Fraser's face, Fraser's hands, "it was you, it was you I wanted all along --"
Ray pushed his face harder against Fraser's neck, feeling their breathing slowing down. He was holding on too tight, but he couldn't seem to make himself let go. Fraser! Naked beneath him, whispering his name, sweaty and come-slick, still Fraser but too hot to be Canadian. It wasn't just Ben. It wasn't just a trick, a quirk, a weird side effect of being undercover. It was for real.
"Fraser," he sighed, and Fraser's hands, which had been white-knuckled to the headboard, came up to hold him and stroke his hair, and Fraser let his legs fall and tipped them over to their sides, tucking Ray's head against his neck.
"Missed you," Ray said nonsensically, and Fraser went still.
"I was here all the time, Ray." Fraser's voice was mild, but Ray thought he knew him well enough to detect a little hurt there. He raised his head to look at Fraser's puzzled face.
"Well, yeah, you, but not, I mean, you you. I mean, yeah, Ben was an aspect of you, but Fraser, that's you, right?"
"No." Shit, now he sounded mad.
"So the Fraser I've known all this time -- starched shorts and caribou stories and --" Well, now that he thought about it, it was obvious that couldn't be the real anybody. "OK. I get it."
Fraser looked relieved. "It isn't that that isn't me --"
"Just not all of you."
And damn it, this great thing, he kept thinking he was getting it, and it kept slipping away from him. Well, not this time. He seized Fraser's hands, squeezed hard, held on. "I want the real you."
And Fraser closed his eyes and pressed his hot face to Ray's and said, "You have me. You can have me."
It sounded like it hurt to say, so Ray wrapped him up and just held on.
After a while he said softly into Fraser's ear, "What do I call you, then?"
And Fraser answered, "My name is Benton."
They hadn't talked about whether Fraser -- Benton -- was going back to sleeping at the Consulate, but Ray took it as a good sign when he came to the station at the end of the next day's shift.
Ray was unwrapping a Snickers, and then suddenly he was holding an empty wrapper and looking at a furry and extremely self-satisfied face. "Hey, missed you too, furball." And there was Benton, in Fraser's uniform and with Ben's smile.
"Looks like Fraser didn't pass his citizenship exam," Dewey said to Huey.
"Better luck next time," Huey said.
"There are three branches of government for checks and balances," Dewey told Fraser.
"Hey," Ray said. "You know, I think your wolf was American all along."
Benton gave Dief a hard look. "I had my suspicions," he said.
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August 4, 2001