Author's Note: This is one of those stories that I feel compelled to write every now and then, but that Resonant does so much better than me. Still, I keep running at it like Charlie Brown with the football. So here we go again. It's a vignette-type thing wherein people talk about feelings—(which, I mean, I have feelings! Sometimes!) No plot at all, though I did throw in a third-act purse snatcher just to make myself happy. Thanks to Terri for beyond-duty beta help and to Mia and Res for making me post it.
Bar None was hopping. Ray pulled open the door and stepped into a veritable swarm of people, mainly what looked to him like after-work yuppies: girls in work clothes drinking white wine, and guys in suits with their neckties off and shirts open at the collar. It looked like the kind of place that Stella liked, and that Ray hated—a white-collar meat market, and god, how he hated the little colored bottles all lit up around the room's perimeter, and the purple velvet sofas and armchairs clustered around low wood tables and a roaring (fake) fire. The music was very bad and way too loud, and Ray was guessing that the drinks would be wildly overpriced. It also looked like the kind of place that served pretentious pseudo-international finger foods: wasabi tacos and fried chicken bruschetta and shit like that.
So what crimes went down here? Coke dealing? Insider trading? Call girl ring? He didn't know; the pink telephone memo carelessly shoved in his pants pocket just read: While You Were Out: Fraser, Bar None, Meisner Avenue, @ 5:30. So here he was.
Ray pushed his way through the crowd toward the bar, keeping an eye out for Fraser and fighting off the impulse to punch a kid in a navy blue suit who was telling some loud and totally unfunny story to his friends while waving his hands in Ray's face. Unsurprisingly, Bar None had a list of expensive microbrews chalked pretentiously on a blackboard, and Ray sighed, ordered one, and reluctantly handed over his nine bucks.
Carefully, Ray managed to get his pint of beer away from the hand-waver, and he'd just taken his first overpriced sip when he saw Fraser way down at the other end of the bar, bent forward and apparently fighting for the bartender's attention. Ray made a beeline toward him, wondering if maybe the management here was crooked. They could be smugglers, maybe; or cooking the books; or a front for—
"Yo, Fraser!" Ray said loudly, and patted Fraser's red serge back, except—
— it wasn't Fraser. Turnbull's broad, slightly simple-looking face cracked into a smile and he said, "Oh, detective, you've been sent from heaven!" and he handed Ray a glass of white wine before managing to pick up a triangle of three glasses—two beers and what looked like a gin and tonic—with two hands. "This way!" Turnbull said, and jerked his head pointedly toward the back.
Frowning, Ray followed.
Turnbull led him to one of the bar's fake living-room areas near a fake stone fireplace. There, Ray saw Inspector Thatcher sitting in an armchair next to a low coffee table. Across from her, two people were sitting on a low velvet sofa—one, a really pretty lady with long brown hair, and the other—
The man was settled comfortably into the sofa next to her, his hands loosely laced over the front of his pale blue sweater. His hair was dark and slightly messy, his face fixed in an expectant expression as he leaned closer to the lady, head cocked and obviously trying to tune his ear to her voice.
It was Fraser, and Ray felt the floor kind of reel underneath him, because he would never, ever have recognized him in this crowd. He'd been looking for red serge and a military posture, and the guy sitting across from him didn't have either.
Hell, Ray would have bet that Fraser's spine didn't even bend like that.
Fraser glanced up at him, and then grinned broadly as he saw it was Ray. "Ray," he said, getting up off the sofa and reaching out across the table.
Ray wasn't sure what to do, because he was carrying his beer and a glass of white wine, and—okay, the wine was probably for one of the women, so he wheeled toward Thatcher and gestured at her with the glass. She nodded quickly and took it, saying, "Mine, thanks."
Ray transferred his beer into his left hand and extended his newly-freed right hand to Fraser—who surprised him by not shaking it, but taking it, tugging Ray around the coffee table and down onto the sofa beside him.
"Ray," Fraser said loudly, trying to cut through the bar noise, "I'd like you to meet Karen Covington; she and I went to Depot together," and Ray obligingly reached across Fraser to shake her hand. "This is Ray, my partner," Fraser told Karen, and she smiled and clutched his hand in hers. Her handshake was surprisingly firm.
"Hi," Karen said, and then she turned her attention back to Fraser as they sat down and said, "Seriously, Ben, you should go. Gary really, really wants you to go—he told me specifically to work on you, because he knows you won't go unless somebody drags you there."
To Ray's surprise, Fraser slouched back into the crushed velvet sofa and shrugged. "I just... weddings are so..." He seemed to be studying the backs of his hands. "I don't know. Formal, I suppose. I never know where to stand. I'll have to dance, I'm a terrible dancer—"
"You're fine; I've danced with you before, remember? No one's going to judge you," Karen said, seeming both amused and impatient. "If it helps, don't think of it as a wedding; think of it as a reunion. I'll be there, and Dave, and Eric, and Jack Stephens—do you know he married that woman who used to work at the firing range?" and Karen turned then to look at Thatcher and said, "She was your year, Meg, wasn't she? Blonde, she did all the certifications, she was there for years—"
"Mary Boland," Thatcher said. "I remember her. Crack shot—who'd she marry?"
"Jack Stephens. Our year—tall, thin, brown hair, little round glasses, very good looking," Karen said, and then she turned to Fraser and said, "You didn't go to his wedding either."
"No," Fraser admitted. "But I did go to yours," and then he surprised Ray again by reaching out for a pint of beer and taking a long sip.
"Yeah, you sure did," Karen said, grinning madly. "Paul would have broken both your arms if you hadn't come."
"Oh, I doubt that." Fraser's mouth twitched in a wry, unfamiliar smile as he licked foam off his lips. "Paul was never at his best in hand-to-hand combat."
Karen smiled and then suddenly turned to Ray. "So is Ben as stubborn and impossible to work with down here as he used to be up North?"
—and okay, that was maybe the easiest question in all the world, a real softball, and clearly Karen was Fraser's friend, and knew him really well—her and Gary and Dave and Jack, whoever the fuck they were—plus she seemed like a normal person despite being Canadian and a Mountie, so finally he had somebody he could bond with over the total whackiness that was Benton Fraser, except suddenly he heard himself saying:
"Nah, he's easy. He's a peach. Best partner I ever had," and Ray wasn't sure that he really knew this guy in the pale blue sweater—but man, he sure liked the way he smiled.
It was weird to sit there and drink beer with the Canadians, because even Turnbull started to seem like a real person after a while, and Thatcher—man, a couple of drinks and the Ice Queen was like a whole other person, all flirty and smiling and stretching her legs out and tossing her glossy brown hair from side to side. She was actually real pretty in a terrifyingly yuppy sort of way—but Ray'd been around that maypole once with Stella already and so he just smiled and kept his mouth shut.
Mostly it was Karen and Fraser talking and really mostly Karen, though she was telling stories that made Fraser smile down into his beer—stories about their first days at the Depot and some instructor named Schmitt, and how their friend Eric finally persuaded Ben to come out with a bunch of recruits to a bar called Scanners which wasn't there anymore. The group of them had tried to get Ben to adapt to Regina, but Ben had been totally out of his depth. Then their cohort had gotten collectively posted to a town called Oxbow or Oxfarm or Big Ox or something, and Ben had saved all of their asses like a thousand times.
Ben was—Fraser was—actively fighting a smile now; he was flushed and looked really, really pleased. "Boy, were we happy to get out of there!" Karen said, and then she nudged Fraser's shoulder with hers and said, smiling, "Except for you, of course. Where did you go after that, Moose Jaw?" and Fraser leaned into her touch, pressing his shoulder to hers—and Ray didn't think he'd ever seen Fraser like this with a woman before, or any man either. Fraser's body language was usually stiff and standoffish, but suddenly he and Karen were shoulder-to-shoulder, thigh-to-thigh, and Fraser was relaxed in a totally un-Fraserish way.
Something coiled inside him, and he tightened his fingers on his beer glass and stared down at his boots. He didn't want to name this feeling "jealousy," but there was nothing else he could name it. He knew what it was, all right—no way he could not know after all those years with Stella. Was jealousy becoming his default response to everything? He wondered if he was going to end up one of those pinched and bitter old men who sat on park benches during the summertime, staring at everybody with resentment.
"Come to Gary's wedding," Karen said in a warm, honey-rich voice, and jeez, she was rubbing Fraser's leg with the heel of her hand. Her voice turned teasing, mock whining: "Come ooooon. You'll have fun once you get there, you know you will—"
"I might." Fraser tilted his head, consideringly. "Maybe."
"Definitely," Karen said; she'd made her hand into a fist and was gently pounding on Fraser's leg for emphasis. "I'll take you as my date," she said, and Ray clutched his glass so tightly he nearly broke it. "That way, I can protect you from Gary's relatives, and all the people who'll be trying to set you up—"
"Oh God," Fraser breathed, letting his head fall forward. "Sisters and aunts and cousins—"
Karen grinned. "Yeah, and all the little old ladies who'll want to dance —"
Fraser's expression was half horror, half laughter. "Oh, please, tell me I don't have to—"
"You don't have to!" Karen said emphatically. "That's what I'm saying—I know you, I know that's what you're picturing, but I'm telling you, it can just be you and me and Dave and Jack, and we'll sit at a table and eat and then maybe make a night of it out in Ottawa—"
"Oh, I love Ottawa," the Ice Queen said, and then she reached out and nudged Fraser's leg with her heeled shoe. "You should go just for that alone. You don't appreciate the place sufficiently. Your own capital—"
"I am pledged on my honor to defend it," Fraser said with a sigh. "That surely doesn't mean I have to go there—"
"You've managed here, you can survive there," Thatcher pointed out sensibly.
Fraser turned to Ray and showed him a quick smile. "I've had some help."
"I'll help you," Karen said, and then she lifted her hand, formed it into a claw, and roughly swiped at the air. "Rrrar. I will defend you from little old ladies and guys who have ugly sisters—"
"I'll think about it," Fraser said, and then: "It's half-past seven—"
Both Karen and Thatcher quickly looked down at their watches. "We should go," Thatcher said. "Dinner's at eight, and we have to be seated before the Minister arrives."
Fraser looked at Karen and asked, "Dinner tomorrow, perhaps?"
Karen seemed to think hard for a moment. "I—yeah, I think that would work. Meg," she asked, reaching for her handbag, "what time do you think we'll be done tomorrow?"
"I can't imagine we'll go much past five," Thatcher said, rolling her eyes. "Even the Foreign Exchange Minister can't talk for more than eight hours, can he?"
"Don't tempt fate," Karen warned. Suddenly everybody was standing up, and Ray scrambled to his feet with the rest of them. "Right, okay," Karen said. "I have a rental; should I pick you up at the Consulate? Say, around six?"
"That would be great," Fraser said, and then he leaned in to kiss her cheek, and Ray stood in the middle of the crowd at Bar None and felt completely and totally alone until Fraser abruptly turned to him and said, "You want to go get something to eat?" and Ray almost couldn't find the voice to say: "Yeah. Yes. Yes."
In the car, Fraser explained that Karen and Thatcher were going to some kind of three-day seminar run by some Foreign Minister; the Canadian government was apparently considering opening a bunch of new Consulates in the U.S. Karen, it turned out, was a Superintendent and in charge of supervising some part of this.
"Wow," Ray said quietly; he wondered if it rankled Fraser to have his friends make high ranks like that when he was still a Constable. "Does that, you know—is that weird for you?"
"Hm?" Fraser looked up; he'd been lost in his own thoughts, but he seemed to figure out pretty quickly what Ray meant. "No, no—not at all. I mean, Karen went to university— management and economics, I think. I've never done anything like that."
"She seems nice," Ray ventured, and unfortunately, that was true.
Fraser flashed a quick smile. "Yeah, she is. Karen's a terrific person."
The question was out of Ray's mouth before he could stop himself. "Is she married? I mean, you said something about a wedding, but it didn't sound like she was—"
Ray glanced across the car, and Fraser's solemn expression stopped him from saying any more. "She—Karen was married to a man named Paul Covington, who was probably my best friend back then. He trained for the Air Service. After they got married, they transferred to a southern posting, and I to a more northern one." Fraser stopped, licked his lip thoughtfully. "The way I heard it, Paul's vision started to decline, and when they examined him, they found a fairly advanced brain tumor." Fraser let out a sigh and turned to stare out the window. "Two weeks later, he killed himself. Crashed his plane."
Ray winced. "Oh, geez."
"Yeah. It was terrible for Karen, but—I mean, Paul wasn't the kind of person who could have suffered through an illness. He was very proud; he had a certain image of himself and he was determined to be that person at any cost. He couldn't tolerate anything that smacked of weakness, and he hated pity. I understood that. I suppose we had that in common."
Ray nodded slowly and then murmured, as casually as he could: "So she's a widow?"
Fraser's head jerked around to look at him. "What are you insinuating?"
Nothing; he wasn't insinuating anything; except he was. He turned into the lot of their favorite diner, put the car into park, and said: "She's a widow. She likes you, you like her, you have a history—it could be easy."
He'd kind of been hoping that Fraser would insist that his relationship with Karen wasn't like that, that they were only friends—but Fraser looked thoughtful, like getting together with Karen was a really clever idea that hadn't ever occurred to him.
They didn't talk again until they'd gone through their familiar ritual of paging through the entire diner menu before ordering the usual: one burger deluxe, extra fries, coffee; one grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and a vanilla milkshake. They handed their large leather menus to the waitress and then Fraser said, as if they hadn't ever stopped talking, "I'm not sure Karen sees me that way."
Ray didn't bother pretending he didn't know what Fraser was talking about. "She sure seems to. I mean, she clearly likes you, Fraser. And she married your friend, and I'll bet you guys weren't all that different."
"Well—yes and no." Fraser dropped his eyes to the formica tabletop. "But I take your point. We were similar in many important ways."
Ray stared across the table at Fraser long enough to notice that the tips of his ears were faintly pink. There was so much he and Fraser hadn't ever talked about, though some things had been hovering in the air since the day they met. Ray did a little silent risk assessment; there were things he wanted to say to Fraser right now, partner-to-partner, friend-to-friend. But some of those things could be dangerous.
He bit his lip and took the risk. "Did she know?"
For a moment, Fraser didn't lift his eyes from the table, and Ray found himself desperately hoping that Fraser wouldn't be fucking Fraserish about this. If Fraser said, "Know what?" that was going to be the end of this conversation, right here; Ray would just mirror his blank expression and say, "Nothing." But Fraser didn't fake around with him this time.
"Yes," Fraser said quietly. "Paul told her."
For a moment, Ray couldn't say anything; it was just too weird to have been right. He'd always felt that he and Fraser were the same in this way, but there was feeling and there was knowing. It was like a whole connection had opened up between them, and Ray felt a sudden, stupid rush of love for him. He wondered if Fraser suffered from that thing where you wanted so much you got nothing, and one day you were 38 years old and alone in Chicago, and other people sent you pictures of their kids. He wondered if Paul and Karen would have had kids if he'd lived, and if Fraser would have looked at the pictures. He wondered if Paul really killed himself because of a brain tumor.
"So okay," Ray said finally, shakily. "She knew, she married your friend anyway, and she still likes you. This could be easy, is what I'm saying." Ray leaned forward over the table and lowered his voice. "I mean, if you want a life like that. Normal stuff—you know, a wife, house, maybe a kid. I know what it's like to want that, Fraser," and it was still weirdly hard to talk about wanting those things, but he felt like he had to; he and Fraser were the same; he'd be wrong not to point this stuff out. "So, I mean, I get it, or—well, actually, I didn't get it, but I tried, you know? Sometimes you can get it, though. Some guys get it. This could be your exit ramp, Fraser."
Now he had Fraser's attention; Fraser had lifted his head and was staring at him across the table. "It could be easy, I suppose. Karen could probably be persuaded to take a less urban posting. As for me," Fraser said, smiling ruefully, "I'm more accustomed to people than I once was. It would certainly make my father happy," and there was something wrong with that, wasn't there? Fraser's father was dead.
Fraser fell silent as the waitress stopped at their table, bearing a huge circular platter full of food. She set the white plates down on the table, and for a few moments they busied themselves with ketchup and creamers. Ray devoured half of his hamburger in three bites. Fraser ate one of his triangles of grilled cheese and then began to eat Ray's fries, dipping them in the pool of ketchup on his own plate.
"I can't say I haven't wondered what it would be like," Fraser mused. "Settling down. Raising a family."
Ray sighed and put down his burger; it was dripping juices, which normally he found really appealing but which was right now making him sick. "Everybody wonders, Fraser."
"Moreover, it does seem like the responsible thing to do; the family is, of course, the most basic building block of society, and..." Fraser trailed off abruptly, and sat there, contemplating the ketchup-soggy french fry in his hand, and Ray wondered if Fraser had managed to bore himself before even getting into his whole "fabric of society" speech. Fraser finally seemed to remember that the fry was there to be eaten and ate it. "Besides," he said, abandoning the social-fabric line of his argument, "there have been women that—women to whom I've been— women with whom I could— There have been women."
"There are always women," Ray muttered, snatching up one of his own fries before Fraser ate them all. He could still conjure Stella in a heartbeat, her golden hair shining with light.
"I suppose that's true," Fraser said thoughtfully. "Still. There aren't very many women like Karen. I mean, to the extent to which relationships are intrinsically labor-intensive, so much of the heavy spade work's been done."
"Sounds fun," Ray muttered, and Fraser frowned and said, "What?"
"Fun. Fun. Forget it," but he couldn't seem to forget it, "just—I know all about relationships that need spade work, Fraser, and—" He felt desperate to find the right words. "—I mean, you can try digging, but that hole's always deeper than you think."
Fraser looked a little shocked, and Ray quickly busied himself with his fries, eating them quickly, possessively even, elbows on the table. "But surely all worthwhile relationships require work? In fact, even this partnership has—"
Ray glanced up sharply, and Fraser hesitated for a moment.
"This partnership has been a fair amount of work," Fraser finished finally.
Ray slumped back in the booth and scrubbed at his face. "Yeah. Well. There's work and there's work, all right?"
Fraser now looked utterly taken aback. "But you were the one who suggested—I mean you just said—"
"I said, so I said—yeah, I say things. I say a million things all day long, but now, all of a sudden, you're listening." Ray felt suddenly, irrationally angry. "Since when do you listen to me about anything?"
Fraser blinked, then tilted his head to the side and stared at Ray like he was nuts.
"You don't," Ray insisted, "you never do, but you should listen to me now, because when it comes to relationships, I have ridden the rollercoaster, traveled that train, driven that go-cart around the track a couple of—"
"I appreciate your transportation metaphors," Fraser interrupted, "but that doesn't explain why on earth you would suggest I start a relationship with Karen if you didn't believe it would work."
"I didn't say it wouldn't work," Ray said, hunching defensively. "Just because me and Stella didn't work, doesn't mean you and Karen wouldn't—I mean, probably. I mean, just because we are both law-enforcement guys of a certain age, with, you know, tendencies, doesn't mean you couldn't succeed where I failed. In fact, that's pretty much what you do, right?—you succeed where I fail, and I run after you and watch with my mouth open—just shut up, Fraser!" Ray said, smacking away the reassuring hand that Fraser had extended out toward him, across the table, and Fraser quickly snatched his hand back. "Whatever it is, I don't want to hear it! I am trying to be supportive here!"
"Supportive," Fraser repeated, and then he was nodding slowly. "Oh. I see."
"Forget about seeing, just freakin' listen, okay? Are you listening?"
"I'm listening," Fraser said gravely.
"I am not saying you shouldn't—" hook up with her, marry her, make babies with her if she'll let you, but he couldn't bring himself to say any of those things, "—whatever, with Karen or with any other chick; in fact, I'm saying you should, you know, if you want to. I'm being—what's the word for it?—encouraging—of whatever the fuck it is you think you want to do with the rest of your damn fool Canadian life!"
Fraser sat back in the booth; he was wearing that blank look he put on when he said "hm" or "ah" or other fucking infuriating things. "Thank you, Ray. I believe I understand."
It was dark as they pushed through the glass door of the diner, and cooler, too. Ray stopped to button his leather jacket while Fraser drifted down the stairs to the parking lot—and so Ray was looking down when Fraser yelled, "Ray!" and took off.
Ray yanked his gun out of his holster and ran after him, left hand fumbling in his pocket for his glasses—and damn, but he missed the red serge right now, because it was a hell of a lot easier tracking a guy in a red suit than it was chasing Fraser in his black jacket and blue sweater. Ray found the frames, flicked them open, and slammed them onto his face just in time to see Fraser darting between two parked cars. When Ray got there, he saw a woman —pretty, blonde—leaning against a white Volvo and gasping nervously for air. She pointed frantically in the direction that Fraser had gone, and Ray nodded and kept running up Merchant Street.
Ahead, Ray could see the slight figure that Fraser was chasing. He seemed to be wearing a hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and white sneakers—and man, the guy was fast! Fraser was almost on top of him, arm extended, fingertips almost within sweatshirt-grabbing distance—and the the guy ducked and cut left into an alley, and Fraser skidded but managed to follow him, and then they were both out of sight. "Hey!" Ray yelled, still running; he felt so fucking helpless. "Stop! Police!" and when he reached the mouth of the alley and rounded the corner he nearly tripped over Fraser, who was lying on the ground, half on his side and curled up—and the guy in the hood was halfway up a chain-link fence at the end of the alley. Ray was torn for a second—Fraser! the guy! Fraser!—but then Fraser groaned, "Ray," and Ray dropped to his knees on the concrete.
"Fraser!" Ray said, still breathless from the run. "Are you all right?"
Fraser rolled toward him a little, and Ray saw that Fraser was cupping his crotch protectively with one hand; in the other, he gripped a shiny white patent-leather pocketbook. He held the purse up and muttered, "I—got it," before putting it down on the ground.
Ray winced on Fraser's behalf. "Did he hurt you?"
"She," Fraser managed, and then he made a strange, strangled sound; it took Ray a second to realize Fraser was laughing. "That's what—took me—aback. When I caught up with her—I hesitated before cuffing her and—she kneed me in the—"
Ray winced again. "It don't pay to be chivalrous, Fraser; I told you once, I told you a million times—"
"I'm sure you have." Fraser took a deep breath, moved his hand away from his crotch, and pushed himself up on one elbow. "But I probably wasn't listening."
Ray grinned, then extended a hand to help Fraser up. Fraser's hand landed, solid and dry, in his—but before Ray could pull Fraser up, Fraser yanked hard, jerking him forward—and then Fraser's other hand was cupping the side of Ray's head, and Fraser was kissing him.
Ray almost jerked away, he was so surprised—but then he came to his senses and blindly sank a hand into Fraser's hair, tilted his head back, and stroked his tongue into Fraser's mouth. He hadn't known if Fraser would be prissy about kissing, but Fraser wasn't; Fraser kissed back intensely, using his whole mouth, hot and sloppy. Ray sank deep into the kiss—God, it had been so long—until he felt his lungs were going to burst, then twisted his mouth away from Fraser's and gasped for air. "What," Ray managed, "was that about?"
The tip of Fraser's tongue licked at the corner of his lip. "I'm being—what's the word? Encouraging," he said. "I think you need encouragement."
"But—" Ray began, but Fraser's hand was still cupped around his head, and Fraser pulled him in for a quick, hard kiss before smacking him just above the ear.
"What the hell is the matter with you?" Fraser demanded. "Why can't you just talk to me like a normal person?"
Ray just stared at him, hand automatically going to the side of his head. "Because you're not a normal person! If you haven't noticed!"
"I'm normal for me," Fraser pointed out, infuriatingly reasonable. "You've had plenty of time to establish a baseline for normality where I'm concerned," and Ray would have had to agree this was true, except Fraser leaned in to kiss him again, this time long and deep.
When Fraser pulled back, he sounded breathless and a little desperate. "Ray. I don't want an exit ramp. I never wanted to live like a normal person. Or with one."
"Oh, thank God," Ray said, feeling vastly relieved, and Fraser rewarded him with another dizzying kiss. "Stay with me, then," he said when Fraser pulled away.
"Yes," Fraser said, and then he kissed Ray one more time before getting up to go give the blonde woman her handbag.
Ottawa, Ray thought, was really a city. Growing up in Chicago had raised the bar for him where cities were concerned—Chicago, yes; New York, yes; Washington, no; Baltimore, yes; Phoenix, no; L.A., yes; Philadelphia, yeah, okay—but just where the clubs were. Ottawa, though...okay, it was small, yeah, and really foreign-looking, like Europe or some kind of fairy tale, but— He stared out at the twinkling lights from the balcony of the Grand Royal Hotel. It was a real city, all right. He could tell by the way it was giving Fraser hives.
Ray turned, holding his champagne glass in one hand and the cigarette he'd snuck outside to smoke in the other, and looked back through the wall of glass doors. He couldn't immediately spot Fraser, because Fraser was wearing a tux—the bride, Vanessa, herself a Mountie, had decided that if she couldn't wear a uniform, nobody else could either. Ray thought he kind of liked Vanessa. He liked Fraser in a tux, that was for damn sure.
His eye lighted on Fraser—and suddenly he was stubbing his cigarette into the sand-filled urn by the door, and pulling the glass door open, and shoving his way back to their table, where Fraser was smiling and nodding politely at some woman who was introducing—
"—my sister, Janice," and Ray stopped beside Fraser, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Hey, do I taste like an ashtray?" before leaning in to kiss him.
Fraser blinked at Ray when he pulled away. "Yes, actually," he said, and reached into his breast pocket. "Here. Have a mint." Ray took one, and popped it into his mouth with a grin as Fraser turned back to the sisters and said, "Have you met my partner, Ray?"
Janice and her sister looked crestfallen, but they dutifully shook hands and murmured something polite before wandering off.
"Great intercept," Karen Covington said approvingly.
Ray turned to her and glared. "Yeah, and where the hell were you? You were supposed to be covering for me!"
Karen grinned. "I was covering! I couldn't have been gone for more than two minutes—"
Ray tsked and shook his head. "Two minutes is all it takes! Do you know how fast those little old ladies move?"
"In fact," Fraser said in an undertone, "here comes Mrs. Lavery now..."
"Come on, we're out off here," Karen said, jerking her head toward the door. "Dave, Jack, and Mary are already downstairs."
They followed her to the ballroom's exit, then down to the lobby. Fraser's friends had already colonized a table in the back of the dark hotel bar. Fraser sighed in relief and began to tug at his tie, and there was something to be said for Canadian beer and intimate surroundings. Later, they'd go upstairs to kiss and fuck and sleep; tomorrow, they'd fly back to Chicago and get on with the rest of their damn fool lives. But right now, Ray sank back in his chair and ordered another pint, and listened to the bar talk of the Canadians, and there were many places he had wanted to be in his life, but this was the best, bar none.