Eight Sessions

by Speranza

Note: This story was a bitch, and if I'd known what a bitch it was I wouldn't have written it, honest to god. But I'm an obsessive-compulsive narcissist with a completion complex, plus I have difficulties admitting failure, so there you go. Nine fucking drafts later, I'm still not sure if it works, but I did my best with it, and I think I need to go and writesomething else now before I have a psychotic breakdown.

God bless Terri. God bless Mia. Deepest thanks to Naomi and resonant. This story is for Julad, who was responsible for at least three significant rewrites—her acumen is astounding, and I love her more for her criticism than for her praise. You're worth your weight in gold, lady.

Chapter 1

Tuesday, April 20th.

Lieutenant Harding Welsh knew it was bad the moment he saw Kowalski's face. He didn't even need to see the bodybags, the mothers' contorted faces, the other kids hugging the darkness in case he decided to take everyone here in for questioning. Six squad cars, three ambulances, a news van parked sloppily half up on the curb, reporting live to you now from the south side.

Out of that whole hellish scene, all he needed was one clear look at Kowalski.

It seemed like only yesterday Kowalski'd been a kid himself—all elbows and attitude and with a badge so new it actually shined. He'd been sent over from the one-nine to help Welsh on a drug case, and Welsh could hardly believe he was a gold-shield, he looked like such a good-for-nothing punk. So Welsh threw his weight around as 'senior member of the team', hassling him hard, giving him shit at every opportunity. But Kowalski got right up in his face about it, and Welsh decided he was the real deal after all.

Years later, when he'd had to replace Vecchio, Kowalski was the first guy he thought of. Funny hair and that damn bracelet notwithstanding, Kowalski was a good, gutsy cop. Plus privately, Welsh thought that Kowalski was tough in the real way—bent without breaking, snapped back like a sapling, would take your eye out if you didn't watch him close.

Except now, Kowalski looked at him from across the street, the red lights turning his hair orange, and Welsh wasn't seeing any snap there.

Welsh moved through the crowd to get to him, getting more and more of the picture as he went. Four bodybags—five—six—goddamn, this was a bloodbath. Kowalski just stood there, looking tired but still holding the street. And that was something, Welsh thought grimly. Hell, in a situation like this, it was actually everything.

Welsh lowered his voice as he approached. "How're you doin', Detective?"

"Fine. Yeah." Kowalski was all business, and holding it together; no punk like an old punk. "We had Jamison and Parker, and then the Tanks pulled up on two sides and pulled guns. They killed Parker, I returned fire—long and short of it is we got six dead and two injured: Jamison, Parker, and four Tanks in the bags, two more guys in critical."

Welsh nodded grimly; this had been coming, it was in the air. Gang heat had been ratcheting up for months, but somehow he'd figured that if anyone could cool things down it would be Kowalski and—

—Kowalski and the Mountie. Welsh frowned and scanned the crowd for Fraser, because usually the first thing you saw at a crime scene was Benton Fraser in his fancy red coat. He tracked for red wool, and finally spotted Fraser sitting on the curb next to a crashed Chevy.

Fraser's shoulders were hunched, and his head was down, though he looked up suddenly like he could feel Welsh's eyes on him. Fraser's face and jacket were spattered with blood and bone, and his expression was hard, maybe even defiant. And that look of defiance, on Constable Benton Fraser, was just as unnatural as Kowalski's lack of snap.

"Hell," Welsh muttered.

"Yeah," Kowalski said, and Welsh jerked his head around; he'd forgotten Kowalski was there. "Fraser was holding Parker when they shot him," Kowalski explained in a dead-sounding voice. "They blew Parker's head all over him..."

"Get out of here," Welsh muttered, trying to make his shock sound like anger. "Go home, get cleaned up, and be at the station first thing in the morning. There's gonna be questions on this one."

For the first time, Kowalski showed a little of his old spark. "What questions? Fuck questions. There ain't no fuckin' questions to be—"

"There'll be questions," Welsh said with grim certainty, "so you go home and rest and be ready. You and him—but especially you, Ray."

Kowalski stared at him for a long moment, his eyes weirdly blank. "Fuck this noise," Kowalski said softly, and then he was shoving his way through the crowd toward Fraser as Welsh grabbed a megaphone from a uniform and took control of the street.

Tuesday, April 21st.

"No, but this is bullshit!!"

Welsh let out a long sigh. Kowalski seemed to have gotten his snap back, all right. "It's routine," Welsh repeated for what seemed like the thousandth time. "It's all routine, Detective—and only through grace of God have you not been here before."

Kowalski stopped, wheeled to face the desk, and jerked two fingers toward his chest. "I gave a statement! I filed reports! I have a witness—witness right over there!" He flung his hand over toward Fraser, who was sitting on the sofa, staring down at the floor like he'd been transported bodily from the curb last night. Except now Fraser was back to being all neat as a pin again, no longer a blood-soaked mess. "Witness my witness, a reliable witness—a fuckin' Mountie witness, only thing better is a nun."

"It's routine," Welsh repeated for the thousand-and-first time. "I.A. wants it from you, and they want it live."

"What is this—Cats? This is not Cats. This is my fucking life here, sir, if you haven't noticed—"

All right, enough was enough; if Kowalski was gonna go all Catskills on him, he was gonna have to stop this right now. "We got six bodies here, Kowalski. Four on your gun," and Kowalski went all white and tight-lipped. "So there's gonna be questions. And you've got answers," he continued firmly, patiently, hoping for finality. "They fired first, you returned fire. I.A. will accept that, end of story. But there's a process, and you've got to go through it. No way out and that's that."

Kowalski turned away with a muttered, "Christ."

For the first time, Fraser raised his head. "Do I have to testify?"

"Probably, yeah," Welsh replied with a frown. "Is that a problem for you, Constable?"

Welsh noticed that Kowalski hadn't turned around, but he'd gone perfectly still, like he was hanging on Fraser's answer, too.

Fraser licked nervously at the corner of his mouth and seemed to think it over. "I'd rather not," he said finally.

"You'd rather not?" Welsh asked with some surprise.

"He'd rather not!" Kowalski was out of his corner, snapping back, ready to take his eye out. "You didn't hear him?"

Welsh felt very near the edge of his patience. "Look, Kowalski, it's your problem if Fraser doesn't testify! Like you said, he's your witness—he refuses to testify, I.A. will want to know why!"

"I'm not refusing to testify," Fraser clarified quietly. "I'd just rather not."

"He'd just rather not, which if that's what he wants, what do they care?" Kowalski demanded.

Welsh came to his feet without even realizing it. "I care," he said, feeling suddenly confused and furious. "And I am asking you, right now—did anything happen that you didn't report?"

Kowalski looked outraged and shook his head almost violently. "No. No. Christ, how could you think I would—"

In a flash, Welsh had turned his attention to Fraser. "Constable?"

"No." Fraser was bent forward, fingers laced together, but looking up and meeting Welsh's eye frankly. "He's telling the truth. It all happened just as he said."

That was a clear enough statement, and Welsh didn't think Fraser would lie to him. Then again, put the question another way—would Fraser lie for Kowalski? Fraser'd certainly bent rules for Kowalski before. But then again, Kowalski'd never killed anybody before. The stakes had never been this high for either of them.

Welsh slammed his hand down on the desk, and Kowalski and Fraser both jumped. "I want to know what's going on," he said, and it was only as he waited for them to answer that he noticed that they weren't looking at each other. He realized with a start that they hadn't looked at each other once, not throughout this whole entire interview, which was weird, which was just plain wrong.

Welsh looked slowly from one to the other. Fraser had his eyes fixed again on the office floor, and Kowalski was standing there, arms crossed, glaring straight at him across the desk—but it didn't matter where they were looking, it was where they weren't looking that mattered. Cops in this situation, they looked at each other to match their stories up, get their stories straight. But not these guys. Why not?

"I'll testify," Fraser told the floor.

"You won't," Kowalski told Welsh.

"I will. It's not a problem," Fraser explained to the floor.

"You shouldn't have to if you don't want to." Kowalski was staring straight into Welsh's eyes. "You don't work here."

"It's not a problem, Ray," Fraser repeated. "The facts are straightforward enough."

This was very possibly the weirdest conversation Welsh had ever had the pleasure to be in the middle of. It took him a second to find his bearings. "If the facts are perfectly clear, then what the hell is the problem here?"

Again, weirdly, Kowalski and Fraser didn't so much as glance at each other. "It was rough," Kowalski said, after a moment.

Behind him, Fraser nodded slowly, still staring at the linoleum. "Difficult."

Welsh sighed; this was at least an opening to his second unpleasant point of the morning. "Which reminds me of something else, another part of the process." Kowalski shifted his stance, looking tense and frustrated, literally waiting to be hit with it. Welsh took a deep breath and hit him. "You'll have to do a standard psychiatric run-through—"

Kowalski exploded with all the force of a eight-year-old boy being told that he has to go over and kiss his Great-Aunt Ethel. "Aww, come on ! " he yelled, flinging his arms up in the air. "I really gotta do this crap?"

"—which is eight sessions, starting tomorrow, and—"

"—eight sessions of navel-gazing with some egghead shrink who doesn't know shit about anything? What a colossal! fucking! waste of—"

"Detective!" Welsh roared, and Kowalski instantly shut up, although he went into a furious, violent mime. "Sit down!"

With great effort, Kowalski seemed to get control of himself, and threw himself into the chair in front of Welsh's desk.

"Okay." Welsh gritted his teeth and bent forward over his desk to loom over him. "I have been trying to exert all possible patience with you, but now I'm gonna lay this out flat. This is what your next two weeks will look like. You are off active duty. I will defer your I.A. hearing for at least a week—and in the interim you will attend therapy in the morning, meet with your union rep in the afternoon, and try to make yourself useful around here with whatever other time you've got."

Kowalski lay backwards in his chair, arms limp at his sides: the very picture of martyrdom. "Fuck. "

Welsh went on relentlessly. "You do the hearing, you get cleared, and you're back to work the next day, end of story."

"I wanna die. I want to be killed. Kill me now."

"Unfortunately, that's not an option," Welsh growled.

"All right, all right, all right, all right, all right. Fuck me hard, but all right."

"How wonderfully you accept the inevitable."

"Sir?" Fraser's voice broke the three seconds of peace they'd managed to attain. "What about me?"

Welsh sighed and smoothed a hand over his head. "I don't know about you, Constable. You're a lot more complicated."

"What are the options?" Fraser asked quietly.

Kowalski still wasn't looking over at Fraser, and so Welsh decided to take advantage of this and cut him out of the equation. He came around the desk and leaned against a filing cabinet closer to the Mountie. "Thing is, like Ray said, you don't really work here, which gives us some leeway," Welsh explained. "But here's the problem, Constable. If you really were Ray's partner, this would all apply to you, too. Eight sessions, plus UAB meetings to prepare you for the hearing. That would be standard, make everything aboveboard." Fraser nodded, seeming to understand this. "Now just possibly in your case we get away with not having you do it. Except follow me," Welsh said, pushing off the cabinet and standing up straighter to make the point. "You don't testify, it maybe makes things harder for Ray."

"I can handle it," Kowalski told the desk.

"Shut up," Welsh told Fraser, and Kowalski went silent. "Besides, you were there, you're involved, you were a witness to the shooting. You should testify." Fraser nodded silent agreement. Welsh raised a thick finger and pointed it at Fraser's face. "But if you're in this," he warned, "it's gonna raise questions about this whole arrangement. Personally, I would be a lot happier if we could go in there and say, special status aside, you followed procedures like any other cop. That would make me very happy. And it's safer for you, if you want to keep on working here. Because even if I.A. lets it slide for right now, the review board's gonna get wind of it at some point and try to pull your ride-along."

Fraser didn't say anything to that, and Kowalski didn't say anything either—which really surprised Welsh, because if there was any time he'd expect Kowalski to shoot off his mouth it would be now. This was the big gun, the big threat, splitting up the partnership—and most cops turned into rabid dogs if you even so much as hinted in that direction. But Kowalski just sat there, like he'd suddenly taken a vow of silence. What the fuck was going on here?

But Fraser was sitting up straighter now, and nodding vaguely to himself like he'd come to some sort of decision. "I'll do it," Fraser said—and was Welsh imagining things or did Kowalski seem to relax a bit over there?

Kowalski almost immediately contradicted the impression. "You don't have to." Kowalski's voice was pitched low and sounded hoarse. "You really don't have to, Fraser."

"I know, but I think we should play it safe," Fraser replied.

"We are safe. I didn't do anything wrong."

"I know, but it's important that Internal Affairs understand that as well."

"Then it's settled," Welsh said. He moved back toward his desk and picked up Kowalski's appointment card, which was already filled out. "You've got an appointment for 11:00 tomorrow with Dr. Melissa Wertzer. Don't be late."

Kowalski heaved himself forward and snatched the card out of Welsh's hand, looking at it like he was looking over his own death certificate.

Welsh picked up a second card and a pen, and carefully printed "Constable Benton Fraser" on the top line. "Constable," he said, and Fraser stood up and came over to the desk. Welsh turned toward him, shaking the card between his fingertips to make the ink dry faster. "Your first appointment is at 11:00 tomorrow, with Dr. David Berger." Fraser took the slip and studied it for a second before tucking it neatly into his breast pocket. "Are we done, here?"

They were done.

Chapter 2

Tuesday, April 22nd.

Fraser stopped short halfway down the hall toward the doctors' offices and turned to Ray. "Tell me again how it—?"

Ray sighed, stopped, put his hand on Fraser's arm and squeezed, once, tightly, reassuringly. "They ask you questions, Fraser, and then you answer them."

Fraser licked his lips; his mouth felt uncommonly dry. Nerves, he thought, and was annoyed at himself. "And this helps how precisely?"

Ray was scowling. "Who said it helps?" he retorted. "They make money, Fraser. It's all a big circle jerk—just a hoop we gotta jump through."

Fraser wasn't entirely sure what Ray meant by a 'circle jerk'; he supposed the circularity was related somehow to the idea of hoop-jumping, which he could at least picture, though the notion seemed quaint. "Surely, there must be more to it than that," he said, doubtfully.

Ray shook his head. "They call it the talking cure, Fraser. When was the last time talking cured you of anything?"

Fraser considered this. He had, in fact, been cured of a series of terrible migraine headaches the summer he was twelve by an Inuit Shaman who told him to imagine being eaten by a bear and then vomited up. He didn't think this was what Ray meant, though. "Some people believe in prayer, others in magic," he mused. "Incantations and so forth. But this seems like neither science nor magic."

"You got it," Ray agreed. "It falls into the larger category of bullshit. So just go in and tell them whatever you want to tell them—it's all confidential, anyway." Ray's hand tightened on his arm, and Fraser knew to believe the pressure of Ray's fingers rather than the casual tone of his voice. "They can't use it against you," Ray added offhandedly, but his hand was tight, tight, so tight on Fraser's arm. "Or me." Ray shrugged, and then, as if he suddenly realized he was cutting off Fraser's circulation, he unclenched his fingers and stepped away. "So go to town—tell them anything you want. Some people actually pay money for this out of their own pockets, so maybe you'll like it, who knows?"

"Maybe I will," Fraser said, trying to be optimistic. "I'll try to keep an open mind."

"Me too. Open mind." Ray drifted backwards down the hall. "See you in an hour, okay?"

"Yes. In an hour," Fraser said; and then he felt compelled to add, awkwardly, "Good luck, Ray."

"Yeah, you too."

First Session

There was a polite knock at the door and Dr. Dave Berger fumbled through the papers on his desk to find his appointment calendar. Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police—hey, wow, a Mountie. Well, that was something new.

"Come in!" Berger called, standing up. The door opened and a red suit walked in. The guy wearing it was tall and clean-cut, a walking, breathing advertisement for protein. Neat, not a hair out of place. Good posture, polite stance, firm handshake.

Berger wondered cynically if maybe Fraser mutilated cats in his spare time. In his experience, guys who looked too good to be true usually were.

He opened the door without even knocking and she pegged him right away—he'd been assigned there and was doing therapy under duress. He took in her whole office at a glance—the degrees on the wall, the pictures of her husband and daughter on the desk, even the type of wristwatch she was wearing, a gold Timex as it happened. This guy, Melissa Wertzer thought instantly, didn't miss a trick—but she hadn't even opened her mouth yet and already she'd lost control of the session.

He threw himself into the chair in front of her desk, crossed one leg widely over the other, and began shaking his foot nervously, drumming to a beat only he could hear. He was a detective, his form said, and he'd just shot four people on Tuesday—though he didn't look like any detective she'd ever met. He was leaner, for one; meaner, for another; and also he was wearing a thick silver bracelet on his left wrist, which was unusual for law enforcement.

Not to mention the hair.

"I'm Dave Berger," Berger said, gesturing for him to sit down. He felt suddenly embarrassed about the mountains of clutter on his desk; the Mountie no doubt thought him disorganized. "You must be Benton Fraser."

"I must be, yes," Constable Fraser said, taking a seat. Straight back, hands folded neatly in his lap—Berger guessed disciplinarian parents plus ten years of military service, minimum.

"Hey, relax," Berger said, sitting down himself. "This is, like, a free space for us—we're gonna hang out, talk a bit, get to know each other, all right?"

"All right." Constable Fraser seemed to make a good faith effort to relax—not that anyone would have noticed the difference, Berger thought. Man, if this was Benton Fraser relaxed, this was gonna take a hell of a lot more than eight sessions.

This could take years.

"Okay, if I sit here?" he asked, slouching deeper, his crossed leg rising higher as he sank back into the chair. Melissa wondered if he was going to try to hide behind his long, skinny legs and those leather ankle boots he was wearing. "Or are you one of those shrinks who does the lie-down-on-the-couch thing?"

"No, that's—" Fine, she was going to say, but he never let her get there.

"Good, great," he said, cutting her off. "Okay, so look—here's the deal. I'll lay this out for you, maybe save us both a lot of time. Me, I'm thirty-seven, a cop and a borderline alcoholic, divorced three years ago which was a whole mess in itself, except it was probably mostly about my own deep insecurity issues plus the crummy relationship that I had with my father. I hate being a cop, I hate being divorced, but there's nothing I can do about either of those things. I just shot four people to death last Tuesday, and my partner's a Mountie. Plus I peed myself in a bank back in 1972 which I'm still pretty traumatized about. So that's basically the deal with me. What comes next?"

"You're sure you're comfortable?" Berger asked uncertainly.

Constable Fraser nodded at him. "Perfectly, thank you."

"Right, okay." He leaned back in his chair and contemplated the patient, rubbing idly at the worn corduroy at his knee. "Well, what I normally like to do in the first session is just the meet and greet—in later sessions, we'll maybe do some tests, focus in on the current issues in your life, which I understand include a shooting in the line of duty. But for now—why don't you just tell me a bit about yourself?"

Constable Fraser cleared his throat. "Certainly, of course. I'm Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father—"

Berger grabbed for his notebook and began scribbling. Killers of my father... geez, there might be a paper in this.

"—and, for reasons that don't need exploring at this particular juncture, I have remained attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate."

"Wow," Berger said, looking up from his notes to Fraser's face. That was a lot right there—father murdered, the son abandons his home country, and he already suspected that there was something pretty damn interesting underneath this business about "reasons that don't need exploring at this particular juncture."

Evasive much, Constable Fraser? What is it you don't want to explore, exactly, and why?

Melissa cleared her throat and offered her hand across the desk. "Hello," she said politely, thinking: what we do next, sir, is start over. "My name is Melissa Wertzer. You can call me Melissa."

He scowled at her for a moment and then leaned forward to shake her hand before quickly slouching back in his chair. "Ray Vecchio," he said.

"Yes, I know," she said. "Lieutenant Welsh told me that—"

"Well, hey, I know your name, too, so could we maybe just get on with this? Come on, there's plenty already on the table—insecurity, ex-wife, drinking," and he was actually ticking the issues off on his long fingers, "dad-issues, hating the job, killing people, and the bank-pee thing. So I'm here, pick one, and let's get at it, okay?"

"Wow," Berger repeated. "All right. Maybe we shouldn't tackle all that right away. For the moment, maybe just tell me about how you're feeling right now."

Fraser sat up at attention again, like this was a school spelling bee and not a therapy session. "I feel fine, thank you."

Berger waved his hand in a small circle, encouraging him to continue.

"Fit as a fiddle," Fraser added as an explanation. "Perfect health." He was eyeing Berger carefully now, obviously wanting to come up with the right answer. "I eat well..." he said tentatively, watching closely to see if this was the right track. "I stay active..."

Was this guy for real? "No, no," Berger said, and then he lifted his hand and tapped his chest gently. "In here. How do you feel inside?"

Fraser stared at him for a long moment before venturing, "As far as I know my heart rate is perfectly normal..."

Berger sighed and shook his head. "No, no, no..."

Melissa took a deep breath; it was just her luck to draw this guy. He was gonna try to control the session come hell or high water—maybe, Ray, we could talk about your obvious personal aggression, or the fact that, funky silver bracelet notwithstanding, you are clearly a control freak and neurotic to boot?

She ran through his list of discussion topics and realized that there was only one he hadn't repeated from his opening speech. "So," she said, trying to stay calm and focused. "Your partner's a Mountie?"

He stared at her with cold eyes, and a second later he was on his feet and heading for the door, a blur of leather. "That's it, I'm outta here—this was fun."

Melissa jumped to her feet. "Detective Vecchio! Wait!"

"No, but really." Vecchio whirled around at the door. "I can't do this shit, I just can't do this shit—"

Fraser was flailing now. "I have excellent lung capacity..."

"Constable, I'm asking you how you feel," Berger exploded. "How you feel, how you feel!"

"I feel fine!" Fraser was obviously as frustrated with him as he was with Fraser. "I can show you the tests if you don't believe me. I've just had a physical—"

Berger raised his hands. "Okay, wait. Stop. Let's take this from the top," he suggested, already feeling psychically worn out. "From now on, when I ask you how you feel, I don't mean physically. I mean emotionally. I want to know how you are—how are you, Constable?"

"Ah," Fraser said. He seemed to have to think hard about this.

It occurred to Berger that they were probably having a culture clash. For some odd reason, Canadians didn't seem to like speaking without thinking first.

Well, that was okay. They had time. He could wait.

If he'd been less prickly, Melissa might have taken his arm; as it was, she kept her distance. "Okay, wait," she said, raising her hands, trying to look as non-threatening as possible. He wanted to control the sessions, she would let him control the sessions. "You pick the subject. We'll talk about whatever you want to talk about."

"What if I don't want to talk about anything?" Vecchio shot back. "Then what happens?"

Melissa made a great show of thinking about this. "I don't know," she said finally. "I guess we could play cards..."

That stopped him; he kept up his glare for another second or two, and then his lips pursed into a half-scowl, half-smile. "Okay," he said; his posture relaxed and one hand rose up to scratch at the back of his head. His blond hair stood up in wild spikes, making him look younger. "You play poker?"

Melissa had to force herself not to smile. Poker was clearly not his game; his emotions were all on the surface.

It was hers, though.

"Sure. Poker, gin rummy, hearts, blackjack." She started taking slow, backward steps toward the desk, feeling like she was trying to tame a wild horse. "Come on, sit down. We both have to be here, might as well make the best of it."

He took a deep breath, nodded, and came back to the chair. His half-smile became a full smile as she reached into her desk and pulled out a deck of cards. "Thought you were kidding," he said.

"Oh, I never kid," Melissa explained. She shuffled, offered him the cut, then began to deal out a hand of blackjack: two cards to him, two cards to her, one face up.

Vecchio reached into the inside pocket of his leather jacket and came out with a thick pair of glasses. He put them on to his face with one hand and then picked up his cards and studied them. "Hit me."

She hit him, thwacking the card down on the desk.

Vecchio considered for a moment and then said, "Hit me again."

"Ah. A risk taker, eh?" She put down another card.

"Oh yeah, I'm a wild man." Vecchio showed her another quirky smile, then raised a palm when she offered him another card. "I'm done."

With his glasses on and his hair sticking up like a little boy's he looked like an entirely different person to her; this, Melissa thought, was the guy that that other guy had been protecting. Nice to meet you, Ray, she thought, and flipped herself another card. "Nineteen."

"Twenty-one," Ray said, flipping over his cards. Four, nine, ace, seven.

"Well done." She put the cards aside and dealt out another hand.

"Can I tell you about my wife?" Ray asked suddenly.

"Sure," Melissa said, dealing out her final card. "Tell me about your wife."

Finally Constable Fraser looked up and said, "Really, I think I'm fine."

Dave Berger stared at him in something very near disbelief—a mere fifteen minutes into the session, and Constable Benton Fraser had moved easily into first place as the single worst patient he'd ever had.

Ray was in a good mood when he left Melissa's office; he'd won twelve straight hands of blackjack, and Melissa'd handed him a fancy gold pencil, claiming it was his winnings. He'd protested, but she'd insisted. "It's cheap," she explained with a shrug. "I got it from a bank," and he'd squinted at it more closely, seen the imprinted advertising slogan, and laughed.

Now he tucked the pencil behind his ear as he strode down the hallway to meet Fraser, who was waiting for him, hat in hand. It took a moment for him to register that Fraser looked oddly shaken; he obviously hadn't enjoyed himself or won any gold pencils. "Fraser, what?"

Fraser was staring down at the granite floor, not meeting his eyes. "I don't think I did very well, Ray."

"It's not a test, Fraser," Ray protested, feeling suddenly guilty; he'd gotten Fraser into this mess. "I'm sure you did fine..."

Fraser shook his head, nervously circling the brim of his hat through his fingertips. "No, I'm afraid not. Dr. Berger didn't seem to like my answers very much."

"Well, I mean..." What on earth did that mean when a psychiatrist didn't like your answers? "It's just the beginning," Ray said lamely.

"That's what I'm afraid of," Fraser said under his breath.

Ray slung an arm around Fraser's shoulders, ignoring his look of surprise. "C'mon, I'll buy you lunch, how about that?"

Fraser smiled faintly. "That would be wonderful, Ray, thank you."

Between the two of them, they could usually could manage most of a large pie. But this time Fraser wasn't pulling his weight; he was just staring down at the half-eaten slice in his hand.

Ray leaned forward over the table. "You've got to put it in your mouth. Otherwise it doesn't work." He took a bite out of his own slice as an illustration.

Fraser watched him eat for a moment and then said, curiously: "Ray, how do you feel?"

Ray stopped chewing for a second—he thought that was a pretty weird question, coming from Fraser, maybe even a dangerous one under the circumstances. But Fraser was looking at him intently, like he really wanted to know. "I dunno," he said carefully, after he'd swallowed. "Freaked about the shooting. Pissed off at Welsh, I.A., the regs. Okay about the therapy, kind of surprised by that. Worried about you," he admitted, then moved on quickly. "Really scared of this hearing, like they might nail me on something. Horny all the time," he said, and showed Fraser a lopsided smile, "which is just something I live with. You know, pretty much the usual for me. Your basic state of confusion."

Fraser sat back in his chair, looking gloomy. "Hmm."

"Well, what about you?" Ray countered, putting down his slice. "How do you feel?"

Fraser started eating his pizza again, but mainly as a way not to talk, Ray figured. Finally Fraser ate the last bit of crust and licked grease from his fingertips. "I don't know," he said, looking up. "I suppose that's the problem, really."

Ray reached for another piece of pizza to camouflage his surprise. Fraser'd just admitted that he had a problem, and Fraser normally wasn't a big one for admitting problems. Ray dragged the slice onto his plate and floundered for something to say. "Well," he said finally, trying to keep his voice casual, "I don't really know how I feel, either. Just I took longer to say it than you."

This was maybe a better answer, because at least now Fraser looked amused. "I suppose," Fraser said. "Though you just used a number of 'feeling' words— 'surprised,' 'confused,' 'worried,' 'scared'—"

"Freaked, pissed, horny," Ray finished, and stifled a grin. He wondered if he could get Fraser to repeat that. "Don't forget horny."

"I'm not entirely sure that counts as a feeling word," Fraser said gravely.

"You bet it counts as a feeling word! It's a feeling, believe me."

Fraser's tongue was poking gently at the corner of his mouth. "Well, I suppose I'll have to take your word for it."

"Oh yeah, right." He'd known Fraser too long to buy any of that bullshit—though Fraser sold it really well, straight face and everything. "Look, since I seem to have some extra 'feeling words' lying around—is that what he calls 'em?" Ray said, interrupting himself. "Feeling words?"

Fraser sighed and nodded grimly, and that told Ray everything he needed to know about Dr. Berger.

Ray slouched back in his chair and shook his head. "Geez. I could give him a feeling word or two," and Fraser was actually struggling not to smile now. Good. Good. "I got plenty of feeling words—go on and borrow a couple," Ray suggested. "Tell him you're freaked out. Tell him you're pissed off. Tell him you're mad as hell and you're not going to take it anymore."

Fraser's eyes widened slightly like he was having a revelation—and really, Fraser was the best straight man in the business. "Why, that's true, Ray. I am feeling rather freakish, now that you mention it."

Ray bit the inside of his cheek and nodded slowly, trying to seem thoughtful. "Plus you're mad as hell, aren't you."

"Yes. Completely pissed off." Damn, Fraser was going for it, playing to win—and now he was leaning in for the kill. "Thank you, Ray." Fraser's voice was thrumming with sincerity. "You've expanded my emotional world."

Ray slapped the table, laughing so hard that he was sure he was showing Fraser all of his teeth, even the bridgework. "Okay, you win, you're the master," he admitted, and handed Fraser his brand-new gold pencil.

"Detective Ray Vecchio?" The guy heaving himself out of the chair was one of those old guys you saw around the force; maybe sixty now, Irish, full head of white hair, tough as nails, on the streets for thirty years before dedicating his life to keeping the younger guys out of trouble. Ray felt instantly relieved. "Jack Flannery," he said, and extended a hand to Ray across the table; he had an anchor tattooed in pale blue across the back.

"You're my rep?" Ray asked, gripping his hand tightly.

"You got it." Flannery looked over his shoulder at Fraser, and Ray could see instantly that Flannery didn't think much of him. He mistook Fraser for being richer and whiter than he was, which was always the problem with Fraser, when in fact Fraser had less money and education than most of them. If Fraser'd been an American G.I., he'd've opened his mouth and had himself a decent southern twang, which would've given Flannery the right picture: poor white kid, military family, low-level soldier. Except what did Flannery know from a rank like Constable, plus Fraser's big words tended to put people off.

Whatever; he'd deal with it. "This is my partner, Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police," Ray told Flannery, and really, that "Royal" didn't help either, though not like it was Fraser who was royalty.

"Your partner?" Flannery asked, giving Fraser a second look—and if Ray knew guys like this, which he did, Flannery was now torn between his suspicion at Fraser's appearance and his die-hard respect for a guy's partner.

"Yeah," Ray said, and waited.

Flannery gave Fraser a last look and turned his attention back to Ray. "Normally this is private—totally confidential, you and me."

"Yeah," Ray agreed, "except there's nothing you can say to me you can't say in front of Fraser, plus also he was there and has to testify, plus also he's not American as you might have noticed, so he doesn't have his own rep. So I was thinking you could maybe see us together, help us out."

Flannery shot one more quick look at Fraser and then nodded, shrugging, and waved them both toward the metal chairs. Flannery took his own seat again, popped a toothpick into his mouth, and propped his elbows on the table. "So. Vecchio. Four kids—you really need to do that?"

The room went very bright and sharp, and the first thing he was really conscious of was an annoying pain in his left arm. He turned. Red. Fraser was leaning forward and gripping his elbow tightly. "Ray?"

Ray sucked in a deep breath and some of the scary brightness went away. "What the hell kind of question is that?!" he demanded, jerking back to face Flannery; he felt like leaping over the desk and beating the old bastard's face in. "You're supposed to help me, you fuckin' sucker-punch me, you fucking, fucking—"

"Wrong answer, Ray," Flannery said quietly, and the old bastard's face was kind. "But we're gonna work on it, so don't worry."

Ray pushed his way into the men's room, knowing that Fraser was right behind him—if he moved fast he could lock himself in the stall before Fraser got there, and hopefully Fraser would think he was taking the mother of all shits and leave him the hell alone.

He slammed the stall door shut and slid the battered metal lock into place, though it took him two tries before the damn thing connected. He turned and looked at the cracked white toilet, and for a second he really did think that he would throw up.

"Ray?" Fraser's voice was weirdly echoey against the tile. "Are you—"

"I'm taking the mother of all shits, Fraser," Ray said, violently undoing his belt buckle and shoving his jeans down his legs. "I wouldn't wait around if I were you." He sat down on the toilet and listened hard, but he didn't hear Fraser leave.

"I—all right," Fraser said finally. "Will you pick me up in the morning?"

"Yeah. Sure." Ray leaned forward and braced his elbows on his thighs; he really should take Fraser home, except he couldn't think right now, let alone drive, with all this bullshit spinning in his head.

"Justifiable force," Flannery'd explained flatly. "Those punks fired at you—they fired at a cop, Ray. You've got every right in the world to blow their heads off, except you can't quite say it that way before the board. So you've got to explain it to them in very small words, nice and calm. You lose your cool like that, they'll think something's wrong."

And maybe they were right to think that. Except they were punks, and they had fired first. And they'd fired at a cop, just like Flannery said.

Ray tried the phrase out on his tongue. "Justifiable force," he muttered. "I used justifiable force..."

He never even heard Fraser walk out.

Tuesday, April 23rd.

The knock at his office door surprised him; the Consulate didn't open for another half an hour, and he couldn't imagine who would be there before opening hours unless it was Turnbull, which was a depressing thought. He wasn't sure he could stand having what passed for a conversation with Turnbull right now. "Who is it?" he asked, trying to keep his voice sounding normal.

"It's Ray."

"Ray?" Fraser set his mug of tea down on the desk and went to open the door. "You're early."

Ray was standing there carrying a brown paper bag, looking a lot better than he had yesterday afternoon. "I know. But I have a plan. Can I come in?"

"Of course." Fraser stepped back, let Ray into his cramped office, and shut the door after him.

"I brought breakfast," Ray explained as he unpacked his bag on Fraser's desk; two large coffees in lidded paper cups, two circular objects wrapped in white butcher's paper. Ray held one up and said, "Guess."

Fraser sniffed the air. "Egg sandwiches?"

"You win an egg sandwich," Ray said, and tossed it to him. It was warm, and smelled a lot more appetizing than the biscuits he'd been having with his tea. For that matter, the smell of strong coffee in his nostrils was making the tea itself seem largely irrelevant.

"Thank you," Fraser said, unwrapping the sandwich. Egg and ham and melted cheese. Wonderful.

"So here's my plan." Ray sat down in Fraser's desk chair, while Fraser returned to sit on his not-yet-folded-up cot. "We eat breakfast and then I get you out of here before the Consulate opens. Good plan, huh?"

"Well." Fraser smiled down into his coffee. "It does have certain merits, I admit."

Ray tore the paper off his own sandwich, seized hold of it, tore it in half. "Yeah, like getting you out of two hours of boring paperwork and answering phones."

Not to mention the pleasure of Constable Turnbull's conversation. "Still," Fraser added, not entirely sure it was ethical to seize this particular lifeline, "therapy's not till eleven. We don't have any official duties until—"

The sandwich stopped on its way to Ray's mouth. "Sure we do. Welsh said we should make ourselves useful, right? So we go to the station and be useful. You'd be more useful there then you'd be useful here, plus we can hang out. Is it a deal?"

He was more than willing to be persuaded. "It's a deal, Ray, yes. Thank you," Fraser said.

"Hartley!" Fraser watched Ray wander through the bullpen with his clipboard. "Who's Hartley? You Hartley?" Ray asked, stopping by a man with a rather intensely effusive beard.

"What of it?" the man sneered.

Ray didn't even blink. "Nothing of it. Go to hell." He flipped a page of the clipboard and began calling out, "Watkins! Mistah Jeremiah Watkins—"

"All right, okay, I'm Hartley!" the bearded man said.

Ray raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, what of it?"

The bearded man rattled the chain binding his wrist to the chair. "Ah, c'mon already. I've been here all night!"

Ray sighed and flipped back to the previous page. "Hartley, Robert—Bob-the-biker-man. Drunk, disorderly, noise violation, damaging public property, and assault on the arresting officer." Ray shook his head, tsking softly. "Bet you make your mother cry, too, you bastard..."

"Constable?" Fraser turned and saw that Lieutenant Welsh had come up beside him, and was looking at him curiously. "How'd the therapy go?"

"All right," Fraser didn't want to talk about it. "I think we're both looking forward to being on active duty again."

Welsh nodded slowly, contemplatively. "That's good. Glad to hear it," and something in his voice kept Fraser standing at attention. "Because I'd hate to lose you. Either of you. I mean that."

Fraser wasn't sure what to say to that, so he just glanced down at his watch. "Speaking of therapy," he told Welsh, not quite changing the subject, "it's nearly time."

Second Session

"Why don't we do some simple word association?"

Constable Fraser seemed relieved at the suggestion. "I've done that before," he said. "It's rather fascinating, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is," Berger said and reached for his notebook. "Let's start with the basics. Dog."

"Sled," Fraser said promptly.


"Fish," Fraser said.


"Snow," Fraser said.

"Home," Berger said. Fraser didn't answer, so he looked up. "Home," Berger repeated, more pointedly.

Fraser just sat there, staring down at his hands. "I don't know," he said slowly. "I'd have to think about that."

Really, the guy was a huge pain in the you-know-what. "You're not supposed to think about it," Berger sighed. "That's part of the test. Just tell me the first word that comes into your mind. Home."

And still Fraser said nothing. Berger blew out a soft whuff of frustration.

"Canada," Fraser said finally, but no way was that the first word that came to his mind.

"—but she didn't want kids, I wanted kids, and so there you had it, car crash, high-speed collision. Arguments just got worse, I moved out, she..."

Ray trailed off, frowning down at the floor between his booted feet. Melissa just waited.

Finally he lifted his head and looked up at her, seeming surprised.

"What?" Melissa prompted.

Ray shook his head quickly, but that was just his body talking in its own defensive language. His brain hadn't yet weighed in with an opinion. She waited him out.

"Just," Ray said slowly, and then his eyebrows flew up—whatever he was thinking, he was shocking himself with it. "Just, I'm really fucking bored with telling that story."

Melissa found herself grinning at him, and after a moment he grinned back at her, then broke out in an awkward laugh. "No, but," he protested, still smiling faintly, "that's weird, that's really weird."

"Boredom may be your friend," Melissa suggested gently. "Luckily for us, even traumas get old."

"Yeah, but..." Ray's eyes went unfocused behind his glasses as he struggled to think it over. "That's like...wrong."

"Well, it's been years now, hasn't it? Since your divorce? And it's been twenty-five years since the bank..."

"Yeah, but..." He seemed to be fumbling for the right words. "That was my important story, that used to be the important story. That was the story I had to tell you if I wanted you to know me. Why is that not an important story anymore ?"

She didn't answer the question; that was for him to tell her.

Still, he seemed to want an answer. "When did that stop being my important story?" Ray demanded.

"I don't know, Ray," Melissa replied honestly.

Ray looked genuinely exasperated. "So what the hell do I need you for?"

"All right, let's move on," Berger said. "Father."

Another long pause. Constable Fraser was tensing up, big-time, right in front of his eyes.

"Mountie," Fraser said finally.

Berger didn't believe it for a minute. He glanced down at his notebook: I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father. But it was too soon to get into that with this guy, who seemed so totally disassociated from himself. "Mother."

An even longer pause. Man, this was going nowhere. "Constable," Berger chided. "Response time is key, here."

Fraser nodded quickly, acting like he understood, like he maybe might say something, except then he didn't. "Um..."

"The first word that comes into your mind," Berger prompted gently. "Mother..."

Fraser took a breath, and if Berger was expecting a word on the exhale it didn't come. "Uh..."

"Brother," Berger interrupted, hoping to surprise Fraser into an answer. "Fast, quick!" he encouraged.

Fraser was fast, all right; instantly on his feet, hat in hand. "I'm sorry, I have to go."

"Go?" Berger looked at his watch; it wasn't nearly time yet. "But—"

Fraser was already at the door. "I have another appointment. I just remembered that I...forgot it." Fraser was turning slightly red. The guy was not a good liar. "It's rather important, I'm sorry. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay, yeah—tomorrow," Berger said uneasily, and in a flash, Fraser was gone.

"Ray, you're the one with the answers, all right?" Melissa was trying really hard to be patient.

Ray was leaning forward in his chair, impatience incarnate. "Yeah, and so I repeat—what do I need you for? If this is like me figuring out this shit myself?"

"Because I ask the questions," she explained firmly. "So let me ask you a question, Ray: if this isn't your important story anymore, then what is?"

The question sent Ray sprawling back into his chair. "Huh, okay. Interesting."

She smiled helplessly. "See, I told you."

Ray crossed his arms over his chest, tilted his head to the side, and seemed to give the question serious thought. "It's a Desert Island Disks kind of question, isn't it," he said, almost to himself. "Like—you've got one chance to tell people about who you are, what do you tell them?"

She sat back in her chair, watching his face, seeing tiny lines appear around his eyes.

"What's important now?" Ray muttered, staring down at his knees. "I don't even know," he said finally, shaking his head at himself. "The job, I guess. Fraser."

"I thought you hated your job," she murmured, and he was instantly angry again.

"I do hate it," Ray said, glaring at her.

"Except it was the first thing you claimed as important," Melissa reminded him.

"Important doesn't mean I like it," Ray said defensively.

"Are you sure about that, Ray?" she asked.

This time, when he glared at her, she glared right back at him. Fight fire with fire, she figured.

Finally, he relented, sighing tiredly. "You're a real pain in the ass, Melissa, you know that?"

"You think it over, Ray," Melissa said sweetly. "Your time is up."

Fraser wasn't in the hallway yet. Ray glanced at his watch and then at Dr. Berger's closed door. He kept remembering Fraser's shell-shocked look from yesterday, and his imagination now conjured visions of Fraser having a full-fledged nervous breakdown behind the door, which would be not at all good.

Finally he couldn't stand it anymore and he rapped on Berger's door. "Come in!" a voice called.

Ray opened the door and poked his head in. No Fraser. "Oh, hey, sorry," he said, taking in Dr. Berger, who looked like a corduroy-and-tweed-wearing-twerp of the first magnitude. "I was looking for Constable Fraser—"

"He's already gone," Dr. Berger said. "He left early."

"Oh. Right. Thanks," Ray said and pulled the door shut. Then he opened it again. "He's okay, right?"

Dr. Berger sat back in his chair and studied him. "I can't discuss the progress of my patients," he said, finally. "I'm sorry."

"Oh," Ray said. "Okay, right." He pulled the door shut again, and then thought, oh, fuck it, and opened it again. "Except I'm his partner, right?" he told Berger, who was now staring at him like he was the crazy one around here. "The guy who shot all those kids? Which maybe he mentioned?"

Berger shook his head in mute refusal. Right. Okay. Ray moved to pull the door closed and then didn't. "I'm also, like, the nearest thing Fraser has to family in this country," he explained. "Or maybe in any country. Cause he doesn't have any family, really. So, like, if there's any family-type thing to report, you could maybe report it to me."

"Uh-huh," Dr. Berger said, staring at him. "And you are?"

"Ray Vecchio. Fraser's partner. Cop partner," Ray amended quickly, feeling his face go warm. "Not like—anything funny. You know. We're cops."

"Right," Dr. Berger said, nodding slowly. "You're cops," and this time Ray shut the door and fled down the hall.

He found Fraser in the men's room, bent over the sink. When Fraser raised his head, it looked to Ray like he'd already washed his face about 27 times, he looked so damned scrubbed. "Hey," Ray said, letting the door shut behind him. "Where've you been?"

Fraser turned away and wrestled a paper towel out of the rack on the wall. "Just waiting for you, Ray. I got out early."

I got out early—except Berger'd just said that Fraser'd left early, which was not at all the same thing. "Oh yeah?" Ray asked, trying to sound casual about it. "So how'd it go?"

Fraser dried his face carefully on the white paper towel, then folded it in halves and then in quarters before dropping into the trash. Which was not at all good, Ray thought; when Fraser got all anal about dumb things like that, it meant he was really messed up inside.

"It was fine," Fraser said, avoiding his eyes. "How was yours?"

"You first," Ray said. Fraser tilted his head noncommittally, which was just another way of refusing to answer, but this time Ray was ready for him. He grabbed Fraser's shoulders and hung on. "You don't have to do it," Ray said, ducking and dodging his head until Fraser finally met his eyes. "You hear me? This whole thing is my mess, and you just hit the exit ramp any time you feel like it, all right?"

Fraser's eyes seemed to be an even darker blue than usual. "It's not that simple."

"It is that simple. It is just that simple," Ray replied doggedly. "You heard Flannery—no way am I not justified here. I'm justified. This was justifiable homicide." Amazing how much easier that had gotten to say in twenty-four hours. "I'm gonna be fine, Fraser."

For a long moment Ray held his breath, terrified that Fraser was maybe going to contradict him. But Fraser just looked at him, and then he nodded. "Yes, of course. But still. We should keep our options open."

He wasn't sure what options exactly Fraser was talking about, and right now he couldn't bear to ask. "Not if you're hating this, we shouldn't. It's not worth it." None of it was worth a damn if Fraser was miserable—not the testimony, not even the partnership.

Fraser just leaned back against the sink and scrubbed at his face again, like maybe he was still trying to wash something off. "I don't hate it, per se. It's just...difficult for me."

Ray bet it was. He wasn't finding therapy to be any piece of cake himself, plus his therapist wasn't a big dork like Berger. If this was rough for him, it had to be hell on Fraser. "Well, yeah," Ray sighed, reaching out to straighten Fraser's lanyard. "Me too, if it makes you feel any better. This woman Melissa, she makes me think about things that I don't wanna think about."

Fraser nodded so hard that Ray thought his hat would fly off. "Yes, exactly. It's not—can they do this?" he asked, almost pleading.

"Apparently, yeah," Ray said glumly.

"It's—invasive." Fraser was looking seriously creeped out.

"You don't have to do it," Ray insisted. "I swear to you, Fraser: you do not have to do this thing if you don't—"

"We ought to go," Fraser said, straightening up. "You'll miss your appointment with Mr. Flannery."

"We finally cornered them in the alley between Clifton and Mott."

Flannery looked up from his notes. "Jamison and Parker? Both of them?"

"Yes," Ray said.

"No," Fraser murmured from his corner.

"No," Ray corrected himself, and then he glanced over at Fraser, frowning. "Whattya mean, no?"

"You cornered Mr. Jamison in the alley. I apprehended Parker further along Mott Street."

"Yeah, but we all ended up in the alley. You came back with Parker and we all ended up in the alley."

"We ended up in the alley," Fraser agreed.

"And I handcuffed Jamison. And you handcuffed Parker. And we were, like, talking to 'em, because this wasn't just a normal bust. Because okay, yeah, they were dealing, but this was bigger than individual dealers. It was a gang thing, Blades and Tanks, and I thought..." Ray looked over at Fraser again. "Well, Fraser really thought. He thought that—you know, maybe if we talked to them..."

Fraser obligingly continued the narrative. "Mr. Jamison and Mr. Parker commanded considerable respect within the Blade hierarchy," Fraser explained. "We thought that, perhaps, if we treated them with some respect, that they might use their influence to diffuse the building tensions between the two clubs."

"Which was why no squad cars," Ray interrupted. "Which was why we didn't call in for backup. The plan was just to take them back to the station in my car. Handcuffed, yeah, but other than that..."

"That's good," Flannery muttered, scribbling another quick note. "Board'll love that shit."

Ray shot a glance over at Fraser, who'd gone still. Fraser'd taken offense. "It wasn't shit," Ray protested, "it was..."

Flannery looked up at him. "Then what happened?"

Ray wasn't gonna be taken off track. "It wasn't shit," he insisted, "it was real, it was a real attempt to—"

Flannery waved his gnarled hand, trying to stop him. "Save it for the board, Ray."

"Yeah, but you're making it seem..." He didn't have the word for what he wanted to say. Fake, but that wasn't right. He looked over at Fraser, pleading for Fraser to drop one of his five dollar words on Flannery's head.

"Crass," Fraser said quietly, staring down at the table top. "Self-serving."

Ray could have kissed him. "Crass," he told Flannery. "Self-serving. Like I'm making it up, but I'm not—we were trying to do something there."

"All right." But Flannery was just yessing him now. "That's great, Ray. And it doesn't hurt none that it makes you look good."

Ray felt his stomach tighten up; there was no way out of this, suddenly everything was a Catch 22, a lose-lose.

Flannery sighed and put down his pen. "That's my job, Ray. To make you look good for the board."

Ray felt like if he didn't get out of that room he was gonna punch somebody. "Yeah, okay," he said. "Can we continue this next time?"

"Sure," Flannery said.

Ray went into the men's room—how long had his life been a series of men's rooms? What was wrong with your life, with your job, when the only place you had to collect yourself was the shitter?

Fraser was right behind him again, but this time Ray was glad he was there. "You hear how he tells it?" His voice felt tight; it was weirdly hard to talk. "He makes everything sound like a lie."

Fraser stepped close to him and lowered his voice. "We were trying to help, Ray. That isn't a lie."

For some reason, having Fraser's support made him lose it a little. He struggled to keep up a normal expression, except his face was falling apart the way your teeth sometimes did in dreams. "Just—it's like—he makes it sound like—"

"Shh." Fraser put his arm around Ray's shoulder, and Ray moved in closer to him, happy to hide his crumbling face. He slung his arms around Fraser's torso and returned the hug with a quick, tight squeeze.

"Just—I didn't lie," Ray muttered into Fraser's left ear.

Fraser's voice was calm. "I know."

I know. Fraser's confidence unnerved him—Fraser couldn't know, no way he could know. Or did he know, had he actually seen? Was Fraser lying to him or for him? Ray felt like blurting out everything—right here, right now, and let the cards fall where they—

Ray pressed his mouth to Fraser's ear. "I didn't lie. Not—exactly."

Fraser's arms instantly tightened around him. "Shhhh," Fraser said. "Don't."

Tuesday, April 26th

"Ray?" Frannie's bellybutton presented itself for his inspection.

For a moment, Ray considered talking straight to it, eliminating the middleman. Then he sighed and craned his neck up so that he could see Frannie's face. "What?"

"You gotta redo this," she said, flattening some paperwork on the desk in front of him. "You screwed it up."

She tapped the upper right hand corner of the photocopied sheet with a pink fingernail. Tuesday, he'd scrawled in the box. April 23. "April 23rd was last Friday," she explained.

Ray stared down at the paper for a long time. "Not for me, it wasn't," he said finally.

Fraser arrived at the station shortly after ten, carrying a stack of books under his left arm.

Ray got to his feet, really pleased to see him. "Hey, how're you doing? How was your weekend?" Ray's own weekend had mostly been spent locked in his apartment in a semi-alcoholic stupor—but hey, he had a therapist now, he might as well take advantage and let himself fall apart.

"Busy," Fraser said, setting the books down onto Ray's desk with a thud. "I've been at the library, mainly."

"Oh yeah? Got the urge for a little light reading?" Ray flipped his glasses onto his face, bent to squint at the titles, then straightened up and shrugged. "It's only six more sessions, Fraser."

"Yes, Ray," Fraser said grimly. "I know."

Third Session

When Constable Fraser returned for his next session, he was carrying a bunch of books. Berger turned his head sideways to read the titles. Civilization And Its Discontents. The Interpretation of Dreams. The Psychopathy of Everyday Life. The Ego And The Id. Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Beyond The Pleasure Principle.

Oh boy.

"I've taken the liberty of doing a little research," Fraser said, clearing a place on Berger's cluttered desk and putting the books down. "And I do apologize, Dr. Berger—I now see why you were asking about my mother."

Oh boy.

"I, of course, don't consciously have any sexual feelings toward her, but then again, I suppose my mind won't let me acknowledge them. It does seem to be a given in the literature, so I'm sure I must have these feelings, same as everyone else. And since she died when I was young, I suppose it's possible that I've never moved past a certain phase of infantile sexuality. Probable even. The bright side, however, is that it spares me the guilt of having killed my father to have sex with my mother, which I couldn't reasonably have done since she was already dead. So that's one less problem, isn't it?"

Oh boy.

"So, how was your weekend?" Melissa Wertzer asked.

"It was okay," Ray said, crossing his arms. "I mainly spent it drunk in my apartment, thinking about your question."

"Oh?" Melissa prompted.

"Oh?" Ray mimicked. "Is that like ah? Or hmm? I'm getting really great with these ohs, ahs, and hmmms."

Melissa bit down on a smile. "All right, Ray. Point taken. So you considered my question?"

"Yeah. I kept asking myself what was my important story. Over and over, till I was really sick of thinking about it."

"Did you come up with an answer?"

"Yeah," Ray said. "And it's Fraser."

Melissa nodded slowly, studying him. "Is Fraser the Mountie?" She'd known they'd come back to the Mountie sooner or later.

"The Mountie, yeah," Ray confirmed. "I think that's kind of the most interesting thing about me, right now. I mean, who else has a Canadian Mountie for a partner?"

"Other Canadian Mounties?" Melissa suggested.

Ray rolled his eyes. "Funny lady. Do I look like a Mountie to you? Do I look Canadian? No, I do not. In fact, I hate Canada, now that you mention it. I hate—you know. Curling and maple syrup and beavers."

"Don't we all," Melissa said sympathetically.

"I must say, though—Dr. Freud seems to have very strange ideas about wolves." Fraser frowned down at the books. "Wolves in particular seem to represent sexual urges in his writings—and yes, of course, all animals are instinctively sexual, but he really seems to have underestimated a wolf's particular drive for donuts and dead meat."

"Uh-huh," Dr. Berger said warily. "And you know a lot about wolves, do you?"

"Oh yes. I've lived with one for five years now. In fact, it could be reasonably said that I know wolves better than I know people. And I suspect Dr. Freud didn't know very many wolves at all." Fraser frowned, considering this. "Or else the wolves of his acquaintance were very neurotic personalities indeed."

"Uh-huh." Berger was scribbling furiously; there was definitely a paper here, except he hoped that the end of it wasn't going to be Constable Benton Fraser in the loony bin.

"Just—it takes some getting used to. Cause he's kind of weird on the surface. He licks things and he has a wolf, just to name two examples."

Melissa made notes about the licking and the wolf. "And you and he just went through a difficult experience recently, didn't you?"

"Yeah." The enthusiasm went straight out of Ray's face, and his shoulders slumped. "It was bad. Worse for him, I think."

"Worse for Fraser?"

"He—yeah." Ray stared down at his lap. "This one kid got shot and..."

Ray fell silent, and this time Melissa let him be quiet for a minute or two before prodding the conversation along. "This one kid got shot?" she murmured.

"Yeah," Ray answered, almost automatically, "this one kid got shot and...god...there was blood all over him..."

"The kid?" Melissa murmured.


"Oh," Melissa said.

"Besides, his whole dream-interpretation schema seems very culturally biased to me. I rarely dream of wolves," Fraser was saying, and Berger was trying to force himself to keep listening, "and when I do, I'm sure they signify something else entirely, being as the cultural context is so different. The Inuit say—"

Berger could see a whole long cross-cultural comparison of dream-symbolism coming over the horizon, and he wasn't a Freudian in any case. "Constable. Ben," he interrupted, and Fraser stopped and looked at him inquiringly. "We're not here to talk about Freud. We're here to talk about you."

Fraser licked his lips nervously and then nodded. "Would you like me to lie down?"

Berger sighed. "That's not necessary."

"Freud seemed to think that lying down was essential to the process."

"I don't have a sofa." Berger tried to control his irritation. "Do you see a sofa?"

"Well, that's not a problem. I could lie down on the floor if you like," Fraser suggested. "I wouldn't mind. Your carpets are quite—"

"Notice how we're still not talking about you," Berger pointed out sharply, and at least Fraser had the decency to look guilty about it.

"You had to use your weapon," Melissa said gently.

Ray was now looking very uncomfortable. "Yeah."

"People were killed that night."


"How do you feel about that?"

"How the hell do you think I feel about that?" Ray shot back.

"I don't know, Ray." It was always important to make them say it, for them to actually articulate what they felt. "Why don't you tell me?"

"I felt—" Ray's whole body had gone tight. He looked like he might suddenly lash out in a thousand directions all at once. "I felt—" He looked away, and his face contorted painfully for a second before he got control of himself, sucking in a deep breath. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Okay, Ray," Melissa said gently. "That's fine. Time's up for now."

Fraser knew Ray was upset the moment he walked out of Dr. Wertzer's office; Ray was staring at the floor, head bent, looking like he wanted to hit someone very badly. Fraser wanted to touch him, but when Ray was like this he was afraid to. "Do you want lunch?" Fraser asked quietly.

"Yeah, okay. Sure." Ray looked like he was struggling to get control of himself. "Chinese?"

"That's fine," Fraser said, and they went down to his car.

Ray's state of angry distraction persisted on the ride to Hunan Palace—a couple of times he banged his hand hard on the steering wheel, making Fraser jump and cling firmly to his side of the car. Ray's face was thunderous, but he didn't seem to know it.

Fraser turned to face the window. "It didn't go well, I take it."

Ray's voice came back sharply. "No, it did not fucking go well, Fraser."

Fraser kept his eyes resolutely turned away, giving Ray privacy for his emotions. "Can I help?"

Ray didn't answer the question; Ray didn't say anything else until they'd parked near the restaurant. Then he switched off the GTO's engine and turned around, and Fraser thought there was something damn near desperate in his expression. "Fraser, that night...with Parker..."

Don't, Fraser thought, feeling suddenly desperate himself. Please don't say any more. If we don't talk about it, then for all intents and purposes it didn't happen.

But Ray didn't ask any questions, or tell Fraser anything. Instead he just lifted his fist and pounded the steering wheel three times, hard—bang, bang, bang!—and then said, "Fuck this. I want spare ribs."

They had spare ribs, and Fraser told Ray all about how Inuit dream-interpretation differed substantially from the Freudian model. Ray seemed interested.

"We were taking them back to the car." Every sentence was an agony. "Me with Jamison, Fraser with Parker." He was conscious of Fraser sitting down the table from him, staring down at his hands, saying nothing. "I was parked close by, just down the block, and the four of us were walking. They were handcuffed, okay, but it was pretty normal—we were treating them good, just like I said."

"You're doing fine," Flannery murmured. "Keep going, nice and slow—what happened next?"

Ray took a deep breath, his heart pounding in his chest. He reminded himself that he just had to tell what he saw, not what he felt. "We were maybe ten feet away from my car when I heard this screeching sound." How he felt was nobody's business. "Tires, and I turned to look, and then—" It was all a blur—sights and sounds, mixed with feelings. "And then—" Fragments hitting him, weird disjointed memories: the screech of tires, turning and seeing Fraser—

"You're doing fine," Flannery repeated.

Ray steeled himself. "I heard the cars stop. I turned, saw Fraser and Parker and—I saw the blood before I heard the shot."

"You saw blood?" Flannery asked. "Whose blood?"

And that was the whole question, really. "Parker's." Christ, this was hard, this was hard. "First I heard the screech. Then I saw the blood, because they'd shot Parker in the head, and there was blood everywhere. Then I heard the gun go off—the first shot—but this was all quick, real quick, nanoseconds."

Flannery nodded grimly. "Then what happened?"

"I reached for my gun." Ray could see it all in his head, like a movie—him standing on the sidewalk, pulling his gun, shooting over the dingy white hood of a Ford Escort. "There were two cars pulled up, sort of in a V, with us at the center. And I pulled out my gun, and I emptied the clip."

Flannery was nodding, scribbling, looking satisfied. "You emptied your entire clip?"

"Yeah. Standard clip, nine shots. There were two cars, at least two guns, they'd fired first—"

"Did they fire again?" Flannery interrupted.

"Yeah. They got off four more shots—ballistics says four, not like I heard it, because I was firing too and it was just blam, blam, blam. Chaos."

"They killed Jamison?"

"Yeah." Though he hadn't known that till afterwards. "Yeah, they shot him in the belly, and he bled out on the sidewalk."

Flannery raised a hand. "Okay, wait, slow down. Go through it again. They pulled up and killed Parker. You returned fire, they kept firing."

"Right," Ray repeated, automatically. "I fired, they fired. I emptied my clip, like I said."

"What color were the cars?" Flannery asked.

"One black, one red. The red car never moved—it was right where the uniforms found it. The black car tried to go—they backed up fast but they crashed."

"How many people were in each car?" Flannery asked.

Ray closed his eyes. It was like he was there, on the sidewalk, still shooting—god, he could see everything. "Two guys in the black car, both in front. Four guys in the red car, two in the front, two in back."

Flannery wrote this down. "And you hit...?"

"All of them," Ray said mechanically. "I hit all of them."

Flannery looked impressed, but who gave a shit what Flannery thought. It was Fraser who mattered, and he couldn't even look at Fraser. "All of them?" Flannery repeated.

"Yeah. I killed the four sitting in the front seats, wounded the two guys in back."

Flannery put his pen down. "You hit six guys with nine shots?" he repeated.


"And killed four?"


"At night?"


"How many stray shots?"

"None." Every goddamned bullet in his clip had been pulled out of a body, dead or alive.

"Goddamn." Flannery let out a long, slow whistle. "You must be one hell of a good shot, Ray."

Ray looked away—and then to his surprise he heard Fraser's voice.

"Yes, he is. When he's wearing his glasses. Without them, he can't hit the broad side of a barn."

Flannery gave a long, rolling chuckle. "He oughta get contact lenses."

"Can't wear 'em," Ray said quietly. "They hurt my eyes."

"Too bad." Flannery scratched at his thatch of gray hair, and then sat back in his seat and regarded Ray thoughtfully. "So. Vecchio. Wanna try it again?"

Ray frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Four kids, Ray. You really need to do that?"

"Yeah." The answer came out easily now, somehow. "They were armed, they opened fire at us. I used justifiable force."

Flannery grinned at him, looking like death's own messenger. "Give that boy a cigar."

Tuesday, April 27th

"It's a week," Ray muttered to the floor. "It's a full week—Tuesday to Tuesday to Tuesday." Ray looked up suddenly. "I'm never gonna get out of Tuesday, Fraser. It's gonna be Tuesday forever, isn't it?"

"No, Ray," Fraser said quietly. "Not forever. Just for another week or so."

Fourth Session

"A criminal," Constable Fraser said.

Berger nodded warily. "Uh-huh. And this one?"

"An officer of the law," he replied.

"I see. What about this one?"


Berger dropped the rest of the inkblots onto the table and leaned back tiredly in his chair. "Constable, I am trying to find some way to communicate with you. But you don't seem to want to communicate."

"I'm doing my best," Fraser said, somewhat defensively.

Berger decided to offer Fraser the absolute easiest question he could think of, considering the guy was so law-and-order obsessed. "Why'd you decide to become a Mountie?"

But Fraser just looked blank. "Decide?" he repeated.

"Yeah. Decide. I mean, out of all the professions you could have chosen—"

Now Fraser actually looked baffled. "Chosen?"

"Look, are you just going to repeat everything I say?" Berger regretted the words the moment he said them, because now Fraser looked not only defensive and baffled but actually upset. "Look, I'm sorry," he began, but to his surprise Mr. Polite himself cut him off.

"No, I'm sorry," Fraser said, leaning forward in his chair with sudden fervor, "except that you don't seem to have the vaguest idea of—" He stopped, apparently abashed at his outburst.

Berger pushed him, hoping that maybe they'd get somewhere today after all. "If I don't understand, then you have to tell me! That's what I mean by communication."

"Well, it's just that—" Fraser bit his lip nervously, and then seemed to steel his resolve. "These questions you're asking don't seem to relate in any way to life as I understand it."

Berger sat up in his chair; hell, they were getting somewhere today! "All right." he said excitedly. "Okay! So tell me how you understand it."

Melissa decided to go on the offensive right away; they were halfway through, and they'd never get to the real issues here if she didn't start clearing away the camouflage. "You know, Ray, I don't think you've told me two true things since we started."

That got his attention; Ray sat up in his chair, the very picture of righteous indignation. "You saying I'm lying?"

"No, Ray," she admitted gently, shaking her head. "Not intentionally."

Ray scowled, his eyes narrowing into slits. "So what're you saying?"

"Well, I'm just thinking of all those things you told me on your first day here." She made a great show of picking up her notebook and consulting it, but truth be told she had it all memorized. "You said you hated being a cop, but you're a good cop— your job's important to you and you're devoted to your partner. You said you hated being divorced, but I'm not sure that's true, either—in fact, Ray," Melissa said, dropping the pad on the desk in front of her and leaning forward, "are you sure that it was Stella who wanted the divorce and not you?"

For one long, terrifying moment she thought he might leap over the desk and strangle her.

As so often happened, once the patient really got started it was almost impossible to stop him. "You talk about deciding to be a Mountie—I never decided to be a Mountie, the concept is ludicrous. I am a Mountie, my father was a Mountie, and his father before him."

Berger shook his head. "Yeah, but—"

But Fraser was talking with near-furious indignation. "And then you want to talk about feelings—as if feelings matter. But they don't—or at least I've never found that my feelings do, not in the way you seem to think they do. Introspection of the kind you suggest is all well and good but it changes neither facts nor circumstances. What matters—what really matters—is how one plays the cards one was dealt, works within the constraints one was given. What matters is conduct—the way one acts towards one's friends and neighbors, the attitude one takes toward the world at large. Now, I grant you," Fraser said, raising one hand, as if to forestall some objection, as if Berger was capable of making one right now, "that when one has duties to perform one can approach them in good-humor or in ill-humor, which is largely a matter of personal choice but affects the reality of things not one bit, which is my very point. At the end of the day, each day, things are done or they are left undone, and in the process one has either spread good-will or ill-will in one's immediate vicinity—so certainly any real moral position demands that one make the firm decision to take things in the best possible spirit, introspection be damned. What on earth would be point of deciding otherwise?"

Berger felt like he was trying to control a bolting horse. "Wait, wait—Constable—"

Fraser threw himself back in his chair, his arms crossed protectively over his chest. "Go ahead. I'll entertain a rebuttal for argument's sake."

Well, if she'd wanted a reaction, she'd gotten one. Ray was flushed red to the very roots of his dyed blond hair; he looked—well—apoplectic. "You are so full of shit, lady. Christ, I can't even believe this. If I wanted to divorce her, why'd she send me papers, huh? Ms. Answer-lady? Ms. Lady-With-All-The-Answers?"

"I don't know," Melissa said calmly. "You tell me, Ray."

"I did tell you!" Ray looked like he might just stroke out right in front of her. "Or weren't you listening? I wanted kids, she didn't want kids—"

"Yes, but in that case, you're still the one with motive for divorce. And in my experience, men who want children generally do one of two things. Either they stay with their wives and try to change their minds, or they divorce their spouses, marry again, and start a family in short order. You did neither. And none of this explains why Stella divorced you."

"She got sick of hearing me talk about it!" Ray shouted.

Melissa tilted her head to the side. "So why didn't you stop talking about it? If you were so eager to keep her?"

In a flash he was out of his chair, but he wasn't heading for the door—instead he was pacing the room like a trapped animal. She hoped desperately that he wouldn't start trashing the place.

He stopped suddenly and stabbed a finger at her. "She fell out of love with me, okay? That's the goddamned truth—we were kids when we met and after fifteen years I didn't love her no more."

Melissa held her breath and went very still, wondering if he would notice what he'd said.

He did, going suddenly still. "She didn't love me no more," he said, sounding strangled. "That's what I meant. You got me so fuckin' worked up here that I don't know what I'm saying."

"I don't want an argument," Berger explained gently, "I'm just trying to understand where you're coming from. Most people feel that they had at least some choice about who they are and what path in life they've taken."

"Well, most people didn't grow up in a one-room cabin over fifty miles from the nearest outpost," Fraser replied.

Berger nodded slowly. "So you never felt you could have chosen to be...I don't know. Say, a dentist?"

Fraser arched an eyebrow. "Why on earth would I have wanted to become a dentist?"

Berger shrugged. "People do."

Fraser sounded as if he were simply amazed at Berger's stupidity. "No, they don't," he retorted. "They become dentists for the same reason I became a Mountie—because it's what their fathers did, or because it was a reasonable thing to do within the scope of their circumstances. I think you overestimate the effects of personal choice to a very great extent, sir."

To his surprise, Berger began to feel somewhat defensive. "And I think you're underestimating, Constable. You seem to see life purely through the lens of duty and circumstance."

Fraser was instantly in agreement. "Yes, that's right. You've got it."

"But that's—" Berger sputtered. "That's just—"

"—life as I see it," Fraser said with a deadly sort of finality. "You did ask."

"I think that's just what you want to believe, Ray," Melissa said quietly. "I think it's the story you told everyone, including yourself—and you've been telling it for so long that you actually believe it. But it's not true, is it?"

Ray'd turned around so that she couldn't see his face, and when he spoke, she could barely hear his voice. "You tell me what's true, then."

She felt fairly sure that she could tell him the truth, and fairly sure that Ray was ready to hear it—he was the one, after all, who'd admitted that this was no longer his most important story. "You wanted out, but you couldn't face it directly. Stella knew, and so she handed you your walking papers. That's what happened, isn't it?"

Ray stood there for a long time, utterly unmoving. Melissa stared at his back and waited for him to react one way or the other. "Yeah, maybe," he said in a hoarse whisper. "Maybe it was more like that..."

She nodded, vastly relieved. "And whose idea was it for you to become a cop?"

This time his answer came faster, though he still wasn't moving so much as a muscle. "Mine. I wanted to do it—it was my father who hated the idea."

She nodded; she'd already guessed that Ray was ventriloquizing someone else when he talked about hating the job, humping the job—and now she knew whose voice she'd been hearing. He'd been honest about his dad-issues, anyway. "So you wanted the divorce, and you wanted to be a cop. How long have you been reversing the truth, Ray?"

"I don't know...it's been so long I can hardly remember..." He turned his head, looking back at her over one black leather shoulder, and his face was terrifyingly feral. "Don't take this the wrong way, Melissa, but I hate your fucking guts and hope you die."

"But that's so nineteenth century!" Berger exclaimed. "You can't seriously believe—"

"May I ask what your father did for a living?" Fraser inquired politely.

Berger squirmed in his seat. "All right, he was a lawyer, but—"

"I see. So college was a given for you, I presume?"

"Okay, yeah, but—"

"And you grew up here, in Chicago?"

"Yeah, but—"

"And then you went to Berkeley and graduated cum laude, class of 1978. How very nice for you."

Berger felt his mouth fall open. "How'd you—"

"Your degree's on the wall behind you. Frankly speaking, doctor, I think you would have had to work very hard indeed to escape your current position within the middle-class intelligentsia, introspection be damned. Your family wouldn't have let you fall too far, would they?"

Berger didn't ever think he'd been so badly shaken up by a patient before. And of course, it was true, what Fraser said. His parents would never have let him fail—-

Christ, he had to pull it together.

Fraser was staring at him like something straight out of Dickens. It was like a horror movie in here: Revenge of The Victorians, Christian Socialist zombies crashing through the door. "All right, look," Berger said, grateful that his voice at least sounded solid. "I grant you that maybe background has a lot to do with how and where we end up. But you've got to grant me that it's not everything. After all, you're here, now, aren't you?"

"I had nothing to do with it," Fraser said firmly.

"Yeah," Berger said, rubbing his temples. "You stayed for 'reasons that don't need exploring at this particular juncture.' You wouldn't feel like explaining those reasons now, would you?"

Fraser crossed his arms. "Not particularly, no."

"I'm shocked," Berger sighed. "Okay, but look—however you got here, whatever your reasons were—you're actually here, now, aren't you? I mean, you no longer live in a one-room cabin in Canada. You live in a major American city."

Fraser pursed his lips and stared at the wall—god, why hadn't he realized that the Mountie was such a bastard. "Dental school well within reach, I suppose," Fraser said with barely-concealed irony.

"Yeah, that's right," Berger shot back. "You're right—it is. You live in Chicago, now, Constable—or haven't you noticed?" Fraser turned back to face him, looking uneasy. "So don't pretend you don't have any choices; you don't want any choices. You don't want choices, and you don't want to communicate—frankly, Constable, I think that doing either would scare the Canadian shit out of you."

He saw right away that he'd made a direct hit; Fraser's confidence wavered noticeably on his face.

Berger seized the moment to hit Fraser again, hard; this was maybe the only chance he had to break through.

"As long as you're following the Mountie playbook, you don't have to think about anything, you don't have to want anything, and most importantly you don't have to feel anything. You can just feel fine, like you said—and honestly, Constable, as a feeling person myself, I feel fucking sorry for you."

Fraser walked out of Dr. Berger's office feeling vaguely disassociated, and wondering whether he'd always been this disassociated and just never noticed. The hallway outside the doctors' offices was empty, but Dr. Wertzer's door was open. Fraser walked slowly toward it, his footsteps echoing loudly between the granite floor and the high, arched ceilings.

He tried to peer unobtrusively into the office to see if by any chance Ray was still there, and got a glimpse of an empty chair. Gone. He turned and began to walk towards the men's room at the end of the corridor, figuring that he'd find Ray there, but he'd only gone a few steps before he became aware of a change in the air and turned back.

Dr. Melissa Wertzer was leaning against the doorframe to her office, looking at him with frank curiosity. Instantly, Fraser took off his hat. "Good morning," he said.

She corrected him with wry good humor. "It's afternoon—twelve-fourteen to be exact. You must be Constable Fraser."

"Yes, I must be," Fraser said, taking the few steps back toward her to offer her his hand. "Dr. Wertzer, I presume."

She acknowledged the witticism with a brief nod as she squeezed his hand. "Please call me Melissa. Everyone does," and Fraser found himself grateful that, whatever his other flaws, Dr. Berger had at least never insisted that Fraser call him 'Dave'. "I assume you're looking for Ray, but he's already gone."

He knew it was improper to ask questions, so he tried to frame his inquiry as vaguely as possible. "He's...all right, isn't he?"

She smiled warmly at the question, and he felt instantly relieved. "Oh yes," she replied. "Ray's very resilient, as I'm sure you know. He's like an emotional gymnast—fear, anger, hate, loathing, joy, love, dismount, and the Russian judges give him a 9.8." Fraser smiled a little at the description; it seemed to him uncommonly apt. "What about you?" she asked, tilting her head at him. "How are your sessions going?"

Fraser pulled a rueful face. "I'm afraid I'm not quite as...flexible...as Ray is."

Refreshingly, she seemed to take him at his word, without any of that typically American desire to suggest a more optimistic interpretation. "Well, that's what we're here for—to provide space and time for experimentation." She shrugged her shoulder. "Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."

Fraser nodded and began to back away down the corridor. "I should find Ray..."

"Probably, yeah," she granted, straightening up. "I'd tell you to be kind to him, but I suspect you already are," she added, and closed her office door.

Fraser pushed open the door to the men's room. It was empty, and for a moment he felt utterly lost—he couldn't think where else Ray would have gone. Down to the car perhaps?

And then he heard just the slightest scuff of footsteps underneath the drip-drip-dripping of the various taps, and he walked in, towards the sinks, letting the door shut itself slowly on its hydraulic hinge. "Ray?"

"Yeah." Another scuffle echoed off the tiled walls; he was in one of the stalls. Fraser scanned the bottom two feet of the blue doors until he spotted Ray's boots, which were facing quite the wrong direction for any of the stall's more conventional uses. Ray wasn't availing himself of the facilities, then, but simply seeking another layer of privacy.

"Ray, are you all right?"

"Yeah. Fine. Gimme a second."

"Sure," Fraser said, and decided to take the opportunity to wash his hands.

He looked up into the mirror above the sink when he heard the slide of the lock, and Ray was coming out behind him. Fraser thought he looked all right—but then again, he thought, shifting his eyes to his own face, he looked all right, too, so what did that mean?

He switched the water off and reached to take a paper towel out of the dispenser. "I met," Fraser began, meaning to finish the sentence, your therapist , but Ray had moved to the sink beside him and switched on the water and— his hands were shaking. Fraser couldn't tear his eyes away—Ray was rubbing his hands together quickly, spreading the lather over them, but when he reached again to switch the taps off the tremors again became evident.

Fraser snatched another paper towel out of the dispenser and handed it to him, wanting to save Ray the embarrassment of reaching past him with those shaking hands. Ray dried his hands roughly, mainly to keep them moving, Fraser suspected, before wadding the white paper up and throwing it into the trash.

"Let's get lunch." Ray jammed his hands in his pockets and avoided Fraser's eyes, but it was as if the tremors in his body were spreading upwards, resulting in an overall physical twitch.

"Ray..." Fraser couldn't seem to keep sympathy out of his voice.

Ray's face grew tight and he turned away. "Forget it, Fraser," he said tightly. "Let's just get some—"

"What happened?" Fraser asked.

"Just—nothing." A muscle in Ray's jaw was twitching, and the hands in his pockets were noticeably balled into fists. "Just—that woman," he muttered, keeping his eyes firmly averted. "She's a bitch, Fraser," and Fraser had to work to control his surprise, because he'd just met the woman and she'd seemed perfectly nice.

Fraser stepped toward Ray, but Ray's body language was telling him in no uncertain terms to back off. So he backed off.

"I don't wanna talk about it, Fraser. Let's just eat something and get back to work—pizza okay?"

"Yes," Fraser said—and then suddenly it was like some other voice was speaking through him. "No," he amended sharply, and Ray's head whipped around. He wasn't half as surprised as Fraser was, though—Fraser could feel his lips moving, hear his own voice in his ears, but the thoughts being articulating were entirely news to him.

The voice was his, but it wasn't his; this was him, but it wasn't him.

"I want a grilled cheese sandwich," the Not-Him announced. "With bacon."

Ray burst out laughing, maybe surprised at Not-Fraser's unexpectedly vehement luncheon preferences. "Well, I think we can do that for you, Fraser. We could go to Ron's Diner and—"

"And french fries," the Not-Fraser said, continuing to surprise him, though Fraser had to admit that french fries sounded very appealing at the moment.

Perhaps he was craving salt.

"French fries, sure," Ray repeated, sounding bemused, but no longer quite as upset as a moment ago, which was good. "I'll eat french fries..."

"And pie," Fraser added. "I want pie."

Ray yanked his hand out of his pocket, took Fraser's arm, and steered him toward the door. "Okay, pie. We'll get you pie. What kind of pie?"

He seemed to have an answer for everything today. "Pumpkin."

"Okay," Ray said.

Fraser watched Ray closely as he drove toward Ron's Diner. Part of Ray's mind was strictly engaged in the act of driving (Fraser could see his eyes flickering occasionally to the rear view mirror, and Ray was obviously conscious of fighting the traffic around them) but some other part was obviously rehashing whatever had disturbed him about this morning's psychiatric session. It was amazing, but Fraser could actually see Ray thinking. Ideas and emotions visibly crossed his face; it was like watching clouds, in a gale wind, blow past the bright sun in an otherwise blue sky.

It was fascinating. Fraser felt like he could have packed a lunch and made a day of it.

"Okay," Ray muttered, glancing over at him, "so now we gotta figure out where to—" Ray stopped and did a long, slow double take. "What's with you?"

"Nothing," Fraser said instantly. "I was just thinking about...what I want for lunch."

Ray cracked a grin. "Geez, Fraser, you must really be hungry."

"Oh yes, Ray," Fraser replied. "You can't imagine."

They sat at a free-standing table, since all the booths were taken, it being real-people lunchtime, too. The fake wood tabletop was none too clean—but Fraser didn't seem to notice, which was weird, cause usually sticky tabletops made his nose wrinkle up.

But not today. Today, Ray had to practically drag him away from the revolving glass cake thing. Fraser's face was following three-quarters of a pumpkin-pie, his eyes weirdly glassy. It was like being with Diefenbaker.

"Hey!" Ray yelled at the waitress, who came over to the table, along with her attitude. "Give this thing a wipedown, willya?"

He lifted his elbows off the table, then shoved Fraser back; Fraser wasn't paying attention. The waitress pulled a filthy rag from her belt and wiped the table down—it was less gunky, okay, but it smelled a thousand times worse and now it was wet.

"This food better be good," Ray muttered, picking up the large plastic menu.

They brought Fraser two grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with tomato and bacon, a large order of fries, and a vanilla milkshake. "Don't eat fast, you'll get sick," Ray cautioned, but Fraser was squeezing ketchup over his fries in wild swoops. "Take it easy with the squeeze bottle, willya..."

He didn't have much of an appetite himself, because first of all his cheeseburger wasn't all that exciting, and secondly because the whole diner scene reminded him of being with Stella back when they were kids, when going to the diner was pretty much all you could do on a Friday night. He stared down at his plate and tried to remember how exciting it had been to be with her—and when the hell had that changed?

In his head, their divorce was all still about them having kids, but beneath that there were other memories, things he maybe didn't want to remember so clearly. Her sad eyes, the way Stella looked so sad all the time. Crushing feelings of failure, soft sobs in the middle of the night, light streaming from under the locked bathroom door. Go away! Just leave me alone! and him pounding on the door like an animal, desperate and sweating and ready to swear anything, I promise, I won't ever, I'll do better—

Except he wouldn't ever do better; it was all lies and lies and more—

Ray swatted something in his hair and came into contact with the warm flesh of Fraser's wrist.

It took him a second to put that information into any form his brain could actually process. Fraser was stroking his hair, sort of fingering the hair just by his left ear. Ray stared at him, but Fraser just seemed totally calm about it. He tucked a strand of hair behind Ray's ear, tickling Ray's earlobe and making him twitch, before slowly pulling his hand back.

Ray was trying to find some words to make a sentence with—touching, hair, public, restaurant, and crazy were floating around in his head but wouldn't combine into anything useful—when Fraser said, quietly, "You were very far away just now. Where were you?"

I was in the bathroom with Stella crying and did you just touch my hair?

Fraser was studying him curiously.

You did, didn't you. You just reached out and touched my hair when I wasn't even paying attention....

"Ray?" Fraser was looking worried now.

Ray tried to pull it together; his ear burned where Fraser'd touched it. "You still want pie, Fraser?"

Fraser stared at him for a second longer, and then nodded slowly. "Very much so, yes."

"So order it already."

Ray was muttering to himself as he drove them back toward the station. "...gotta get it together...gotta pull my head together to do something today..."

Fraser reached out again to touch the soft spikes of hair at the back of Ray's head, but Ray jerked wildly and flung himself toward the driver's side door, pulling his hair out of reach. "Would you just quit it?! You're acting just like the wolf!"

Fraser pulled his hand back quickly, thinking that perhaps he ought to give Dr. Freud another read. "What?"

"It's all ears and pie with you today!" Ray was trying to drive and yell and keep an eye on him at the same time. "Meanwhile, I got my own problems! I got a crazy shrink telling me my whole life is a fake, which not even in the undercover way which she doesn't know about. She's asking me questions I don't wanna answer, making me think about things I don't wanna think about, and now I got a head full of that plus you with the hair and the ears and the pie. I gotta go to work, now, Fraser; I gotta have my head focused on—"

Fraser's head was spinning. What in Ray's life was fake? What questions didn't he want to answer? Did Dr. Freud know more about wolves than he'd previously suspected? When did everything get so confusing? When did he start to feel so very—because he felt so very—

When the hell had he started to feel so damn much?

It took Fraser a second to notice that the Not-Fraser had a suggestion. "Let's not go," Fraser heard himself say.

"What?" Ray was staring from the road to him and back. "What did you say?"

"Let's not go to work," the Not-Fraser said; and all right, he had a point, it was a nice day—too nice to be cooped up in the bullpen interviewing criminals.

Ray looked like the words weren't making any sense to him. "Not go? How can we not go?"

"I don't want to go," the Not-Fraser said. "I'm not in the mood."

"You're not in the mood?" Ray looked like his eyes were going to fall right out of his head. "You have moods? Since when do you have moods?"

"I have moods," the Not-Fraser said, moodily. "I'm having one now, in fact. I don't want to go to the precinct."

Ray's mouth opened and closed and opened again, making him look like a punky, blond fish. "So...you...uh. You want me to drop you at the Consulate?"

"God, no," the Not-Fraser retorted. "I hate the Consulate."

"You hate the Consulate?" Ray repeated, his voice rising in near-hysteria.

"Very much so, yes," the Not-Fraser replied. Fraser felt an odd sort of exhilaration, but also desperation—he was going to have to shut this person up before he ruined his entire life. The Not-Fraser wasn't inclined to be laconic, though. "The only thing I hate more than working there is living there. Even Turnbull's cardboard box has more of a view. I'm surprised I haven't slit my throat in sheer despair."

Ray gaped at him. "Watch the road," Fraser chided, and Ray forced his eyes back to the road, which suddenly looked to Fraser like a winding mountain pass, except the mountains were huge glass buildings, towering in the afternoon light. Hello, Chicago, he thought.

"You're having a worse day than me," Ray said softly, apparently to the windshield. "You're having a worse day than me and you didn't even bother to say nothing."

"On the contrary, I'm having a fine day. An interesting day in any case, which is new." They were passing the University of Chicago Medical Center, and Fraser wondered idly if perhaps they had a dental school.

"I don't know where I'm going," Ray said, a second later, taking what was apparently a random right turn. "I'm not going to the precinct, I'm not going to the Consulate—where the hell am I going, Fraser?"

"You could just drop me off somewhere," Fraser suggested. "I'll find something to do."

"I'm not letting you out of my sight," Ray retorted. "You've flipped your hat or something."

"Do you want to go bowling, then? I've never been."

"Those shoes don't work for you," Ray said churlishly, but Fraser thought that was only because Ray resented his superior score. He'd started slow, but by the fifth frame he'd gotten the hang of it, picking up two strikes and a spare.

"I think they look all right," Fraser countered, looking down at his red and white feet.

"I think my brain is gonna explode." Ray hefted his ball and centered himself in the alley before taking two quick steps and sending the ball cleanly away.

Fraser shook his head sadly; a seven-two split. "Well, now, that is tricky..."

"Yeah, that sucks," Ray said, making a face at the pins, before turning around and coming back to the scoring table. "I'm not drunk enough for this."

"Do you find that alcohol improves your performance?" Fraser asked curiously.

"Nah. Just makes me care less." Ray pulled his beer bottle out of the holder and took a long swig as his bowling ball popped out of the return device. "Okay, here goes nothing," he said, and Fraser watched as he carefully picked off the pin on the left. Nine—quite respectable.

He pushed up the sleeves of his Henley. "My turn."

"Knock yourself out," Ray said, sitting down at the score table and reaching for his beer.

Fraser picked up the ball he'd been using, distributed its weight evenly in his hands, and contemplated the pins. He thought there was something wonderfully Zen about this—he was enjoying the balance, the geometry, the satisfying bang as the ball smashed into the formation of pins. He took three long strides and released the ball, then watched with some excitement as it hurtled, spinning, down the lane.

Crash—and down they all went. Brilliant.

"Okay, you're kicking my ass," Ray said, etching an X into Fraser's sixth frame. "Not that I'm surprised or anything. I look better in the shoes, though." Just then there was a muted ringing, and Ray yanked his phone off his belt and stared at it for a long moment before saying, "What am I, crazy? I'm not answering this."

"Why not?" Fraser asked, and Ray held up the ringing phone up to show him the LED display. Lieutenant Welsh.

"You wanna explain today to him?" Ray asked.

Fraser heard the question as a dare, and took the telephone from Ray's hand. "If you wish, certainly," he said, yanking the antenna up and flipping the mouthpiece down before putting the phone to his ear. Ray skittered out of his chair and took two horrified steps backwards. "Detective Ray Vecchio's line," he said. "Constable Fraser speaking."

Ray was not nearly drunk enough for this, or maybe he'd gotten drunk sometime earlier in the day and didn't remember, because this was fucking surreal—Fraser standing there, calm as you please, in his t-shirt and suspenders and bowling shoes, talking to Welsh.

"Why yes," Fraser was saying, "that is the sound of bowling you hear. Yes, quite distinctive. Well, I'm afraid it was my idea. Yes, quite urgently—because, you see, I've been in Chicago for four years now and I'd never been. Yes, that's what I thought! No, I think Ray's merely indulging me—well, actually, he seems to think that I've dropped a decimal point or two, though really I feel fine. Oh yes, very much. I am, though I can't tell you the exact score, because I'm coming off a number of strikes and spares. I'll report back, though, if you want. Yes, he's right here," Fraser said, and Ray raised his hands and frantically waved no, no, no, no!

"He wants to talk to you," Fraser said, and thrust the phone at him.

Ray blew out a breath, wondering what exactly he was supposed to say, here. He held the phone up to one ear and stuck a finger into the other to block out the noise of the alley.

"Hello, sir?" Ray asked, wincing.

Welsh made it easy for him. "Watch him like a hawk, Ray. He's flipping out."

And even though Ray'd thought exactly the same thing not five seconds ago, he felt weirdly torn—he didn't want to sell Fraser out, not even to Welsh. "Nah, he's okay," Ray said. "Just he had to go bowling. Sometimes that happens."

There was an eerie silence on the line and Ray thought, well, there you go. Goodbye job.

"You know," Welsh said finally, "it's a good thing you guys are already in therapy, otherwise I'd have to put you into therapy."

"Well, you know," Ray said weakly, "good call there, sir."

Another eerie silence. Fraser looked at him expectantly and Ray shrugged helplessly.

"Can I tell Mr. Flannery to expect you tomorrow?" Welsh asked with an exaggerated show of patience.

"Sure, yeah—I don't know," Ray said, looking at Fraser; what if Fraser decided that tomorrow he really wanted to ride the Ferris Wheel or something? "Just—things are a little strange right now. Can I get back to you?"

"I think you'd better, Detective. The hearing's in less than a week," Welsh said, and hung up.

"So?" Fraser asked as Ray snapped the phone shut and then, for good measure, turned it off. "Are we all right?"

"He thinks we've both flipped out."

Fraser seemed to consider the idea. "Possibly," he granted. "But I'm having a good time, aren't you?"

Ray stared at him for a moment, his ears ringing from all the bowling noise around them. "I—well, yeah," he admitted, because despite everything, he was, actually.

Fraser's smile was just gorgeous. "Good. I'm glad. It's your turn, Ray," and for a moment Ray wasn't sure if he meant, like, in bowling or what.

Fraser beat the pants off of him in the first game, but Ray rallied in the second—maybe it was getting rid of the stress of Welsh, or maybe he just took longer to warm up or something. But his muscles finally started doing what he wanted them to, and he got into a rhythm, nice and easy, the ball just sailing off the end of his hand and pow, boom.

"Well done," Fraser murmured into his ear, and in his total bowling greatness Ray forgot about almost everything for a while—forgot about the shooting and about Melissa and Stella and whether or not he'd been lying for four years about how his divorce went down. Who gave a shit when you were bowling this good?

Plus, hey, if Fraser wanted to touch his hair—well, why the hell not, really? It wasn't like there was a line or anything. Besides, it felt nice—he got happy little shivers whenever Fraser did it—each time Fraser stroked a hand over his hair, or patted his shoulder in congratulations for a good shot.

Ray thought it made him bowl better, too.

It was getting dark by time they walked out of the bowling alley. The wind was coming up, so Ray turned up his collar and said, "You wanna go to a movie? Maybe get dinner or something?"

Fraser was again buttoned up in his Mountie jacket and hat; no sign of the magnificent bowler within. "I need to see about Diefenbaker," he replied.

"Okay, we can do that."

"But I don't want to stay there." Fraser's voice sounded oddly thin in the windy parking lot. "At the Consulate."

"Oh yeah?" Ray camouflaged his reaction by making a show of searching his pockets for his keys. "When'd you figure this out?"

"Today," Fraser replied, looking at him over the top of the car. "I'm figuring out a lot of things today."

When they got to the Consulate, Ray could see that Fraser hadn't been kidding—he really didn't want to go in there, not even to get Diefenbaker. "I'll go," Ray told him, leaving the keys in the ignition. "Tell me what you want and I'll get it."

Fraser looked at him, his face crossed with conflicting emotions. "No, I should—"

"You don't want to, you don't have to," Ray said firmly. "I'll go. Get Dief and what else?"

Fraser raised a hand to his temple; it looked like his head was aching. "I don't know, I can't think...there's a bag on the shelf in my closet and..."

"All right, I'll figure it out," Ray said, thrusting his door open. "Don't worry about it, just wait here."

Ray jogged up the steps to the Consulate and opened the door. The hallway inside was dark, and suddenly it really hit him how depressing it would be for somebody like Fraser to work here, him essentially being such an active guy. Never mind that mainly what he had to do was pointless paperwork. Inspector Thatcher's door was closed, but her office light was still on. Trying not to make noise, Ray stole past and went to the back where Fraser's office was.

Fraser's room was incredibly cramped, stacked with cardboard boxes, with barely any room to maneuver—and how the hell hadn't he noticed? Diefenbaker was curled up on a blanket in the corner. He raised his head as Ray snicked the door shut behind him.

"Hi, wolf," Ray said. "You're moving."

Dief was instantly on his feet and wagging his tail. Ray crossed to the closet and opened the door; there was a large army bag up there, just like Fraser said. A couple of things on the rod—spare uniform, couple of shirts, couple of sweaters, jacket, jeans—and Ray stuffed everything into the bag, hangers and all.

"What else has he got?" he asked Diefenbaker.

Diefenbaker jumped up and pawed the top cardboard box of a stack. Ray heaved it onto the desk, pulled the top off, and saw that it contained personal items—underwear, socks, long johns, shaving bag, towel, and what looked like a diary. It was better than a drawer in the fact that it was portable, anyway; Ray'd just take the whole thing.

"What else?" Ray asked Dief.

Diefenbaker sat back on his hind legs and seemed to think about it. Ray wondered when it had stopped being strange that he was consulting a wolf to help him pack.

Dief got to his feet and nosed his way over to a small side table. There was an electric kettle plugged into the wall, a canister of tea, a box of instant oatmeal, a bowl of fruit, a tin of biscuits. A single white mug, a single knife, a single fork, a single spoon. Fraser's kitchen.

Ray turned away from the table, angry again at himself that he'd never seen, never noticed. A single fucking spoon, for god's sake. "Not this, leave this," he told Diefenbaker. "Anything else?" Dief was already at the door. "What, that's it?" he asked, and Diefenbaker stared at him, impatient to go. "That's everything?" One half-filled dufflebag and one box? How could a guy have his whole life in one dufflebag and one box?

Ray sighed. "All right, wolf," he said, slinging the bag over his shoulder and picking the box up. "Let's go."

Ray was nearly out when Thatcher's door opened behind him. "Detective," she said, and Ray flinched and turned around. "What are you doing?"

"Uh, just stealing some stuff," Ray replied, shifting Fraser's box under his arm, trying to keep the dufflebag strap high enough up on his shoulder. "You know—Canadian memorabilia's real hot on Ebay."

She didn't look amused; instead she took a few steps toward him in her sensible shoes and peered more closely at what he was carrying. "Those are Constable Fraser's things."

Busted. "Yeah, they are," he admitted. "He asked me to pick up a couple of things for him."

"Is he moving out, then?" Thatcher asked with a frown.

"Maybe," Ray said with a shrug. "I don't know."

"Well, it's about time," she said, nearly flooring him. "I don't know how he stands it back there. He's a grown man—how long can he camp out there like a boy scout? See if you can help him find a place in a decent neighborhood—"

Ray recovered himself and showed her a grin. "Hey, you know Fraser. If he won't get stabbed or shot, he'll want a discount on the rent."

Thatcher smiled grimly in return. "Talk some sense into him, then," she advised, and then she seemed to take a hard look at him and remember that she was dealing with a moron. "Do your best, anyway," she added with a sigh.

Her look told him that he was dismissed, and Ray ran for it.

Fraser got out of the car to let Diefenbaker in, then quickly moved to the trunk to help Ray. "Well?" Fraser asked, wondering if Ray'd encountered any...difficulties. "Did you see...? Was anyone...?"

"Thatcher was there," Ray said, shifting things around in his trunk to make room for the box and bag he'd brought out. "She's happy to get rid of you."

Fraser hadn't expected that. "She is? Really?"

"Really, yeah," Ray said, slamming the trunk shut. "She thinks you should have your own place."

Astounding. "She said that?"

"She did, yeah." Ray moved back toward his seat and, after a dazed second, Fraser scrambled to get in. Ray was already tugging his seat belt over his chest. "She wants me to help you find something."

"Really." Fraser stared blankly out the window; had he been wrong about absolutely everything?

"Really." Ray started the engine. "Someplace nice. A place in a decent neighborhood, she said."

"Really," Fraser repeated.

"Absolutely," Ray said, and hit the gas.

It took Diefenbaker less than ten seconds to scope out the apartment and claim his spot—an old armchair near the window where Ray used to read when he used to read, which he hadn't in years. Fraser, on the other hand, had a bit more trouble; he stood near the door for a long time, clutching his box in both arms, looking like he didn't know where to put himself.

"Make yourself at home, Fraser," Ray said, grabbing the box from him and setting it down on the kitchen table. Still, Fraser didn't move. "Fraser," Ray said, getting right up in his face. "Earth to Fraser."

"Sorry," Fraser murmured, unbuttoning his jacket. "I'm just overwhelmed."

"Tell me about it." Ray yanked a hanger out of the closet and thrust it at him.

"I didn't meant to foist myself on you, Ray." Fraser hung his jacket carefully in the closet. "Or maybe I did," he added a moment later, one hand moving up to massage the bridge of his nose. "I'm not sure."

"Either way, don't worry about it," Ray told him. "I don't much care. Foist away."

Fraser wandered into the living room and sat down in Ray's leather chair. "I just...there suddenly seem to be so many possibilities."

Ray perched on the sofa arm and looked hard at him. "What the hell happened to you today?"

Fraser slowly shook his head from side to side. "I'm not sure—but I think it's still happening. I seem to be experiencing life as a series of deeply-felt imperatives. I don't want to go to the station. I do want to go bowling. I don't want to live at the Consulate. I do want—" He stopped suddenly and frowned, then jerked his head up to stare at Ray.

"What?" His skin felt suddenly prickly.

Fraser stared at him for what seemed like a long time. "I want to be here," he said.

Ray just couldn't figure out where to put that. "Well," he said finally, shrugging, trying to be all casual about it. "Here you are, then."

"Here I am," Fraser repeated softly, and man, was this a weird day or what?

It took a couple of hours, but things got easier. Fraser changed into jeans and a sweatshirt, which seemed to physically relax him, and then he managed to find some stuff in the kitchen and actually turn it into dinner.

"Okay," Ray said, staring as Fraser opened cans and beat eggs and spiced and seasoned, "you've got to show me how you do that."

"It's not difficult," Fraser replied, but Ray thought he looked pretty damn pleased with himself.

After eating, they ended up just hanging out on the sofa in front of the television. Fraser actually drank a beer, which was pretty wild in itself, and then, to Ray's complete and total shock, Fraser stretched sideways, put his head in Ray's lap, and passed out—just totally went conk.

Ray completely lost interest in the movie. Fraser was just lying there—one arm hanging off the sofa, one leg half drawn up, his face totally relaxed in sleep. The drama on the screen was just nothing compared to the drama going on in Ray's life, today—suddenly, he had this weird Canadian country boy and his dog living in his apartment, on his sofa, in his freakin' lap, even. He didn't know what to do, where to go, where to even put his hands.

Finally Ray let one hand rest on Fraser's rib cage—Fraser was warm, burning like a furnace under his sweatshirt—and then, because turnabout was fair play, Ray dropped his other hand into Fraser's hair.

Soft. Fraser's hair was incredibly soft, thick and warm around his fingers. Ray stroked it away from Fraser's forehead, ran his fingertip around the rim of Fraser's soft, soft ear—and suddenly Ray felt panicked, really panicked, because he was liking this way too much and without even bowling as an excuse.

He squirmed sideways, trying to get out from underneath Fraser. He was flushing, tingling, his dick straining hard against the fly of his jeans. This was bad, bad, bad, and he nearly fell off the arm of the sofa and onto the floor in his eagerness to get away. Diefenbaker lifted his head to stare as Ray got his feet underneath him. "What?" Ray hissed at him. "Just shut the fuck up!"

Fraser didn't even seem to notice Ray was gone; he just curled up a little tighter and went right on sleeping. Ray switched the television off, found a blanket, and covered Fraser with it. Then he turned off all the lights and retreated to the safety of his bedroom. He considered actually locking the door (liar), just in case Fraser got any more funny ideas (liar), which would be a bad thing right now (liar, liar, liar), because Fraser needed his support and this wasn't the moment for Ray to tell him that he wasn't bent that way (pants on fire).

Ray shoved his glasses onto the night stand and lay his head resolutely on the pillow, trying hard not to think about anything—but the nothing kept turning into Stella crying in the bathroom, or Fraser touching his hair at the diner, or Fraser asleep in his lap all heavy and warm—and maybe he was a liar but his dick wasn't, and his dick was thrumming in his boxers, maybe juiced on by the high-techno pounding in his skull.

He spent what felt like a hell of a long time just trying to ignore it. He stared up through the darkness at the ceiling and told himself that he wasn't hard, he wasn't hard, he was just wired—just all physically shocky as a result of having one of the weirdest days ever. Normally this would have worked, or at least it used to work, but tonight Ray wasn't able to sell it to himself. His dick wasn't buying.

His goddamned dick was twitching in his boxers. His goddamned dick was aching to be touched. His goddamned dick was keeping him awake.

Finally he reached down, hoping to just yank himself a couple of times and get off, but the moment he took himself in hand he got this giant Technicolor movie running in his head, Fraser all sleepy and warm and out there on the sofa.

Ray let go of his dick like maybe it was on fire, and just lay there, hyperventilating in the darkness. He tried to dredge up some better fantasy to jerk-off with, and remembered some chick he'd seen in a magazine—a little brunette, with high, hard breasts and a nice-nasty expression. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to picture her licking her fingertip and stroking her clit—and yeah, that was good, that was working for him. He grabbed his dick again and tugged it hard, fast, hoping to get the deed done before the image slipped away. He did not want to jerk off thinking of Fraser. He did not want to jerk off thinking of—

C'mon, goddammit! He did not want to jerk off thinking of Fraser!—except all he was getting was sore, and frustrated, and please, God, strike me dead with a mallet, because I can't take this, I can't—

I don't think you've told me two true things since we started, Melissa whispered into the darkness.

High, hard breasts; he could rub his dick between—

How long have you been reversing the truth, Ray?

Ray groaned and let the little porn chickie slip away, and seriously, she seemed glad to be out of it. Then it was only him again, and Fraser out there on the sofa. Ray let the picture fill his mind—Fraser out there in the dark living room, sleeping with Ray's dingy yellow blanket tucked up around his neck—and suddenly the hand on his dick became Fraser's hand on his dick, Fraser's hand tightening on him, Fraser's thumb teasing his slit as he squeezed and pulled, squeezed and pulled, harder, faster, tighter—now, now

He gasped harshly, nearly choking on it, as his cock exploded in his fist, his ears still full of the wet-sweet sounds of jerking off. Ray kept his hand moving, wanting it to last as long as possible, wanting to squeeze every last drop from himself. Finally his cock started to ache with the abuse, and he let go and wiped his sticky hand on the sheet.

Coming left him woozy and weak, and he was asleep before he even had time to feel guilty about it.

Tuesday, April 28th

His alarm went off at the usual time, and Ray groaned and flailed for it. He'd just fallen back on his pillow when he remembered that today was not a day just like any other day. He sat up and looked around, but all he saw was his normal room and his normal mess, except his shorts were sticky with last night's come, which gave him a weird little twinge, like he'd done something horribly dirty.

Still, everything seemed more manageable in the light of day, even his fucked-up feelings.

He went to his bedroom door and peered out into the living room—which was empty. For a moment his stomach clenched with some emotion he didn't instantly recognize—disappointment, Ray's head told him a few seconds later. No Fraser, no Dief, like maybe last night had been some sort of weird-ass hallucination.

Except that was Fraser's box on the kitchen table, and Ray's yellow blanket was folded up on the sofa in a way he'd never have bothered to do, and plus there was—-

Coffee. Real coffee, nearly a whole pot of it, all brewed up on the counter. Ray went over, propelled by the strong-smelling beauty of it, and poured himself a mug before drifting back through the living room, clutching the warm goodness of it in his hands. Real coffee—and hell, had Fraser cleaned the apartment? Ray didn't remember his apartment being this clean. Not recently—or ever, even.

A moment later he heard the clattering of wolf-nails out in the hallway, the jingle of keys. He turned toward the door just as it opened, and saw Diefenbaker bound in and do a couple of happy laps round the place. Fraser followed him in, carrying a brown paper bag; he was wearing his jacket and jeans and looked pretty damn happy.

"Morning." Fraser's eyes flickered over him and away—reminding Ray with a jolt that he was still wearing nothing but his shorts and a mug of coffee.

"Morning yourself," Ray replied, trying to be all cool about it. He took another sip of coffee as Fraser shrugged off his jacket and draped it over a chair. "Where've you been?"

"I took Dief for a long run in the park," Fraser replied, still resolutely looking away. "It's a glorious morning, Ray—bright and clear. And I brought back breakfast," he added, gesturing toward the paper bag, which he'd set down on the table. "Fresh bagels. I think they're still hot."

"I got breakfast already," Ray replied, waggling his coffee mug. "You make a good cup of coffee, Fraser."

"Thanks." Fraser picked up the paper bag, took it into the kitchen, and pulled a knife out of the drainer.

He tried to focus on preparing his bagel, tried to ignore the sight of a mostly-naked Ray hovering next to him in the kitchen, tried to ignore the strong, sharp smell of Ray's—coffee. For God's sake, focus on the coffee.

"We ought to go to work today," Ray said, coming closer still. "Work, therapy, and my session with Jack."

"All right," Fraser agreed.

Ray tilted his head at him. "You sleep all right?"

The thought sprang unbidden to his mind. Better with you. It would have been better with you. He had to put the knife down suddenly, because his hands felt oddly unsteady.

"Yes, fine thanks," Fraser managed, and Ray nodded and took another sip of coffee. (Coffee, focus on the coffee.) Fraser found himself praying that Ray'd go away and get dressed, because he just wasn't going to be able to account for himself if Ray kept standing this close.

All these other feelings and wants...they were just preparation for this feeling, this want. Fraser glanced sideways and caught the barest glimpse of the red and black tattoo on Ray's bicep. He felt like he understood suddenly why it was that he hadn't allowed himself any choices—because all choices led to this choice, and this choice would change everything.

He picked up his bagel and took a deliberate bite, happy to have something to do with his hands. He wanted to run his hands all over Ray, the smooth skin of his torso, the stiff front of his—

Ray was backing away now, coffee mug still in hand. "I'm gonna go shower and get dressed," he said, and Fraser nodded quickly, not trusting himself to say anything more.

Fraser walked Ray to Dr. Wertzer's office, hoping that Ray wouldn't be able to sense any duplicity in his face, voice, or general demeanor.

Ray stopped at the door and looked up at him nervously. "What're you gonna tell him? Your shrink?"

"About what?" Fraser asked.

"About—you know." Ray lowered his voice. "Bowling, you moving out of the Consulate, all that good stuff." He blew out a long breath and looked nervously at Dr. Wertzer's door. "Because I don't know what I'm gonna tell Melissa..."

"That's up to you, Ray," Fraser said.

"Yeah," Ray repeated grimly. "That's up to me." He showed Fraser a wan smile. "See you in an hour?"

"Yes." Fraser backed down the hallway toward Dr. Berger's office. "In an hour." He watched Ray knock on the door, reach for the knob, and then disappear inside—and then he turned and left via the stairwell.

Fifth Session

"Do you still hate me?" Melissa asked.

The question made Ray smile faintly. "Not so much," he said with a shrug. "Not today, anyway."

"Good." She gestured to the chair in front of her desk. "Have a seat. Tell me how you've been doing."

Ray blew out a long breath as he folded himself into the chair. "I gotta tell you, yesterday was weird, Melissa."

"Oh?" Melissa sat back in her chair and looked at him curiously. "How so?"

Ray closed his eyes, thinking hard, and then shook his head. "Don't hardly know where to start."

"Start anywhere," she said encouragingly.

Ray sat there, eyes still closed, looking like he was desperately trying to think of a way to begin.

"Don't stress out about it," she murmured. "Just start talking—we'll get to the important parts eventually."

"Fraser moved out of the Consulate," Ray said, opening his eyes.

"Oh?" Melissa asked. "And what does that mean?"

"I don't know. I don't know what it means. He's staying at my place."

Melissa thought that was very interesting indeed. "Will he be staying long?" she asked, trying to keep her face and voice neutral.

"I don't know," Ray repeated.

"Do you mind having him there?"

"I don't know," Ray repeated.

"Do you know why he decided to leave?"

Ray looked away. "He said he hated it."

"Well, that's a good reason," Melissa said with a smile. "Did you know that he hated it?"

"No," Ray said. "Yes," he said a second later, abruptly changing his mind. "Maybe. Maybe I suspected."

"Why didn't you say anything?" Melissa asked. "Or why didn't he say something before now?"

"Because," Ray began, and then his face went all tight like a fist. "Because..."

"Easy, Ray..." she cautioned.

Ray suddenly turned his face toward the wall, and seemed to be fighting to keep control over himself. "Because..." he tried again, but he didn't seem to be able to get any further than that.

Melissa got up, came around her desk, and pulled a chair so close to him that they were sitting practically knee to knee. But Ray kept his face firmly averted. "Ray, listen to me," she murmured. "You're doing really well. I want you to know that. I think you're incredibly courageous—you've been confronting a lot of difficult issues here, and you're still standing. Whatever's bothering you now just can't be that bad. We tend to magnify our fears, but bring them into the light and you'll see that they're nothing compared to the kind of strength and resiliency you've got."

He met her eyes, then, and his eyes were blue and very, very frightened. "Melissa, I...."

He shocked her then by leaning forward and kissing her. She tried to push him away but he just moved with her, his hands coming up to clutch frantically at her hair. She got both hands braced on the shoulders of his leather jacket and shoved him away, breaking the kiss.

"Ray," she chided, gasping a little; how stupid, this was transference, and right on schedule, too. "Stop—"

He pulled away and threw himself back in his chair, still shaking a little. "Sorry," he muttered.

She was furious at herself—she should have seen this coming, especially from someone like Ray, who was just simmering with suppressed everything. She took a deep breath and tried to focus her mind. This next part was tricky; she would have to walk a very fine line between encouragement and rejection. "It's all right, Ray. It happens."

Ray was panting harshly, like he'd just run a three mile race. "I don't know what I..."

"Well," she explained, trying to keep her voice both sympathetic and professional, "usually this sort of thing functions as a form of distraction. And I admit it, I'm distracted."

Ray made a sound that was half-laugh, half-sob. She smiled warmly, trying to show him that everything really was all right. He hadn't been the first patient to kiss her, and she was fairly sure that he wouldn't be the last.

"The real question, though," she continued implacably, "is what you're trying to distract us both from. What's worrying you, Ray? Is it Fraser? Is it the shooting?"

He wasn't ready to tell her; he wasn't even ready to tell himself, apparently. Instead, he shoved his face into the crook of his elbow and started to weep hoarsely, and she just sat with him as he cried.

It was five minutes to twelve when Fraser pushed through the door to the men's room, returning in enough time to complete the charade. He paced back and forth in front of the stalls, listening to his footsteps echo against the tile, and waited for Ray to come meet him.

When Ray finally pushed through the door, his hair was a mess and his face was blotchy. He looked like he'd been roughed up, and three quick steps brought Fraser to him. "Ray, what—"

"Nothing, let's get out of here," Ray said, and turned on his heel. Fraser caught the door and followed him back into the hallway; he'd been worried that Dr. Berger might catch him lurking, but at the speed Ray was moving, an encounter with anyone was extremely unlikely.

"Ray, wait," Fraser said, catching up with him at front door.

Ray shot him a sharp look. "I wanna get out of here, can we get out of here, please?"

Fraser shut his mouth and nodded, not saying another word until they were in Ray's car and belted in. "Ray..." he murmured, as Ray started the car.

Ray's face and voice were tight and defensive. "So what—bowling, clowns, what?" Ray asked, shifting angrily into drive. They lurched away from the curb with a squeal of tires. "Puppet show, talk show, mimes—what you do want to do today?"

Fraser studied Ray's flushed, angry face. "We're not going back to work, I take it."

"No, we're not going back to work," Ray retorted.

"You shouldn't miss another appointment with Mr. Flannery," Fraser murmured.

"Flannery can bite me," Ray shot back.

Fraser coughed discreetly and turned to stare out the passenger side window. "In that case," he said, heart pounding, "would you like to go to the top of the Sears Tower? I've never—"

Ray made a wild, swerving U-turn and floored it. "Right, you've never been, gotcha."

"I hear the view is quite spectacular," Fraser said.

It was, too; the brochure said that you could see four states on a clear day, and this was a very clear day indeed. Fraser wandered around the Visitor Skydeck, looking past the grid of streets beneath us towards Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan, the apparently endless blue lake. "This is amazing," he said, turning to look over his shoulder at Ray.

Ray wasn't paying any attention to the view; instead, he just stood there in the crowd, looking distracted. "Seen it already. Endless class trips. I'm over it."

Fraser nodded and turned back to the window. The city was as awesome as any natural wonder. If he looked closely, he could see intersections he recognized, places he'd been over the last four years. He pressed his forehead to the cool glass and tried to take it all in, tried to imprint everything on his memory.

Finally, he straightened up and turned around; Ray was standing behind him, watching him closely. "See enough for today?" he asked, and his voice sounded oddly clogged.

"Yes," Fraser said. "Do you want to have lunch?"

"Yeah," Ray said softly, and somehow it was hard to look at him; his face was like a bruise. "I'm starving."

They were maybe halfway to Belladonna's when Ray suddenly took a sharp left, cutting off two lanes of traffic and sending Fraser's heart leaping into his throat. "Ray," he cautioned, clutching the armrest tightly in his left hand. "We're heading the wrong way..."

"You got that right," Ray muttered; his knuckles were white where he gripped the wheel.

Ray steered them into an industrial area, full of factories and giant looming warehouses and empty streets, and then pulled the car over to the curb with a jerk. "I can't do this anymore."

Fraser felt his heart start to pound, and he swallowed hard. "Do what, Ray?"

"Take your pick." Ray's voice was a hoarse whisper, and his eyes were dark and somehow sad. "Any of the things that we're not doing. Talking about Tuesday, for one."

But Ray had flicked off his seatbelt, and now he was thumbing the button to release Fraser's seat belt, and now he was gripping Fraser's arm tightly and moving into his half of the car.

"Talking About Tuesday" did not seem to be the first thing on Ray's list of "Things They Weren't Doing," and Fraser's chest went very, very tight.

Ray was much too close now, and his fingers were like steel. "Do it here," Ray said in a low, rough voice. "Do it now."

Grasping at straws, Fraser feigned misunderstanding. "I don't know what you—"

Ray shook his head quickly; he was having none of it. "Kiss me," he said. "Cause you're gonna. So do it here. Do it now."

For a moment, Fraser looked so spectacularly clueless that Ray felt his heart sink into his stomach. But then Fraser licked his lips nervously and looked him straight in the eye—and Ray knew he'd been right.

Fraser reached out, took Ray's arms in his hands, and leaned forward to touch their mouths together. Ray felt the brief, hard press of his lips—and suddenly he was pinned back between the seat and the door, and Fraser's mouth was moving over him hungrily, giving him huge open-mouthed kisses on his face, his cheeks, his chin. It felt like Fraser was maybe trying to eat him alive, like there was some huge, starving creature sharing that suit with him.

This was lust like you read about, and it scared the living shit out of him.

Because it was suddenly real obvious that Fraser was a lot stronger than he was, plus maybe twenty pounds heavier. Ray'd never kissed somebody who had this kind of weight or physical power. He'd never in his whole life had the feeling that he couldn't stop something if he wanted to—but he was having it now, and that was part of the guy-thing that he hadn't seen coming.

"Fraser," Ray gasped; Fraser's mouth was burning hot on his face. "Fraser, wait..."

Fraser turned his head to the side, so that they were cheek to cheek. Ray could hear him panting like a freight train. "Ray," and suddenly Fraser's hand was groping in Ray's lap, stroking over his erection. Ray's hips jerked forward, pushing his cock hard into Fraser's hand.

Maybe his head was nervous, but his dick wanted into Fraser's hand like yesterday.

"Take it easy," Ray said between gritted teeth. "Slow down—" but there was no way to slow things down now. Fraser had Ray's chin in one hand and was holding Ray's head steady for the press of his mouth; his other hand was already in Ray's pants, sliding into his jeans, pushing past his underwear. Ray's heart was beating so fast he thought it was gonna explode in his chest.

Fraser's tongue pushed into his mouth, filling it. Ray sank back against the seat and sucked on it helplessly, giving in to his own hunger. Fraser's hand tightened around his dick and started pumping steadily, and Ray shoved himself desperately into the circle of Fraser's fist.

Fraser was almost entirely on top of him now, moaning steadily into his mouth—and god, he'd known Fraser wanted him, but he had no idea that Fraser wanted him this much.

Hell, he'd never known that anybody ever wanted anybody this much.

Suddenly Ray couldn't breathe, and he twisted his mouth violently away from Fraser's and gasped for air. Fraser moved his mouth to the side of Ray's face and pressed his lips firmly against his skin. Ray felt the tip of Fraser's tongue trace wet lines up and down his cheek, and he started to shake.

"Ray," Fraser murmured, mashing his name into a kiss—and Ray realized with a start that Fraser was humping his leg, that that rock pounding him down there was Fraser's erection. "Ray," Fraser said, sounding strangled, and the desperation in Fraser's voice made Ray come suddenly, made his cock jerk and spurt in Fraser's hand, everything wet and slippery and "Ray," Ray was letting loose all over him, letting go of everything, coming his brains out.

Fraser was making his own soft come-noises, and suddenly he had practically collapsed on top of Ray. Ray wrapped his arms around him; sweat was pouring down his face, mingling with Fraser's sweat as their hot faces brushed and touched.

"Ray." Fraser was licking and kissing him under his ear.

Ray made a fist in his sweat-slick hair. "Fraser..."

Fraser drew his head back; his face was flushed, one spot on his cheek bright red where he'd pressed it against Ray's. "Ray, I'm sorry...I didn't mean to..."

"It's okay," Ray said, though he wasn't really sure if it was.

Fraser leaned in slowly and kissed his cheek, so, so sweetly—but Ray dragged Fraser's mouth back to his and forced his tongue into him, maybe needing to exert a little dominance, get some of his own back.

But Fraser didn't resist in the slightest; he just mmmed softly and opened his mouth. Fraser was pliable now, and Ray pushed him back against the seat so that he could take Fraser's mouth to his satisfaction. Ray pushed his tongue deeper, nearly down Fraser's throat, but Fraser just relaxed and opened up for him. Ray kissed him, groped him, manhandled him—and then felt suddenly stricken with guilt, because there seemed to be nothing he could take that Fraser wouldn't give him. In fact, Fraser seemed desperate for the contact, and thrummed responsively wherever Ray touched him.

Starving. The word popped into Ray's mind again, but it didn't seem as terrifying as before, when Fraser'd been grabbing him. Ray was hungry—he was mighty fucking hungry—but Fraser was starving. Some small voice inside Ray's head whispered, Don't be afraid of him. Feed him.

Ray pulled back a little, and Fraser tilted his head forward, mindlessly following his mouth, like a man in a daze. Blindly, Ray ran his hands over Fraser's body—muscular arms, heaving sides, the damp spot on his pants where he'd come—and felt Fraser surge hotly into his hands. Starved. Starving. Ray clamped his hands on either side of Fraser's sweaty head and kissed him hard, hard, harder before shoving himself back and breaking the kiss. Fraser's eyes were closed and he was flushed and panting, chest heaving, looking feverish.

"When are you leaving?" Ray asked, hardly recognizing his own voice; he sounded so rough and desperate.

Fraser wasn't doing much better, though; he didn't even seem to be able to open his eyes. "I don't know. As soon as I can. Can we go home now?"

Fraser lay slumped on his side of the car, keeping his eyes closed, as Ray turned the car toward home. The purr of the engine was reassuring, the gentle motion of the car on its excellent shocks. He felt too limp to absorb any more shocks himself.

Ray knew. Ray knew everything already, and moreover, Ray understood everything—his cowardice, his crisis of faith, his needs, his wants, the confused state of his heart. And he could still feel Ray's hands on him, the rough press of Ray's mouth—such strong hands, such a sweet mouth. He had wanted, he had expected—not that. Nothing in his life had prepared him for that, certainly not his sexual encounters with Victoria, certainly not his own grim years of solitary sexual activity.

And even now, some terrified part of him was whispering that it was already too late—that having had neither understanding nor sexual joy, he now wouldn't be able to cope with either. You'll drown, that voice whispered. You can't handle this. You know you can't.

Shut up, shut up, he thought, only realizing that he'd said the words aloud when Ray said, "What?"

Fraser opened his eyes, and from his slouched position he could see the blond spikes of Ray's hair, the blond beard-stubble on his neck. He felt another jolt of excitement—he wanted to press his lips there, against Ray's sweat-grimed neck—and just maybe Ray would let him do it when they got home.

Ray shot a furtive glance at him. "You okay?"

"I'm fine," Fraser said.

"Okay." The car sped homewards, and in a way this was normal enough: the two of them, in the car, driving through the streets of Chicago. Except, of course, there was nothing normal about it. Ray's leg was inches from his own, flexing as he moved it from the accelerator to the brake and back. Ray's hand was curled around the gear shift—and then Ray surprised him by reaching over and taking Fraser's hand in his.

Fraser squeezed back, almost reflexively, but held on, not wanting to let go.

"It's going to be okay, Fraser," Ray said, taking his eyes briefly from the road to look at his face. "One way or the other..."

Fraser nodded and turned Ray's hand over in his, studying the callused fingertips, the ragged dirty edges of his fingernails, his scarred knuckles. It was all going to be all right, one way or the other. Everything had to get better now that he could admit to wanting Ray, wanting those rough hands to touch him—male hands, Ray's hands. "I'm not leaving without you," he said quietly, his eyes fixed on Ray's profile. "You know that, don't you?"

Ray didn't answer for a very long time, and before he did, his shoulders slumped in a posture of defeat. "No, I didn't know that," Ray replied in a hollow whisper. "But what do I know about anything, Fraser?" and Fraser realized then that they really did have to talk—and the hearing, and their careers, and even the partnership be damned.

The twin slams of the car doors felt like punctuation, the end of a chapter. Fraser followed Ray across the street and through the front door of his apartment building, then up the stairs.

Ray unlocked his door, shoved it open, and then headed straight for the fridge. Behind him, Fraser shut and locked the door after them; Ray already had the top off a brown bottle of beer. "I'm sorry," Fraser said, watching as Ray took a long swig and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I'm sorry, Ray..."

Ray raised his hand, as if to forestall any further comment. "Please don't."

"I should have said something. I should have explained, but... I didn't know you knew."

Ray took another long drink of beer, then wearily slid the bottle onto the countertop. "I knew. I knew it the minute I saw your face." He leaned back against the counter and scrubbed at his face for a moment. "I saw the fucking thought cross your mind, Fraser, and even if I didn't, I would have guessed anyway from your sudden weirdo urge to tour Chicago." Ray closed his eyes tight for a second, and then opened them again, and when he spoke, his voice had a sharp edge to it. "So maybe we could talk a little about all the things that we know around here. It's a pretty long list."

Fraser was finding this conversation—terrifying. "Is it?"

"You bet," Ray shot back. "First thing—you're leaving."

"Maybe," Fraser interrupted quickly. "Perhaps. If you would—"

Ray blew out a frustrated breath. "That's bullshit, Fraser."

"It isn't," Fraser insisted.

"It is. I saw your face that night. I tell you I'm staying, maybe you stick it out for another month or two, but..." Ray shook his head slowly. "You won't make it longer than that."

"Why on earth do you think I've been going through all of this?" Fraser felt suddenly angry. "I told you—or weren't you listening? I want to keep our options open—"

"Yeah, and maybe you even believe that yourself," Ray said quietly. "But it's not true, it's just the story you're telling yourself. I know you and you are done with here—and that's the first thing."

Fraser felt his chest heaving as he tried to control his breathing. All right. All right. Maybe that was true.

"Second thing." Ray stretched out his arm, knotted his hand in Fraser's tunic, and pulled—and Fraser was hard in the half a second it took him to take the stumbling step toward him. The heat was palpable, and Ray leaned forward and gave him a quick, fierce kiss before pulling back. "That. This. All of this."

Fraser knew that this conversation was important—this was perhaps the most important conversation they'd ever have—but some part of him wanted only to lean forward, smother Ray's mouth, push him back against the refrigerator and kiss him senseless.

Ray didn't give him the chance, though; Ray's palm was now braced against his chest, holding him away. "All of this, Fraser," Ray repeated, "because this is maybe the beginning and the end of it. This other thing we never talked about."

He was beginning to feel like a broken record, but he couldn't help it: it was the truth. "I didn't know you knew."

"I didn't know." Ray's face was pained. "I didn't know until Tuesday. I didn't know until I—"

"Don't!" Fraser instantly clamped his hand over Ray's mouth and shook his head wildly, trying to flash Ray a warning message with his eyes. "Don't say it! If you say it, it becomes testimony, a concrete statement of—"

Ray wrenched Fraser's hand away and shouted, "I don't give a shit! You know what happened! I know what happened!"

Fraser grabbed Ray's shoulders and shook him, trying to shake some goddamned sense into him. "And no one else needs to know! For God's sake, Ray, don't put me in this position!"

"You want to tell them—tell them! Fuck it, I'll tell them!" Ray yelled. "I don't really give a shit cause I'm moving to Canada, right?" and the sarcasm in his voice was thick and palpable. "I unloaded my clip, I unloaded my clip and I goddamn remember unloading my clip—"

"Ray, don't..." Fraser whispered.

"—standing in the street and raising my gun and thinking that I would goddamn kill every one of those fuckers because they'd blown your fucking head off. And I did, too—or near enough as makes no difference." Ray sucked in a deep breath. "And I know it. And you know it. And I'm tired of lying about it—I don't give a shit any more. That's the third thing."

Fraser put out a hand and steadied himself against the counter. He could see it all, perfectly, in his mind: Ray standing there, wearing his glasses, gun up and firing with that terrifying accuracy Ray had when he really put his mind to it. Bang. Bang. Bang. Nine times straight. "It doesn't matter," he said faintly. "Feelings aren't facts, Ray. It doesn't matter how you felt; all that matters is what you did. And what you did was perfectly justifiable, because they fired first, which justifies your actions even if your motives weren't—entirely—"

Ray leaned forward and whispered, "Except feelings are facts, Fraser, and how I felt is tied up with what I did. I wasn't feeling like a cop, which means I wasn't acting like a cop. And what that means is that the one person I'm really responsible for killing is the one person I didn't personally shoot." It was all crashing down around them, now; this was it: the fourth and final thing on Ray's list. "Jamison," Ray said, and the name landed like a blow, all the worse for being anticipated, expected, dreaded. "If I'd been thinking like a cop, I'd've done something to protect Jamison—thrown him down on the ground, tried to cover him, something. But I didn't give a shit about him right then, because all I wanted was to kill the fuckers that killed you, and so he got shot and bled out before I could even bring myself to notice. And I can't justify that, not even to myself."

Fraser closed his eyes. Ray standing there, wearing his glasses, gun up and firing with that terrifying accuracy. Ray standing straight up and firing—not taking cover behind the parked cars, not hunching down to avoid the bullets. Not crouching down to minimize his size or shrink the target he presented. Ray just standing there, firing, as if he were bulletproof—and somehow, miraculously, that night he was.

And a few steps behind him, abandoned, unarmed, handcuffed—Mr. Leonard Jamison, who wasn't bulletproof, who was himself the primary target of the Tank guns. Jamison, caught off-balance because of the handcuffs, crouching and ducking and jerking wildly in his attempt to get out of the line of fire. Jamison taking a bullet, more than one bullet. Jamison collapsing in a heap. And later, after the shooting stopped, after Ray'd frantically pulled Parker's body off him and shaken him and finally managed to grasp, through his shock, that Fraser was alive and unharmed—that all the blood and the gore on his face, clumping stickily in his hair, were Parker's—only then had Ray turned, still on his knees, and looked back at the crumpled figure in its spreading pool of blood.

"Christ," Ray had whispered, and then he had looked back at Fraser with terrified eyes. "Christ, Fraser—"

Ray must have seen his face right then, because he could remember pushing himself into a sitting position, bracing his hand on the rough concrete, his face and neck and chest hot with the thick, sticky sweetness of someone else's blood, and thinking, I can't do this any more. In his world, in what he had increasingly come to think of as his past life, the challenges were different. There were no drug dealers, few thieves, few acts of intentional violence. Life was simply difficult enough as it was. And kindness—that kindness that everybody mocked him for, overtly or covertly—was a necessity, not a luxury, because in a world that brutal, you never knew when you'd need somebody else's help to survive. And Chicago had take-out and dry cleaners and choices, a million and one choices, but right then, sitting there on the cold pavement covered in blood and surrounded by bodies, he suddenly wanted nothing more than to return to his own world, where intentional violence was rare and kindness wasn't a luxury.

He opened his eyes to see Ray standing there, watching him closely, his face tense. "So," Ray said quietly.

"So," Fraser echoed faintly.

Ray reached out and straightened his lanyard, then brushed his fingers over the front of Fraser's tunic. "So you should go now. Go back to Canada, Fraser."

Fraser in fact wanted nothing more than to go back to Canada, where he could pit himself against the environment and live without complications, without choices, and without—Ray. Ray who'd shot six people in a white-hot rage. Ray who'd abandoned his duties as an officer of the law. Ray who could admit murder and love in the same breath, and survive the contradiction. Ray the emotional gymnast—fear, love, rage, grief, dismount.

He just wasn't that flexible. He wasn't, he couldn't be—

It took him a moment to realize that he was already speaking. "I can't," the Not-Fraser was saying. "Not without you."

Ray looked suddenly torn between tears and anger. "For Christ's sake, didn't you hear a single word I said?!"

"I heard." Ray had shot six people. Ray had abandoned his duties. But Ray had done it for him, because of him—and right or wrong, had anybody ever loved him that much?

Ray was bouncing nervously on the balls of his feet, clenching and unclenching his fists—a boxer psyching himself up. "Look, I have fucking been here before—believe me, I know all about being miserable and trapped and feeling obligated to somebody you care about! But I am part of the goddamned problem here, Fraser—you don't think I get that?"

That was the first thing Ray'd said that wasn't true; he wasn't part of the goddamned problem; he was the entire goddamned problem.

Ray was up in his face now, and yelling. "I am giving you your walking papers, Fraser! I am giving you a goddamned out—so would you just take it already!"

Was this what love was? Something that tore you apart, pitted head against heart, duty against loyalty, feelings against behavior? Something that mixed you up so badly that you no longer knew where home was?

"I can't," Fraser said finally. "If you stay, I'm staying too. I'm staying with you."

Ray jerked around and pounded the countertop so hard that his hand hurt. This was all his fault—he never should have pressed the sex thing between them, not until they'd had it out about Tuesday. But he'd wanted to get his kisses while the kissing was good, and it had seemed like the last possible chance—then or never.

Now it looked like maybe never would have been better.

To his surprise, Fraser reached out, picked up Ray's aching hand, and began to massage it. "I wish you wouldn't do that," Fraser said quietly. "You might really hurt yourself."

"Fraser." Fraser's thumbs seemed to be pressing in on the muscles in exactly the right spots. It felt fucking fantastic, and Ray tried to ignore the heat that was building up between them. "You're thinking with your dick."

Fraser seemed to take this idea seriously. "Well, yes, I suppose," Fraser admitted finally; his hands were still warm around Ray's and just a little bit rough. "Is that such a bad thing?"

"Yes!" Ray yelled, and snatched his hand back. "That would be a bad thing!"

"I don't see why." Fraser was at his most reasonable, his most utterly punchable. "I do have one, after all. I also have an appendix," he added, after a moment, "for all the good it's done me."

"Yeah, and you don't think with either—or you shouldn't." Ray jerked a little as Fraser took his hand again, studied it for a second, and then continued on with the fantastic-feeling massage. "Look," Ray said, trying to keep his voice steady. "I appreciate this, I swear—but this isn't you."

Fraser looked up from his hand, and his eyes were intense and very very blue. "But it is."

"It isn't!" Ray exploded. "You do not think with your dick, Fraser! You think about justice and morality and—"

"And you." Fraser was staring down at Ray's bashed-up hand.

"—and making a difference in the world," Ray continued, forcibly overriding him. "You care about duty and fair play and right-thinking and—"

"You," Fraser repeated. "I care about you, Ray."

Ray blew out a long, exasperated breath, and Fraser suddenly tightened his fingers around Ray's hand, making him flinch.

"Ray," Fraser said, and his voice now had an edge to it. "If your feelings matter, then why don't mine?"

For a second, Ray had no idea of how to reply to that. "Your feelings matter plenty," he said finally.

"Apparently not." Now Fraser looked at him calmly and sort of coldly, which was how he looked when he was really, really angry. "You say that feelings matter. Dr. Berger says that feelings matter. Apparently everyone's feelings matter—with the exception of mine." Even the blue in Fraser's eyes had gone cold. "My feelings never matter."

"That's not—" Ray protested, but Fraser tugged Ray's hand upward, jerking him close, and the words died in Ray's throat.

"For once in my life," Fraser said in a forceful whisper, "I'm going to have to insist."

Ray was already shaking his head, back and forth, side to side. "Except this is not you, Fraser. This is not the real—"

"It is me. This is the real me. This is the real me, " Fraser said.

So he took the real Fraser to bed, and the real Fraser turned out to know plenty of feeling words—big ones, the ten dollar ones. "I love you," Fraser said, kissing and licking Ray's ear. "I want you,"—and in the feeling word Olympics, those were the really big guns.

Ray himself hadn't used those words in a really long time, except maybe about hockey or pizza, but Fraser made it seem easy.

"I—love you," Ray managed to say; he was panting like an animal as Fraser's tongue trailed wet and hot down his belly. "I—yeah. Want you," and then Fraser's mouth was down there on his dick and Ray couldn't say anything much at all.

Which was another whole thing—Fraser turned out to have a really weird attitude about being naked. Fraser got all awkward and embarrassed when Ray pulled him out of his clothes, and Ray had this great moment of superiority: unlike Fraser, I am comfortable in my body.

That had lasted all of about two minutes, though, because it turned out that Fraser's big comfort line was between naked and not naked. Not naked was apparently how you were with most people, which was all handshakes and opening doors and thank you kindly. Naked, apparently, meant hey, cool, go for it, and Fraser kissed the inside of Ray's elbow, pressed his face into Ray's armpit, and sucked cock like he had no idea that these were three totally different levels of intimate.

Which maybe for Fraser they weren't—it was like everything was intimate for Fraser and every body part was fair game. This took a bit of getting used to, because Fraser went right from kissing his neck to kissing his balls like there was no difference there at all. In Fraser's mind the body didn't seem to have any dirty parts, and Ray figured that maybe this had something to do with the way he was covered up all the time. If you never saw anybody's nipples or bellybutton, maybe they were just as erotic as seeing somebody's dick. Plus then maybe a dick was just another elbow or knee to you, something you might just touch or kiss without any second thoughts at all.

Fraser sure didn't seem to have any second thoughts; Fraser just went for him like he was all of a piece, and each piece equally sexy. Neck, shoulder, nipples, dick, thighs—Fraser moved over him completely without distinction. This was freaky but it was also pretty goddamned exciting, and at one point—with Fraser straddling him, leaning over him, a shock of dark hair falling into his face—Ray realized that Fraser was completely comfortable in his own skin, every inch of it, which meant that almost anything was possible. So he pulled Fraser down on the bed next to him and gave him a hot, sloppy kiss—meanwhile moving his hand to the small of Fraser's back, over Fraser's smooth, firm ass, and gently sliding a fingertip down into the crease. Fraser instantly pushed back on him, like he didn't distinguish that kind of thing either. You could apparently touch Fraser inside, outside, upside down, and Fraser didn't care—his body was all of a piece, and all of it on offer.

Gasping, excited almost beyond belief, Ray slung his free arm around Fraser's neck, keeping his mouth close for kissing as he finger-fucked him with his other hand while they necked. Fraser moaned into his mouth, and rubbed his cock against Ray's thigh, and oh my god, this was good, this was the best thing ever and then some. He nearly came himself when Fraser splattered his orgasm between them, but Fraser didn't stop or even slow down. He just gasped a couple of times, then bore down harder on Ray's finger, shifting from cock-pleasure to ass-pleasure like they were just the same, equally good.

If Ray'd started off thinking he was sexually superior, he was having fast second-thoughts. He wanted to be the way Fraser was—all of a piece, totally whole, democratic in pleasure from fingertips to feet. He flung away his sexual rating system—what did third base have to do with sex anyway?—and tried to rise to Fraser's level, kissing him everywhere, licking and sucking him everywhere, so that they were humping like dogs.

Fuck dominance, Ray thought blindly. Fuck dominance and manliness and having the upper hand in everything. Instead he found himself rubbing his face against Fraser's cheek, Fraser's neck, Fraser's shoulder until Fraser's fair skin was red from beard burn. Instead he found himself whispering, touch me, touch me. And Fraser touched him, Fraser moved his strong hands all over him—and when Fraser's fingertips pressed against his asshole, he jerked hard in a shudder and then came and came and came.

Fraser lay there, limp and damp with pleasure, unsure of whether he ought to be trying to put himself together or letting himself fall apart entirely. Was there anything more wonderful on earth than having reality surpass your expectations? For years, he had suspected that his desires ran in this direction, but now he was certain. This was what he had wanted. This and nothing else.

It was almost too much for him to bear—but strangely it was Ray who was pressing close, perhaps seeking reassurance or comfort. Which was odd, Fraser thought, as he loosely wrapped his arms around Ray's shoulders, because surely Ray—so very staggeringly sexy—was more sexually experienced than he was. Impossible to imagine anyone who wasn't, really.

But Ray was half-draped over him, face buried in the dip between Fraser's chest and arm. "Okay, I'm impressed," he muttered.

Fraser gently rubbed Ray's cool, smooth shoulder. "With?"

"This. You." Ray groped his way down Fraser's arm, fingers clutching at his skin, and Fraser closed his eyes for a moment, the better to fix this moment in his mind. The weight of Ray's body across his legs, groin, and belly. The grasp of Ray's fingers. He'd experienced this kind of intimacy so rarely. Ray's voice was still thrumming softly in his ears. "You're wonderful," Ray was murmuring, and Fraser found he could hardly believe his own ears. "You're great in bed, which I guess— Maybe I shouldn't be surprised."

What an impossibly strange thing for Ray to say. Of course Ray should be surprised; for his own part, he was shocked.

"Three," Fraser managed, feeling stupid; he didn't know how to tell Ray everything he wanted to tell him.

What it had been like to grow up in isolation. The shock of moving to Regina, joining a class of recruits. How helpless he'd felt in the face of RCMP camaraderie, how quickly he'd become the odd one, the quiet one, the strange prodigy at the top of the class. How the other men had snuck past his door for their nights of drinking, card-playing, and women. How relieved he had been to be reassigned back to the North, where you were less lonely even though actually alone. How he had come to stumble upon Victoria in a snowbank, beautiful and defiant—her dark hair and red lips bringing back half-forgotten fairy tales he'd once read in his grandparents' library. How she'd reached for him, how badly he'd wanted her—how he'd lost his virginity to her as they lay there, bundled together in the snow. They'd whispered to each other about death, but death hadn't come for them. Years later, he'd lain with her twice more—and this time death had come closer, leaving him in the snow with a bullet in his back. Third time's the charm, he'd thought, but he hadn't died then, either. Only the fairy tale had died.

Fraser opened his eyes and found that Ray'd lifted his head and was staring at him curiously; if only Ray could read his mind. "Three women?" Ray asked finally, and that wasn't a bad guess, all things considered. Much closer to the mark than Fraser had any right to expect.

"No," Fraser replied, feeling his cheeks burn with embarrassment. "One woman. Three times."

"Oh," Ray said, and there was no sign of laughter, or judgment, or pity in Ray's eyes. "Well," Ray just said, as he put his head down on Fraser's chest again, "I guess quantity doesn't count for much."

One woman. Three times. Ray could remember having sex three times with Stella in a single day—what must it be like to have had sex only three times in your entire life? No wonder Fraser was so starved for contact—or okay, maybe more than contact, because God knew that there were a lot of people who would have slept with Fraser on a dime, and Ray was pretty sure that Fraser knew it, too. Fraser was just one of those people who walked into a room and got everybody's attention—men, women, children, small dogs....

Ray wasn't sure why, out of that whole range, he was the one who Fraser wanted—but at the moment, with their limbs all tangled up and jism drying on their bellies, he wasn't much feeling like questioning his luck. He could feel Fraser's chest rising and falling beneath his head, could hear the strong thump-thump of Fraser's heartbeat, and eventually he thought he could even make out the lyrics: they went, feed him, feed him, feed him.

Tuesday, April 29th

The phone was ringing and for some goddamned reason he couldn't seem to reach it. Still half-asleep, Ray stretched out his arm and this time managed to grab the receiver—and suddenly he realized that what was holding him down was Fraser's arms, Fraser's arms wrapped around his waist and—

"Hello?" a faraway voice said. "Hello? Can you hear me?"

—tightening, trying to hold him close. Ray jerked his head around and saw, over his shoulder, Fraser's eyelids flutter as he began to wake up.

"Hello?" the voice repeated, and Ray blurted, "Yeah, hello?"

"Ray Vecchio?" the voice asked, and Fraser's eyes were open now, and looking at him, and then Fraser showed him a gorgeous good-morning smile and let go of him.

"Yeah," Ray repeated, and then he tried to focus his attention on the caller. "Who's this?"

"This is Dr. David Berger," and Fraser's face instantly clouded over—Fraser with his bat ears could no doubt hear the other side of the phone call, no problem. "I got your number from the Canadian Consulate. They said you might know how to put me in touch with Constable Fraser."

Fraser's face grew even cloudier.

"He's not here right now," Ray said, staring right at Fraser's cloudy face. "I can give him a message for you, though."

"Oh," Dr. Berger said, sounding disappointed. "Well. It's only that he missed yesterday's appointment—" and Ray's eyebrows shot up just as Fraser flinched with guilt, "—and I wondered if he'd be coming in today."

Missed yesterday's appointment. The liar, why hadn't he said? "I don't know about that," Ray said, finally, "but I'll give him the message, all right?"

Berger sounded grateful. "If you would, please. Ask him to call me at my office."

"Will do," Ray said mechanically, and hung up. "What the hell?" he asked Fraser.

"I'm sorry, Ray." Fraser looked totally guilty. "I just— Yesterday— I just couldn't face—"

"I don't mind you not being able to face it," Ray interrupted. "What I mind is you not telling me."

Fraser sighed and sat up in bed, and Ray had to try real hard not to notice the way the covers fell down around his waist. "I couldn't tell you," Fraser said quietly. "Which was why I couldn't talk to Dr. Berger, either—how could I tell him things that I couldn't tell you?" Fraser let his head fall forward, then cracked his neck nervously. "Surely you deserved to know everything first?"

Ray sat up and draped his arm around Fraser's shoulder, and Fraser looked at him with vaguely miserable eyes. "I get that," he said quietly. "I didn't tell Melissa about the shooting, or that I was maybe in love with you—I wanted you to know first."

Fraser seemed relieved, and tilted his head so that it brushed against Ray's. "If there's anyone I want to talk to, it's you. I need to talk to you, Ray."

"All right," Ray murmured, and then he leaned forward and touched his mouth to Fraser's. "You talk to me, then; forget the therapy—"

But Fraser pulled his mouth away and shook his head. "No. I've got to finish it."

God, not this again. "Not if we go to Canada, you don't," Ray offered, as gently as he could manage. "Which is maybe the best reason for going I can think of."

"We aren't going to Canada," Fraser replied, surprising Ray with his vehemence. "Or," and now he was frowning, faltering, "if we are, if we do—it has to be our decision, not the board's."

"This is my decision," Ray told him. "I'm deciding."

"No, you're not," Fraser said. "You're thinking with your—you know." He waved his hand in the direction of Ray's lap.

"My dick?" Ray asked, and pulled the sheet off himself to shock Fraser. Fraser glanced at him quickly and then averted his eyes, but he was stifling a smile and his ears were turning pink. "What's wrong with that?"

"There is nothing wrong with that," Fraser said, and only Fraser could make words sound so full of meaning. "Still, I think we should keep our options open."

"You keep saying that," Ray said, feeling frustrated, "except that you hate this, you fucking hate it, and I don't see how you're gonna survive three more sessions!" Fraser looked like he was ready to hang himself at even the thought of three more sessions—except then suddenly Ray had an idea of how maybe they could do it.

Sixth Session

"Ray." Melissa stood up as Ray came into the office and shut the door behind him; she was relieved to see he looked very much better. "I'm so glad to see you—please, sit down."

But Ray didn't sit down, instead he came over, stood near her desk, and spoke to her in a voice only barely above a whisper. "I need you to help me."

Melissa frowned and perched on the side of her desk. "Well, if I can," she replied, dropping her voice to match his; she had no idea what they were conspiring about—but conspiring they were, she was fairly sure of that. "What's going on?"

Ray seemed thrown by the question. He looked like he was trying to gather his thoughts, but then his expression grew frustrated and he started spinning his hand around and around on his wrist.

Ah, Melissa thought, impressed with the eloquence of the gesture. Quite a lot is going on.

"All right, take it slow," she advised. "What do I need to know first?"

"I'm in love with Fraser," Ray said, sounding very relieved. "That's the important thing—that's the knot at the middle of it."

It took everything Melissa had to keep her face neutral—good lord, what a patient Ray Vecchio had turned out to be. "Oh?"

"Yeah. And see, he's been doing therapy too, so he can continue on working with me. But he hates it—it's ripping him up inside."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Melissa said tactfully.

"Part of it is that he's Canadian, like I told you," Ray continued, "which means he doesn't like talking personally to strangers. Part of it is that he really doesn't like talking personally at all," he admitted, "not to anybody, even me. But part of it is also I think Dr. Berger—who like, pushes him. An' you can't really push Fraser like that, it's like pushing a mule."

"I see," Melissa said, nodding slowly. "You think he needs more space."

"He needs, like, wide-open space," Ray said, flinging his arms out to make the point. "He needs space like you can't even believe."

"I see," Melissa repeated. "Do you want me to talk to Dr. Berger on his behalf?"

"No," Ray said, and then he took a deep breath, seeming to gear himself up. "I had another idea. I was wondering, actually sort of hoping—like, what if he came and did sessions with me?"

For a moment, she didn't know what he meant. "With you? But you're not—oh." Ray was watching her in that sharp-eyed way he had, and now he was nodding quickly as comprehension crossed her face. "You mean with you, with me—here. You want joint sessions?"

"Right," Ray said quickly. "Would that count?"

"I'm not sure," Melissa mused. "It's an unusual request. Strangely unusual, now that I think about it—we never do see partners together, even when they've both been remanded to therapy due to the same work-related trauma."

"Could you maybe ask somebody?" Ray pleaded.

She thought about it for another moment and then nodded. "I don't see why not. There's a precedent, of course, in couples counseling—arguably, joint counseling would be the best way to confront issues within a police partnership. The case could certainly be made." She pulled herself off the desk and said, "Is your partner here?"

Ray nodded. "He's outside."

"All right. Let me just have a quick word with Dr. Berger," she said, and crossed the room toward the door. She opened it, and outside Constable Fraser turned around, hat in hand, and looked at her expectantly. "Hello again, Constable," she said, and gestured him into the office with a wave of her hand. "Please come in—I'll be with you in a moment."

She knocked on the door to Berger's office, and then poked her head in. "Have you got a minute?"

Berger looked fairly disgruntled. "I've got an hour," he sighed. "Patient blew me off."

"Actually," Melissa said, shutting the door behind her. "That's what I came to talk to you about. I've got your Mountie in my office."

His face creased into a frown. "Oh? What's he doing there?"

"I'm working with his partner," Melissa explained.

"Huh," Berger grunted, scratching at his thatch of sandy hair. "Yeah, I saw the guy—what's his name. Vecchio."

"That's right," Melissa agreed. "In any case, there seem to be some issues in their partnership. They've asked me if they can work on them in joint session—how do you feel about that?"

The relief on Berger's face was clear as day. "You mean—you'll take him?" Berger asked, as if he could hardly dare to hope.

"Only if it's all right with you," Melissa replied.

"Oh, it's all right with me," Berger said, sinking back in his chair; he looked like a man delivered from a death sentence. "You can have him, believe me—the man is a nightmare."

Berger's nightmare sat there quietly in his bright red jacket, politely listening as Ray tried to tell her everything all at once, the words pouring out of him.

"I thought he was dead. I thought he was dead, and I wanted to kill them—kill them, not defend myself, which, like, looks the same but feels totally different. Because I did not even think about getting shot or not. I have never cared less about being shot myself. It was only later that I maybe wished I had been shot—because I thought he would never forgive me, I thought he'd despise me and hate me forever. Even now, you know, I can hardly believe that he doesn't—part of me thinks that he must be judging me, thinking I'm weak and bad and—"

She raised her hand, and Ray stopped short and sucked in a breath. She turned her head and looked at Fraser. "Do you judge him, Constable?" she asked. "Is he right? He seems to know you fairly well..."

Constable Fraser stared down at his hands, seeming to think the matter over. He sat there and thought for a long time, and Melissa realized that Dave Berger probably wouldn't have had the patience to wait out this deep river of a man.

Finally, the Constable raised his head and said, "Ray knows me very well—I'm afraid I tend toward oversimplification, and I haven't had much experience in complex moral situations. I've also never been very good at reconciling duty and desire—but that's my weakness, not his." Constable Fraser stopped, bit his lower lip, and then went on, seeming to choose his words with some care. "I do judge him for it," he said quietly. "I judge him very, very highly for it," and beside him, in the other chair, Ray seemed to go limp with relief.

Chapter 3

Friday, April 30th

Ray woke up on the morning of his hearing with Fraser pressed up behind him and Fraser's erection nudging hard and hopeful at his ass. Fourteen different reactions ran through him at once—confusion, fear, panic, and a healthy dose of "How the hell did I get here?" Everything since the shooting had been wildly strange, one long hellish Tuesday stretching out over weeks. But now suddenly it was Friday, and Ray found himself with Fraser in his bed and a therapist to go to and an I.A. hearing this afternoon, and a dog.

Diefenbaker, the stupid mutt—barking his good morning hellos and probably out there trashing the living room.

Fraser murmured something against his shoulder; he wasn't even awake yet. No, Fraser was just giving him his own kind of good-morning hello—humping him in his sleep—which felt threatening and weird and sort of nice at the same time. But Ray wasn't sure he was ready for this: maybe he should just slip out of Fraser's arms and the bed and go grab himself a hot shower, wash off last night's jism. That would be the safe thing, the no-regrets thing, but it felt cowardly to do.

So Ray took a deep breath and nudged himself backwards until he felt Fraser's cock slide under his left buttock and lodge hard against his thigh. To Ray's surprise, Fraser rolled over on top of him, pushing Ray face down on the mattress and sliding his cock high between Ray's thighs. Ray instinctively closed his legs tight around Fraser's dick, and Fraser groaned softly—the sound of it instantly giving Ray an erection to beat the band, even though it was trapped painfully between him and the mattress under Fraser's heavy, warm weight. Fraser kissed his ear, making him shudder, and then buried his face in Ray's hair and began thrusting—gently at first, and then harder and faster. This was shockingly, surprisingly good—the strong length pressed between his legs, the head rhythmically massaging the back of his balls. Ray found himself gasping with the pleasure of it, but that was nothing compared to the sounds Fraser was making—quiet, ragged sobs of need and want which he tried to smother against the back of Ray's neck.

One of these sobs seemed to catch in Fraser's throat, and then there was a pulsing hot wetness between Ray's legs. Fraser sucked for air, chest heaving against Ray's back, and then he pulled them backwards and onto their sides. Fraser's arms came around him, hands groping downwards for his genitals. One strong hand closed around his cock, the other cupped his balls. Despite Fraser's declaration of inexperience, the guy sure knew how to work a cock and balls—no woman Ray had ever been with had ever found that perfect line between rough and tender, that place where your eyes rolled back in their sockets from the sheer wonderful greatness of it. But Fraser knew just how rough he could be without hurting, and he squeezed Ray's cock and tugged at his balls until Ray was more turned on than he'd ever been in his entire life, just gasping and shaking helplessly in Fraser's arms.

Fraser was breathing softly in his ear, paying close attention to his every gasp and moan. "Is this good?" he whispered into Ray's hair; his hands were tightening and relaxing, tightening and relaxing, touching him so perfectly down there where it counted. "Does this feel good, Ray?" Fraser whispered. "Do you like—?" and suddenly Ray realized, in a flash of insight so bright it almost hurt, that this was how Fraser touched himself—that this hard, wonderful, perfect stroking was Fraser's own preferred rhythm. He started coming, shaking and coming in long, shuddering spurts as Fraser held him and murmured, "Shhh, yes, yes," into his ear.

Seventh Session

"You don't seem nervous," Melissa noted.

"I'm not. I'm good with it." Ray looked almost unlike himself; his face was calm, his usual energy oddly in abeyance. "I'm ready."

"I'm nervous," Constable Fraser confessed quietly, and they both turned to look at him. "Perhaps there's a conservation of anxiety between us," he suggested to Ray.

"What—like you absorb some of my craziness?" Ray looked skeptical. "Fine by me, but what do I get from you? Dignity, I bet."

"You have your own dignity," Fraser replied with sincerity.

"Oh, yeah, sure." Ray's lips twitched in a quick, wry smile. "Like a clown on ice-skates—king of dignity."

Melissa gently tried to steer the conversation back on topic. "Why are you nervous?" she asked Fraser.

Fraser thought about that for a moment, and then shrugged. "I just want it to go well. If the board frames their questions as they should, the hearing should be a simple recitation of facts. I just worry that they might, however unwittingly, stumble into areas better left—"

Ray's head had jerked around in the middle of this speech, and Melissa saw that his face was no longer calm. "Fraser," Ray interrupted, and now there was tension in his voice, "it doesn't matter where they stumble. I'm gonna tell them."

Fraser just stared at him. "You're—what?"

"I'm gonna tell them," Ray repeated slowly, as if this were utterly obvious. "I've got to tell them."

"But I thought—" Fraser looked confused. "I thought we'd decided that—"

"Look, it's not a big deal, Fraser." Ray raised one hand and tiredly rubbed his eyes behind his glasses. "I tell, I take my knocks—end of story."

Fraser was now visibly upset. "But—"

"It's the right thing to do," Ray insisted. "It's what I gotta do."

"But they won't ask." Fraser was almost pleading with him. "The odds are that they won't ask, and if they don't—why on earth tell them?"

Ray fixed him with a strange, intense look. "Because it's the right thing to do. It's what you'd do, isn't it?"

Fraser's mouth opened, but he didn't say anything for a long minute. And then, to Melissa's surprise, Fraser jerked his head toward her. "For God's sake," he said, heatedly, "can't you make him see reason?"

She opened her mouth to explain that she wasn't here to make judgments, merely to ask questions—but Ray was already ahead of her. "That's not her job, to make me see reason!" Ray shot back. "Besides, why is reason for me different from reason for you?"

"It isn't!" Fraser protested.

"It is so—you would tell, Fraser. Hundred percent you would tell. You would march right in there and say, 'Hey, look, I've got to take responsibility for this.' No," Ray added suddenly, raising a finger and stabbing it toward Fraser. "No, not even—because you'd never even have gotten to the board. You would've put yourself under citizen's arrest and taken yourself straight to prison, tell me I'm wrong."

Constable Fraser grew very red-faced, but he didn't seem to have any answer for that.

"Ha," Ray said, sliding back in his chair and crossing his arms defiantly.

Melissa looked from one of them to the other. "Is that true?" she asked Constable Fraser doubtfully.

Constable Fraser looked like he might explode from sheer frustration, but thankfully he didn't. "Possibly."

"Really?" Melissa asked, unable to conceal her surprise.

Ray was the one who exploded, predictably enough. "Yeah, really," he burst out, "which maybe now you can appreciate my predicament!"

Melissa ignored him and kept her attention fixed on Fraser. "You would have turned yourself in to the police?"

Fraser looked like he was struggling to control himself. "Possibly," he repeated, and then he admitted, tightly, looking almost embarrassed: "It's the sort of thing I might do."

"Ha!" Ray repeated triumphantly.

"But you don't think Ray should admit guilt to the board?" she asked.

"No," Fraser said firmly. "No, I don't."

"Well, why not?" Melissa asked curiously. "Ray's right; that does seem to be something of a double standard."

"Yeah, you bet it's a double standard," Ray snorted, "cause nobody else is—"

Melissa shot him a warning look; this was Fraser's question to answer. "Ray, please."

Ray raised his palms in a gesture of surrender and sank back into his chair. Melissa turned her attention back to Fraser, who was sitting there, struggling to articulate something. She waited, wanting to give him all the time he needed.

"I probably would have confessed," Fraser said finally, staring down at his hands. "There would have been no reason not to. Certainly no one would ever have asked me not to. Of course," Fraser added, and now his voice sounded strangled, "I would never have done such a thing in the first place."

Ray flinched like he'd been slapped, and Melissa was just about to intervene when Fraser finished, quietly:

"I've never loved anyone enough."

Fraser went silent, then, and the room went silent around them. Fraser stared resolutely down at his hands while emotions contorted Ray's face—frustration, love, guilt, regret, dismount. Melissa just waited.

When Ray finally spoke, he sounded like the words hurt his throat. "Fraser. You won't respect me if I don't do this."

"Respect you?" Fraser shot him an agonized look, Ray's pain mirrored on his face. "Ray, I love you."

"That ain't the same thing," Ray said softly, and Fraser closed his eyes, took several deep breaths, and then nodded.

It took everything Fraser had to sit there quietly and keep his face neutral. He watched Ray raise his hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help him, God,and then sit down at the metal table across from the three members of the Hearing Board. Jack Flannery was at Ray's side, staring down at his yellow legal pad and nodding his approval as Ray went through the answers they'd rehearsed.

"We were taking them back to my car. We were ten feet away when I heard the screech of tires and turned around. I saw Constable Fraser and Mr. Parker—they were both covered in blood. Two cars had pulled up, and I reached for my weapon and fired. I wanted to kill them—"

Jack Flannery's head jerked up; this wasn't in the script. "Ray—"

Ray ignored him. "I thought they'd killed my partner and I wanted to kill them. So I emptied my gun at them, and I killed the four guys in the front seats and wounded the two in the back—"

Flannery was gripping Ray's forearm now with his strong, bony fingers. "Ray, perhaps you want to rephrase—"

Ray didn't so much as glance at him; his entire attention was focused on the members of the board. "No, I don't want to rephrase," he replied absently. "That's how it was. Meanwhile, Jamison got shot behind me, which I didn't even notice until it was over. I really wish I'd been thinking about protecting Jamison, except I lost my head. I'm really sorry."

The room went utterly quiet. Fraser could feel Lieutenant Welsh's eyes on him from down the row of chairs, but he didn't turn to look; he kept his own eyes focused on Ray. Everyone except Lieutenant Welsh was looking at Ray, including the members of the board, who were shifting uncomfortably in their chairs.

Finally one of them, a lanky man in a suit, coughed into his fist and then said, "Are you saying that you feel responsible for Mr. Jamison's death?"

"No," Flannery said instantly. "Of course not."

"Yes. I do," Ray said. "I should have protected him better," and Flannery nearly groaned aloud. "But I was upset," Ray added and then he frowned and shook his head. "No. Upset doesn't cover it. Nothing covers it—I went completely off my head. Which never happened to me before," he explained, "but then again I never lost a partner before. I thought my partner'd been shot dead, so you just need to understand how whacked out I was."

The room went quiet again, and everyone seemed upset except Ray.

Ray just sat there at the center of everything, looking perfectly calm.

Welsh watched as Ray tugged Fraser away from the knot of people outside of the hearing room. "Two weeks is nothing, Fraser," Ray said in a low voice. "Two weeks is barely a slap on the wrist, it's less than I deserve—"

You bet your ass it was; Ray was lucky to still be carrying a badge at all. "A two week suspension," Welsh growled, closing in on them, "is two more weeks that I don't have you in the stable, Detective. And you only got two weeks because Joey Randolph fought for you—-he lost his partner back in '95."

Ray raised his chin defiantly. "Well, he oughta know then."

"You could have said something," Lieutenant Welsh told Ray flatly. "You could have given me some kind of heads-up—"

"I"ll give you a heads-up right now," Ray shot back. "I may not be back at all, all right? I might be moving to Canada—"

Canada? For a moment, his brain couldn't handle the image—Ray Kowalski in Canada? God help Canada.... He turned his best glare on Fraser, who seemed to be trying hard to blend in with the wall. "You're taking him to Canada?"

"No," Fraser assured him. "No one's moving to Canada."

"Oh yeah?" Ray wheeled on Fraser. "Says who? And who asked you, anyway? I might just go by myself. I might go live in a hut—"

Fraser looked pointedly at Welsh and Welsh got the message: Hard day. Lost his mind. He sighed and nodded as Fraser gently gripped Ray's upper arm. "We don't have any huts," he explained, steering Ray down the hallway.

"Igloo, then," Ray amended angrily. "Shack. Whatever. I'll go live in a bush in the middle of nowhere—"

"Glory bejeezus," Welsh muttered, and shook his head.

"—hang out in a pup-tent, make snow hats, eat rabbits and—"

"Give me the keys," Fraser murmured when they reached the end of the hall. "I'll drive."

Ray went quiet in the car, but Fraser thought it was a good quiet, meditative and peaceful. Once they reached the apartment, Ray drifted into an armchair by the window and stared down through the gray twilight at the street. Diefenbaker curled up at Ray's feet, and Fraser went into the kitchen to heat soup and make toast.

"Here," Fraser said quietly, bringing Ray a mug of soup. "Drink this."

Ray took it, and stared down at it for a moment like he didn't know what it was. "Oh," he said finally. "Thanks."

Fraser nodded and went back to the table to eat his own soup. A moment later Ray got up and drifted over to him, still clutching the warm mug in both hands. "Fraser." Ray slid into the chair next to him, looking just about as serious as Fraser had ever seen him. "I did what I had to do. Now we should do what you need to do—we should go to Canada."

He felt his heart warm at Ray's easy, unselfconscious use of the plural pronoun. We should go to Canada—they were a we, now, and the thought made him smile down helplessly at his soup. A moment later he looked up and met Ray's intense eyes. "Ray, I appreciate—" he began, and then suddenly he felt oddly choked up and had to stop talking. Now we should do what you need to do —had anyone ever cared about his needs? He tried again. "Ray, I really appreciate it—but I was wrong. I don't want to go back."

Ray looked profoundly unconvinced.

"I don't," Fraser insisted. "Not yet, anyway—I'm not ready. I don't want to go back because I'm running away. And if I left now, I would be." Ray was watching him closely now; Ray had, after all, seen his horrified expression that Tuesday night. So he tried to explain. "You can leave Chicago in good conscience, Ray; you're a success here—"

Ray interrupted him with a laugh that had no real laughter in it at all. "Success? You are shitting me, Fraser! I'm on suspension and you call it—"

"Success," Fraser insisted firmly. "You acted as honorably as you could, negotiated an impossible set of contradictions, admitted strength and weakness simultaneously, took both credit and responsibility for your actions—I call that success, Ray, and I've never had success like that. You're a better man than I am."

Ray leaned back in his chair and seemed utterly shocked. "You are out to lunch, Fraser—"

Fraser shook his head. "Better, stronger, more resilient. Better at coping with contradictions, imperfections, logical impossibilities. I need to learn how to do that. I need you to show me how to do that."

Ray blew out a breath and seemed to think about this. "And we can't do that in Canada?"

"No, we can't do that in Canada—Canada's different, Canada will present us with an entirely new set of challenges." He bit his lip anxiously and then asked: "Can you wait?"

Ray looked absently down at the table for a few seconds and then he raised his eyes to Fraser's. "Yeah," he said, and now there was amusement in his voice, "I can wait, Fraser. For you, I can wait."

The End


Eighth Session

"—so I guess we ain't going, not for a while anyway," Ray said, glancing over at Fraser for confirmation. Fraser nodded slowly, and Ray showed him a warm, lopsided smile. "Which, you know, leaves me with some time on my hands what with the suspension and all, but that's for the best—I've got to fix up the apartment, make it more livable for two. Three, if you count the wolf," he added, shrugging.

"Oh, I think you ought to, Ray," Fraser said seriously. "It would mean so much to him."

"Okay, three for sure then," Ray said.

"So, you've decided to continue living with Ray?" Melissa asked Fraser.

Fraser nodded again. "Yes, I think so," he replied, and suddenly there was color in his cheeks. "I've never cohabited with anyone before, so it's a new experience for me. I suspect I have rather a lot to learn about compromise."

"Compromise, contradictions, and logical impossibilities," Ray murmured almost to himself, and then he looked hard at Melissa. "I'm gonna give him the crash course—living with me, he'll have to accept six logical impossibilities before breakfast. Meanwhile, I'm reading up on curling, maple syrup, and beavers."

"For which you have such very great affection," Melissa said gravely.

"Hey, people change," Ray said with a shrug. "Especially people like me—I'm a leprechaun."

Fraser frowned and turned to look at Ray. "Chameleon, you mean."

"Yeah, whatever," Ray said. "Some kind of lizard anyway."

Fraser bit his lip and looked away. "You're tugging my leash."

"Yanking your chain," Ray corrected, "and yeah, duh, don't get cute. Oh hey," he said suddenly, and patted down the pockets of his leather jacket. "I got something for you—lemme give you this before I forget." He pulled a long velvet case out of his inside jacket pocket and leaned forward to extend it to her over the desk. She accepted it with some curiosity and tugged at the side opposite to the hinge.

Inside was a gold pen and pencil set. She laughed and looked up at Ray's bespectacled face. "Ray, you shouldn't have—"

"It's plated," Ray said, cracking a grin at her. "It's not solid or anything, cause after all I'm a city worker plus I just acquired a Mountie to support in the style to which he's been accustomed, which thankfully is one step above homeless. But I wanted you to have that. You helped me a lot."

"Well, I like it very much," Melissa said truthfully. "And it will certainly remind me of you."

Ray stood then, and Fraser instantly followed suit. Melissa got to her own feet and reached across the desk to shake first Ray's hand, and then Constable Fraser's—though there was something strangely tentative about the feel of Fraser's hand in hers. She held on to Fraser's hand for a moment and studied his face curiously, but there was no sign of anything strange in his expression; he was wearing his normal look of polite geniality.

"Well, it's been a blast," Ray said finally, beginning to drift backwards toward the door. "God willing, I can keep from shooting people and I won't ever see you again, no offense."

Melissa showed him her warmest smile. "God willing, yes. Good luck, Ray."

Ray now had his hand on the doorknob and he was looking over at Fraser, who hadn't yet moved from his spot. "You coming, or what?" Ray asked, jerking his head toward the hallway.

"Um, yes. In a minute," Fraser said and then cleared his throat. "I thought I might just have a quick word with Dr. Wertzer—I'll meet you in the usual place?"

Ray stared at him for a second, then grinned, nodded, raised a palm and dropped it. "Okay, gotcha," he said, and then he was gone, the door banging shut behind him. Melissa turned her full attention to Fraser, who was standing there, licking his lips, looking as if he were trying to collect his thoughts.

Well, that was all right. He could have all the time he needed.

After a minute or so, Fraser took a deep breath and began to speak. "I think Ray's crash course will be good for me, don't you?"

"Yes, I do," Melissa agreed; she wondered if he was asking for her approval, and decided that she would give it. "He'll put you through your paces, sure enough—but he loves you, Constable. I think he loves you very much."

"Yes," Fraser said, almost offhandedly; that clearly hadn't been what he was looking for. "My future's in good hands, I think."

"Very good hands," Melissa agreed, and waited for him to continue; this time she would make no presumptions about what it was he wanted from her.

His mouth moved soundlessly several times, as if he were auditioning and discarding phrases. And then finally he said, "My past, on the other hand..."

She just stood there and blinked at him, and the voice she heard in her head was Dave Berger's: "You can have him, believe me—the man is a nightmare."

"I—don't suppose you take on private patients," Constable Fraser asked, clutching his hat in his hands.

"I—yes, of course, I do," Melissa Wertzer said, forcing Dave Berger's voice away; what did Dave know about anything, really? Fraser was a Mountie, after all—how much of a nightmare could he be? She reached for her black leather diary, and then, with a slow, deliberate gesture, pulled the pen Ray Vecchio had given her out of its white elastic loop. "Would you like an appointment, Constable?"

"Yes, please," Constable Fraser said.

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