Beyond Embarrassment

by Speranza

Author's Notes:  This story is for Resonant, in part payment for her wonderful story, Adorned.   I thank her for that story, and also for all the help she gave me with this story, both as beta and as cheerleader.  Thanks, Res!

At first he thought the knocking was just part of his dream. Not that Ray was entirely sure when he crossed the line from dreaming into waking, the moment when the total blackness of unconsciousness became the total blackness of his pitch-dark bedroom. All he knew was that now, on the edge of his blurry vision, he could see the red neon smear of the alarm clock.

And still, there was the faint sound of knocking.

Ray flailed on the nightstand for his glasses, nearly brushing them onto the floor before managing to close his fingers around them. He didn't bother to pull the earpieces apart or put them onto his face. Instead, he just held them up against his eyes and squinted through them.

The red blur clarified. 4:12 A.M. Whafuck?

And still, there was that faint knocking sound.

Groaning, half-convinced that he was still dreaming, Ray put his glasses on and struggled to sit up. The pillow skidded from under his hand and flew off into darkness, nearly sending him sprawling. He tried to move and found that the sheet had somehow wound itself around his legs.

The faint knocking grew fainter, the beats coming more slowly and less heavily until they were practically ghost-beats in the darkness of his mind. Ray gathered his energy and kicked at the sheet, feeling trapped, feeling a strange urgency—like if he didn't get out there mighty-damn-quick the knocking would just suddenly stop and he'd be irritated, awake, and clueless about whatever the fuck had just happened.

Irritated and awake were bad enough all by themselves.

Finally his legs were free and he sat up, slid his bare feet onto the floor, and switched on the bedside light. He recoiled from the brightness, feeling his face scrunch up—shit, that was a bright bulb.

Ray forced himself to his feet and yelled, "I'm coming already!" Weaving his way out of the bedroom and into the living room, he bent to switch on a table lamp as he passed it. "Hold your fucking horses," he growled for good measure, even though the knocking had subsided to a sad little scrape.

He was actually at the door before he realized he was wearing nothing but a t-shirt and pair of baggy, bleach-stained boxers. Well, who gave a shit—what'd they expect at four in the morning? Top hat and tails?

Hand on the knob, Ray let his forehead fall tiredly against the cool wood. "Who the hell is it?"

Again with the weird scraping sound. Even through his exhaustion, Ray felt his mind sharpening. Maybe he should go get his gun...

"Ray." The word was a whisper, a soft exhalation, almost a sigh.

Ray lifted his head sharply. Fraser? That was wrong. What the fuck was Fraser doing here at fucking four in the morning?

Suddenly he was scrabbling for the locks, clattering the chain back, yanking the door open. "Fraser," his mouth was saying, already ahead of him, "what the hell are you—"

Nothing. Ray looked out into the bright, empty hallway and thought: Yeah, all right, this is a dream after all. A split second later he saw the blur of red serge, and glanced down.

Fraser was slumped against the wall of the hallway. He smiled and waved weakly. "Hello, Ray."

"I—" He didn't get any further than that because his mind was reeling, his body trying to move in two directions at once—to the phone, down to Fraser, get the phone! go to Fraser! get the fucking phone! go to—!

Fraser's voice broke the deadlock. "I'm wake this...ungodly hour..."

"Jeezus!" Like a shot, Ray was on his knees in the doorway. Fraser was—well, dirty was the first, wrong adjective that flashed through his mind. True, but not the point. Yeah, the red uniform was smeared with black-brown dirt, and so was Fraser's face and hair and—

Hatless. Yeah, that too, but still the wrong fucking answer—a problem but not the problem right here, right now—

Bleeding—yes, that was the word! Benton Fraser was fucking dirty and hatless and bleeding right here in his hallway at four o'clock in the fucking morning!

Bright red blood was wet upon his split lips and smeared up one cheek where the bruises—Christ, bruises!—started. One of his eyes was near-black, puffed with yellow and purple. He had an oozing cut near his temple, and his uniform was ripped, and his lanyard was missing, and his hat—

Fraser was still clutching his hat tightly by the brim.

But it had no crown—there was a raggedy hole where the crown had been. It'd been blown through, punched through, kicked through—

"Fraser, jeezus," Ray hissed, and suddenly he was turning, crawling crab-like, wanting to outrace his speeding brain to the fucking phone.

"Ray, no!" Fraser's voice was hoarse but still commanding. Ray stopped, spun, and stared at him, crouched like a bug on the floor. "Don't...bother. It's not...necessary."

Ray boggled. "Are you nuts? Fraser, you need a hospital—!"

"No," Fraser answered with an almost eerie calmness, one arm reaching out for him. "No hospital. It's... pointless, I assure you."

Ray grabbed Fraser's outstretched hand. Cold. Fucking freezing, in fact—and that was wrong, too. Ray scrabbled close and began to rub Fraser's cold hand between his warm ones. "Fraser, you need—"

"—a hot shower," Fraser said calmly; though he looked like hell, he was radiating an almost unearthly sense of peace. "And a change of clothes. I'm sorry to—I'm sorry you have to see me this way. I probably should have waited a few days. Until I'd gotten a new uniform. And a new hat." Fraser slowly held up his battered hat, frowned at it, and then flung it into Ray's apartment with a disgusted sounding snort. Then he looked up at Ray, and his face was again suffused with that unearthly peace, and something else that looked almost like—joy. "But I just ...couldn't wait."

Ray just stared—he supposed that made some sort of sense. Except it didn't, really. "God Almighty, Frase—what the hell happened to you? Can you stand?"

Fraser nodded once, face contorting into a grimace. "Yes, I think so, Ray. I'm getting...stronger and stronger, I think." As if to prove this, Fraser put his other hand down on the hallway floor and attempted to lever himself up.

"Wait, wait, whoa!" Ray cried, and then he was gripping Fraser's arm and pulling him up. With a grunt, Fraser rose off the floor and tottered slightly, swaying back and forth. Ray locked his legs and tried to steady him. "Easy, there. Easy..."

"Stronger by the minute," Fraser insisted.

"Let's just get you to the sofa, buddy, okay?" Ray muttered, and then he gritted his teeth and helped Fraser blunder his way to the couch.

They fell—more than sat—down, the arm around Ray's neck pulling him down, too. Fraser blinked a few times, his eyes strangely confused-looking, and then, to Ray's surprise, he fell forward onto Ray's shoulder as if he couldn't quite manage to sit up by himself.

"That's it!" Ray declared, feeling almost hysterical. "I'm calling 911!"

An agonized groan passed Fraser's lips and he lifted his head. "Ray. I promise you. It's pointless."

Ray found himself cupping the back of Fraser's head protectively—now that they were closer, he could see a few drops of dried blood dotting Fraser's hairline. Jesus. The guy probably had a concussion. "You need medical help, Fraser."

Fraser shook his head no, just once—it looked like the gesture cost him. "I'm beyond medical help, Ray. That's what I'm trying to tell you." Now Fraser looked nauseous; he closed his eyes for a moment and took several deep breaths.

"You got hit in the head, didn't you?" Ray accused. "You haven't made a lick of sense since you got here."

As if to prove this, Fraser opened his eyes and said, "Is that your only closet?"

Ray stared at him for a moment, then slowly looked over the back of the sofa, following Fraser's eyes. Fraser was looking at the hall closet. "No," Ray answered carefully, thinking: Concussed. Definitely concussed. "I've got another closet in the bedroom, and then there's a linen closet by the bathroom. Does that count?"

Fraser sighed and melted back against the sofa cushions, looking simultaneously bone-weary and exhilarated. "It counts. That's very good."

"Do you want a glass of water?" Ray asked, beginning to edge away. If he could get off the sofa, he could get to the phone, and he could probably have an ambulance here before Fraser managed to heave his sorry Mountie ass off the sofa.

Instantly, Fraser's arm was up and fisting his t-shirt, anchoring him down. "No. I'm fine."

Best offense was a good defense. "Yeah, well, I want a glass of water." He shot Fraser a defiant look. "I got middle-of-the-night mouth."

"You want to call a doctor. But believe me, you don't have to. In fact," Fraser added slowly, and there was a strange sympathy in his eyes that chilled Ray, terrified him, "if you wait a while longer, someone will call you."

"They'll call me?" Maybe this was a dream after all; it had that not-quite-real feeling, that hyper-real feeling. Sitting here in his dimly-lit living room with a dirty, hatless, bleeding Fraser. The whole thing was seriously Twilight-Zone. "Whaddya mean, they'll call me? Who'll call me?

"I don't know," Fraser replied, brow creasing a bit. "I'm not sure. Someone will, I should think."

Ray heard himself whispering, "Fraser, you're freaking me out—what the hell are you trying to tell me?"

Fraser held his eyes for a few seconds, and then looked away, murmuring, "I should have waited. I was a fool not to wait. It would have made things so much easier. But..." Fraser's hand was unclenching, Fraser was letting go of his shirt, hand sliding down his chest and ghosting over to first touch his hand and then clasp it. Ray stared down at their joined hands—his own pale fingers, Fraser's bruised, scraped knuckles—and felt sort of shocked. "Except I couldn't wait, Ray. I couldn't wait an hour, let alone a day, let alone the couple of days required to—"

Ray forced himself to look up. "What. Are you trying. To tell me?"

Fraser swallowed hard. "You're going to have to keep an open mind."

"It's open. Way open." Ray found himself squeezing Fraser's hand tightly, holding on for dear life.

"All right," Fraser said; he looked like he was screwing up his courage. And then unscrewing it and wussing out. "Just remember that I've never lied to you, Ray. Have I? I've never, ever lied to you—"

"No," Ray interrupted, panic rising, "you've never, ever lied to me and will you just spit it out already!"

"Okay. I—I'm dead. I died about an hour ago. More or less. In the alley behind Mott Street—"

"Wait," Ray sputtered, "you mean—are you saying that—you had a near-death experience or—?"

"No, I've had a death experience," Fraser clarified. Actual death, not near-death. Really, quite precisely on the target of death."

Ray stared. "Except you're right here on the sofa."

"Yes, exactly!" Fraser seemed excited that he'd grasped the concept. "I came as soon as I could. With the result that part of me is sitting right here on the sofa, while the other part of me is lying dead in the alley on Mott Street. I know I'm there, because I saw myself there. I looked like hell, if you don't mind me saying so."

"I don't mind," Ray said stupidly.

"But I'm getting stronger and stronger every minute," Fraser said, sliding closer to him, his face lighting up with something that looked strangely like hope. "A shower, clean clothes—it'll make a new man of me, Ray, you'll see. I'm sure in a few days I'll be healthy as a horse and setting up shop in your closet—"

"Fraser." Tears were pricking his eyes, suddenly, and he didn't know if it was exhaustion, or confusion, or some ghost of grief haunting him at just the mere suggestion of Fraser's demise (and of course, a suggestion was all that it was, all it was, cause the man himself was sitting right here next to him, looking quite a bit worse for wear but still holding his hand tightly) but he felt completely overwhelmed. "You're not making—you're confusing—" He felt a tear escape and land on his cheek with a splash.

Fraser's other hand was cupping his jaw, now—and this was shocking, too, the way Fraser holding his hand had been shocking. But these smaller shocks were minor in comparison to the big motherfucker that was currently sitting on his chest. "The only thing that's important, here," Fraser said softly, one thumb stroking his jaw, "the only thing that you need to understand is that I'm here. I came back, Ray—just as soon as I could. Today," Fraser whispered into his mouth, "is the first day of the end of my life."

Fraser kissed him then, hard, hungrily—and in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't shocking at all.

Ray found himself falling back against the sofa, falling deep into the kiss, his face trapped between Fraser's cold hands, his mouth opening for Fraser's warm, soft tongue.

Christ, what was happening here? Some part of him was now completely certain that this was a dream—a hot dream, a wet dream, a weird dream, the weirdest dream he'd ever had. His dreams were generally pretty mundane—your typical late for school, late for work, late for your wedding type of thing, where somehow you managed to show up without any pants. But this—this was just nuts. Making out with a dirty, hatless, bleeding, cold, dead Fraser on the sofa in the middle of the night.

Maybe it was a sign. Look how much had to go wrong in the world before this scenario (Fraser's hot tongue pushing into his mouth, Fraser's warming hands cupping his face) could take place. Fraser was almost never dirty, rarely hatless, never cold, and had certainly never died before.

Except he could taste Fraser's blood in his mouth. And either he was having a freakin' 3-D Technicolor dream in Taste and Smellovision, or Benton Fraser's mouth was really still bleeding.

Reluctantly, Ray jerked his head back. Fraser was slowly flushing with the heat of the moment, and certainly Ray was glad for that—he no longer looked so deathly pale. But his lips were smeared red with blood, and Ray licked his own lips and tasted blood there, too.

Fraser suddenly saw what he was doing and did something very un-Fraserish; he raised his arm and wiped his bloody mouth with the sleeve of his uniform jacket, leaving a stain. "Ray. I'm sorry. I—"

"Fraser, you're bleeding." It was the first thing Ray felt sure about since he'd woken up.

"Yes. Well." Fraser looked momentarily self-conscious. "But I've never felt better in my life. Getting stronger and stronger—"

"You're not dead." The words were out of his mouth before he'd consciously decided to say them. "How can you be dead if you're still bleeding?"

Fraser frowned, looked down at the bloodstain on his sleeve, then touched an absent finger to his lips. "I don't know," he confessed. "This is all new to me. I'm not sure of the rules—I think I'm in transition, Ray."

"In transition?" Ray repeated, unbelievingly.

"Yes. I mean, I've only been dead an hour." Fraser flicked his wrist and glanced sharply at his watch. "Well, more like two, now. I saw myself on the ground. I was lying there, dead. It was rather—upsetting." Fraser sounded ashamed of himself—like he wished he'd handled his death better. The nut. "When the worst of the shock passed, I came straight here. I have no idea if that's procedure or not, if I'm supposed to wait until I've fully crossed over and I'm in the ground or what precisely, but I had to come. My father was dressed for burial," Fraser added with a frown. "He stole my hat. I suppose I'll need a new hat myself. Maybe I can borrow one of Turnbull's hats—"

"Fraser." Ray felt like he was trying to break through a brick wall. "You kissed me." He reached out and grabbed Fraser's shoulders, which felt solid, substantial. "I can feel you. How can I be touching you if you're not here?"

"But I am here, Ray. I'm here and I'm going to stay here. I'm coming to live with you," Fraser said, and his smile was so infectious that Ray didn't have the heart to tell him that he'd lost his fucking mind. "In your closet."

"You're going to live in my closet," Ray repeated.

"Yes. If you don't mind. I'm sorry to be so presumptuous about it. But in my experience of these matters, there's nothing like death to rid one of one's inhibitions." Fraser leaned forward and tongued Ray's ear slowly, sending shivers up Ray's spine, making him instantly, terribly hard. "See?" Fraser said, and his smile was now transfiguring his battered face. "I must say, I'm really looking forward to the whole post-life experience."

"Aren't you supposed to be able to walk through walls and stuff?" Ray asked suspiciously. "Appear and disappear at will? Since when do ghosts knock? You knocked, Fraser."

"There's actually a long tradition of ghosts knocking, Ray," Fraser objected. "Though I grant your point—they're generally knocking to haunt, not simply to gain admittance. Except, of course, for various kinds of creatures—incubi, succubi, vampires—who technically qualify as undead and have to be invited into a person's residence. However," Fraser added, "I have good reason to believe that I am not in fact one of those creatures. And I'm afraid that I'm here whether you wish it or not. I lived with a ghost for years, and I certainly extended no invitations—"

"What about the walking through walls part?" Ray pressed.

Fraser shrugged. "I expect that will come in time. When I'm fully through the transition." Fraser paused and looked thoughtfully down at his hands. "I have to believe that I'm not so unlucky as to be forced to go through eternity with a black eye and bruised knuckles..." Ray had just opened his mouth to argue the point when the phone rang.

He turned, stared at it. It rang once, twice, the sound ominous in the silence of the apartment.

Christ, why the hell did anyone call at—five—in the morning? It couldn't be good news, it was never good news...

Ray felt cold sweat running down his back. Three rings. Four. And then he jerked, suddenly unable to bear it any more—and Fraser grabbed him, held him there, refused to let him answer.

"Let your machine get it," Fraser said quietly. "You already know everything they're going to tell you."

Ray felt a huge lump in his throat. "No. No, no..."

Fraser's arms came around him, held him tight. Ray found himself hugging back, holding on, as if to prove that, goddammit, Fraser was here after all.

Ring five. Six.

Ray let his face drop briefly into the dirty crook of Fraser's neck as the machine clicked on. He inhaled the satisfyingly real scents of grime and sweat as he heard his own, surprisingly loud, voice fill the room.

"It's Ray." God, how annoyed he sounded. "I'm not here—or maybe I am here but you'll never know. Do the beep thing."

A brief moment of whirring, and then the sound of a throat clearing. Nervously.

"Ray." Huey—shit, was Huey on the duty roster for tonight, or was Huey in some kind of trouble, or what? "Wake up. Pick up the phone. Pick up. The phone." A moment of tense silence, and suddenly Ray found his muscles tensing, found himself poised to rise off the sofa and do what the voice was telling him.

But Fraser's muscles flexed too—Fraser flexed his arms, and Ray bobbed upwards but stayed put.

"Ray!" Huey called loudly. "Ray, wake up! Can you hear me! Kowalski!" and shit, shit, shit: Huey'd said Kowalski on tape! That said everything. That said it all—that said too much.

Ray tensed, but all he heard was another long sigh, and then a click as Huey hung up. He looked at Fraser, who seemed calm, like the hang-up was totally expected.

"He'll call back," Fraser explained.

Just then, Ray heard the softer purring of his cell phone. One ring. Two. The sound was muffled; the phone was still in the pocket of his leather jacket, which was currently crumpled on one of the kitchen chairs.

Trying his other number. Christ. At five in the fucking morning. What could that mean? What else could that mean?

Purr. Purr. Ray turned his head and looked deep into Fraser's blue eyes. Christ, this was nuts. This was impossible. Fraser was right here. Right here in front of him.

Fraser held his eyes and nodded slowly. "I know. It's very strange. Still, you get used to it. I got used to my father's ghost. Mostly." Purr. Purr. And then nothing: the soft ringing of the cell phone stopped. "It was a very odd thing at first, seeing someone that no one else could see. I confess, it wasn't always a bowl of cherries. Caused me many an awkward moment. Actually," Fraser amended again with a frown, "it was a damned pain in the ass most of the time."

Ray felt his eyes widening; he wasn't sure how many more of these minor shocks he could take.

"Don't get me wrong," Fraser added, just as the main telephone began ringing again. "It was wonderful in its way. Certainly, I talked to my father more once he was dead than I ever did when he was alive. But that's not I plan to spend my own eternity. Here we go," Fraser said abruptly, head turning to stare at the black plastic answering machine. "Now we shall see what we shall see."

Blinking grew difficult, forced, deliberate. The machine clicked on again—after only four rings this time, since there was already a message on the tape. Again, he heard his own terse greeting. Another whirr, longer this time, and then the beep.

"Ray," Detective Huey said, and he was definitely Detective Huey now—he'd got his 'dealing with the public' voice on. "You're probably asleep. But I wanted to tell you. We just got a strange report—probably a kook, but..." Detective Huey took a deep breath and spit out the rest almost all as one sentence. "Somebody's-phoned-in-a-dead-Mountie. In the—"

"Mott Street Alley," Fraser whispered.

"—Mott Street Alley," Detective Huey said. "Between—"

"Fourth and Lakeside."

"—Fourth and Lakeside," Detective Huey concluded. "We've got two units checking it out right now. I'm sure it's just some crackpot, Ray—"

"It's not," Fraser whispered.

"—but I thought you'd want to know. You know?" Detective Huey seemed perilously poised on the brink of just becoming plain ol' Huey again. "But don't—don't worry about it, okay? It's probably nothing. But I figured...better safe than sorry. And I—well, you know. I owed you a call." Another deep sigh, and then Huey said, "Later, man," and hung up.

Ray became conscious of the fact that he was shaking his head in mute denial. "Not—that's not true, Fraser, that can't be true..."

Fraser gripped Ray's shoulders hard, shook him a little. "It is true."

"What—" Questions. A million of them. His mind was swimming with them. "I mean, if it is true, if it did happen— then what? Who? Who the hell did this to you?"

For the first time since this whole weird thing had started, Fraser looked genuinely confused. "I...don't quite remember. Not all of it. I think they were wearing ski masks." Fraser closed his eyes and tilted his head a little, as if trying hard to remember. "They were wearing ski masks. Maybe—eight of them. One of them was—Henderson," Fraser added, opening his eyes; he looked slightly shocked that he had remembered that. "I'm fairly sure that one of them was Henderson. In fact, I'm near positive. I'd bet my life if I were still in possession of it."

Ray gritted his teeth and nodded. "Then we'll get him, Fraser. We'll get him and fucking staplegun his nuts to the wall—"

The hands on Ray's shoulders relaxed; Fraser's fingertips gently brushed the side of his neck. "Not now. There'll be time for that later, all the time in the world. We'll—staplegun his nuts to the wall," Fraser said, and flushed. "But this is my time, Ray. This is the beginning of my time."

Fraser leaned forward, and Ray felt himself shudder in anticipation of another of those mind-bending dream-kisses. But Fraser just closed his eyes and took a long whiff of him, like he was trying to inhale him. And then Fraser bent closer still and ran the tip of his tongue for an inch or two along Ray's beard-stubbled jaw.

Sheesh. Christ. Ray could feel his cock leaking into his pants.

"I need a shower." Fraser's expression was an odd mixture of practicality and lust. "Take a shower with me?"

"Take a—" Ray realized that his voice had gone all squeaky, and cleared his throat. "Take a shower?"

"Yes. Please," Fraser added after a moment. "I don't think I'll manage it by myself at the moment."

Ray rolled his eyes. "Whattya gonna do, Fraser—slip on the soap and kill yourself?"

"No." Fraser appeared to take the question quite seriously. "I doubt I'd even do myself any damage at this point. But while I feel stronger, I don't feel quite strong enough to confront the shower alone. I should probably have stayed put—played dead," he added with a ghostly smile, "until my strength returned. My father always seemed fit as a fiddle, and he'd had a bullet blast through him."

Ray shooed that image away. "Too much information, Fraser."

"Understood. But Ray, I need you—and it could be fun, no?"

Need? Ray couldn't remember ever hearing Fraser use the word "need". In fact, now that he thought about it, he couldn't remember Fraser ever using the word "fun" before, either. Okay, maybe in terms of something really weird-ass like square dancing or yodeling or listening to Buddhist ringing gong music. But never about anything like this.

Fraser's smile grew conspiratorial, and his voice dropped. "C'mon, Ray. You know you want to."

Another small shock rocked Ray's system. Fraser didn't know that. Fraser couldn't know that—no way.

But Fraser was nodding slowly, like he could see into Ray's mind, like he really did know. And the knowledge deepening Fraser's eyes felt like a violation, and a little like freedom.

"You know you want to," Fraser whispered. "And I know you want to."

Ray felt like jumping Fraser—jumping him and smothering his mouth with kisses before he could say any more, before he could show Ray exactly how much he knew. Ray put his palms on Fraser's neck and felt his warming skin. He wanted to distract Fraser, to seduce Fraser, before he could say—

Fraser inhaled again—shuddered a little—and then murmured, "She knew, didn't she? Or she guessed?"

Ray jerked sharply, as if shot. The world went gray and fuzzy, and then black.

So maybe this was what death felt like. Something crushed to powder inside you. The numbing shock of it.

Then fear. Grief for all you were losing—everything that made you who you were.

Gone. Phhipt. Powder.

And then, the first lightning flash of resistance. First: "Oh, the hell with it." Then, the sudden, surprising thought: "I must be more than that." The blindingly bright vista of new possibilities. Rising hope. The first breath of true freedom.

Ray blinked slowly and saw Fraser's dear, battered face. Fraser looked concerned, and all at once Ray felt like he understood completely, like he knew exactly what Fraser had gone through. He cupped Fraser's jaw, pulled his face close, and kissed him hotly.

God, what a relief.

"Yeah," Ray managed when they finally broke apart. "She probably knew. C'mon—let's hit the shower."

Fraser's first groans in the bathroom were not good groans. It was hard to get him out of his clothes—congealing blood had glued his underclothes to the gashes on his torso. Fraser sat down on the toilet lid and held himself still as Ray carefully tried to separate the bloody fabric from the wounds underneath.

"Sorry." Ray winced each time Fraser hissed. "Sorry, sorry, Fraser."

Fraser gritted his teeth and shook his head. "You're doing fine."

"Gonna fucking kill those guys," Ray muttered.

"Yes." Fraser squeezed his eyes shut as Ray pulled another piece of his undershirt free. "Later."

Eventually Ray'd worked everything loose. He stepped back, satisfied, and took off his glasses. "That oughta do it." He balanced his glasses carefully on the edge of the sink and turned to flip the shower on.

Fraser let out a long, relieved sigh, audible even over the loud shush of the water. "Thank God," he said, tugging the blood-stained undershirt up over his head. "And thank you, Ray."

Ray glanced at the yellow and purple bruises spreading across Fraser's torso. "De nada," he managed finally, forcing himself to focus on adjusting the water temperature. Hot but not too hot. Soap? Check. Shampoo? Yep.

The room began to steam up pleasantly as Fraser carefully eased out of the rest of his dirty clothes. Finally, he stood up, naked but for his bruises. Ray was struck by how vulnerable Fraser looked without his uniform—somehow Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police was gone, and in his place was a slim, pale man with a shock of dark hair and blue, blue eyes.

"C'mon," Ray said, stepping closer again and offering Fraser a supporting arm. "Let's get you in there."

Fraser nodded grimly and braced himself on Ray's shoulder, and together they hobbled the few steps to the shower.

"Careful," Ray said, reaching out with his left hand to swish the shower curtain aside. "Step over into the tub..."

Fraser nodded again and did, disappearing behind the plain white shower curtain, his body disrupting the steady hush of the spray. Ray skimmed off his boxers, stepped into the tub behind him, and yanked the curtain closed.

Fraser's second set of groans were a bit better; he was leaning forward, head bowed, forearms braced against the tiled front wall under the showerhead. The hot water was pounding the back of his neck. These groans sounded extremely satisfied; Ray assumed that being kicked to death was hell on the muscles.

Carefully, he reached past Fraser's hip and scooped the soap out of the tray. "You doing okay, there?"

Fraser moaned his reply: "Yes. Fine. Wonderful."

"Good." Ray worked up a lather and scrubbed quickly at his chest, his pits, his groin. Then he rubbed the soap between his palms again and began to carefully wash the long, exposed stretch of Fraser's pale back, being extra special gentle over the bruised bits of him, taking care to wash out any cuts or wounds.

Fraser blurred before him, the steamy air making his already bad vision worse. Fraser looked more like a ghost every minute, except his soapy back was solid and bruised and there, right under Ray's gliding hand. And Fraser felt solid, even if he looked ghostly in the hot, clouded air, shuddering each time Ray's hand skimmed one of those awful bruises.

It occurred to Ray to wonder exactly what Fraser had died from. And that was too weird a question to keep to himself. He would have gone fucking nuts if he let that question rattle around in his head for too long. So he asked it.

"I don't know," Fraser replied offhandedly, shifting a bit to direct the hot spray to another spot. "I suppose the autopsy will—"

"Autopsy?" Ray felt sick to his stomach. A nightmare vision of the next few days flashed before his eyes. Would he be the one who'd have to identify Fraser's body, or would he be spared that? He'd want the case—god did he want the case—he'd beg, wheedle or threaten Welsh for the case. And he'd get it, too: he'd get the case, find Henderson, drive a sharpened screwdriver into Henderson's pig ugly skull and then escape to Canada with a single suitcase and a ghost-Mountie in tow. But being in charge of the case would mean being in charge of the body, and he didn't think he could survive seeing Fraser on a slab, cut open and sewn back together after autopsy. He shuddered. And then there'd be the cold, clinical reports, and the wake, and the funeral, and shipping Fraser's body back to Canada...

"Ray. Ray." Fraser'd turned around; water was dripping rapidly off the tip of his nose.

"I-I don't think I can handle this," Ray blurted. "I mean, I don't wanna think about you and the word autopsy in the same sentence. Autopsies, funerals, burials—" and Ray was shuddering now, having thoroughly creeped himself out.

Fraser took his arms and gently steered him into the spray. God, the hot water felt good, and Ray felt himself relax under its pounding warmth as the soap slithered off him.

"The part of me I left behind—that wasn't the real me, Ray," Fraser explained. "That's just—well, you know. Meat."

Nausea clogged Ray's throat, and he glared at Fraser. "You're not helping, Fraser."

Fraser looked embarrassed. "Sorry. What I'm trying to say is—"

"I know what you're trying to say," Ray interrupted. "I know it's a first but I've totally got it. I'm not a total moron, Fraser—I know what it means that you came here."

And it suddenly struck him as wildly wrong that he was calling Fraser Fraser now that he was naked and dead and sharing a shower at five in the morning.

Ray stared at the pale, wet man standing in front of him, at the wet hair slicked back from his face, at his dripping, abused flesh, at his drenched pubic hair and the vulnerability of his soft, pink cock.

"Ben," Ray murmured, trying it on for size, and the blue eyes in front of him widened in surprise. "No," Ray corrected, knowing instantly that that was wrong, too. "Benton. It's Benton, isn't it?"

The pale man went paler, and maybe those were tears in his eyes and maybe they weren't. "Yes, Ray," he managed.

"Fraser's dead and Benton's here, is that it?" God, his voice was hoarse, he could barely speak at all, because Benton Fraser looked so fucking fragile, looked like he might shatter into jagged pieces at any moment. And so Ray closed the short distance between them, and draped his arms around Fraser's warm, damp shoulders, and kissed him and kissed him, drowning in the sweet wet warmth of his mouth.

"Benton," Ray whispered breathlessly, giving Benton's lips a final lick, giving Benton's jaw a final lick, "let's get you cleaned up and outta here. Maybe you're dead, but I'm not, and trying to fuck a ghost-Mountie standing up has gotta be an accident waiting to happen, right?" He bumped forward a bit, nudging Benton's abdomen with his erection, feeling Benton's erection hard against his hip.

Benton moaned and bit gently at his earlobe, then whispered: "Yes. God, yes—take me to bed."

Ray shuddered with lust, but forced his fingers to be steady as he picked up the soap. And then he massaged the blood from Fraser's hair, and bathed the cuts on Fraser's body, and rinsed the street grit from his wounds, washing the violence away, washing Fraser away, and leaving only Benton underneath.

"I had a lover, you know." Benton was sitting naked on the edge of Ray's bed, watching with dark, glowing eyes as Ray finished toweling himself off.

Ray stopped dead; the hand holding the towel freezing on his left shoulder. Shock upon shock today, and there was only the barest hint of sunrise in the still-dark sky. He'd never imagined them having a conversation like this, had certainly never imagined them lounging naked in the bedroom while they had it. And he'd never in a million years anticipated how jealous he could feel. He thought he knew all about jealousy—thought, even, that maybe it was the one thing he was pretty much an expert on—but this was a whole new level of gut-clench, a whole new level of heebee-jeebie.

"Well, all right." Benton glanced away guiltily, maybe mistaking Ray's stare for reproach. "Maybe I've had one or two." He stopped, coughed. "Well, three, actually. To be strictly accurate."

Oh, yeah, let's make sure to be fucking accurate about it. By all means. Hell, maybe Benton wasn't Fraser exactly, but he sure shared a number of the guy's more annoying habits.

Benton said quietly, "I am telling you about this for a reason, Ray."

Ray jerked guiltily. Jeez—pull it together, man. The guy gets killed and comes here, to you, and I don't think it's because of the four-star accommodations you got. So what kind of proof do you need, anyway?

"I'm sorry," Ray murmured. "Go ahead."

"I had a lover. A long time ago. His name was Edward. We trained together, though we didn't start to—it wasn't for a long time that—it wasn't until well after we—"

"You didn't do nothing personal when you was working together," Ray supplied.

Benton looked grateful. "Yes, exactly. Later, of course, we were still both members of the RCMP, but by then we didn't share the same duties, weren't assigned to the same division, weren't—we weren't partners."

Ray dropped the damp towel onto the floor, crossed the room, and sat down next to Benton on the bed.

Benton kept staring straight ahead. "It was all conducted in the most aboveboard terms, Ray."

Ray nodded. "I'm sure it was."

He waited for the story to continue, but Benton seemed to have run out of steam; he just kept staring ahead into the darkness, at nothing.

"And?" Ray prompted finally.

Benton blinked rapidly. "And?"

"What happened to him?" Ray asked, bracing himself for the answer. Benton'd said the story had a point, and Ray was already pretty sure the point wasn't gonna be pleasant.

"He died," Benton said with an odd, quick smile. "Of course. You knew that."

Ray was already nodding; yeah, he knew that.

"But that's not the point."

Ray kept nodding. He knew that, too.

"The point is," Benton said sharply, "that Edward died on patrol. Broke his leg in two places and froze to death before his relief found him." Benton clamped his lips together tightly for a moment, and then said, more softly, "Twenty-four years old. Fucking froze to death."

Ray reached out to touch him, then pulled his hand back. Benton didn't look like he wanted to be touched.

"I used to think I would die the same way," Benton mused. "I nearly did, once or twice. I didn't anticipate the alley. Though I probably should have, considering my recent history."

Benton suddenly turned to face him, and his eyes were wild. "That's really the point, Ray. I didn't learn from history—I don't learn from history. I study it, I think about it, but I honestly don't think I've ever learned a goddamned thing." Benton reached out and grabbed his arm, so tight that it hurt, so tight that Ray flinched. "And you see, when it finally hit me that this was the end, not a near-miss but the real thing, not alone in a snowbank but alone in an alley and alone all the same, still waiting like a fool for the right aboveboard terms to present themselves—"

Ray's mouth fell open.

"—well, what's the saying? Those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Condemned, Ray. I don't have any great secrets," he continued urgently, "I don't have anybody to avenge, or any unsolved mysteries on my docket. No reason to linger. But I was dead and there and staring down at my body as Henderson ran away down the alley and I had just one solitary question in my mind. Why the hell did I wait so long to live my life?"

Benton was breathing hard now, breathless from telling, from his act of confession. Ray cupped Benton's neck with his hands: he'd heard the story, he'd gotten the point, and he thought the time for talking was now well and truly over.

"Fuck aboveboard terms," Ray whispered intently. "Just fuck aboveboard terms, Benton."

Benton's eyes were dark with desperation. "Too late. They're here. Fuck me now."

Ray'd wanted it to be tender—because he felt utterly seared with tenderness for the late Benton Fraser. And so he'd started off with gentle, sloppy kisses to Benton's neck, and Benton'd begun carefully exploring his body with bruised, ragged hands. And then Benton's thumbs stroked his nipples and Ray bit Benton's earlobe—

—and that was the end of tenderness; tenderness went flying out the fucking window. Suddenly, unbelievably, they turned into animals, and they were rolling and biting and sucking at each other's skin. And Ray ended up pinning Benton half on and half off the unmade bed as he fucked him—Ray had a foot on the floor and a knee on the mattress and found himself thrusting so hard that the headboard went thump, thump, thump against the wall, providing the backbeat for their rhythmic, groaning duet.

He knew Benton was near to coming when his moans quickened and became short, sharp cries, each one louder and more piercing than the last. Ray answered with a war-whoop like an attacking Indian in a B-movie and kept fucking, pumping so furiously they slid a foot up the bed through the bunched-up sheets. And then Ray overreached himself— hurled himself forward too energetically and lost his footing and pitched facefirst down onto the bed. He landed half-on and half off Benton's sweat-slippery back, his cock slipping out, his face mashed into the mattress above Benton's right shoulder.

Benton let out a howl of frustration that seemed to come straight out of Ray's own soul—and then they were moving, rolling, flipping onto their sides. Benton drew one leg forward and pushed backwards just as Ray shoved himself forward and then he was in again, going deep, one arm wrapped tight around Benton's middle. And then he was fucking like his life depended on it, which right now Ray was pretty sure that it did.

And then the world started shaking except it was only Benton shuddering and gasping and shooting his load onto his stomach, onto Ray's forearm, onto the mattress, and god knew where else but who cared? because at that first, hot pulse Ray buried his face against Benton's neck and whimpered his way through his own endless orgasm.

And then they broke apart and collapsed, Benton falling forward onto his face, Ray sprawling flat onto his back. Ray felt his heart thundering in post-orgasmic bursts, heard their ragged pants rending the air as they tried to get their breath.

"My God," Benton muttered into the mattress.

"Yeah," Ray told the ceiling.

And after a while he felt Benton shift beside him, and rolled over, too. They stared into each other's faces for a moment and then began to mug and grin at each other like idiots.

"My God, Ray."




Benton sank his fingers into Ray's hair, tugged his head closer, and took his mouth. And now that the edge was off, the tenderness came flooding back, and they were able to kiss for long, slow minutes—caressing, not grabbing; savoring, not gulping. Time passed in a daze of sensation, and Ray slowly became conscious that he was tingling, that Benton'd wrapped a hand around his cock and was gently pumping him to full hardness.


"Shhh," Benton hissed, and slid his tongue into Ray's mouth.

And after a while Benton slid two fingers into his ass and jerked him off with exquisite slowness. When he got close to coming, Benton altered his grip; when he moaned in frustration, Benton twisted his fingers and stroked his prostate. Benton played this game with infinite patience, apparently capable of keeping Ray on the knife's edge for hours if he wanted to. By the end Ray was actually begging aloud to come, and when Benton finally pushed him over the edge half the pleasure was sheer surprise.

He came explosively, and afterwards was so zonked that nearly all his kisses missed their intended mark. But he managed to convey deep appreciation for Benton's chin, for his collarbone, for his left armpit. The torso was safer territory, because he was bound to get something good, even if he somehow couldn't manage to get his mouth around either nipple. He stumbled on Benton's belly-button purely by accident, and spent a happy couple of minutes tongue-fucking it before creeping lower and getting seriously acquainted with Benton's cock.

He thought a little revenge was in order, so he sucked Benton's dick until it was leaking copiously into his mouth—and then pulled away. He spent five minutes kissing and sucking Benton's balls, loving how Benton squirmed and panted beneath him. Another minute or two with the cock, and then he dropped down and licked wet circles on Benton's right thigh, briefly dropping down to kiss the bony knee beneath.

When he returned to Benton's erection he found that it was straining desperately upwards, the head twitching and bobbing against Benton's abdomen. Ray licked his lips and pressed his hand against Benton's stomach, feeling the taut, hard muscles underneath his palm. And then he slid his hand down between Benton cock and his body, feeling the velvet smoothness of the leaking cockhead gliding against the back of his hand. Benton moaned at the touch, and Ray felt literally seized with lust as he slid his hand around—hard abdominal muscles under his fingertips, soft cockhead drawing precum pictures across his knuckles.

"Ray, I—" Ray looked up at Benton's face—his eyes were screwed shut, his mouth was open. He looked like he was having trouble breathing. "I can't—I don't—"

Ray whispered, "What do you say?" and Benton instantly gasped, "Please, please, please—"

Ray bent down and sucked Benton's fat cockhead off the back of his hand and into his mouth, then laved it twice with his tongue.

"Hhhhhhhaaa—oh." The sharp inhalation ended in the small, soft word.

Benton flooded his mouth.

Ray swallowed, and swallowed, feeling Benton's body twitch beneath his hand. And then Benton's fingers were in his hair, carding through, ghosting over his scalp. Benton tugged Ray's still sucking mouth away from his softening cock and guided it to rest against his belly. Ray buried his face completely in the warm skin for a moment, then turned his head sideways and let his eyes drift closed. He loved the way Benton was stroking his hair, caressing his face—

It took him a moment to realize that Benton was talking to him, talking in low, desperate tones. And as Ray forced his pleasure-fuzzed brain to focus, he realized that Benton was softly stammering everything he'd ever wanted a lover to say—"I love you", and "I need you", and "I want you" and "I'm miserable when you're not there."

"Yeah," Ray managed, turning and curling around Benton's body. He felt too overwhelmed to say much else.

Benton was still flooding Ray's brain with words, and it felt like he was giving voice to everything Ray'd ever felt but was too chickenshit to say. "I've been so lonely," and "Do you ever feel lonely?" and "Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and think, 'I've left home. I've left the country and nobody's noticed.'"

Yes, Ray thought, squeezing his eyes shut, squeezing Benton tight around the middle, the only real answer he could make. He wanted to tell Benton how it felt to be asked to replace somebody—somebody who would be missed, somebody whose disappearance would leave a hole somewhere—knowing that you had been asked because you wouldn't be missed, would leave no hole anywhere.

Nobody needed to replace Ray Kowalski when he went undercover. There'd been many dark nights when he was alone with that thought.

"Ray?" Benton's voice was a bare whisper now, like maybe he thought Ray had fallen asleep. Ray realized that Benton'd spilled everything, told him everything, and he'd barely said a word. Still, Benton must know by now that he wasn't great with words. He didn't have Benton's eloquence, and he didn't have near-anything like Benton's courage. And what would he say if he actually did have the guts—besides yes, and yes, and yes?

"Don't you ever leave me," Ray choked finally. "Don't you damn ever leave me."

They fell asleep with sunlight blazing through the window.

Ray woke up slowly, like he was coming awake in stages. Finally he dared to crack one eye open. Blinding light—daylight—hell, how long had he slept? He groaned, rolled over onto his back, and then realized with a sudden jolt that he was alone in the bed.

He sat up, despairing, panicked. Him and the crumpled bedclothes—alone in a diagonal strip of yellow sunlight. He jerked his head toward the clock and saw that it was nearly noon.

The dream had been a dream. Reality was the nightmare.

Fuck! Ray thought wildly, grabbing his pillow and hurling it across the room. It arced slowly to the ground, not landing with the satisfactory crash he was craving. He felt like ripping the entire place apart—none of his shit was any good anyway, it was all Stella's leftovers and rejects, just like he was. Best thing he could do would be to fucking smash the shit to pieces—that mismatched end-table, the fake Tiffany lamp. He'd have more fun breaking it than he'd ever had—

Through the red fury boiling in his brain, he realized he was hearing the faint sound of...retching. Like a shot he was off the bed and standing at the closed bathroom door. He reached for the fake-brass knob and then stopped his hand.

Wait. Chill out. Regroup.

He was naked. Okay, that was good, that was some sort of evidence for something, wasn't it? Except now, in the cold daylight, it was impossible to believe anything about last night. No such thing as ghosts, of course. But if there weren't, who the fuck was in the bathroom, and why the hell was he naked?

Ray took a deep breath. One thing at a time. "Fraser?" he asked softly.

No answer for a moment. And then: "Yes."

Ray exhaled, relieved. Okay, that was something, anyway. He was naked and that really was Fraser there in the bathroom. So far, so good. Time for another question. "You okay?"

Again, no immediate answer. And then there was horrible backwards grind of vomiting, and Ray recoiled and took a repulsed step away from the door. A second later guilt struck him, and he stepped forward again, felt for the knob, turned it.

The door was locked. Ray pressed one palm against it, then let his forehead fall against it. He had to forcibly restrain himself from repeating, "Frase? Are you okay?"

Fraser sounded like a guy who didn't have the time to answer stupid questions right now.

And so he waited. Finally, the room fell silent—or at least Ray couldn't hear anything anymore. Ray let his hand slide down the door, drift back to the knob.

"Fraser?" Ray whispered finally, clutching the knob. "Are you dead?"

There was a long groan. "No." And then, heavily: "I wish I were."

Ray was grateful for the support of the door; his body was aching with disappointment. And wasn't that just the weirdest thing, to feel such bone-deep regret because someone was alive?

Ray winced as Fraser started retching again, and suddenly it seemed wrong to be standing there. Fraser'd locked the door against him—he should at least let the guy throw up in private. He peeled himself back from the door, then rubbed at his head, considering what to do next. Coffee, maybe, he thought distantly, dully. Tea for Fraser—he'd need fluids. He wandered to his bedroom closet and pulled his ratty old bathrobe off the hook on the inside of the door.

I'm coming to live with you. In your closet.

Ray slipped into his robe, cinched the belt round his waist, and pushed the closet door until it snicked quietly shut.

The table lamp he'd turned on last night was still burning in the living room, and Ray bent down to switch it off. It hardly made a difference in the bright daylight. He wandered into the kitchen and started the coffee machine going, rhythmically counting spoonfuls. One. Two. Three—and counting them reminded him of the ringing telephone last night, of the terror that had stricken his heart.

He flipped the switch on the coffeemaker and put a pan of water to boil on the stove before wandering over to the answering machine. The red light was winking at him, and it took him a moment to realize that it was blinking one-two-three, pause, one-two-three, pause. Ray's eyebrows flew up—three messages, but he only remembered two. When had the other call come in? While they were showering? When they were (making love) sleeping?

Ray lowered the volume control lever with a finger and then pressed the PLAY button.

BEEP! "Ray. Wake up. Pick up the phone. Pick up the phone. Ray! Ray, wake up! Can you hear me! Kowalski!" Click.

BEEP! "Ray. You're probably asleep. But I wanted to tell you: we just got a strange report, probably a kook, but... Somebody's phoned in a dead Mountie. In the Mott Street Alley, between Fourth and Lakeside. We've got two units checking it out right now. I'm sure it's just some crackpot, Ray, but I thought you'd want to know, you know? But don't—don't worry about it, okay? It's probably nothing. But I figured...better safe than sorry. And I—well, you know. I owed you a call. Later, man." Click.

BEEP! "Ray. Here's the update. We don't know what went down in that alley, but something sure did. Uniforms report that the whole place is covered with broken glass. Plus there's a bunch of rocks—with blood on them. CSU reports that there's at least three different blood types on the ground—we won't know more till the lab reports come in. So it looks like somebody —maybe a lotta somebodys—got hurt , but there's no bodies, and no dead Mountie. Still, though, we called the Consulate, and Fraser isn't there, Ray. Plus he's the only Mountie in Chicago who ain't accounted for. We got Thatcher and Turnbull on the horn—they're both fine, but they don't know where Fraser is. Then again, neither of them has any idea of how the guy spends his time. They assumed he would be at the Consulate, but they didn't really know diddly-squat about what Fraser does or who he—oh, shit. Shit. SHIT! Ray—you asshole!—tell me you weren't there! Tell me you weren't in that fucking alley! Oh, shit, shit, shit, shit—Yo! Hey! When was the last time anybody saw Vecchio? Tell them to add Vecchio's bloodwork to the fuckin'—" Click.

"Oh dear." Ray looked up—Fraser was standing unsteadily in the bedroom doorway, holding onto the frame for support. He looked terrible—weak, pale, bruised. He'd wrapped a towel around his waist, but the bruises on his torso had darkened to near black. He looked much worse now than before, and Ray supposed that Fraser would look worse still before he began to look any better. "I suppose—we ought to call in."

Ray nodded slowly. "Yeah. Guess we should. How're you doing?"

The question itself seemed to make Fraser queasy; he tightened his grip on the doorway and closed his eyes for a moment before answering. "Okay. Better. Still a bit—nauseated. But better."

"You should be in bed. I'm making tea, I'll bring you some tea." Ray took a few steps toward Fraser and then stopped, stared. Fraser now had a ragged-looking rash on the side of his neck. "What the hell's that?"

Fraser opened his eyes, saw where Ray was looking, and then raised a self-conscious hand to his throat. "I don't know. Some kind of rash."

"Yeah, I can see that, Fraser," Ray said, and the words came out sounding harsher than he meant. He took a couple of steps closer, pushed Fraser's hand away, and peered closely at the raw, red flesh of his neck. "Geez, man," he said, and tugged Fraser a couple of steps toward the window.

"Slow, Ray," Fraser moaned. "I—"

But Ray was squinting at the rash, and now, in the bright sunlight, he could see it—a small round wound. He ran a careful fingertip over the spot, confirming with touch what he could barely see. The puncture was there.

"Shit, Fraser—somebody's injected you with something—"

Fraser gave a hiccuping gasp, and Ray stared at him. Fraser had one hand pressed to his stomach, and Ray wasn't sure if Fraser was gonna laugh or throw up.

Fraser bit his lower lip, stifling a smile and ending the doubt. "I'd gotten that far, Ray, thanks," Fraser said and averted his eyes.

Ray felt unexpectedly furious, felt like he could hit Fraser if Fraser didn't already look like he'd had all the hitting he could take. "Right," he said tersely. "Fine. Guess if it hasn't killed you yet, it ain't gonna. Go lie down. I'll bring you some tea, then I'll call the station, the Consulate, and the damn doctor, okay?"

"I don't need—all right." Fraser nodded stiffly, looking like an embarrassed guest. "Thank you."

Ray nodded gruffly and took Fraser's arm, helped him make his way back to the bed. Fraser settled back onto the pillows with a groan and draped his arm over his eyes.

Ray went back into the kitchen, switched the water off, poured it over a teabag and left it to steep. He picked up the cordless phone, dialed the station, and wandered back to pour himself a cup of coffee. He explained to a furious-sounding Lieutenant Welsh that yeah, it'd been Fraser in the alley, but Fraser was gonna be okay. He asked Welsh to put out an APB on that asshole Henderson, and told Welsh that he'd better get the lawyers lined up because they were gonna have a fucking hell of a police brutality case on their hands by the time Ray was through with the bastard.

He hung up and dialed the Consulate, informing a surprisingly frantic-sounding Ice-Queen that yeah, it'd been Fraser in the alley, but Fraser was gonna be okay. Probably wouldn't be at work for a while, though—yeah, pretty beat up, though you know what he's like. No, he'll see a doctor this morning. Yeah, of course I'll let you know. I don't know, let's see what the doc says—either I'll bring him back to you, or you can bring him his stuff here, whatever. Sure, sure, the wolf, too—it's a party. All right. Bye-bye.

He clicked off the cordless and put it down on the counter, going into the fridge to get some milk for Fraser's tea. He had a little left, at the bottom of a plastic jug, and he sniffed it gingerly—it smelled okay. He poured it into the tea and then carefully carried the mug into the bedroom.

Fraser didn't seem to have moved—he was still lying there, arm draped over his face. Ray put the tea down next to the digital alarm clock.

"Tea over here," Ray said quietly. "You got a doctor you want me to call?"

Fraser didn't lift his arm. "No."

"S'okay with you if I call my guy? He's a pal—he'll make a house call for me."


"You got health insurance?" Ray asked.

"All Canadians have health insurance."

"Yeah, for Canada," Ray sniped. "What about for here?"

"I'll submit an invoice, get reimbursed. It isn't a problem."

"Right. Fine." Ray turned, and then decided to have a wash and a pee while the bathroom was free. He went inside, bolted the door, and relieved himself. Then he washed his hands and his face in warm water.

The towels were in a pile in the corner. Ray shook his wet hands in the air, then rubbed them on his bathrobe. They were still damp, though, and so he sighed and picked up what looked to be the cleanest towel.

Underneath, he saw the torn sleeve of Fraser's uniform.

Ray tossed the towels aside and picked up the dirty red serge jacket and the grime-stained pants, folding them over his arm. And then he picked up Fraser's undershirt, with its patches of dark brown blood. He had a flash of memory—kneeling by the toilet, pulling the fabric away from Fraser's cut body. Fraser lifting his arms and pulling the stained fabric over his head. God, the bloodstained shirt looked awful—it looked like Fraser had been shot fifteen or sixteen times, or riddled with arrows like that saint guy who was riddled with arrows.

He balled the clothes up and then wrapped them in one of the towels. These clothes were history, for the trash bin now, and he didn't want Fraser to see them again.

He walked quickly out of the bathroom and into the living room, noting with a quick glance that Fraser still hadn't moved. He dumped the bundle of clothes onto the kitchen table, then fumbled through the kitchen cabinet for a garbage bag. He couldn't find a real one, though he found a large plastic shopping bag from Carson's. It'd do, he judged, and he brought it to the table and unwrapped the towel.

He was roughly shoving Fraser's clothes into the narrow-necked bag when he finally lost it.


Christ, why wouldn't the stupid bastard stay down? What the hell did the guy need—a silver bullet? A stake through the heart?

In his mind's eye he could see Fraser standing in the bedroom doorway, just like before—looking weak and unsteady, bruised and pale. Maybe if he didn't answer, the stupid Mountie would just go the fuck away.

"Ray." Fraser's voice was softer this time, but edged with persistence. Of course, he wasn't going to go—Benton Fraser was nothing if not stubborn. He'd stared Death in the face—was he gonna take orders from Ray Kowalski?

Ray lifted his face from the bloody undershirt and looked at Fraser's blurry outline. "Jus' go lie down, okay? Gimme a minute, here."

The blurry outline took a few tottering steps toward him. "Did the doctor?"

Ray slid an elbow onto the table and rubbed his forehead with his palm. "No. Not yet." Surreptitiously, he rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand, hoping that Fraser didn't notice. "I'll call him in a minute." He reached out and casually shoved the bloody undershirt away from him, like it was just some old rag that happened to be lying around.

"Oh." A few more steps and Fraser was standing by the table now, one hand braced on the back of a chair. Ray looked away from him, quite pointedly, he thought, but he could hear the scrape of wood against wood as Fraser pulled out the adjacent chair and sat down.

They sat there for long minutes. Ray kept his eyes focused on the tabletop. He felt tense, his stomach in knots from just thinking about what Fraser might say when he finally figured out what to say. "I'm sorry, Ray—I wasn't myself last night," or "I most sincerely apologize for anything untoward I might have done," or "How do you think we might best go about making our case against Henderson?" He might really have to sock the guy. Doctor was coming anyway, what was one more bruise?

But Fraser didn't say any of these things—he just put his hand on Ray's forearm and squeezed, sending a small shock up Ray's arm. Ray's eyes jerked helplessly to the left, and he stared at the scraped, grip-white knuckles clutching his arm.

And then it was like something broke inside of him. "Don't take this the wrong way Fraser," he said, his voice sounding cracked and wet, "but I wish you were dead."

Fraser froze for a moment, and then Fraser was lifting Ray's arm, pulling it up off the table. Ray's eyes followed his arm helplessly, and then he was staring into Fraser's battered face, at his own hand cupping Fraser's face, at Fraser's bruised hand holding Ray's own hand in its place.

Fraser looked on the verge of tears himself. "I wish I were dead, too," he whispered, and it sounded awful when Fraser said it. Like he really meant it. Like he was hollow inside and dying slowly.

And maybe he was. Reality was the nightmare, and everything living was dying, bit by bit.

Ray sighed finally and said, "You really don't ever learn, do you?"

Fraser's eyes widened for a split-second before Ray leaned over the corner of the table and kissed him. It was a brief, hard kiss, meant to chastise, to warn, and to punish.

Ray bit Fraser's lower lip and pulled away. He sat back in his chair and assessed Fraser narrowly, desperately searching for courage and a lousy couple of words.

"You stupid bastard," Ray said finally, just for openers.

Fraser's blinked at the insult, looking shocked.

"Seriously. You're a dumb-ass bastard, Fraser. And I've got no time for your bullshit, you hear me?"

Now Fraser's shock appeared to be turning to panic; his mouth fell open and his lips moved soundlessly for a moment before he could speak. "Ray, I—"

"Shut up," Ray interrupted. "I'm talking, here. This thing we have—it's over, it's through, it's done. Finito."

"No," Fraser whispered.

"Yes." Ray grinned ferally and leaned forward over the corner of the table, poking Fraser in the chest with his finger. "You listen up, cause I'm only gonna say this once, okay? You. Are Dead To Me."

Fraser stared at him. Blinked.

"You got that?" Ray asked.

"I..." Fraser began, then frowned and trailed off.

"You got that?" Ray repeated.

"I...yes," Fraser said slowly. "I...think so."

Ray crossed his arms. "You better know so."

"I...know so," Fraser said, relief filling his voice.

"You sure?"

"I'm sure."

"You with me?"

"I'm with you."

"Same page?" Ray closed his eyes and leaned forward, feeling the answer as a puff of hot breath on his cheek: "Yes, Ray."

Ray gently licked the lip he'd bitten. "It's Benton, isn't it?"

"Yes, Ray. Yes. Yes—" and Ray tried his best to make the kiss truly heartstopping.  

The End

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