Hanged Man

by Speranza

Note: A big thank you to the usual suspects—Mia, Resonant, and especially Terri, who held my hand the whole way with this. This story is for Raffe, in payment for she knows what, and for LauraKaye who said that she needed four happy endings. Happy endings ahoy! Meanwhile, be sure to stick around for the truly terrifying image gallery at the end of the story.

"—and so I salute you: detectives, prosecutors, other people who are committed to supporting state and local law enforcement. You are the epitome of public service, and you face an extraordinary challenge. How do we meet this challenge? First of all, we've got to share expertise between the different levels of law enforcement, between industry and law enforcement—"

Christ almighty on a crutch. Ray looks down at his wristwatch—10:15!—and the Commissioner's only now at "sharing expertise"? Ray knows this song by heart: a verse about "new crime-fighting technologies," another about "the importance of continual training." Ray sighs and massages his temples; yeah, the song's got a beat and you can dance to it, except there's never enough money for anything, so it's all a waste of time.

Still, the roast beef is good, and this year there's even an open bar. Ray figures they're trying to boost attendance at this shindig, because Welsh has made the annual CPD banquet mandatory for all the 2-7's detectives. "The Commissioner likes to come around, shake hands, feel like he knows people," Welsh had told them, eyes narrowing with threat. "So we're gonna be there, and we're going to be on our best behavior, people, okay? Be charming. Be polite. Don't be idiots." Welsh had stopped in front of Dewey and added, menacingly, "No spitting."

Dewey isn't spitting, but he's made a puppet out of a bread roll and two pats of butter. Apparently Dewey's idea of a good time is to make a bread-puppet talk trash in falsetto: "Get down on the floor, cocksucker," the bread puppet squeaks in its high-pitched voice. "Or I'll blow your fucking head off." Ray groans and slumps back in his chair. He's counting the minutes until it's over.

Meanwhile, the banquet table in front of them is a mess; the wait staff has cleaned their plates away but the linens are gravy-stained and full of bread crumbs, and there's a dark patch where someone's spilled a drink. There's coffee, yeah, but in those tiny china cups that are supposed to be classy but are just too fucking small in Ray's opinion. Ray's already drunk his own coffee and Fraser's coffee (greater love, Ray thinks, hath no man) and eaten two pastries and all the cookies left on the table, but his sugar-caffeine minimums are not even close to being met. What he really wants is a cigarette, which might kick the other stimulants in his system into action, but there's no smoking allowed in the banquet hall and no way to get up and leave.

Impatiently, he drums his fingers on the knee of his brown wool pants. Then his eye is caught by faint movement beside him; Fraser, shifting in his chair. Ray turns his head and looks hard at the guy, because he almost doesn't recognize Fraser for a moment. Fraser isn't wearing the red uniform, and Ray imprinted on the red uniform the first day Fraser showed up at the bullpen, looking like Christmas. But Welsh specifically asked Fraser to wear something a little less Canadian ("I'd like to avoid drawing attention to the freakish improbability of this partnership," Welsh had said, rubbing his stubbled cheek with a pale, meaty hand. "If that's at all possible,") and so Fraser is wearing plain black pants and a white shirt and a (singularly Canadian) red tie. A sportsjacket, borrowed from Ray, is hanging neatly on the chair back; normally Fraser wouldn't be caught dead in such an informality, but the jacket kind of pulls across his shoulders.

Fraser is fidgeting, and Ray's mouth twists into a smile because Fraser is fidgeting, and Fraser stands still for a living. Right now, though, Fraser seems to be trying hard to look awake and interested. Ray takes a tiny piece of his lip between his teeth to keep from laughing—because man, when you're boring the Canadians, things have gotten pretty fucking bad.

But Ray to the rescue; he discreetly moves his empty scotch glass off the paper cocktail napkin he's been using as a coaster and pulls a ballpoint pen out of his breast pocket. Fraser catches the movement of his hand and slowly stretches his neck so that he can see what Ray is writing.

A couple of strokes, and Ray's drawn out the Hanged Man's noose and twelve spaces: six, four, and two. When he looks up at Fraser, Fraser's lip is twitching and he nods. Precisely three seconds later, they move their chairs closer together so they are shoulder to shoulder, the napkin squarely between them. Fraser reaches into his own breast pocket and pulls out a second pen.

Welsh, maybe suspecting something, turns around and watches them narrowly for a few seconds, but Fraser is capable of feigning interest in the Commissioner's speech even as he's writing down his guesses.

E? Fraser writes, and yeah, Ray has to give him a couple of Es. Three, in fact.

T? Fraser writes, and Ray smirks and draws a head on the Hanged Man.

A?—and yeah, there's an A, and fuck, does Fraser always have to be so damn rational? When Ray was a kid, he wanted to be a spy, and so he'd learned all sorts of things about writing in code, including the most commonly used letters. He can't remember them all now, but ETAO were right at the top, and N, S, and R were up there somewhere. Fraser's just going down the list.

So Fraser tries for an O next, but there's no O and no N and no R. The Hanged Man now has a torso and two legs, and Fraser's frowning down at the cocktail napkin and looking worried. Ray waits for him to trot out an S, but Fraser surprises him and doesn't; instead, Fraser just stares down at the napkin and taps his pen a couple of times, leaving little blue dots on the paper. Then he looks up, and stares at Ray for a long moment, and wow, Fraser's eyes are really fucking blue, a deep blue, gray-blue, like when there's a storm over Lake—

But Fraser's smiling now, and nodding to himself, and writing

into the puzzle and then, to Ray's surprise, Fraser smacks him one, lightly, to the side, beneath the level of the table. Now Ray's grinning stupidly and he hides his face by leaning in to Fraser's ear. "Sorry," he murmurs. "This guy's killing me."

Fraser looks at him sympathetically and draws another nine spaces underneath the hanged man. But maybe Ray's got a little touch of Fraser's telepathy tonight, because he knows just what Fraser wants to say. He fills in the blanks, then crosses the words out.

He would say more, there's so much more he could say, but it's a very small napkin. Fraser tsks softly, but a glance shows that he's really pretty amused. Trying not to draw attention to himself, Ray puts his mouth to Fraser's ear and says, "Seriously, I can't wait to get out of here. I can't believe he's still—"

But Ray is interrupted by a burst of applause. He turns and sees Commissioner Juarez beaming from the podium at the front of the banquet hall, hands raised modestly to acknowledge all the clapping. Around them, people are getting to their feet. Ray and Fraser rise to theirs almost as a unit, automatically following suit, and Ray doesn't realize how close they're standing until there's suddenly not enough room for two. Ray grabs onto Fraser to steady himself, and in the back of his mind he notices that Fraser smells nice, or his aftershave does, and then the world turns over as the bread puppet shrieks, "Hey, cocksuckers! Get a room!"

The moment stretches out, surreal and strange. It's loud, with everybody clapping, and mostly everyone's still looking toward the podium. Nobody notices Ray close his hands into fists and step forward, toward Dewey—except Fraser. Fraser notices, and so Ray doesn't move forward, because Fraser has grabbed hold of his arm. Ray takes a swing with his other arm, but Dewey's smirking at him from just beyond his reach. And now it's over, and people are in motion. Juarez is coming off the stage, shaking hands, working the crowd. Some people are making beelines for the men's room or the exit. Ray wheels on Fraser, eyes imploring him to let go, because this is their shared problem, their shared insult, and it's for both their sakes that he's gotta knock Dewey's block off and....

Except Fraser doesn't look angry or insulted. Fraser looks...concerned, and maybe worried about him, but that's not all of it either. Behind that, there's some weird emotion in Fraser's eyes. Hope, or something. Fear. A queer kind of longing—and Ray feels excitement fluttering in his chest. Fraser's eyes widen suddenly and he steps back, letting go of Ray's arm, as if touching it had burned him. So Ray's free now, and he could just turn around and introduce Dewey's face to the floor a couple hundred times, except the adrenaline's gone straight to his cock and he's hard and Dewey who? Fraser's in front of him, swallowing hard, a painful-looking flush reddening his throat and ears like a sunburn. Ray can't help himself; he looks down at the front of Fraser's black pants, and Fraser's hard, too. Ray isn't sure why, or how, this window has opened up between them, but now he knows it's closing fast. He feels the sudden, gut-wrenching urge to lurch forward, grab Fraser's face, and pull their mouths together, except really that would be the stupidest thing he could possibly do in a room full of cops with Welsh two feet away and the fucking Police Commissioner shaking hands with the District Attorney four tables over. Still, the impulse is coursing through him, and he's shaking with the adrenaline of it, because fuck it, fuck it, window's closing. Fraser's face is shuttering back into normal friendliness, and goddamnit, Ray wants more than that.

Ray doesn't remember deciding anything, but suddenly he's clutching Fraser's wrist and saying, "Come on, Fraser. Let's get out of here."

"What?" Fraser's looking completely taken aback.

"Now. Now. Come on," Ray says, and yanks Fraser's arm hard. Except only Fraser's shoulder jerks toward him, because Fraser's got his feet rooted under him, and for a moment, Ray's not sure if Fraser's gonna fight him or dig his heels in or what. But Fraser blinks at him a couple of times and then, at Ray's second, hard tug, Fraser's legs unlock and he stumbles forward, yielding, and Christ, it's all Ray can do not to shove his hand into Fraser's pants right there. Instead, Ray pulls again at his arm, and Fraser barely has enough time to grab Ray's sportsjacket off the back of his chair before Ray is dragging him across the room, though the milling crowd, toward the exit.

"Ray. Ray," Fraser says, from behind him. "Where are we going?" and Ray says, without looking at him, "We're gonna do what he said." He half expects Fraser to stop short and break Ray's grip on his wrist, which he's sure Fraser can do; Fraser's got all sorts of kung fu in his arsenal—but Fraser just lets Ray pull him through the crowd and out the door.

Maybe Fraser didn't hear what he said. Maybe Fraser did hear but didn't understand what he meant. Doesn't matter; he pulls Fraser through the wood-paneled foyer, and the doors to the street are just beyond. He can feel the blood coursing through Fraser's hot wrist, pulse hammering under his fingertips. Outside, the streetlight nearest to them is broken and the buildings, mostly factories and commercial properties, are looming around them. Ray can't explain exactly what he's doing, what he's feeling, but he knows he has to act fast, before he loses his nerve.

A beat is thrumming in his veins, too; get a room, get a room, get a room.

He's parked a couple of blocks away—the Chevy, because this is kind of a crap neighborhood—and he starts tugging Fraser down the sidewalk in the right direction. Around the corner, the street is lit up by the reflected light of the neon signs above the closed stores, Harry's Hardware and Klosty's Bakery and Junior's Liquor, except Junior's is still open, and there are people hanging around outside.

"Ray," Fraser says softly, and now he's resisting, but gently, like he's trying to calm a bolting horse. "Please. What are we—"

Ray wheels on him and grabs his shoulders, because the only way to keep this going is to keep going, to not stop, and most importantly, to not talk. "Fraser," Ray pleads, trying to communicate this sense of urgency, and in the pink neon light from the liquor store, Fraser searches his face. "Would you just—? Dammit!"

Fraser's mouth drops open and for a moment, Ray's sure he's going to ruin it by talking, asking questions, trying to reason it all out. But Fraser just stares, and then he thoughtfully licks his lower lip and nods. "Okay. Come on," and now Fraser's gripping his upper arm so hard it hurts and yanking him into the street between two parked cars. They're headed diagonally across the street toward Junior's, and it takes a couple of seconds before Ray sees where they're going. Right next to Junior's there's an alcove containing a couple of steps, and at the top of the steps there's a glass door stenciled with black letters: Ashland Hotel: Men Only. Fraser drags him past the winos and the junkies clustered outside Junior's and pauses to tip his hat—the hat he isn't actually wearing—to a black transvestite. Ray shoves him toward the steps. Fraser pulls open the grimy glass door.

The place is a pit, but who cares? Ray's already fumbling for his wallet; inside, there's an old guy in a cage of murky bullet-proof glass. Ray hopes it's not more than 58 bucks because he's only got 58 bucks: two twenties, a ten, a five, and three ones. "I haven't got any American money," Fraser whispers to him, and Ray says, "Sh," and leans forward to ask the old guy, "How much?"

The guy sighs and says, "Per hour or for the night?" He's pointing to a black sign in the window, and Ray pulls back a little, bumping into Fraser, who's crowded up behind him with his hands practically in Ray's pockets. Ray looks at the sign, which announces rates of $10 an hour, $45 bucks for the night and his stomach clenches nervously, because fuck, this is so nuts! Plus part of him can't believe that anything's really gonna happen here, and even if it does, no way it'll take anything like an hour. For his own part, he thinks that Fraser could push him up against the wall and stroke his throat a couple of times and he would come; call it four minutes, tops.

Fraser pushes some weird Canadian money into Ray's hand, and Ray elbows him, because geez, that colored money's pretty conspicuous and the last thing they want is to be conspicuous. Wordlessly, Ray pushes his two American twenties and a five through the slot in the glass, and the guy pushes back a long metal rod with a key attached; 2B.

There's no elevator in the place, so they bolt up the disgusting, brown-carpeted steps. At the top is a narrow hallway, and Ray could raise his hand and touch the ceiling if he wanted to. There's only a few rooms up here, running backwards. 2F, 2E, 2D. Ray grimly walks down the corridor toward 2B, and he can feel Fraser walking behind him, but he can't turn around, he can't look at Fraser's face, he can't. He stops in front of 2B and fumbles the key into the lock and voila, the door opens. The room is musty and cramped and dominated by a single, queen-sized bed. The air is streaked with blue and pink neon from the Junior's sign, which seems to be right outside the window, and—

Ray is reaching for the light switch but Fraser bats his hand away, pushes him into the room, and shoves the door closed. There's hardly room to stand in there and it's dark aside from the random streaks of neon light and suddenly Fraser's right there, way up close, and fuck, this is really going to happen. And that's the last coherent thought he has, because Fraser clutches Ray's hips and pulls their bodies together, and Ray leans in to take Fraser's mouth and—

The first time Ray ever goes into the ocean, it's in the Bahamas, with Stella, on their honeymoon, and okay, yeah, it was warm that day and the beach was hot enough to burn the soles of his feet but when he went down to jump in the water, he was shocked by how warm it was, like a bath, like the womb, like the entire ocean was an extension of his own body. It was uncanny, and he'd never felt anything like it, because Lake Michigan was never like that, not even on the hottest days of August. He felt like he could just close his eyes and drown, because this was where he belonged, in this ocean of perfectly Ray-temperatured water.

Kissing Fraser is a lot like that. Fraser's mouth just opens under his and this should be weird, this should be wrong, but it's not—it's not at all. Fraser's mouth is warm and wet and Fraser's giving him lots of tongue and maybe Ray shouldn't be surprised, but he is: Fraser's not shy about this. Far from it—Fraser's hands are sliding all over Ray's body, over Ray's hips and down his ass and touching, clutching, kneading before sliding up the small of Ray's back and getting trapped between Ray's shirt and his jacket. Ray tilts his head to deepen the kiss and wraps his arms around Fraser's shoulders, but Fraser's way ahead of him, pulling Ray's shirttails out of his pants and then shoving his hands up and under, running his hands greedily over the skin of Ray's back. Ray gasps and his mouth falls away from Fraser's—and fuck, Fraser's wild-eyed and panting like a freight train. He grabs Ray's hand and presses it to the crotch of his black trousers, and geez, Fraser's so fucking hard. "Ray—please—touch me," Fraser whispers, and that's it, fuck, Ray's fumbling at the zipper of Fraser's pants and Fraser's ripping the buttons off of Ray's shirt and trying to pull Ray's suit jacket off at the same time, forgetting the tie, and then they're stumbling backwards onto the bed and Fraser's gasping, "Yes, yes, Ray," and Ray looks down and sees that he's got his hand around Fraser's erection. Fraser's sprawled on the bed with his pants open and his shirt unbuttoned and Ray's jacking him hard and fast. Fraser's cock is already slick, and his smooth, nearly hairless balls are drawn up tight.

Ray inhales sharply and tries to slow his hand, tries to show a little fucking finesse. Fraser moans softly and his eyelids flutter closed, but a moment or two later, he sucks for air between his teeth. "Christ, don't tease. Please...."

Without thinking, Ray tightens his fist around Fraser's cock and speeds up again. "Okay. Okay?"

"Yes," Fraser breathes, and while his eyes are closed, his mouth is open and he's breathing hard.

"You like this?" and geez, when had his throat tightened up like that? He can barely talk. "Like this?"

"God. Yes. I need—Christ, I need—Please—" and it's weird to see Fraser like this, a horny male animal needing to come. Ray stops for a second and pulls his hand back to lick his palm; Fraser's eyes flick open, but Ray's hand is a lot wetter when he wraps it around Fraser's cock again, and they soon close again. Ray squeezes the head of Fraser's cock on every upstroke, and he knows from the way Fraser's gasping quicker and quicker that he's on the verge of coming. If this wasn't the first time, if he wasn't doing this to Fraser for the first time, he might slow his hand again, but he really doesn't want to tease, and when Fraser comes, it's with a moan so heartfelt that Ray knows it's been too long. Fraser comes and keeps coming, eyes screwed shut, chest heaving for breath—and fuck, there's come everywhere, and Ray moans softly, in sympathy, as he eases Fraser through it.

Afterwards, Fraser is panting like he's run ten miles, his head lolling on the ugly olive green bedspread. Ray slides his hand across Fraser's come-slick belly, feeling the smooth skin, the hard muscles underneath. Fraser's breathing finally levels out, so much so that Ray wonders if he's falling asleep, and he's feeling gripped by a million different impulses—he wants to lick come off his fingers, kiss Fraser's mouth, hump his leg, jerk off on his belly—when Fraser takes a deep breath, opens his eyes, and says, "I'm awake."

Ray can't help it; he leans over Fraser and grins down at him wolfishly. "Yeah. You better be."

"I am," Fraser says, and then suddenly he reaches up and grabs Ray's tie and pulls him down for a sweaty kiss that mashes their noses together. Ray doesn't care; that's what noses are for, he figures, and beneath it, Fraser's mouth opens easily for his tongue. And then beneath him, Fraser lurches and rolls them over and pins Ray down on the mattress, and geez, Fraser is heavy on top of him but good-heavy. Fraser slides down Ray's body and presses his mouth to Ray's neck and throat; this is Ray's personal fucking fantasy, and he closes his eyes and tries to feel each stinging kiss.

Fraser works his way down, unknotting Ray's tie and pushing his shirt open as he descends. Ray hopes Fraser's leaving hickeys; he wants to see a trail of them down his chest when he looks in the mirror in the morning. Fraser's lips are brushing his ribs, kissing his painfully-tight nipples, nipping at them with his teeth—and Christ, Ray is rock hard. Moaning, he nudges his cockhead rhythmically against Fraser's belly. He'd be happy to come just like this, rubbing up against Fraser while Fraser bites his nipples, but Fraser's sliding down Ray's body and mouthing Ray's erection through his pants.

Ray closes his eyes—shit, that's good!—and he's momentarily startled when Fraser unzips his pants and pulls his underwear down. He takes a deep breath, because you can't get self-conscious at a time like this, and his dick's normal enough—at least, he's always thought so. Fraser seems to think so, too, because he makes a soft, appreciative noise before wrapping his lips around Ray's cock—and fuck! Ray is arching off the bed as he thrusts up into Fraser's tight, hot mouth. The urge to fuck is damn near overpowering, but Fraser's holding him down and licking and sucking his cock until it's sliding slickly between his lips—and geez, that's lewd, that's exciting; he can't take his eyes from Fraser's shiny, swollen mouth.

"Oh," Ray breathes, thrusting slowly, watching him take it. "Fraser. You look—good. God. So fucking dirty," and Fraser closes his eyes and moans helplessly, sending vibrations shooting up Ray's spine. "Oh. Fuck. Yeah—" and he's thrusting helplessly. Fraser sucks him hard, bobbing his head up and down, hollowing his cheeks to make it tighter. Ray hears his own sobs echoing in the tiny room, but he can't help it; it's too good, he can't control himself. "Fraser, Fraser, fuck—" He's babbling, and then he's coming, and it feels like he's being gutted, like the best parts of him are being ripped out. His mouth is open and his lips are moving but there isn't any sound at all.

Fraser sucks him till he's soft, then lets Ray's dick slip from his mouth. He's curled around Ray's legs, face nestled in Ray's exposed groin. Ray smiles to himself: not only did this not take an hour, but neither of them is even fully undressed. Fraser's white shirt is still hanging from his shoulders, and his pants are still mostly on. Ray's own brown wool pants have been shoved down his legs, and his wrist is caught in the buttoned cuff of his shirt but who cares? Ray closes his eyes and dozes, loving the weight of Fraser's head on his belly.

When he wakes up, it takes him a moment to remember where he is. He glances at the cheap digital clock beside the bed, and is shocked to find that it's 2:15. Fraser's awake, too, and sitting on the edge of the bed with his back to Ray. For a moment, Ray's afraid that he's leaving, but he's got it backwards; Fraser's taking off his clothes and stacking them neatly on the chair beside the bed. Ray hesitates for a moment before deciding to do the same, and there's something backwards about this whole evening: being friends, having sex, then getting naked. Ray finds the tiny bathroom next to the closet and fumbles in the dark to wet a towel. He wipes down his chest, groin, and thighs and then brings the towel to Fraser, who stands up to do the same. The white towel is glowing faintly in the dark room, the way Fraser's skin is glowing, and Ray can't take his eyes off him—Fraser's beautiful, like a statue, something marble carved by somebody good.

So Ray can't help it, he pulls the towel from Fraser's hands and drops it onto the floor, then slides an arm around Fraser's neck and kisses him. Fraser leans into the kiss without hesitation, and their bodies brush together, and Ray can feel his cock filling and Fraser's nipples hardening. "Ray," Fraser says, when the kiss is finally broken. "Come to bed."

Ray nods, and this is completely different, getting into bed deliberately, like grown-ups. Somehow, it's already been decided that Ray's side is the right side and Fraser's the left, so they go to their respective sides and get in. The sheets and blankets are threadbare, but they seem clean and they don't smell. Ray punches the pillow a couple of times and tucks it behind his head, and Fraser surprises him by crossing over into Ray's side of the bed to slide an arm around Ray's waist. Instinctively, Ray's arms fold around Fraser, and it feels right, completely natural, even though he hasn't slept with anyone this way since Stella. Tentatively, he lets his fingertips brush Fraser's hair; he's kind of got a hair fetish. He used to love to bury his fingers in Stella's hair—except she hated it, because it was fine, she said, and it would tangle. Fraser, on the other hand, leans into his touch, so Ray indulges himself, stroking Fraser's hair, massaging Fraser's scalp with his fingertips. Fraser's almost purring in his hands.

The wall is striped with pink, then blue, then pink, as the Junior's Liquor sign flashes on and off and changes color. Ray lies there, massaging Fraser's neck and shoulders, and wonders how the hell this all happened, what the hell it all means. Him and Fraser, the way this went down—it seems, what did Welsh call it? Freakishly improbable—it's freakishly improbable that he and Fraser should have ended up like this, fucking in a cheap men's hotel. And yet here they are, and maybe it's just the neon light, but the air around them seems magical. It's like they've found a secret door into a room that doesn't exist; it's just a weird, safe space where they can fuck, a place that isn't shadowed by Fraser's portraits of the queen or Ray's framed pictures of Stella.

It's like a dream, and Ray's suddenly afraid that to question it is to break it, that this beautiful, iridescent moment will burst like a bubble. Pop. Reflexively, his hand clamps down on Fraser's shoulder.

Fraser hmms softly and lifts his head. "Ray?"

"Sh." Ray cups Fraser's chin in his hand and rubs Fraser's lips with his thumb. "No talking." He doesn't know why he's so sure; he only knows that it's key that they don't talk about it. If they don't talk, they can be almost anonymous, or maybe even themselves—not Vecchio and the Mountie but Ben Fraser and Ray Kowalski. He feels like he hasn't been Ray Kowalski for a long time, and this guy he's fucking—Ray leans in and kisses Fraser's soft mouth—well, he's never seen this guy before in his life.

Ray's panting when he pulls his mouth away. "We got time. It's not nearly morning yet. What do you want to do?"

"Everything, Ray," Fraser says breathlessly, as if that were obvious.

They aren't equipped to do everything, but they have a lot more stamina for the next go-around, having already come once. Ray sucks Fraser's cock for a really long time, and Fraser writhes and gasps before managing to curl himself around Ray's legs to sixty-nine. Ray comes so hard that he loses the ability to do two things at once, nearly choking on Fraser's come before managing to turn his face away and cough it out of his throat. Fraser, meanwhile, comes and goes out like a light—which is wild, because Ray has slept—if not with, at least near Fraser before, and Fraser's one of those light sleepers who makes you feel safe, because he'd wake up if a serial killer was coming. But now, Ray rolls over and peers down into Fraser's unconscious face, even going so far as to snap his fingers above Fraser's nose a couple of times. Bupkis. Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy could break down the door wielding chainsaws and Fraser would probably sleep right through it with that faint, happily-laid smile on his face.

Still, Fraser is up first; when Ray wakes up, regular ol' white light is streaming through the window, and he's alone in bed. He freezes for a second, and then hears the soft shush of the shower. Okay. Fraser isn't gone yet. But that magical feeling is gone, and now this is just a grimy hotel room and fuck, he has to get a move on or he'll be late for work.

He raises both hands to scrub hard at his hair, then leaps out of bed. Fraser's collected all of Ray's clothes from where they got flung—pants, underwear, socks, jacket, tie—and put them on the bed. Ray needs a shower, too, and badly—he's come-stained, sweaty, entirely fucked-out. He paces on the filthy carpet outside the bathroom door and waits until he hears the water stop. "Fraser," he says gently, knocking once, "I don't want to rush you but—"

"One moment, Ray," Fraser says, and a moment later, he opens the door. Fraser's hair is wet and standing up every which way, but he's got his pants on and a towel slung around his shoulders. Plus, he looks nervous, and, at first, Ray doesn't get why. "I'm sorry, I—"

"No, no, it's okay," Ray interrupts, "keep using the bathroom, just I got to get into the shower—"

"Yes, of course," Fraser says, and flattens himself against the wall to let Ray pass—and then Ray understands why Fraser looks nervous, because fuck, where the hell are they in the cold light of day? Ray wonders if he's supposed to stop, maybe kiss Fraser good-morning, say mmm, that was a great fuck—except wouldn't that be weird? What the hell are they supposed to do down at the station, it's not like they're gonna be kissing each other hello and goodbye in the car—bye for now, sweetheart, kiss-kiss, see you at six—so Ray's completely paralyzed and Fraser's looking at him warily and then Ray just pushes past him and jumps into the shower and he swears he can hear Fraser's sigh of relief. He flicks the water on and says to Fraser, through the hiss of the spray, while soaping himself, "I gotta get in early; I promised—" Welsh, he wants to say; he's promised Welsh he'd do the paperwork on Sorrento; but he doesn't want to evoke Welsh or Sorrento or anything having to do with the 2-7. "I gotta get in early," he says again.

"Yes, of course, Ray. I'm in something of a rush, myself," and duh, the Ice Queen's expecting Fraser to open the Consulate, and Fraser's got to change back into being a Mountie first. Which reminds him—

Ray sticks his dripping head out through the gap in the shower curtain, and Fraser, who's scraping his wet hair off his forehead, turns to look at him. "Hey, you're gonna—" change into your uniform, put on your red serge. But he can't make himself say it; the red serge, it turns out, is also unmentionable. "—change clothes, right?" and Fraser nods. "So can I take back the jacket I lent you? And maybe I could borrow your tie. That way..." That way, maybe it won't be so obvious that I'm wearing yesterday's clothes, Ray doesn't say, but Fraser seems to follow his train of thought.

"Of course, Ray," Fraser says, and Ray ducks back into the shower. By the time he turns the water off, Fraser's already dressed and wearing Ray's blue tie, Ray's tan suitjacket slung discreetly over his arm. "I have to go," Fraser says awkwardly, and Ray, wrapped in towels, nods and shivers a little.

"Okay. Do you need a ride?" He doesn't say to the Consulate.

"No, no," Fraser says quickly.

"Because I could—if you just give me a minute—"

"It's really not necessary. I'll be fine. And—" Fraser hesitates and then spits it out. "Perhaps better not, yes?"

Right. It's much better if they don't leave together, he gets that, but still, it's making his stomach clench from stress.

"Yeah. Probably better not. I'll, uh," and he covers this moment of awkwardness by toweling his hair wildly, so that he's momentarily lost in the scratchy feel of cheap, white terrycloth, "see you later."

"See you later," Fraser agrees, and when Ray pulls the towel off his head, the door to 2B is snicking quietly shut.

So Ray goes to the station and drowns himself in work. He does the Sorrento paperwork and then volunteers to get everybody's perps booked. He does three or four interviews—a breaking and entering, two assaults, and a fraud—and is in the middle of playing "bad cop" to Huey's "good cop" when he catches a glimpse of himself in the room's two-way mirror. He's wearing tan slacks, his own brown-flecked sportsjacket and Fraser's red tie, and maybe showing up at work in your partner's clothes ain't exactly a hot ticket to Inconspicuous-ville.

He can't think about this now.

Around four-thirty, Fraser shows up, and he's that other guy, the one in the red serge and the hat, the one that Ray isn't fucking. And to Ray's relief, everything's perfectly normal. "Sorry I'm late, Ray," Fraser says, perching on the edge of Ray's desk, taking his hat off, and twirling it between his hands a couple of times before setting it down on his knee, just like always. "I've had a bit of a day."

"Ice Queen getting you down?" Ray asks, slouching back in his rolling wood desk chair, which creaks precisely on cue.

"The Inspector," Fraser amends, just like he always does, "decided that today was the day for us to revisit the controversial issue of 355(b), also known as 'The Ways and Means Test', also known as 'the Juggernaut.'"

"Oh yeah?" Ray pops a toothpick into his mouth and grins up at him. "So what exactly is the 355(b), aka the Ways and Means Test, aka the Juggernaut?"

"Ah," Fraser says with only the barest hint of a smirk. "Well might you ask," and okay, this is all perfectly normal stuff. And when Ray gets a call from dispatch at half-past six, that's perfectly normal; and when Fraser snatches his hat off Ray's desk and follows him out to the car, that's perfectly normal, too; and the dead guy and his screaming wife and the way she's waving that gun around before she breaks down and confesses how her husband was porking her best friend, well, that's just part of an average day for Vecchio and the Mountie.

What's not normal, though, is the way Fraser holds the bullpen door open for him but doesn't touch him, and what isn't normal is the way Ray finds himself keeping entirely to his side of the car, and how he doesn't ask Fraser if he wants to get a bite afterwards, because perhaps better not.

So Fraser goes back to the Consulate and Ray goes home and throws a frozen dinner into the microwave. He eats it in front of the TV, though when he turns it off he can't remember anything he's watched. And it's certainly not normal the way he's in bed by ten-thirty and jerking off, desperately, into the dark.

A couple of days of that and Ray's ready to take a chance, because if he's gonna spend this much energy acting innocent, he at least wants to be guilty. Still, he waits until they're alone in the GTO. "So, uh," Ray says, scratching his neck while they're stopped at a light, and he doesn't know what Fraser hears in his voice but Fraser's head jerks up instantly. "I've been thinking—"

"Yes, Ray?" and geez, from the sound of Fraser's voice, maybe he's not the only one feeling frayed around the edges.

"Nothing," Ray says and bites his lip. "Just—"

"Light's changed," Fraser says softly.

"Thanks," Ray says and hits the gas. Now he's got to find some kind of euphemism for "Fraser, I'd like to have sex with you," while trying not to get them killed in midtown rush-hour traffic. "Just—I was thinking that—maybe today, after work—we could—" But that's it, that's all he's got. In his head, the sentence ends, "go somewhere and fuck," and that's not what he wants to say; not at all. So Ray tries again. "Look, maybe we can—"

"—meet up?" Fraser asks, finishing the sentence, and Ray sighs in relief. He can always rely on Fraser, that's half of what he loves about the guy. "I don't see why not," Fraser says, looking steadily out the front window. "The, uh—" and here Fraser falters for a second, but only a second, before saying in a somewhat strangled voice, "—the usual place?"

"Yeah," Ray breathes, nearly giddy with relief. "The usual place."

Which is how the Ashland goes from being "the fleabag hotel they stumbled into" to "the usual place." It doesn't need to be said that they'll take separate routes and meet there, and it doesn't need to be said that this time Fraser'll pick up the tab—all Fraser has to do is discreetly flash the wad of folded American greenbacks he's got tucked into the pouch on his belt. Ray drops Fraser off at the Consulate, then trades the GTO for his CPD Chevy. His leg is shaking excitedly as he drives; fuck, he can't help but wonder how long Fraser's been carrying that good ol' American money around.

He parks several blocks away and walks through the darkening streets to the Ashland Hotel. For a moment, he can't quite remember where it is—on Ashland, obviously, but where?—and he has to go to the James Hobson Memorial Ballroom and retrace his steps. A couple of blocks, turn the corner, and there it is, across the street. Junior's Liquor looks a lot less seedy in the grey twilight, its neon sign on but not bright enough to dominate the air. Ray crosses the street nervously, jamming his hands in his jacket pockets. He can feel the sharp corner of a condom packet scraping his right index finger, and a small tube of lube pressing against the knuckles of his left hand. He wants to be discreet, here, because maybe they'll need this stuff and maybe they won't, but properly prepared people are—being properly prepared is—well, whatever, he thinks it's a good thing to bring stuff.

He jogs up the steps, pulls the glass door open, and deliberately walks right past the guy in the cage. His peripheral vision tells him it's not the same guy as last time; this guy is 6'2", 50-ish, black. Ray takes the stairs two at a time, but stops short on the landing, suddenly nervous. It's just Fraser, he tells himself, but that just makes things worse, so scratch that, try again. It wasn't weird last time and it's not gonna be weird now, Ray tells himself, as he slowly walks past 2E, 2D, 2C. It's gonna be just like jumping into that beautiful, blue, Caribbean water.

Ray has just taken a deep breath on that thought when the door to 2B flies open and there's Fraser, wearing jeans and a blue flannel shirt and sneakers and thank God, Fraser's with the program; Fraser's turned himself back into that other guy who isn't the partner he's gone undercover to work with. This guy's got dark hair and blue eyes and looks horny, and Ray feels like something's just grabbed him where he lives and dragged him into the room.

Or hey, maybe that's just Fraser.

Fraser kisses him and pulls him to the bed and manages to get him undressed all at the same time, which is really the only sign that he's still dealing with the same, massively competent guy he works with every day. Ray himself is having a little more trouble coordinating himself, but that's mainly because his hands are shaking, he's so turned on. Fraser is tongue-fucking his mouth and rubbing his cock through his pants. So good—but more than that, Ray can't believe how easy this is, because Ray's never had things easy, not like this.

Getting Stella was like scaling Everest, like climbing a sheer cliff-face in high, freezing winds. It was ten years hard work getting her, and then it was ten years hard work losing her, and everything since has been catch as catch can, begging for scraps, getting a blow job or a quick fuck or a poncho. This, though? This is something else entirely, because Fraser's got him pushed back on the mattress and Fraser is fondling his cock and fuck, it's just really, really obvious that Fraser loves him. Which is something new for him, having certainty like that. Ray never had that kind of certainty even after 22 years with Stella—and that was kind of Stella's charm, that feeling that she might smack you down any second. Even now, Ray doesn't really know why she married him, and worse yet, sometimes the look on Stella's face says that she's wondering exactly the same thing.

Not so with Fraser; Fraser's kissing him hungrily and touching him everywhere, like his skin's made of silk which it really is not. Fraser's got him sprawled out on the ugly bedspread and—well, normally, Ray might be a little self-conscious because he's never had much of a body to begin with and now he's not even young. But Fraser is staring at him lustfully, milking his cock with one hand while the other strokes up Ray's ribs to his chest and then down along his leg. That's mighty personal, the way Fraser's touching his thigh and making the hairs stand up, but it feels okay, it feels right. Then Fraser cups Ray's balls and squeezes gently and damn, that's really personal, but it's great, too.

Ray groans and closes his eyes; it's all he can do to breathe. And then Fraser pushes past another boundary, nudging a finger under Ray's balls and stroking down Ray's perineum to his hole. Ray inhales sharply and Fraser goes still—which isn't exactly what Ray wants either, so he thrusts his cock up into Fraser's hand to get that moving again. Obligingly, Fraser keeps stroking him, squeezing his cockhead hard on every upthrust. Soon Ray's revved up again—and so he takes a deep breath and draws his leg to the side.

What's he got to hide anyway? Nothing, that's what; hiding is for outside, not here. Here, there's nothing to be ashamed of—and he's braced and ready for when Fraser touches him, because Fraser sounds like he's hyperventilating or something.

"S'okay, Fraser..." Ray murmurs without opening his eyes. "Take it easy..." and how does it come to be that he's the one getting finger-fucked but it's Fraser who needs reassurance? Still, that's how it is. Fraser's jerking Ray's cock and working his wet finger into Ray's asshole and moaning softly like he can't help it. "Oh yyyyeah," Ray gasps as Fraser shoves his finger in up to the knuckle. "Do that again— HardFast—" and Fraser does what he asks, sliding his finger home over and over until Ray convulses and comes all over himself.

When Ray opens his eyes, his vision's kind of spotty, but he wants to tell Fraser, he has to tell Fraser—

"Fraser—if you want to—you can fuck me—" and then he's blurting out, "I brought condoms—"

Fraser seems too taken aback by Ray's offer to even speak, but he grabs Ray by the hips and turns him over roughly. Ray tries to grab onto the bedspread, but it's made of some kind of synthetic fiber that feels like plastic. It just slides away under his fingers, so he scrambles a bit further up the bed so that he can grab onto the low rung of the headboard—which is just cheap fiberboard but seems to be nailed to the wall. The bed is tilting beneath him as Fraser gets onto his knees, crawling up behind him, and Ray tightens his hands, lets his head fall, and braces himself, expecting to get fucked.

But Fraser doesn't fuck him, at least not right away; instead, Fraser slides up behind him, grasps Ray's flexed thighs in his hands, and bends to press his mouth to Ray's lower back. Ray gasps and lurches forward a little, but this time Fraser doesn't stop; instead, he tightens his hands on Ray's legs and licks a very definite stripe down to Ray's ass. And for a moment, Ray's so tense that he can hardly breathe, but Fraser's tongue is relentless and Ray feels like his bones are melting. It's like nothing he's ever felt before, and he can't understand why he doesn't feel ashamed, but he doesn't.

Instead, he feels almost like crying, not in a sad way but in the way he sometimes wants to when he's drunk.

And after Fraser's sucked and nibbled and tongue-fucked him for what feels like an hour, Ray sure feels drunk—loose-limbed and drowsy and riding wave after wave of pleasure, dry-coming whenever he crests. He's sweaty and leaning his head on his forearm when Fraser asks softly, "Ray? Condom?"

"In my jacket pocket." Ray's talking in the slow, over-precise way he talks when he's drunk, too.

The mattress dips as Fraser knees his way to the edge and pulls Ray's jacket off a chair. Ray's whole body is throbbing, almost aching; his circuits are fried from all the excitement racing through him. Still, he wants Fraser to fuck him—not because it'll feel good: Ray doesn't think he can feel any better than he does right this second—but because he wants Fraser inside him. If Fraser puts his cock in Ray's ass, they'll be connected in the deepest way there is. They'll almost be one person for a few minutes, and right now, Ray feels like he needs that level of intimacy to make up for all those "really shouldn'ts" and "better nots" that are taking over their other lives, day by day.

Ray lifts his head and sees Fraser slicking the condom down his cock. "While I'm young, Fraser, okay?" Ray asks softly.

Fraser takes a deep, nervous breath and nods. Then he scrambles to position himself behind Ray, cock bobbing as he moves. "Are you ready?" Fraser asks, and Ray grins helplessly and then giggles stupidly, despite himself.

"Fraser," Ray says, and he's breathless and kind of giddy, "I passed the sign for ready, like, twenty minutes ago. I am the readiest of the ready. I am ready-freddie, ready-steady, ready-whipped. Ready is my middle name. I have achieved a state of readiness the likes of which no man has ever—"

The slick, round head of Fraser's cock pushes into him, and the words die in his mouth. He's only conscious, then, of Fraser's arms around his torso, hard and unrelenting, holding him up so that he doesn't fall face-first onto the mattress. He's thoroughly limp, his body stretching and rhythmically convulsing around the length of hard cock inside him. Fraser moves slowly, steadily, fucking him with deep deliberation. Ray tries to speak, to say Oh, yeah. Give it to me. More. but no sound comes out. Fraser alternates long, deep strokes with shorter, harder ones that nudge against his prostate, and even though this is the best fuck ever, Ray's mouthing words that won't take shape.

Fraser seems to have himself under control, but his voice gives the game away. "Oh. God. Yes. God. Ray," Fraser moans almost despairingly, pressing his lips to Ray's goosepimpled back to stifle his mouth. Still, though, Ray can hear his helpless grunts and moans.

Finally, though, Fraser cries out, hips bucking wildly, and Ray spasms in orgasm for what has to be the 17th time. This time he's not alone though, because Fraser's moan is low and prolonged and he's coming, cock thrumming deep inside Ray as he shoots off.

Gasping, Fraser falls on top of him, flattening Ray beneath him on the bed. Fraser feels huge and smooth and sweaty on top of him. "Ray," Fraser gasps out. "I love you, I— Really, I—"

Ray closes his eyes and smiles to himself. "Yeah, Fraser. I know," he murmurs. "Right back atcha."

He's startled awake and opens his eyes into white morning sunlight, so different from the dusky blue and pink neon he fell asleep to. Fraser's awake, too, and sitting beside Ray with his knees drawn up. Apparently Fraser's been shaking his shoulder, because Fraser hastily yanks his hand back. "Sorry," Fraser says apologetically. "I just—wasn't sure if you needed to wake up."

Ray looks at the digital clock on the nightstand. 8:00 in the morning—fuck. "What about you?" Ray asks, jerking upright. "You've got to open the Consulate."

"I, uh—" Fraser cracks his neck, then turns his face away, like the wall near the bathroom is really fascinating. "I've expressed the view that it's unfair for me to have to open the Consulate each morning just because I live there. In fact, before I took up residence, the Consulate used to be run at much more reasonable hours. It isn't as if it's Consular policy to open early. It was just something I used to do because..." Fraser stops and seems to have to think about it. "Well, because..."

Ray's glad Fraser isn't looking his way, because he's fighting a grin and he doesn't want Fraser thinking he's making fun of him. "Fraser, it's okay; don't open the—"

"Because I didn't have anything better to do," Fraser says finally, and there's a kind of defiance in the upward tilt of his chin. "That's the real reason. No better way to spend my mornings, and my office, charitably speaking, is small and—"

"So let Turnbull do it. No reason you have to be there every morning—" but Ray's suddenly realizing the implications of this. Fraser lives at the Consulate. It's bound to be noticed if he's not there in the morning.

But Fraser hears the uncertainty in his voice, turns around, and instantly reads the problem off his face. "I've given them to understand that I'm pursuing a young lady," Fraser says quietly, seriously. "Will that do?"

Will that do? Ray's not sure what it's supposed to do; it's making him crazy is what it's doing. Still, he's got to admit that it's sensible. Fraser's got to say something, and Ray doesn't see him telling Inspector Thatcher, "Well, sir, after a year of flirting, Detective Kowalski and I are finally getting it on."

He realizes a second later that Fraser's frowning at him expectantly, waiting for an answer. "Yeah, Fraser, yes—that'll do fine," and Fraser nods in what seems like relief. "Thatcher's probably jealous as all hell," Ray realizes a second later, and his mouth twists with mean pleasure despite himself. "And Frannie's gonna freak when she—hey, what're you going to do when they ask you who the girl is?"

Ray is completely taken aback by the grin that breaks out across Fraser's face. "I shall deny it, of course," and then Fraser's laughing—a strong, loud, totally unfamiliar sound. A shock of dark hair falls down across his forehead, and he shoves it back with a careless flip of his hand. "That's how I informed them of her non-existence in the first place. I asked Inspector Thatcher to kindly ignore any rumors she might hear concerning me and a young lady. I informed her in no uncertain terms that no such woman existed, that there was no woman in my life and it was highly unlikely that there should be one in future. God, you should have seen her face." Fraser ducks his head, and something very like a giggle escapes him. "Of course she thinks I'm lying, and that there must be a woman—"

"But Fraser—" Ray feels his heart sink; he's sure he's spotted the flaw in this brilliant scheme. "How can she possibly think you'd lie? You don't lie. Everyone knows you don't lie—"

"That's true, as a general rule. But Inspector Thatcher believes me quite capable of lying to protect someone I love," Fraser explains, and then he adds, thoughtfully: "She's right, of course."

When that really sinks in, unexpectedly, later that day, Ray grins so hard and so long that Frannie asks him if he needs to lie down or something. "You look," she says, backing away suddenly, "like you might just snap and start killing people," and Ray laughs and decides to take it as a compliment.

He doesn't draw any new cases the next couple of days, which means that he can sit around, work the phones, follow up leads. He calls Fraser and tells him not to bother showing up, which is just as well, because he doesn't want anyone connecting Fraser with the funny way he's been walking since their last night at the Ashland. Sometimes—mostly at inconvenient times—Ray gets grabbed by the memory of Fraser fucking him up the ass and he has to run to the bathroom and jerk off. And then, there, leaning against the flimsy blue stall partition and desperately jerking his cock, Ray's really, really glad that Fraser's not in the station, because someone's gonna notice, someone has to notice.

Dewey, goddamn him, notices Fraser's absence. "Hey," he says, "where's your red-breasted friend? I thought you two guys were joined at the—"

White light behind his eyes. In his fantasy, he leaps out of his chair, grabs Dewey by the plug ugly shoulders of his plaid jacket, and shoves him back against the wall. Then, he holds Dewey in place with a forearm across the throat and growls, "Not one more word, do you hear me? I don't want to hear one more word outta you—"

But that isn't what happens. Instead, Dewey comes out with his last word, "—hip," and Ray just shrugs and leans back in his creaky wooden desk chair and says, "Yeah, I haven't seen a whole lot of him lately. They've probably got him working overtime, counting polar bears, registering ice skates—"

"Ticketing dogsleds," Dewey agrees and then they're laughing because hey, they're "real" cops and the Canadians are just bureaucrats in stupid outfits and Ray feels like he's killed Fraser a little.

So he grabs his leather jacket off the back of his chair, bolts out of the bullpen, and hightails it across town to see Fraser. The Consulate should be closed by now but the door isn't locked yet. Ray heads up the deserted wood-panelled hallway and hangs a left to Fraser's office. The door is open, and Ray kind of swings in, holding onto the door frame.

"Fraser," he says, and Fraser's head jerks up and Jesus God, Fraser's pretty, even when he's frowning.

"Ray." Fraser doesn't look at all pleased to see him. "What are you doing here?"

"I was thinking," Ray say, and he's not really sure why he sounds so breathless or so desperate, "or wondering, really, if you wanted to—"

But Fraser stands up and interrupts him, already shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Ray—I haven't really got time to talk," and fuck, Fraser's looking at his watch. "I, uh, have a previous engagement," Fraser explains awkwardly, but then his face clears and he says: "Unless you wouldn't mind giving me a lift? That would be a great help, and then we could talk in the car, how's that?"

"I—" and Ray's pretty sure his mouth is actually hanging open, but he manages to say, "Sure, Fraser. I'll take you anywhere you want," and Fraser smiles and says, "Great. Just give me a moment to change my clothes," and then he coughs and makes an odd gesture with his finger and adds: "Perhaps you might chat with Inspector Thatcher while you're waiting," and Ray jerks around and whoa, okay, there's Meg Thatcher right there, arms crossed across her red uniform jacket and tapping one pointy leather toe.

"Detective Vecchio," Inspector Thatcher says, forcing a tight, fake smile. "It's good to see you. Why don't you join me for a drink?" and okay, this is just too weird. Ray's never been, like, king of the S.A.T.s or anything but he's normally not this far off the page. One last look at Fraser (whose face is totally fucking unreadable) and Ray's confusedly following Thatcher back toward her huge, plush office. Thatcher goes to a carved wooden sideboard, picks up a decanter, and carefully pours them each a drink before turning around.

"So," Thatcher says, and offers him a glass of some pale yellow liquid. "Detective," and that's the end of the pleasantries right there: "I want you to tell me right now everything you know about this woman Fraser's seeing." Wham, and suddenly Ray's on the same page, but the second he opens his mouth to protest, Thatcher cuts him off. "I assure you, Detective, that I have absolutely no motive for asking this other than the natural and totally justifiable concern of a commanding officer for a subordinate," and now she's off and pacing a rut in the carpet. "I take my duties as the Chief Inspector of this Consulate quite seriously and it's my responsibility to protect my personnel while we're on foreign soil. And I needn't tell you, Detective, that while Constable Fraser is a man of many skills, most of which are impractical in this climate and several of which seem unfathomable by any standard, there is no doubting that when it comes to women, particularly American women, particularly urban American women, Constable Fraser exhibits a naivete that borders on willful ignorance."

"I—yeah," Ray agrees, and this seems to mollify her. She stops in front of him and searches his face, trying to decide if he be friend or foe. "I mean," Ray adds quickly, "I see where you're coming from, and I understand, like, that your motives are pure and everything, but honestly I don't know all that much."

Thatcher glances over her shoulder at the door. "But he told you he's seeing a woman?"

For a moment, Ray doesn't know how to respond, but then it's like he hears Fraser's voice in his head: "Just tell her the truth, Ray." "I—Fraser said something about that, yeah," Ray says, and Inspector Thatcher visibly sags with relief.

"I knew it," she murmurs. "But he didn't say who? You haven't met her?"

"Nope. I mean, he's my friend and all, but you know Fraser—he plays things pretty close to the vest. Plus we haven't seen a whole lot of each other lately—there's been no new cases, and he hardly ever comes down to the station anymore."

"Hmm." Inspector Thatcher stares off into the distance, and Ray can see that this information only confirms her suspicions.

"Plus believe me, I'm the last person Fraser's gonna introduce to his girlfriend," because I'm his boyfriend and I'll rip her fucking throat out. "We're a little competitive about—"

"Are you ready, Ray?" They turn, and there's Fraser in the doorway, dressed in civilian clothes—black pants, white shirt, black leather jacket. "I don't want to be late."

"Uh, sure, Fraser. Sure," Ray says, and then he turns to share a sympathetic look with Thatcher. "Sorry I couldn't be of more help."

But she just waves this away; mentally, she's already dismissed him. "It's all right, Detective. It's good to see you," and then Ray's following Fraser down the hall, through the front door, down the steps to where he's parked the car.

"Okay," Ray says, once they're all buckled up. "So where do you need me to take you?" Fraser looks at him like he's dim, and all of a sudden Ray gets it—all a ruse, all for Thatcher's benefit, gotcha. "Never mind," Ray sighs, and turns the car toward the Ashland. "But what do I tell her when she asks me where I took you?"

"Tell her the truth, Ray," Fraser says, sounding eerily like the Fraser who always talks in his head. "Tell her you took me to a hotel. Tell her that you strongly suspect that I went there for a sexual assignation." Fraser settles down into the Chevy's bucket seat and adds: "I find the truth's always best. Nothing confuses people more."

Later, when they've checked in to their room and they're kissing urgently and Ray's got his hands up under Fraser's white, button-down shirt, Fraser murmurs, "...give me a lift, Ray..." and then breathes hot laughter against the sensitive skin of Ray's neck.

So Ray gives Fraser a lift, first with his hand and then with his mouth, and when he raises his head from Fraser's pale, soft belly and sees him sprawled and panting on the bed, all Ray wants to do is roll on top of him and hump himself to orgasm. So he does, dropping down onto Fraser's strong body and sliding his cock through the puddle of wetness on Fraser's—

"Ray." Fraser's hands are gripping his arms, and his voice is saying wait, stop. But Ray can't stop: he's in love with the slide of his cockhead against the smooth, warm skin of— "Ray," Fraser says breathlessly, and tightens his grip. "Don't. I want you to—I mean, I've been hoping you would...you know," and suddenly Ray does know, and he pushes up on his forearms so he can stare down into Fraser's face.

"You sure about that?" he asks.

Fraser's got his most earnest face on, the one Ray knows means he's yanking your chain. "Oh, yes, Ray. Perfectly certain."

But Ray can't let it go at that. "Because I don't mind being the person who gets fucked in this relationship," he says, and he means that in the nicest possible way. It's kind of a big deal for him, this offer, and some part of him worries that maybe he's rolling over too easily. He's good with being fucked, but he doesn't want to be Fraser's assboy; it's been an issue in their partnership and it's an issue here, in bed.

But Fraser's eyebrows have shot up skeptically. "Well, I'm sure you don't, Ray, but I might have to register a complaint. In writing, if need be. Don't force me to it."

Fraser's now stroking Ray's right bicep gently, and Ray grins down at him. "You're serious."

"Very much so, yes. In fact," and Fraser's not meeting his eyes, now; Fraser's staring at—what? The square tattoo on his bicep, a red and black Champion logo. "I'm hoping that you'll indulge my, uh, preferences." Fraser's been using his best hoity-toity syntax, but suddenly he lets it drop and looks at Ray with dark, serious eyes. "I haven't had my choice of sexual partners, Ray. The pleasures of my life have been mainly solitary ones. So what I want—I mean, what I really, really want," and Ray didn't know Fraser could sound so excited and needy and desperate, "is to feel your strength and your rhythm and know you're not—me."

For a moment, Ray is blinded by the image of Fraser fucking himself in some isolated cabin, pushing something hard into himself and gasping into the cold, silent air. "I—sure, yeah," Ray agrees breathlessly, "but tell me what to—how do you want to—?"

But Fraser just lets his arms fall onto the mattress and tilts his head to the side, showing his throat. The gesture couldn't be clearer—use me, do me—and then Fraser adds, just in case, "Your choice."

His choice—and for a second he can't decide which he wants more: to see Fraser's face when he fucks him, or the closeness of fucking front to back. But it's the closeness that he wants, and he thinks that's what Fraser wants, too, and so he coaxes Fraser into turning over. Fraser obeys without question, and spreads his legs wide when Ray nudges his thighs apart, and Ray's squeezing lube onto his fingers and appreciating the view—strong, broad back; round, perfect ass—when his eye is drawn to a red, circular scar at the small of Fraser's back. For a moment, Ray doesn't know what it is—birthmark? a growth Fraser's had removed?—and then he does know, because he's read about this, because the man whose name he's wearing is responsible for this, but holy shit, he didn't understand how close the shot was to Fraser's spine. Ray can see the curve of Fraser's spine down his long, beautiful back, and the bullet hole at the bottom makes it like an exclamation mark. The bullet must be nestled right up against his spinal cord, and suddenly Ray understands how close Fraser came to being paralyzed.

He wants to touch the scar with his lubricated fingers, and he's already reaching for it when Fraser murmurs, "While I'm young, Ray," and, right, this would be a bad thing to do to Fraser. He doesn't want to harsh Fraser's vibe, so instead he holds Fraser open with his free hand and shoves his fingers deep inside. The shudder travels up Fraser's entire body and lingers in his shaking shoulders. "Oh," Fraser breathes, and then he's pushing back, almost helplessly, against Ray's hands and Jesus, this is gonna go a lot faster than Ray thought it would, he can see it already.

He curls his fingers inside Fraser and Fraser bucks, convulsing, and gasps: "Hurry. I won't last."

Ray swallows hard and pulls his fingers out and lubes his cock and its condom as fast as he can. He's gripping and kneading Fraser's sides reassuringly as he pushes his cock into Fraser's tight, hot body, and he's sucking desperately for air, because his every nerve is on fire and he just wants to fuck Fraser's brains out. Beneath him, Fraser's moaning erratically and so Ray blindly wraps his arms around him and rears backward, pulling them close together. He knows he's done the right thing when he feels a hand squeeze his arm: Fraser's wrapped his own arms around Ray's. Ray buries his face against Fraser's hot neck and thrusts into him, pulling Fraser hard down onto his cock. He loves the way Fraser's moaning and shaking in his arms, and so he just lets himself go.

His thigh-muscles, his abs, are burning as he fucks, but it's so worth it. He can't believe how easily Fraser's body has opened for him, and when he lets a hand slide down Fraser's sweat-streaked belly he finds Fraser's hand already clutching his erection. Ray covers Fraser's hand with his own and for a second they're rocking together, hands moving together, completely in sync. Then Ray slides his hand all the way up to Fraser's chin, turning his head to kiss him—and finds Fraser's face wet.

"Fraser," Ray breathes, his shocked mouth tasting salt on Fraser's skin. His hips jerk suddenly as he loses his rhythm, because holy God, what the fuck has he been—except Fraser's hand grasps Ray's hip tightly and coaxes him to keep going. So Ray keeps going, but—

"It's all right..." Fraser turns his wet face toward Ray, and Ray mouths kisses onto his cheek, his jaw, the soft spot under his ear. "It's just..." and Fraser takes a deep shuddering breath, maybe trying to control himself, and whispers, "I dreamed of you." And now it's Ray's turn to fight for control, because now his hips are jerking erratically. He forces Fraser down onto the bed to maximize his last few thrusts because that's it—game over— he's coming, and beneath him, Fraser's convulsing too.

When Fraser finally lifts his head off the mattress; he's flushed, and his hair's damp with sweat, but he looks happy as well as exhausted. "I just—I just wanted to say—"

Ray rolls onto his back and stares up through the blue and pink light at the ceiling. "You say 'thank you' to me, I'm gonna clock you, Fraser."

"Ah," he hears Fraser say, and then: "Understood."

When Ray wakes up the next morning, he's aching and happy and entirely fucked-out, and he grabs Fraser's face in his come-sticky hands and kisses him for a really long time because he figures, hey, he probably won't see him for a couple of days.

But he's wrong about that. It's half past two when Welsh calls out "Vecchio!" and, when Ray pokes his head into the office, Welsh tells him that he's the lucky winner of a murder investigation down in Chinatown and to call Fraser please, because Fraser speaks Chinese.

So he calls Fraser from his desk phone and tries to fill his voice with a lot of This Is Serious Cop Business and no trace of God, I Had Such A Good Time Fucking You Last Night. "Fraser," Ray barks, when Fraser picks up the phone. "I got a body on the pavement," and it's clear enough, isn't it, that he means a dead body? and not his body? because—

"Who's been killed?" Fraser asks quietly, and that's good; Fraser's got it, that whole respect-for-the-dead thing.

"I dunno, just some Chinese guy," and the minute he says it, he wants to snatch the words back. Dewey's not even here, so who's he trying to impress? Except what's the opposite of impress, like when you act like an asshole? Depress? He's sure the fuck depressing himself. "Welsh wants you on it," Ray adds quickly, "because you speak Chinese. You're like our Chinese cultural liaison or something."

Fraser doesn't answer, and Ray wonders if he's depressed Fraser, too, or if Fraser understands, or—

"Do you want me to meet you there?" Fraser asks finally, and okay, yeah, maybe it's good for Fraser to meet him at the scene, because he doesn't think he can be alone in a car with Fraser right now.

"Yeah," and even he can hear the relief in his own voice. "Yeah, meet me down at 260 South Wentworth," and he doesn't let himself ask how Fraser's going to get there, because it's not like Fraser has a car, but his thigh muscles are still aching from supporting Fraser's weight and fucking him and so he needs a little more time to get his head together. Plus, Fraser's resourceful; Fraser'll get there.

Fraser gets there, all right; Fraser gets there first. Ray drives the Chevy slowly past the Sun Tong food market and sees Fraser standing outside under the canvas awning, surrounded by barrels of weird-looking fruit and long, gray fishes spread out on trays of ice. A couple of uniforms are stringing yellow crime-scene tape around the perimeter, and some EMTs are wheeling a body out toward an ambulance. Fraser is already talking to a tiny Chinese woman wearing a long, disgustingly-stained apron—she's sobbing and gesticulating toward the already-bagged body. Fraser listens intently and nods sympathetically at intervals, and it occurs to Ray that Fraser looks entirely at home surrounded by Chinese reds and yellows and dead fish.

At the end of the block, Ray pulls the Chevy over beside a fire hydrant and checks his pocket for his badge, preparing to take over as the ranking officer on the scene. Then he's instinctively ducking, jerking forward, and holy fuck those are gunshots, and not just—that's a machine gun, and he can hear glass shattering and all he can see is Fraser standing there, bright as a chinese dragon and surrounded by dead fish. In a flash he is out of the car and running up the sidewalk, gun drawn and yanking his glasses out of his pocket with his free hand. People are running past him, running away, and dimly, Ray hears the sound of screaming, and then another burst of automatic gunfire.

There's nobody immediately visible at the front of the market, but the front windows have been blown out and the sidewalk glitters with broken glass. Broken glass and scattered ice and smashed crates of vegetables and dead fish, looking up at him with their dead eyes. A long black limo is pulling away with a screech of tires, and instantly Ray runs after it, gun raised, having somehow gotten his glasses onto his face and bang! he shoots out the back tire and the limo fishtails, its back end smashing into a dirty white delivery van double parked further along the narrow street. The limo keeps limping along and Ray runs toward it, flanked now by uniformed cops on either side of him who've found either their guns or their balls or both, but Ray's mind is on Fraser—where the fuck is Fraser? have they shot Fraser?—even as he races forward and squeezes off another shot at the limo. Another tire blows out and the limo grinds to a stop.

Ray slows to a jog as the window opens and the long, metallic black barrel of a gun points out. "Get down!" Ray yells at the uniforms, and jerks sideways toward a parked car for cover just as the gun goes off in a rapid-fire display of smoke and sparks, spent casings arcing out to the side. Ray feels a sudden, sharp burning in his arm and then he's crashed hard into the metal chassis of a car and rolled up and over the trunk and crashed down onto the sidewalk on the other side. Ow—fucking hurts, his arm, and he's landed wrong and—but he's alive and a second later he's peering over the car, clutching his bicep, holding his gun, just in time to see Fraser barrel full-tilt toward the front of the limo. The gunman's not looking in the right direction—he's looking back at the store—but the driver must see Fraser because he blows his horn—honnnnnnnk!—but too late, Fraser's leaping onto the hood and running up over the top of the limo and dropping down out of sight through the sun roof, and Ray's on his feet because the gun barrel seems stuck in the window but God help Fraser if he—

A moment later, the back door opens and the gunman, a young man in a black suit, falls onto the asphalt, unconscious.

Ray runs to the driver's side door, opens it, and drags the driver out onto the street, pointing a gun at his head. The two uniforms are back, now, and one of them covers the two assailants while the other searches and cuffs them. Ray's vision is still contracted to pinpricks, the crucial factors: two gunmen, two guns. Heart beating wildly, he tries to focus on the larger picture. His right sleeve is bloody, he's been shot in the arm, he thinks. His right leg is throbbing—sprained but not broken or he wouldn't be standing on it. Fraser's sitting half inside and half outside the car, and he looks flushed and kind of dazed. His face is scratched up and his uniform is stained and ripped in a couple of places—left elbow, right knee—and glittering with what Ray realizes is broken glass.

A moment later, Ray smells the first, pungent whiff of fish.

Fraser's eyes slowly widen. "Ray. You've been shot."

Ray looks down at where he's clutching his bicep and sees blood welling between his fingers. "Yeah, but it's not—I don't think it's bad."

Fraser raises his arm and reaches for him and without thinking, Ray steps back. Fraser looks shocked for a moment, but only a moment, and then he's nodding and pulling his arm back guiltily like he did something he ought to be ashamed of. Ray feels his stomach clench, because goddamnit! goddamnit! how can they be living like this?

"They killed Shi Kau-rui just now," Fraser says quietly, looking away. "I pulled his sister out of the line of fire, but Shi Kau-rui was killed. Their older brother Kau-jih was killed an hour ago. The three of them ran the shop after their parents' death."

Oh. Ray doesn't know what to think about that; it's like he can't make himself feel anything about that. Then, almost like a rebuke, Ray hears a series of high-pitched screams—and suddenly he's dizzy, maybe from bloodloss, maybe from the fact that the Chinese mafia has just shot a guy right under the noses of two uniformed cops, a police detective, and a Mountie. They didn't even wait for the EMTs to take the other body away—and Ray suddenly has to brace himself against the car or fall over.

"We better get the sister into witness protection," Ray says, stupidly. "And fast."

"Yeah," Fraser says slowly, and then he adds: "I think you need a doctor, Ray," and then, more softly: "I'm going to need to see you later."

"Yes," Ray says, and then he sags back against the car, clutching his bleeding arm, while Fraser runs down the street toward the ambulance.

The rest of the day is taken up with hospitals and reports. Ray sits in the trauma ward and dictates a report over the phone to Frannie while the doctors clean out the gash in his arm and give him fifteen fucking stitches, Jesus. Afterwards, he swallows a couple of Percocets, lies back on the padded surgical table, and has an increasingly incoherent conversation with Lieutenant Welsh about getting the woman Fraser saved—what was her name? Shi Kau-rui? or was that her brother?—taken into custody.

"Okay there, Detective," Welsh says finally, sounding weirdly exasperated, "you just lie down for a while. Fraser's coming to get you." Ray doesn't remember hanging up the phone, and he doesn't remember falling asleep, but when he opens his eyes again, the phone is back in its cradle and Fraser's standing over him. For a moment, Ray's paralyzed with fear or Percocets or something, because which Fraser is this? This Fraser is dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, but his face is all scraped up like the Fraser who's his partner and—

"Ray," Fraser says in a really soothing voice, and Ray takes a couple of deep breaths and tries to get a grip. "Are you feeling all right?"

"Yeah, I'm—I'm fine, they gave me a couple of happy pills, made me dopey." Ray sits up and taps his forehead with the heel of his good hand a couple of times to make the point. "Brain working even less well than normal."

"What about your arm?" Fraser asks.

"It's fine, it's like a groove," Ray says, illustrating by drawing his index finger underneath the white bandage. "Like someone underlined my tattoo with a Bowie knife. It aches a little, burns a little—nothing I can't handle."

"Come on," Fraser says, this guy who isn't quite his partner and isn't quite the guy he's fucking, "I've checked you out. Your car's waiting downstairs."

Fraser insists on driving the Chevy, and it's weird to see him in the driver's seat. Fraser drives with his full concentration on the road, and Ray wonders if it's hard for him to drive in the city with all the traffic and the jaywalkers and fucking rollerskaters and all the other people he almost hits every day.

Then Fraser surprises him by talking. "I should take you home," he says without taking his eyes from the road, "but I'm not going to," and Fraser sounds grimly determined, like he's expecting an argument.

"Okay," Ray agrees hastily; he's not sure why this is important, but he'll do whatever Fraser wants.

"Okay," Fraser repeats firmly, like he's just won a major concession. "I mean," he adds abruptly, and normally Ray's driving, so he's just glancing at Fraser in between lights, but now Ray's in the passenger seat and he can see the stress on Fraser's face, the tightness around his mouth, the way he seems to be steeling himself to talk, "we don't have to— It isn't because I want— It's not for that," and if Fraser cuts himself off three times in a row, he's probably talking about sex.

"Okay, sure," Ray assures him, and wow, it's weird to be the rational one in the car. Maybe it comes with the seat.

"I just feel— I just— Today was hard and—" Fraser's hands are white-knuckled on the wheel. "You got shot, Ray," and suddenly Ray remembers, viscerally, in his guts, sitting just where Fraser's sitting and hearing gunfire and being sure that Fraser was dead.

Suddenly he can't speak, because he knows that if he starts talking, he's not going to be able to stop. So he turns his face to the window, and watches the dark streets roll by. "We're almost there," Ray says quietly, finally. "Hang on."

Fraser parks right up the street from the Ashland and then says to Ray, "Are you all right to go up on your own?"

"Yeah," Ray says, frowning, "sure, but—"

"I'll be there in two shakes of a lamb's tail." They get out of the car, and Fraser jogs up the block and disappears. Ray sighs and trudges toward Junior's Liquor store; he debates maybe buying a bottle of scotch before remembering that he's already on medication. Instead, body aching, he climbs the steps and opens the Ashland's stenciled door.

The Old Guy's on tonight, and he squints at Ray as he passes him the key. Ray ignores him and makes his way to 2B, which is beginning to feel maybe too much like home. He takes off his jacket really, really carefully, then drops it onto the chair. He sits on the side of the bed, takes off his ankle boots, and is about to let himself fall backwards when he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror: he looks pale, old, exhausted. There are dark circles under his eyes. His roots are dark. He looks like shit.

Careful of his arm, Ray lies backward onto the bed and closes his eyes. A few minutes later, he hears the door open. Fraser's arrived, and he's got a black dufflebag slung over his shoulder, and two paper grocery bags. Suddenly, Ray's drooling; he can smell food from here, and he sits up.

Fraser kicks the door closed behind him. "Here," he says, handing one of the paper bags to Ray, who takes it eagerly; a plastic tub—hot—full of some kind of soup, and a couple of paper cartons of Chinese food. Fraser's let the dufflebag—a familiar looking dufflebag—slide off his shoulder, wincing as it thumps to the floor.

Ray scootches backwards, clutching his soup in his hands. "That bag," he says, carefully peeling the top back. "It's mine, right?"

"Yes. I took the liberty," Fraser says, toeing his sneakers off and letting them thump to the floor before kneeing his way onto the bedspread beside Ray, "of stopping by your apartment and picking up a few things. Pajamas, shaving kit, hair gel..." Ray stares down into the warm yellow noodle soup he's holding and his insides feel as warm as his hands, because fuck, Fraser brought him his hair gel.

Ray picks up a white plastic spoon and begins to eat, watching Fraser open one of the white cartons and slurp up long, thick noodles really skillfully with chopsticks. They don't talk, but Fraser's leg is pressed against his, and now he's warm at three points of contact. Midway through the meal, Fraser offers him the noodles and Ray exchanges it for what's left of the soup and they both just keep eating.

Afterwards, Fraser throws out the remains of dinner while Ray strips out of his undershirt and dirty jeans—his blood-drenched shirt was thrown out at the hospital. He's got a bruise on his left side, where he banged into the car, and his knee is swollen, where he twisted it when he landed. Ray turns to reach for the pair of clean sweatpants Fraser brought him and sees Fraser staring at him; a moment later, Fraser reaches into the dufflebag and wordlessly pulls out a roll of flesh-colored Ace bandage.

"C'mere," Fraser says quietly, and Ray hesitates for a moment—he's naked—before going over to Fraser, who sits him down on the bed before kneeling on the thin carpet and bandaging up his knee. His arm is singing with pain and his knee is aching but still, being naked and having Fraser kneeling in front of him does something to him, and he feels himself helplessly hardening.

Fraser finishes wrapping his knee and Ray can't help it: he reaches out and grabs Fraser's shoulder with one hand and his erect cock with the other. But Fraser winces—not much of a wince but it's enough to stop Ray cold. What the hell made him think he could just point his dick at Benton Fraser's mouth? except of course it's not that. Because this isn't the first time Fraser's winced tonight, is it? and then Ray gently reaches out with both hands and carefully tugs Fraser's gray polo shirt up off his shoulders.

Fraser resists for a second and then relents and raises his arms—and when the shirt comes off, Ray sees that Fraser's shoulders and chest are dappled with bruises.

"Shhhit," Ray hisses, and Fraser says in that goddamned completely earnest way of his, "It's all right. I heal fast." Still, Fraser winces again when Ray's hand ghosts over the yellow and black bruise on his shoulder. "This came from what?"

"Crate. Fell on me, when..." Fraser trails off and his palm is skimming up Ray's pale, scarred leg, making the rough hairs stand on end. Fraser bypasses Ray's cock, which has softened at the sight of all those broken blood vessels, and slides up Ray's own bruised side instead. "What about this?" Fraser murmurs.

Ray shivers at Fraser's touch and tries to figure out how much he can say without bringing Vecchio and the Mountie into it. "Banged into a car," he says finally, and geez, talking feels so fucking dangerous.

"Ah." Fraser's hand feels wonderfully cool against his skin, and Ray suddenly realizes that Fraser's bruise is burning under his hand. The contrast shouldn't—but it does, and his cock is getting hard again. Fraser licks his lips and leans forward, but stops with his mouth so close to Ray's dick that when he speaks, he breathes hot air against Ray's cockhead and Ray shivers. "Touch my hair," Fraser whispers, and then Ray's dick is sliding into his hot, wet mouth. Ray grasps Fraser's thick hair with his free hand, the other clamping down involuntarily on Fraser's bruised shoulder. Fraser whimpers and clutches Ray's side—and Christ, that hurts, and suddenly Ray's panting and thrusting up into Fraser's mouth, dizzy with pain, or maybe it's pleasure, because it feels good, too.

He tightens the hand in Fraser's hair and begins to fuck Fraser's face, panting turning to gasping, straining his already sore arm. Fraser keeps sucking and then surprises Ray by twisting his head to the side, winding his hair more tightly around Ray's fingers. Fraser's making soft pleasure-pain noises, and the vibrations are pulsing up Ray's cock. His spine is melting, his balls feel hard and tight—and then he's falling backwards onto the bed, he's been shoved backwards, and hell, he's probably ripped a handful of Fraser's hair out by the roots. Fraser's got an arm under his leg, the leg with the Ace bandage wrapped round it, and Fraser's pulling it up and over his shoulder. Ray still feels the hot, wet suction of Fraser's mouth, and then suddenly he feels Fraser's fingers roughly shoving into him and—God, if Fraser couldn't touch him this afternoon, he is sure motherfuckin' making up for it now.

"I—yeah," Ray gasps to the stucco ceiling. "Hurt me, just a little—" and Fraser hurts him, just a little, and he comes.

When he wakes up the next morning, Fraser's gone, and Ray worries about that until he notices the blanket that's been tucked up around his shoulders, and the note on the pillow: "Stay in bed as long as you can."

So he stays in bed as long as he can, and then he gets up and drives the Chevy back to his own apartment, but it's like a place he doesn't recognize anymore, like a stranger lives there. Plus it smells funny, which is something coming from a guy who's been fucking his brains out in a men's hotel no problemo. What he ought to do is take a Percocet and lie down on the sofa, fall asleep watching ESPN, but instead he hobbles around the apartment and starts throwing things away.

He starts with the food in the fridge (cause when's the last time he even looked in his fridge?) and dumps everything, including a number of really scary looking tupperwares and take-out containers. Then he throws out the newspapers and magazines and empty soda cans on the coffee-table—and that's all normal enough, except suddenly that's not enough and he's throwing out all the boxes of cereal on the counter and the pile of mail on the kitchen table (union dues, 401k statement, gas bill, insurance payment, coupon for 10% off at the hardware store, fuck it!) and the scraps of paper sitting near the telephone because they're not people he ever wants to call back anyway. Then even that's not enough and he's throwing out, not just the paper filter and grounds from the coffee machine (which has grown a cover of white mold) but the whole fucking coffee machine, and all those crapola sugar, coffee, tea cannisters that god knows who—his mother?— gave him and that are ugly and useless, and the ten-thousand ketchup, mustard, and soy sauce packets he's maybe saving for the next Great Depression. He throws out his wicker odds-and-ends basket because why is he saving old keys and broken fuses and a million extra buttons for shirts in their tiny plastic bags? He throws away all the videotapes scattered in front of the television because they're not labeled and he can't imagine what the fuck he was taping or why he'd ever want to watch it anyway, and he knows he's gone too far when he starts throws away his framed pictures of Stella, but he just can't stop. Stella in 1975! wearing a pointy-collared nylon shirt! Stella and him at the cabin in Wisconsin in 1984, wearing shorts and grinning and sunburned almost out of all recognition! Stella in a cream silk blouse and a pearl necklace, 1995, a woman he's married to and doesn't even like! The picture frames shatter as he hurls them into the trash, and he almost goes back for the early one, 1975, before defiantly thinking, screw it.

By the time he looks around at the empty counters and the clean table-tops and the stripped bed (he can't remember when he last changed his sheets or towels) and the pile of black plastic garbage bags stacked in the hallway, he fucking needs a Percocet because his body is shrieking with pain and he's on the verge of tears. The bandage on his arm is soaked through with blood, but he can't be bothered to change it, and he sits down on the leather sofa and dry-swallows three pills and, other than the occasional, hiccupping sob, largely manages to ignore the fact that he's crying through most of the Jefferson vs. Wallace fight, which ends with an unexpected knock-out in the middle of the sixth.

They find it's easier to work together as little as possible, but sometimes it's just necessary. Ray tries to handle most of the routine stuff himself—drugs, gang shoot-outs, your normal urban crime thing—and calls Fraser only when the case is puzzling—like when those four high-school cheerleaders get kidnapped, or when that billionaire fakes his own death, or when that con-artist swindles those poor Hispanic mothers down on the south side. Even then, he usually tries to handle it on his own ("Hola...mi nombre es Ray Vecchio. Cómo...uh.") until Welsh sighs and says, "Look, you might want to bring Fraser in on this."

"Yeah, good idea," he says, and calls the Consulate, and Fraser makes like Ricky Ricardo or Ricky Martin or whatever the fuck. "Señora Sanchez, por favor—podría usted describir al hombre que usted vio?" It's La Vida Loca, baby.

Later that night, he's fucking Fraser on the olive green bedspread when he grabs Fraser's hands, drags his arms up over his head, and holds them there. Fraser groans, closes his eyes, and comes with a heaving shudder. Ray decides that he likes the way Fraser looks all stretched out beneath him like that—the indentation of each rib, the soft brown armpit hair, the twist of wiry muscles in Fraser's arms—and so he handcuffs Fraser to the headboard and keeps fucking him.

The next morning, Ray sees faint pink chafe marks around Fraser's wrists. Still, Fraser won't let Ray get out of bed; he just keeps kissing and kissing him.

Ray finds it's best to go home as infrequently as possible. The apartment feels weirdly vacant, and it's growing dusty from neglect. Ray unplugs the answering machine, because he keeps forgetting to check it. He thinks about selling his television set. He thinks about getting a smaller place—a studio, maybe. All he really needs is a place to store his clothes.

He's not the only one coming to hate his living situation; Fraser, maybe sick of Inspector Thatcher's constant prying, doesn't spend a single minute more in the Consulate than he has to. Fraser's jacket pockets are full of ticket stubs to movies Ray's never heard of—Vivre sa vie, Rashomon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Jules and Jim, It Happened One Night. Ray frequently finds him sitting near the duckpond in the park, or walking along the lakefront late at night.

One night, it takes Ray two hours to find him, but eventually he sees Fraser coming out of the Chicago Public Library (whose reading room, it turns out, is open till ten p.m. on Thursday.) Heart pounding with relief, Ray honks his horn to get Fraser's attention and rolls down the window when Fraser approaches. "Get in the car, Fraser."

Fraser gets in the car.

That night, Fraser pants and strokes Ray's gel-spiked head while Ray gives him head for—well, for a pretty long time, long enough that Ray's chin is streaked with drool and Fraser's cock is almost chafed from all the attention. Still, Fraser seems to really, really like having his dick sucked based on the unholy noises he's making.and the way he's babbling, "Ray. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh dear God, I—" It's maybe the longest conversation they've had in weeks.

The next morning, Old Guy's on duty at the desk downstairs and he bangs on the glass as Ray heads out toward the door, head down and collar turned up. Ray turns and makes an impatient gesture, and the Old Guy grins crookedly and offers him a discounted weekly rate.

Outside the Ashland, they barely speak to each other. Inside the Ashland, they know the deepest, most intimate parts of each other's minds. Outside, they haven't so much as had dinner together for months. Inside, they have almost no secrets left. In the Ashland, Ray knows that most of Fraser's kinks have to do with being restrained, which he didn't understand at first but now sees as part of Fraser's war against loneliness; Fraser wants to be touched, Fraser wants to be held, Fraser wants to be held down. Inside, Ray babbles his every sexual desire to Fraser, because outside, he's got all the shame he can stand. If Benton Fraser wants to be touched, then Ray Kowalski wants to be known, and so he doesn't censor himself with Fraser. He tells Fraser his every lust, his every longing, every secret of his heart.

Fraser doesn't judge him for it. One day Ray, near-coming, gasps, "I need you to—fuck me with something," and the next time they're at the Ashland, resourceful Fraser comes though for him. Fraser pulls something carefully wrapped in an old, soft-looking piece of cloth out of his pocket. It's about the width of his thumb, white and six inches long, carved maybe out of ivory or something like ivory. It tapers a little at one end, and it could maybe be a swizzle-stick except that Ray's betting that you don't put this thing into your drink. He looks at it for a long moment—at its complicated etchings, its raised bumps and knobs—and then says breathlessly, "Yeah, okay. Put it in me."

Fraser puts it in him—and fuck, holy fuck, that touches every good place inside of him. Fraser watches him worriedly for a moment and then wraps strong arms around him, holding him close as he thrashes and writhes.

One random Tuesday, Welch calls out "Vecchio!" and it's not what he expects. Ray grabs the jambs on each side of Welsh's door and almost let himself fall through, using his hands to stop himself.

"Yo, Lieutenant," he says.

But Welsh is looking at him with an expression he doesn't recognize, and he's seen a lot of expressions on that broad face in the almost 20 years they've known each other. Scorn, exasperation, grief, fury—pride sometimes even, though Welsh tends to try to camouflauge that with gruff backhanded compliments like, "You know, that was not even bad."

Still, though, Welsh picked him for this covering-for-Vecchio thing, and while most of the time he thinks it was Welsh throwing him a bone—because God knows he was pitiable after Stella, God knows how he needed a break after Stella—some days he sees a weird, smug look on Welsh's face and thinks that maybe he was the right guy for this, too.

But right now, Welsh just looks thoughtful, and he says, in his person-voice, not his Lieutenant's voice, "Six o'clock, be ready to leave. I'm taking you somewhere," and okay, it sounds like a request, but it's clearly an order.

So Ray nods and says, "Okay."

Six o'clock comes and Welsh comes out of his office in his heavy wool coat and stands there. Ray leaps up and grabs his own coat and scarf off the stand and sets off after Welsh, who's already heading grimly down the hall. Ray scrambles to catch up with him, then keeps pace as they head toward the glass door. "Where're we going?" Ray asks.

Welsh doesn't answer; instead, he moves toward his blue, departmental sedan, and Ray hesistates for just a second before getting into the passenger seat and strapping himself in. It reminds him, suddenly, strangely, of being with his dad, of going to car shows or swap meets or a parts-search at the dump, early on Saturday morning. Stuck in the car with this silent, masculine presence who might not acknowledge you the whole day, but the honor was just in being there, in being picked to be there.

Welsh turns the car downtown and for ten minutes or so, Ray's heart is pounding against his ribs like a motherfucker, because Welsh is driving him toward the Ashland, and Ray's sure he knows. Ray's brain is spinning, he's trying to figure out whether he should say something, be proactive about it, the best defense being a good offense, or just apologize, or maybe try to explain: "Look, I don't know how it happened, it just happened, and I've been trying—we've been trying—you know, to keep it out of the office, to not let it affect our—my—performance—" but just as he's about to blurt these fevered words out, Welsh takes a left and begins to drive west, and Christ, guilty much, Kowalski? He's relieved, but he feels weak, exhausted by the adrenaline seeping out of his system. Welsh finally parks the car and turns to him and frowns, and Ray bets he looks like shit.

"C'mon," Welsh says curtly. "Let's get a drink."

He follows Welsh up the street to a bar he's never been to—and duh, he's betting that's why Welsh picked it. He follows Welsh through the battered wooden door to the ancient, beer-soaked interior. He doesn't drink there, nobody he knows drinks there, and that's exactly the point. Amazing how far you've got to go from the 2-7 to get a little fucking privacy.

Welsh jerks his head to a high-backed wooden booth in the corner of the room, and the wood has been carved and marked up with what must be forty years of drunken graffiti: a thousand names and a thousand iterations of "Anna loves Jochen" and "Enrico was here" and ruder come-ons like "Looking for a fuck?" and "Love your cunt." The waitress brings over a pitcher of beer and two pint glasses, and Ray looks down at the table and reads, "I fucked your mother," and underneath this, in another hand, "Go home, Dad. You're drunk."

Ray lets Welsh pour them each a glass of beer; he's realized that his role is to sit here and shut up, just like when he was a kid. Welsh picks up his foaming pint, licks his lips, and says, "Cheers," and Ray gently taps their glasses together. The beer is cold and uncommonly good, even in a town known for good beer. Must be one of those old German places that's been here forever, from when the Germans worked the yards.

Welsh puts down his half-empty glass and slowly moves it through a wet patch on the scarred tabletop. "So look, I don't know what's going on with you and Fraser—"

Christ, this is it. Ambushed, his heart kickstarts into high gear and he's babbling before he even realizes what he's saying. "There's nothing going on between me and Fraser," he says with a nervous shrug, deny everything, and his leg is jittering wildly under the table, up and down, up and down. "In fact, I've hardly seen him lately—the Ice Queen must be working him hard over at the Consulate, he hardly ever comes down to the..."

But he's dancing to the wrong song. Welsh's mouth has tightened up and he's nodding, and shit, fuck, he's an idiot.

"Yeah," Welsh rumbles quietly, moving his glass back and forth, back and forth. "I noticed that. I wasn't sure if it was temporary, permanent, what." Welsh is watching the half-full glass and not looking at Ray, and man, that's a kindness, because Ray can't seem to pull himself together. He feels like he's shitting out his guts. "Figured maybe you had a falling out," Welsh says, and his shrug is a long, slow wave through the meat of his shoulder. "You and him have had your differences, after all," and suddenly Welsh is fighting a smile so hard that his lips are pursed tight. "Lot of people thought you wouldn't make it with Fraser. Figured you'd kill him, or he'd kill you." Now, Welsh glances up and Ray sees that smug, suppressed smile. "My money was on you, for what it's worth. He's probably the better fighter, but he hasn't got your killer instinct."

"Thanks..." Ray feels lost in this conversation, totally adrift. "I think."

"Still," Welsh continues, heaving his bulk backwards and against the high-backed booth, "you made a really good go of it, you and him. All in all, you were probably my best team," and Ray doesn't know what shocks him more: the unqualified nature of the compliment or Welsh's use of the past tense. "Not that that's so much to be proud of," Welsh says, reaching for his glass, and okay, here's the backslap, "in that group of freaks and whack-jobs, but there you go. Still, nothing lasts forever," Welsh says and drinks like it's a toast.

Ray feels like he's at his own funeral.

Welsh puts down the glass and reaches for the heavy plastic pitcher. He fills his own glass and then tops up Ray's, which is almost full. "Drink up," Welsh says gruffly. "You're not driving."

Ray blindly picks up the glass and drinks from it—beer, cold, smooth, good.

"I just wanted to talk to you before I do anything permanent," Welsh says, and Ray keeps drinking, drinks faster, wants it to go to his head. "It's not like I have anybody in mind yet," and it takes Ray a second to realize who that anybody is: another partner. "It's got to be the right type," Welsh muses, stroking the underside of his chin, which rasps against his fingers with five o'clock shadow. "Somebody more methodical and diplomatic. Less prone to fly off the handle. Less violent and more verbal, cause you're not the most talkative bastard to have ever walked the earth," and fuck, that's Fraser, except then Welsh says, "somebody like Elaine, when she's ready. Or supposedly there's a really talented guy coming up over at the 1-9, lotta brains but no instincts."

It takes him a moment to realize that the beer is gone, and he refills his glass with shaking fingers. "What if I don't want another partner?"

Welsh shrugs again and considers this. "Well, I mean, that's up to you. First of all, there's nobody saying you gotta stay in the 2-7. I pulled you in because your predecessor, Ray Vecchio the First," and there's always a dryness in Welsh's tone when he talks about Veechio, "was known for palling around with a Mountie so we needed somebody to pal around with the Mountie. Now, though—hell, we could transfer Vecchio to Mars and you could go wherever you want to go. So that's an option." Welsh pauses to take another long draught of his beer, then wipes his lips with the back of his hand. "But the other thing is, you want to try working things out with Fraser, I'm all for it. Frankly," Welsh says, glancing around in case anyone is listening, "I've heard the same rumors everyone else has, that Fraser's got himself a girl," and Ray has to bite his lip to stop himself from giggling hysterically and blurting out: "Yeah, me." "By all accounts it's pretty serious," Welsh almost whispers, like he's ashamed to be caught gossiping, "and so I figured, you know, that that's got to be hard for you to take," and suddenly he sees where Welsh is going with this. "Especially since Fraser is such an idealistic bastard," Welsh adds, and all at once his face is hard. "I figured you could probably take a lot of crap from the good Constable but you'd probably draw the line at true fucking love."

Holy shit; Welsh thinks this is about Stella—well, hell, of course he does; everything used to be about Stella. But he's never heard Welsh sound so savage before. Exasperated, yes; frustrated, sarcastic, furious, proud, even, yes. Savage and bitter, no.

"I figured," and Welsh is talking to himself now; Ray's just there to stop him from looking crazy, "that Fraser got all gooey over some girl and it got under your skin. God knows women have broken up partners before. And Fraser?" Welsh is shaking his head slowly, lost in thought. "Fraser's one of your obsessive, Romantic types—God, you weren't here for the last debacle," Welsh adds, suddenly snapping to, "but believe you me, Kowalski, Fraser falls in love, you better duck and cover. He's not like us," Welsh finishes, tapping the table top significantly, and for a moment, Ray can't think what he means.

Not like us? Not—American? Or does he mean, could he possibly mean—bisexual? Ray stares at Welsh in horrified fascination for a moment before the right word floats into his mind. Not bisexual. Divorced.

Ray doesn't know if he's sweating at the thought of being outed or the idea that Welsh's gate might swing both ways, but he's suddenly sweating like a pig. His own gate is a well-oiled machine, and he's always feared that it was visible on his face, in his posture, in the shape of his hands; I'm AC/DC. It's half the reason he's learned to punch first and save being verbal for later. But Welsh seems focused on the idea of Ray Kowalski, broken-hearted husband; he doesn't seem to suspect the existence of Ray Kowalski, cocksucker, or to imagine that the two of them might co-exist in the same body. On the one hand, this is a relief; on the other hand, it kind of makes Ray feel lonely. Even Welsh doesn't really know him, and Welsh has known him longer than almost anybody.

"I'll talk to him," Ray says finally. "Find out where we stand and get back to you. Okay?"

"Fair enough," Welsh says with a satisfied nod, and drains his glass.

He calls Fraser the next morning at the Consulate and he can tell right away that Fraser's surprised to hear from him. "Hey," Ray says in his best, casual work-voice, "why don't you come on down to the station today?"

Fraser doesn't say anything for a moment, and Ray feels a stab of deep affection for him; Fraser's trying so hard to play this game right. When Fraser finally does speak, he sounds like he doesn't have a doubt in the world; his voice is full of its usual polite confidence. "Certainly, Ray. I'll be there as soon as I can."

The guy in the red serge shows up around eleven, and it's almost like old times—almost. Fraser doesn't perch on the edge of his desk or twirl his hat flirtatiously, and why does it take him until now to understand that that was flirting? Now, when it's gone, he can see it so clearly, the hat going round and round in Fraser's nimble fingers. Hypnotizing.

Ray doesn't kick back in his chair and pop a toothpick into his mouth and ask Fraser stupid, teasing questions (his mouth, Fraser's fingers, some detectives they were.) He doesn't get up and pat Fraser's shoulder before slinging an arm around his neck and saying, "Fraser, ol' buddy, you look like a man who can use some coffee," before walking him over to the break room.

Instead, the guy in the red suit shuffles awkwardly and says, "Hello, there, Ray," and right then, Ray knows that Welsh is right, that he ought to be thinking about finding a new partner. Their moment is over. He stares down at his desk blotter and says, "Fraser. We have to talk."

When they were partners, they used to talk in the men's room, but that feels way too dangerous now. Ray can't look straight at Fraser, because he keeps seeing the guy he's fucking, that amazing wonderful guy, inside that weird Mountie uniform. It doesn't fit him right, Ray can see that now; Fraser's always tugging at his collar, straightening his lanyard, pulling down his sleeves. Fraser, his Fraser, the guy who fucks him till he trembles—this guy isn't a man who was made to wear a dress uniform.

He gets up and heads toward Interrogation Room Two. Fraser follows at a respectful distance, then shuts the door behind them. "Fraser," Ray says, pacing the room; he still can't look at Fraser directly, so he's just a blur in Ray's peripheral vision, "I had drinks with Welsh, and—" He stops and shoves his fingers into his hair; fuck, this is hard, this is so damn hard.

Fraser, for the millionth time, saves his bacon. "Lieutenant Welsh thinks you should get a new partner," Fraser says quietly, and it isn't a question. "Well. I can understand his reasoning." Fraser turns his face away. "Under the circumstances, I'm not of much use to y—" and reason five hundred and sixty three why Welsh is right and Ray should get a new partner is how he's got Fraser shoved up against the wall of the interrogation room and how he's kissing him, because after all these months, this is how thin his control is.

He shoves his hands up under Fraser's red wool tunic and fuck, he's never kissed the Mountie before, but this is the end of Vecchio and the Mountie anyway. Fraser moans softly into his mouth and lets Ray go at him for a while before gently kissing Ray's name onto his lips. "Ray. Ray. Not here," and then Fraser's hands are grasping Ray's hair and tugging his head back. "Ray," Fraser repeats softly, looking into his eyes, and Christ, it feels like Ray's heart is breaking. "You don't want to do this here."

One night, just after Stella landed her first big job at—what were they called? Asshole, Grubman, and McCormick, something like that, he went to see her late after work. He was still walking a beat then, and he didn't get off till eleven, but he stopped at the all-night deli on the corner and bought a huge bunch of flowers out of a green plastic bucket. He remembers walking past the security guy and down the heavily carpeted hall to Stella's office, which was small but nicely furnished with a mahogany desk and a bookcase and a sideboard thingy. Stella seemed pleased to see him and stood up—and he grinned at her and pushed the heavy wood door shut behind him. Two steps and he'd taken her into his arms. She smiled and turned her face so that he could kiss her cheek, her ear, her mouth—and she moaned a little as he slid his hands down her cream-silk-covered back to cup her ass. He thought she was with him—he was pretty sure she was with him—that is, until he slid his palms up her thighs, hands sliding up under her skirt. Stella let out a shocked laugh. "Ray—"

"Let's do it right now," Ray murmured into her hair. "Let's do it right here—"

"We can't," she said, sounding oh-so-reasonable.

"Sure we can," Ray said, and lifted her up onto the sideboard. She squealed with laughter, and for a moment, Ray could see her considering it, and so he leaned in and kissed her again, giving her the best, deepest kiss he had, wanting to sweep her away in it. Talking would be the death of this thing, he knew that instinctively. His hands reached for her breasts, cupped them through the silk, thumbed the hard, sweet buds of her nipples, and—

"Ray." Breathless, now; she's turned her face to the side so that Ray's face is buried in a cloud of bright gold hair. God, she's so lovely, he can't stand— "Ray," and her voice is sharper now, and she's pushing hard at his shoulders. "Not here," and he's taking a stumbling step backwards. She's angry, why is she angry at him all of a sudden? He can still see her nipples through her blouse, and he himself is painful hard and leaking into his blue uniform pants.

"Stella, they're closed, nobody's here, it's past eleven—" and boy, was that the wrong thing to say, because now she's sneering at him and saying, "Yeah, Ray; that shows just how much you know. This place never closes, okay? They're open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week—"

"—okay, but—"

"—and you don't seem to understand the kind of competition I'm facing or the kind of pressure I'm under—"

"But Stella—"

"Shove it, Ray," and that was that.

Fraser, at least, isn't pissed off at him; Fraser, at least, seems sort of sad. "You don't want to do this here, Ray," Fraser murmurs, and Fraser's at least kissing him during the let-down. "We're far too exposed." Kiss. " Anyone could walk in." Kiss. "There's a two-way mirror on the—" but when Ray grabs his lapels and crushes Fraser's mouth with his own, Fraser doesn't push him away. Fraser doesn't tell him to shove it. Fraser just opens his mouth and strokes Ray's tongue with his own, kissing him and kissing him until the words sink in: exposed, walk in, two-way mirror. Ray jerks back, gasping, suddenly sure that Dewey's standing at the door, or Frannie, or Welsh, or—

The door's still closed, thank God. But the pounding of his heart is feeding fear instead of lust. "Maybe," Ray begjns breathlessly. "Maybe we should get out of—"

The knock on the door is loud, so fucking loud, like a jackhammer cracking his skull and he reacts without thinking, sweeping up one of the cheap, metal chairs and hurling it against the two-way mirror, which shatters, glass spraying everywhere. Ray, panting, turns and gets a glimpse of Fraser's pale face as Fraser slowly drops his raised arms.

A moment later, he hears the sound of running feet and then the door's banging open and there's four cops crowding into the doorway, Huey in front, all of them crouching and pointing their guns into the room. Ray gets a glimpse of Frannie behind them, pushed out of the way; she looks tiny and frightened. They all slowly take in the fact that no one's in the room except Vecchio and the Mountie, and then they're letting their gun barrels drop.

Frannie says, in a small, breathless voice: "I was just— I just wanted to ask you if— Christ, you guys!" and she presses a palm to her heaving chest. "You just...I gotta...I'm going to sit down."

She turns and wanders away through the crowd of cops, and Fraser frowns worriedly. "Wait," he says. "Francesca—" and in a moment he's gone after her, hat in hand. Ray brushes his palms together, brushes glass shards off his t-shirt, and crunches his way over to the door, passing a stunned-looking Huey, passing Mitchell, Watkins, and Czernik without so much as a whatnot, walking through the crowd of curious cops. At the end of the gauntlet is Welsh, like a black cloud, waiting. The bullpen is silent except for the sudden, occasional ringing of phones.

"I'm going to need a new partner," Ray tells Welsh, and then he crosses to his desk and gets back to work.

That night they fuck like animals. Ray can see the tendons straining in Fraser's neck, can see the way Fraser is gritting his teeth and trying to keep silent but oh, God, the sounds he's making. Grunts. Savage. Everything else feels like it's falling apart, but the sex is great, the sex just keeps getting better. They're sweating, naked, moving together. Their fingers on one hand—Fraser's right, Ray's left—are laced tight; that's the only thing that's grounding him. He closes his eyes and gives himself over to it—Fraser fucking him hard and fast, cock nearly splitting him open. He's trembling, convulsing around the slick, hard cock in his ass. Fraser's hand slides down Ray's sweat-slick torso, caresses his pecs, his abs, before roughly groping his cock and balls, over and over, tugging and caressing. Ray's in fucking heaven. This is worth everything.

"Do you love me?" Fraser asks him afterwards, when they're lying on the damp sheets, spent.

For a moment, Ray can't process what he's hearing. He frowns up at the Ashland's ugly stucco ceiling. "What?"

"Do you love me?" Fraser repeats quietly. "You never say," and suddenly that's the most enraging thing Ray's ever heard, and he wants to bitchslap Fraser from here to the North Pole and back again. "No, Fraser!" Ray yells, rolling up into a sitting position and glaring down at Fraser, who's sprawling, sated, on the bed. It's like he can feel the veins throbbing in his head, "No, I don't love you, this is just me going crazy fucking out of my mind over here! This is me losing my shit for no reason at all!" but now Fraser's gathering Ray in his arms and drawing him down onto the bed, murmuring, "Shh. Shh. Yes. All right."

Still, Fraser seems pleased with his answer.

And it's easier than he expects to do his job without Fraser. In fact, it feels kind of familiar. Before Fraser, he hadn't had a steady partner since Mickey Stitch, twelve years ago, and once Mickey's pretty, pregnant wife nagged him into a safer line of work, Ray never clicked with anyone else. Then things went bad with Stella (his pretty non-pregnant wife) and so he volunteered for his first undercover assignment, which pretty much cemented his reputation as a solo player. He only partnered up with Fraser as part of the deal—but Fraser's such a perfect cop, so talented, so smart, so absolutely fucking intimidating, that Ray began to doubt himself. Fraser was the talent; Ray was the also-ran: the second-best guy on the team.

So he thought that he'd be lost, but somehow he's managing just fine by himself—even Welsh sees it. He's already closed two homicides and busted up a major fraud ring, which isn't nothing, and he can see the looks of grudging respect on people's faces. This feels good, this feels familiar, and suddenly he remembers that he's got three citations for bravery. That he's the guy who busted Marky Wainwright and solved the double murder of the Braswell sisters. That it was because of his time undercover at Sunshine Auto Body that the Gionelli ring was shut down on the South Side.

He may be second best to the Mountie but he is fuckin' first best around here.

So Ray's feeling good about his decision, because he doesn't need the Mountie for a partner but he damn well needs Fraser for a lover. The magic lights flash pink and blue and pink, four times a week, sometimes more. They eat takeout in bed and watch old movies together, and sometimes he rents porn on the Pay-Per-View and makes Fraser watch it while he sits behind him and slowly jerks him off, kissing his shoulder. Ray lets Fraser kneel on the dingy carpet beside the bed and give him head, since Fraser seems to like the kneeling almost as much as the sucking. Fraser likes to feel him up, running his hands over Ray's body, sliding them up under his clothes. Fraser also seems to like shoving Ray up against things—the wall, the dresser, hell, Ray once lands with his ass in the wet bathroom sink. Ray finds he kind of likes being pushed around, but he likes pushing, too. He ties Fraser, spreadeagled, to the bed with four of the thousand silk neckies that Stella gave him and gags him with a fifth; finally, a use for the fucking things. Fraser slaps a hand over Ray's nose and mouth, half-asphyxiating him, as he fucks him hard in return.

Ray gasps for breath and loves it. Ray loves all of it, and he feels pretty smug about his choices right up until Fraser gets taken hostage by the Mangielli family. Not that Fraser means to get taken hostage by the Mangielli family—fuck no, Fraser's just defending the little blonde lady he sees walking her white dog in the park every night. Dief's got a crush on the dog, and Fraser's the kind of guy who notices when a woman's being slapped around, even if she's wearing sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts. Fraser's the kind of guy who's gonna go up to that woman and say, "I notice that you've sustained an ecchymosis; the discoloration of the tissue is really quite striking. If you don't mind me asking, how did you come by your injury?" It's all bullshit of course—Fraser knows just what he's doing when he talks like that. If he asks about her ecchymosis, she'll have to ask him what he means, and that's the beginning of a conversation; she's halfway to telling him what happened. Whereas if Fraser says, "Hey lady, where'd you get the black eye?" she'll clam up and run like hell. Fraser's brilliant with that shit.

Where Fraser is somewhat less than brilliant is in not knowing that Laura Mangielli is no ordinary housewife. Ray could have told him that Laura Mangielli is married to Beppe Mangielli, and Beppe Mangielli has a legendary fucking temper. Beppe's the guy you call when you're trying to teach somebody one helluva big-time lesson, one they'll remember every time it rains. But Benton Fraser is a big dumb Canuck when it comes to Chicago mob politics, so he tries to have a neighborly talk with Beppe Mangielli about the way he's treating his wife. Dumb fucking Canuck walks right up to the door of the Mangielli compound—a huge house where Beppe and his brother Paulo live with their wives, bodyguards, and a shitload of automatic weapons—and knocks.

Asks to see Mr. Guiseppe Mangielli. Wants to have a word with him about his wife, Laura.

The worst thing about this is that Fraser doesn't go into it as a cop—because Fraser's not a cop, not in Chicago he's not, and now he's not even a liaison to a cop. Fraser goes into the Mangielli household as a big fat fucking nobody, as a private citizen wearing civilian clothes, and that's the kiss of death. Mob guys know not to tangle with cops, they've had it bred into them by their gun-toting mothers. But dumb Canucks in blue shirts are fair game—and was he stupid enough to think that Fraser would quit being a cop just cause he has no law enforcement authority whatsofuckingever? Benton Fraser's a cop deep in his heart, and he's gonna throw himself into stupid situations no matter what—he's gonna help battered mob wives and Chinese waiters, throw himself out of windows, jump off trains, ride on the tops of cars, fall off buildings—and he's gonna do this shit without a net.

Ray was his net.

So it's 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon when Welsh opens his office door and says, "Vecchio." Ray knows right away that something's wrong, but he figures it for normal wrong, like maybe one of their witnesses has been killed, or one of his perps has hung himself, or something. Welsh shuts the door, sits him down, and tells him that a hysterical Laura Mangielli called 911 twenty minutes ago, because there's what you might call a situation going down at Mangielli Manor. Beppe Mangielli's gone apeshit, he's got some guy in there and he's waving a gun and threatening to blow his head off.

That guy's toast, Ray thinks; it's his first, bleak thought. His second thought, right behind it, is: how many cops are gonna get killed bringing Mangielli in? They're gonna need a SWAT team, and guns better than the Glock he currently carries, and some serious kevlar.

Paulo's trying to talk him down, Welsh is saying, but Beppe's out of control and the bodyguards don't know who to listen to. Laura's locked herself in the upstairs bedroom but she's terrified that Beppe's gonna kill her after he's done with the guy downstairs. In short, it's a real clusterfuck.

"Yeah, so what else is new?" Ray asks.

Welsh is eyeing him steadily. "It's Fraser. The guy."

Oh. He feels kind of lightheaded now, but otherwise he's calmer than he would have expected. He replays the situation in his head now that he knows that it's Fraser. On the positive side, Fraser's massively competent and if there's a chance, he'll take it. On the negative side, people less hotheaded than Beppe Mangielli have found Fraser annoying enough to want to shoot him in the head. Ray realizes that he's taking deep, deliberate breaths. In. Out. In. He's fine, he's doing really great.

Ray stands up, calm as you please. See how calm he is? "Where's the SWAT team massing?"

Welsh is already grimly shaking his head. "You're not gonna be in this thing."

Ray begs to differ, just calm as you please. "No, I am. I gotta be in on it."

"No," Welsh says, shaking his head. "Bad policy, bad policing. We got experts for this—"

Okay, this isn't gonna be an argument he can win, so he's not gonna argue. Ray turns, opens the door, goes to his desk, gets his coat, aware all the time that Welsh is following him, that Welsh is still talking. "...and see, this would explain why..." Welsh is saying, somewhere, but Ray's not really listening. "...won't follow orders...lead with your....overly-emotional...I mean it, Detective!!" and then somebody's grabbing his arm, and without really even thinking about it, Ray draws his gun and turns and points the barrel up against that person's forehead. It takes him a second to see who it is—Chris Mitchell, looking wide-eyed and pale—and then he hears Welsh's voice soft in his ear: "You're going to give me that gun. Right now."

Ray has to think about that for a moment. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. Does he want to shoot Mitchell? Probably not.

He takes a deep breath, lowers the gun, and hands it to Welsh, butt-first. Mitchell looks like he's going to shit himself, but Welsh doesn't even look surprised. "C'mon," Welsh says gruffly, turning away with Ray's gun in his hand. "We'll go down there—no, you can't be in it," Welsh says wearily before Ray even opens his mouth. "But we'll be on hand for—whatever happens," and nobody needs to tell Ray what that means.

It's the longest day of his life. He sits in the passenger seat of Welsh's blue sedan, half a block from the Mangielli house. They can see the huge, Victorian house, but they're behind all the action—five or six black and whites, two SWAT vans, and a couple of ambulances, just in case. CPD's got the street blocked off at either end, so there's no civilian traffic, just cops. Everyone's crouched down behind their cars just in case Beppe decides to open fire onto the street. The only person out in the open is Detective Tricia Banks, who's standing there in her brown wool coat, phone in hand—Ray knows Tricia, she's a top notch hostage negotiator, and she's got a team of people helping her, including a police psychologist.

Welsh has got his police radio on, and he's got clearance for them to listen. Beppe's too busy going apeshit to talk, but Paulo's got the phone and Tricia's trying to help him calm his brother down. Ray can hardly bear to listen, because Tricia's already diagnosed Beppe as a Type A hostage taker—"mentally disturbed," or in other words, a nut—and so she's telling Paulo to let his brother vent his anger against Fraser. Logic doesn't work with Type A's; all you can do is let them scream and hope they tire themselves out.

Beppe shows no signs of tiring, though. Ray feels like he's been staring at the textured blue dashboard of the sedan for his whole life, when suddenly he hears gunfire, and that very second the radio crackles, "Shots fired! Shots fired!" and Ray's blindly scrabbling at the door except it's locked, it's not opening, and this is a fucking department car so there's no locks—the whole shebang is controlled from the driver's side door. Then he hears a crash, almost in stereo but not quite, and he looks up just in time to see a body flying out of the second story window, just above the front door.

The body rolls down the roof of the portico in a shower of broken glass and then plummets, vanishing from Ray's view. Ray debates breaking the passenger side window, then turns to Welsh in despair as the SWAT team races forward and smashes through the front door, guns drawn. Welsh is as stony-faced and unmoving as a mountain. And then the radio crackles. "It's Guiseppe Mangielli. He's injured—looks like he's broken something. Possible spinal injury—" and suddenly all the energy drains from his body. It's not Fraser. And unless Beppe suddenly decided to throw himself out a window, Fraser's up there and alive.

As if to confirm this, the radio crackles again. "Situation is secure, repeat, situation is secure, we have two dead and three wounded up here, over." And Ray just sits there, almost paralyzed, as the SWAT commander waves the medics into the mansion, because what's he supposed to do exactly? After he runs to Fraser and kisses him senseless, what's he supposed to say? I'm sorry I let you go it alone? I'm sorry I'm such a horrible selfish prick?

Because it never occurred to him that maybe it was Fraser who needed a partner.

Two stretchers come out of Mangielli Manor, and then two bodybags. Fraser comes out under his own steam, a brown wool blanket around his shoulders. He's limping but he's still standing—though that's about all you can say for him. Even from this distance, Ray can see that Fraser's been badly beaten—swollen lip, cut across his forehead, black eye, maybe even a broken nose. But he's standing on his own two feet, bloodied but unbowed, through he accepts an icepack from one of the medics, and lets another work on that cut on his face.

Ray turns to Welsh abruptly, gripped by a strange, inner panic. "Can we go?"

"What?" Even Welsh, the unflappable, is surprised by this. "You want to..."

"Go, I wanna go. Now, now—whattya say?" Ray asks and slaps the dashboard. Welsh stares at him for a moment before starting the engine, and he looks so pathetically confused that for a moment, Ray wants to blurt out everything: Look, I'm queer and Fraser and me are involved and it's my fault that he got the shit kicked out of him and if I stay here there's gonna be tears or public indecency or both. But he can't do that, because it is one thing to out himself to Welsh, and it is something else entirely to out Fraser. He hasn't got permission for that. So he clamps his mouth shut and stares out the window as the car pulls away from the curb and drives past the cops, the EMTs, and Fraser, who's still standing despite all his injuries.

Welsh is watching him like he might freak out or something, so he pretends to be working and puts a call through under a fake name, slipping out of the bullpen when Welsh goes to get the phone. By now, they'll have taken Fraser to the hospital—Fraser doesn't like hospitals, but there's no way he's getting out of it this time.

Ray doesn't go to the hospital. Instead, Ray goes to Stella's fancy apartment complex, parks the car in the circular drive in front, and pushes through the rotating glass doors into the lobby. He flashes his badge to the doorman, then jogs across the mirrored lobby to the elevator bank. He tries to ignore his own reflection: blond, wiry, nervous-looking, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a leather jacket. The goddamned elevators are mirrored too, so he stares down at his boots until the door opens.

He's halfway down the hall to Stella's apartment when the futility of being here really hits him—Stella isn't his friend. Stella was a lot of things to him, but she was never his friend. The only friend he's got is in the hospital right now. Out here, in Stella's fancy-ass hallway, it's impossible to picture the golden, sexy Stella whose breasts he used to kiss and all too easy to picture the hard-faced woman who'll push him away if he cries on her blouse.

He whirls, hunches, tightens his hands into fists. There's nothing here for him. Thirty-seven years in Chicago and what has he got?

He goes downstairs and gets into his car and drives to Randolph's bar, where he can cry into his beer and nobody'll stop him.

It's well past midnight when Ray stumbles out of Randolph's, and he's never been the king of responsibility but even he knows enough not to drive in his condition. So he leaves the car and walks, because hey, walking's good enough for Fraser; Fraser walks everywhere. Plus it's not far to the Consulate, and he's in no rush anyway. City's pretty at night, even on the street.

It takes him about forty minutes to get to the Consulate, which is dark but where the hell else would Fraser go? It's not like Fraser has—ha—a home or anything; Fraser's the only guy he knows who's got less than he's got. Thirty-four years in Canada and two in Chicago and what has Fraser got? A cot in his office, a dog, a knapsack full of stuff. A hat. Pathetic.

Ray stumbles up the steps, pulls out his wallet—he's still got his wallet, cool—and takes out a credit card. Drunk he may be, but it'll be a cold day in hell when Fast-Fingers Kowalski can't open a crap-ass door like this. He jimmies the lock, steps into the dark hallway, and shuts the door behind him. He knows his way to Fraser's office in the dark, which is good, cause it's dark. He opens the door and peers in and—no Fraser. Even in the dim light he can see that Fraser's not there, because the office is tiny and it's not like you can mistake an office with a cot in it for an office without a cot in it. Fraser's not here, and that makes his blood run cold, because God Almighty, if the hospital held on to him—

Ray turns, panicked, and is blinded by a flashlight in the face. He reaches instinctively for his gun; okay, maybe he's breaking and entering, but if Fraser's not here, who the hell is this guy?

"It's all right, Detective," the voice says, and tilts the flashlight backward. Ray nearly jumps out of his skin, because Jesus, Turnbull's freaky-looking even when he's not doing a scary Halloween face with a flashlight. "It's just me," Turnbull says in his pleasant, slighly brain-damaged voice. "I assume you're here to see Constable Fraser."

"I—yeah." Ray's sweating and he feels kind of embarrassed, but Turnbull is acting like it's perfectly normal to break into the Canadian Consulate, drunk, at one in the morning to see Fraser.

Turnbull turns and aims the flashlight down the hallway, and Ray sees now that Turnbull's wearing white pajamas with trains on them—white pajamas with feet. "Under the circumstances," Turnbull continues as he leads Ray back into the main hall, "we thought Constable Fraser should sleep in the Queen's bedroom." Turnbull stops suddenly and wheels on Ray: "A rare honor, I assure you. But Constable Fraser did have a very harrowing day, and it was felt..." Turnbull tilts his head to one side and taps his nose, and Ray understands that Turnbull does most of the feeling here in the Canadian Consulate, "that what Constable Fraser needed most was a good night's sleep."

"Yeah." Ray wonders if he smells of booze, and when Turnbull turns around again, he cups his hand in front of his mouth to test his breath. Geez.

"I didn't want to leave him alone, so I'm kipping on the sofa in the reception room." Turnbull stops at the foot of the stairs, and jerks a thumb over his shoulder toward the front room. Ray knows that sofa well; he's slept on it more than once himself. "I'm going back to sleep now," Turnbull says with a smile. "I'm sure I won't wake up till morning."

Ray doesn't know if he's paranoid or just drunk, but he's pretty sure Turnbull's trying to tell him something.

"I'm quite a sound sleeper normally," Turnbull assures him, but Ray can't hear any trace of irony in that bland, pleasant voice. "Let me know if you need anything."

"I—uh." Ray doesn't think he's ever been on the second floor of the Consulate; is there maybe even a third floor? "Where is the Queen's bedroom?"

"Top of the stairs, first door on your left," Turnbull says, and hands him the flashlight.

Ray cracks open the first door on the left and discovers that that's only an antechamber, a living room area for meeting guests or something. A small lamp is on, enough to light the way to the set of double doors beyond. Inside, there's a huge canopy bed, and—

Diefenbaker. Dief's suddenly up and crouched defensively, like he's about to start barking, and Ray raises his hands and whispers, "Hey! Wolf! It's me!" And he doesn't know if Dief can hear him or just recogizes him (in his head, he hears Fraser's voice: "He's reading your lips, Ray. Obviously.") but Dief relaxes, turns tail, and disappears into a dark corner of the bedroom.

A few steps bring Ray to the bed and Christ, he thought he was all cried out but maybe he's not, or maybe this is the booze talking. But Fraser's asleep at the very edge of the bed, like he doesn't know what to do with all that space. He's sleeping on his back, hands over his chest—like he's dead, and the tape on his ribs, the bruises and bandages on his face aren't doing anything to dispel that impression. And he knows it's the booze that's bringing him to the side of the bed, and driving him to his knees, because Jesus, geez. He doesn't mean to wake Fraser, but he can't help touching Fraser's hair, Fraser's face, ghosting his mouth over Fraser's cheek. It's not just that he needs to kiss him. It's also that he needs to feel the heat of Fraser's skin—to reassure himself that Fraser's just sleeping and not laid out in this creepy-ass room. It's like a funeral parlor in here.

"Ray..." Fraser's voice is thick and sleepy and Ray's betting that they gave him some world-class drugs. "You came..."

Ray's vision blurs. Goddamnit. "Yeah. Yeah. I came, Fraser. I'm here, I was there this afternoon, too, but I couldn't stay, I couldn't—" and words have never been his friends, and so he leaves off talking for a while and kisses Fraser's mouth.

When he thinks he can talk without blubbering, Ray lifts his head and blurts the only words that matter: "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Fraser. I shoulda been there. I shoulda been with you—"

"It's all right, Ray." Fraser sounds eerily like Turnbull, except of course Fraser's actually functioning on two cylinders where Turnbull's just—Turnbull. Fraser's rough, clumsy hand finds Ray's hair and absently strokes his head. He seems on the verge of falling asleep again. And then Fraser says something that freaks him out: "My father was with me."

His father? Does he mean, like, God or something? From what Ray can see, Fraser's religious beliefs lie somewhere between "The Golden Rule" and "The Martians Are Landing," and seem to include Protestant discipline, Catholic guilt, Inuit shamans, Zen mysticism, any number of moon goddesses, and, very possibly, elves. In other words, Fraser's got religion all right, but it's more like a Choose Your Own Adventure thing than anything to go to church about, so Ray can't see Fraser talking about "My Father" meaning "God"—not unless "God" was riding a caribou while telling an ancient tale about how the Great Sky Bear swatted a bumblebee and that's how the world was created.

So Fraser must be talking about his actual father, who Ray's pretty sure was murdered several years ago, being as Fraser talks about the killers of his father all the time. So that's really weird. Ray knows it's probably just the drugs talking—drugs, meet booze! Booze, meet drugs!—but it still makes him feel cold in his guts. Fraser sometimes talks crazy, but this here is nuts.

Ray tries to break it to him gently: "Your father's dead, Fraser."

"Mm," Fraser agrees sleepily, apparently undisturbed by the news. "Nonetheless," and really, it's not surprising that Fraser's dreaming of the other guy in his life who never knew when the hell to show up. Ray can see where having a dad like Robert Fraser would prepare a guy for disappointment (and here he is, right on time: Ray Kowalski, Disappointment Number One.)

Ray doesn't sleep; he just sits in a gold velvet chair in the dark of the Queen's bedroom and watches Fraser sleep. He's exhausted but he wants to stay awake because this room, with its thick carpets and heavy drapes, feels safe. It's a good place to think and he doesn't want to waste it. It feels like ages since he's slowed down enough to think—("I'll think when I'm dead," he remembers yelling at his mother)—about who he is, what he wants, where he's going, and trust him to have to be shitfaced and in a funeral parlor to do it, but still. He's thinking things over, and thinking feels good.

He gets up around five a.m. and kisses Fraser's forehead, just below the hairline—his black eye ("Ecchymosis, Ray,") looks worse but that means it's really getting better, Ray knows that first-hand. He whispers "I love you," into Fraser's hair, and okay, he knows it's chickenshit to say it when Fraser's asleep, but some part of him is convinced that Fraser'll hear him anyway, that it'll sink into his brain by osmosis. "I love you, okay?"

He slips out of the Consulate while Turnbull's still asleep, or pretending to be, and walks down the cold, clear Chicago streets as the sun rises. He remembers that he left his car outside Randolph's and decides to leave it there. Instead he walks toward his apartment, feeling toxins drain out of his system with every step. By the time he's reached—not home, it's not home; the place he's renting—the sun is up and shining with full force: it's gonna be one of those bright, freezing-cold Chicago days. Ray pulls down all the blinds in his apartment, takes four aspirin and two glasses of water, and goes to bed.

The phone rings a couple of hours later and Ray scrambles to find his glasses before he picks up the receiver—like he can't hear if he can't see. It's Welsh, and he's asking, "What the hell happened to you?"

Ray's head is pounding—he's in worse shape now than when he went to bed, and he squeezes his eyes shut against the pain and says: "Nothing, I'm fine, I'm cool," and then, because Welsh deserves a little honesty: "I got fucked up last night. I gotta sleep it off."

"Yeah, all right," Welsh says, and there's a lot of understanding in those three syllables. "Take a couple of days, get your head screwed on right."

"Thanks, Lieutenant," Ray says gratefully—and then he remembers what he was thinking about last night and jerks upright, groaning with the stupidity of sudden movement. "Oh, and meanwhile, lemme ask you something."

Welsh sounds wary. "Shoot."

Ray braces his forearms against his bent knees. "Say we wanted to get Fraser re—I dunno, re-liaisonized. Re-credentialized. Bring him back on board with the CPD. You think we could do that?"

Welsh lets out a soft grunt, but it's not an angry sound; it's interested. "I dunno. Maybe," he grants. "I'd push for it—he's useful on the weird cases. Why, does he want to come back?"

"I dunno," Ray says, rubbing his eye with the heel of his hand. "I just don't think he should be out there without backup."

"Well, that's God's honest truth," Welsh snorts, and then, grudgingly: "I'll look into it."

Ray falls back to sleep, relieved. Now all he's got to do is talk to Fraser.

It's a couple of days before Ray can bring himself to do it, but finally he calls Fraser at the Consulate, and he can tell right away that Fraser's been waiting to hear from him and that Fraser's hoping Ray suggests the Ashland. Ray's been wanting that too, dreaming of it in fact, but that's not what this call is about.

"You feeling okay?" Ray asks.

"Much better, thanks."

"Good enough to have lunch?"

"Lunch?" Ray can hear the disappointment in Fraser's voice; lunch isn't what he wanted. Lunch is a daytime thing, and a public thing, and shockingly devoid of handcuffs and blowjobs. "Yeah, all right," Fraser agrees reluctantly. "Where?"

"Bosie's Diner? 12:30?"

"Right you are. See you then."

Ray makes sure he's there first, and snags them a red vinyl booth way at the back. He needs privacy for this conversation, but not too much. Twelve-thirty comes and Fraser arrives, bruised but healing and wearing civilian clothes—and Ray knows him well enough to understand exactly what this means: he got injured as a civilian, and so he's gonna stay a civilian until he looks better. Wouldn't want to cast shame on the uniform. So this Fraser, here—this Fraser looks just like the guy he's in love with.

This makes what he's got to say here a lot harder.

"Hey," Ray says, waving him over, and Fraser slides into the booth opposite him with a brief grimace of pain—those ribs, Ray thinks.

"Hey," Fraser replies, face lighting up a little now that he's settled in. "It's good to see you, Ray," and then the waitress is bringing over huge leatherette menus, but they both know what they want already: Ray wants coffee and a cheeseburger deluxe; Fraser wants tea and a large bowl of whatever's the soup of the day (chicken and stars, it turns out).

They talk a bit about the Mangielli case—Fraser's been dealing with Stella's office; he's going to have to testify against Beppe Mangielli, who's not only paralyzed but going to prison. The case is solid, Fraser explains, because "Mrs. Mangielli and Paolo are going to testify as well," not to mention the surviving bodyguards, since Mangielli shot two of them before Fraser dragged his sorry ass off the floor and threw Beppe out the window. "I must say," Fraser adds quietly, staring down into his soup, "that while it was far from the most pleasant day of my life, it was worth it to spare Mrs. Mangielli. She broke out into tears when she understood that it was over, that he'd never be able to hit her again. My sense is this was a very long-term pattern of abuse."

Ray raises his eyes to Fraser and tries to will Fraser to hear the sincerity in his voice. "It was a good job, Fraser."

Fraser flushes a bit and looks away; that means he gets it. "Thank you, Ray. It means a lot."

"Which is actually what I wanted to talk to you about," Ray says then, because this is about as good a chance as he's gonna get, and if he doesn't do this now, he'll never do it.


"Yeah. Yeah." Now or never, this is it: jump. "Truth is, I'm not doing so well without you," Ray says, and it's amazing how many lies are prefaced with "truth is." "And don't tell me that Mangielli thing wouldn't have gone better if I'd been outside and heavily armed," and Fraser acknowledges this with a faint smile and a tip of the head. "I think—I mean, face it, we are great partners, Fraser. We're like Lennon and McCartney, Barnum and Bailey, Baskin and Robbins—"

"Leopold and Loeb?" Fraser asks wryly.

"Yeah, them too. Point is, Fraser, we work good together, and we were stupid to let that go."

Fraser's nodding slowly, and Ray can just see the tip of a pink tongue poking at the corner of Fraser's cut and swollen lip. "I...I certainly do miss your partnership, Ray. And I can't say I don't miss the challenges of policework. I...don't have many opportunities in my current job at the Consulate." Fraser's staring down at the cheap, fake marble tabletop, and then he pauses, biting his lip, and it's weird to watch Fraser fumble for words. "But—" Fraser says finally, his voice dropping to a whisper, "—but I thought you were—disinclined—" and Fraser's yanking every word out, like pulling rusty nails out of a board, "—to pursue both—both a—work relationship and—and—the other."

And this is what is going to kill him. "Right," Ray says simply.

Fraser looks stricken for a moment, and then the Mountie-look spreads over his face, like some mob boss pouring concrete. At the end of it, Ray finds himself staring at Fraser's tightly-controlled face, his horrified eyes.

Christ, he can't stand it: is he doomed to hurt Fraser no matter what?

But while Fraser's in control of himself, he's not just going along with this. "I'll need to think about that," Fraser says quietly, staring down at the white knuckles of the fingers he's laced together. "I'm not sure I can do that."

Ray lets his head fall forward. "I don't know either," he admits miserably, and suddenly they're on the same page again, staring at each other across a half-eaten plate of fries, a mostly-eaten bowl of soup, sharing desperation like they used to. "All I know is, anything that stops us from being partners can't be right. I mean, have you been happy?"

Fraser's answer is prompt. "With you? Yes," but Ray knows Fraser well enough to know an evasion when he hears one.

Ray leans over the table and mutters: "All right, yeah, but your life can't just be me, right? What about the twenty-three hours a day when we're not fucking?" Fraser doesn't answer, but Ray knows what his life is like: a job he hates in a place he doesn't want to be—and Ray just took the most interesting part of it away, leaving him with the cot, the hat, the dog. "I mean, I think I'd rather see more of you, even if it means having less of you. I dunno," Ray says, running his palm over the spikes of his hair. "I just don't know, Fraser. This all seemed really clear in my head," he confesses miserably. "But now? Fuck if I know."

"Yeah," Fraser says with a sigh, and geez, he looks terrible: thin and pale, black circles under his eyes, white bandage across his nose. In his brain, Ray knows that Beppe Mangielli's fists and boots are responsible for this, but some part of him can't help comparing this battered shell across the table to the hale and hearty Mountie of yesteryear and feeling like some kind of vampire. It ain't what you'd call a ringing endorsement, this before and after picture. And then Fraser surprises him by saying: "Frankly, Ray—this sucks," and suddenly they're both falling out of the booth laughing. The waitress, maybe drawn by their laughter, comes over, and Fraser orders himself a giant bowl of ice cream with sliced bananas—Christ, he'd forgotten what kind of sweet tooth Fraser has—and okay, maybe there's no handcuffs or blowjobs here, but lunch ends up being really kind of fun.

After lunch, Ray takes Fraser back with him to the bullpen—and shit, it's like the place perks up, like a phantom limb has stopped aching. Frannie's all aglow, and Huey looks up from his phone call and waves, and even Dewey stops to say, "Wow, Fraser, you look like shit," to which Fraser, out of uniform and momentarily liberated, replies politely: "Ah, but that will not be true of me in a month or so," and Dewey never even knows he's being slammed.

"Constable, you return." Welsh is standing in the doorway to his office in his rumpled shirt and coffee-stained tie. "Upon reflection, I imagine that pleases me." He steps back and waves Fraser into the office, and it turns out that Welsh has expedited Fraser's paperwork, so his I.D. card and laminated credentials are already waiting for him.

"I took the liberty," Welsh says, handing him the card, "of using your old picture."

Fraser takes it and stares down at the hale and hearty Mountie of yesteryear, and his lips twist in a wry smile. "Wouldn't want to scare the children, would we?"

"No," Welsh agrees, and then adds, softly: "Good to see you, Constable."

Fraser sounds almost choked up. "Likewise, Lieutenant," and hey, maybe the Kowalski noggin works okay after all.

That night, they don't go to the Ashland—they go out to dinner. More specifically, they go to the Dim Sum Kitchen for the full six course special, and then they go out to Lola's for cheesecake and coffee, and then they stop in at Bar None. It seems like ages since they've been out together, out in public together, and tonight it feels addictive. It's almost like Fraser's been away somewhere, and there's so much Ray needs to tell him—so much to catch up about. Ray doesn't want to go home, and he guesses that Fraser doesn't want to either, because just when Ray's resigned himself to paying the tab, Fraser pushes his cranberry and soda away and orders a beer, and then—like it's a sign from God—the bartender changes channels on the television and flips past Vancouver playing Ottawa.

"Hey! Hey! Hey!" Ray yells, sitting up on his stool and waving his arms wildly.

"What?" the bartender demands, turning around.

"Hockey," Fraser answers instantly. "If you'd please get out of the way," and they're lucky, it's a good game and Ottawa wins 4-3 in overtime, and Fraser wins ten bucks off him. By the time Ray drops Fraser off at the Consulate, he's got a warm, happy feeling spreading throughout his whole body, and so maybe he doesn't get a good night kiss, but right now, frankly? He couldn't give a shit.

The next day, Fraser arrives at the station around 10:30 in full Mountie reds and wearing his hat. He's still got dark shadows under his eyes and his lower lip is crusting over, but he's taken the bandage off his swollen nose and he's clearly determinded to make a go of it.

"So," Fraser says, perching on the edge of Ray's desk and twirling his hat between his fingers, "what's on the docket?"

Ray leans back in his creaky wooden chair. "Fraser, buddy, I'm glad you asked," and he hands Fraser the file on the A-1 Jewelry and Loan heist.

"Hm," Fraser says, and without looking up, he manuevers himself into the chair beside Ray's desk and starts to read. Ray gets up and gets some coffee from the breakroom, whistling to himself, and by the time he's done shaking Frannie down for sugar ("You ought to pay something," she complains, hands on her hips, "because you use, like, four times as much sugar as everyone else." "What, is there rationing?" Ray retorts. "Is there a war on and I didn't notice?") and back at his desk, Fraser's finished reading and is staring dreamily into space.

Ray throws himself into his desk chair, levers his booted feet up onto the desk, and crosses them at the ankles. Fraser comes back to earth with a surprised blink. "So," Ray says. "Who do you like for it?"

Fraser thumbs his eyebrow and says, "It's an inside job, surely."

"That's what I think, too. But who, inside? If you had to guess."

"Oh, I never guess, Ray," Fraser says, and his bruised mouth is pulling into a smile. "I leave hunches to you Americans."

Ray's grinning back helplessly. "Okay, Mr. Deductive Fucking Reasoning—who do you like for it?"

Fraser leans back in his chair and crosses his arms, one booted leg sliding outward. "I'm not telling you, Mr. Instinct. Tell me who you like for it and I'll tell you if you're right or wrong."

"Okay, look," Ray says, swinging his feet off the desk and rummaging in his drawer for two pieces of paper and two envelopes. "We'll do this like Clue. You write your perp on a piece of paper and seal it here in Envelope A," and Ray scrawls a giant A on one envelope and passes it to Fraser, "and I will do the same here with Envelope B, and then we'll see who's who and what's what."

"Right you are," Fraser says, grabbing for a pen and shielding his answer from Ray with his other hand as he writes. "Miss Scarlet....in the Library...with a Candlestick."

Ray grins and scrawls his own answer on the paper—Phil Abrams, the owner's brother-in-law—and stuffs it into the envelope. "Yeah, well, my hunch says it's the owner's brother-in-law in the store with a .350 Magnum," Ray says, licking his envelope and pounding it shut with his fist. "So let's go talk to him," and Ray grabs his coat off the hook and nods toward the door.

During the interview, Phil Abrams stutters and hems and haws, and since it's obvious that Abrams is more unnerved by Fraser's politeness than by Ray's aggression, Ray lets Fraser ask all the questions. By the end of the interview, the man's in tears, and desperately explaining to Fraser that he isn't a bad man—just his wife drove him crazy with her sneering and her abuse; she always treated him like dirt because it was her family that had the money while he was just an employee of the store, and so he thought if he only had a few bucks, he could tell her where to shove it, and while Fraser's handcuffing the guy and making sympathetic noises, Ray tears open Envelope A and reads, in Fraser's neat script: "Mr. Philip Abrams, store clerk and husband to the owner's sister. With a candlestick. (Ha ha.)"

So things go back to normal, pretty much, almost. He's got Fraser back at work and for dinner and movies and hockey, because he doesn't have to worry about what their relationship looks like now that there's really nothing going on between them. Innocence is like the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card. Most days he thinks he made the right decision, because his days are a lot nicer with Fraser in them. But his nights are longer and lonelier, his apartment emptier than it's ever been. If he sometimes aches for kisses, if he jerks off with increasing desperation, if flashes of neon sometimes make him cry—well, he tries not to think about that.

Besides, he's been through this before, and it was worse with Stella, wasn't it? When he stopped having sex with Stella, that was all they had. Here, at least, he's got love, and that's a helluva lot more than he pulled out of the Stella-wreckage.

Love is following Fraser into burning buildings and down into sewers and onto the tops of moving vehicles, making sure he doesn't get his stupid Canuck head blown off. Everything else is bullshit; everything else is bearable.

Or so he thinks.

He has no idea that he's this close to snapping, or that he's anywhere near this unhappy. But he's sitting next to Fraser at a long precinct-wide briefing, and he's bored and sketching out a game of Hangman for them to play when suddenly he realizes that he's screwed up and drawn the whole guy: head, body, arms, legs. He's staring down at the Hanged Man he's drawn—and the drawing is pathetic, but there's something so horrible and lonely about the guy, and before Ray can censor himself he thinks, "Fuck, it's me."

That's a horrible fucking thought, and Ray wants to shove it into the very deepest closet of his brain, but somehow he can't. He's been living on gallows humor for too long to deny it now, and so Ray sighs and adds his motto to the bottom: "Please kill me."

Fraser glances over, pen in hand, pretending to listen to the speaker from IAB—and raises a questioning eyebrow, because there's no dashes to fill in and the Hanged Man is already on there, so what's the game? Ray wonders glumly if Fraser's going to advise him to "Be patient" again—cause Ray is pretty sick of patience. Ray is really fucking sick of being patient.

And all of a sudden he knows what he wants to say, and it's the truth.

This gets more than a raised eyebrow from Fraser. This gets him a full, concerned double-take, the kind of thing that somebody might notice if they were looking but fuck them, who cares?

Fraser murmurs, "Ray?" in a questioning tone and Ray elaborates with angry strokes of his pen:

He can see Fraser's dark, concerned eyes moving across the page, following his arrows until they stop on what Ray supposes is really the gist of it. He can see Fraser's head already shaking, slowly: No, this is not a good idea, Ray. No, what would people say, Ray? Ray, you're not ready for this kind of commitment, you're too impulsive, you've already changed your mind three times about this thing and this is one genie that won't be put back in its box—bottle—whatever! Once people think of you as a gay cop, you're a gay cop forever, and it doesn't matter if we break up and you go out with the Gabor sisters—except that's not really Fraser talking to him about the Gabor sisters, is it? That's his own terror talking, and Fraser, he's just staring down at the Hanged Man.

Finally, Fraser uncaps his pen, and Ray's waiting for some version of "No, Ray,"—except Fraser goes and hangs himself right next to Ray. And that's—that's just—Christ, Ray's not even sure what that means until Fraser spells it out for him with two letters: "O.K."

And for a few minutes at least, him and Fraser are on the same page.

Then Ray throws up.

According to Fraser, throwing up right after you invite someone to live with you does not mark an auspicious beginning to said relationship, but personally Ray just thinks he shouldn't have had the chicken salad. "It's fine," he says wiping his mouth off with the back of his hand. "It's not about you—"

"Oh, right," Fraser says, crossing his arms and leaning back against the men's room sink. "It's just a spontaneous ejaculation—"

"I got nerves! I get nervous—what can I tell you, I'm an expulsive person." Ray pushes past him, turns on the tap, and begins to rinse his mouth out with cold water. "I told you what happened with Stella," Ray adds, glaring at Fraser from where he's bent over the sink. "All things considered, count yourself lucky—"

"I suppose it might be worth investing in rubber sheets," Fraser says, half-snippy and half in despair—but Ray jerks his dripping chin up. Fraser's still game.

"So, you're okay with it?" Ray asks, feeling his stomach lurch again. "I mean, you'll do it. I mean—"

"Yeah," Fraser says, rubbing his eyes, and his syntax always goes to hell when he's tired. "I mean, if you still want me to. I don't think you've fully thought this out—"

"I never think anything out," Ray objects.

"Oh, well, that's reassuring. Thank you, Ray," but he smiles for a second before growing serious. "We'll have to figure out what to tell people—"

Ray interrupts: "Why do we have to tell anybody anything?" and Fraser suddenly looks as close to ticked off as Ray's ever seen him.

"Because we are citizens, Ray, and we have jobs, and bank accounts, and driver's licenses, and we participate in a civic society that insists we maintain a more-or-less permanent address—"

Ray is halfway to saying, "You could leave all of that at the Consulate. Keep that as your permanent address, and just move your stuff to my place," except that's halfway back to the gallows again, and he doesn't want to live like that, goddamnit!

"—not to mention a number where we can be reached by telephone. Or don't you want me to answer the telephone?" and Fraser's gone all tense around the mouth, like he's expecting an answer he won't like.

Ray realizes with a cringe of embarrassment how close he just came to asking Fraser never to answer the telephone. And that's not asking Fraser to live with him—that's asking Fraser to move his stuff there so they can fuck more conveniently, and that's no way the same thing.

Ray raises his hands and speaks softly. "I want you to answer the phone, Fraser," and fuck, he really, really does. "I want either of us to be able to pick up the phone at any time and for that to be okay. Most of all," Ray says, putting his hands on Fraser's shoulders, his voice shaking a little, "I don't want us ever, ever to have to talk about who's going to answer the phone again," and he's ambushed Fraser into smiling, "because this is a sad and pathetic conversation, Fraser, even without me smelling of vomit."

Fraser's still smiling, but his smile's gone kind of sad. "So what are we going to tell people?"

"We'll tell them the truth," Ray says. "From what I hear, it confuses the fuck out of them."

Operation "Confuse The Fuck Out Of Them" starts right then despite some pretty visible anxiety on Fraser's part. "It doesn't have to be—I mean, there's no point in rushing things, is there?" Fraser says, and bites his lip.

Ray shakes his head, turns, and raises a single finger; he's in lecture mode, which he's mainly learned from Fraser. "There's no time like the present, Fraser. He who hesitates is lost. A stitch in time saves nine," but mainly, Ray can't stand to live like this a single second longer.

"Yes, but—" Fraser begins, but Ray's already on his way to Welsh's office.

"Hey, Lieu," Ray says, grabbing each side of the doorframe in a hand and letting the top half of himself fall into Welsh's office, "I need the rest of the afternoon off."

Welsh squints up at him. "For what? You don't work here anymore?"

"Excuse me, pardon me, excusez-moi, but who was it who closed the Bergman case, and the Jackson thing, and helped the uniforms resolve that whole Basmati rice incident—"

"I don't want to think about that," Welsh says gloomily. "You taking Fraser with you?"

"Yeah," Ray says, and here goes, bombs away: "I'm gonna move him into my apartment."

"Oh yeah?" Welsh's eyes narrow, and for a second, Ray thinks he's blown it, it's backfired, when Welsh says, "You renting a truck?"

"Renting a what?" Ray says, incoherently.

"Because if you're renting a truck, trust me, you want to use these guys," Welsh says, and now he's rummaging through the crap in his top desk drawer. "Last time I moved, I rented a truck from some assholes, and boy, they ripped me off, what with the extra fees and the mileage—"

"No, don't bother," Ray says quickly, stepping toward the desk, "we're not renting anything. Fraser doesn't have enough stuff for a truck—actually, we could probably tie it all to the wolf and be fine."

"Okay." Welsh waves him off, and then yells after him, "Make sure he files a change of address card with Naomi!"

"Will do!" Ray calls back, and they file a change of address card with Naomi on the way out.

At the Consulate, Fraser's packing clothes into a dufflebag when Turnbull appears at his office door, beaming helpfully and carrying a couple of corregated cardboard boxes. "Are these of any use, Sir?"

Fraser glances at him over his shoulder. "Yes, Turnbull, thank you," and Turnbull puts the boxes down on the desk. "Ray, perhaps you might be so good as to pack up the couple of things I've got in the kitchen?"

"Sure, Fraser," Ray says, and grabs a box.

"I'll help," Turnbull says, and follows him down the hallway toward the kitchen. Turnbull helps him find all the pieces of Fraser's mess kit—metal plate, spoon, knife, fork, cup, a couple of pans, a portable stove, a tripod, all of it nesting together. Fraser's also in possession of a box of fancy loose tea and one of them metal eggs you make tea with, and what seems to Ray to be a serious oversupply of candles.

"Don't you believe it," Turnbull says, like he's reading Ray's mind. "You can't ever have too many candles."

"Yeah, I guess," Ray says, but seriously: he's skeptical.

When they get back to Fraser's office, they find him being interrogated by the Ice Queen. Ray can't see her face from where he's standing, but Fraser looks like a deer in the headlights.

"I hope you're not making a impulse decision based on this—this—liaison you appear to be having," Inspector Thatcher says, angrily.

Fraser's face is at its blandest. "Liaison, sir?"

"Oh, stop being so damn—coy!" Thatcher snaps, and cocks one hip. "We all know you've been seeing a girl, so you can cut the gentlemanly crap, Constable, all right?"

"There is no girl, I assure you," Fraser says calmly, and geez, the way Fraser tells the truth, the Canadian government could use that as a weapon or something.

"Yeah, right. And you deciding on a whim to move out of this hellhole has nothing to do with this girl you've been seeing."

"Absolutely nothing, sir," Fraser confirms.

"Who, I'd like to remind you," Thatcher says, not listening even a little, "did not show up at the hospital when you were in need, now did she?"

Fraser seems to consider this. "Perhaps, sir, because she doesn't exist."

Thatcher blows air out through her nose to show that she's totally fed up with him. "All right, so where are you moving to, anyway?"

Fraser looks at Ray over her shoulder and says, "I'm going to live with Detective Vecchio," and when Thatcher whirls, Ray raises his hand and waves at her, wiggling each of his fingers in turn: Hello, hi there.

"Hmph," Thatcher says. "Well!" and then, as if refusing to admit defeat, she adds, scornfully, "I know what goes on in these bachelor pads," and stalks away down the hall.

Ray makes a face at Fraser and then mutters, softly, "I bet you don't," and behind him Turnbull giggles, which kind of creeps him out.

One dufflebag, one box of books (half of them from the library), one box of kitchen things, one box of personal items, one garment bag of uniforms, one guitar, one hat, one deaf half-wolf—it all fits into the trunk of his car, except for the wolf, that is. Ray can't believe that this has all happened so fast, and he tries not to think about how much this reminds him of the day he impulse-adopted Sparky from the ASPCA. Because that dog really wanted to come home with him, he just knew it. They already had this bond—and okay, wait, bad comparison, not least because Sparky got hit by a car two years later. Geez, he's got to do better at keeping Fraser out of traffic—maybe keep him on a really short leash.

"What's so funny?" Fraser asks, just as Ray throws the car into park.

"Nothing, nothing," Ray says, trying to hide his smile. "Let's bring up your stuff."

Fraser stands in the foyer of Ray's apartment, holding a box—and Ray realizes that Fraser probably hasn't been up here since....well, not for a really long time, and certainly before Ray, uh, threw out all his stuff. Fraser's looking from the empty counters to the bare coffee table to the empty roll-top desk, and for the first time, Ray really sees how whacked-out it looks, like a furniture store, or the apartment of a sociopath.

Fraser looks—lost and confused and really fucking beautiful, because he's been caught off guard. One of the things Ray misses most about sex with Fraser is watching him get surprised by an orgasm, caught off guard each and every time he comes.

"...Ray?" Fraser asks, and there's a hesitancy in his voice Ray can't understand. "Did you...have you been planning this?" and now Ray gets it. Trust Fraser to put the best possible spin on what's essentially the act of a lunatic: Fraser thinks that Ray's thrown everything out to make room for him—and hell, maybe he has at that. What the hell else was he doing if not making space in his life for Fraser?—and isn't he glad now that the place isn't littered with pieces of his fractured marriage, or the pathetic remnants of his life post-divorce?

So he clamps down on his first answer, "No, Fraser," and instead says, timidly but honestly: "Not exactly. Not consciously or anything, but..." Ray takes in the apartment with a sweep of his arm. "Make yourself at home, Fraser," and the smile Fraser gives him has to be seen to be believed.

And it's weird, because Ray's been missing this so damn badly, but their first night together isn't what he expects even though he's got a closetful of silk ties and a couple of sex toys in the bedside drawer. By the time Fraser puts his clothes away in the small bureau Ray's cleaned out for him, and hangs his uniforms in what's now going to be his half of the closet, and props his guitar up in a corner and stocks Ray's empty kitchen cabinets with candles, it's late and they're both starving. Ray phones for pizza while Fraser goes over the layout with Diefenbaker, who insists vocally that Ray's got to get in the habit of leaving the window nearest the fire escape open so that he can come and go as he pleases.

"Whatever," Ray says with the phone to his ear. "What do you want on your pizza?"

Diefenbaker wants sausage. Fraser doesn't care.

By the time the pizza comes, and they eat, and they shower the move off them, it's really late, and Ray comes out of the bathroom in his rumpled boxers to find Fraser on the sofa, lit only by the flickering light of the television. Fraser's barefoot, and wearing jeans and a white-t-shirt; he's holding the remote control and is apparently riveted by something on the late late news.

"Ray..." Fraser only glances from the television to Ray for a second as Ray collapses onto the sofa beside him. "Isn't that—look, there!—isn't that the restaurant where Mr. Warfield slapped Tommy the busboy?"

Ray leans forward, shoving his glasses up his nose; seriously, it's hard to tell through the wreckage. "Yeah, I—I think so. Why, what happened?"

"It burned down," Fraser says vaguely, losing interest in the screen. "Kitchen fire, they're saying."

"Interesting," Ray muses. "Though, I mean—Warfield's still in prison, right?"

"Yeah. Still," Fraser adds thoughtfully, switching off the television with a click. "We might want to look into that," and there they are, sitting together on the sofa in the dark. Ray squints into the blackness and waits for his eyes to adjust; meanwhile, his heart's kicked into first gear and his cock is filling fast. But before he can make a move, Fraser does—Fraser's hands are on him, running over him, dragging him close. "God, Ray, I've missed you," Fraser breathes into his mouth before he kisses him, and then he's kissing him deeply, sweetly, wetly, slowly working his mouth open.

Ray just gives in to it, grasping Fraser's t-shirt and letting himself be kissed.

It's only when Fraser forces him back against the sofa, weight pinning his leg under him and pinching a nerve, that Ray gasps, "We have a bed. We can go to bed."

"Yes," and Fraser's all hot skin and soft cotton shirt. "Right you are," and so they stumble up off the sofa and down the hallway to the bedroom, to what's now their bedroom, and Fraser shucks off his jeans. And if Ray thought it was gonna be all handcuffs and leather whips, he's sorely mistaken, because it's just like it was at the beginning, warm and easy; a perfectly Ray-temperatured life. They stroke each other's bodies, and Ray listens to Fraser's increasingly desperate breathing, which has gotta be the sexiest sound in the world. All around him are the soft-loud sounds of panting, the heat of skin against skin. Fraser's ass is so smooth and perfect under his hand; Fraser's hand is on his face, stroking his face, caressing him in a way that's almost embarrassing. And then they're kissing and jerking each other off, faster and faster, until they convulse and fall asleep in each other's arms.

Scenes from an Epilogue.

One day later.

Fraser comes back to the apartment with two bags of groceries, but it takes him forever to get everything put away, even though the kitchen's practically empty except for booze, coffee, and condiments. Worse than that, Fraser's making these really annoying tsking noises, particularly when he opens the refrigerator's crisper, where Ray has always stored his emergency back-up beer.

"What?" Ray demands finally, getting up off the sofa to find out what all the goddamned tsking is about.

"Nothing," Fraser says, shutting the fridge. "I just don't have anywhere to put the vegetables," and wow, that's not a complaint Ray's ever heard before, and he thought he'd heard them all.

"Put 'em anywhere you want," Ray says, exhibiting what he thinks of as extraordinary magnanimity. "Knock yourself out."

"Very kind of you." Fraser rolls up his sleeves to the forearm, then turns to the sink, where he begins to wash greens in a colander. "So tell me: when's the last time you had a green vegetable?"

Ray has to think about this. "Dunno," he says, leaning back against the counter and scratching his head. "1974?"

"Ah," Fraser says with the barest hint of a smile. "So, you're about due, then. What happened in 1974?"

"I got taller than my mother," Ray says, trying to look dangerous.

Fraser's not impressed. "Well, I should ring your mother," he says, pulling the colander out of the sink, "and tell her that, late though they may be, reinforcements have finally arrived."

"Oh?" Ray asks, squinting.

"Yes. I'm going to start by force-feeding you this salad," Fraser says, and gestures toward it. "You can fight me if you want," he adds, straightening, "but as I eat greens regularly and you don't, I have no doubt that I shall ultimately prevail." Fraser pulls a large green leaf out of the colander and stuffs it into his mouth, chewing with his mouth open for emphasis. "Mmm, yummy."

"Oh yeah? You and what army?" Ray asks, trying to puff his chest out—but of course this is a stupid question.

Fraser grins through his mouthful of lettuce. "The Royal Canadian Mounted—"

"Oh, shut up, I'll eat the fucking salad," Ray says, and flings himself down in a kitchen chair.

"You don't appreciate what you have here," Fraser says, putting the lettuce down on the table and going to wash and cut up a tomato. "Green markets! Fresh produce! Broccoli! You almost never have to worry about scurvy or rickets or beriberi. When we get to the Territories—"

Ray's head jerks up. When?

"—then you'll learn to appreciate your vegetables, however esoteric," and Ray considers the bowl of lettuce with a sense of renewed respect.

One month later.

"It's a bear, Ray."

"Says you."

"Says me, yes, and says the artist, Joannie Pootoogook—"

"Yeah, and that is not a real name, Fraser. I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, you know—"

"It is so a real name, Joannie and I went to school together for Grade Six and now she's an artist, an Umiujaq artist—"

"She is blind is what she is, judging by that bear, Fraser. It looks like a drunken alligator dancing on its hind legs. It's got a triangular head, what kind of bear has a triangular head?"

"Artistic license."

"Suspend that license! And what the hell is this—?"

"It's, uh...hm. I'm not so sure about that."

"Yeah, well, what does the artist say, Fraser, because me? I'm guessing it's a giant monstrous sea goat."

"What the hell is a sea goat?"

"That. Right there! Is a sea goat if I ever saw one."

"The certificate says it's a...well, it's an ice monster."

"You got that right."

"It is one of a kind, though."

"Well, thank fucking God. Look, Fraser, I agree decorating should be a joint enterprise, but I was kind of hoping for a design scheme that was a little lighter on whalebone and, uh, dementia. I mean, I don't know much about art but I know what I like, and I am telling you right now that if I have to look at that bear sculpture for one more minute, I'm gonna go off my conk, okay? Can't we have, like, a painting of some nice snow or something that won't give me nightmares?"

"But what am I going to tell Joannie? It was so kind of her to send us a housewarming present..."

"Tell her not to quit her day job—oh, all right, all right, we can have either the bear or the sea goat. Pick one. Me, I prefer the sea goat, but only because that dancing alligator—"


"—creeps me out. I point you again to the triangular head, Fraser: QED. Meanwhile, I'm picking the next piece of art for this place—a nice painting, something contemporary, in oil, maybe. Cubist...."

"Oh yeah, like that's not weird," Fraser mutters.

One year later.

He hates it when they take work arguments home with them, but sometimes it happens. This time, it's his fault—he's chasing Fraser up the hallway to their apartment door, and he can't let this thing go.

"You're not listening to me," he tells Fraser's retreating back. "You are not listening to me, Fraser—"

"I'm doing my best not to listen to you, Ray," Fraser says, searching his pockets for his keys.

"I know, I know, and that's the problem. That guy, he's psychotic, he's gonna kill you—"

Fraser's got the door open now and he's striding into the hallway, pulling off his hat and tossing it onto the counter, pulling off his gloves, pulling off his coat. "I heard you the first hundred times, Ray. You're really quite pessimistic. You know, there's a word for people who have obsessive, negative thoughts running through their heads—"

"Yeah, alive, that's the name for us, Fraser! We are alive, and crackpot Canadian idealists get themselves shot in a ditch somewhere"—and he wants to snatch back the words the second he's said them, because of course Fraser's family is full of crackpot Canadian idealists who got themselves shot one way or another. Fraser jerks like Ray's just shot him, and Ray wants to take the words back, but that's the one thing you can't ever do, isn't it? He cringes, balling his frustrated hands into fists, hoping the agony shows on his face. "Fraser..."

Fraser's turned away, Fraser's too upset to look at him. "You know, in my head, you're always nice to me. You always say nice things to me. Sometimes you make me dinner."

Ray slumps back against the opposite wall. "Oh yeah? What do I make you?"

"Usually some sort of grilled meat."

"That's great. Terrific." Ray raises both hands and scrubs at his hair. "In my head, Fraser, you're not such a fucking nutcase. You're not standing there talking to me about grilled meat for one thing, not when I am trying to keep your sorry ass alive, all right? I love you, you asshole, don't you understand that? I am a man with no goals at all except trying to keep you alive for another five decades or so, so you can go on saving people and being a freak. And this thing where you want to have polite conversations with psychotic serial murderers is not helping me with that, okay? You're trying to play fair, but you can't play fair with predators! Pretend Donnelly's a bear, all right? Or an ice monster: something that will eat your ass for breakfast if you don't shoot first!"

Fraser turns around and says quietly, "Human beings are the worst predators, worse than any animal. But I can't—I can't bear to think of people that way."

"I know." Ray peels himself off the wall and puts his arm around Fraser's shoulders. "You want some grilled meat or something?"

"Yeah. I'd love some."

Sixteen months later.

"Okay, so lay this on me again?" Ray props his socked feet on the coffee table and shoves the fingers of both hands into his hair; this is his default stressed-out position. "You take the transfer, we go north, we register as a demented partnership—"

"Domestic, Ray," Fraser says patiently.

"—and Canada actually accepts me as a worthwhile human being and not some illegal alien they have to deport?"

"Yes, Ray," Fraser says patiently.

"Even in the Yukon?" Ray asks. "We can be demented—"

"Domestic," Fraser corrects patiently.

"—partners in the Yukon?"

"Yes, Ray," Fraser says patiently.

"Aren't people really macho in the Yukon? Isn't it all guns and bears and hats?"

Fraser hesitates for a moment and then admits, "We have our fair share of guns and bears and hats."

Ray picks up the pen and looks down at the various forms. "Will I have to get a hat?"

"It would be advisable to get a hat, actually, yes. Several, in fact," Fraser adds, apparently in the interests of full disclosure. "Depending on the weather."

"I don't look good in hats. They give me hat-head."

"Well, hats will do that to you."

"You never get hat-head," Ray accuses.

Fraser takes that in stride. "Well, I'm well-known to be perfect, Ray," and Ray kicks at him absently with his sock-clad foot.

"A perfect ass is what you are." Ray gnaws at his thumbnail and looks down again at the application. "Seriously, Fraser, what if—? I got a thousand what-ifs. What if I can't hack it? What if I can't earn a living up there? What if I go crazy without any sun?"

"You'll hack it, Ray," and the quiet confidence in Fraser's voice nearly wrecks him. "And there's always employment for someone with a quick brain and capable hands. And as for the sun..." and Fraser sprawls back on the sofa, grinning, and knocks his foot against Ray's leg. "Well, I'm tempted to say you'll bring it with you."

"Oh yeah, that's me. Mr. Ray of Sunshine," Ray snorts, but he's secretly pleased. He looks again at the forms; he can't believe that Fraser's just blatantly announcing their partnership—not just their partnership, but their partnership—to the RCMP. Fraser's telling his bosses, Fraser's telling the people who control his career. Meanwhile, Ray hasn't said a single, solitary thing to the CPD—oh, probably some people have guessed, or at least they suspect, but upfront they're maintaining a policy of "don't ask, don't tell," which suits Ray fine.

But Fraser, man—Fraser's telling, because there it is, in black and white. Right there on Fraser's RCMP transfer application, his own name, "Stanley Raymond Kowalski," neatly typed in next to where it says: "Spouse / Common-Law Partner / Domestic Partner." Because Fraser's applying for them to transfer as a couple, and Ray figures that Fraser wrote his name out as "Stanley" just to make sure that the higher-ups realize that he's a guy. Fraser says it doesn't matter in Canada, but that just can't be right.

Still, up in the right hand corner, there's a rubber stamp: ACCEPTED.

Ray has serious doubts about this—about the cold and the isolation and, well, Canada. But if there's one thing he knows, it's that Fraser isn't gonna get shot in a ditch somewhere if he can help it. Because Fraser's family, they're all dead, but Fraser's family, they were loners. And Benton Fraser's not gonna be a goddamned loner. Not if Ray can help it.

If they hang, they're gonna hang together, him and Fraser. Ray takes a deep breath, and starts signing forms.

Three years later.

Ray's halfway to undressed—some days it takes nearly an hour to get undressed, what with the coat and the hat and the gloves and the seventeen outer layers, nevermind the underwear—when the sled dogs all start barking at once, and Ray knows Fraser's in trouble. He bursts out onto the front porch of the cabin just in time to see the last red streaks of the flare—Fraser's flare, he knows it—and instantly he's bundling himself up again—seventeen layers, coat, hat, gloves—and grabbing a shotgun from the gunrack beside the door. He loads the fucking thing one handed as he races across the snowy gray field in front of the house toward the snowmobile, Samantha at his heels. "Samantha," he says, turning. "Stay," but it's just a gesture and they both know it; Samantha would no sooner leave him than he would leave Fraser.

Forever separated by species they may be, but how Ray loves his fucking dog.

"Okay, get in," he tells Samantha, and Samantha jumps into the sidecar and crouches down. Ray slides the shotgun into the strap across his back, straddles the snowmobile and starts 'er up. If he's right—and he's pretty sure that he is—Fraser sent the flare up from somewhere near Peel River. In the best case scenario, Fraser's fallen into a cravasse or broken his leg or something; in the worst case scenario, he's found Stewart Dawson—because if there is anyone who could manage to run into an escaped felon in 50,000 square miles of wilderness, it's Benton Fraser.

He took the snowmobile because he didn't want to waste time hitching the dogs again, but the downside is you can hear the fucking thing for a thousand miles—no way to be subtle, or launch a stealth attack. As he nears the place where he's betting Fraser's flare came from, squinting across the glowing gray snow in the dim twilight that's the Yukon in the winter, he slows the snowmobile down and pulls the shotgun out, just in case.

"...Ray...?" and relief sweeps through him, because the voice is dim, but it's clearly Fraser, and Fraser'd die before he lured Ray into an ambush, so it must be safe.

"Fraser!" Ray yells, squinting into the gloom. "Fraser, where are—" and then he turns to Samantha and says, "Find Fraser for me, willya?"

Samantha yips, springs out of the sidecar, and goes bolting off through the snow, barking as she goes. Ray steers the snowmobile slowly after her, following her track in the snow, and a moment later, he hears the answering yips of Diefenbaker. Beyond where the two dogs are cavorting and greeting each other (Samantha with a lot more energy than Diefenbaker, since she's less than half his age) is the twisted metal of Fraser's snowmobile.

Sprawled in the snow beyond it, pale and shivering in his parka, is Fraser.

Ray pulls the snowmobile to an abrupt halt and leaps off. "Fraser, Jesus—"

Fraser's face is marked by visible relief. "Ray. Thank God—"

Ray sinks to his knees in the snow. "What the hell happened?" he asks, grabbing Fraser's arm.

"I—I sprained my leg, I—he—" and now Fraser's waving beyond the wreckage, and only then does Ray see the blood in the snow, the body staring unseeingly up into the sky, the shotgun still in its hands. "Stewart Dawson," Fraser says, and of course it is, who else could it be? Okay, it could maybe be Fraser's friend Delmar from Grade Four, or Joannie Pootoogook from Grade Six—but then again, neither of them would have required Fraser to send up a flare. "Ray, hurry—Joannie's making terrible sculpture again!"

"I killed him," Fraser says quietly, and Ray turns to stare at him. "I didn't want to," Fraser adds after a moment, "but he—he ambushed me and—he was going to shoot me," and suddenly Ray can see it all, like it's a movie: Dawson firing at the snowmobile, and the crash, and the way Fraser's leg was twisted in the wreckage. Dawson approaching with the shotgun in his hands, Fraser stealthily pulling his revolver out of his parka.

By shooting first, Fraser has undoubtedly saved his own life. Or prolonged it, anyway—with an injured leg and a wet coat, Fraser won't last long out here. Not in winter, anyway.

"Come on," Ray says, hoisting Fraser out of the snow, bracing Fraser's arm around his neck. Fraser grunts but manages to get upright, and Ray limps him over to the snowmobile.

"What about Dawson?" Fraser asks, twisting his head to look over his shoulder.

"Fuck him. Let the wolves have him."

Later, after he's gotten Fraser wrapped in blankets and furs in front of a hot fire, after he's gotten Fraser fed (stew with frozen vegetables, and man, how he misses real vegetables), he and Fraser make love. Sex between them is an easy, comfortable thing—except on nights like this, when they've had a close call, when some danger or other has made them vibrate with gratitude for being alive, when death has come so close that they can feel its hot, stinking breath on their faces. There are a lot of nights like this here, in the middle of nowhere. They have friends and even neighbors, but they don't have any illusions that their friends and neighbors would be able to reach them in time if something went down; they know perfectly well that their lives depend on each other alone.

So on nights like this, maybe the sex gets a little bit desperate, and maybe Fraser ends up whispering, "Make me come, Ray. Please. I need to come, please help me come—" until Ray's half crazy with it. On nights like this, maybe they fuck until they're entirely fucked out, and then maybe they stumble outside, wrapped in furs, to stare at the glowing snow, the skyful of stars, and the Northern Lights, flashing blue and pink and blue.

The End

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Sea Goat (Well, you tell me!)  

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