by Speranza

"And when exactly were you gonna tell me this?" Ray demanded, waving a handful of letters in his face. He was crumpling them; surely they would no longer lie flat in their appointed folder. Pity. "Whatever happened to communication? You know—partners? Communication? The back and forth—you and me sharing information?"

"Ray," Fraser began patiently. "As a detective, certainly you know that writers of threatening letters tend to be harmless individuals, as a rule. The letter itself is the act of aggression. It's not a harbinger of future—"

"Death threats, Fraser!" Ray looked pretty threatening himself. "These are death threats, okay? 'Mountie Go Home.' 'Mountie Fuck Off.' 'Kill The Mountie.' What part of that don't you understand?"

"Nothing's happened, Ray. There's no reason for alarm."

"These ain't Hallmark cards!"

"No," Fraser admitted with a nod of his head. "Not unless they're a very new and experimental line."

Ray wheeled on his heel and began to stride down the hallway, mumbling to himself. "Right. Yeah. New national holiday—Kill the Mountie Day." He reached Welsh's office and banged on it twice before barging in, leaving the door open behind him. Fraser sighed. There was going to be a fuss. And for nothing, really.

Writers of threatening letters were, by and large, utterly harmless individuals.

He followed Ray into the office and quietly shut the door behind him.

Ray was in full rant-mode. "—and then suddenly he tells me that this ain't the first letter! He's got a whole drawer full of 'em!" Ray slammed the handful of paper on Welsh's blotter. "All—'Hi, nice to see you, I wanna blow your fucking head off.'"

Welsh thumbed through the letters with a frown. After a moment, he looked up. "Is this true, Constable?"

"Sir," Fraser began again. "As I'm sure you know, writers of threatening letters tend, as a rule, to be harmless individuals—"

"As a rule—yeah, maybe," Welsh admitted. "Still, though—we'd look awful stupid if something happened to you, wouldn't we? Not that that would be new or anything."

"With due respect, I can take care of myself, sir. And frankly speaking, our correspondent's syntax makes me doubt that I'm dealing with a criminal mastermind."

Ray whirled around angrily. "You don't get it! You don't gotta be smart to do stupid-ass painful shit that hurts people!" He turned and braced his hands on Welsh's desk. "Sir, there's gotta be ten letters there. Whoever this is obviously hasn't given up."

Welsh looked from Ray to Fraser.

"Yes, that's true," Fraser conceded. "I've received ten letters. And yet, no actions have been taken. If I may say so, the evidence supports my hypothesis that our letter-writer has no weapons beyond his or her rather limited vocabulary."

Ray leaned forward. "Death threats, sir! We're cops, right? This is still a police station, right? Cops don't ignore death threats, especially to other cops, Canadian or whatever. Or did we get bought by Sony while I was in the men's room? Cause if that's the case, sir, I want my discount TV."

Welsh looked from Ray to Fraser.

"Sir, I promise, if there's any escalation of the hostilities I will make an immediate report."

Welsh considered this for a moment and then said, "Fair enough, Constable," whereupon Ray whirled and stormed out of the office, muttering obscenities under his breath.

Fraser looked at the Lieutenant, who shrugged and waved him away. "You know Detective Vecchio. Touchy. It's the Italian in him."

Fraser frowned a bit at this and then nodded and tapped his nose. "Ah, yes. Of course. Thank you for your time, sir." He left the office, shutting the door carefully behind him, and looked around the station. Ray was nowhere to be seen. His desk was in its customary corner covered with its customary clutter, but it looked strangely abandoned.

Fraser walked up the hallway and poked his head into the breakroom; Huey and Dewey were there, eating powdered donuts, but the room was otherwise empty.

He turned and bumped into Francesca. "Oh, pardon me."

She beamed at him. "No problem. It was fun. You can bump into me any time."

Fraser ventured, "Did you perhaps see where Detective Vecchio—"

"Yeah, I seen him," Francesca snorted. "Hurricane Ray just blew into Interrogation Room Three. Or as the Spanish say—tres." She brightened. "Did I tell you? I'm taking Spanish lessons."

"Why, that's very...educational," Fraser said, searching for an appropriate response. "Spanish is an exceedingly useful language here in the United States."

"So I hear! That's why they're sending me for lessons!" Francesca explained. "So, like, I can answer the phone when Spanish people call all panicked-like. It's not bad so far," she added. "Course it's only the first week so it's hard to tell. But so far it's a lot like Italian so like right now I'm ahead of everybody in the class. You see, they're both romantic languages. I think Spanish is a really romantic language, don't you, Fraser?"

Fraser was about to explain the difference between a romance language and a romantic language, and—for that matter, the difference between a romantic, the Romantic, and the Roma, who weren't even European but were of course Gypsies, though that was now a politically contested term, when he realized the futility of the situation and closed his mouth.

"Si," Fraser agreed and edged sideways. "Muy bella," he added, and hurried down the hall. Pero no hablamos la misma lengua, he thought and shuddered a bit.

Ray was sitting on the edge of the interrogation table, arms crossed, jaw clenched. He looked up as Fraser entered the room. "Okay, so maybe it isn't an official case, but in my head it's a case, and a case is a case. And if this is a case then in this case, you're a witness. So you're going to sit down and cooperate like a good witness, because I don't think you've told me everything you know, here. Not like you ever do, but this time you're going to, you got that?"

Fraser stepped in and closed the door quietly. He took off his hat and placed it carefully on the table next to Ray. "Ray, please believe me, you're overreacting to—"

To his surprise, Ray growled, jumped off the table, and slammed him back against the door. "You just stop telling me that, you hear me? You are no freaking judge of this situation. You know and I know that Welsh doesn't know you the way I do—he doesn't know, like I know, that you'd have to have a bullet in your brain before you reported—whaddyacallit—an 'escalation of hostilities.'"

Ray's hands were knotted in his jacket now; Ray was knocking him back against the door to emphasize all the important words: bullet, brain, reported, escalation, hostilities.

"And that's just what that last note said, Fraser—they said they was gonna put a bullet in your brain. So you just spill everything, you got that?"

I'm missing something here, Fraser thought. There's something I'm not seeing, or not understanding, or not correctly interpreting. "If you insist, Ray," he said finally, and Ray seemed to relax a little. "Though there's not much I can tell you that you don't probably already know."

"Pretend I don't know anything." Ray took a small step backwards and dropped his hands, giving Fraser some space, but not much. The sense of claustrophobia was intense—Fraser could feel body heat steaming off Ray's wiry frame. This, he realized, must be what it was like to be on the other end of Ray's famed interrogations.

"Well," Fraser began, wanting to be a good witness, "aside from the fact that each of the notes was pasted together with the same glue, and that the letters were all cut from the Sunday editions of the Tribune, there isn't much I can tell you."

"How many notes—ten?"

"Ten, yes," Fraser answered promptly.

"Postmarks?" Ray demanded.

He reeled them off. "March twelfth, sixteenth, twenty-third and twenty-eighth; April fifth, ninth, fourteenth, twenty-third, and thirtieth; May sixth."

"All right. All right. So we start with the week of the twelfth." Ray reached up and again seized Fraser's shoulders, shook them. This surprised him—because, after all, he was cooperating. He was doing exactly what Ray had asked.

He debated raising his arms and shoving Ray away, but restrained himself. There was something he was missing here—Ray was obviously in the grip of a powerful but irrational emotion, and it was a foolish man who trifled with an angry musk ox. So he stood still, and waited, and after a moment Ray's face calmed slightly, and he unclenched his fingers, and smoothed down the serge of Fraser's jacket carefully with his palms.

"All right. The week of the twelfth," Ray muttered and turned away. "We'll have to try to figure out what the hell you were doing—"

Fraser coughed politely and removed his notebook from his jacket pocket. "Actually, I've already given the matter some thought. Checking my notes, I find—"

He stopped; Ray was slowly sinking into a chair, looking suddenly tired, unusually old. He turned his eyes to Fraser and Fraser found himself shocked into silence by the deep misery there.

"Go on," Ray said, raising his hand and waving Fraser on. The metal bracelet he wore clanked softly against his pale wrist.

"Checking my notes, I find only four possible suspects."

"Only four?" Ray echoed, looking away.

"For March, yes." Ray still wasn't looking at him, so he cleared his throat softly, flipped open the cover of his leather notebook, and thumbed to the page where he'd summarized the situation for his own reference. "Ah. Right here. March 4th—slightly earlier than our window of opportunity, I grant you—but an interesting possibility nonetheless. Madge."

Ray's eyes finally flicked back to him. "Madge? Why does she want to kill you?"

Fraser inhaled deeply through his nose, steeling himself to confess. "I inadvertently destroyed all her worldly belongings. She was, understandably, devastated."

Just thinking about it now made his chest ache; Madge had screamed and screamed, completely overcome by grief, and he had been helpless to console her, helpless to undo his thoughtless act.

Ray looked at him skeptically. "You destroyed all her possessions? That must have been a bad day, even for you."

"They—I—I didn't realize," Fraser stammered, feeling his face go hot. "They were in a shopping cart and—"

Ray sat up, ramrod straight, outrage bringing color and youth back to his face. "A shopping cart? Wait—whoa!—Madge is a bag lady, Fraser!"

Fraser nodded glumly. "I mistook it for litter—"

"It was litter! Some pile of smelly old trash—"

"They were her only possessions!" Fraser corrected heatedly, stung by his own stupidity. "I confess, I mistook her cart for—um—discarded materials and removed it from the alley. I was most disturbed to discover my mistake. I attempted to compensate her for her loss, but she was quite inconsolable—"

"You tried to compensate a bag lady. How much did you give her? No, no, never mind," Ray added, raising his hands. "Don't tell me."

"Whatever I gave her wasn't enough. Some of her items were irreplaceable objects of great sentimental value—"

"It was garbage, Fraser!" Ray yelled, his face now a nice healthy shade of pink. "Believe me, if you thought it was garbage it was probably garbage!"

Fraser allowed his voice to sharpen slightly. "Not to her."

"Right. Whatever. You think Madge the bag lady wants to kill you?" Ray squinted up at him.

"I know so."

"Oh yeah? How?"

"Well, whenever I see her, she yells, 'I'll kill you, Commie!' That's the other thing," Fraser added with an embarrassed cough. "She thinks I'm a—"

"Communist, right. Because of the uniform, right." Ray pulled his own notebook out from his back pocket, jotted this down. "Crazy capitalist killer bag-lady. Madge. What's her real name, Fraser?"

Fraser debated pretending not to know, but then relented. "Margaret O'Neill," he said. "I found out by—"

"I don't wanna know." Ray finished scribbling the name. "You think Maggie could get a gun?"

"Madge seemed to be able to obtain a staggering variety of objects."

"Right. Okay. We got motive, we got means." Ray looked up at him. "Opportunity?"

"Yes," Fraser admitted. "She's often out and about near the Consulate. She thinks we're the Russian Embassy."

"Of course she does. Who else did you piss off?"

Fraser glanced down at his own notebook and frowned. "Vincent Cheng. A more remote possibility, but still worth considering."

"Who's he—the local wino?" Ray snorted.

Fraser shook his head. "No. He was a taxi driver. Note that I use the past tense."

Ray leaned forward, seeming interested. "You got him fired?"

"Yes. And his license revoked."

Ray blew out a low, smooth whistle. "What'd he do?"

"He drove exceedingly poorly. Recklessly. Very dangerously." He noticed that Ray was starting to squirm in his seat. "I simply jotted down his medallion number and reported him to his superiors. As it turned out, his erratic driving had a very simple explanation. Upon examination, it was revealed that Mr. Cheng was nearly blind."

"Wow," Ray murmured, shaking his head. "Wow. You got the blind cabbie fired. Deprived him of his livelihood."

"Well, he was blind, Ray," Fraser snapped: he just couldn't help it.

"You think he wants to kill you, too?" Ray asked.

Fraser sighed. "Yes. He's already tried twice—he tried to run me over with his cab."

Ray stiffened, grew noticeably tense. "And of course you didn't report that. Of course you didn't. You wouldn't. Guy tries to run you over, it's just part of your average day, right?" Ray's tone was again growing accusatory.

Fraser sat down, feeling exasperated. "He missed, Ray. Both times. I did mention that he was blind, didn't I?"

"Welsh is such an idiot..." Ray was muttering, tapping his pen against the desk in hard staccato bursts. "...escalation of hostilities, never happen, hell freeze over first."

Fraser determined to ignore this. "And in fact," he continued, "his blindness is precisely what makes him such an unlikely suspect."

Ray sighed and ran a hand over his spiky blond hair. "Yeah, I guess you're right. If the guy can't hit you with a car, he probably can't hit you with a gun."

"If he can't hit me with a car," Fraser corrected, "I doubt he can cut letters from the Tribune with any accuracy, or manage to glue them down. Still," he added, "it's always possible that he has friends."

"Sure he does. Vincent Cheng the blind cabbie and his glue-sniffing friends." Ray took some more notes. "Who else?"

Fraser consulted his own notebook. "Mr. John Clemens."

Ray rolled his eyes. "The deaf cellist?"

"The proprietor of Clemens' Fix-It."

"Don't tell me," Ray said. "He didn't fix it."

"Precisely. And in fact, beyond not fixing what was brought to him for repair, he often replaced mechanical parts that were in good working order with faulty ones. It was fraud, Ray, pure and simple."

"Better Business Bureau?" Ray asked with a sigh.

"Among other things," Fraser hedged. Ray covered his face with his hands and Fraser felt obliged to explain. "As you are probably aware, Ray, the Better Business Bureau, while effective in its way, is definitionally a bureaucracy, and the wheels of bureaucracy tend to turn rather slowly. I felt compelled to warn Mr. Clemens' current customers that—"

"Christ. Christ." Ray dropped his hands; his expression was deeply pained. "You're lucky you're still alive, you know that?"

Fraser didn't know quite what to say to that. "Well, yes. Of course. We're all lucky to be alive, aren't we? This is a dangerous profession we've embarked upon."

Ray looked like he wanted to say something; then Ray looked like he wanted to smash him up against the wall again; and then Ray took a deep breath and his face cleared. "Right. Very dangerous. Did this asshole try anything?"

"I'm not entirely sure," Fraser confessed. "When I finally retrieved the toaster oven—"

"You reported him to the Better Business Bureau and still made him fix your toaster oven?!"

"Well, actually it was Mrs. Ortiz's toaster oven. She'd lent it to me. And he did claim to be in the Fix It business, Ray. It was his obligation to fix it. In any case, it blew up when—"

The door opened, and Francesca poked her head in. Fraser stood, and Ray was also instantly on his feet. And scowling. "Don't you ever knock? It ain't hard. Just raise your hand and—"

Francesca glared at Ray and raised her hand, and Fraser quickly averted his eyes. "You guys have been in here forever," he heard her say. "What the—heck—are you doing?"

"We were just talking about how much we hate your freakin' guts," and instantly Fraser raised his head to assure Francesca that they'd been discussing no such thing. One glance at her told him that she hadn't believed a word of it, for which he was grateful.

"Yeah, well, I just wanted to know if you guys wanted some water or anything," Francesca said, sounding like she now wouldn't give Ray Kowalski water if he were dying of thirst at the side of the road. Or on fire. "Fraser," she added, turning to him, and the change of tone nearly gave him whiplash. "Would you like a glass of water?"

"Yes, I would, actually," he replied, and Ray glared at him. "Thank you kindly, Francesca."

"My pleasssssure," Francesca said, drawing the word out as if fetching water were an exotic and sensual joy beyond the pale of ordinary existence, and withdrew from the room.

Ray wheeled on him. "Whatja do that for?"

"I was thirsty. And I believe that it is customary for a witness in an interrogation to be granted water, is it not?"

Ray's clamped his mouth shut, his lips compressing into a thin line. "Yeah. Right. Fine. The toaster blew up?"

For a moment he didn't know what Ray was talking about. "Oh. Yes. It did. However, that may well have been unintentional. Mr. Clemens was not a gifted mechanic."

Ray stared at him a moment before sitting down and making notes on this latest possibility. "John Clemens. Mr. Doesn't Fix It. Mad or incompetent toaster bomber. Who's Number Four?"

This was where it was going to get ugly. Ray wasn't going to like this at all. Fraser began to stroll slowly around the conference table, mentally debating how to introduce the matter.

He supposed it was best to just spit it out. Brevity might aid him. "Anton Gorka."

Ray's eyes went wide, went dark with shock. "Anton Gorka?"

Fraser cleared his throat. "Yes. But keep in mind, Ray, despite all the recent unpleasantness—"

"Anton Gorka? Russian mob boss, Anton Gorka?" Ray was on his feet now.

"Yes. But Ray, despite all the recent unpleasantness—"

"Tell me you're not involved in that! Tell me you weren't involved in that! Oh Christ, of course you were involved in that," Ray ranted, beginning to twitch like a live wire, "it had you all over it, why the fuck didn't I see that, I must be an idiot—"

"Ray," Fraser pleaded; he felt crushed with guilt, but why should he feel guilty? It had been the right thing to do, it had been the only thing to do, what had he done wrong?

"—you started it, didn't you? That whole 'Eyes of the Community' thing that's got half the fucking PTA under police surveillance—"

"But nothing at all happened, Ray!" Fraser suddenly felt like he was on trial for his life. "Nothing happened—yes, there were threats, but there had to be. Men like Gorka don't cede ground without putting on a show of bravado—"

"Bravado!" Ray howled. "Half the PTA got death threats!"

"But they're all still alive! No actual violence has occurred! And the net positive gain for the community is an actual drug-free zone around Robert Kennedy Junior High School—"

"You started it, didn't you," Ray repeated. "The Eyes of the Community. That was your idea, wasn't it?"

It had been his idea. When young Traci Jones had confessed to him that men outside her school repeatedly attempted to sell her narcotics, it had only seemed reasonable to approach the members of RFK's Parent Teacher Association. The meeting had been a productive one: they had all agreed that the community, standing shoulder to shoulder, was stronger than any potential foe.

A neighborhood watch had been set up around the school's perimeter, and the school had become a true safe-zone for its students. Yes, it was true: the school's principal and the head of the PTA had received death threats from Mr. Gorka's minions. The police had been called in for protection. But those threats weren't schoolboyish notes like the ones he had received. And nothing had happened, in any case.

All in all, Eyes of The Community had been a success. Parents and teachers frequently stopped him on the street to thank him, and he thanked them in return. They had worked hard to take back their school and protect their children. A success, and yes, his idea. Up to this moment he'd secretly been rather proud of it.

Though perhaps he hadn't been. Perhaps not entirely. Why else had he failed to mention it to Ray?

Because he'd known Ray would disapprove. Ray hated Gorka, and feared him, the way all policemen hate and fear criminals who lurk beyond their reach.

"Yes," Fraser confessed, finally. "It was my idea."

"And Gorka knew that." It wasn't a question; Ray was approaching him now, stalking him, fire in his eyes. "Anton Gorka knows it was you."

"Nothing happened, Ray. Not to me, not to anyone involved. Criminal bravado, pure and—"

Ray stopped in front of him, stared into his eyes. Fraser stood still, raising his chin slightly; Ray was perhaps an inch taller that he was, but he was broader, and more experienced in producing an effect of solidity.

"Gorka knows it was you," Ray said tightly, and it occurred to Fraser that solidity wasn't Ray's weapon of choice. He fought with his edginess, flicking at him with his words and his body, whip-like.

"Gorka knows," Ray repeated, and Ray was grabbing his jacket again, fisting the fabric, clenching and unclenching his hands. "Not like I know. But he knows. You think guys like that forgive and forget? You have any idea what kind of an animal that guy is?"

Ray's hands were skittering across his shoulders now, fingers jerking, twitching. Fraser stood stock still, frozen; it was like being attacked by some sort of creeping spider.

One of Ray's hands clumsily brushed up past his collar, scraping his neck, grazing his skin, stroking his skin. There was anger (fear?) anger in Ray's eyes. Fear for his safety, perfectly rational fear, an indication of his partner's commitment and professionalism. Ray's twitching fingers skimmed over his neck, irritating him, burning him with his touch. He grabbed Ray's wrists tightly in his fists, stilling his hands, stopping him, holding him in place, keeping him close.

He held Ray's eyes, held his wrists. He could feel Ray's pulse, and suddenly realized that his muscles were aching from the tense posture he was—

No, his body was aching from—

Not from—

It wasn't the strain of standing but—

Thoughts bursting into full consciousness, blooming like flowers in his mind, a rush of speed. I wish he'd kiss me, I wish he'd just lean forward and kiss me, if he kissed me it wouldn't be my fault, wouldn't be my decision, I'd have no choice, I'd be innocent, I'd—

Ray's eyes dropped to Fraser's mouth; Ray slowly moved his head a few millimeters forward. The gap between them closed barely at all—but enough that Fraser felt himself stop breathing.

And then Ray stopped too—simply froze, their faces inches apart, the gap unbridgable. Ray's eyes met his and Fraser saw the fierce emotion in them melting into sadness, into loss, into regret.

Fraser wondered if Ray was simply going to step away without acknowledgment, severing this moment so quickly that in a minute he'd find himself doubting that it had ever happened. He wondered if he could take that. He had so many doubts as it was.

But Ray didn't. He held Fraser's gaze and said—quietly, inexplicably—: "I don't want to be a cliche, Fraser."

What on earth did that mean? God! What a time to grow oblique!

There was a knock at the door and Fraser jerked. Ray's head instantly turned to the door, and to Fraser's surprise, Ray yelled, "Come in!"

The door opened; it was Officer Diane Brisbane, who usually worked down on the first floor. She smiled warmly at them, apparently not noticing that they were enmeshed, embroiled, and in his case, deeply embarrassed.

"Hi," Officer Brisbane chirped, "I'm sorry to bother you. I just wanted to let Constable Fraser know that Diefenbaker's down in the reception area. Just in case you were worried."

Fraser stared at her, trying to process what seemed to him an inanity. He didn't worry about Dief. Dief generally worried about him.

"That's fine," he managed, and Ray was pulling back, now, peeling away from him. He kept his eyes on Officer Brisbane and pretended not to notice, not to feel the distance, the loss of heat. "Thank you very much. That's very kind of you."

She blushed. "Oh, it's fine. He's a wonderful dog."

Francesca appeared in the doorway behind her, carrying a pitcher in one hand and a single glass in the other. "Got your water," she said, pushing past and setting pitcher and glass onto the table. "Nice cold water," she said, and made a great show of pouring him a glass.

"So friendly," Officer Brisbane was saying. "Everyone just loves him, honestly. Even the visitors we get can't resist bending down to—"

"Here," Francesca said, picking up the glass and offering it to him. "Have some water. You look really hot."

"—pet him. You just can't resist rubbing his head, or tugging his ears. Sometimes we even feed him," Officer Brisbane confessed, "even though we know we're not supposed to."

Ray swiped his notebook off the table. "I'm gonna go run these names."

"Really hot," Francesca repeated as Ray shoved past her and disappeared. "Really, really hot, Fraser."

Fraser took the glass from Francesca's hand and took a long draught of the cool water; he felt like he was burning up.

"There you go," Francesca said approvingly. "That'll make you feel much better. And there's more if you want it. I brought a whole pitcher."

"Thank you," Fraser managed, putting the glass down. "Most kind."

Francesca turned to Officer Brisbane. "I'll come down with you and get Dief. He belongs up here with us."

Office Brisbane seemed to prickle at the suggestion. "Really, he's just fine down there with us. Constable Fraser can come down and get him later."

"Why should he come down when I can bring him up?" Frannie asked with pointed sweetness as she headed for the door. Officer Brisbane instantly trailed after her: "No, really, he's fine, he's just fine, he's—"

The door softly clicked shut behind them, and Fraser sagged into a chair and rubbed his face. He was sweating; he felt utterly shredded; he felt, as he often did, grateful for the protection of his uniform, which neither showed sweat nor lost its shape, even when he himself was all twisted up inside it.

He dropped his hands and reached for the water glass; his father was standing on the other side of the table.

"You handled that very well," Fraser Senior said, beaming at him with approval. "You know, I always thought your friend was a little..." He raised his hand and tilted it slowly from side to side.

"A little what, Dad?" His voice sounded like ground glass to his own ears, and apparently also to his father's, because Fraser Senior raised his hands defensively, placatingly.

"Don't get me wrong, Son. I'm not naive. And certainly there are times when it's the only reasonable option." He turned, looking off at an invisible horizon. "At sea, for instance. Out on the tundra. Deep, deep in the heart of—"

"Please, no," Fraser moaned. "Not this, not now."

"—-the northern country, where men are men and trees are sparse." His father's sigh seemed part nostalgia, part rueful regret. "However, when there's a choice, Son—"

Fraser felt rage stirring deep within himself and fought to lock it down. "What do you know about choice? Precisely what, in all of this, has been my choice?"

Fraser Senior tsked at him. "Don't go all deterministic on me now, Son. There are always choices. We all make them."

He stared up at his father, wondering, and not for the first time, if his own capacity for heroism (or recklessness, because they were two sides of the same coin, were they not?) was dependent on detachment, as it certainly had been for his heroic and reckless father. To be able to just go, just leave, just abandon wife and child for the sea, for the tundra, for the heart of the northern country.

Where men were real men and trees were sparse.

He wondered if he would be quite so heroic if he had to tell Ray everything, if he had to report to Ray at night, if Ray were to see the bruises hidden by the protective shield of his uniform.

"I feel bad for him, really," Fraser Senior added. "It's a particularly difficult road in a world full of difficult roads. Especially if he's been foolish enough to set his sights on you. You being a Mountie and all."

"And all?" Fraser echoed.

"Being who you are, Son."

"Who I am? Who am I?" Fraser mused.

"You're not that way," Fraser Senior said firmly, his hat bobbing as he nodded his conviction.

Fraser felt the rush of warmth to his face seconds before he became conscious of the fact that he was grinning helplessly. "Now Dad," he said, raising a warning finger, "don't go all deterministic on me."

His father snorted and adjusted the brim of his hat with one hand. "You know what I mean."

"There are choices. We can all make them. You said so yourself."

"Yes, but—"

Fraser reached for his own hat and placed it on his head. "And it's the duty of a Mountie to explore difficult roads, is it not?"

Fraser Senior looked deeply perturbed. "Yes, but I didn't mean—"

"I appreciate your blessing, Dad, " Fraser said, standing up. "I knew I could count on you to deliver such sage advice."

His father was still sputtering. "But Son, I—"

Fraser paused with his hand on the doorknob. "After all, you're a man of broad and various experience. Plus your current state does tend to give you a unique vantage point. There's nothing more precious than perspective."

He walked out the door, crossed the hallway, and went into the men's room, which was, thankfully, empty. He went to the sink and rinsed his sweating palms with cold water, and then patted his face with his cold hands. Feeling somewhat refreshed, he took a deep breath and finally ventured to look at himself in the mirror.

Reassuringly, he looked just the same.

He straightened his already straight lanyard, and then went in search of Ray. Fortunately, he didn't have far to look; Ray was striding up the hallway clutching a sheaf of paper in his hands. He looked simultaneously business-as-usual and vaguely abashed.

"Hey," Ray said, and reached for the doorknob of Interrogation Room Three.

Fraser made a rather frantic grab and managed to snatch a handful of Ray's vest. "Wait."

Ray jerked back and stared at him. "What?"

"Let's use Two," Fraser suggested. "That room's...occupied."

Ray looked like he was about to protest, then threw up his hands and moved down to Interrogation Room Two.

"So look," Ray said, once the door was closed, "I'm not over this Gorka thing, okay? Not by a longshot. I'm pissed as hell that you didn't tell me about it, and I'm still convinced that at some point the guy's gonna try to nail you to something. But—" Ray yanked his glasses out of his vest pocket and flipped them onto his face, "—I think I found your anonymous letter writer."

Fraser didn't particularly care about the identity of his anonymous letter writer, writers of threatening letters tending to be harmless individuals. But it was clearly important to Ray, so he stood at parade rest and assumed a pose of attentive listening.

"Turns out," Ray said, squinting as he read, "that your Fix It guy's got a record as long as my arm. Minor league stuff, mainly, mostly harmless, but still kind of impressive in its sheer fucking scope. Fraud, petty larceny, brokering stolen goods, bookmaking," Ray rattled, "and dig this—two arrests for extortion. Wanna guess the mode of communication?"

Fraser hazarded a guess. "Notes fashioned by mutilating the Sunday Tribune?"

"Sample attached," Ray said, and handed him a sheet of paper.

Fraser glanced down at it; the note was clearly of the same species as his own, except this one read: "YUR WIFe D0N'T kN0w YEt. $$$5O0 BY THURS. N0oN in tRAsH 14 & WiNDSER sT!" Charming.

He looked up at Ray. "That's wonderful, Ray. Good work."

"I'll have a black and white pick him up. Betcha we can get him to confess." Ray sounded meanly delighted at the prospect. "We just boldface it—tell him that we know he did it, that we got fingerprints, DNA, a testimonial from his mother—betcha he falls over himself to make a deal."

"I'm sure you're right," Fraser agreed. He hoped that this now concluded the case of the mysterious letter writer, and moved past Ray to turn the lock the door. There were other, more important things, to deal with today.

When he turned back around, Ray was squinting at him. "What're you doing?"

"I'm locking the door."

Now it was Ray who seemed defensive and nervous, who seemed frozen, stock still, where he stood. "So," Ray managed finally. "What's up?" He crossed his arms and slouched back against the wall, trying to look casual.

Fraser wasn't fooled. "I can't just let this go," he confessed. "I'm sorry, Ray. I just can't."

Ray went still for another moment, and then looked like he forcibly kickstarted himself into breathing. "Hey, you're sorry," he said and cracked a wry grin.

"I am. I can't let it go. If I were," he found himself searching for words, "a better man, a stronger man, maybe—"

"Shut up," Ray muttered; his face had closed down, gone pinched and tight. "Shut up, shut up, shuddup—"

"—I might be able to, I don't know, take this with greater levity," Fraser added miserably. "But as it is..."

"Shuddup," Ray said again, taking a step or two closer. "I don't really think I could take levity right now. In fact, I'm not even sure what levity means."

Fraser felt his lip twitch. "You do so. You know perfectly well."

"Okay, I do," Ray admitted, a smile ghosting over his face. "You got me. But really, I'm with you on this, Fraser," he insisted. "No levity, here. Don't want levity. This is a levity-free zone we're in."


"Sorry. I'm a little freaked out."

"Understood. In any case, what you said before. About being a cliche. I really—" Fraser paused for another deep breath. "I haven't the faintest idea what you were talking about."

"Me neither," Ray said quickly. "Not a clue."

"No levity, Ray," Fraser warned.

"Okay, so maybe I sort of know what I was thinking even if it didn't come out right. Just—the Mountie love fest. It's everywhere. It's like disco. It sucks."

Fraser found himself trying to process that. "It's like disco?"

"Exactly. You can't turn around but you fall over it. And suddenly every middle-aged fatass is taking dance lessons so he can boogie till he just can't boogie no more. It was horrible—just remembering gives me hives. And see, Fraser, I just don't feel like hanging out on line at your own personal Studio 54, waiting for some lame-brained ex-boxer high on coke to pick me out and let me pass through the velvet ropes. I've had it with that sort of rejection."

Fraser looked at him helplessly. "I—I'm sorry, but..."

"Okay, forget it. You don't know what the hell I'm talking about. I'll put it another way."

"If you would, please." Fraser bent forward a bit and tried for better comprehension this time.

Ray began to pace around the room, his thin arms whipping and slicing the air. "Just—I've never been one to follow the crowd, Fraser. And if you haven't noticed, everyone's in love with you. Like everyone. Perfect strangers on the street. It's sort of sickening, really."

Fraser stiffened. "I'm not sure I would agree with your definition of love, Ray."

"I don't have a definition. In fact," Ray added, turning sharply, "if there's one thing I've learned about love it's that I don't know what the hell it is. Ask Stella. Better yet, don't."

"Ray," Fraser began.

"My puta-tative sister has done everything short of physically attacking you. Diane's taken custody of your dog. Random women squeeze your butt, Fraser. It ain't the American way of saying hello."

Fraser frowned. "I've had my suspicions on that front."

Ray didn't seem to hear him, he seemed lost in the momentum of his own thoughts. "At the moment, Fraser, the only thing that seems to distinguish me from the vast majority of Americans is that I don't want to fuck you. Except I do. And I just can't handle that. I need a punk movement," he finished glumly. "Where's new wave when you need it?"

"Ray." Fraser realized that somewhere along the line his hands had clenched into fists and he consciously relaxed them. "We've spent the entire day going over biographical profiles of people who want to kill me. And they, I remind you, were just for the first two weeks of March."

"Yeah, yeah, right." Ray snorted. "The bag lady and the blind guy and Mr. Fixit and the Russian mob. Meanwhile there's ten thousand other people out there baking you cookies and knitting you sweaters."

Three long steps and he was close enough to Ray to grab his shoulders and shake them. It felt good, and he suddenly understood why Ray did it so much. "I don't need sweaters. Well, I mean, I do—to the extent that everyone needs sweaters. But I need so much more than sweaters, Ray."

This was coming out all wrong. He tried again.

"Ray, listen to me. I talked this over with my father—"

Ray jerked in surprise. "Your father's dead, Fraser."

"Yes, I know," Fraser said. "But that hasn't stopped him from giving me the occasional piece of advice. My father said—"

"Wait, wait, run that by me again. Your father, who's dead—"

"Yes," Fraser said.

"—is giving you advice about your relationship with me?"

"Yes," Fraser said.

Ray mimed frantic confusion. "I don't understand."

"My father is like the Love of God," Fraser explained patiently. "He passeth all understanding. Ray, listen to me. The point is that he reminded me of something very important."

"What's that?" Ray asked warily, still clearly skeptical.

He tightened his grip on Ray's shoulders, and leaned forward so they were nose to nose. "Choice. Free will. Self-determination. In other words, I get to choose. Don't I get to choose? Or will one of your random American strangers at some point approach me with a ticket and claim me like a piece of lost luggage?"

Ray just blinked at him—once, twice—and didn't move.

"Ray," Fraser pleaded. "Look at me. I'm a cliche—be a cliche with me."

Ray blinked another couple of times—and then grinned slowly, the smile reaching his eyes, brightening his face, making him...beautiful.

In a rush of speed, Fraser thought: I wish he'd kiss me, I wish he'd just lean forward and kiss me. And then Fraser leaned forward and kissed Ray hard, hands moving to cup his jaw, his face, to pull him close and just inhale him.

He became conscious of Ray's hands on him, clumsily grabbing for him. Suddenly, Ray bucked and shoved and Fraser found himself stumbling backward against the metal table. His hat flew off, but he ignored it. Ray was using every flick of his whiplash body and that extra inch of height against him, and it occurred to Fraser that he could fight Ray, he could certainly fight Ray, and he could most probably win.

In the spirit of self-determination, he chose not to.

Instead he slid his hands down Ray's back, reveling in the feel of his musculature, before daring to slip the tips of his fingers into the back pockets of Ray's jeans. As if in reward, Ray moaned and slid his tongue into Fraser's mouth, and Fraser inhaled raggedly and sucked gently on it, letting himself sink further back against the table, further into submission.

Five minutes later he was literally bent over backwards on the table, and Ray had crawled practically on top of him. They were kissing and groping and Fraser's body ached, but he didn't even try to delude himself that it was due to muscle strain or poor posture. It was the ache of desire, pure and simple.

And then Ray shifted slightly and ground their groins together—and Fraser felt a sudden burst of hard-edged sexual excitement as well as a desperate flash of panic. He twisted his head away, trying to break the kiss. This was more difficult than he'd anticipated, because Ray's mouth followed his, sucking his lips, diving in for deep wet kisses, not letting him go.

"Ray," Fraser gasped, finally managing to get free. "Ray. Ray. Wait. Please."

Ray was now nuzzling his earlobe, Ray was now slopping wet kisses onto his neck. "What? What? What?" Ray was bumping their cocks together rhythmically, and the shocking pleasure of it left him breathless.

"First of all," Fraser managed, "my holster's digging into my kidney. Secondly, more importantly—we have to stop, Ray. We have to stop. We have to stop now. I—we—" and Ray's fingers were sliding through his hair, Ray's soft wet mouth was on his face, kissing his eyelids.

"Don't wanna stop." The words were barely audible, mouthed against his forehead. "Just got started...finally...fuckin' miracle..."

"Ray, please," Fraser begged.

"Can't stop," Ray murmured, hips slowly pumping, pumping. "Choose not to," he amended. "Want you so much, Fraser, need you so much, love you so much—"

"Ray," Fraser blurted, "these are my best trousers!"

Ray did stop then; Ray's sweet, wet mouth stopped it's progress across his face, and then Ray was blowing sweet, hot laughter against his cheek. After a moment Ray lifted his head, and looked down at him, eyes glinting wickedly.

"Best pants, huh?"

"Yes," Fraser acknowledged.

"There are ways of getting around the mess factor." Ray quirked a dirty-blond eyebrow. "I could draw you a picture."

The picture in question made his heart pound. "I—yes. I'm sure you could. But—my uniform," Fraser explained ruefully, "isn't designed for—well, easy access."

"Ain't nothing easy in this life, Fraser," Ray said, and dropped a long, slow lick on his temple.

"Yes, but—" Fraser stared up at Ray, wanting this so much, wanting so much. He raised his hand and carefully stroked the blond spikes of Ray's hair. "But not here."

Fraser could feel Ray's chest heave against his as Ray breathed deeply, slowly, deliberately. In out. In out. Ray's weight delighted him. "Okay," Ray said finally. "Okay. Not here. Somewhere else. Elsewhere from here."

"Oh yes," Fraser murmured, tightening his hand in Ray's hair.

Ray tilted his head into Fraser's hand, looking catlike, eyes closing. "My place. You'll come to my place. Promise you'll come to my place."

"Yes. Yes. I promise, Ray."


"Yes. Right now." It had to be right now, before he changed his mind. He could, after all, purchase new trousers by mail order, though international delivery did tend to be erratic.

"Cause this workday is officially over," Ray said.

"Yes," Fraser agreed breathlessly. "It's over. I suggest we begin the process of leaving. If you would fetch your coat—"

"I don't wanna get up. I don't wanna get off you."

Desire flared again, inconveniently, uncontrollably. If they waited much longer they weren't going to have any choice at all. "I understand, Ray. Believe me, I do. But I suggest that we—that—" He took a deep breath. "Perhaps we might select a motivational image." His own mind was swimming with images—Ray's apartment, Ray's bed, Ray's lean body pale against the sheets.

Ray went still for a moment, and then shuddered violently. "Right!" Ray said, leaping up and off him. It was like someone had switched on the electricity.

Fraser propped himself up on his elbows and watched as Ray fidgeted his way around the small room, looking jittery and high-strung. "Right! Get my coat! Get the car! Get the fuck out of here!"

On Ray's second lap around the table, Fraser asked, "Ray, what are you doing?"

"Shakin' out my ya-yas," Ray said, and gave his shoulders a suave little shake.

Fraser sat up. "Ah."

"Can't go out there like this. Gotta like—calm down, center, focus." Ray took a deep breath which seemed like a parody of meditation.

"No one will notice, Ray," Fraser ventured, semi-tactfully.

Ray exhaled his long breath and then grinned at him. "Hey, can I gloat to Frannie?"

"No," Fraser said firmly. He got up and went to retrieve his hat.

"Fuck, I knew you'd say that." Ray sighed and shrugged. "All right. Getting my jacket. Getting the car. Meet you out front in five." Ray went to the door and flung it open—then turned in the doorway and did a graceful little forward shuffle, executing a couple of precise dance steps that turned him slowly in a neat little circle while he wound and unwound his arms.

Fraser stared. "Ray. Ray. What on earth are you doing?"

"The Hustle," Ray said, and then he bounded, whooping, down the hall.  

The End