Fanfiction: Due South

Shell Game 2: Misdirection


Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski
Feedback: As always, feedback is mondo-groovitudinal
Rating: NC-17
Lots of spoilers for Season 3/4. Some scenes draw dialogue directly from episodes (EM, ALS, Odds.) Sexual activity depicted herein is m/m (that's two guys, Ethel) and as graphic as I could manage. If that bugs you, don't read this.
Notes: This is a sequel to Shell Game I: The Switcheroo. Reading that would probably be helpful in terms of knowing where Ray's at here, but it's not like there's any actual plot going on. Much slurpy gratitude to my amazing betas: Aral, for getting me going again and asking the right questions. Beth H., who was kind enough to hash through this crap with me, even as I, an unworthy non-addict, puffed through her valuable smokes. And AuKestrel, for checking the elbows (not checking with elbows—that's a penalty), and tolerating my endless whining. Props also to Gearbox, for making me actually think about Bounty Hunter.

For Aral— who not only gets it, but wraps it up pretty and ties it with a bow.



I've been afraid of changing, 'cause I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder, even children grow older
And I'm getting older too.
—"Landslide", S. Nicks


     With Welsh closed up in his office, the bullpen is almost deserted. Huey and Dewey still aren't back. Must be they actually got a lead on that John Doe from the dumpster. Check my watch. Almost time to go. Guess Fraser couldn't get anything on Agnew's place yet, so not much I can do there. Stretch. Tap my pen. Look over the piles of paperwork and folders spread out over the top of my desk. Could get started on some of these forms, but there's only, what, ten minutes. So I'd just be getting started when it was time to quit, right?

     Pat around in my jacket pockets for some gum, toothpick, something. Hands find my keyring instead, which I pull out to fiddle with. Just zoning on all the little sawtooth cutout patterns when I realize one of the keys still on here is for the old apartment—Ray and Stella's House of Divorce. I laugh the way you only can afterwards, when everything's all right, as the details of an insane moment on a sinking ship fill in sharply from my memory. Water rising all around, and me with the keys to my old car and old apartment all handy dandy but not knowing where the hell to find the key for my cuffs. And Fraser with his, "Ray, you know, you really should try to keep your things a little more organized." Unhinged. But now that I think about it, how sad would that have been, if I'd drowned over pathetic nostalgia for something that stupid?

     Yeah. Well, no nostalgia required now, because Stella's not in the picture anymore. That much is certain. And neither is anybody else, so all you wacko nutty thoughts can just go away now, thank you very much.

     Sheez, it's crap like this that wound me up in Acapulco, and what a waste of vacation days that was. Okay, maybe it was a bad idea to begin with, but goddamn, why can't it ever just be easy? Have fun, get laid, no strings. Other guys do this kind of shit and come back with great stories. I get a poncho, watered margaritas, and a standby seat on the flight home. Then again, I guess if that whole mess hadn't tanked I wouldn't have gotten the chance to play ball with the Hawkeyes and hit my dinger… so maybe these things happen for a reason.

     Sure, and you just keep right on telling yourself that.

     Wiggle our old apartment key off the ring and turn it over in my hands a few times before tossing it into the garbage can, where it lands on top of some wadded up papers with a muffled plunk. Should have done this a long time ago. Find the other couple of unidentified, random keys that are still hanging on there and, plunk, plunk, they follow into the trash.

     Pull off the keys to the old GTO too. Should probably toss these while I'm at it. Remember Dad's face when he handed them over to me after we finished that sixth coat of paint. The way he dropped them into my open palm, clapped my shoulder, shot me a wink—like he was sending me off to nail Stella in the back seat with his blessing. Can't even remember the last time he looked that happy. That proud. Not even my wedding. Already a cop by then, already ruined my life.

     Come on, that was a million years ago. Supposed to be getting on with things. Close my fist around the keys until the teeth start digging into my hand.

     Chuck 'em, go ahead.

     And I'm all ready to pop them into the garbage when the phone rings.

     "Vecchio," I mumble, opening my hand and rubbing the sore spots where the points jabbed the skin red.

     "Hello, Ray."

     The sound of Fraser's voice brings an automatic smile, and I'm not even having any stupid ideas about him. Just good to hear someone friendly and familiar after a boring, dead-leads paperwork day like today. Even better, he's got the address of Agnew's Chicago crib from the RCMP guys in Halifax, so I set the GTO keys down on my desk to search around in the piles of paper for a pen-shaped lump.

     "Okay, got it," I say, finally uncovering something to write with and scribbling down the information. Glance up at the clock, see it's just about quitting time. "Look, you get off soon? Wanna go grab a bite?"

     "Yeah, thank you, Ray. I'd like that. I should be able to finish up here in about fifteen minutes."

     He sounds genuinely pleased, and I realize it's kind of weird that we've gone four days now without seeing each other because of this Agnew thing. Not that I'm not glad Fraser's got an actual, official case to sink his teeth into, and it's not like not seeing him is why I've been so cranky.

     Well… Whatever, it doesn't help.

     "Cool, I'll swing by and get you. Tell the wolf it's his lucky night, I'm in the mood for a serious steak."

     "Ray," Fraser says in that phony-baloney warning tone he uses whenever it comes to Dief and dinner.

     "C'mon, it's Friday. Let the fuzzhead live a little."

     I laugh as I hang up, somehow just knowing that as soon as Fraser puts the phone down, that telepathic wolf is gonna be parked at his feet with the wounded, accusing, 'you never feed me' face. What can I say? Dief likes my home run tape, that earns him a spot in my heart and under my table.

     Still smiling, I quickly finish stacking up the piles of crap on my desk so Welsh won't yell at me, and kick the garbage out to the side where the cleaning lady can get to it easier. Mert. I can hear Fraser's voice in my head, greeting her, 'Good evening, Mert' when we've been here working late enough that she's making her rounds. Right. Well, no offense to Mert, who I'm sure is sweet as pie , but I'm glad I’m actually getting out of here on time tonight, and won't be seeing her to start my weekend.

     Switch off my desk lamp, push in my chair, and think maybe it'll be fun to check out that Argentinean steak joint Huey's always talking about. Reach back one last time to shove aside a couple of folders that look like they're about to spill over, and my hand brushes against the keys to the GTO.

     Oh, yeah. Was getting rid of these.

     I stare at them sitting in my hand for a long moment before slipping them back into my jacket pocket. What the hell. Not like they're heavy.




     "That makes twice I've gone through glass now since I've been working with you, Fraser," I yell back over my shoulder at him, holding open the door. "Want to take a guess at how many times I went through glass before I met you?"

     "Probably, well… zero?"

     "Good guess," I snap as he reaches me.

     "Ray—" Fraser rests his hand on my shoulder, stopping me before I can take off down the hall. "Thank you."

     He says it direct, simple, just how I know he means it. And I don't think I've ever seen his eyes so clear, or so beautiful. Got that weird, twitchy feeling in my hands again, for wanting to reach out, touch him, and I'm terrified how I feel is gonna be written all over me, how scared I really was that Kelly was going to kill him. Feel a cold sweat breaking out, and I start walking again, faster, until I get myself back under control.

     "Come on, that's what we do," I hear myself muttering. "Partners. Bail each other out. You know."

     I can tell Fraser doesn't want to let it go at that, but I reach Welsh's office before he can catch up and pin me down again. Quinn's just about done confusing the hell out of Welsh with his version of what happened in the warehouse, and I'm glad we can finally call it quits. Talk about your long days.

     We come out of Welsh's office and Dewey makes the shushing sign against his lips, pointing over at where Frannie's getting interviewed for TV by Diane Bowen. Tough Women on Crime, way to go, sis. And we all stop and watch Frannie have her moment in the sun. It's a nice thing to see, after all this craziness, and even Welsh has a big, fatherly grin on his face as Frannie displays the jewels from the heist and talks about returning property to its rightful owners.

     TV crew wraps it up, and we move on, with Welsh ragging me about jumping through the window on that motorcycle. I'm good with that, 'cause it's good-natured teasing, and everyone's okay. But then Huey comes up to me, blabbing on more shit about my parents being here, and I'm extra mad because I just know he had to be the one who started all this in the first place—must've overheard me talking about them in the break room with Fraser, or something. It's the kind of kiddie-hour crap I expect from Dewey, not Jack. And I'm winding up to give him an extra-value sized piece of my mind when the seriousness of his expression finally gets through, registers.

     "It's not a joke. They're set up outside."

     "Set up where?"

     "In the parking lot."

     And I still half don't believe him, even as I head out there to see for myself. Part of me expects Dewey to come leaping out from behind a cruiser, laughing and pointing, at me, the idiot. But I push the door open, squint against the late afternoon sun, and… there they are. Mom and Dad. Set up with their trailer, sitting out on lawn chairs, for chrissakes, right there in the parking lot of the 2-7. And I find myself walking towards them before I have any idea what the hell I'm going to say when I get there.

     Get closer, and I'm shocked at how old they look. Isn't until then that I really realize just how many years it's been since I've seen them. Who are these people?

     Mom's the first one to get up, comes running over all excited.

     "Stanley, oh Stanley look at you! You haven't changed a stick!" And that makes it not so bad with Mom, even though she's all gray, and she's put on a few, because her expression, her voice—the fact that she's embarrassing the hell out of me by treating me like I'm ten in front of the station house… she's still Mom. She pulls me into a hug, squeezes tight.

     "Your father and I fought from the moment we left the trailer park in Arizona, fought right across the country. 'He'll have changed,' your father said, 'changed utterly.' 'Damien,' I said, 'that's impossible. He's our son!'" And she pulls back from the hug to size me up. "Look at you! You're exactly the same as the moment you came into this world. You're hungry, aren't you?"

     "No, no, I'm not..." I say, truthfully. Stunned, yeah. Hungry, no.

     "I knew it!" she exclaims, running up the steps into the trailer before I can say anything to stop her. Definitely still Mom. And her going leaves me with Dad, who'd look more comfortable right now with red ants crawling over him.

     "Son," he manages.

     "Uh, Dad."

     Still too surprised he's really here to know what to think. Have to look hard to find the dad I knew in this guy in front of me. Angry, frustrated man I last saw waving me off, telling me I never listened anyway so what good was talking? It's more than the gray, more than the gut, there's something really different that I can't quite put my finger on.

     And just when I'm wondering what the hell, exactly, we're supposed to talk about—I mean, what do you say to someone who wrote you off like that? ‘How was the trip?’—Dad makes a little gesture to follow him, and starts walking around towards the back of the trailer. "I brought along a… a little something of yours," he says.

     And then he turns and shows me the GTO.

     My car!

     "Wow!" I'm over there in a second, popping the hood, everything else forgotten for the moment in the one thing we'll always be able to talk about. "She still runs?"

     "I've kept her going," Dad says with more than a little pride. "Regular work. Can tell you something, son, there's nothing like a long Arizona highway to keep an engine running clean."

     Look her over, and the engine does look great. Whole car's mint, Dad detailed her nice. Cared enough, all this time, to take care of her. And that thought makes me pause.

     It's stupid, that this even means anything to me at all. Because it doesn't make up for years of silence. Doesn't make up for not having any faith in me. Sure as hell doesn't make up for caring more about his own stubbornness than having a son… But it's something, anyway.

     Maybe it's the best he could do.


     "Thanks, Dad."

     It's hard to say. Even harder to stick my hand out, offer the olive branch, but I know I have to try. Can see from his hesitation that I've caught him by surprise. But then something in the way he holds himself kind of softens, and he takes my hand, shakes it firmly.

     "Your hair looks good," he says, which throws me a little, because he sure never liked it before. Definitely different. I see it now, in his eyes. Mellower. Not so mad at the world anymore. Mom must've seen it too. "I guess I'd better go get you the keys."

     "Wait. Actually, I, uh… still have my set." Dig into my pockets, searching. Pull out the keys, hold them up for Dad to see. "Right here."

     "So you do."

     He beams a smile, and for a quick moment, we feel like the old days. Close the hood and run my hand across the slick gloss of the paint, remembering how much elbow grease went into this finish. Like the touch alone's enough to transport me back in time, to being crouched in our driveway, polishing with a chamois until I thought my arm was going to fall off at the shoulder trying to get done before the sun went down, Dad standing in the garage door, drinking a Miller, keeping me company.

     I look over at him, leaning back against the trailer now, and I'm almost positive his expression is the same as it was then, although I can't really remember how he looked that much younger. How he looked when he was, hell, not wildly older than I am now.

     We hold eye contact a moment too long though, and it's like we both remember at the same time what things have really been like since then. He looks down, and I feel weird too. Start searching around for something else to focus on, and catch sight of Fraser and Quinn still standing by the door to the station, talking, saying their goodbyes.

     Fraser glances up in my direction just as I'm looking his way, so I wave him over. He nods and smiles, holds up one finger to let me know he'll be here in a minute, after he's done with Quinn. And I forget about Dad for a second while it washes over me all over again, how relieved I am Fraser's alive and all right, and then a quick dip of sick feeling at how close a call we had today.

     "You okay?" Dad's voice startles me, and I return my attention to him.

     "Yeah, yeah. Just my partner. Well, my sort-of partner. He's Canadian, it's a long story." I bend to pat Dief, who comes bounding up, licking my hand.

     "Son, that looks like a…" Dad's eyes go big, and he steps back a little when Dief goes to sniff him.

     "Yeah, it is, but he's nice. Uh, part of the long story."

     Fraser reaches us then, and I can tell from Dad's expression that between the wolf and the Mountie uniform, I'm not going to have to worry about conversation material for a while at least. Which is a good thing, it turns out, because Mom's made enough sandwiches for an army, and she's not taking 'no' for an answer.

     Three hours later, as we step out into the cooler air, the trailer's door closing behind us, it hits me again just how good Fraser can be with people, and how glad I am he was able to stay with me tonight. We walk around to the GTO in silence, but it's a warm kind of 'we're good, we don't always need to be talking' silence, so I don't mind.

     "My mother is going to make that recipe, you know," I say finally. "I don't know where the hell she's gonna find caribou in Chicago, but I guarantee you, she won't stop until she's tried it, and made all the rest of us eat it too."

     Fraser's head is down, as he looks the car over, but I catch the white flash of his smile. "It's a good recipe, Ray. And I'm sure your mother will do it proud."

     "Thanks… for sticking around. I haven't seen them in a while, you know, and it was…"

     He looks up and nods so I don't have to finish. He gets it. Then again, from what I've gathered, his father wasn't exactly a picnic either. At least mine's still around for another try.

     "You say your mother and, uh, Stella, are still close?" Fraser seems so puzzled by that, I'm surprised he doesn't actually scratch his head. Guess from his perspective—hell, from anyone's perspective who didn't know Stella when—I could see how they might not seem like the likeliest of pals.

     "Yeah, Stella's folks weren't exactly what you'd call warm people. And my mom is kind of, well, she's a mom-creature… as you now know," I say, smiling and reaching over impulsively to wipe her lipstick off Fraser's cheek. "I think she was glad for another woman's company after it just being Dad and me. And Stell liked having a mom to fuss over her, you know, be excited about her plans." Even now, all these years later, I can't help grinning at the memory of Stella trying to explain some of her classes to Mom. Picturing them sitting in the kitchen—Stella with her law books spread out all over one end of the table, while Mom peeled potatoes at the other end. "So, yeah, they're still close. It was, uh, pretty tough on my mother when we split up."

     "I'm sure. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…"

     "Nah, s'okay. Ancient history at this point. Me and Mom are good, Mom and Stella are good. That's just how things worked out. So, come on. What do you think?" I wave vaguely at the car to change the subject, as much for Fraser's sake as for mine.

     He steps back and gives a nod of appreciation. "A thing of beauty, Ray."

     Yup. A thing of beauty, that’s for sure.

     "Come on," I say, starting to unhook the hitch. "Let's take her for a little spin before I drop you off."



     Wow. Stupid maybe, but it's the first word that pops into my head when she opens the door and says "Yes?" Not what I was expecting, that's for sure. Sick lady and a nurse. This doesn't look to me like either of those.

     "Uh, Miss Tucci? We're with the police," I manage to fumble out. And when we follow her inside, it's wow all over again. Man, nice ass, nice walk, nice smell, nice everything. And I can't even remember the last time a woman hit me like a ton of bricks this way.

     Glance over at Fraser real quick, just to check my reaction. Yeah, whatever, he's still beautiful as ever, but when I look back at the nurse—oh man, nice from the front too, good tits for a chick so slim—hell, so's she. And that's good. That's real good. That's a big fucking relief, is what that is.

     Except there's a naggy little voice in my head somewhere I'd really like to shut up. She does not remind me of Stella. Okay, classy looking, knows how to put herself together… maybe I just have a type? Thin, blonde, kinda cool, but somehow… approachable.

     Fuck, I don't know. I don't care. All I know is this woman has got it going on, and if I wake up in the middle of the night with my hand on my dick, it's gonna be her face in the picture, not… not Stella. And definitely not my goddamned partner.

     No, no, this is good, this is real. Feel her eyes on me… is she checking out my ass? I feel something here. I'm still alive. Still breathing. Always figured all that weird stuff about Fraser had to just be the sign I was finally ready to move on. Nice to see some proof of that. Nice mouth… yeah.

     Manage to give poor old Mrs. Tucci the bad news, and by the time we get back outside, it's too much to just hold in my brain. Gotta say something out loud. "Wow," seems to about cover it.

     "Wow?" Fraser repeats back at me with a suspicious raised eyebrow.

     "She's something else," I explain, glad he can't actually read minds so I can give him the censored version.

     "Ray, if you don't mind me saying, that is a staggeringly insensitive remark considering the circumstances," Fraser grumps as we walk to the car.

     Well, listen to Mr. Snarky come out to play. Like I'm not going to work the case same as any other just because the old lady's nurse is a knockout. Just because I'm feeling something nice, something normal, and I'm pretty damned glad about it.

     "Look, Fraser, I'm very sorry for Mrs. Tucci's loss, and I will make every effort to find the killer of her husband, but the fact remains she is a very beautiful woman."


     Stubborn Mountie.

     "No possibly about it," I say getting into the car.

     But he keeps up that silently disapproving thing all the way back to the station. What is that? I've never gotten that about him, and right now, it's bugging me. "I don't know who has less sex, me or you, but at least I still think about women," I say, pushing through the door into the bullpen. Fraser gives me a funny look and I realize that maybe that sounded a little… defensive. So I add, "is that better or worse?" Although why I'm asking him, of all people, I have no idea.

     "It's an interesting question," he says. Which is about as much of a non-answer answer as I expect from Fraser, given the subject.

     "Thank you," is all the snappiness I have time for, though, before Welsh spots us and starts barking questions on where we are, and what we know. Right.

     Tucci homicide, Kowalski. Focus.


     Wonder how long I'm going to have that picture in my head—of Luanne turning back to get in that one last jab: 'As we walk along life's highway, it's nice to know that in a crunch I can just really count on you'—before going inside the Tucci house, and shutting the door in my face.

     "Why couldn't I trust her? I mean, if I trusted her, I would be sitting with her tonight instead of sitting out here in the wilderness."

     "We aren't actually in the wilderness, Ray. We are in a park in the middle of downtown Chicago."

     I know Fraser's poking me, that way he has, for how I teased him about his little field trips the last time we came here, about the park not really being the wilderness and him not being Daniel Boone. But it was pretty cool of him to come up with this funky cookout after all that, even if it was just mostly to prove to me that he can cook spaghetti over an open fire. Hell of a competitive streak on that guy.

     "It's not you, you know," I say, still feeling a little guilty about laying so much crap on him the past few days. "Those things I accused you of? It's me." He looks at me, waiting for me to go on if I want to. And I do want to. Need to talk it out. "I mean, I looked at her. She's drop-dead beautiful. She looked at me. She's actually interested in me. And right away I—click—I start thinking, okay, so what's wrong with her? What kind of guy is that? What does that say about a guy?"

     Fraser looks down at the fire, like he's thinking for a second, and then he says, "Looooou Skagnetti looked at the princess who sat across the stone table in the stone cabin high atop Sulfur Mountain, and the princess smiled at him."

     Good old Fraser. By now he's broken me down with that ghost story of his and I'm laughing as soon as he starts the first ' Looooou.' And I wonder if this is going to turn out to be one of those not-really-just-a-story stories that's got a point or something hidden in it somewhere.

     "…And for a brief second, Looooou Skagnetti could hear his own inner bell ring, as though it were rung by a thousand angels. And he took his hand and he placed it over his heart, and Looooou…" This time I can't resist, and howl 'Looooou' right along with him. "…Skagnetti vowed that never again would he kill and eat another princess as long as he lived... unless, of course, she were covered in choke cherries and brown lichen and a sprinkling of dust…"

     Wait a minute. That's it? That's the end? "Fraser."


     "That is one dark story."

     "Yes, it is," he agrees. And I'm still waiting for a tie-in to my situation with Luanne or something, but instead he turns and says, "Spaghetti's ready," and offers me what looks like an old tennis racquet piled high with noodles. Huh. Maybe he's still thinking about it. Or maybe he doesn't actually have any advice and was just trying to cheer me up with a distraction.

     "Ummm, where's Dief?" I ask, watching Fraser put our crazy dinner together. Even though there's no way I'm going to admit it out loud, I wouldn't mind a few more of those roasted rooty tuber things to go with my spaghetti, and I'm sure as hell not gonna dig 'em up. Bet Fraser would, if I asked him to, but I'm not really in the mood for the biology lecture that'd go along with that either, so I'm counting on the wolf.

     "I believe he's off courting your Ms. Russell," Fraser says, handing over my plate.

     "Great," I grumble under my breath. "Stupid wolf already got further with her than I did." Hell, he saw her naked. But at least Fraser has the good manners not to say 'Well, Diefenbaker didn't pretty much come out and accuse her of murder,' although I don't know how he wouldn't be thinking it. Why am I such an idiot?

     "I don't think you're an idiot," Fraser says, and it isn't until then that I realize I'd asked the question out loud. "She was a legitimate suspect. It's only natural. We're police officers investigating a homicide, and as you well know, most murders are committed by someone who knows the vic…"

     "That's not all of it, though." I interrupt him, because I don't want to be excused. "I freaked out is what happened. I'd have found some way to screw up no matter what. It's like I didn't want it to work."

     And that happy thought is enough to kill the conversation for a few minutes while we eat. Spaghetti's not half bad, and I wish I had a better appetite. Finally, Fraser sets his plate aside and clears his throat.

     "I don't know how much consolation it is to you, Ray, that you've actually got a far better track record with these types of things than I do."

     "Not much, Fraser, not much. But, uh, thanks."

     And I figure that's going to be about all I hear from him on that subject, because, well, that's about as much as I've ever heard from him on that subject. So I'm not quite sure what to make of it when he clears his throat again, and continues.

     "Do you, ah, remember Janet Morse?"

     Whoa. Wow. Really wasn't expecting that. Glance over at him, but his head is down as he stares into the fire.

     "Bounty hunter," I say to let him know, that yeah, I do remember. Do I ever. With the bratty kids she couldn't control, and the nogoodnik husband she oh-so-conveniently neglected to mention was the fugitive she was chasing while she tried to get all cozy with Fraser. Then I remember the dinner I dragged Fraser out to, after she left, and I have to fight a little smile as I look down at my empty spaghetti plate and realize this is him returning the favor. "From, uh, Montana, right?"

     He nods. I don't know jack about Montana, except I guess there's plenty of real wilderness there. Not just stupid approximations of it in the middle of big, crowded cities.

     "Sometimes it's very difficult to see people as they actually are, Ray."

     Which is kind of a fortune cookie thing to say, but I get what he means. At least I think I do.

     "So, what were you looking to see in Janet?" I blurt out the question before I remember I don't ask Fraser stuff like that. But, hell, I'm curious. At that dinner after she left, we talked about the blue flu thing, not Janet. And anyway, he's the one who brought her up tonight. That makes it fair game.

     He's quiet for another long moment, half-heartedly poking at the fire with a stick. Looks up at me briefly, but then it's like he can't meet my eyes and answer at the same time, so he drops his head again.

     "Connection, I suppose. Family. I… I'm not entirely sure."

     And I feel crummy then, not for asking, but because I don't like thinking about Fraser being lonely and sad. Bad enough I am, but I know that from the inside out. I live that, I'm used to it. Somehow it's worse to hear it from him.

     "This shit is always so complicated," I mutter, and he half laughs, like 'understatement of the year, there, Ray.' And I wonder why feeling attracted to someone like Luanne Russell gets me all tense and flipped out, and well, kind of mad at her for making me stirred up and horny, feeling stuff and wanting things. And mad at myself for being a stupid moron who always fucks up.

     Look over at Fraser, and notice how the flames of our campfire pick up the red of his uniform and glow kind of golden and flickery over his skin. I suppose how I feel about him is as complicated as anything else. But it's different somehow, too. Like I don't even have to worry.

     And that's pretty sad, when no hope is a comfort, but at this point, I'll take what I can get.



     We break up the game, and Jack and Tom take off finally around 3:00. Not much more we could do teaching-wise, he won all the damned candy.

     Fraser says something about wanting to talk to Scarpa. I shrug, tell him I’ll stick around. Maybe that’ll at least keep his visit short.

     I know he said he wouldn't fall for her, I know. But I can't help remembering how he sounded that night in the park, talking about connection, and Scarpa is good at what she does, one of the best. She zeroed in on Fraser right away. Bet she wouldn’t mind getting a little connection happening there, that’s for sure.

     "You still here, Vecchio?" Welsh wanders out of his office holding a scotch. Sounds wiped, and no wonder. Dealing with those idiot Feds has got to give a guy a mother of a headache.

     "Yeah, well you know, I live for my job," I say, tipping back in my chair.

     Welsh cracks a smile and lifts his glass. "Drink?"

     Wow. He's in a good mood. Maybe it's been a while since he got to play a couple of hands. He really did seem to get a kick out of it.

     "Sure," I say, getting up to follow him into his office. Beats waiting for Fraser alone, and I don’t mind getting in a little face time with Welsh.

     Dark in here, quiet. Can't blame him. After a day this long, those fluorescents are pretty rough on the old eyeballs. Welsh circles around to his desk and starts to bend down, then straightens suddenly, makes a little revolving motion with his finger.

     "Other way. I don't need you knowing where I keep the good stuff."

     I smile and turn to face the door. Can hear a drawer opening, some rummaging paper sounds and the clink of glass. Thud of something hitting the desktop and a couple of pouring liquid glugs. Drawer and rustling again, then footsteps, and Welsh's hand, attached to Welsh's arm, appears in front of my face, holding a glass with what looks like somewhere around a double shot. Hell, maybe Fraser's driving us all home in a pool car.

     "Thanks." Take the glass, have a sniff. Hey, single malt. Guess I must be doing something right.

     "Yeah," Welsh says, dropping heavily onto one end of the sofa. "Just don't spread it around."

     I shake my head, let him know he doesn't have to worry. Can't help wondering, though, who else has gotten the good stuff. Jack, probably, they've worked together a long time. The real Vecchio? I don't know. Stories always sounded like they had some friction, although Welsh sure seems to like Fraser an awful lot. But I guess that’s kind of a big duh. Anyway. Whatever. This is good by me.

     Next to Fraser, Welsh has been the best part of this whole Vecchio gig. Even on his bad days, he's a good lieutenant, looks after his people, and he actually wants, hell, expects us to hash through cases, chuck ideas around, argue stuff out. Doesn't even care if he's wrong, so long as you're right, and the bad guys go down. Definitely the coolest boss I've ever had. And I like it when he relaxes a little like this. He's actually pretty fun. I plunk my ass down on the other end of the sofa.

     "You think Fraser is up to this?" Welsh looks over at me, swirling his glass.

     Hoo boy. Who the hell knows? Although I’m glad at least I’m not the only one thinking about it.

     I’m not sure what to say to Welsh. Not sure what I even think. Fraser’s so tough to figure sometimes. For as much of an open book as he can be about some things, I know there's big huge piles of stuff he manages to keep buried where archaeologists would have trouble digging it up. Something’s going on with him and Scarpa, but damned if I know what it is.

     Well, whatever else, he's got freaky good luck with the cards.

     "As long as he doesn't have to lie," I say finally.

     "Or bluff."

     "Or hold," I add.

     "I guess cheating is out of the question."

     Damn. I can't even remember the last time I went a day without at least fudging something. "Imagine living like that?"

     Welsh snorts, sounding a little loopy, and we both say "Forget about it," in our best Donnie Brasco voices. After a little pause, Welsh just barely manages to ask, "How about those Feds?" with a straight face.

     And the mental image of those morons, White and Exley—couldn't even let a chick in spike heels go to the can without losing her—sets me laughing. Welsh is laughing too, and there's no way you can stop laughing once Harding Welsh starts. Man, it's been a long night for both of us, I'm punchy tired and worried about Fraser. I needed this.

     Yeah. Welsh is definitely a good boss.

     After we finish laughing, we just sit there, sacked for a few. But I'm worried about Fraser. I am.

     "I'd better, uh…" I start to explain, starting to get up, but Welsh just gives me a lopsided smile.

     "Yeah, better go find him. We've got a big day tomorrow."


     Finally find Fraser in the can, bent over the sink, splashing water on his face. He looks pretty beat, but we all do, tonight.

     "You know, my father used to say that duty was a passion, maybe the only one that really counted," Fraser says looking back at me in the mirror, and I know he must be able to read my concern for him, for what he’s taking on. I guess I’m well past the point of trying to hide it now, and I don’t think it’s the scotch.

     "You got no duty here, all you got is risk, you know," I say, because even for Fraser, who feels responsible for everything, this seems like a stretch. "What if you start to sweat and Farah twigs to the scam? I mean, anything could go down."

     "Well, I'm aware there are risks," he says in that calm voice that makes me crazy when he’s about to walk right into the middle of something insanely dangerous.

     It’s bad enough when he does it just because it’s the Right Thing To Do. But the thought he might risk his neck over some two-bit con with a long pair of stems and a nice manicure… And I can’t help seeing Scarpa, in my head, how she looked at the Consulate, all slinky body and silky hair in those red longjohns, Fraser’s longjohns, and I feel this weird, almost desperate need to try warning him about her again. To keep after it, not just let it go, because he can be so damned stubborn when he thinks he knows what he’s doing.

     "You know, Fraser, when I was in college, I used to go to the track and play the horses," I start, thinking maybe a confession might get through that thick Canadian skull. "One day I was down there, and I met this chick from Albany. She had a good line and I bought it hook, line, sinker. You know, before she left she'd taken everything." I leave out how depressed I was at the time anyway, what with Stella dumping me for the longest stretch since we’d started dating, because that part wasn’t germane.

     "You think I'm confusing duty with passion?" Fraser cocks his head slightly to the side, eyeing me with a funny, curious look.

     "No, I think that there's a lot of things you can do with a woman like this, but trusting them isn't one of them," I clarify, seriously hoping that passion isn’t in the picture at all. Not with Scarpa, for chrissakes.

     "Who says I trust her?"


     "You telling me everything?" I ask, trying to get a read on his face. He dips his head a little, avoiding me, and I know the answer is no, but he’s not going to cough it up, whatever it is. Not now, at any rate. And that hurts in a way I can’t even define. "You can back out, you know," I offer one last time, but even as the words are coming out of my mouth, I know it’s useless.

     "No, I can't do that."

     Okay, then. Nothing I can do now but back him up best I can. And I guess that’s just going to be that.


     So even though I know I promised myself I would let it alone, that he already answered the question, that it wasn’t really a big deal… Fraser’s bluff about Scarpa was still bugging me.

     I get why he didn’t want the Feds in on the angle he was working, because those clowns couldn’t keep a secret to save their lives. I can even understand him not wanting to tell the other guys at the station, Huey, Dewey, hell Welsh, just to be sure. But me? Not telling me?

     That still stings.

     So even though I know I promised myself I would let it alone, it was still stewing and brewing when he came back from the can in his jeans and leather jacket with Huey’s tux in its garment bag folded neatly over his arm, looking for all the world like nothing unusual happened tonight.

     "Is something wrong?" he asks, pausing in front of my desk.

     ‘No,’ is what I mean to say, but what comes out instead is, "Remember when we were playing cards before?"

     "I should hope so, Ray. You owe me a considerable sum."

     "You bet with Canadian air, Fraser, that’s worth twenty-five percent less. No, I mean when I asked you why you didn’t tell me you suspected Scarpa."

     "Ah." Fraser looks down at his feet. "I was afraid you might be upset about that."

     And I mean to say, ‘Well, I’m not upset,’ but what comes out is, "You could have told me." And it sounds pretty upset.

     He looks back up at me.

     "I would have, except that aside from being an uncommonly good card sharp, Denny Scarpa makes her living by reading people. I knew your honest concern would not escape her notice."

     "So she’d think she was really working you, if I thought the same thing."

     He nods.

     Well. Hmm. I let that stew a few seconds and start to get it. But I still don’t like it. Don’t like how upset I actually was, more than anything else.

     "You’re a good friend, Ray," he says. And he puts his hand on my shoulder, pats me a little, smiling, almost shy.

     Oh, man.

     And I don’t say anything about my third trip through glass. I should probably just quit counting.



     Ain't just a river in Egypt. De-nial. Hardy ha ha.

     Not like there was any danger of running into her on the street, see her in a supermarket or something and have to duck behind the cereal display to avoid her. After eight years, even I could forget.

     Except now, with the countdown, in the papers, on the news, in my face, every day until she buys it. Every day until Beth Botrelle gets the needle. Now I've got no choice, all I can do is remember my part in this whole fucking mess. First link in the chain.

     When am I going to learn that the stoic act is better left for people who actually are stoic? Like Fraser.

     Fraser. Should have told him about this earlier. Trying to carry it alone, just wind up going all psycho-ward on that guy in the alley. And God, if only I'd talked it out sooner, if I'd gone to visit Beth sooner, remembered the details, I might have… might have…

     I loved him.

     The truth, so simple, plain, obvious on her face, in her voice. Yeah, I was young, new, I know, I know, but how could I not see it back then?

     And now this, desperate crap shoot, scramble, swimming upstream. Probably too late.

     So little time.


     I'm surprised I actually make it to the car, get in, close the door, get as far as trying to start the engine, before autopilot fails and this thing, this thing that's been bound too tight is breaking loose in my chest and shaking all the way through me. Shaking my body, my hands. Shaking out tears and snot and feelings, too big, too strong, too many to keep in.

     Don't know how long it goes on, too much of a blur, but when I'm done, I actually do feel better. Not overwhelmed anymore, at any rate, so maybe all that crap about ‘having a good cry’ isn't such bullshit after all. And it's a relief to know that I don't even need to bother feeling embarrassed in front of Fraser for breaking down. Because he gets it. The way he sat with me, quiet, hand rubbing gentle circles on the back of my neck, there, but leaving me alone too. Understanding. He always does, it's one of the best things about having him for a friend.

     I wipe my nose one last time on my cuff and reach back down for another shot at getting the ignition started. "Need to go home and get some sleep."

     My voice sounds terrible, thick and croaky. I'm about to try a wisecrack about frogs in Chicago when I sense Fraser hesitating, like he wants to say something but he's not sure if he should. When I glance over he's doing that funny little ear tugging thing.

     "Your apartment…" He breaks off, waiting… for me to remember that my place has been trashed. Right. Shit. Just when I thought this was over. I close my eyes and shake my head. Don't even have the energy to get all that upset again. Too emptied out. "I'm, um, I'm sure the Inspector wouldn't mind if you stayed over at the Consulate tonight."

     "Thanks. But I'm gonna need to crash, and somehow I don't think Thatcher'd be too pleased to find me still wasted and drooling in her parlor at noon, you know?" I don't even give him time to offer me the Queen's bedroom or whatever the hell they call it. He's already done more than enough these past few days. "I think I need to sleep in my own bed. Fuck the mess, I'll deal with it later."

     Fraser nods thoughtfully, and then stops and shakes his head 'no'. "Ray, you shouldn't have to wake up to that tomorrow. It's really not that late yet. Why don't we at least straighten up a little bit?"

     He kills me, he really does. "You don't have to…" But I shut up when I realize he wants to. Fraser's a fixer, he fixes things, it's who he is and he can't help himself. And right now he's probably frustrated as hell that there isn't anything more he can do to make this whole rotten thing better, or easier for me to live with.

     So, even though I don't really feel like cleaning up anything right now, the last thing I want to do is disappoint him. Not after the way he's backed me up on this, right from that first hunch something was wrong. With no questions, no proof, no nothing but my buggy conscience to go on.

     "Okay. Actually, yeah, thanks. Maybe we can just get the major stuff picked up anyway. That would be nice, that would be good."

     And I have to admit too, the idea of spending a few more hours with Fraser right now really is a hell of a lot more appealing than going home alone to a ransacked apartment and my guilt-ridden thoughts.

     Thank you, Officer Kowalski.

     Because Beth's voice keeps echoing in my head, and it's all I can do to not start choking up again when I think about everything she's been through, everything she's lost. So yeah, maybe it's better I'm not by myself right now.

     We're quiet the whole ride from the Botrelle house to my place, loudest thing in the car is Dief snuffling around the back seat trying to get comfortable. He's probably hungry, poor wolf. I probably am too, just hasn't hit me yet, can't feel it past the knots in my gut. Maybe after we get things cleaned up a little, Fraser'll at least let me buy him and Dief some dinner. Order takeout. Something.

     We get upstairs and it's even worse than I remembered. We were in and out of here so fast earlier, just long enough to see if they'd found the paper, I didn't even really take the time to look around. Not like I was ever going to be up for the Good Housekeeping seal of approval or anything, but the 'before' picture was mostly just kinda dusty and cluttered. Now it's a total wreck—all the shelves dumped out onto the floor, sofa cushions every which way.

     Aquarium's still up on the credenza, at least. Glass doesn't look cracked, but I make my way across the floor to peek in on the little guy anyway. Still there. Okay. Good. Looks pretty much the same for his brush with disaster, but then, not much fazes the Zen master, so…

     "Is he all right?" Fraser asks from the doorway.

     "Yeah, seems to be. They didn't trash this side of the room so bad, must've found the paper already."

     Fraser nods, taking in the mess, then crouches down in front of the open door to examine the busted lock. Shot, it looks like.

     "Blown open, huh?" I ask, coming back over to stand behind him.

     "It would appear that not everyone possesses your skill with a credit card, Ray. We're going to have to replace the cylinder."

     "Hey, is it true you didn't have a lock on your door? At your old place, I mean, the one Greta Garbo burned down," I ask, flashing back suddenly to my Ray Vecchio briefing sessions. "Huey told me that, when he was trying to explain the full, uh, magnitude of your weirdness."

     "Not a simple task, I imagine." Fraser laughs a little, getting to his feet.

     "Yeah, well, Huey doesn't really know you well enough to do your weirdness justice," I say, stepping back a little, surprised when Fraser turns around. I was standing closer to him than I thought. We're less than a foot apart, our shoes almost touching. I can smell the wool of his jacket, his sweater, feel his warmth pushing into my personal space.

     He hesitates, and my breath catches in my throat in a crazy way, half-hoping, half-afraid he'll say something about how I know him well enough to do his weirdness justice. And I realize I want him to say it. Badly. But then almost like he just noticed we're practically standing on top of each other, Fraser backs up, crosses to the kitchen, and starts taking off his jacket.

     "The locks were stolen shortly after I moved in," he says, draping the jacket across the one barstool left standing and pushing up the sleeves of his sweater. He shakes his head, amused. "I half suspect it was an act of sheer frustration on the part of the burglars after not finding anything inside that was of greater monetary value than the locks themselves."

     "That's one approach to security."

     "Not, unfortunately, one that will work in your case," Fraser says, nodding in the direction of my stereo and TV. "We can call a 24-hour locksmith."

     "Nah, don't worry about it for now. Look, nobody got in here all day while we were out closing the case, right? And I doubt anyone's gonna come busting in while a cop is at home. I'll take care of it tomorrow." I scrub my hands through my hair, looking around. "Where the hell should we even begin with this?"

     "Why don't I start with books?" Fraser offers. "You should probably handle the CD's, though. I'm afraid you have a rather particular system for arranging your music collection, and I'd hate to get it wrong."

     "Yeah, I'd hate that too." Okay, might as well get going. I pull my jacket off and toss it on top of Fraser's, then wade carefully to the bedroom to stow the gun. Look around in there quickly, but nothing seems disturbed. At least they didn't get this far. Not that the damned living room isn't bad enough. Come back out where Fraser's waiting for me. "All right, books you can definitely take care of, Mr. I Was A Teenage Librarian."

     "Well, no, actually, Ray, my grandparents were the librarians, I merely lived with…"

     "Yeah, I know that, Fraser. It was just, uh, kind of a lame little joke there, you know, like I Was A Teenage Werewolf?" Dief lets out a low grumble at that. "What, you're gonna tell me he finds werewolf movies offensive?"

     Fraser exchanges a look with Dief, then shrugs. "Only the bad ones."


     With two of us working steady, we're able get the place into pretty decent shape within a couple of hours. And even though I'm tired, I am glad we put in the time. Fraser was right, if I'd woken up and had to face this tomorrow, I'd have been more depressed than ever.

     "I think that's it," I say, shoving the last sofa cushion into place and settling back with a sigh. Fraser looks around with a satisfied nod, wiping at his forehead with the back of his wrist—and I suddenly find myself wishing he'd lose the sweater.

     Oh, man, here we go again. But it's not my fault he looks that good sweaty. Whatever, all right? No reason to go acting like an idiot. Not his fault you've lost your fucking mind.

     But maybe I'm telepathic or something, because Fraser does pull off the sweater, pausing on his way to the sink to fill us a couple of glasses with water. And when he comes back over to hand me a drink, I notice taking the sweater off has untucked his henley from his jeans and messed up his hair. He's smiling, smells salty-soapy-clean, and lord help me, the image that triggers in my brain: Fraser stretched out beneath me, in my bed, arching against me, whispering my name…

     Wow. Whoa. I take a quick gulp of water and hold the glass as casually as I can over my crotch, hoping the cold will keep my dick from waking up any more. Close my eyes, try and clear my head, but my horndog imagination has already kicked into overdrive. This is bad. I'm down tonight, weak. And I need to get Fraser the hell out of here before I say or do something really stupid.

     "Ray, are you all right?"

     I open my eyes, startled to find him crouched on the floor beside me, leaning his elbow against the arm of the sofa. Jeez, he can move quiet. And no wonder I haven't been able to get his scent out of my head if he's been right here all this time. He's been…

     …right here. All this time. Just like always, whenever I need him, like nobody else, ever. The real wonder, I guess, is that I've been able to hold out this long.


     Maybe if I just touch his cheek… smooth his hair… this once. Could I let that be enough? He's watching me, curious, uncertain, like he's trying to decide what to say. Lets his tongue slide thoughtfully across his lower lip and… it's all over.

     I reach across the arm of the sofa to pull Fraser towards me. He manages to shift his weight to his knees before I knock him off balance, and somewhere in the fuzz of my brain I hear him take a fast, shocked breath before I cover his mouth with mine.

     It's funny how things change. I used to think that first kiss I laid on Stella when we were thirteen was pretty nervy, but it seems kind of obvious now, a no-brainer next to this. And maybe I really have lost my mind. Because even though I know I've only caught him off guard and he's going to come to his senses any second, kissing Fraser is… the most romantic fucking thing I've ever done in my life. And no matter what the consequences, I just can't feel sorry about that. So I let my weight sink against the arm of the sofa, lean into the kiss, and the whole world fades into sweetness.

     When Fraser gets past his surprise and breaks away, I let him go immediately. He doesn't pull back as far as I expect, though. Can't read his expression, whether he's more freaked or just confused.

     Oh no. No, no, no. What the hell have I just done?

     I drop my chin and wait, for what I don't know—hesitant questions, growing distance. But the only sound I can hear is harsh breathing from us both, and my own wildly racing heart.


     I put my hand up to stop him, but keep my head down. Can't face his kindness right now, his trying to understand. "Please, just… don't."

     "But, Ray, I…"

     "Damn it, Fraser, please shut up." And that sounds pretty rude, even for me, considering the circumstances. "Sorry. I'm sorry. That's not what I meant. I meant… fuck." Squeeze my eyes closed tight and charge on. If I'm going to blow this friendship I should just do it already. "Look, just… say yes or no, okay? One word. Do you want this, me and you, yes or no."

     He's still kneeling there by the corner of the sofa, so close, even with my eyes shut I can hear him hesitate, swallow, breathe. Can sense him, smell him, everything I want to be close to. And I feel like such a schmuck for doing this, for taking advantage of that mutant freak honesty gene of his and making him let me down gentle. To make him be the one to say…


     It's barely a whisper, but here it comes. And I can't do this, can't stand to hear it. I'm all ready to start backpedaling like mad. Tell him I don't know what the hell that was all about, just got carried away feeling affection for him I guess, and it's been a really rough couple of days, and I'm so fucking sorry and it'll never happen again.

     I open my mouth to say all that, but when I finally meet his eyes, I find Fraser staring back at me with an intensity that chases the words right out of my head. Anyone who thinks he's just some kind of nice-guy lightweight cop has never been pinned under that gaze before. Except this isn't justice-psycho-mission Fraser here, this is something else, this is eyes dark with… God, this is what he looks like before he…

     He leans in towards me, hand coming up to wrap around the back of my neck, pulling me down to meet him. And if I am dreaming or crazy, I don't want to know about it. I don't care. Shut my eyes in anticipation, feel his breath warm on my cheek, fingers stroking my hair, so damned close and it’s all I can do not to beg: come on, don't stop, please… Then he gives me one more tug and we're kissing.

     Kissing, and oh yeah, was Mr. Instinct right about this one, because Fraser does not do anything halfway. His mouth meets mine, open and strong, no polite, no preliminaries, and a happy little groan forms somewhere in the back of my throat as I reach blindly for his shoulders, fists grabbing his shirt to haul him up from the floor onto the sofa next to me.

     God, yeah, I need this, been needing this, so fucking much. Been so long since me and Stella were really… forgot what this can feel like, how full, total. Tasting him, learning him this way, after all that wanting, it's almost too much. Part of me just wants to know him already, wishes this wasn't so new. Something, anything less…risky.

     Less risky, oh, that’s rich. Not falling in love with a fucking guy might be a good start on that one, genius. But all of this has seemed so impossible, so far away, I never really thought anything might actually happen.

     Now though, feeling Fraser's weight, muscle, heat, moving in on me, feeling the hardness of his cock pressed against my thigh, that's… whoa, yeah, a serious spike of danger juice running through my veins, and I… Fraser breaks off the kiss and we’re both panting for breath, the sound filling my ears as he pulls back to look into my eyes. Completely beautiful, and dangerous, yeah, this is, we are, and… fuck it, I can so get behind that, Benton buddy. I smile at the thought, and he answers with a wicked smirk that makes me just want to lick him, bite him, drive him completely wild. And you know, sometimes you've gotta listen to your dick. It uncomplicates things.

     Sofa’s too damned small, we’re all elbows and knees. I wiggle up as far as I can to make more room to stretch out, and reach behind my head to chuck a couple of pillows onto the floor. Finally, I get us wedged in the way I want, Fraser lying mostly on top of me, leg jammed between mine, all close, warm, and good. Only thing missing is to get his tongue back down my throat where it belongs, so I try twisting a little, get my arms free from under his chest to wrap around his neck, pull him in for another kiss. But then I hear him suddenly yelp "Ray!" and I feel it, this weird sliding sensation, and we're kind of sledding down onto the floor on the sofa cushions that squirted loose from all our wrestling around.

     The fall dumps us off against the coffee table, scraping godawful loud against the floor, and I'm sure Charmain downstairs is going to love hearing that at this hour. Mostly, though, I don't like having to get untangled from Fraser while we sort ourselves out. I was liking being tangled just fine.

     "Guess we got a little carried away there, huh?"

     I mean it as a joke, but Fraser suddenly looks horrified as he comes up onto his knees. Uh oh.

     "Ray… I'm so sorry… the week you've had, you're upset. I'm taking ad…"

     "No way," I say quickly, sitting up and jumping in before he can get himself worked up into any more ridiculous guilt. "Let's get one thing clear. If anyone is taking advantage of anyone here, it's me taking advantage of you." He looks like he's getting ready to argue the point, so I put my hand up to stop him. Stubborn, I swear. "Come on, I brought you up here, into this mess, maximum sympathy vibes going, and then I jumped your bones, okay?"

     "But, that's not how it really…" he starts, then stops, shakes his head, upset.

     Ah, hell, he's not just stubborn, he really is concerned. I look into his eyes then, deep, unblinking, so he can see I'm not bullshitting him.

     "Look, Fraser, this isn't just a tonight thing, all right? It's not because I'm upset. I've been wanting it to happen for a while now."

     It takes him a few seconds to register that, but then he exhales heavily, and whispers, "I have as well."

     Then I relax. Anxiety I didn't even know I was holding drains away, and I just look at him. Sitting sprawled with me on the floor in front of the sofa that looks as bad as it did when we walked in here tonight. Fraser, rumpled and kissed and sweaty— just the way I wanted him. My partner. My best friend. And now…

     And now damn it, I'm curious. Because until he kissed me back, it never even occurred to me that Fraser might be, well, whatever the hell it is we are. The mood's already broken, I go ahead and ask.

     "Hey, have you ever, uh... I mean with, you know. Before…?"

     He looks down at the floor, fiddling with the laces of the one hiking boot that managed to stay on. "I have felt a degree of, I don't know how you'd describe it—tension?—in certain of the male friendships I've had throughout my life."

     Way to be evasive there, Fraser. "Anything you ever did anything about?"

     "No. No, I’m afraid I've always been very good at coming up with… reasonable explanations for my feelings."

     "But, me?"

     "Oh, more—a great deal more—tension in my friendship with you, Ray. Especially lately."

     Can't help laughing, a little embarrassed. "Guess I've probably been sending out heavier signals than I realized, huh?"

     "Well, the kiss was a pretty good clue."

     Feel my face heat even more, but then after I think about it for a second, I start to smile for real. I mean, if I'm going to have to keep going through freaky shit like this in my life, there's nobody I'd rather have along for the ride than Fraser. And it feels good to talk about it after so much trying to stuff it down.

     "And… you?"

     Oh. Hmm. Guess if I’m going to ask, I better be prepared to answer. What the hell, it's not like I'm going be able to avoid spilling everything to him at some point. Fraser knows more about me than anyone but Stella. Okay, scratch that: after tonight he knows even more about me than she does, about some things anyway. And it's important that he knows I didn't just kiss him because I was upset about Beth Botrelle, that I wasn't just looking for comfort.

     "I never really thought it was a big deal. If a guy's got a great ass, I might think 'hey, that guy's got a great ass,' but... It’s like when I was married. If I saw some girl with nice tits, well, yeah I'd think about 'em but it didn't mean I wanted to run off with her. You know?"

     "I think so," he says, with that unreadable 'I'm not quite sure where you're going with this, Ray, so I'm just going to take it all in and sort it out later' expression. Of course later, he might try to relate it to elephant seal mating or something, but that's the risk you run with Fraser.

     "And I was with Stella for a really long time. Hell, she was only the fourth girl I'd ever even kissed, and the first three were in a game of Spin the Bottle. I don't know, we didn't play that if the bottle pointed at another guy you kissed him, you just took the girl closest. Maybe if we'd played the other way my whole life would've been different, but I don't think so. I just loved Stella. Spent my whole life focused on her, so any other thoughts I ever had were just, you know, fun. Goofy."

     I turn so we're sitting side by side now, instead of facing each other—partly so I can scootch in close, and lean us back against the sofa frame, resting my head on Fraser's shoulder and pulling his arm around me— just because I know I can now. And partly because it's going to be too hard to say some of what I have to say next, facing him.

     "Like, there was this guy in my old district a couple years back, Madigan, had a crazy old fashioned moustache. And he was big on doughnuts, ate 'em every day. Don't know how he stayed so skinny, but anyhow… one time I'm working a case with him, robbery or something, and he's sitting at the desk opposite me wiping this glob of donut glaze off his chin. All of a sudden I'm wondering whether that moustache would tickle if he went down on me. Just popped into my head, you know? It was just funny. Or, well… That's what I always figured, anyway… until you come along...

     "And you're so weird, Fraser. So different from anyone I've ever known. I didn't know what the hell to make of you. I didn't know if I wanted to be you, or if I was jealous… Didn't know what I was feeling. What was your word, tension? Yeah, definitely that. Tension. It sucked. Thought for a while there it meant I wanted to get away from you."

     Feel the muscles in his shoulder tighten under my neck, and I know that whole thing with the transfers really hurt him. More than he ever said, more than he ever showed.

     "I'm so sorry about that, Frase. I was really, really confused." My voice sounds quiet, almost too quiet, but he hears me.

     "It's all right," he says softly.

     "No. No, it's not, it was monumentally stupid. But it was right after that that I figured things out. Started to, anyway. Tried to convince myself at first all it really meant was that I was finally over Stella." I look up at him and smile. "Well, and that you really do have a great ass. "

     "Ray!" Fraser's laugh sounds slightly scandalized, but also pleased as hell, and I feel him relax again.

     "So you believe me now?"

     "Believe you?"

     "Yeah, that you're not, uh, taking advantage of your poor, distraught partner."

     "Yes, I do believe you. Although I must confess, I met Detective Madigan, at a crime scene once. I never would have suspected he was your type."

     "The moustache?"

     "Hmm, now that you've mentioned it, the moustache actually seems intriguing. No, I just thought perhaps he was a bit short."

     "Hey, don't get cocky, at least Madigan'd have been easier to make out with on this dumb sofa," I grumble, reaching over to pick up one of the pillows that got kicked to the floor earlier when we were…

     Oh yeah. We were, all right. Glance up at Fraser and know he's thinking about it too, because he's looking right back down at me with that dark, sexy thing going on in his eyes again. Now, that's more like it. Time to get tangled up again… in a better location.

     "C’mon." I get to my feet and offer a hand to help him up.

     Such an everyday thing for us, but never quite like this. And as I take his hand and lead him into my bedroom, the strangest thing might be that it doesn't feel strange at all. Like maybe this is where we've been headed since day one, only I was too stupid, or blind, or distracted moping over Stella to even notice. But now, reaching my bed, pulling him into my arms, feeling his body, hard and strong against me, all of it seems crystal clear. Because when you get right down to it, Fraser is just too unlikely to be anything but fate.

     There's still a little zing of the forbidden in pulling off his shirt and running my hands across his hot, smooth skin, but that fades quickly into a kind of familiarity that's both weird and cool at the same time. It's not just the jolt of new that's cranking me so hard: I'm loving how much he's like me but not, that I know how to touch him, but it doesn't feel anything like touching myself. More than anything, I love that it's Fraser, that he's here, and he's with me for real, for everything.

     "There's nothing I, uh, need to know, is there?" I ask, reaching for the button on his jeans. "I mean, no secret life as a needle-swapping smack addict or anything? Because unless I hear otherwise, buddy, the general plan here calls for exchanging a lot of fluids with you. And I don't want to stop for anything unless I absolutely have to."

     "Mmm, no secret life, Ray, and your plan sounds…incredibly good," Fraser sighs right up against my mouth, and considering how deep and wet he kisses, I kind of figured he'd be all over that.

     Slide my hands up his arms to his shoulders and press him down to sit on the edge of the bed, then give him a little push so he's leaning back on his elbows. Before I join him there, I decide to take off my own shirt first, get a little skin on skin action going. But when I pull the shirt over my head, I catch a glimpse of him through the neck hole and I just have to stop for a second and stare. Because that's really Fraser in my bed, bare chested, jeans unbuttoned, all long-lashed and fuck-me slouchy. Watching me strip. And suddenly I don't remember what the hell else I had in mind as the next step a second ago, because right now I'm just going to suck him.

     I let the shirt drop to the floor and sink to my knees between his legs. Run my hands over the worn denim covering his thighs, stroking him because it feels good, and also I guess, asking permission.

     "Ray," he breathes, his eyes drifting closed, head falling back, and it feels like he's saying it's okay. Whatever I want, it's okay.

     And I know what I want. I loved going down on Stella, would bury my face in her for an hour if she asked. Probably why she stayed with me as long as she did. And I want to go down on Fraser. Want to make him feel what I feel when I look at him, think about him. Just want to make him feel good.

     Kiss his stomach, breathing him in, that close warm skin smell, a little stronger than before, then I slide my hands up the rest of the way past his hips to tug at his waistband, grabbing his boxers at the same time. He lifts up to help, and that's as good an excuse as I need to slip my hands underneath him and get a nice feel for that gorgeous ass as I work the jeans and boxers off the rest of the way down his legs.

     Lean back in to push him down, flat on his back, then kiss and lick my way down from his waist to his hip, feeling him shiver and sigh under my touch. God, that's nice. Finish kissing down his belly until my mouth is right alongside his cock, feeling his heat brush my skin, twitching against my cheek. Wrap my hand around the base of his cock, lifting his balls the way I like it done, and encouraged by his sudden moan, I take him into my mouth.

     I don't even know how I knew I wanted this so much, except I already loved the taste of his skin, the way he smells, and this is all of that and more. Mouth watering at being so full, I slurp a little, swallowing around him, and he groans louder, tension tightening down his body. Oh yeah, he likes that too, the swallowing thing. So do I. And it's so amazing to feel it like this, feel it through him. Makes me just want to give him more.

     Once he's good and slick, I try sliding my hand along with my mouth, sucking him and jacking him at the same time. Still want him in my mouth—gonna feel empty now without him—but a wet, sloppy hand job's about the only way I think I'm actually going to be able to get it done. Pour all my concentration into trying to stay smooth and together, sucking and stroking, steady enough to get lost in. And it must be working because Fraser begins to move with me, under me, thrusting harder, fucking my mouth and my hand. Yeah, this is working all right. This is working great.


     My name again, but breathless and broken. Something about the sound makes me glance up and… Oh, man. I knew he'd be beautiful, but I wasn't prepared for this. What he'd really look like, all stretched out and strong, muscles tensed, sweating and flushed, eyes closed tight, his breath coming in ragged pants now. And what's really amazing is I know just where he's at, trembling on the edge, so, so close.

     Fraser's hands find my head, fingers curling through my hair, holding me, shaking, silently pleading with me to finish him off. And I really wasn't prepared for how this would feel, to be the one driving him here and over. This powerful, possessive. I take him down, deep as I can without choking, the soreness in my jaw a small price to pay to feel that first pulse hit, and he's coming, hard and long, pumping into me, crying out. I swallow, and swallow again: spunky, bitter, perfect.

     When I let him go, he's totally still, except for his chest, heaving, and for a worried moment, I wonder if he's okay. Rest my chin against his thigh, waiting for him to come down, and it feels like a long time before his eyes blink open and he lifts his head to look for me.

     "Hi." My voice sounds hoarse.

     "Ray." His is a raw whisper.

     Fraser holds his hand out to me, and when I take it, he drags me up the length of his body, rolls me beneath him, and kisses me deep and sweet. When we break, he hugs me hard, stroking my hair, and it's so good, and such a relief to be close to him like this. Close, like I haven't been with anyone in so damned long. Close, like I'd been getting to figure I might never really be again. Wrap my arms around him, tight as I can, and hug him hard right back.

     And he just feels so good, strong and solid, all the arousal that'd gotten shoved into the background while I was busy getting him off, comes roaring back full-throttle. I'm painfully aware again, suddenly, that my jeans are still on, and I'm not quite sure what to do about it. Don't want to seem pushy. God knows I'm useless as hell for a few minutes after I come hard like that, and I don't want to make some big show of getting up and taking my damned pants off—like Fraser owes me payback or something and here's a nice hint, my friend. But at the same time, it's pretty awkward, and I at least need to readjust.

     "Wouldn't you be more, um, comfortable, without, uh?" And Fraser tugs at my belt, like he was reading my mind. I swear, sometimes he's spooky. Or maybe I was doing a little more wiggling than I realized.

     "What, the buckle? Am I poking you?" I try not to laugh, but it does feel a little silly, at my age, to get busted for humping.

     "Mmm, perforating, maybe." Fraser chuckles, a soft breath I can feel warm and tickly against my neck.

     "Shut up." I bite his shoulder.

     "All right."

     And I don't even have a chance to fully register that before Fraser's on me like he means business, hands getting to work undoing my jeans, while his mouth opens mine to a tongue-fuck so dirty it's gotta be illegal in at least 36 states— not sure about those Northwest Areas. Jesus. He breaks off that wicked kiss and moves down to my waist, loosening my belt, peeling off my jeans and briefs, all efficient like the Mountie he is, finally springing me free. Have to close my eyes, think about breathing. Shit.

     I'm close, too damned close. Really wish this could last, be a long, slow, wallow—in him, in what he's doing—but I'm already so far gone. My balls are aching, heavy, straining for release, like I've been hard for hours. And thinking, knowing, that that mouth is kissing, licking, is traveling south, is about to… is…

     Hot, wet, soft and strong, closing around me, fuck that's good. Squeeze my eyes tighter, fight for control, but he just stays like that a second, holding me there. My whole body goes tense then, caught still, beating, for one agonized moment as I wait to find out if the reality of a dick in his mouth is going to be just that little bit more than Fraser signed on for. But then it hits me, this jolt of pure pleasure, running up my cock and through my soul, as his tongue slides down hard and he begins to suck me for real.

     And maybe Fraser's not dialed in on me like Stella was, but God, he wants me. I can feel that, feel it in his touch, and right now that means so much more to me than any amount of skill. Of course Fraser being Fraser, it doesn't take long for those experimental licks and strokes to smooth out and settle into rhythm… and then… and then… and then I'm just gone.

     He's working me good now, swirling, squeezing, something. I don't know what the hell he's doing except it's beautiful pressure, even and sweet, until all that aching, throbbing, swollen need is pounding a backbeat through my veins and I'm lost in it, moving to it, hips grinding, moaning his name. And I know I'm holding his head too hard, being too rough, but I can't stop. Can't stop, no way, and my fists clench in his hair, holding him steady, there, right there. He makes this incredible little sigh in his throat before taking me deeper, like he wants it, like I wanted it, and that's it, the end of me. I feel it filling, rising, arching my back up off the bed, and then I'm thrusting into his mouth, coming, growling and shuddering, feeling him swallow, more than taking, pulling it out of me, every last drop, until I can't even move.

     Can't think. Some part of me is aware of Fraser climbing out from between my legs, placing soft kisses on my hip, chest, and forehead, as he moves his way back up my body and settles in next to me on the bed, lying on his side. I'm still pretty wasted, but I can kind of make out the angle of his face in my peripheral vision. He's quiet, watching me, and enough thoughts are beginning to filter back into my brain, that I realize he's waiting for me to come back to earth, like I did with him. Waiting, maybe, like I was, to make sure we're still who we were before he wrapped his lips around my cock. That nothing's changed.

     Except everything's changed. And I don't think either of us knows what that really means yet. I sure as fuck don't.

     Glance over at Fraser, wanting to say something, anything, even stupid, like earlier. Just 'hey,' to reconnect. But the words stall in my throat when I catch the expression on his face. He seems lost in thought, a zillion miles away. He looks… sad. Want to kiss him, pet him. Reach out. But I don't know what to do, because I think that look is private.

     "Fraser?" I finally manage, voice even hoarser than before.

     He seems to come back into himself then, flicks his gaze in my direction. "Ray." Smiles, like everything is fine, hunky dory. Hmm. Except, Stella used to get sad after sex sometimes, just because. Even had a French word she called it, tristesse, and I wonder if this is anything like that.

     I'm debating whether or not to try and get into it with him, but my stomach picks that moment to growl loudly, and I realize my plan to thank Fraser and Dief with dinner has fallen a little by the wayside. In fact… when I look over to the window, there's a suspicious purple glow starting outside.

     "Looks like that whole eating and sleeping thing hasn't worked out so good, huh?" And another realization: "Oh man, you've got to go to work in…"

     "Less than two hours."

     "Shit. Fraser, I'm sorry…" I make a move to sit up, but he reaches an arm across my chest.

     "It's all right." He leans in to kiss my shoulder as he pulls me back to bed in a gentle clothesline tackle. "I've gone without sleep for much less compelling reasons." And there's no trace of sadness or regret in that. If anything, he sounds amused.

     "I know, but…" I still feel bad thinking that he's going to be stuck at the Consulate doing busy-work while I have two days off to do nothing but crash and recuperate from the whole Botrelle ordeal. Hell, Fraser put in as much time on that case as I did. Lord knows I'm tired, he's gotta be zonked. Not to mention what we've just been up to…

     Then I wonder if Welsh can put in a word with Thatcher to cut Fraser a little slack. They seem pretty buddy-buddy these days, all into the whole international cooperation thing. I'm about to mention my suggestion to Fraser when I realize that he's still kissing my shoulder. Well, no, it's wetter than that, he's… licking my tattoo. God, one little glimpse of that tongue and I'm already feeling warmer.

     "Taste good?" I ask, and he hums in agreement, licking it again, more slowly. "Get out of here, really? You like the tat?"

     "Very much," he says, glancing up and smiling at what must be a look of total surprise on my face.

     Huh. And here I always figured Fraser must think it was some dumb thing I'd done as a kid, but was too polite to say anything about it. Shows what I know, because he returns his attention to my arm, tracing his fingers over the ink, studying it with typical Fraser concentration like maybe he's been wanting to get his hands on it for a while now.

     "You want one?"

     "I don't think I could pull it off, Ray."

     "No? Too un-Mountie-like?"

     He shakes his head, blushes a little. "Too cool."

     "Right. While I am just so cool."

     "You are."

     "Okay," I say with a laugh, giving in. Hell, I'm not about to argue with the guy if his believing it's true means getting my dick sucked like that. I look at him, lying there next to me like something out of a magazine spread — except his expression is all serious, ready to defend my coolness — and it's completely surreal. "This is pretty ironic."

     "What is?"

     "You're the most beautiful thing that's ever been in bed with me, and that's not even why I wanted you here."


     "Don't get me wrong now, I'm not complaining. Just want to make sure you understand that I really want to fuck you for all your, uh, many fine qualities."

     That startles a laugh out of him, and I'm so close to just saying it already. The words, the feeling, swell in my chest, pressing to get out. But I'm impulsive, not stupid. Too soon, too new, too fragile to throw something that… combustible into the mix. So I say "Let's go find us something to eat," instead.


     He sings in the shower.

     At first I thought he was calling for me, couldn't find the soap or something, but when I reach the bathroom door I realize that he's singing—one of those sailor-type songs that are always a little rowdier than you expect from Fraser, except he seems to know a million of them.

     I stand a few minutes in the fog of steam, drawn in by his voice, so relaxed and free when he sings, and I wish he sounded that way more often. He finishes one song and begins to hum another, and I head back into the kitchen to clean up.

     He makes pretty good pancakes.

     Dief comes over and noses my thigh while I stack dishes in the sink.

     "Sorry boy, all gone, you cleaned us out." I crouch down to ruffle his fur, and maybe it's my imagination, but I could swear he's looking at me different. "You good with this?" I ask, jerking my head in the direction of the bathroom. "Me and him?"

     Dief just stares at me for a long moment and I'm not sure if what I'm feeling is stupid because I'm talking to the wolf, or nervous because he hasn't answered me yet. Finally, he lets out a yawn, all casual-like, then gives my face a little lick.

     "Thanks, buddy," I whisper, rubbing his head, and we sit like that for a few more minutes until I hear the water in the shower turn off.

     Can't believe it's starting to get light out already. Don't want Fraser to have to leave. I fix another coffee, then go in to sit on the bed, watch him dry and dress.

     "I, uh, know you don't usually do a lot of java, but I figure you might need a little extra shot today. You know, considering."

     "Thank you, Ray." He turns his head towards me and smiles, and even on no sleep, scruffy-jawed, towel-dried, morning Fraser works for me. Hell, yeah.

     "You really have to go in today, huh?"

     "I'm afraid so. I have several outstanding…" His eyes drop to my crotch, and the smile widens into a full-on grin. "You're incorrigible."

     "I hope that's a good thing," I say, grinning right back.

     He comes and sits next to me, takes the mug, has a sip, then hands it back. And I flash on the first time we split a coffee, sitting on the Agnew stakeout, and how surprised I was when Fraser asked "may I?" in that super polite voice of his and pointed towards the cup I was holding.

     Guess I was surprised on two fronts: a) because it wasn't the good coffee bar stuff, but late night, gray, nasty deli sludge from the 24-hour place. And second because for whatever reason, I just didn't expect him to be a cup-sharing kind of guy, even though he tastes stuff off the street practically every day. The tasting thing's for work, and Fraser's not squeamish about anything for work. This was sort of personal. "Sure," I said, and shrugged, and he did just what he did right now, took the cup, had a sip, then handed it back to me. And I remember thinking at the time that that meant something pretty significant in terms of how comfortable he felt with me. And I realized that it went for a lot of things, kind of across the board. I had special Fraser-privileges.

     "Something funny?"

     His voice brings me back, and I guess I've got a pretty smug smile on my face from thinking about how seriously those privileges have expanded in the last twelve hours.

     "Nah, just thinking," I say, offering him the mug again. We still feel like buddies, and that's the most important thing of all. He takes one more sip, pats my knee, and gets up to finish dressing.

     I like watching him, learning his little routines. Pulling his watch strap tight with his teeth. How automatically neat the henley tucks into his jeans, even after a night on the floor. And I have to smile when Fraser finally takes two seconds to glance in the mirror over my dresser, and is able to comb a toweled mess into perfect Fraser-hair just by running his fingers through it a couple of times.

     "That's going to stay like that all day now, isn't it?" I laugh. "How do you do that?"

     "I give it a firm reprimand every morning, Ray." Fraser grins at me in the mirror, then puts a hand up to his reflection and says seriously, "Stay." Then he turns back around and mutters, "If only that worked on Diefenbaker," under his breath. The light scruff on his face looks a little funny now with the uniform hair, but I guess he's probably safer waiting to use his cutthroat at the Consulate. Shaving with one of my rusty disposables, now that takes skill.

     When he's ready to go, I walk him to that lovely, busted front door, and lean against the jamb. "Try and get some sleep when you can, okay?"

     He nods and turns, reaching out to touch my face, brushing his thumb against my cheek. "I will."

     Leans in quick to kiss me, a little surprising because we're standing in an open doorway, even if it is crazy early and no one's around. But it's nice, yeah. I grab him around the neck and pull him back, kiss him again, little longer, little deeper. More than buddies now. Way more.

     Watch his back disappear down the hallway, Dief trotting at his side, and I can tell they're talking, arguing most likely, because that's what they do. Stand there watching until he's down the stairs and out of range. Wait long enough even Mr. Bat Ears won't hear me say, "I love you."

     Turn around, face my empty, neat apartment. I know I'm not done feeling lousy about Beth Botrelle and the eight years missing from her life. I know I need to crash. But right now? Just right now, what I'm gonna do, is sit on the sofa, put up my feet, finish this coffee, and be.