Rated NC-17 for graphic m/m sex. Any recognizable
characters belong to Alliance and the Pauls. Fraser and Ray belong to each
other. Not us. *sigh*
Soundtrack: Boomtown Rats: Like a House on
Fire. Great Big Sea: Clearest Indication, Shine, Ordinary Day, When I'm
Up. Rufus Wainwright: One Man Guy. Jann Arden: Waiting in
Canada. Sarah Harmer: Silver Road. Bryan Ferry: You Do Something
to Me. John Lennon and Yoko Ono: Starting Over. Ella Fitzgerald:
Our Love Is Here To Stay. Our Lady Peace: Life.
Sihaya Black and Betty Burch for patient beta, and to AuKestrel for helping us
see the story through new eyes.
Like a House on Fire
© 2002 Beth H. and Kellie Matthews
Everyone at the 27th
District who'd had even a peripheral involvement in the LeBeau case was aware
of the newly revised extradition treaty between Canada and the U.S. The recent
amendments to the international accords meant that Henri LeBeau, a career
criminal who was Canadian in name only, was going to be bound over to face
trial in Saskatoon, instead of in Illinois where his latest run of 'alleged'
crimes had actually been committed.
Even if it hadn't been for the
inexplicable lack of any real cooperation from the Canadian authorities during
the course of the CPD's six-month investigation, losing LeBeau to the Canadian
justice system would have grated. But to have spent half a year calling in
favors and rooting around local landfill sites for illegally dumped toxic
waste, only to have the perp sent up north and out of their jurisdiction for
what would probably amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist was wrong.
Wronger than wrong.
And yet there Ray sat in the uncomfortable chair
that faced Welsh's desk offering to escort the prisoner up to Saskatoon so he
could be turned over to the Canadians.
"I said I'll go,
Welsh narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. "Overcome by a
sudden overwhelming urge to find closure, Detective?"
like that," Ray muttered.
"Curious, because I seem to recall someone
who looked a lot like you in here yesterday stomping around and yelling that
there was 'no fucking way' the Canadians were going to get their mitts on
"Come on! This is my case, or at least it
was my case before it was yanked out of my hands." He leaned over,
flattening his palms on the case reports stacked at the edge of the
lieutenant's desk. "I just want to make sure LeBeau's taken care of before I
sign off on this thing. Give me that, at least."
Welsh sat for a long
minute, just looking at Ray, his deadpan expression giving no indication what
he was thinking.
"Lieutenant . . ."
"It's that important to you,
He nodded, feeling an odd tension in his
right, you've got the delivery duty. And, Detective," Welsh continued, before
Ray even had a chance to release the breath he'd been holding, "let's make
sure all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed on this one. I don't want to
see you back here until you've given our Canadian friends depositions, case
notes, and anything else they think they might need to make these charges
stick. Word is they're making every effort to assign an early court date. I'm
sure you can find something to occupy your energies up north between now and
the start of the trial."
"Yeah," he said, a little surprised by how
quickly Welsh had agreed. "I can. . . um. . . I'll think of
"I'm certain you will."
"Forget about it. Just do good up there."
picked up his files and started to leave the office. Before he reached the
door, he heard Welsh add, "Kowalski? Say hello to Consta . . . Corporal Fraser
for me when you see him."
The office door closed behind him, and Ray
returned to his desk. Sure, he could pass a message on from Welsh. Easiest
thing in the world. Except for the fact that he and Fraser hadn't actually
seen each other in almost two years and probably wouldn't see each other this
Fraser. His former partner. His . . . friend.
They still talked on the phone every once in awhile. Wrote letters
less frequently. Sent stupid presents for birthdays and for Christmas. Well,
he sent stupid presents; Fraser usually sent something useful.
still. . . it had been almost two years.
A week after the conclusion of
their arctic adventure, Ray had finally checked in with his lieutenant. He
hadn't really been sure if Welsh still was his lieutenant, considering
how long he'd been incommunicado, but after a long pause, Welsh just said he'd
been holding a detective spot open for him at the 27th and that Ray needed to
get his butt back to Chicago sometime this millennium if he was still
interested in being a cop.
At first, he had debated with himself
whether he'd take Welsh up on the offer or not. It felt good to be asked. It
felt better than good, and he couldn't imagine working under a more stand-up
guy than Harding Welsh. But there was something about being in Canada that
felt right to him, more right to him than the thought of returning to Chicago,
He'd figured maybe he would bring the subject up that night at
dinner, see if Fraser had any thoughts about stuff he could do up there -
maybe something the two of them could do together - if he gave up on the whole
being a cop thing. But before he could even mention Welsh's offer, Fraser had
announced that he'd received notification of his new assignment and that he
had to start making arrangements to relocate to a small town in north-central
"Exile over, huh?" Ray had asked with a forced
"So it would appear," Fraser had replied, answering Ray's smile
with one of his own, although no less forced if Ray was any judge. "I had
thought that perhaps they might actually have been thinking in terms of
sending me back to the Territories, as I had once requested, or back to. . .
well, I'm sure that despite its location and relative isolation, there will be
ample opportunity at Lac la Rouille to make a difference, so I really have no
cause for complaint."
"Yeah, sounds like your kind of place, Fraser,"
Ray had said, a bit absently. "So, um . . . I guess I've got to get back to
reality, too. I talked to Welsh today. He wants me back at the 2-7, but . . ."
"Oh? That's . . . that's wonderful, Ray," Fraser cut in, sounding
something less than enthusiastic.
Ray cocked his head to one side and
frowned at Fraser for a second, then shrugged. "Yeah, I guess." He fiddled
with his fork, then looked up again. "You think you'll ever be heading south
again? I mean, for a visit or whatever. Or are you just going to forget about
Chicago like it was some kind of bad dream?"
"No," Fraser had said,
shaking his head emphatically. "I'll certainly miss . . . well, that is to
say, there are a number of things I'll miss from my time in the
"Yeah?" Ray asked.
Fraser nodded, but didn't elaborate,
and Ray hadn't pushed. He knew better than to try to get Fraser to talk when
he clearly didn't want to. And that had been that. They'd gone back to
Chicago, Fraser staying just long enough to get his things and attend the big
farewell party Frannie had thrown for him, her brother, and Stella. Frannie
had ended up sniffling her way through most of the evening. Ray had felt like
that too; knowing that two of the most important people in his life would be
out of it the next day hadn't exactly put him in a party mood, so he'd ducked
out early and spent most of the night staring at the ceiling over his
He hadn't given Fraser a going-away present. He couldn't think of
anything he'd want, or need. Fraser hadn't given him anything either, except
that as they stood, oddly awkward, at the Air Canada boarding gate the next
day, Ray had put out his hand for a farewell shake, and Fraser had taken it,
and then pulled him into a hug, which had surprised the hell out of Ray. From
the embarrassed look on Fraser's face when he let go a moment later, it had
surprised him too. Then they'd called the flight and Fraser had to go - and
again, that had been that.
And now was now. He thought about the
logistics of this trip to Canada. The tickets were already arranged, Welsh had
already cleared him, and he didn't have a partner he'd be leaving in the
lurch, though he'd been working with Elaine a lot after she'd transferred back
to the division six months ago. When you were going for detective it helped to have someone to
show you the ropes, and Welsh thought Ray was a good mentor. Whatever. At
least he and Elaine got along, which never hurt. Most of his cases had been
cleared so he could work on the toxic waste case anyway, so there was nothing
standing in the way except maybe finding someone to watch Spot for a few days,
and Frannie was an expert turtle-sitter.
Saskatoon. He looked up at
the map of North America on his bulletin board, located Saskatoon, and
mentally estimated the distance between it, and the little red map-tack at Lac
la Rouille that he'd put there two years ago after Fraser pointed out his new
posting. It looked like around five-hundred miles, give or take a bit. Barely
in the same province. He sighed. Nope. Not this time.
* * *
Fraser lay on the couch, watching the Blackhawks kick the collective
asses of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Diefenbaker whined in sympathy from across
the room, but Fraser had long since stopped caring about the state of Toronto
hockey. He leaned over slightly, reaching for the open bag of Old Dutch
Ketchup Flavoured Potato Chips, but it was just beyond the reach of his
"Come here, Dief . . . bring me the
Diefenbaker whined and looked pointedly at Fraser.
give you one if you bring me the bag," he said after a moment.
Dief didn't move, Fraser finally managed to stretch enough to grab the bag
himself. "Fine. I just thought you might want a little exercise. You're
getting soft, you know."
"I do not have
pot/kettle issues," Fraser snapped.
Dief trotted over to the door and
barked sharply. Fraser sighed. "Would you stop that? Believe me, after two
years it's really gotten old. No, Ray is not going to be here any
Dief barked again. Fraser threw the remote at him. Dief easily
sidestepped the missile and Fraser sighed as he realized he would have to get
up and get it so he could use the mute. He was sick to death of Canadian Tire
commercials. As he sat up, someone knocked at the door. He frowned, puzzled.
It was Saturday. The Episcopalian Ladies' Assembly delivered on Mondays. The
Catholic Ladies' Assembly came by on Wednesdays. In general, he never saw
anyone at all on weekends. Maybe one of the groups had held a bake sale today
and were bringing leftovers? He looked down at his sweats, which were
reasonably clean. The hole in his sock wouldn't show if he was standing. He
went to the door as he was, picking up the remote on his way.
the door, he took one look at the person on his stoop and dropped the remote
again. It bounced off the mat and out the door. Dief tried to shove past him,
barking insanely, but Fraser was frozen in place.
Ray grinned at him.
"Fraser! Buddy!" he exclaimed, wrapping him in a hug.
The contact was
a shock. Literally. It had been a very long time since anyone had touched him,
let alone so intimately. In fact, he realized with an odd sense of deja vu,
that time had been Ray, too. Almost on auto-pilot he returned the hug, and
then Ray stepped back to look at him. He felt his face go hot, wishing he'd
put on something more presentable. But how could he have known?
what are you doing here?"
Ray shrugged. "Well, I was in the
neighborhood, so I thought I'd stop by."
"Ray, there is nothing
in the neighborhood," Fraser said, still trying to wrap his brain around the
idea that Ray, Ray Kowalski, was standing on his front stoop.
grinned. "Canada's a neighborhood."
Fraser frowned. "Please don't say
that anywhere near a representative of the tourism board or the next thing you
know we'll be seeing it on t-shirts."
Ray studied him for a moment and
his smile faltered a bit. "So . . . is this a bad time?"
course not, Ray. Please, come in." He looked behind Ray and saw six bags of
varying sizes stacked up on the steps. "Can I help you bring your packages
"Might as well, seeing as how most of them are for you. Soon as I
said I was heading up this way, everyone started handing stuff over to me
'just in case' I saw you."
"For me?" Fraser asked, still feeling rather
as if he were in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
"None other. Everyone said to say 'hi.' And I mean everyone. The only reason
I'm not bringing you a pizza is because I managed to convince Sandor it
wouldn't be any good by the time I got it here." He picked up a bag and looked
at Fraser pointedly.
Suddenly realizing he was still keeping Ray
outside, Fraser stepped out to pick up one of the bags. Diefenbaker, seeing
his chance, darted out and leaped up, his paws on Ray's shoulders. Ray yelped,
teetered, and then went down on his backside, hitting the sidewalk with a
solid 'oof.' Diefenbaker started licking his face, whining and vocalizing. Ray
tried to fend him off, and finally put his hands on Dief's muzzle and held him
"Enough with the licking, mutt!" he said clearly into Dief's
face. "I'm glad to see you too!"
Dief apparently felt he'd done his
duty in welcoming Ray, because he let Fraser reach a hand down to brace Ray to
his feet. Ray picked up several bags and followed him into the house. Setting
down his parcels, he glanced around the room, and then back at Fraser.
"So . . . um . . . you're feeling okay, right?"
Ray must be interpreting his shock as illness. "Yes, of course, just surprised
to see you, that's all. Why didn't you let me know you were coming?"
. . . kind of wanted it to be a surprise. Plus I wasn't sure it would work out
and I didn't want to make plans I couldn't keep, you know? I figure you're not
exactly company-ready, so if there's a motel around, maybe I could use your
phone to call and get a room?"
Fraser shook his head. "Nonsense, Ray.
Of course you'll stay here with me."
Ray glanced around again. "You
have a guest room?"
"I have a spare room," Fraser equivocated. He did.
It was full of the arctic travel gear from their adventure together, and the
heat wasn't on, but he had one. He would, however, put Ray in his room, since
the bed was comfortable, and he'd sleep on the couch.
"That'd be great. How about dinner? I drove straight through today and I'm
"Straight through from where?"
"Saskatoon. Had to
escort a prisoner."
"Ah, Mr. LeBeau?"
Ray looked surprised.
"You've heard about him?"
"I keep up," Fraser said. There wasn't a lot
else to do. "A member of one of our more infamous biker gangs, I
Ray nodded, grinning a little. "Yeah. Hard to wrap my mind
around that one. Canadian biker gangs. Go figure. At first when they told me
that, I was thinking bikes you know? Like Schwinns. The whole case was kind of
a deja vu, what with the toxic waste and Canadians and all. Could've used you
on the job. It wouldn't have taken near as long to wind things
Fraser turned away, making a show of turning off the television.
"I'm sure you handled it competently on your own."
but without our old . . . pizzazz, you know?"
He sounded a little
wistful, and Fraser turned in time to catch a flash of that same expression on
his face. Perhaps he wasn't the only one who missed their old partnership.
Which he did. Desperately. Having Ray here was almost painful, but it was a
pleasurable kind of pain. "I'll just go change, and we'll go get something for
dinner. There's an excellent little café just down the
"Mathilde's?" Ray asked.
Fraser stopped, halfway to his
bedroom. "Yes, actually. How did you know?"
"I stopped there to see if
anyone could point me at your place. I tried the RCMP post but the guy there
wouldn't tell me where you lived even after I got out my ID. Said it was a
violation of your privacy. I think maybe he thought I was a hit man or
something. But there was a group of old ladies at the café who were happy to
tell me how to find you. They were kind of funny, all excited that I was
coming to see you. I barely got out of there with my cheeks unpinched. You'd
think you never had a visitor before."
Fraser felt his face getting
warm again. "That was probably Maude Johannsen and her bridge club friends.
They often commandeer a table on Saturday afternoons." He didn't tell Ray that
the reason Maude was acting like that was because it was true. He hadn't had a
visitor the entire time he'd lived here. Maggie had planned to come once, but
ended up having to cancel due to a search and rescue operation up near Peace
River, and their schedules hadn't coincided since. "Anyway, if you'll excuse
me I'll be right out."
Ray nodded, and turned his attention to
Diefenbaker, who had been sitting at his feet gazing up at him adoringly.
Fraser rolled his eyes and headed for his bedroom. Opening his closet, he
found himself reaching toward the back, pulling out his dress uniform. The
plastic shielding rustled as he peeled it off. He hadn't worn it in ages,
there was never any reason to do so, here, but somehow with Ray here it just
seemed right. Placing it on the bed, he got out clean underclothes, pulled
them on, and then stepped into the jodhpurs.
He pulled them up,
settled them, and went to fasten the fly, only to find that the edges wouldn't
meet. He frowned, staring down at the gap between the edges, and reflexively
tried again. They still wouldn't meet. He tightened his stomach muscles and
the gap narrowed slightly, but didn't vanish. Could the cleaner have shrunk
them? He hadn't worn them since they had been cleaned, so he wouldn't have
Irritably he got out his other dress uniform. He knew it fit.
It had last been cleaned in Chicago and he'd worn it since then, though it had
been quite a while. He knew he'd gained a few pounds but it ought to fit.
Taking the pants from their hanger, he pulled them on, only to find that, like
the first pair, he could not fasten them. Determined, he sucked in his
stomach, yanked on the wool, and managed to wrestle them closed. They cut into
his waist painfully, bringing the truth home with a shock. It wasn't the
uniform. It was him.
He looked up into the mirror, seeing himself as
Ray must have seen him. He needed a haircut. He needed a shave. Worse, he was
badly out of shape, thanks to regular meal deliveries by the local church
ladies' groups and no regular regimen of exercise. He'd never had to worry
about that before, so he hadn't here either. Apparently he should have. Good
God. How the hell had he let this happen?
Once he thought
about it, it was perfectly obvious. His position at La Rouille required much
less physical activity and more vehicle time, and when combined with the fact
that Dief ran free during the day in the woods behind the detachment, it meant
he was getting out very little. It had happened so gradually he hadn't
realized it, even though he should have. It shocked him to realize just how
oblivious he'd been to what he was . . . and wasn't. . . doing. It was as if
he'd turned off part of his brain when he'd left Chicago and not turned it
back on until he'd seen Ray again.
Obviously it wasn't just
that Canadian clothing sizes were different from US ones, as he'd thought last
time he bought jeans. And when he'd asked Sally to order him two of the newer
style uniforms she must have . . . adjusted the measurements for him without
mentioning it. Face burning, he unfastened the jodhpurs and stripped them off,
changing into a comfortable pair of jeans, a henley, and a baggy sweater, and
headed back to the living room.
Ray was standing by the end table
holding the beer-bottle Fraser had emptied earlier, staring at it with a
slightly perplexed expression. When he saw Fraser, he put it down hastily.
"That a good brand?" he asked.
"It's decent," Fraser said. "Shall we
Ray nodded. "Yeah. I think we've got a lot of catching up to
Once outside, Fraser started to head in the direction of the blue
Ford rental parked at the curb, but he stopped short when Ray put a hand on
"Mind if we walk? After driving all day I'd like to
stretch my legs."
Fraser turned around slowly, unwilling, for some
reason, to lose the touch of Ray's hand against his arm. "Of course we'll
walk, Ray. I don't know what I was thinking." What had he been
thinking? Perhaps this unexpected visit still had him a bit off
Ray grinned. "Maybe seeing me, you just automatically think
about riding shotgun, like I'm a Rorschach test. See Ray, think car. Don't
know what that says about your psyche, but . . . ."
Fraser smiled back
at his former partner. "While I'd hardly characterize you as having any real
similarity to an ink blot, there may be something to your hypothesis."
They headed up the street, settling immediately - instinctively - into
the rhythm they'd grown accustomed to in Chicago. Fraser launched into a
running commentary about the prevailing theories of the function of free
association and its relationship to literary metonymy, but he was barely
conscious of the words coming out of his own mouth. Ray's presence had nothing
whatsoever to do with his inclination to drive instead of walk. Try as he
might, he couldn't remember the last time he'd actually chosen to leave his
pool car behind to reach any destination, even somewhere so ridiculously close
For God's sake; what must Ray be thinking of him? He
took a quick glance in his direction, hoping to ascertain, without being too
obvious, just how disappointed his old friend was with the state he'd let
himself get into. However, while Ray was looking directly at him - a
fact which, in itself, made him feel inexplicably awkward - the expression on
his face was neither chastening nor pitying. It was just -
Fraser's monologue tapered off as he tried to determine what
might have brought the broad smile to Ray's face. However, this just seemed to
increase the size of Ray's smile. His grin grew even wider, then he shook his
head and threw his arm around Fraser's
out of steam? Don't stop now - not while you're on a roll; I've missed this
He'd missed rambling discourses on language and psychology?
Surely that couldn't be what had made Ray look so joyful. He furrowed his brow
and inclined his head questioningly.
"Missed you," Ray said.
"It's been too long, you know?"
"I do, indeed," he replied, although it
surprised him a little to find that just being with him could still make Ray
this happy after a two-year hiatus, but he wasn't about to look that
particular gift horse in the mouth. He had missed Ray. Just how much
he'd missed him was only now beginning to become clear to him. Being with him
even for something so mundane as an early evening walk to a café, was bringing
him more pleasure than he could remember feeling in . . . well . . .
Then Ray's arm eased off his shoulder and moved down around his
waist. The gesture was casual, nothing that Ray hadn't done many times in the
past. However, the memory of the spare tire that had been reflected back in
the mirror when he'd had finally stopped to take a long, hard look at himself
made him stiffen and pull back slightly from Ray's touch.
his arm immediately and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Kind of chilly," he
"Yes, well, it is November, Ray," Fraser said. "How were the
roads? Had they been cleared after Wednesday's snow?"
"Yeah, mostly. There were a few scary spots, but I made it in one piece.
Anyway, who cared if there were a couple of bad patches on the drive, right? I
was on a mission."
"You were?" Fraser asked, interested. "What mission
would that be?"
Ray reached out as if he were going to ruffle Fraser's
hair, then let his hand fall, sighed and shook his head. "Coming here, Fraser.
Fortunately the chill air gave him an excuse for pink
cheeks, because his face felt remarkably warm. That warmth seemed to spread
inside a little, as well, easing coldness he hadn't been aware was there until
now. They reached Mathilde's and went inside. He was uncomfortably aware of
the eyes on them, Maude Johannsen's coterie in particular, but Ray didn't seem
at all put off by the curious glances he garnered. He just sat down in the
booth across from Fraser and grinned. "I take it you guys don't get a lot of
"Not at this time of year, no," Fraser admitted.
"Very few people come here after the first snow unless they have no choice.
I'm sure they're curious to see who would voluntarily make such a trek."
Ray grinned at him. "Well, I've always played by my own rules." He
fished his glasses out of his pocket and put them on, then picked up the menu
and studied it.
Fraser blinked. "New glasses, Ray?"
up at him and smiled ruefully. "Yeah. Even blinder than I used to be. I made
the mistake of taking Frannie with me to pick out frames and she talked me
Fraser studied the effect of the wire-framed lenses on
him, and smiled. "They're very fetching, Ray."
Ray snorted. "Fetching.
Yeah. So what's good here?"
"Everything, actually," Fraser said, oddly
reluctant to recommend any of his usual favorites. Just then Tilda came up to
the table, standing next to Ray, looking at him curiously for a moment before
she turned her gaze to Fraser.
"Well Corporal, what'll it be tonight?
Fraser thought about his uniform pants and shook his head.
"No, thank you Tilda, I believe I'll just have a green salad tonight. No
She frowned, studying him closely. "You taking sick there,
He flushed. "Not at all! I . . . ah . . . I ate
earlier," he lied. "But my friend had a long drive today and is in need of
"Is that right? Where'd you come in from, young man?"
Ray looked up from his menu, his eyes widening a little as he took in
the resplendence that was Mathilde. She was in pink tonight. Pink angora
sweater. Pink circle skirt. Pink artificial nails. Pink ankle strap platform
sandals. Pink cat's-eye glasses with rhinestones sparkling at each corner. Her
pink wig had been tormented into a four-inch beehive. Her vast, motherly bosom
and ample hips were swathed, as usual, in a pristine white apron which really
did not complement the outfit at all but no doubt saved a great deal on
Ray smiled, but it wasn't a mocking smile. "Drove
up from Saskatoon, ma'am. Today that is. Flew in from Chicago yesterday.
Escorting a prisoner."
Tilda pressed a hand to her chest. "A prisoner?
Ray laughed and shook his head. "Hardly. Not without
Fraser there, anyway. Things just haven't been the same since he's been gone."
"So you knew our Corporal Fraser in Chicago?" Tilda asked with a
pointed look at Fraser.
Fraser realized he'd been remiss and hastened
to correct it. "May I introduce my former partner, Ray Kowalski? Ray, this is
Mathilde Johannsen, the proprietor of this establishment."
call me Tilda," she said, putting out a hand, making it clear that Ray was not
to shake it. "Everyone around here does."
"It's a pleasure, Tilda," Ray
said, gamely kissing the air above her hand, then sitting back. "So, what do
"Well, everything's good, honey, but Benton here is
particularly partial to the chicken fried steak, with mashed potatoes and
"Yeah, huh? You in the mood for that tonight,
He was. Just the thought of Tilda's chicken fried steak was
making his mouth water, but he couldn't bring himself to order it. It might
taste wonderful but he was suddenly all too aware that not only had every
serving he'd eaten over the past two years contributed to his waistline, it
had probably lined his arteries as well. This was getting ridiculous.
Everywhere he turned this evening, there was another reminder of just how
oblivious he'd become to everything but his job.
Suddenly, Fraser wanted to
look anywhere but at Ray. He dropped his gaze until his eyes lit on the
menu. Just the thing. He reached across the table and slid it toward him. He
was fairly certain he had the selections memorized at this point, but he felt
a sudden need to raise some barrier between himself and Ray's gaze - and the
menu fulfilled that purpose admirably.
"Tilda serves rather generous
portions, Ray, but please order what you want. The steak is excellent. For my
part, perhaps I might try something new tonight." He scanned the items
quickly, almost desperately, for something he hadn't had. Cottage cheese?
Apparently he'd spoken those last words out loud, or so the looks of surprise
on Ray's and Tilda's faces would seem to indicate.
"You sure you're
feeling well, Corporal?" Tilda asked.
"Frase, I thought you hated
"Ah. Well, no. . . that is to say. . ." Not for the
first time this evening, Fraser found himself fumbling for words, but Ray's
timely interruption brought his struggle to a halt.
"Okay, that means
you still hate it." Ray grinned. "How about if we share the steak. We can do
that, right, Tilda?"
"Of course, honey." But then she frowned. "You
sure that's going to do you? You look like you could use a little more meat on
your bones, if you don't mind my saying so."
Ray laughed. "My mom
didn't call and tell you to say that, did she?"
"Your mother sounds
like a very sensible woman, Ray," Tilda sniffed. "You tell her I said so next
time you talk to her."
"I'll do that," Ray agreed, then turned back to
Fraser. "So we'll share the steak, yeah? What veggies come with that,
Fraser looked up in surprise; Raymond Kowalski was actually
asking for vegetables?
"We have corn, peas, carrots, or
"Um . . . Fraser?"
Okay. Yeah, that sounds good. The steak and two orders of . . . uh . . .
courgettes. That ought to do it."
"If you're both sure that's it."
Tilda didn't look convinced, but both men nodded. She finally shrugged and
smiled at them. "I'll just get your order started."
She patted Fraser's
shoulder, then started to walk toward the kitchen, pink skirt swaying from
side to side with each step. Halfway to the kitchen she stopped, looked over
her shoulder, and called out "Remember to save room for dessert, boys," before
winking at them, then disappearing behind the swinging saloon-style
Ray settled back in his seat. "Nice lady."
"She is, as is
her sister." Fraser nodded in the direction of Maude.
They're sisters?" He turned his head slightly to get a better look at the
foursome who were still playing bridge. "You're talking about the one by the
window? Wow! Maude's all kind of Chanel and pearls. And Tilda's so . . .
what's the word I'm looking for?"
"Heh." Ray laughed. "Sort of an understatement there, Fraser,
but it'll do."
"They are very different on the surface, Ray, but they
both have good hearts. The Johannsen sisters were the first to welcome me when
I began this posting. I really don't know what I would have . . . well, that's
Oh, just wonderful. A few seconds more and he'd have
been complaining to Ray about how few people had shown any interest in getting
acquainted with him when he first arrived. Or three months later. Or at all.
The arrival of dinner brought a halt to his self-indulgent train of
thought. Tilda had clearly decided that one already over-abundant meal
wouldn't suffice for two grown men, since the platter she placed in the middle
of the table contained twice the normal serving of food. She set a clean
dinner plate in front of each of them, and chuckled as Ray's eyes
"Now, are you sure I can't get you boys anything more
Ray glanced in Fraser's direction, silently mouthing the word
"I'm sure this will be more than adequate, Tilda," Fraser said.
"Thank you kindly."
"You're very welcome, Corporal. And if you want
anything else, all you have to do is ask."
After Tilda left the table,
Ray couldn't contain his laughter. "This is food for one? One
what? One Scout troop?"
"I did warn you the servings were rather
on the large side," Fraser said, feeling somewhat defensive.
did." Ray laughed again and shook his head. "Okay, let's give this a
He reached for one of the steak knives Tilda had placed next to
the platter and cut a substantial piece of meat and lifted it slightly. "This
okay for you?"
"You don't have to serve me, Ray. I'm perfectly capable
of getting my own food."
Before he'd even finished the sentence,
Fraser could feel himself start to blush for what must have been the tenth
time that day; it was all too apparent just how capable he was of feeding
himself. However, Ray didn't react to his words at all except to place the
food on his plate and start to cut a piece for himself
"Not exactly a
burden, you know, Fraser?" he said.
They began to eat. After a few
minutes, Tilda waved to them from across the room and raised her eyebrows in a
questioning manner, in answer to which Ray gave her a 'thumbs up.' Satisfied,
she returned her attention to another customer, which left Fraser and Ray free
to return to their conversation.
"So. . . what have you been up to
lately?" Fraser asked, trying to find an innocuous subject. "Are you seeing
Ray smiled a little, his gaze focused on something over
Fraser's left shoulder. "I'm kind of . . . between innings. You know how that
goes." He shrugged. "Sometimes the Crystal Palace or Red Dog doesn't turn your
crank any more and you want a little down time."
Fraser took a sip of
his tea to ease the tightness in his throat. It certainly sounded as if Ray
had quite a busy social life, if he was needing 'down time' from it. He
nodded, pretending he knew what it would be like to need that, and forged on,
trying again for a less painful subject. "Who's your partner these days?
Anyone I know?"
Ray looked at him blankly for a moment. "Partner? Oh,
um, well, I've kind of been working with Elaine lately."
Fraser asked, surprised. He must somehow have missed some important news. "I
didn't realize she'd been promoted to detective."
"Well, she hasn't
been, yet. Welsh figured I could . . . show her the ropes, so to speak." Ray
offered the boxing metaphor with a little smile.
choice," Fraser said smiling back. "And I'm sure your partner doesn't mind
sharing the caseload."
Ray coughed and concentrated on cutting a piece
of meat. "Yeah. Well, something like that. What about you? You got a faithful
sidekick up here?"
Fraser looked away. "As officer in charge I don't do
much fieldwork any more, and I don't really have a partner as
"Yeah, you're the boss, but you've got somebody you work with a
"I've worked with a variety of good officers in the past
two years," Fraser said.
Ray looked at him for a moment, then glanced
around the café, and then looked at Fraser again. Fraser could almost see him
analyzing the situation, his mind making connections, readying itself for one
of its illogical leaps. Sure enough, a moment later, Ray nodded.
to get people to stay here?" he asked.
Illogical, but stunningly
accurate. "As you say. Because of the location of the detachment, our turnover
rate is rather higher than we'd like."
Ray nodded. "Yeah. I figured
that. But you stay." There was a question implicit in his statement.
"I do. The people here deserve to have their needs seen
Ray frowned a little. Opened his mouth. Closed it. "Yeah. Yeah,
that's true. So you like it here?"
"It's a very pleasant place," Fraser
said equivocally. He certainly wasn't going to complain about the incredible
monotony while sitting within earshot of some of the biggest gossips in town.
"What about you? How are things in Chicago these days?" he asked, in a
somewhat desperate bid to focus Ray's attention elsewhere.
how it goes. It's a job, and you do what you gotta do. Work, work, work. Catch
bad guys. Fill out more paperwork than should be humanly possible. Like you
said, people deserve to have their needs seen to. It's a dirty job, but
somebody's got to do it." He grinned disarmingly with a slight shrug.
Fraser was pleased to hear that. He'd been concerned that Ray was
still feeling ambivalent about his career when he'd turned down a promotion
the previous year, but although he still tended to downplay his own role, it
seemed he was aware just how much of a difference he was making to the
city of Chicago and its inhabitants. He was, however, more interested in Ray's
life outside of work.
"Is there anyone new in your life?" he asked
Ray picked up his glass and took several swallows of his
water, then set it back down and wiped his mouth neatly with his napkin.
"Well, there's the two new guys who took over for Huey and Dewey. Danny Gamble
and Mark Proctor. They're pretty good guys. Neither of them smell like bacon
bits and fish, anyway, which is a big plus in my book. Elaine's back, but I
already mentioned that. We got this new aide - a guy. It's weird to have a
guy getting the files and stuff. I keep expecting Frannie and her
half-shirts, you know? Speaking of Frannie, she sent you this . . . ."
Ray dug in his wallet for a minute and handed Fraser a small photo of
Francesca with two babies. Fraser studied the photo, trying to see if he could
find a resemblance between the children and any of the adults he knew. He
couldn't. "They're very . . . ." He stopped, not quite sure what he ought to
"Generic?" Ray asked with a grin. "Yeah. Babies are, I've
noticed. All that stuff about 'oh, he looks just like his mommy' is kind of a
load of bullshit if you ask me. At least until they're old enough to not look
like Mr. Potato Head any more. But she's happy and that's all that matters,
"Indeed," Fraser said fervently, relieved that he didn't have
to find something vaguely complimentary to say.
"Excellent, dude!" Ray
said, drawling the word out.
Fraser snickered. "Would you be Bill, or
"I'm blond, that makes me Ted. You're stuck being Bill. Hey,
that's actually appropriate, since the actor's Canadian and all. Wait . . . ."
Ray stared at him, eyebrows lifting in exaggerated surprise. "You just
recognized a cultural reference more recent than 1950-something. What's going
"Satellite television," Fraser said ruefully. "I'm afraid
I've been corrupted."
Ray looked at him for a moment, and then pushed
his not-quite-empty plate to the side. "So, talk."
"I thought that's
what we've been doing."
"No, I've been running off at the mouth,
and you've been sitting there going 'ah' every so often to keep me yapping.
What about you? What have you been getting up to, work-wise or
Fraser leaned forward and speared a third piece of the
leftover steak. "Nothing so exciting as you've been engaged in, I promise you.
This is a rather small community, as I'm sure you've noticed, and very little
of a criminal nature occurs on a regular basis." He didn't want to admit that
most of his workload these days consisted of writing speeding tickets and
making drunk-driving arrests.
"Yeah, I get that," said Ray. "But
there's got to be something juicy. Come on, Fraser, give!"
there's nothing to tell," he said firmly, willing Ray to just let the subject
"Nah, I'm not buying it," Ray said, laughing. "You trying to
tell me crimes don't just come hopping into your lap, like they used to in
Chicago? Come on, come on, c'mon already. Start talking."
Ray, there is nothing to tell. Nothing! Don't you understand that, for
The vehemence with which Fraser spoke surprised even him.
Ray looked away for a moment, but then turned back toward Fraser with a
neutral expression on his face, apparently willing to pretend that he hadn't
just been snapped at by his friend for asking a perfectly reasonable
Maude's group wasn't quite so adept at pretense. All four
women had turned toward the unlikely sound of his raised voice, and they were
still gazing with some interest in his direction.
Fraser closed his
eyes and dropped his head slightly. "God, Ray. I'm sorry."
then gave a quick little nod. "What-say we pay the bill and head back to your
place? We'll make some tea, you can open your presents, then maybe we can get
some sleep. That sound good?"
Fraser just nodded, not trusting himself
to say more. Mortified didn't even begin to cover the way he was feeling at
Ray glanced quickly around the room. With a quick glance of
his own, Fraser noticed with relief that only Old Man Fitzhugh, a fixture at
the luncheon counter since Mathilde's first opened for business, was still
staring at them with rapt interest, but the smack Tilda applied to the back of
his head as she walked past was enough encouragement for him to return his
attention to the slice of apple pie cooling in front of him.
approached, a large white paper bag in her hand, as they slid out from the
booth. Fraser looked down, then rubbed a finger across his eyebrow before
hesitantly starting to speak.
"Tilda, I'm . . . I'm really terribly
sorry if I caused a scene, and if . . . ."
"There's no scene here,
Benton Fraser," she interrupted, removing her glasses and letting them dangle
from the pink mother-of-pearl chain she wore around her neck. "Just another
quiet Saturday night as far as I can tell."
Fraser might have argued the
point, but Tilda raised her eyebrows at him in a quelling manner strangely
reminiscent of his grandmother, and the rest of his apology died on his
Ray looked back and forth between the two of them, then reached
into his pocket for his wallet, but Tilda laid her hand on his forearm. "Don't
you worry any about the bill, Ray. Benton here has an account."
took the bag she'd brought out from the kitchen and placed it in Ray's hands.
"I'm not letting you boys rush out of here and miss the best part of the meal,
so I've wrapped up what's left of tonight's special dessert in case either of
you get peckish later on. It's your favorite, Benton, the flan tart with mixed
Fraser began to protest, but Tilda waved off his objections.
"You'd be doing me a favor. There's not much call for adventurous cooking
around these parts, and you know how I hate to see good food go to waste."
"Yes, ma'am," Fraser acquiesced with a wry smile at Ray.
was chuckling as they walked out of the restaurant. After they were about
halfway down the walk, he said, "Man, I'd put on those pounds my mom is always
after me about if I lived here."
Fraser felt his face go hot and looked
down, clearing his throat. "Yes, well, she's an excellent cook."
was quiet for a moment. "Frase . . . I didn't mean . . . ."
all right, Ray."
Ray looked at him assessingly. "Kind of snuck up on
Fraser shrugged, still not looking directly at his friend,
as they turned up the path to his house. "More like ambushed in a dark alley
and taken prisoner," he muttered.
Whatever Ray might have replied was
lost as he unlocked the door, and Diefenbaker ran outside and jumped up on
Ray, barking enthusiastically.
"Jeez, what's up with you!" Ray said,
wiping wolf spit off his face with his free hand. "Didn't we get the slobber
part of the reunion out of the way a couple hours ago?"
Fraser took the
bag in one hand, simultaneously pushing Diefenbaker down with the other.
"Diefenbaker! Get off Ray! It's not a wolf bag, after all."
way inside, Fraser took some paper napkins from a stack sitting on the coffee
table in the living room, and brought them over to Ray. "I'm afraid this
display has rather less to do with Diefenbaker's admitted fondness for you
than for the bag Tilda pressed on us as we were leaving."
barked again, this time at Fraser.
"Well, you should have thought of
that before the incident that got you banned from Mathilde's. If you're still
hungry, why don't you take yourself outside and hunt for something, or have
you somehow forgotten you're a wolf?"
Diefenbaker took one last wistful
look at the tantalizing bag, then trotted to the open door, deliberately
stepping on Fraser's foot as he passed.
Ray snickered. "Dief's the same
"Perhaps," said Fraser, carrying the bag into the kitchen.
"Or perhaps he's just taken a cue from me and has foregone all efforts at self
control," he muttered to himself.
Setting the bag on the kitchen
counter, he had only managed to turn halfway around before a sudden odd
feeling came over him. He wasn't sure whether what he was feeling was anxiety
or exhaustion or some other wholly unidentifiable sensation, but whatever it
was, it seemed to have robbed him for the moment of the ability to
He leaned on the counter, hands pressed heavily against the
beige-tiled surface, and stared blankly into the stainless steel sink. He
could hear a faint inner voice - a particularly irritating inner voice -
telling him that he had company and that Ray must surely be wondering why he
was taking so long, but for once, politeness gave way in the face of this
sudden and inexplicable paralysis.
It was tempting to stay in the
kitchen rather than return to the living room and face whatever probably
unanswerable questions Ray was sure to have for him. Though of course, staying
would be only a temporary shelter at best, since Ray would soon come looking
for him. He rejected, outright, the third option - that of slipping out the
kitchen door and into the night - as too melodramatic by far. He snorted,
briefly amused at himself. As if he wasn't already being incredibly
melodramatic. Self-indulgent. Ridiculous. Unfortunately even that realization
didn't bring him any closer to stepping away from the counter.
decision of what to do next was taken out of his hands in the next moment when
Ray walked into the kitchen, boot heels making a hollow sound on the scuffed
"You making tea, Fraser? Because I wouldn't mind a cup
if you are."
Automatically, Fraser reached for the kettle on the back
burner and started to fill it from a blue jug of filtered water.
where can I dump this stuff?"
He turned around to find Ray standing in
the middle of the room, holding up two empty beer bottles in his right hand
and with an old pizza delivery box tucked under his left arm.
a recycling bin," Fraser said, indicating the hutch to the right of the back
door. "And the container beside it is for the . . . um . . . cardboard
Ray placed the bottles carefully on top of the pile of glass and
metal, then turned back to Fraser. "What about garbage? There's something kind
of curly and green here that might have actually been food at one point,
although I wouldn't bet on it.
He lifted the lid of the box, and Fraser
peered inside. "Ah. Yes, that once was something much like food. Anchovy and
pineapple pizza, to be precise. The garbage can is under the counter there.
Dief has a regrettable tendency to get into it if I leave it out."
guess Dief has more sense than to eat anchovy and pineapple pizza, huh?" Ray
said, making a face as he tipped the greenish slice into the garbage can and
slammed the lid shut, then stuffed the box in the bin. "What made you order
something that disgusting?"
He paused for a moment, and then as
happened all too frequently when he was around Ray, his id took control of his
vocal cords. "I was homesick, Ray."
"Yeah?" Ray said, cocking his head
to one side. "You got a lot of anchovies and pineapples up in the
"In point of fact, no. As I'm sure you're aware, pineapples are
found primarily in tropical regions, and although the north has been
experiencing a particularly mild . . . ."
leaned back against the edge of the sink and crossed his arms over his chest.
"I was homesick for . . . Chicago."
Ray didn't say anything right away,
and Fraser began to get a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He could
remember quite vividly standing on a frozen reservoir in Chicago and sharing
his feeling of homesickness with Ray. That uncharacteristic admission had been
followed almost immediately by a chain of events that had all but ripped his
world apart. Ordinarily, he wasn't a superstitious man, but he worried for a
moment that the simple act of putting a name to part of what was churning away
inside would draw unwanted attention from the universe.
time there was no dead body being pulled up from a hole in the ice. There was
only Ray, nodding slowly, then reaching over to touch Fraser's arm briefly.
"Yeah, I get that. I think I get that. Me, I've been drinking enough
tea over the past couple years to float a caribou."
do you want to start? Biggest to smallest, or smallest to biggest, or just
random, or maybe alphabetical order?" Ray asked after they had settled onto
the couch with mugs of tea.
"Your presents," Ray
said, nodding at the assortment of parcels leaned against the far wall. "What
do you want to open first?"
He looked at the packages, and felt an odd
warmth in his chest, and a tightness in the back of his throat. "I . . . why
don't you choose for me, Ray?" he said quietly.
Ray looked at him, then
at the packages, and nodded. "Sure. Sure, I can do that." He went over and
started dragging things over to the coffee table, handing Fraser a
light-weight box wrapped in what appeared to be the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday
comics from the previous week. "This one's from Welsh."
open the wrapping, and opening the box, lifted out a dark blue baseball cap
with the words 'Chicago Police Department' blazoned across it.
said that was to remind you of auld lang syne," Ray said. "And that I was
supposed to tell you that any time you want to come back and liaise, you'd be
more than welcome."
"That's very kind of him," Fraser said, pretending
to study the cap closely so Ray wouldn't notice he was blinking rapidly.
"Kind, hell! More like self interest. Our solve rate's gone way down
since you left. This is from Mort."
This time the wrapping was a large,
blue, felt-like disposable towel of the type often used in the morgue, taped
down with surgical tape. Inside were three books. "Criminal Poisoning: An
Investigational Guide for Law Enforcement, Toxicologists, Forensic Scientists,
and Attorneys; The Poisons and Antidotes Sourcebook; and Dead
Reckoning The Art of Forensic Detection," he read out. "I'm sure these
will be extraordinarily useful should we ever have a murder to investigate,"
he said drily.
Ray cocked his head. "You almost sound like you'd like
"Of course not!" Fraser exclaimed, horrified. "It's just . . .
well, the closest anything's come to requiring actual police work in months
was when a fire broke out at Stevensen's Art Supply three days ago. However,
Constable Zhertak's preliminary report indicates that all available evidence
points to this being nothing more than an unfortunate accident."
leaned back against the couch and studied him with narrowed eyes. "But you
don't think so, do you?"
Fraser shrugged. "No. However, I'm not sure I
can justify reallocating human resources based on what's really nothing more
than a hunch on my part."
"You've got a hunch about
"So it would appear."
"Jeez, go for it then! What the
hell else has anybody got going on? Your Mounties too busy judging quilting
"No, not this month. The quilting competition isn't
until January." Fraser said, deadpan. For a moment he saw outrage start to
spread over Ray's face, and then he suddenly looked at Fraser keenly. Fraser
couldn't keep a corner of his mouth from twitching upward, and Ray shook his
"You almost had me there! Good one. Okay, seriously.
Would it hurt to do some checking? It's not like you to just let it go. What
triggered your hunch?"
"I'm . . . not sure," he said, closing his eyes
for a moment, trying to identify what it was that had made him suspicious. He
remembered Constable Zhertak standing in his office, having come straight from
the scene, discussing the probable cause. There had been something . . .
something . . . . He found himself inhaling deeply, searching for a long-gone
scent. "A smell. There was an odd scent lingering on Constable Zhertak's
"Accelerant?" Ray asked quickly.
"Possibly. In all honesty I can't remember exactly what it was, just that it
seemed both familiar and out of place."
"Then you've got to check it
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt."
Ray nodded. "Yeah. Never
hurts to check. Okay, so, next up, Elaine sent you this." He handed Fraser a
small, flat parcel.
Fraser tore open the handsome gold gift-wrap to
find . . . "A first-aid kit?"
"There's a card, I think," Ray said,
"So there is." Opening the card tucked into the small case he
started to smile. "'If you get beaten up in Canada anywhere near as often as
you did in Chicago, this will come in handy. Love, Elaine.'" His throat wanted
to close up, and he had to clear it. "How thoughtful of her."
a nice girl. Woman, I mean," Ray amended sheepishly. "Anyway. Want the big one
now?" At Fraser's nod, Ray handed over a large, soft, parcel wrapped in a
white plastic garbage bag that smelled faintly of baby powder.
Francesca?" Ray nodded, and Fraser undid the twist-tie that held the bag
closed and pulled out a large afghan blanket. It was knitted in a sort of
mottled shade of green, not very expertly, and was distinctly lop-sided. He
noticed that there was some sort of pattern on it in brown yarn, and shook it
out to try and determine what it was. After a moment he looked back at Ray,
somewhat perplexed. "A . . . dog? With horns?"
Ray laughed. "That's
what I thought, too. She poked me with her knitting needles and informed me
that it was a moose."
Fraser looked at it again, trying gamely to see
the correct animal. Dief whined. Fraser choked back a laugh. "No, Diefenbaker,
I promise I won't tie antlers to your head."
Dief made a
satisfied-sounding noise. Ray handed Fraser a small, cylindrical package.
"This one's from Huey and Dewey. Along with free passes to the comedy
club if you're ever in town."
Fraser opened the package and looked at
the can in his hand somewhat perplexed. "Mixed nuts?"
"It's probably their way of describing themselves." He looked at the can. "Any
cashews in there?"
Fraser automatically began unscrewing the lid to
check, and then as he removed it, he gasped in surprise as three long, narrow
snakes leapt out of the can and writhed on the floor. It took him only a
moment to realize he'd been taken in by the gag-gift, but Diefenbaker leapt
up, snarling and barking and pounced on one of the 'threatening creatures' and
shook it madly in his jaws, only to stop suddenly with a perplexed look on his
face and let the mouthful of fabric and spring-steel fall to the ground.
By that point Ray was laughing hysterically, and Fraser couldn't help
but do so as well. After several moments they finally managed to control
themselves, aided by gulps of cooling tea, though Fraser found himself
giggling again as Dief gave an offended whuff and turned his back to them.
"Think he'll ever forgive us?" Ray whispered.
Huey and Dewey, never," Fraser whispered back. "I'll have to get him a treat
tomorrow to make it up to him."
Ray clapped his hand to his forehead.
"Treats! Duh! Frannie sent a care package of treats and toys for him, but I
forgot it out in the car, sorry. I'll go get it."
He returned moments
later with two boxes. One he put down on the floor with a grin. "Go for it,
guy," he said as Dief started to rip and tear at the wrapping, then he turned
to Fraser, holding out the second box. "This is from me," he said, quickly,
shoving the box toward Fraser with a slight flush on his face.
took the box. The paper was scarlet. The color of his dress uniform tunic. He
tried not to think about that as he opened it, carefully. And stared at what
the paper had hidden. "Ray!"
Ray looked at him with an odd smile. "It's
a GPS. I, um, saw it in the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog and thought of you.
This way you always know where you are, even if there's no sun or stars to
look at to find your way."
Looking down at the GPS in his hands, he
knew Ray was waiting for a response, would surely believe his present had been
unwelcome if he remained silent, but he was unable to speak. He couldn't find
the words to express just how apt this gift was, how greatly he was in need of
. . . something just like this.
The uncomfortable silence continued. He
knew that if he were to turn and look at Ray's face right now, he'd see
nothing but concern there, but that was the last thing he wanted to see. For
God's sake. Five hours since Ray had shown up on his doorstep, and he'd done
little but act like he was brain-damaged, making the possibility of them
having the kind of reunion he'd sometimes allowed himself to fantasize about
over the years even less likely to occur, assuming 'less likely than no chance
at all' was even a valid category.
He rubbed his thumbs along the edge
of the unit, noting its similarity in size and weight to the television remote
control which was buried somewhere amidst the stack of old newspapers. Beside
him, Ray began to tap his fingers impatiently along the edge of his mug, but
he didn't speak, giving Fraser more time to say something. His continued
silence was ridiculous. Surely a simple acknowledgment, some indication of how
much he truly appreciated these gifts - Ray's in particular - wasn't beyond
"Thank you," he finally said, still looking down,
appalled at the difficulty he'd had with even such a punctilious expression of
gratitude. "It's all . . . it's wonderful, Ray. This
"Yeah? " Ray said, sounding for all the world like he did
right before he started to lay into someone in an interrogation. "'Cause if
you're just saying that to be polite, I could take this back where I got it
and maybe get you a miniature inukshuk from the airport
Fraser glanced up at Ray and saw the grin on his friend's
face. He tried to respond in kind, to make something about the day seem
normal, but the small laugh he attempted sounded harsh even to his own ears.
Choked. Almost a . . . sob. He swallowed once, hard, driving the unnervingly
intense emotion back down inside.
Then, unexpectedly, he felt the touch
of Ray's hand against the back of his neck, and he was almost undone. He
squeezed his eyes tightly and dropped his head again, hoping as he had when he
was just a small child that if he closed his eyes, he would become
More silence, then Ray spoke. Softly. Almost tenderly.
"Things aren't going so great here, are they, buddy?"
half-laugh, half-sob. "What makes you think that?"
"Call it a hunch,"
Ray said, even more gently, his hand rubbing the back of Fraser's neck in a
"You, ah . . . ." Fraser cleared his throat, still
unable to look at Ray. "You've always had amazingly accurate
"Yeah," Ray said simply. "You want to talk about
He shook his head, fast, and firmly. "No."
"No?" Ray asked,
not sounding shocked, or angry, but only as if he wanted to be
"No, not . . . yet."
Fraser felt rather than saw Ray nod.
"Yeah. Okay. Not a problem." He sat quietly for a moment, and then
yawned, stretching ostentatiously. "What say maybe we turn in early? I'm
pretty tired from the drive. Funny how just sitting in one place all day can
wear you out."
Fraser snorted. "Yes. Yes, it is. Let me show you where
the bathroom is, and you can wash up."
"Sold!" Ray said, standing up
and lifting the smaller of his travel bags. "Think I could take a shower? It'd
be nice to get some of the road-dirt off."
"Certainly," Fraser said,
trying with a vague frisson of panic to remember when the last time he'd
cleaned the bathroom was. Last week, after bathing Dief. Right. Okay. It
should be livable. He had the uncomfortable sensation that his grandmother's
ghost was standing at his shoulder glowering at him. Fortunately, unlike her,
Ray wasn't known for excessive fussiness. It suddenly dawned on him that he
also needed to change the bed linens, and he was so rattled that he suddenly
had absolutely no idea if he even had any clean sheets, or if his extra
set was wadded up in the laundry basket. With some trepidation he opened the
linen closet to get Ray a towel, and was relieved to see his spare sheets
folded and on the shelf, thank God.
As soon as Ray was safely
ensconced in the bathroom, he dashed back to the linen closet to get the fresh
sheets and quickly made the bed. He wasn't able to find any clean pillowcases,
but after a careful inspection of his pillows, he concluded that the lower one
was spotless and perfectly acceptable for a guest's use. Once the bed was
made, he straightened up the rest of his room a little. Fortunately it was
already neater than the living room, where he spent most of his time, and ate
most of his meals. He then retrieved Ray's second bag and placed it at the
foot of the bed. With a quick look around, he decided that the room would do,
and headed out to get their mugs and take them to the kitchen to clean up. He
put them in the sink, with the other dishes that had accumulated since the
Shaking his head, he grabbed the dishwashing soap and
turned on the hot water. A moment later, a startled yelp from the direction of
the bathroom made him shut the water off just as quickly and dash across the
house to the bathroom door.
"Ray?" he called out.
There was no
answer, though he could hear the sound of the shower. For a moment he
hesitated, but the lack of response overruled his natural reserve. With a
perfunctory knock he opened the door. The bathroom was full of steam, the
shower was still running. There was no answer from behind the navy blue shower
"Ray?" He said, a little louder, a little more concerned.
To his relief, at the third repetition the curtain opened and
Ray looked out, wet, soapy, and puzzled. "What's up, Fraser?"
"You . .
. ah, yelped. I was concerned."
Ray smiled. "Yeah, I did. Sorry, I
didn't know you could hear me. The water went cold for a minute there and I
just about froze my nuts off before it decided to be hot again. I forgot that
the plumbing in old houses sometimes does that. Don't worry, I'm
"I'm terribly sorry," Fraser said, feeling his face heat as he
realized he'd been responsible for the sudden change in water temperature.
Living alone, he was no longer used to having to think of such things. "I
thoughtlessly ran water in the kitchen."
Ray shrugged, and smiled. "No
problem. Wasn't the first time I've had a cold shower, probably won't be the
last," he said with a wink, pulling the curtain back into place.
stood for a moment longer, staring at the space where Ray had just been,
seeing not the embossed stripes of the blue vinyl curtain, but instead Ray's
wet, naked body. He certainly seemed very fine. Fit. He meant fit.
Very. Fit. He shook his head, frowning, as he pulled the door closed and went
back to the kitchen to see if there was enough water in the sink to at least
wash the dishes. He could rinse them after Ray finished. And doing dishes
should keep his mind from straying to inappropriate paths.
finished the dishes and was wiping crumbs and old cooking-spills from the
counters when Ray emerged fifteen minutes later, clad in a pair of gray
sweatpants and a t-shirt, his hair towel-dried into a wild tangle.
"So, uh, where am I sleeping?" he asked, rubbing the back of his neck
with one hand and yawning widely.
"I have the room all ready for you,"
Fraser said, rinsing the sponge under the tap and drying his hands. "I took
the liberty of putting your bag in there already."
"You didn't have to
do that," Ray said. "But thanks. Lead on, Macbeth."
resisted correcting him, and led him past the still-steamy bathroom to his own
room. "Here you are."
Ray looked around, then looked at Fraser. "Never
thought I'd see you with an actual guest room. Guess you figured Maggie'd need
a place to stay when she comes to visit, huh?"
Fraser nodded. He knew
Ray well enough to know he'd have a fight on his hands if he told him whose
room it was. And in any case, he would have put Maggie in his room had
her visit actually occurred, so it wasn't a lie. Not really. "Sleep well, Ray.
I'll see you in the morning."
Ray nodded and headed for the bed, then
stopped and looked back at him. "You turning in?"
"Not just yet,"
Fraser said. "It's a bit early for me, though I understand that between the
drive, and the time difference you're quite worn-out."
"You sure you
don't want me to stay up?" Ray offered, a faint frown creasing his forehead.
"Because I could. Just give me some coffee."
"I'm sure, Ray. We'll have
plenty of time to talk once you're rested. And in any case, there's a hockey
Ray grinned. "Oh, well, why didn't you say so? I mean, hockey
being the national religion and all, I wouldn't want to keep you from
attending services. Night, then. See you in the morning."
and left, closing the door quietly behind himself. He could hear the faint
creak of the bed as Ray got into it. He stood there in the hall for a moment,
eyes closed, then sighed soundlessly and headed back to the living room. He
turned on the television, found the game, and turned the sound down most of
the way, but not so far that Ray couldn't hear it a little. He remembered that
when he'd first moved to town, the intense quiet of the nights after years in
Chicago had made it somewhat difficult to get to sleep. Hopefully the sound of
the television would act as white noise for Ray.
Half an hour later he
found himself yawning, despite the excitement of the play. The game was on
tape delay, and he had inadvertently learned the final outcome when he
switched channels during the first intermission. Not even Jarome Iginla's
sparkling play this evening could make up for his knowledge that Calgary's
defeat was already assured. He got up and went into the bathroom, brushed his
teeth, and relieved himself. As he started to step out of his jeans so he
could change, he belatedly realized that he had failed to get a blanket, or
anything else to wear from his room before putting Ray to bed in
"Proper preparation my ass," he muttered under his breath. It
looked as if he was going to spend the night on the couch in his clothes.
Without a blanket. With a sigh he turned off the television, took off his
shoes and stretched out on the couch, using one of the arm-cushions for a
pillow. He had to tuck his knees up a bit, since it wasn't a particularly long
couch. It was also rather too narrow for a grown man. An all too grown
God. How could he have let this happen? He thought about Ray, who
seemed to be happy, healthy, and enjoying his life, and it was obvious that
he'd somehow let his own life slip out of his control. It shocked him to
realize that. How had he let himself get so. . . isolated? Why hadn't he
noticed, for God's sake? He rubbed his thumb across the bridge of his nose and
shivered a little. The house seemed strangely chilly, but he could hear the
furnace running so he knew it was on. He hoped Ray was warm enough.
was strange how alone he could feel with someone else in the house. Unbidden,
he remembered sleeping with Ray night after night under the white dome of a
tent as they meandered across the arctic in search of a myth. Remembered
sleeping with Ray in a hammock on a frozen cliff, in bedrolls in a female
suspect's back yard, in twin berths on a ship in the Great Lakes, and in an
unfurnished apartment in Chicago as they guarded a gentle, exploited savant.
Never before had there been a closed door between them. That seemed, somehow,
to symbolize everything that had gone wrong in his life since he'd left
Chicago behind. Since he'd closed that door.
Heat burned in his eyes,
stung his nose, tightened his throat, and he spread his hand across his face,
as if that could contain his pain. After a few moments he felt something nudge
his hand, heard a soft whine, and smelled slightly-stale breath. He lowered
his hand to find Dief staring at him, for once not looking superior, or
disdainful, but with real concern and affection in his eyes. He had something
trailing from his mouth, and after a moment Fraser couldn't help but give a
choked-off laugh as he realized that Dief had brought over the hideous afghan
that Francesca had made for him.
"Thank you," he said softly as he
pulled the afghan over himself.
Dief whuffed, and lay down next to the
couch, his head just within reach of Fraser's hand. Taking the hint, Fraser
reached down and ruffled his fingers through Dief's thick fur, and scratched
* * *
The first time Ray awoke, it was to the kind of
darkness and silence that he hadn't encountered since his travels in the far
north. Way warmer though, he thought contentedly, nestling beneath the down
comforter and slipped back off to sleep. The second time he woke, the house
was still quiet, but the weak morning sunlight had finally started to push its
way in through the bedroom windows.
He reached over to the bedside
table for his glasses, and took a look at the alarm clock. Eight-thirty? That
would be . . . ten-thirty, his time. Man, he hadn't slept this late in months.
Knowing Fraser, he'd already been up for hours, keeping quiet for his sake.
Well, no reason that he had to tiptoe around in his own house. Now that Ray
was really awake, there was no reason to stay in bed . . . except that he was
really kind of liking the whole idea of being in Fraser's bed.
something they were going to need to talk about if he could ever force himself
to leave the warmth of the bed and get up and dressed for the day. No way was
this a guest room, not unless all Fraser's houseguests smelled exactly like
him. It was probably weird to be able to pick your ex-partner out of a line-up
by smell alone, but he'd had an intensive training period. First there had
been the Quest. Spending that much time in close-quarters with someone who
didn't have regular bathing opportunities tended to make you pretty familiar
with the way he smelled.
Then, as soon as they'd returned from their
adventure, Ray had helped Fraser get himself sorted out for his move to
Saskatchewan. It all happened pretty fast. Too fast for Ray to get around to
unpacking his own things from the trip. Or maybe not too fast, exactly. Ray
just hadn't wanted to unpack, hadn't wanted to put that particular experience
in one of those boxes marked 'done' he seemed to have been collecting over the
After Fraser had left town for good, though, there really wasn't
any good reason to keep a set of duffle bags packed and ready by the front
door. He started to unpack and then about halfway through the first bag, he
came across one of Fraser's henleys crammed in with his own things. He was
about to throw it into the laundry pile with the rest of his clothes, but as
he took it out of the bag, the lingering scent of Fraser on the shirt
triggered such a feeling of loneliness in him - an almost physical hunger for
his friend - that he couldn't bring himself to wash the damned thing and
remove what seemed to be the last link between the two of them.
henley sat draped over a chair in the bedroom for a few days, but one night
after an absolutely crap day when he was really missing Fraser, he took the
shirt to bed with him and wrapped it around his pillow before going to sleep.
Totally adolescent move, but it helped a little. Made him feel not quite so
alone. A few days later, jerking off with his face buried in that
shirt-wrapped pillow, he realized that his behavior was a little obsessive
even for him, so he'd tossed the shirt in the hamper, but he was never going
to forget that Fraser scent. No way did he want to, either.
wallowed for another minute. Turned his face into the pillow and inhaled
deeply. Yeah, that was Fraser all right. He felt like he'd come home or
something. Yeah. That was it. That was the thing that had been off, been
missing, for two years. He was supposed to be with Fraser. Or Fraser
was supposed to be with him. Either way, same thing. They weren't supposed to
be in different places, damn it.
He took another sniff, pulling the
pillow into his arms, nuzzling it a little, feeling that early-morning
wanna-get-off kind of glow starting, and . . . oohkay. No. That was kind of a
wrong thing to be feeling while sniffing Fraser's pillow. A little too
enthusiastic. Fraser would probably not appreciate having to do that kind of
laundry. He guessed that was his body's way of saying 'hey, been too long!'
Maybe he should do something about that later in the shower.
of Fraser, what kind of nitwit put the guest in his own bed? Freak. He'd
probably figured that Ray wouldn't have taken the bed if he'd known it was
his, and he was right about that. Or at least he wouldn't have taken it all by
himself. But no matter how long Fraser droned on about politeness and
etiquette and whatever the hell else, he wasn't putting Fraser out of his bed
tonight. How bad could the other room be?
He threw the covers off and
sat up, planted his feet firmly on the floor, then took off his glasses for a
second and scrubbed his face with the flat of his palm. He put his glasses
back on and then took a pair of sweat pants from his bag and tugged them up
over his hips, pulled on a sweatshirt, and opened the bedroom door.
stood in the narrow hallway for a few seconds, listening for a sign that
Fraser was up and about. Apart from the soft hum of the furnace, the house was
still quiet. Not even a sound from the wolf, which maybe meant that Fraser'd
taken Dief out for a walk or something.
Ray glanced at the closed door
on the other side of the hallway. The real guest room. He shook his head and
sighed. Maybe he should just move his stuff over there now. Make it harder for
Fraser to raise any dumb objections later on. He walked the few steps
separating the two rooms and turned the door knob.
Okay. He knew Fraser
was used to roughing it, but this was nutty.
The room was cold from
being closed up, and there wasn't a stick of furniture in it. The only things
in the room, in fact, were a few cardboard boxes and the arctic camping gear
they'd used on their trip. Nothing else, not even a bedroll on the floor, so
he was pretty sure Fraser hadn't slept in here last night.
out into the living room. The first thing he saw was Dief, sprawled out on the
rug, with a single open eye fixed on him.
"Hey, boy," he said quietly.
"Where's our Mountie?"
Apparently not willing to move any more than
necessary, Dief glanced to one side and made a sound that was almost a moan,
and Ray followed the direction of his gaze.
Fraser. Still fast asleep
on a couch that looked to be at least a half foot too short for him. He had
his face half buried under his right arm, probably to block the light. Ray
noticed yet again that his hair was longer than he'd ever worn it in Chicago.
At the moment it was a tousled mess - covering his forehead, curling around
his ears and the back of his neck. He nearly reached out to smooth it back to
a more familiar configuration, then realized what he was doing and stopped.
As he watched, Fraser shifted a little uncomfortably in his sleep.
Looked like he was shivering a little, too, except the thought of any
conditions being too cold for Fraser short of a full-scale blizzard or a dunk
in the Beaufort Sea was almost too weird for him to contemplate. But . . .
people change. Or maybe he never really had been that impervious to cold, just
damned good at ignoring it.
The slight trembling continued. Ray could
see that Fraser's sweatshirt had hiked halfway up his chest sometime during
the night, exposing pale, smooth skin all the way around. His left arm was
curled protectively around his stomach, as if he were trying to warm himself.
He took a step closer and saw that the goofy-looking moose afghan Frannie had
made for him lay crumpled on the floor next to the couch. Okay, the least he
could do was cover him up a little.
He knelt down and lifted the afghan
off the floor, rested it on his knee, and sighed. He hadn't disregarded
anything Fraser had said - or half-said - the night before. Fraser was
unhappy. Really unhappy. And he felt rotten that Fraser was feeling so bad
about his life and hadn't been able to say anything to Ray about it before
this. But none of that altered the fact that all he wanted to freaking
do was just stand here and look. Just like he'd been wanting to do for the
past two years.
And changes or no changes, looking at Fraser made him
feel . . . good. He was feeling that same spreading warmth he'd felt a few
minutes earlier while snuggling Fraser's pillow, that groin-tightening,
skin-flushing tingle. Suddenly it hit him. He dropped the afghan again
and found himself staring at Fraser open-mouthed. This wasn't just a generic,
horndog urge to get his rocks off first thing in the morning. This was
directly related to his feelings for Fraser.
How could he not
have known . . . this? He knew he'd missed Fraser. Missed him every damned
day. He honestly couldn't remember a day going by in the past two years that
he hadn't thought of Fraser at least once. Kind of like the way he used to
think about Stella. Or maybe exactly like that.
Holy shit. Considering
all of the frickin' clues he'd had staring him in the face, how could it have
taken him this long to put all the pieces together? Some detective he was.
For God's sake, he'd slept with Fraser's shirt wrapped around his pillow, and
he'd gotten turned on! What was that? Just some giant coincidence? How
could he have not figured out that something more than missing his partner was
going on? What kind of a moron was he?
He guessed he was just so used
to thinking of Fraser as his friend and partner that the other stuff had kind
of slipped in under his radar. Thinking that took a little of the 'hey
stupid!' sting away, in any case. He shook his head, then stood up. Okay.
Afghan. Feed the wolf. Make coffee. Worry about the rest of this
Easier said than done. He laid the afghan over Fraser and
automatically started to tuck it around him a little, but when his fingertips
brushed against Fraser's side . . . God, that was enough to put all thoughts
of fixing breakfast for the wolf on the back burner, at least for the time
Connection. Warmth. Fraser's skin against his own. Whatever it
was that was feeling so good here, he wanted more of it. He spread his fingers
on Fraser's side, slowly. Told himself it would only be for a second or two,
no longer than it would take to feel the rise and fall of Fraser's breath just
once. But the second or two became a minute, and that minute showed no sign of
ending, and Ray was still kneeling on the rug watching him sleep when Fraser
blinked his eyes once and was suddenly - immediately - awake.
small frown creased his brow. "Is something wrong?"
Ray yanked his hand
away, wondering what Fraser would say if he replied, 'yeah, your ex-partner's
gone completely insane.' "No, no problem. I was just . . . um . . . the
afghan. It'd fallen on the floor, so . . . ."
"Ah, I see. Thank you
then." Fraser looked around, and his eyes widened suddenly. "Good lord, Ray! I
had no idea it was so late!" he said, sitting up, the afghan falling off again
as he scrubbed his hands over his face and through his hair, leaving it
looking kind of surprised.
Ray shook his head. "I just got up myself,
Fraser, don't worry about it. I was just going to go see if you had any
coffee, and maybe feed Dief."
"You certainly don't have to take care of
Diefenbaker for me, and I do have coffee on hand, if you don't mind
"Have I ever minded instant?" Ray asked. "So long as you've
got sugar, I'm good."
"Not a problem." Fraser stood up and headed for
the kitchen. Ray, following, couldn't help but notice the rear view, which
he'd once overheard Frannie raving about as 'one of the greatest tushes on
earth.' Yeah. Soft. Round. Grab-able. He shook his head,
"Something amusing, Ray?" Fraser asked, glancing back at
"Huh? Uh, no. Just . . . happy to be here."
That drew a
smile, a slightly embarrassed one, but a smile. It was nice to see. Fraser got
out the jar of coffee, and then picked up the teakettle and emptied it,
refilling it with fresh water before putting it on the stove.
water coming up," he said as he reached to turn the burner on, he paused for a
moment and looked at his sink, and then back at Ray with a tiny smile. "Unless
you'd rather just use the tap?"
Ray laughed. "Nah, not today. I'll
wait for the real stuff." He glanced around. "What have you got around here
Fraser hesitated for a moment. "Well, I'm afraid that
you've caught me slightly understocked. I had planned to do some grocery
"No problem," Ray said. "I know I surprised you so
beggars can't be choosers." He suddenly remembered the tart they'd brought
home from Mathilde's last night, and looked around for it. It wasn't on the
counter. Of course it wasn't. It was in the fridge. He swung open the
refrigerator door and surveyed the fairly pitiful contents of Fraser's
He wasn't kidding he needed to go grocery shopping. He
had a third of a quart of milk, three sticks of butter, the tail-end of a
block of cheese, several plastic containers of what might be leftovers but
judging from the interesting colors of the contents opening them might be best
left to a HazMat team. Half a loaf of bread, an industrial sized jar of peanut
butter, and several bottles of beer. That appeared to be it. No tart, though.
It suddenly dawned on Ray that he'd gone to bed quite a
while before Fraser had. And Fraser had probably gotten hungry and eaten it
while he was watching that hockey game Ray had heard faintly through the door.
"Well, no problem," he said quickly, not wanting to make Fraser feel guilty
for not sharing by mentioning it. Besides, they shouldn't eat dessert for
breakfast anyway. "We can take my car and head to the store, pick up some
stuff. Bagels. Fruit. Yogurt. Okay?"
Fraser nodded. "Certainly. I'll
just feed Dief, and then we can go."
Yawning, he got a can of dog-food
out of a cupboard and opened it, spooned its contents into a large metal dish,
added a scoop of kibble from a covered twenty-gallon plastic bucket by the
door, then mixed it all together before putting it down on a plastic
To Ray's surprise, Dief hadn't appeared as soon as the can was
opened. Fraser seemed a little surprised, too.
"Dief?" he called.
In answer, they both heard a low groaning sound. Fraser
went to the kitchen door and looked out. Ray followed. Dief hadn't budged from
his place on the rug near the couch. Fraser frowned.
Dief groaned again. Ray had never seen Dief look green
before, but he definitely did now. Fraser crossed the room quickly to kneel
beside the wolf. "Dief? Are you sick?" He put a hand on Dief's side, and
incurred a yelp. He looked up at Ray, fear in his gaze. "Large dogs can
sometimes get intestinal torsion. I've got to get him to the vet as soon as
possible. Would you go in the kitchen and get a large trash bag from under the
sink, and then spread it out in the back of the Suburban? The keys are on the
hook by the kitchen door."
Ray nodded and headed into the kitchen. As
he leaned down to get a garbage bag out of the cabinet, something under the
kitchen table caught his eye. A piece of brown paper bag. Shredded. He looked
closer, and saw crust crumbs, smears of purple and red, a dollop of some
creamy substance. Oops. Unless Fraser had taken to eating dessert under
the table without a fork, he'd just mentally convicted his best friend of
gluttony based on circumstantial evidence.
"Um, Fraser?" he called
"What?" Fraser called back, still sounding a bit
"I think I figured out Dief's problem. C'mere."
moment later Fraser was in the doorway. "Ray, we really don't have time for .
. . ." His voice trailed off as Ray pointed under the table. He ducked down,
studied the evidence, sighed, and shook his head. "Oh for God's sake!" He went
to stand in the doorway, staring at Dief with a scowl.
Ray, standing next to him, had to put his hand over his
mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Fraser sounded exactly, exactly
like his dad always had every time he'd called Ray on the carpet for some
transgression or other, that perfect parental combination of disgust, dismay,
disbelief, and disappointment, all mixed with a healthy dose of annoyance.
"You are a disgrace to your species," Fraser said severely. "Ray was
looking forward to that! What have you got to say for yourself?"
whined apologetically, eyeing Ray. Fraser nudged Ray with his elbow. "Say
something!" he hissed.
"What? Uh. . . Dief, that was pretty uncool.
Don't do it again," Ray managed to say with a mostly-straight face.
Fraser shook his head. "All right. You are going out in the dog
run, because we both know the effect that rich desserts have on your digestive
system, and I am not cleaning up after you. Come on. Up. I know you can
Dief reluctantly got to his feet and waddled toward the kitchen.
Fraser went to the back door and unlocked it, letting Dief out and then
walking barefoot across the snow-spotted yard to let him into an area
partitioned off with chain-link fencing. When he came back he brushed the
soles of his feet off on the mat with a little shiver. "I suppose I should
have put my shoes on."
"Yeah, you'll probably catch your death of
cold," Ray said with a grin. "Like anybody ever died from a cold. We need to
get something warm down you. You know what I was thinking? Do you have any
oatmeal? Like we had on the adventure?"
Fraser looked thoughtful, and
then nodded. "Yes, I believe I do."
"Perfect! We've got
"I could make bannock.1" Fraser offered
Ray grinned, remembering all the times on the trail that
he'd made the oatmeal while Fraser put together bannocks, and cooked them in a
little shortening in the cast-iron skillet. "Oh, man, that would be so cool.
The kind with raisins?"
"If you like," Fraser said.
opened a cabinet and got down a familiar-looking tin of oats. Ray grinned and
gave him a thumb's up as he got out a church-key to pry up the lid. Ray opened
cabinets until he found the pots and pans, getting a pan out for the oatmeal
and the cast-iron skillet for the bannocks. Using a mug to measure, he put
water in the pot, took off the teakettle, which had just started to whistle,
and put the pan on the same burner. Fraser used the same mug to measure the
oats into the water, and Ray got the salt off the back of the stove and shook
a little in.
Handing Ray a wooden spoon to stir with, Fraser got out a
bowl and the flour and soda and raisins and started on the bannock.
Remembering that Fraser would need some melted butter, Ray cut a piece of
butter into their all-purpose mug, and stuck it in the microwave to melt while
Fraser put everything else together. Periodically stirring the oats, he
watched, and when he had everything ready, handed Fraser the teakettle to pour
hot water into the dry stuff to make the dough.
"You got shortening?"
Ray asked, suddenly realizing the bannocks were nearly ready to cook and he
hadn't prepped the pan.
"In the cabinet next to the stove," Fraser
said, kneading the raisins into the dough.
Ray found the can, dug out
a spoonful and dropped it into the skillet, putting it on a medium flame.
Three minutes later, Fraser dropped several irregularly-shaped pieces of dough
into the melted shortening and they both watched as it puffed and browned,
with Fraser turning the pieces with a spatula now and then to brown both sides
evenly. Removing those three to a paper towel to drain, he put in the second
batch. Ray tasted the oatmeal.
"Needs about five more minutes," he
"Good timing. Why don't you make your coffee? I'll watch the
Ray nodded and went to get another mug. "You want some? Or
"Tea please," Fraser said.
Ray nodded and found the tea in
the cabinet he remembered from the night before. He put Fraser's tea to steep,
made coffee for himself, and then got down bowls and plates for their meal.
Fraser scooped oatmeal into the bowls, put three bannocks on each plate, and
they took everything to the table and sat down to eat.
The first bite
of oatmeal brought a flood of memories. He chewed, swallowed, and grinned. "I
haven't had this in two years. Never thought I'd miss it, but I guess I did."
He picked up a bannock and bit into it, feeling the crisp surface yield to his
teeth, enjoying the tough, chewy inside with its sweet bursts of raisin.
"These too," he said around his bite. "By the time we got back to civilization
I thought I'd never want to see either again, but you know, they kind of grow
"They do. I'd almost forgotten how good they are, myself,"
Fraser said, tearing off a chunk of bannock with his fingers and putting it in
his mouth, clearly savoring it.
As he watched Fraser chew, Ray
remembered how shocked he'd been at first, watching Fraser eat on the trail.
He used his fingers, even for things like oatmeal, scooping with two fingers,
licking them clean after each bite. When they had meat, he often ate it Inuit
fashion, putting the whole piece to his mouth and slicing off the bite with
his knife closer to his lips than Ray liked to think about. Until then, he'd
never realized before what a sensualist Fraser was, and it wasn't just food,
either. Sometimes he'd catch Fraser absently stroking the fur of his parka, or
working oil into the dog's harnesses with slick fingers moving like he
was giving a massage. In Chicago he'd really kept that part of himself under
strict control. Now Ray thought he had an inkling as to why. Given half a
chance, and no reason to control himself, Fraser. . . didn't.
part of him wondered if Fraser didn't just need some other outlet for that
side of his personality. It was beyond him why Fraser hadn't been snapped up
by now by some sturdy Canadian woods-babe. He was sure they had those here,
he'd seen a whole bunch since he got to Canada, strong-looking, attractive
women in jeans and flannel who reminded him annoyingly of Janet Morse. When
Fraser had first landed here he must have been the primest catch on the
market, but here he was two years later, clearly without any names on his
dance card. Ray just didn't get that.
Now that he thought about it, it
wasn't like Fraser had ever had much - well, any - action in Chicago,
but Ray had always put that down to there not being anyone his 'type' there.
It had been pretty clear that Chicago women had definitely not been Fraser's
cup of bark tea. Of course, they hadn't gotten around to having that
heart-to-heart talk yet, either. Could be that there had been somebody
recently, and it hadn't gone well, and that was part of why Fraser was so
miserable. On the other hand, Ray kind of thought that Fraser would have
mentioned a girlfriend if he'd had one.
Fraser looked up suddenly. "Is
something wrong with your food?" he asked, concerned.
Ray shook his
head. "Nah, just spacing out."
It took them only a few minutes to
finish eating, and then Fraser collected the dishes and took them to the
"Can I help?" Ray asked.
Fraser shook his head.
"Nonsense, Ray, you're a guest. Sit and enjoy your coffee."
shrugged, and picked up his mug as Fraser ran a sink full of soapy water and
started washing up. "So what's there to do for fun?"
"There's a great
variety of recreational activity hereabouts: hunting, fishing, hiking,
pleasure-boating, cross-country skiing, skating, even dogsledding," Fraser
said, looking over his shoulder with a grin. "Though I suspect you probably
wouldn't consider that last recreational."
"Not on a bet," Ray agreed.
He thought about Fraser's list, and realized every one of those activities
could be done alone. "But I meant of the more social variety," he said.
"Music? Clubs? Theater? Movies?"
"Well, there is an amateur theatrical
group in town, and there are frequent performances by local musicians, and if
you want more diverse offerings, the drive to Prince Albert isn't bad most of
"Prince Albert?" Ray thought for a moment, remembering the
map in his office. "That's what, two and a half, three hours from
Fraser nodded. "About that, yes, in good weather." He dropped
his dishtowel, squatted to pick it up, then stood again.
himself watching Fraser's butt through the whole sequence. He'd never thought
he'd say it about anything Frannie-related, but she was so right about that.
He was still trying to figure out how to weasel some information out of Fraser
about his social life when the doorbell sounded.
"Would you mind
seeing who's at the door, Ray?"
"Sure. No problem."
He took one
last look at Fraser's backside, biting his lip to keep from laughing at what a
freak he'd become as he went out into the living room to answer the
He was still grinning as he opened the door, but the grin changed
to a slight frown as he recognized the caller. Ramrod straight in his blue
uniform, clean-shaven, dark blond hair buzzed almost to the scalp, the guy
looked like a recruiting poster for the RCMP, if the RCMP had started
recruiting from the Aryan Nations to beef up the ranks.
Zhertak," Ray said, leaning against the door frame.
flickered down, then back up, a slight sneer forming as he took in Ray's
casual attire and bare feet, but he gave a single nod of acknowledgment. "I
see you managed to find your . . . friend," he said, an odd tone coloring his
"Yeah, I did. Thanks for all your 'help'
Zhertak's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, but his
expression remained otherwise neutral. "I'm sure you can understand . . .
"Yeah, whatever. So I guess now you're looking for
"Indeed. I need to have a word with Corporal Fraser, if it
wouldn't put you out too much to tell him I'm here."
His words were
perfectly polite, but Ray found himself bristling a little anyway. If this
snot was who Fraser had to work with everyday, no wonder his job was pissing
him off. Or at least it would piss Ray off. Hard to tell with Fraser. He used
to have a pretty endless capacity for putting up with shit - or at least more
than Ray did. Whatever. For all he knew, Zhertak was the nicest guy in the
world and he just hadn't noticed yet.
He stepped back and opened the
door a little wider. "Come on in. We're letting the heat out."
took two steps inside, then looked around the living room and came to a stop.
"Perhaps I should just wait here."
Ray glanced around the room. It
looked a hell of a lot better than it had the night before, but if Zhertak
didn't want to go any further into the house, that was fine with him. Anyway,
he was pretty sure he didn't really want to share the sight of Fraser's
backside in jeans with anyone, and for sure not with Zhertak.
you should. I'll get Fraser."
He shut the door behind Zhertak, then
returned to the kitchen where Fraser was just hanging the hand towel to dry
over the edge of the sink.
"Let me guess," he said, smiling broadly.
"Ray Vecchio is in the neighborhood and has dropped by for a cup of
Ray grinned. "Close, but no cigar. Nah, it's your buddy
Zhertak, all dressed up in Mountie blue and looking like he needs a hell of a
lot more fiber in his diet."
Almost instantly, Fraser's expression grew
serious. He went out to the living room, with Ray following closely behind,
and extended his hand in greeting to the man waiting by the
"Constable, good morning."
Even before Fraser had
finished his greeting, a startling transformation began to take place. Apart
from the sweater, which was folded up on the couch, he was still wearing the
clothes he'd slept in the night before and his hair was barely pushed off his
face, but the guy who stood before Ray was the self-assured and exceptionally
focused Benton Fraser that he'd been back in Chicago. For a second, Ray
wondered if he was just seeing what he wanted to see, but no, Zhertak was
standing a little straighter, his fingers twitching at his side like he
thought he ought to be saluting or something. All trace of that annoying
smugness had disappeared, at least for the moment, and nothing remained but a
serious Mountie making a report.
"Good morning, sir. I'm sorry to
disturb you and your guest so early on a Sunday morning, but we've just had a
report of a fire at Dixon's Masonry, and as I passed the turnoff to your
house, I recalled that you'd expressed an interest in the earlier incident,
and I thought I should stop and inform you."
"Yorkton relay phoned the
"Yes, right after they'd received the initial report. I
passed by on my way here, and Dave seems to have everything well in hand. Fire
Control's just waiting for Helen to arrive from Hull Lake with an additional
Fraser, still nodding, pushed some magazines aside on the coffee
table and Ray watched in shock as he picked up a cell phone. He started to
punch in some numbers, then held the phone under his chin, waiting for his
party to answer, while he slipped his jacket on and started zipping it
'Ray? Perhaps you'd see if . . . ."
asked, guessing Fraser's next move.
"Yes, if you don't mind.
We'll meet you out front."
"No problem. Be back in a second," Ray said,
heading into Fraser's room where he shucked his sweatpants and yanked on
socks, jeans, and boots, then swung back through the living room to lift his
own jacket off the hook by the door and shrug into the sleeves as Fraser
suggested to Zhertak that the fires might be related. He headed out back to
parole Dief from the dog run, letting Zhertak's claim that the two fires were
just 'a freak coincidence' fade into silence as he closed the back door behind
him. The wolf whined gratefully, a properly chastened look on his
"It's not me you've got to convince," Ray told him. "You just
worry about apologizing to Fraser. He wanted some of that tart, you
Dief barked twice, tossing his head back.
"Don't give me
that. You were not just trying to help. Besides, you know how much he worries
about you. He thought you were really sick."
Ray looked sternly at the
wolf, but when Dief put his head down on his foot and whined, he gave up.
Being a parent was a lot harder than it looked. "Come on. We've got work to
By the time they got around to the front of the house, Fraser had
already locked the front door and was waiting for them with the engine
running. Zhertak was nowhere to be seen. Ray assumed he'd headed to the scene
under his own steam. He let Dief into the cargo compartment in the back of the
SUV where he flopped down on top of a coil of rope and some other emergency
equipment. Out of habit Ray almost offered to drive before realizing that
since he had no idea where they were going, it probably wasn't a great
Three minutes later, watching Fraser handle the Suburban like
he'd been born in the driver's seat, he realized it was also completely
unnecessary. "You drive a lot up here?" Ray asked.
Fraser spared him a
glance as he turned a corner and Ray could see smoke rising some distance down
the road. "Yes. The detachment mandate encompasses both community and what you
would probably think of as state patrol functions. We work quite a few
accident scenes." His expression tightened a little.
Ray nodded. "Saw
my share of those when I was a uniform. They're always tough. What else do you
get a lot of up here?"
Fraser's shoulders slumped a little. "Numbers
are relative, of course, but statistically domestic violence, property crime
and assault are our most common offenses. A good percentage of which also
involve alcohol or drugs. It's strange, but I actually had less contact with
those aspects of policing in Chicago than I do here, even though you would
think it would be just the opposite."
"Well, you said yourself it's not
real exciting up here, and you know when some people get bored, they start
drinking, drugging, and beating on each other for fun."
yipped, startling Ray.
Fraser shot a glare back over his shoulder.
"You can hold it for three more minutes, we're almost there. And next time
you're tempted to make a pig of yourself, remember how you feel at this
Ray stifled a snicker. Then he hoped Dief actually could hold
it. He didn't relish being in the car if he couldn't. The plume of smoke got
thicker and heavier as they drove, and Ray started to smell it even with all
the windows up. Finally they pulled up in front of a graffiti-marked
warehouse, one section of which was badly charred, flames still licked feebly
here and there. Two small fire trucks were on the scene, pumping water onto
the smouldering mess. Zhertak was there, standing well back, like he was
afraid he'd get his uniform dirty.
Fraser set the brake, got out, and
went around to let Dief out. Dief immediately ran for the nearest patch of
grass. Fraser shook his head and started towards the fire trucks. Ray got out,
staying on the sidelines so he didn't get in anyone's way. A small crowd had
gathered to watch, and Ray instinctively scanned the faces, knowing if Fraser
was right and it was arson, that the arsonist might well be in the crowd. No
one looked particularly guilty, though a lot of people looked excited. He
guessed that was normal. This was probably more excitement than they got all
Too many years as a cop had Ray itching to do something, even if
it was just helping out with crowd control. But this was Canada, and the crowd
was too polite to need much in the way of policing . Everyone stayed at least
fifty feet back from the fire - the only exception being one gawky teenage boy
in an oversized grey sweatshirt who'd started inching forward to get a better
look the minute the firemen turned their heads. Ray grinned. Apparently being
a teenager trumped being a Canadian, although he could see the kid move back
into the crowd as soon as he noticed Zhertak looking in his
The death glare of that guy was enough to scare just about
anyone into hiding. What was up with him? It was a relief when Fraser waved
him over. He picked his way through the tangle of hoses, to find Fraser still
talking to one of the fire crew.
"Ray, this is Dave Byrnes, head of our
fire control unit. Dave, Ray Kowalski, my former partner from
Byrnes removed one of his kevlar gloves and tucked it under
his arm, then extended his hand to Ray. "Good meeting you . . . Kowalski, was
it? You got any family around here? Name's kind of familiar."
smiled. "Could be. I saw a street with my name on it this morning. Maybe I'm
Canadian after all. So . . . you guys find out anything about the
Fraser shook his head. "Not yet, although the prevailing opinion
of the fire unit seems to be the same as Constable Zhertak's - that this is
nothing more than a coincidental occurrence."
"You know how it is with
some of these older buildings," Dave said to Ray. "Wiring troubles, building
materials not up to code. Must be the same in the big city."
tempted to say that down in the 'big city' the arson guys sort of liked to
check things out before they decided a fire was just an accident, but he
swallowed the words back down and just nodded.
Dave turned back to
Fraser. "Anyway, like I was saying, Corporal - you can dig around in there if
you want, but there's no way I'm letting anyone except my own people in there
until tomorrow, not even you. Fires are tricky buggers. You never know when
they're gonna jump back up and bite you on the ass. Really ought to be left to
the experts, if you ask me."
Ray glanced over at Fraser, sure he'd
offer some kind of argument that would get Dave to change his mind, but he
just nodded once and said "Of course. I understand completely."
he really didn't get this at all. Fraser'd seemed pretty driven when Zhertak
brought the news of this latest fire, and now he was just going to let it go?
Ray was wondering if maybe he should say something when he happened to
look down and see Fraser's index finger curl in slightly and his thumb extend
in the direction of the building.
If this had been anyone else, Ray
wouldn't have thought anything of it, but Fraser was just about the least
twitchy guy he'd ever known in his life, apart from that eyebrow thing, and
nothing he'd seen in the past day pointed to a change in that behavior, at
least. Something was up. Oh yeah, something was definitely up. Just because he
didn't have a freaking clue about what was going to happen didn't mean a
damned thing. Partnering Fraser had always been like this . . . this not quite
knowing and knowing completely, all at the same time. God, this was cool -
just like old times. It felt almost like waiting for a kiss, a nearly sexual
tingle of anticipation.
Then Dave started saying something about a
cousin who used to live in Milwaukee in the seventies, and wasn't that pretty
close to Chicago?, and maybe Ray knew him . . .but Ray was barely listening,
all his attention focused on Fraser. And Fraser looked as if he was listening
with great interest to Dave's ramble, except Ray knew - he knew - that
Fraser wasn't really paying attention to Dave either. No, Fraser was with him,
focused on him, and Ray could almost hear Fraser saying, 'Wait for it. Wait
for it, Ray.'
Sure enough, a second later, Diefenbaker - apparently
recovered from his ordeal of greed - appeared from out of the blue and made a
mad dash past the tape, past the fire engines, and through Dixon's open front
Dave whirled around and stared after him. "Jesus! What the hell
was that? Don't tell me that was that animal of yours, Corporal."
bit down on his tongue to keep from laughing. He should have known better than
to think Fraser would just let it rest. Hell, he never let anything
just rest. Then Fraser, who was already on his third apology to Dave for
Dief's behavior, met Ray's gaze and. . . oh man, all of a sudden Ray didn't
know whether he wanted to laugh at the knowledge that Fraser'd sent the wolf
out on a recon mission or because of the sheer freaking joy of knowing he was
in total synch with Fraser again for the first time in way, way too long. It
buzzed him, made him want to grab Fraser and kiss him senseless . . . which
meant it was probably good that there was a shitload of people standing around
He was dimly aware that there was some kind of Keystone Cops
routine going on nearby, with three of Dave's guys all trying to get into the
building at the same time and succeeding only in getting themselves wedged in
the narrow doorway, but he just couldn't take his eyes off Fraser. And he
wanted to say something, maybe 'See? I can wait for it.' or 'Oh
yeah, I got it.' or maybe even 'Are you feeling this? Are you feeling
what I'm feeling?' and what he was feeling was a kind of warmth that had
nothing, and everything, to do with fire - but just then, Dief leaped out
through an open window and immediately slunk over to hide behind Ray's legs,
and the moment passed. But it had been there . . . and it had felt
Fraser knelt down on the ground next to Ray and took
Diefenbaker's face in his hands, forcing the wolf to look at him. "You are not
to enter buildings without my permission. Is that clear?"
Dief gave an
indignant moan in response and wriggled back out of his grasp, tucking himself
even more tightly behind Ray's legs. Fraser shook his head and stood up,
wiping the mud off the knees of his jeans as he did so. "Once again, Dave, I
must apologize on Diefenbaker's behalf. Honestly, I don't know what gets into
him sometimes. Ever since he saw a news report in Chicago about a police dog
rescuing a litter of kittens from a burning building, he's been impossible in
settings like this." He looked down at Dief. "Delusions of
Dave frowned. "The wolf watches the news?"
speaking, no, he doesn't. He finds it disheartening. However, stories about
animals hold a special fascination for him."
"Yeah, I get that." Dave
nodded. "When I was a kid, we had a dachshund named Sparky who'd come running
into the family room every time Alberta Game Farm came on the
television. What the hell . . . no-harm, no-foul, right?" he said as he reached
down to pat Dief on the head.
With as much dignity as he could muster
after being compared to a dachshund - and sparing not a glance for Dave -
Diefenbaker got up from the ground and loped off in the direction of the
Fraser sighed. "Perhaps this would be a good time to take our
leave, as well. Ray?"
"Right behind you," Ray said, instinctively
knowing Fraser wanted to go check out the other crime scene.
turned to look at Byrnes for a moment. "Dave, If you find you require any
assistance from the RCMP this afternoon, feel free to call on the services of
Bose Zhertak . . . ." Dave glanced doubtfully in the Constable's direction. ".
. . or contact me, of course. Let me give you my cell phone number."
After the number was recorded, they took their leave and began to walk
to the car, where Dief was waiting impatiently. As soon as Fraser started the
engine, Ray started to chuckle. "So what did he find out?"
Byrnes? You were there, Ray. As yet, there's no . . . ."
Ray shook his
head. "You know I'm not talking about Dave. I'm talking about the Pie Pig back
"Do you see anyone else in the back of
Fraser tensed almost imperceptibly, and his eyes darted to
the rearview mirror. "Thankfully, no."
Okay, he'd forgotten that along
with the coolness of being with Fraser, there was usually a big serving of
weird on the side. Of course, that weirdness could be kind of cool in itself,
at least when the two of them weren't under fire or sinking in a ghost ship or
Ray grinned. "Fraser. Back to earth, here. Dief.
The corner of Fraser's mouth quirked up in a grin
of his own. Oh, yeah. Now they were back to the kind of stuff he'd missed.
As they turned the next corner, Stevensen's came into view. Fraser
pulled into the empty parking lot and shut off the engine.
Ray," he began a bit hesitantly. "You must understand that while Diefenbaker's
olfactory receptors are far more numerous than our own, he hasn't yet mastered
the ability to catalogue accurately all the odors he detects, particularly
odors of a chemical nature. However, it would appear that the same unusual
smell that I encountered earlier in the week is also present at
The look on Fraser's face as he finished speaking was glum,
almost as if he was resigned to the likelihood that his former partner's
response to this information would be one of complete disbelief, but Ray just
nodded and unbuckled his seat belt.
"Okay, let's get at it, Fraser.
Let's see if a second sniff around here turns up anything."
approached the yellow tape which still cordoned off the art supply store from
the general public, Ray started to chuckle. "Hey, Frase. Tell me in advance so
I can prepare for this. Am I about to be arrested for trespassing or operating
out of my jurisdiction or something?"
Fraser paused for a moment,
almost as if he were considering these exact options, then he smiled and very
deliberately raised the tape so Ray could pass underneath.
forty-five minutes of digging around in the still-sodden mess left by the fire
crew, Ray had to get outside and get some clean air in his lungs. Fraser swore
he could detect 'that scent' he'd noticed on Zhertak in several places in the
building. The only thing Ray's 'olfactory receptors' could detect was
the acrid smell of smoke that still blanketed everything inside the ruined
He moved over to the sidewalk and leaned up against a telephone
pole, taking in the sight of the store in front of him. A few minutes later,
the view got a lot whole lot better looking when Fraser walked through the
front door. Pretty as a picture - too bad he didn't have a camera on him to
capture the image. Ray shook his head. This was his idea of art? He was
getting to be as big a freak as Fraser.
He started to smile at the
thought, but in the next instant his smile turned into a frown.
Fraser called, a slightly worried note in his voice. "Is something
"Nah, just . . . I don't know. You got a tagging epidemic going
on up here in La Rouille?"
"Not that I'm aware of." Fraser started to
turn back toward Stevensen's, following the direction of Ray's gaze.
"You're referring to the graffiti low on the south corner of the building?
Unwelcome, of course, but I wouldn't characterize a single instance of
graffiti as an epidemic."
"Neither would I, but I'm pretty sure I saw
the same tag back at Dixon's and in the same place, lower right in front of
Fraser's eyes narrowed. "Hmm. Perhaps we should . . .
The two men walked over to the right side of the
store, joined by Dief a moment later. Fraser knelt down on the ground and
started to lean in to the stucco wall, but was stopped short by Ray's hand on
"You going to lick that?"
Fraser's face started to
flush, but he met Ray's gaze with a determined look. "I was hoping to
ascertain the source of . . . ."
"No, I figured that, but you're not
the only one with a tongue here, you know."
Fraser's eyes widened, and
Ray could feel the blush rise on his own face, when Fraser swallowed hard and
said, "Are you trying to tell me that you were about to volunteer to lick the
"Hell, no," Ray laughed. "Dief. Come here, guy."
pointed toward the mark, and without a single whine of complaint, Diefenbaker
ran his tongue gingerly over the rough stucco. Ray was about to congratulate
himself on finding the perfect solution to the problem when the wolf turned
his head toward Fraser and started to lick his face more enthusiastically than
a mere expression of affection would warrant.
Fraser's automatic protest almost went unheard under the sound of
Ray's gasps of laughter. "God! There is just no way to keep gross
things away from you, is there? So. . . what does . . . what does it taste
like?" he asked, still laughing too hard to take a proper
"That's it?" Ray looked up at Fraser,
still giggling. "Spray paint? Not some colorful extract of a South American
bug that's been smuggled into the country?" he asked, pulling a typically
Fraserish explanation out of thin air.
"Ah. You'd be referring to the
cochineal, no doubt."
"A tiny reddish-brown
insect which lives on prickly pear cacti and which has been used as a coloring
agent since the time of the ancient Aztecs. But no, I don't believe cochineal
is one of the ingredients in this particular brand of spray paint."
wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand, and laughed again. "Heh. Welcome
back to the Discovery Channel."
Fraser grinned, then sat back on his
heels and stared at the graffiti for a few seconds. "I find myself at
something of a loss here. Is this a word?"
"Sort of. A tag. You know,
like . . . like a trademark or a company logo or something. It's like the
"Ah. Can you make any sense out of the . . .
Ray tilted his head to one side and squinted. "Yeah. Yeah, I
think so. See this here at the end? The two vertical lines? I think this is
supposed to be one of those Roman numeral twos. And before that? A couple of
letters. An 'M' in the middle."
"I see. And the first letter would be a
Ray grinned. "On my planet it would be a 'Zee,' but yeah. That's
what it looks like to me: ZMII."
Fraser pushed himself up off the
ground and stood back a bit, eyes slightly narrowed and focused on the wall,
as if by force of will alone he could make himself see what Ray had seen in
the graffiti marks. After a moment, he nodded his head in satisfaction. "How
likely is it that the 'Z' and the 'M' are the initials of the tagger? Off
hand, I can't think of anyone in the vicinity with those particular initials,
but it would provide something to go on, at least, if the first name begins
with a 'Z'."
Ray nodded. "Yeah, the trouble is it's usually a street
name or gang name we're talking about, not someone's real name. Whoever's
doing the decorating, though, probably wants to be known by this tag. The
thing is, it's a little weird seeing it attached to a crime scene. Tagging's
vandalism, and yeah, it's a low level crime all on its own, but you don't
really see it used as the signature for other crimes."
"You said 'the signature' - that these tags look
Ray frowned. "What? Yeah, I guess so. It's just that
. . . well . . . when you came outside just now I was zoning a little, just
taking in the scene, and the tag kind of jumped out at me like it was an
artist's signature on a painting or something. Probably doesn't mean anything,
"No, you might be onto something," Fraser said emphatically, a
peculiar brightness coming into his eyes. "Let's go back over what we know.
Two fire scenes, possibly connected and the results of arson, with similar
graffiti marks placed where artists have traditionally signed their works. Add
to that the fact that both businesses - Stevensen's Art Supply and Dixon's
Masonry - are enterprises related to arts media."
Ray nodded his head.
"Okay. So we've got arson, art, some kind of stinky accelerant, and a tag with
ZM in it."
He looked at Fraser. At the same instant, they both spoke.
"In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, 'It's deja
vu all over again,'" Ray muttered. "Nah, that would be too weird. What would
Motherwell be doing up here?"
"Even if he still bore a grudge for the
part I played in his arrest and incarceration in a facility for the criminally
insane, the term of his sentence won't be up for . . . ." Fraser paused to
calculate. "Seventeen years, three months, and fourteen days."
Well that's something I can check on. You got your cell phone with you, right?
I left mine at your place."
"Of course." He took the phone out of his
jacket and handed it to Ray.
"Thanks. I'm going to call Chicago, if
that's okay. See if Elaine can get us some news about Motherwell." He started
to punch in Elaine's home number, then stopped. "Call's going to be expensive.
I'll pay for it."
"Don't be foolish, Ray. Even if the call wasn't
related to a case in my jurisdiction, you're welcome to anything I
"I am, huh?" He grinned as he finished entering the number, and
dragged his brain out of the gutter. "Good to know." Elaine answered her phone
with a cheery 'hello' and he started talking in a rush. "Elaine? Ray. Could
you . . ."
"Ray? Where are you? I thought you were visiting
"Yeah, I am."
"Oh, okay. Good. I guess I just didn't
expect to hear from you. Did you give him the presents?"
"Yeah, I did,
"Is he there right now?"
"Yeah, he is."
sighed, and he could visualize her shaking her head. "Well, put him on! I talk
to you everyday; you can wait. Come on!"
"Okay, hold your
horses. Jeez." He turned back to Fraser with a grin, holding out the phone.
"She wants to say hi."
Fraser took the phone, and Ray tapped his
foot a bit impatiently as they exchanged greetings.
"I'd like to thank
you for your gift," Fraser said. "That was a very thoughtful gesture." He
paused, then started to chuckle. "Ah. Oddly enough, no. Neither Ray nor I have
been in any physical peril in the past 24 hours." He paused again and met
Ray's gaze. "Yes, he is, isn't
whatever he was or wasn't, what he wanted to do right at this moment was yank
the phone back out of Fraser's hand and put an end to this conversation. In
fact, the urge to do so was so strong, he had to jam both his hands into the
pockets of his jeans to keep from doing it. What the hell was wrong with him?
Yeah, they had business to take care of, but this was Fraser's turf, not his,
and if he wanted to take a couple minutes to talk to an old friend on
his own damn phone, there was nothing wrong with that.
The trouble was,
it felt wrong. In fact, it felt just like when he'd been given this
really cool Erector set for his eighth birthday and his dad made him give his
cousin Billy a turn before he even got to play with it. He could still
remember yelling "It's not fair!" over and over again until his folks couldn't
take it any more and sent him up to his room for the rest of the day. Crappy
birthday. He never even got to eat any of his cake.
looked up and saw Fraser holding the phone out to him. "Oh. Thanks. Okay,
Elaine? Can you check something out for me?"
"Ray Kowalski, cast your
mind back a whole two days to Friday morning. Did I or did I not say I'd be
over at Daniel's this weekend?"
"Oh. Oh, shit. Sorry, babe."
am not your babe, Kowalski," she said in exaggerated annoyance.
"Anyway, lay your questions on me; me and Daniel are in weekend date limbo at
the moment, so it's cool."
"Yeah. We're coming down the
home stretch in Trivial Pursuit."
"You're what?" Ray put two fingers
over the mouthpiece and whispered, "Did she tell you she's on a date? They're
playing Trivial Pursuit." He grinned.
"Ray?" Elaine asked. "You still
with me? I didn't catch that last."
"Yeah, sorry. Okay, can you check
and see if either Zoltan Motherwell or Greta Garbo have been released
recently. You need a case number?"
"Believe me, I remember them. Are
you sure that's really her name?"
"No problem, then.
Right after I finish squashing Daniel like the Trivial Pursuit bug he is, I'll
see if their names flag anything, make a few phone calls."
give you a call back later this afternoon, okay?
"Yeah? Sure I won't be interrupting any . . .um . . . trivial
"In the words of a friend and colleague - hardy ha ha ha. Nah,
call anytime. We'll try to keep our unbridled passion bridled for a few
Ray laughed. "Cool. Thanks, Elaine. Later."
He shut off
the phone and handed it back to Fraser. "She says she'll check their status
and see if either of their names have come up on any recent reports. We can
call her back in an hour or so; she should have something for us
"I thought she was on a date."
"She is, but she's a cop,
just like you and me. Case comes first."
Fraser shot him an odd look,
and then began to smile. "A cop. Yeah," he said.
Ray looked at him just
as oddly, he was sure. "Yeah, what? You're not making any sense."
I am. For the first time in a while."
Ray shook his head, watching
Fraser fondly. "For those of us not living in your head, what sense are
Fraser's smile got bigger. "I'm a cop."
Ray got it.
He grinned back. "Yeah, Fraser. You're a cop." He reached out and slung an arm
around Fraser's shoulders, hugging him. "A damned good one. So listen to your
Fraser had tensed a little as Ray put his arm around
him, but he relaxed some as he nodded. "I'll endeavor to do
"Good." Ray said.
Man, touching Fraser felt good. Felt
right. He didn't want to stop. Which meant he probably needed to. With a last
squeeze he started to let go, but as he did, Fraser brought up his own arm a
little tentatively and put it around him. Ray looked at him, startled, but
trying not to show it, not wanting to spook him. Fraser looked back, still
smiling, though his smile was slowly fading, turning into an intense, curious
Dief butted their knees with a whine, and they both looked
down, startled. Dief pushed his way between them, forcing Fraser to step back,
shaking his head. "Oh for heaven's sake, Diefenbaker. Learn to
Covering his disappointment, Ray leaned down to ruffle Dief's
fur. "It's okay, we like you too." He straightened up and looked at his watch.
"So, we done here?" he asked, feeling a little breathless and hoping he didn't
sound like he was having an asthma attack.
"Done?" For a moment
Fraser's gaze was almost like a caress, and then he looked down at Dief and
frowned. When he looked back at Ray, his expression was normal again. "I believe so. For
now, at any rate"
"We got time to do a little grocery run?" Ray asked,
his stomach reminding him how bare the cupboards were at Fraser's house.
"Of course. We'll run by Robinson's Trading and stock
"Perfect. Pemmican ho!"
Fraser grinned and motioned him
toward the Suburban, Dief bringing up the rear.
God, it felt
good to be using his mind again, Fraser thought. To feel like he was not just
existing from day to day, drifting. Even more than that, to be working
with Ray, their duet in harmony again. It was amazing. It wasn't just
policework he'd missed - his time in La Rouille had not been completely
without professional satisfaction, though it was by no means what he was used
to in Chicago. No, it was partnership he'd missed.
Not just any
partner, either. If that was all he wanted, there was Constable Zhertak, or
his predecessor Constable McKay, or her predecessor Constable Minogue, or any
of his former colleagues. He could spend all day naming off former personnel.
The list seemed well-nigh endless. No. In just a matter of hours, it had
become crystal-clear that it was Ray he had missed. Pure and simple.
He'd known, of course, that he missed Ray. Terribly. He'd been
accustomed to spending a good portion of every day with Ray, both working, and
socially. To go from that, to nothing at all had been. . . well, he strongly
suspected that it was akin to what divorce must feel like. That comparison had
seemed all the more apt, considering the fact that since the day they'd met he
had been plagued by certain highly inappropriate, or, at any rate,
inexpressible feelings toward his partner. Fortunately he'd managed to keep
them under strict control, at least externally. Internally . . . they
had definitely not helped ease the separation.
When he'd left Chicago
he had assumed that time and distance would lessen the attraction. He'd been
wrong. He thought about Ray all the time. Missed him. And the attraction had
never lessened. That had been made even clearer earlier in the day after he'd
sent Dief in to investigate the scene of the fire. He'd turned to find Ray
watching him, eyes bright with amused comprehension, the corners of his eyes
crinkled, and his lips curving in a faint smile he was trying valiantly to
suppress. He'd looked - incredible. Beautiful. Their gazes had caught, and
held. Fraser had known he should look away, but couldn't bring himself to as
those long-suppressed feelings had reasserted themselves with a vengeance.
Ray's eyes had widened, his lips had parted as if he were about to
speak, and then Dief had bounded out, whining excitedly, and the spell was
broken. He'd looked away, only to find Constable Zhertak staring at him with a
frown that let him know that the fact he'd just been staring at Ray like some
sort of lovesick bovine had not gone unremarked. His face had instantly gone
hot and he'd knelt, ostensibly to check and make sure Dief was all right, but
in reality to regain his composure and draw the somewhat battered shell of his
dignity back into place.
Only now, home once more, without prying eyes
to worry about, could he relax a little, and watch Ray for a moment as he
found places for the groceries he'd insisted on paying for. It struck him
suddenly that Ray had not seemed uncomfortable with that extended eye-contact,
and had not looked away. He usually became prickly and defensive when someone
stared at him, but this time he hadn't. Even when he'd appeared about to
speak, his gaze had held steady, not wavered. And it had seemed to Fraser that
there had been an oddly familiar expression in Ray's eyes. Almost . . .
No. No, it was ridiculous to think that. Pure projection.
Wishful thinking. But, still. . . Ray had not looked away. And then, at
Stevensen's, Ray had put his arm around him. He could still almost feel the
weight and warmth of that, and the surprising, full-body response he'd had to
that simple touch. He couldn't believe he'd actually been daring enough to
return the gesture. And Ray had not seemed perturbed by that, either.
He wondered, with some irritation, what might have happened had not
"Man," Ray said, straightening up, a stack of
plastic containers in his hands. "I don't know what these used to be but I
think they're beyond hope. I vote we not even try a salvage operation but just
pitch them as is."
Fraser looked at the stack and felt a momentary pang
of conscience, which he ruthlessly suppressed. Ray was right. Some things were
beyond salvage and he'd be better off just starting over, fresh. "An excellent
plan, Ray," he said, going over to open the cupboard which hid the trash bin.
"A clean sweep, as it were."
"Yeah." Ray said, dropping the containers
into the bin. They thunked satisfyingly, and Ray dusted his hands together.
"There. You know, between the price of fresh produce, and Zhertak's nonstop
frowny-face of doom, I'm beginning to understand why you might not be too
happy up here."
The casual comment, offered with a half-smile, carried
far more weight than it should have. Fraser turned away abruptly. "I'm afraid
neither Constable Zhertak, nor the cost of living is to blame for my poor
attitude. I've achieved that entirely on my own."
"Somehow I doubt
that," Ray said sharply. "That's not the Fraser I know and love. What's going
on? Is it the job? Or is it . . . personal?" His voice gentled on the last
Fraser picked up the teakettle and filled it, just to have
something to do. "It's nothing, Ray, I'm afraid that I'm simply feeling a
"Envious? Of who?"
"You," Fraser admitted,
placing the kettle precisely on the center of the burner and turning on the
heat. "Everything seems to be going so well for you."
There was a
moment of silence, then Ray spoke. "Me?"
He turned around to find Ray
staring at him.
"Things are going well for me?" Ray asked
incredulously. "On what planet, Fraser? Welsh can't find anyone who'll partner
me for more than ten minutes, and my social life consists of yakking with
Sandor when he brings my Friday pizza."
Now it was Fraser's turn to be
incredulous. "But. . . you said. . . you were busy at work, and that you
needed 'down time' from your social life."
Ray flushed, clearly
embarrassed. "Yeah, well, I am busy at work, but that's because I have
to do twice as much work as a guy with a partner. And as for the other . . . I
didn't want to sound like a complete loser, okay? And I did need a break from
doing the whole 'go out to the bar and think about picking someone up and
taking them home and not doing it because they aren't who you want to begin
with and God knows where they've been, anyway,' routine."
through that, finally figuring out what Ray had said, and found himself oddly
. . . glad. "Oh," he said. "Why can't Welsh find you a partner?"
laughed softly. "Because you spoiled me for anybody else, Benton Fraser.
Anyway, don't envy my great life, okay, because it's not so
"No, I'm sorry. . . I didn't realize . . . ."
apologizing," Ray said firmly. "How could you realize anything when I wasn't
really being honest? I should know better than that. Friends don't
"No. No, they don't," Fraser said, making a decision, frightening
as it was. But if Ray was going to be honest with him, how could he not be
honest in return? "And you're right. Things aren't going well here either. I
find I'm in a rather similar position, actually, well, save for the being busy
part. This job has been a nightmare, I'm little more than a glorified
traffic-cop. Whatever skill I may once have had at my job is atrophying from
disuse, and though I realize it's hard to believe, I have even less of a
social life here than I did in Chicago. I don't fit in." He closed his eyes
for a moment, head down, trying to stop himself from just blurting out any
more of this . . . crap.
Ray reached out and put his hands on Fraser's
shoulder, squeezing lightly. "Fraser. Benton. Ben. You fit in one place, just
The progression of his name, first familiar, and warm, then
less familiar, but warmer, brought his head up rapidly, eyes open, to look
into Ray's eyes, just inches away. They stared at each other for a moment. For
several moments. He was acutely aware of how close Ray was. Of the fact that
he could actually feel the faint movement of air as he breathed. Of how close
his lips were. Of what he had just said. What Fraser knew he meant. In Ray's
eyes, he could see a similar awareness. And then suddenly Ray blinked, and
turned red, and stepped back, his hands falling, then lifting again in a sort
of helpless shrug.
"I. . . uh. . . sorry about the invasion of personal
space there. Don't know what I was thinking. Um, I'll just go. . . call Elaine
back. Yeah. See if she has any information for us yet. Use my phone, it'll be
a local call. It's in my suitcase."
He dashed for the other room as if
there was someone with a flame-thrower on his trail, leaving Fraser to stare
after him a little bewildered, more than a little aroused, and wondering what,
exactly, Ray had meant. In retrospect, his reaction seemed to make the simple
statement more meaningful than it might otherwise have been, but after a
moment's consideration he shook his head. More wishful thinking. He was too
old for that sort of nonsense. He had to stop letting his imagination run away
with him like that. He needed a clear head, needed to follow Ray's example and
concentrate on the case. The teakettle's whistle shocked him out of his daze
and he took it off the burner, turning off the flame, as he heard Ray
approaching, already talking on his phone.
"You did? Yeah? And he's
still in the nuthouse? Damn it. I was sure we had . . . wait! What about her?
Garbo? Yeah, I'll wait."
Fraser opened a cabinet and took out two mugs,
holding one up and looking at Ray with lifted eyebrows. Ray nodded, and Fraser
kept listening as he made two cups of strong instant coffee, adding sugar to
Ray's. Finally Ray spoke again.
"Her too? Well, hell. Nah, it's good
information even if it wasn't what I thought. What? He does? Huh, go figure.
You wouldn't think they'd let 'em have Net access, would you? Anyway, thanks.
And Elaine, have a good time with Daniel, okay, and tell him I'm sorry for
cutting into your date. Yeah. Bye." He flipped the phone closed and tucked it
into his jacket pocket, then looked at Fraser with a rueful half-smile. "Both
Motherwell and Garbo are still in the nuthouse, so no go on that idea. I was
so sure. . . damn. I guess my hunch-maker needs a tune up."
necessarily, Ray. You're forgetting the two."
Ray's brow crinkled. "The
two what? Elaine already checked both of them out."
"The numeral two,"
Fraser clarified. "You said the tag read ZMII. That might imply a copycat,
rather than the original, might it not?"
Ray stared at him. "You know
those skills you were worried were disintegrating?"
Ray grinned at him. "They're not. Trust me. Hey, you got a computer to
go with that cell phone?"
"Actually, I do, but my laptop had a drive
failure last week and I had to send it in for repairs, however I do have a
working computer at my office," Fraser offered, feeling a sudden need to get
out of the house and into a location where they weren't . . . alone . . .
"Great!" Ray said, brightening. "Elaine says Motherwell has
a website. Maybe we might find something useful there."
thought," Fraser said, relieved.
"Pitter-patter then, Fraser, let's
get at it," Ray said, taking a step toward the kitchen door before stopping,
staring at the mugs of coffee on the counter. "Think we've got time for the
coffee?" he asked longingly.
"Not to worry, Ray," Fraser said, opening
the cabinet again and getting out two travel mugs. He carefully transferred
the coffee from the ceramic mugs to the stainless ones, put on their caps, and
then handed them to Ray. "There."
Ray looked from Fraser to the mugs
and then back again, shaking his head. "We really corrupted you in Chicago,
didn't we? TV, cell phone, laptop, travel mugs. Next you'll be telling me you
have a cappuccino machine in the cupboard."
"Don't be silly, Ray.
That's at the office," Fraser said blandly as he opened the door and motioned
for Ray and Dief to precede him out to the Suburban.
Ray started to
laugh, and then looked at him narrowly as he settled into the passenger seat
and put the cups on the dash so he could buckle up. "You're kidding,
"Not at all," Fraser said, letting Dief into the back and then
taking his place behind the wheel. "Constable McKay was originally from
Vancouver. She'd gotten homesick for what she called 'proper coffee' and in an
effort to help our retention rate, I got one for the detachment
"Huh," Ray said, thoughtfully. "Did it work?"
sighed, pulling out of the driveway and onto the street. "Unfortunately it
didn't prove to be sufficient incentive."
requested and was granted a transfer to a more urban detachment on grounds of
"Hardship!" Ray said indignantly. "Working with you isn't a
hardship! What was she, a lesbian or something?"
"Excuse me?" Fraser
said incredulously, staring at Ray in astonishment as he stopped at the
Ray blushed and looked chastened. "Sorry. Not P.C. there.
Its just, most women would kill to work with you, you know? So I thought maybe
. . . ." he let his sentence trail off and shrugged.
onto the main road and shook his head. "I'm sure Constable McKay's sexual
preferences didn't enter into the matter. She simply wasn't comfortable in
such a rural setting."
Ray nodded. "Yeah. I get that. So do you, I
think," he said with a knowing look.
Fraser nodded. "I wrote her a
letter of support."
Ray shook his head. "Why am I not surprised? Hey, I
just had a thought. If we're going to your work, can I be the acting
"I'm afraid we haven't time to file the paperwork," Fraser
said, suppressing a smile as he "It'll have to be unofficial this
Ray sighed. "No fair. You get all the cool
"Liaison is a cool title?"
"I disagree. Liaison always sounds faintly. . .
Ray chuckled. "Yeah, that's what makes it cool."
shot him a look, and Ray's smile widened. "Li-ai-son," he murmured throatily,
giving the word a faux-French inflection. "I mean, you just know when
you say it that people are thinking: 'Yeah, I'd like to liaise with him all
Ray grinned back, unrepentant. "You know I'm
"What you are is incorrigible."
"That's my middle
"I thought. . . ."
"My other middle name," Ray
said with a look. "God, I've missed this," he said with a soft sigh.
"As have I," Fraser admitted.
Ray reached over and patted his
shoulder, leaving his hand in place. It felt heavy and warm even through his
coat. They exchanged a look, and then they both fell silent, sipping coffee
from their mugs as Fraser drove. The quiet lasted several miles,
and he thought about what it might mean that Ray had left his hand there.
About his words, and deeds. Perhaps he wasn't deluding himself. Finally, in
the back, Dief whined. Fraser glanced in the rear-view mirror to see him
looking worriedly from himself to Ray and back. "It's all right," he said
Ray turned and looked too. "Yeah. Sometimes quiet's okay, you
know? Just means you don't have to always be shooting off your mouth to be
comfortable with someone."
Dief made a sound suspiciously like a snort.
"That will be quite enough out of you," Fraser said severely. "You
haven't exactly taken a vow of silence yourself."
Ray laughed, and then
shaded his eyes. "That's it up there, isn't it?"
Fraser nodded, seeing
the national and provincial flags waving in the wind up ahead. "Yes. You were
here before, as I recall."
"Yeah. I think Zhertak thought I was a
stalker or something. Hey, you know, if he's always that suspicious, he'd know
if there were any new faces in town, right?"
"He would," Fraser
allowed. "But then, so would I, and there aren't. Well, aside from you," he
said, pulling in to his assigned space in the small parking lot. "So, should I
arrest you for arson?"
Ray held out his wrists as if ready for cuffing.
"Well, if you really want to, sure, but I warn you, I've got an iron-clad
alibi. I spent the night with a Mountie."
A feeling of deja vu shook
him. Ray in his office at the Consulate, in trouble, coming to him for help.
Trusting him to help. That feeling was quickly followed by an odd surge of
embarrassed arousal. Was Ray . . . flirting with him? He looked into Ray's
eyes, and what he saw there made him bold. "Yes, well, be that as it may,
since you weren't actually sleeping with said Mountie, he would be hard
pressed to verify your alibi."
Ray sighed and snapped his fingers.
"Damn. Blew that one," he said with a wink and a grin. "Guess tonight I better
make sure my alibi is solid," he said, and then he opened the door and got
Fraser stared at him for a few seconds, completely stunned, but
as Ray walked around to let Dief out he scrambled to unfasten his seat belt
and follow. He had no idea what to say. Had no idea what to do. Had no idea. .
. about anything at all. But he had what felt like a foolish smile on his face
as he escorted Ray into the detachment.
* * *
Ray had a hunch. A
completely non-case-related hunch. One that had been getting stronger ever
since he'd looked up to find Fraser staring at him back there outside of
Dixon's. One that had set off more flashing lights and sirens in his head than
a Vegas slot machine when Fraser put his arm around him outside Stevensen's.
But he knew better than to try and make a case without any solid evidence, so
that was what he was after now. Real evidence. Something he could touch. And
there was really only one way he knew of to get the kind of evidence he
needed, so he did it. And his first foray had just gotten a pretty strong
positive response - if Fraser's big goofy grin was any indication.
Once inside the bunker-like detachment building, Fraser introduced him
to their dispatcher, Sally Cardinal, a Cree woman in her early fifties who
bore a startling resemblance to Sophia Loren. She was a lot friendlier without
Constable Jerklike hanging around looking at him suspiciously and offered him
a home-made oatmeal cookie. He almost took one, but then Fraser declined and
he decided it wouldn't be very nice to eat in front of him when he was
actually making an effort, so he thanked her, kindly, and followed Fraser back
to his office.
"Hey, no storage boxes?" he said, looking around in
mock amazement. "What's the world coming to?"
"Well, I did try, Ray,
but Sally said they were a fire hazard, and since her significant other is the
La Rouille fire control supervisor I'm afraid I had to do as she said," Fraser
said with utter nonchalance, leaning down to turn on his computer. "Why don't
you have a seat, I'll go get a second chair."
Ray sat, and was still
chuckling softly when Fraser wheeled a second office chair into the room and
maneuvered it around the rest of the furniture to park it next to Ray. From
his vantage point behind the desk, it suddenly dawned on him that the setup of
the office looked awfully familiar. "Hey! This is Welsh's
Fraser looked at him blankly. "Excuse me?"
it set up just like Welsh's office. Couch in the same place, chairs in the
same place. Blinds."
Fraser looked around the room as if seeing it for
the first time, his expression thoughtful. "Now that you mention it, I can see
the similarity. How odd."
"Hey, it makes sense to me. Welsh is a good
guy, and you and I spent a lot of time in that office. Probably reminds you of
. . . ." Ray barely managed not to say 'home' and scrambled for a replacement
ending. "Well, reminds you of then."
"Indeed," Fraser said, looking
around again with a faint smile. "So, did Elaine give you the website address
or do we need to search?"
"Nah, I got it," Ray said, typing, as Fraser
sat down, scooting up next to him so they could both see the screen. It was
kind of distracting having Fraser so close that Ray could actually feel the
warmth of his body there. He ended up mistyping the address twice. Fraser
cleared his throat, and Ray blushed a little and typed more carefully and got
"Burnitdown-dot-org?" Fraser asked. "How. . .
"Yeah, well, the guy's got a fixation. That's why he's in
the looney bin."
"Mental health facility."
"Looney bin," Ray
Fraser's voice had that faintly annoyed tone
that Ray loved to provoke. He turned his head to grin at him and found they
were practically nose-to-nose. And Fraser was looking amused, not annoyed. His
eyes were bright with it, and his mouth curved upward, and they were so. . .
close. . . and then Fraser's gaze dropped a little, just a little, and Ray
knew he had to be looking at his mouth and he found his own gaze moving
lower, to that slightly lopsided smile, and he knew if he leaned forward even
just a little he could . . .
A deeply offensive crappy-tinkly version
of an old Doors tune began to play through the computer speakers, and he
snapped his gaze back to the screen, feeling heat in his face, and elsewhere
as he scrabbled for the mouse to see if he could figure out how to turn it
off. Fraser reached past him and turned the sound off on the speakers. Ray
sighed in relief. "Thanks. Couldn't handle that."
"So I see," Fraser
Damn him, he still sounded cool and calm and not at all rattled.
Ray snuck a sideways glance at him, though, and his face was a little pink.
Okay. Okay, good. Not just him, then. He returned his gaze to the screen and
looked at the options. Home. Duh. Links. Maybe. History. Nah. Wait. . . there.
That was what they wanted."He's got a message board! Perfect!" he said as he
hit the button. The next screen asked him if he was registered. He clicked
'no' and it directed him to a registration area. "Crap."
right, Ray. I believe it's an automated script generated by the software. Give
it a screen name."
"Like what? Harry Callaghan? Paul
Fraser smiled. "Those might tip our hand. Hmm, how about
Ray had typed it in before it dawned on him what he was typing,
and he grinned and nudged Fraser with an elbow. "Bradbury. Smart. I like
"Thank you, Ray."
"What do I put for location?"
suggest any place other than Canada or Chicago."
"Good idea." He typed
in Arizona. "Occupation?"
"I suppose 'arsonist' might be a tad
obvious," Fraser mused.
"Just a little. Librarian."
"Old enough to have a job but young enough to still be
"Works," Ray said, putting it in. "Pretty nosey for a piece
of software," he commented as he clicked on the button to complete the
"Marketing research, probably."
Ray stared at him.
"Marketing? For an arsonist?"
"For the company that makes the software.
There you are. The registration was accepted, you can now continue to the
Ray nodded and watched as the page loaded. "Bingo.
Fraser nodded and leaned closer. Really close. Ray could
hear the soft sound of an indrawn breath, could feel his hair stir a little in
the faint current of air. Then Fraser . . . sniffed. Not as in sniffled.
Sniffed. Breathed in smell. And then he did it again. "Are you smelling
me?" Ray asked, not daring to look away from the computer screen.
was, yes. You smell very nice."
He smelled nice? He. Smelled. Nice.
Fraser thought he smelled nice. He was still staring at the computer but his
eyes wouldn't focus. And he had to know, once and for all. "Fraser, are you
flirting with me?"
There was a fraction of a second's hesitation before
Fraser replied. "Yes."
Ray had to suppress the urge to leap to his feet
and pump a fist in the air while whooping loudly.
"Is that going to be
a problem?" Fraser asked softly.
Ray shook his head, grinning. "Nope,
no problem at all." He leaned back in his chair, his shoulder brushing
"Good," Fraser said, without any hesitation at all
this time, his hand coming up to rest on Ray's shoulder.
stand it any more. He turned his head. Fraser looked. . . looked like somebody
had turned a light on inside him. He smiled. Fraser smiled back. Ray licked
his lips. Fraser closed his eyes for a moment, and drew in a long, slow
breath. Oh, yeah. Yeah. On the same page. Finally.
"Excuse me, sir,
but could I see you for a moment?"
Startled, they both jumped a little.
Zhertak was standing in the open doorway, regarding them with a sour
expression. Fraser moved his chair back a small amount, and ran a thumb across
his eyebrow. "Of course, Constable, what can I do for you?"
gaze slid to Ray, and back to Fraser. "In private, sir?"
and stood up. "Ray, see what you can find in that archive, and I'll be right
Ray watched him go, wanting to go after him, instinctively sure
Zhertak was going to bitch about something - probably him. The guy seemed to
have had it in for him ever since he'd rolled into town. Ray didn't know if he
didn't like Americans, strangers, him personally, or was just an asshole on
general principles. Of course, considering his build, it could just be the
He turned his attention back to the screen, clicking through
the archive to get a feel for the tone of the board. Most of the messages
seemed to be from a bunch of people who were way too in love with the
sound of their own keyboards, all going on for page after page about how the
world had to go through a new baptism of fire. The rest of the posters didn't
have a philosophical agenda, as far as he could tell. They just thought that
fire was pretty or something.
Most everything came back to fire,
though, one way or another. Every so often, someone posted an 'exciting offer'
for a long distance calling card, but they were chased off pretty damned fast
by the regulars. Matter of fact, the only off-topic poster who didn't get this
treatment was someone named 'Omega.' He didn't seem to post anything except
random quotes from poems and songs, but people seemed to like his stuff, given
all the "Yes!" and "Okay!" responses that always followed his
The responses to his posts all came from the same eleven people,
too. No, twelve, including 'Little Nero,' who'd just started posting last
Tuesday. Right before . . . right before the fire at Stevensen's.
looked around on top of the desk for something to write with. Nah, nothing
there. He pulled open the center drawer and started fishing around for a pen
or pencil. Empty Kit Kat wrapper. Packet of Fig Newtons. Half a dog biscuit.
Rubber duck? Aw Jeez. He'd wondered where the duck he used
to keep on his desk at the 2-7 had got to. Looked like Fraser took it with him
when he left.
Okay, there, a pen. As he pulled it out of the drawer, he
started to get a creepy feeling, like he was under surveillance or something.
He looked over toward the office door, and yeah, there was his buddy Zhertak
staring at him with his hands in the desk, then looking pointedly at Fraser.
What did he think was going on? A daring theft of the state secrets that
Fraser had stuffed into a cookie for safe keeping?
wanted to pop him one, but Fraser moved into the doorway of his office and
stood between him and Zhertak, then looked at his watch. "Ah. Just look at the
time. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Constable."
"Are you certain
you wouldn't like some assistance?" Zhertak asked, peering around Fraser and
looking at Ray.
"No need," Fraser said, ushering him out toward the
front door. "It wouldn't be fair to keep you any later than I already have on
your day off. Have a pleasant afternoon, and I'll see you bright and early
Sally looked up from her budget report as Fraser shut the
front door behind Zhertak, and grinned, but said nothing before returning to
When Fraser returned to his office, Ray leaned back in the
chair and smiled. "The Iceman Goeth."
Fraser looked blankly for a
moment, then nodded in recognition. He leaned back in his own chair and shook
his head. "Do you know, Ray, until you arrived, I had managed to fool myself
as to how disagreeable that man is."
'Yeah," said Ray. "But me being
around isn't improving his personality, is it? No one can be that big a pain
in the ass all the time."
Fraser sighed. "I have to admit, he's not
generally so . . . well, he's not generally quite this annoying. But the truth
is, all too often I find myself wishing I could put some of Meg Thatcher's
practices to good effect, perhaps see my way clear to sending him out to pick
up my dry cleaning occasionally."
Ray chuckled, but Fraser leaned
forward in his chair and frowned. "Ray, I . . . I wasn't quite that
insufferable, was I?"
How could he think that? "You mean because
Thatcher . . .hell no, Fraser. Never." He reached over and placed his
hand on Fraser's arm." "Never, you hear me? Anyway," he said, after a pause.
"She was way more insufferable than you."
Fraser glanced up at Ray and
started to laugh. "Thank you kindly, Ray. I think."
Ray squeezed his
arm again. "Freak," he said affectionately. Okay, sitting next to Fraser, hand
on his arm, laughing together. Yeah, this was good. Maybe even better than in
Chicago because Ray really couldn't remember a whole lot of sitting around
laughing and touching each other back then. Why not? Why the hell not? He
glanced back at the computer screen and shook his head. Yeah, okay, maybe he
remembered why not. It was because they were usually too busy with their cases
to pay attention to anything else when they were together. And because, well,
maybe even back then some part of him had known if he got started touching
Fraser he might not. . . stop?
Fraser looked out the door of his
office, and under his hand Ray felt him sag a little. "Actually, though, I
suppose I should have let him stay. After all, this has now become an official
Ray looked at him and frowned. "We don't need him.
We're partners. A duet. We always solved stuff just the two of us, why change
now? It might jinx us."
Fraser looked back at him intently, and Ray
felt himself turning red. "And, uh, maybe I don't want to share you,
A long look passed between them, unbroken until the front door
to the detachment opened and a trio of giggling young girls dashed in, all
talking excitedly to Sally about their victory against Prince Albert's girl's
hockey team and grabbing at the oatmeal cookies Ray and Fraser had turned down
earlier. None of the girls showed the slightest interest in wandering back to
Fraser's office, but both men quickly turned their attention back to the
"Okay, Fraser," said Ray, clicking back through the
screens he'd been looking at while Zhertak had Fraser out of the room. "Take a
look at this. Most of the threads are political rants, art appreciation, that
sort of thing. But these here - the ones started by this Omega guy - are just,
like, poetry and songs and stuff. Now, on this message board, off-topic posts
usually get people flamed . . . ."
"Yeah. You know,
you get an inbox full of people cursing you out, insulting your dog's family
tree, that sort of thing."
Fraser smiled. "I'm familiar with the
definition of 'flame,' Ray. I was just struck by the appropriateness of the
term in this particular situation."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Okay, so like
I was saying before you were struck - Omega's getting the 'net equivalent of a
bunch of bobble head dolls nodding at everything he says, and everyone who
responds has been a regular on the board for a long time, except for this
Little Nero, who just started replying to Omega's messages last
"The day before the first fire took
"Interesting." Fraser leaned forward and held
his hand over the mouse. "May I?"
"Sure," said Ray, but he held his
hand there a moment or two longer than was absolutely necessary so that
Fraser's fingers brushed against his as he was moving his own hand away.
He laughed to himself. This was as bad as being thirteen again and
taking Stella to horror movies just so he'd have an excuse to put his arm
around her. Actually, back then, the idea of daring to touch any girl, much
less The Stella, seemed a hell of a lot more scary than Linda Blair's 360 and pea-soup projectile vomiting
, so maybe this
wasn't quite as bad. When he was a kid, it used to take just about the whole
film before he could get himself to 'accidently' brush his hand against her
elbow or her shoulder, and half the time he couldn't even tell whether she
noticed or not. No way was Fraser not noticing, not if the grin on his face
was anything to go by.
"You find something?"
precisely. I'm just considering the use of the pseudonym
"Yeah," Ray said, drawing up closer to Fraser. "It's got to
be Zoltan Motherwell. Last letter of the Greek alphabet like Zee's the last
letter of our alphabet. And 'omega' - makes sense that a guy who's all about
bringing an end to things would pick a name that usually means 'the
Fraser turned toward Ray. "I wasn't aware you were familiar with
"I'm not. I'm familiar with sitting on my butt in church
during sixteen years of Easter services. Huh."
"Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. I'd forgotten until
now, but there was this Obrzed Swiatla - this service of light - every
year on Holy Saturday. Used to scare the crap out of me when I was little
'cause they'd turn off all the lights in the church and we had to sit there in
the dark, thinking about the darkness of a world without God.. I, um . . . I
really didn't like the dark much back then. Anyway, as soon as everyone
started to freak out in the church, they'd light this really huge
"So, then they'd light this candle off the
bonfire, and the candle was decorated - Alpha and Omega, the cross, that kind
of thing. I used to draw pictures of it in Sunday school."
to have made quite an impression on you."
"Yeah, well like I said, I
really didn't like sitting around in the dark."
Ray wondered for
a minute whether he should be feeling more embarrassed about telling this
story than he was, but Fraser just nodded. "Anyway, it's got that fire
"Indeed it does, as do the poems Omega is posting.
Take a look at the Tuesday night poem, Ray."
To show the lab'ring
bosom's deep intent,
And thought in living characters to paint,
first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learn from
thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
creation rushing on my sight?
Still, wond'rous youth! each noble path
On deathless glories fix thine ardent view:
Still may the
paint's and the poet's fire
To aid thy pencil, and thy verse conspire!
And may the charms of each seraphic theme
Conduct thy footsteps to
"Who's that? Shakespeare?"
"No, actually it's
a poem by Phyllis Wheatley, who was . . . well, that's not important at the
moment. What is important is that not only does the poem refer to fire - in
this case, the 'poet's fire' - but it also alludes to paint and pencil.
Looking at Omega's choice of poems, it appears that each work contains both a
reference to fire and some form of art media. Although . . .
"I seem to have come to an impasse with the next
poem. I can't place the author or the art medium to which the poet
Fraser clicked on the post in question and
shifted slightly to the right so that Ray could get a better view of the
He read the first few lines - You shake my nerves and you
rattle my brain / Too much love drives a man insane / You broke my will, oh
what a thrill - and started to laugh.
"What's so amusing,
"Nothing really, except we finally hit some poetry I do
recognize. Jerry Lee Lewis, Fraser - 'Great Balls of Fire.'"
its connection to an art medium?"
"I don't know, unless . . . okay,
Dixon's Masonry. That's what got set on fire the night this was posted,
"Okay, simple. It's rock and roll. Stone,
rock . . . you know?"
Fraser looked pained. "I believe I 'get it.'" He
frowned thoughtfully. "You know, Ray, if Omega's messages really are some sort
of arsonist's primer, then judging by the interpretations we've seen, it seems
to me that we're dealing with someone with a rather literal mindset. Juvenile,
one might even say."
Something about that nagged at Ray, but he
couldn't quite tease it out of his subconscious. He knew better than to try
too hard, though, because then he'd never get it. "Okay, so let's take a look
at the most recent stuff from Omega," he said to distract himself. "See what
his next suggestion is."
Fraser scrolled down and found a post dated
earlier in the day. He brought up the window and read aloud.
"'Outcast, a horror to his kind,
At night he to the forest
There, the birch-bark made fire for him,
The brown fern made a
The river murmured lullaby,
The moisty mosses breathed of
The clean stars carried light to him,
Unterrified and calm.
Aye, as they would have served a saint
Freely all served the guilty
guest'. . ."
Fraser paused, his forehead furrowing.
sensed weakness and went for the kill. "Okay, who's that by?"
frown deepened. "I feel I ought to. . . it's very familiar, yet I can't seem.
. . ah!" His face brightened. "Yes, of course. Grandmother's correspondent
from New Zealand. Blanche Edith Baughan. I believe the work is called 'On the
Just and the Unjust.' As I recall, she was quite a proponent of penal
Ray snorted. Fraser rolled his eyes. "Penal, Ray. As in
"Spoilsport," Ray said with a grin. "So, he's talking about
"Indeed. And fire, yet again."
"But we still have no
idea how the copycat decides what fires to set."
"Yes and no. We do
know that, as I said, he or she is very literal-minded. So, what's in the poem
that we can work with in a literal fashion?"
Ray read the poem again,
and felt his stomach clench. "Oh, shit. He's gonna set a forest
Fraser frowned. "Hm. I don't think he's quite ready for
something that large yet, although I suppose we can't discount the
possibility. I think I'd best make a call to the park officials and let them
know to be on the alert. However, I do think he's still working up to
something on that scale. So far his targets have all been local, and
Ray read again. "I don't know, Benton. Not much
there. Birch-bark, brown fern, and moss? Pretty basic stuff. I don't think a
campfire is going to get this perp off. Not after two buildings. What are you
looking at me like that for?" he asked, looking up to see Fraser staring at
him in surprise.
"Benton," he said.
"Um. . . yeah." Ray felt
his face getting hot. "That okay?"
"Very much so," Fraser said, then he
cleared his throat. "Birch-bark, brown fern, and moss. You're right about that
not being much to work with."
"Anything you can make from that stuff
get made around here? Anybody use it for anything? Maybe a
Fraser frowned again, and his gaze lifted, looking over the
computer, at the. . . wall? Ray looked. Didn't see anything but a
weird-looking picture of dragonflies. It was pale brown, with darker brown
patterns in it, repeating, almost geometric, kind of like those snowflakes
that kids make by folding paper and cutting with scissors, only it didn't have
holes in it.
"Birch-bark bitings!" Fraser said suddenly.
"Huh?" Ray asked, feeling lost.
"It's an artistic endeavor
indigenous to this region, Ray. First Nations women once used them as beading
patterns but in the last decade or two the bitings themselves have become
prized as an art-form. That's one there on the wall."
that. "So it's made from birch-bark?"
"Yes, it is, and quite flammable.
In addition, we have one of the region's foremost practitioners and teachers
of the art living right here in town. Her English name is Hannah Moss."
They stared at each other for a moment.
"Moss." Ray said.
he'll hit tonight?"
"Quite possibly, since he's had time not only to
select a target but also to do at least some rudimentary planning. He seems to
act within twenty-four hours of the time that the poem is posted, and the poem
did say 'at night.' You realize, though, it may not be a 'he' at
"Yeah, true. Maybe we've got ourselves another Greta. In which
case. . . you got a vest around here? And a spare?"
For a moment Fraser
looked like he was going to protest that, but then seemed to think better of
it and he stood up and went to the door of the office. "Sally?"
turned around. "Yeah, Corporal?"
"When you have a moment, would you get
two Kevlar vests out of inventory and bring them in?"
She frowned. "We
got a problem? There's nothing on the wire about any A&D's in our
"No, not that I'm aware of. It's simply a precautionary measure.
Speaking of which, please alert the Forest Service to double their firewatch
until further notice. We have reason to believe we have an arsonist operating
in the area and there is a chance he might move to a larger
She nodded thoughtfully. "I'll get right on it."
came back to the desk. "I'll call Hannah and let her know we're on our way
over to check for anything suspicious."
Ray nodded, and scooted his
chair a little so Fraser could get to the phone that was on his side of the
desk. Which put his crotch about eight inches from Ray's nose. He manfully
resisted getting closer. It was Fraser's office, after all, and the
door was open and there was all that glass. Plus he figured that soon as he
did, Zhertak would pop up again. So, save it for later. Save it for sometime
private, when they had time. Lots of it. He decided to make himself useful and
print out the messages to start an evidence file. Turning back to the
computer, he sent the first two files to the printer, and then got a popup
telling him there was a problem. He sighed.
"These things hate me," he
complained. "Make it print."
"I see some things never change," Fraser
said, pausing with the phone handset in one hand as he leaned over to turn on
the printer, his groin brushing Ray's shoulder.
He shouldn't. But it
was pretty much irresistible. Ray tilted his head, looking up, and Fraser
froze, looking down, as the back of Ray's head came into contact with his fly.
Fraser's tongue flickered across his lips as faint color rose in his face. Ray
gave him his best wicked smile, and then slowly rolled his head a little, as
if he was easing out a stiff neck. The faint blush went bright pink, and
Fraser coughed, reaching for Ray's hair, then quickly snatching his hand away
before he could make contact and stepping back to put several inches of air
"Ray!" he hissed.
"What?" Ray said innocently.
"I've got a sore neck."
"I see," Fraser said. "Perhaps I should get you
an aspirin. Or some liniment."
"Nah, that's okay. It's better
"That's too bad."
Ray stared at him. "Huh?"
smiled almost as wickedly as Ray had done earlier. "I simply thought you might
enjoy a . . . massage later." Suddenly, as if taken aback by his own comment,
he flushed darkly again, one hand splaying out across his stomach in a nervous
gesture. "I . . ah. . . that is. . . I mean. . . ."
Ray held up a hand,
cutting off his babbling. "Hey, you never know, Benton, it might get sore
again. So just keep that idea for later, okay?"
Fraser looked a little
surprised, and then still blushing, he nodded and turned away, dialing the
phone with singular concentration. Ray shifted his attention back to the
computer and started printing again, listening to Fraser's half of the
conversation. It was kind of funny only hearing half, and pauses, because he
could sort of fill in the other half from his imagination.
afternoon, this is Corporal Benton. . . ah, yes. Yes, ma'am. Indeed. Yes it
is. I did, actually, I was wondering if my partner and I might stop by and
speak to you for a few minutes. No, not about the tickets, you know you have
to deal with the Crown on that score. What? Oh, no, certainly not. No, I
meant, well, frankly I misspoke, he's not precisely my partner, although he
used to be when I lived in . . . . Yes. Yes, he is an American. I see.
Certainly. Yes, we'll be right over. Can I. . . oh. I'm sorry to hear that.
Yes, I could do that. Anything else I can bring you? Well, then, good bye." He
hung up the phone and turned to look at Ray. "She said . . . ."
interrupted. "She said you should come over and bring that weird American guy
so she can get a look at him, and she asked you to pick up something at the
store for her on the way, right?"
Fraser looked a little startled.
"Actually, yes. How did you know that?"
"I'm psychic. What'd she get a
"Speeding. She drives like the proverbial bat out of
hell," Fraser said with a grimace. "And it's not just a ticket. It's
eleven, in the past eight months. She's had her license revoked, which is why
she's asked me to stop by the store. Her daughter, Mary, was supposed to come
yesterday morning and drive her out to the Reserve for her regular weekend
visit but she's ill and unable to come, so Hannah's stuck at home and bored
and is dying to meet you, and she's nearly out of coffee."
up. "Well, we can't let that happen to the nice lady. Caffeine deprivation is
not a pretty thing. What are we waiting for?"
"One last thing. I need
to send an email, it will only take a moment. If I may?" He nodded at the
chair Ray occupied.
"Oh, sure, no problem." Ray exited the chair and
Fraser took his place.
"I thought it might be prudent to alert the
RCMP Technical Security branch about the existence of this website so they can
begin a threat and risk assessment," Fraser said as he typed at his usual
super-speed. "We may not be the only community affected by Mr. Motherwell's
Ray nodded. "Yeah, good call. From the looks of it,
there's a dozen other wackos who may or may not be playing this game."
Fraser finished his email, and shut down the computer. "As you say.
Now, we can go see Ms. Moss."
Ray nodded, and headed out with Fraser at
his heels, and nearly ran into Sally who was carrying two Kevlar vests.
"You want these now, Benton?" she asked, holding them up.
thank you Sally." He reached past Ray and took them, then extended one to Ray.
"Here you are. We can just duck into the men's room for a moment and suit
Ray nodded and let Fraser lead the way. The men's was a
single-seater, but large enough to accommodate both a prisoner and a guard.
Ray locked the door out of habit and then peeled off his sweater and settled
the familiar weight of the vest around himself, over his t-shirt, tightening
the Velcro straps until it fit. That done, he looked up to find Fraser
standing there, still holding his vest, with an anxious look on his
"What? What's up?" Ray asked.
Fraser shook himself a
little and seemed to snap out of whatever he was in. "Sorry. I'll just wait
"Wait for me, why?" Ray asked, frowning. "Just put the vest
on so we can go play Mr. Coffee for the nice lady."
Fraser looked at
him, then looked down, two little spots of red burning on his cheeks. "Yes.
Yes, of course. Would you mind holding this for a moment?" he asked, holding
out the vest to Ray.
"Sure." Ray took it, and Fraser turned around,
facing away from him, and slowly lifted his own shirt, pulling his arms free
but leaving it bunched around his neck. Then he reached back a hand somewhat
Ray didn't understand why Fraser was
acting so shy all of a sudden, but he knew he was going to have a hard time
getting it on like that, so he ripped the straps open and slid it around
Fraser's torso for him like he was a little kid.
Fraser stiffened and
pulled away, holding the vest in place as he quickly did up the straps and
then awkwardly yanked his henley down over it. Clearing his throat, he turned
back to face Ray and gestured at the door. "Shall we go?"
him, wondering what stick he'd got up his . . . okay. He wasn't going to think
about that right now. He stopped at the drinking fountain for a minute to gulp
down a few swallows and take a minute to recover from his wayward thoughts.
Fraser went on to the door and stood there waiting. Straightening, Ray headed
for the door and on the way past Sally's empty desk he saw Dief with his paws
up on the desk-top, straining to reach something . . . a cookie. After this
morning, he was stealing sweets? Stupid wolf. He shot a glance over at Fraser,
who was digging in his pocket, probably for his keys. At least somebody in the
family had some sense. He slapped his hands against the counter hard so it
would vibrate. "Dief!"
Dief's paws hit the ground and he shot a guilty
look at Ray.
From the doorway, Fraser frowned. "What's he
"Nothing," Ray fibbed, realizing Fraser couldn't see Dief from
where he stood because the counter was too high. "I just wanted to get his
attention so he'd come with." He reached over and opened the little half-door
to let Dief out from behind the counter, even though he could probably jump
"Good thought," Fraser said, nodding.
Dief nosed Ray's
hand as he fell into step beside him. Ray looked down with what he hoped was a
severe expression. "Behave or I'm telling dad," he whispered. Dief thumped his
tail against Ray's leg and looked chastened. Ray had seen that look on him
often enough to know better. "I mean it," he growled.
"You mean what?"
Fraser asked, puzzled.
"Huh? Oh, um, just reminding Dief who's boss,
Fraser frowned faintly, still looking puzzled. "Ah. All
right then." He glanced at Diefenbaker, but the wolf avoided his eyes. "Shall
* * *
Listening to Ray charm Hannah Moss, Fraser's
thoughts kept returning to that moment in his office when Ray had. . . well,
flirted was far too mild a word. Though it was
nearly impossible to wrap his mind around the thought, that had been an
out-and-out proposition. He was simultaneously eager and terrified. No one had
touched him with honest desire in so long he'd nearly forgotten such a thing
existed. And he'd been. . . Lord. . . thirteen, the last time he'd touched
another man with sexual intent. Though he could hardly call himself, Steve,
Mark, and Innusiq men at that age.
The contest had been Mark's idea. .
. he was competitive about everything. He'd even brought a tape measure
to see who could get the most distance. Innusiq had seemed rather bemused by
the whole idea. Both Mark and Innusiq had drawn the line at kissing, though.
Mark had wrinkled his nose and declared that 'girly stuff.' Innusiq just
thought it was disgusting. Only later, after Mark and Innusiq had gone home,
had Steve suggested they try that, too. Ben could still, after twenty six
years, recall that first kiss. Or perhaps not the first one, which had nearly
resulted in mutual nosebleeds, but the ones after that. He had a feeling that
Ray would be far, far better at it.
"Hey, Benton, what's the goofy
smile about?" Ray asked.
Suddenly wrenched out of dreamy speculation
and firmly back into Hannah Moss' living room, Fraser looked around a bit
wildly. The woman was nowhere to be seen. "I . . . ah. . . where's Ms.
"She went to go get the coffee," Ray said, looking at him oddly.
"You power napping there?"
Fraser stared at him, unable to keep his
eyes from focusing on Ray's mouth. "Ah, not . . . exactly."
narrowed, and then widened, and he started to grin. "Not
Fraser nodded. Ray's grin broadened. "You know, I'm really
starting to look forward to getting home tonight."
His mouth went bone
dry, and his heart-rate skyrocketed. He wasn't quite certain whether the
sensation was anticipation or fear. Perhaps both. Probably both. He took a
deep breath. Definitely both.
"Here you go, Mr. Kowalski, your coffee,"
Hannah said, coming out of the kitchen with two mugs. You sure you don't want
a cup, Corporal Fraser?"
Fraser cleared his throat. "Yes, ma'am. But
maybe some water?"
"Sure thing." She handed Ray one mug, set the other
down on the coffee table, and padded back into the kitchen in her shearling
slippers. She was a small, stocky woman, but graceful. He knew she was a
prize-winning dancer, so that wasn't too surprising. He heard water running,
and watched Ray as he sipped his coffee with an expression of abstracted
pleasure. He wondered if Ray looked like that when . . . for God's
sake, he admonished himself. Show some self control.
returned with a glass of water, which he took and gratefully sipped. "Thank
"You wanted to talk to me about something?" she prompted,
taking a seat on the couch next to Ray, too close to Ray, and picking up her
coffee before turning to him with an attentive expression on her broad face.
"Is something wrong?"
Fraser‘s hands curled into fists and he shook off
the urge to tell her to move. "I'm sure you've heard about the two fires the
community has experienced in the last couple of weeks."
"Hard to miss
that, eh?" Hannah asked wryly. "Most excitement we've had around here in
years. Strange to have two so close together that weren't just house fires
from somebody's candles or stove."
"Frankly we suspect the timing may
not be coincidental."
Her dark eyes narrowed shrewdly, drawing parallel
lines between her brows. "You think they was set?"
"We have no
irrefutable evidence of arson at this point, however the fact that both fires
affected establishments connected to artistic endeavors is somewhat
"Uh-huh," she said, looking around the room, at the stacks
of bitings carefully pressed under heavy books here and there. "Am I
"Not necessarily, although the possibility can't be ruled out.
We were wondering if you've noticed any suspicious activity of late.
Particularly any unusual odors."
"Odors? You mean like gasoline or
"More like perfume," Ray put in. "This perp starts fires
Something clicked suddenly in Fraser's mind. He spoke
without thinking. "Aftershave," he corrected. "I'm quite certain it was Calvin
Ray looked at him sharply. "You didn't tell me that
before." Ray looked annoyed. "What, working up here by yourself all this time
make you forget that partners is sharing?" he asked pointedly.
flushed. "Honestly, I only placed the scent just now."
about that for a moment, and then nodded. "Okay. You're off the hook
Hannah cackled and slapped Ray on the thigh. "I like
you. You don't let him pull crap."
Taken aback, Fraser was about to
protest when Ray shook his head.
"It goes both ways. He doesn't let me
pull any crap either. That's how come we're good together." He looked at
Fraser and winked. Fortunately Hannah couldn't see that because of the way
they were seated. Fraser felt a smile curve his mouth, and he nodded.
"Indeed, we are."
Hannah nodded. "Yeah, that's a good way to
be." She looked at Ray. "I bet you miss working together."
"Yeah, I could really use Fraser back home. So, Hannah, about those smells,"
he said in a deliberate change of subject. "You notice
"Nope, I haven't smelled anything funny lately. Haven't
noticed a thing out of the ordinary. Of course I keep pretty busy, even if I
do have to get folks to take me places when I need to go," she said
with a pointed look at Fraser.
Fraser tried not to smile, and shook his
head. "Hannah, you know the local speed limits as well or better than I
"Yeah, but nobody ever enforced 'em around here until you came,"
Fraser was trying to come up with a reply that didn't
damn his predecessors when Ray spoke in a faux-confidential tone.
y'know, you got off easy, you just got tickets. Fraser arrested me
once. Handcuffs and all."
Hannah's eyes widened. "He did?"
In between almost singlehandedly bringing down two different international
"Ray, don't exaggerate," Fraser said repressingly, trying
to shut him up.
"I'm not. There was the guy on the train with the
impromptu thermonuclear device and then the guy in the nuclear sub with the
Hannah looked up at Fraser, then at Ray. "A nuclear
submarine? You don't mean that one they caught up north, 'bout two years back,
"That's the one," Ray assured her.
"I read about that
in the papers! It was even on The National! I had no idea that was our
"Yeah," Ray said. "I'd give my right arm to have him
back in Chicago."
"My goodness! I can certainly understand how you'd
want him back. He's really wasted here, isn't he?" She looked over at Fraser.
"I, ah, I'm sorry about the speeding. I promise I'll try to do better if I get
my license back."
"I'm very happy to hear that. As for the matter at
hand, we're going to have someone make regular checks on you until we have
this situation resolved, and I want you to call us immediately if you notice
anything even slightly suspicious."
She nodded. "I'll sure do that. I
hope you find this guy. I know Nancy and Todd Stevensen were just devastated.
They've got insurance, thank God, but it's going to take a lot for them to get
back on their feet. And I'm sure Ralph Dixon's pretty upset,
"We'll do our best." He looked at Ray. "I think we need to go to
the trading post and see if we can find out if anyone has recently started
buying unusually large quantities of aftershave."
Ray nodded, standing
up. "Thanks for the coffee."
Hannah laughed. "No, thank you for the
coffee. Before you go, come over here. I want you to have a
She lifted a book off of a stack of bitings, and began
laying them out across the table. Ray followed, after a questioning glance at
Fraser, who nodded encouragement.
Ray shook his
head. "No, these are your work, I can't just take one."
me, Yankee," Hannah said firmly. "Take one."
Fraser watched as Ray
carefully perused all the offerings, and then hesitantly pointed at one of the
smaller ones, an oval which held shadowy images of spiders. "I like that
Hannah's face lit up. "That's my favorite! Nobody ever wants my
"Spiders are cool," Ray said with a grin. "They eat
"Smart boy. I knew I liked you!" Hannah said, picking up
the biting and slipping it into a protective envelope before extending it to
Ray. "There you go. Enjoy it."
Ray took it gravely. "I will. I
As they headed out to the Suburban, Ray looked at him
curiously. "How'd you know it was CK? No offense, but you're not exactly the
"Generally true. However, the explanation is really
quite simple. I was once beset in Marshall Fields by a cologne-wielding sales
clerk. Some of the fragrance got on my uniform and it lingered for weeks
despite several trips to the dry cleaner. I doubt I'll ever forget what it
Ray chuckled, shaking his head. "I think I've had run-ins
with that clerk myself. Okay, so that explains part of the mystery, but how
come you didn't just figure Zhertak was using it himself when he came in
smelling like aftershave? And how did you know it was aftershave not
"Well, the process was entirely subconscious, however, I
suppose if I were to break it down, I would say there were two main factors.
The first being the strength of the scent, which was clearly quite
concentrated since I could detect it over the other fire-related smells. The
second being that Constable Zhertak strongly favors something called Drakkar
Noir, and while he has on occasion come into work smelling faintly of Charlie,
which is a favorite of Amelia Maslow, or Halston, which I believe is Darlene
Adler's preferred scent, he has never, in the entire time he's worked here,
smelled of CK. And I suspect that our culprit is using aftershave rather than
cologne because there's more alcohol in an aftershave, thus making it a better
"Huh. Yeah, I guess that makes sense. And you did all that
without knowing you were doing it? Wild."
"It's not at all unusual. You
do the same thing all the time," Fraser said, unlocking his door and then
tossing the keys to Ray so he could do the same.
Ray caught them, and
looked at him dubiously as he did so. "I do?"
opened the door and slid into the driver's seat as Ray got in on the other
side. "Your subconscious receives data, interprets it, formulates a plan, then
delivers the result to you as a 'hunch' which your conscious mind can then
choose to act on."
"Hey, I like that. Next time somebody asks me if I'm
acting on a hunch I'm going to remember that. Wait, hang on a second here. I
can buy that you know what CK smells like because of a perfume-wielding clerk,
and that you know what Drakkar Noir smells like because Constable Workout
likes to drown himself in it, but how come you know what Halston and Charlie
"I was forced to share my apartment with Francesca Vecchio
for several days," Fraser said, starting the engine and reversing out of the
driveway, then heading back toward town.
"That'd do it," Ray said,
then he frowned. "Hey! You bunked with my sister? How come I never knew
"You knew all about it, Ray. Or should have, after reading the
Ray frowned. "Oh, a Vecchio case." He frowned thoughtfully,
tapping his fingers on the dashboard. "Carver?" he asked after a
"Oh. Okay. So it was all innocent-like?" Ray
"Rather more innocent than Francesca would have liked, I'm
afraid," Fraser said with smile, feeling only a slight pang of outraged
Ray snorted. "I bet." He glanced out the window at a passing
car, and his frown came back as he swivelled around to look back the way
they'd just come. After a moment he turned back to face forward. Fraser
glanced at him, trying to keep an eye on him and the road.
"Hmm? No, nothing." He was still frowning. After a
moment he cleared his throat. "Um. . . you know that thing where your
subconscious receives data, interprets it, formulates a plan, then delivers
the result as a 'hunch'?"
"I'm having one of those now.
"Turn the car around. That kid in the
beat-up Gremlin we just passed. I saw him at Dixon's. He was mighty eager to
get a look at that fire."
"That's hardly a damning. . . ." Fraser
began, then he cut himself short, checked the mirrors, and cranked the wheel
around, making a U-turn. He knew better than to doubt Ray's hunches.
Although the roads were practically deserted, which was of course
quite common for a Sunday afternoon in the region, the young man driving the
orange Gremlin appeared to take no notice that he was being followed. The
Suburban was, in fact, the only other vehicle on the road, but the steady 50
kph speed Fraser maintained was certainly nothing that was likely to draw the
Fraser glanced over at Ray, certain that he'd be
frustrated that it wasn't him behind the wheel of the car, but Ray just looked
back at him and smiled.
"Nice maneuver back there, Fraser. You
have been getting some driving practice in lately, haven't
That much was true, Fraser thought, sighing inwardly. All due to
far too much time in the car and far too little time on his feet. However, he
was aware that Ray's comment hadn't been intended as a criticism of how soft
he'd become of late, but instead had been meant as nothing more than a
compliment about his driving skills. He found himself feeling inordinately
pleased by Ray's words - more so, perhaps, than was warranted by such a
relatively small thing - and the pleasure he felt showed in the smile he
returned to Ray before returning his attention to the road.
perhaps, you were missing being behind the wheel."
"Thought I was just
itching to go after a suspect at 31 miles an hour? No way, Fraser. Believe me,
it's better for my rep to just be a passenger here."
"Ah, so would this
be an example of 'anti-style' in driving?" he asked drily.
over, looking a bit worried as if what he'd said might have caused some
offense, but Fraser just grinned to let him know that he understood no insult
had been intended.
After a second, Ray nodded and leaned back. "Anyway,
if driving at a crawl was anti-style - and I'm not saying it is, okay? - it
would be just right for going after a guy driving a Gremlin. Jeez, talk about
the ultimate anti-style car."
Fully aware that Ray's comment
was meant to get a rise out of him, Fraser tried to recall everything
he had ever read about Gremlins to see if he could retrieve an odd story,
perhaps involving another pursuit, in which the car had played a pivotal role.
Unlikely that he would come up with anything, since he was forced to agree
with Ray's negative assessment of the Gremlin, but he'd missed this old and
familiar game of finding an unlikely story to suit every occasion. From Ray's
expression - a perfect mixture of challenge and amusement - it appeared that
he, too, had missed it, and was just waiting for Fraser to 'take his turn.' He
thought perhaps something would come to mind in a moment, but before it did,
Ray shifted quickly in his seat.
"Okay, heads up. He's got his turn
signal on. Just like you figured, he skipped the first turn off. But if he
heads up, um, Sawmill Road there, he can circle back around to Hannah's place,
"It certainly appears that's what he's intending to
"So, what's the game plan, this being your turf and
For a moment, Fraser felt unaccountably dispirited at the thought
that so much time had passed since they'd last worked together that Ray had to
ask what he was planning to do instead of knowing instinctively. But that
disappointment passed in the next moment when he realized he didn't actually
have any plan of action. He laughed to himself: how silly was it to
resent Ray's inability to read his mind when apparently nothing was there for
him to read in the first place?
"Perhaps we might . . . talk to
Ray laughed. "That talking thing work up here? I used to have a
Canadian partner who did a lot of talking at suspects down in Chicago, but I
figured it was the shock value of somebody in the big bad city offering polite
conversation that got everyone to cough up the goods."
"Oddly enough, I
used to be just like this Canadian partner you describe. Recently, however,
I've found it more efficacious to just threaten to kick people in the
"More efficacious, huh?" Ray grinned. "Heh. I'll bet it's just a
Fraser smiled back. As he eased his foot off the accelerator
to keep his speed consistent with the decreasing speed of the Gremlin, he
glanced automatically in the rear view mirror.
"Oh for God's
Over the rise, he could see the RCMP vehicle assigned to
Constable Zhertak accelerating towards them, its lightbar flashing garishly.
He looked back at the Gremlin, which had almost begun its turn onto Sawmill,
and could see the young man turn to look over his shoulder, then cut the turn
signal, take a sharp left turn, and speed off in the opposite
"Son of a bitch!" Ray yelled as he watched the Gremlin drive
out of sight. He turned around to see the car behind them and slammed his hand
on the dashboard. "What the hell is he doing here?"
"I have no idea,
but I'm certainly going to find out."
Fraser pulled off the road onto
the shoulder by the turn off. He unfastened his seatbelt, got out of the car,
and started to walk back to Constable Zhertak's car, which had now come to a
stop thirty feet behind his own. He could hear the passenger door of his
Suburban open and knew that Ray was getting out of the car, but he didn't hear
Ray's footsteps following him, only the low growl of Diefenbaker from the back
By the time he reached the car, Constable Zhertak had put the
vehicle into park and was standing beside the driver's side door at parade
"Constable. I'm rather surprised to
encounter you here. I thought you'd gone home for the day."
shifted uneasily in place. "Yes, sir. I had planned to do so. But I happened
to run into Dave Byrnes, who told me that one of his people, Angela Smith I
believe, had found evidence of breaking and entering through the back entrance
at Dixon's, and I thought you'd wish to be informed."
"And was it just
a happy coincidence that brought you to this particular stretch of
"Well, sir . . . not precisely."
Fraser raised his
eyebrows questioningly, but remained silent as Zhertak flushed before his
"I returned to the office and asked Sally for your whereabouts,
but she only knew that you had requested kevlar vests and then departed. I . .
.I grew concerned and . . . well, I went into your office to see if you had
left any indication as to your plans for the afternoon. There, I discovered
computer printouts with references to fires highlighted and your Rolodex
opened to Hannah Moss's address and, well . . . ."
"Didn't it occur to
you to simply call me?"
Again, Zhertak flushed. "I'm afraid that in the
heat of the moment, my concern overcame my common sense, Sir. I was quite
worried that you were heading into a potentially volatile situation without
Fraser instinctively glanced back over his shoulder at Ray,
who was still waiting patiently by the car with Diefenbaker. There was his
backup. Ray. However, he was forced to admit that as an RCMP officer and his
second-in-command, Constable Zhertak deserved to be kept informed about all
cases affecting the La Rouille region, particularly one as potentially
life-threatening as the current arson investigation. It had been
unprofessional not to share information pertaining to developments in the case
- or even that there was a case at all - with anyone but the man he considered
his true partner.
It was understandable that Constable Zhertak was
uncomfortable with the involvement of someone he thought of as an outsider in
something he believed to be of official interest only to the RCMP, even if his
attitude toward Ray - and by extension, toward Fraser himself - was rather
offensive. And regardless of his own desire to work exclusively with Ray as he
had in the past, he couldn't deny the fact that it was that very desire which
was responsible for Zhertak's untimely arrival on the scene - and the
subsequent loss of their suspect.
"I appreciate your concern, Bose, and
I apologize for not bringing you up to speed sooner in the investigation.
However, perhaps in future, you'll endeavor to contact me before taking any
"Yes, sir," he said stiffly. "It won't happen
"No, I'm sure it won't." Fraser sighed, and looked in the
direction the Gremlin had gone. It occurred to him that he should at least try
to make Zhertak feel as if he were part of things. "If you insist on giving up
your day off, as it appears you do, perhaps you wouldn't mind doing me a
Zhertak leaned forward, his expression unusually eager. "I'd be
pleased to, sir."
"Would you radio Sally and ask her to log in to the
database and pull the registration records of a 1973 Orange Gremlin, last
year's style license plate number RBY 414, PV type, which expires in October
of next year."
"Um . . . I may have to go back to the office to find
"Is there a problem with your radio?" Fraser asked,
glancing at the car.
"No, sir. It's just that Sally was threatening to
take a baseball bat to her monitor when I stopped by the
Fraser shook his head, smiling a little. He was quite familiar
with Sally's opinion of the antiquated computer she had to use. "Ah. Then
perhaps you'd be so good as to go through the paper records with Sally,
assuming you don't have to charge her with felonious assault upon the computer
Zhertak giggled, then evidently recalled the precarious footing
he was on with his superior officer and wiped the smile from his face. "Will
do, sir. I'll call you as soon as we get the registration
"I appreciate it, Constable. I'll speak with you
"Indeed. And again, Corporal, I want to apologize. To you
and to your . . . to the detective."
Fraser nodded shortly, and Zhertak
headed back toward his car. Fraser thought of something else.
Zhertak turned quickly, hurrying back. "Sir?"
like you to stop by Mrs. Moss' home before you return to the detachment. I was
going to ask you and Constable Traynor to alternate with us doing drive-bys to
check on her throughout the night, however the more I think about it, the more
I think that may not be enough. I'm concerned about her safety, and I think
the detachment budget can cover putting her up at Marie Richard's bed and
breakfast for the night, so I'd like to ask you to take her back with you and
get that set up."
"Certainly, sir. I'd be happy to."
hurried off to his car, got in, and drove off toward Hannah's, as Fraser
walked across the graveled shoulder to join Ray.
"Everything okay?" Ray
asked. "It didn't look like you had to read him the riot act or
"Actually, he was quite contrite - and he offered a very
gracious apology to both of us."
"Yeah? He say why he'd been dogging
"As a matter of fact, he . . . ." Fraser stopped speaking
and looked away.
"What? He what?"
"It appears he was .
. . worried about me."
Ray started to chuckle, and Fraser could feel
his face turning red. "Ray, I hope you don't find it amusing that my own
subordinate evidently believes me to be incapable of doing my job without a
Ray shook his head, then placed a hand on Fraser's shoulder.
"I don't know. . . it doesn't feel like that to me. It's more like. . . he
doesn't want to leave you alone with me for some other reason." His eyes
widened suddenly. "You know what? I'll bet he's got the hots for
Fraser frowned, shaking his head. "I'm sure you're mistaken,
"Bet I'm not!" Ray said, a little too emphatically, but a moment
later he shrugged. "I don't know, maybe. Hard to say. Just. . . why wouldn't
"Even if that were true, why in the world has he been acting in
such an insulting manner toward a friend of mine? Surely he'd . . .
"He's jealous," Ray interrupted.
"He's . . . ah, I see."
He frowned some more. The whole idea seemed highly unlikely. After
all, since he'd arrived, Bose Zhertak had dated virtually every eligible woman
in town before settling into a somewhat precarious equilibrium between Amelia
Maslow and Darlene Adler. All things considered, he certainly didn't seem to
be of the appropriate persuasion.
On the other hand, Ray, who was now
professing a far more than platonic interest in him, had once been married. On
the other other hand Ray could well be projecting. Although even that
thought was a little disconcerting. He'd grown so accustomed to being solitary
that the idea that someone - possibly two someones - had . . . feelings for
him, was all but inconceivable.
His tongue darted out to wet his
suddenly dry lips, and Ray's fingers followed the path of his tongue along his
lips. He swallowed hard, and Ray pulled his hand back, but then he touched his
wet fingertips to Fraser's cheek.
"Don't flip out on me here, Benton,
okay? It shouldn't be that surprising. Back in Chicago you practically had to
beat people off with a stick."
Fraser closed his eyes. "Yes, well, I
should think it's apparent that things have . . . changed since I was in
He felt Ray's hand slide around the back of his neck. "They
haven't changed as much as you think. There was always more to you than just a
pretty face." Ray's fingers curled in to the too-long hair at the back of his
head. "Later, okay? We'll talk about this later. Anyway, what did you tell
your boyfriend that we were going to do next?"
"Ray! He's not . . .
"I know. " Ray grinned and bumped Fraser's arm with his own. "Just
yanking your chain. What's next?"
Fraser shook off the dazed feeling
that Ray's touch had left in its wake and nodded. "I think we should go check
out Sawmill Road and see if there's any evidence that our arsonist may have
been there before."
He opened the door of the Suburban and got in, and
a moment later Ray was back in 'shotgun' position. Just as he started the
engine, his cellular phone began to ring. He got it out and thumbed it
"Corporal Benton Fraser speaking."
"Ah. . . hello, sir,"
came Bose Zhertak's voice, sounding unusually hesitant.
"Is there a
"She says she won't go."
"Yes, sir. She won't leave."
Fraser shook his head, well
aware of Hannah's stubborn streak. "We'll be right there."
The drive to Hannah's was blissfully short, although Fraser could
feel Diefenbaker's mocking stare on the back of his head the entire way. Ray
got out of the car and after he closed the door, Fraser looked back at Dief
with a scowl. "I'll thank you to mind your manners," he hissed. "Or have you
forgotten that I still control the can-opener and kibble scoop?"
looked worried. Fraser felt rather reprehensibly smug. He got out, and they
walked up to the front porch where Zhertak was standing next to an
angry-looking Hannah Moss. Under other circumstances it might have been
amusing to see the six-foot-two-inch constable completely intimidated by the
five-foot-if-that Hannah Moss, but these weren't other circumstances.
"Is there a problem?" he asked politely, looking from one to the
Hands fisted on her hips, Hannah shot a glare at Zhertak and
nodded. "You bet there is. This idiot just come strolling up to my door,
telling me I've got to go with him for my own good!"
seemed to have developed an itchy nose. Fraser strongly suspected he was
grinning behind his hand. Fraser was having a hard time not doing so himself.
"Perhaps Constable Zhertak didn't make my suggestion clear," he said smoothly.
"We simply thought it would be prudent if you stayed away from the premises
until our suspect is caught. We wouldn't want you to be come to any harm
through our negligence."
Her glare was suddenly aimed his way, and he
felt a moment of empathy with Zhertak.
"Your suggestion? This was your
idea, Benton Fraser? I guess you're the fool, then. If you think I'm in
danger, then so's my house, and I'll have you know that I've lived in this
house for thirty years, and I'm not going to run off and leave it for some
lunatic to burn down! My kids were born here, my husband died here, and this
house has kept me safe for all that time. I'm not leaving it unprotected, you
He cleared his throat. "Ah, yes, ma'am. I think the point is
clear. However, it wouldn't be unprotected. We would have someone coming by to
keep an eye on it at regular intervals."
"Yeah, and what about when
they're not coming by? It's an old house, Corporal, well-aged pine, with paper
insulation. It'll go up like a torch if it's lit and by the time Dave Byrnes
rousted his crew and got down here it'd be all over but the crying. Nope. No
way am I leaving. I'm here. I've got four fire extinguishers and a garden
hose. I'm staying."
She glared from him to Zhertak and back, apparently
leaving Ray out, since he hadn't said anything. Zhertak shot him a look that
said plainly 'See? She's nuts!' and Fraser resisted the urge to sigh.
"I understand, Mrs. Moss. We'll work around it. Would you be willing to have
someone from the detachment stay with you tonight?"
about it, and nodded, grudgingly. "Yeah, I suppose. It's not like I don't have
the room. And it'd be nice to have some company."
Zhertak, if you'd be so good as to go on back to the detachment and see to
that other matter we discussed I'd be grateful. Once that's done I'd like you
to bring Constable Traynor by, she can stay here with Mrs. Moss overnight. Ray
and I will stay here until she arrives."
"Why don't you just have her
drive over?" Zhertak asked, looking puzzled.
"'Cause we want things to
look normal around here," Ray cut in. "You put an RCMP cruiser in the driveway
and there's no way the perp will show his nose again. Any unfamiliar vehicle,
really, doesn't even have to have gumballs on top, and he'll
"Gum. . ." Zhertak looked confused for a moment, but then he
nodded. "Ah, yes, I understand. All right. I'll go look up that information
for you, and then I'll get Arden. . . er, Constable Traynor, and bring her
back. . . in my personal car, not the cruiser."
"Excellent idea, just in case he's watching the traffic in the
Zhertak excused himself, looking suspiciously relieved as he
hightailed it for his cruiser. Fraser turned back to find Ray with his hand on
"You okay?" he was asking softly. "You look a
"Well, of course I am!" she snapped, then she softened.
"Sorry. I shouldn't snap at you. I know you're just doing your job. It's just.
. . ." Her face crumpled a little. "I hate to think that someone around here
hates me so much."
"Now, see, it's not really you," Ray said. "It's
just that this guy thinks he's got instructions to torch some kind of art that
had to do with wood, and your stuff fits the bill. So, it's not personal. It's
not that somebody doesn't like you. It's just this weird game he's playing
with this other guy, and this other guy is in a mental ward so that tells you
he's not playing with a full deck to start with."
slightly confused. "Who's not? The guy in the mental ward or the guy who wants
to burn down my house?"
"Well, if you ask me, both," Ray said. "But for
sure the guy in the mental ward. Hey, aren't you a little chilly, standing out
here with no coat?"
Hannah rubbed her arms.. "Now that you mention it,
yeah. Come on inside." She opened the door and ushered them inside. "You boys
hungry? I made a big pot of beef-barley soup that I was going to take up to
Mary's but since I'm not going now, it'll last me forever. I'll get it out and
warm it up, make some biscuits, and we can have an early supper." She turned
and headed for the kitchen.
Fraser opened his mouth to refuse, only to
have Ray catch his eye and shake his head, scowling, before he called out.
"Yeah, that'd be great! We never got lunch today."
waited, eyebrows lifted, and as soon as Hannah had disappeared into the
kitchen Ray put a hand on his arm and pulled him close, lips nearly against
"Fraser, moms deal with stress by cooking," he whispered, "and
she's a mom. Just go with it. She needs to do this."
A surge of warmth
went through him at the feel of Ray's breath and his face lightly touching his
hair, which, oddly, evoked a shiver. He tried to convey his understanding of
Ray's words, but nothing came out of his mouth except a strange choked-off
little sound. Ray pulled back a little, looked at him, and then smiled
wickedly and leaned back in.
"You like that?" he whispered, his lips
brushing Fraser's ear.
Fraser closed his eyes and nodded. He couldn't
possibly form words. The warmth spread through him like wildfire, pooling in
"I'll remember that," he said, still in a whisper. "Later."
His tongue flicked out in a rapid tease before Ray drew back, cleared his
throat, and not-very-surreptitiously adjusted his trousers.
swallowed thickly, and echoed Ray's tug. It was several seconds before his
voice returned. "Ray. . . ."
"I'm . . . looking forward
Ray's smile was like sunlight breaking through clouds. "Me
too, Benton. Me too."
* * *
The last time Ray could remember
feeling this way - this worried he was going to do something to mess things up
and this sure everything was going to be great and this stupidly happy all at
the same time - he'd been seventeen years old. 1977. He'd grown fast over the
past year, but he was gawky and shy and didn't have a clue about what he was
going to do with his life. Every time he thought about his last report card,
he wasn't even sure he was going to make it through to graduation.
Then one Saturday morning in late May he woke up and everything had
changed. His dad told him to get in the car, but instead of taking him to get
the haircut he'd been threatening him with for the past month, he drove him
over to Bill Adamczyk's garage - lecturing him all the way about
responsibility and maturity - only to stand back while Mr. Adamczyk handed him
the keys to the GTO he'd been admiring for months. He was going to have to
work every day that coming summer to help his dad pay it off, but it was his.
Then they returned home, and when he walked in the door,
there was his mom, beaming at him from the front porch. He didn't even have
time to wonder when she'd started to get so excited about cars before she
handed him an envelope and squeezed him so tightly he almost couldn't breathe.
He read the letter and couldn't believe it. A college - a real college - had
written to him to say they wanted to offer him a place in the fall. Him - with
his 62 percent average.
An hour later, he got a phone call that made
him forget the letter from the college. Hell, it almost made him forget the
Goat for a second. It was Stella. Stella who'd broken up with him two weeks
earlier saying that they were too young to be going steady and that now that
they were graduating and moving on with their lives, they should start seeing
other people. Stella. And she was crying and saying she loved him and she
didn't want to break up with him and it didn't matter to her if he didn't go
to college as long as they were together. And then she asked him to go with
her to the senior prom. He just sat on the kitchen floor, wrapping the phone
cord around his arm and wondering when lightning was going to strike, but
thinking it was pretty much worth it even if it did, until Stella had to ask
if he was still there.
Now, twenty years later, he felt like he was
seventeen all over again. He wasn't sure what the hell was happening between
him and Fraser, and it was almost scaring him to death, but it just felt so
Maybe too great - at least at the moment. Jeez. Another
few minutes of standing here staring at Fraser, and he was going to end up
jumping the guy in the middle of a stranger's living room.
Let's go see if Hannah needs any help."
For a minute, Fraser just
looked confused, then gave him a slight smile, nodded, and started to walk
toward the kitchen, but Ray held his hand out. "Lose the jacket, Benton. In
fact, we might as well get rid of the vests, too; I think we're going to be
here for a while."
Fraser took off his jacket, hanging it on the coat
rack by the door, then he turned his back and wrestled and wriggled until he
got the kevlar vest off, without ever unbuttoning his shirt. The whole thing
was as big a production number as he'd gone through to put it on earlier.
Finally he turned back toward Ray looking uncomfortable and slightly flushed
as he tugged the bottom of his henley out of his jeans even though he'd worn
it tucked in that morning, before he'd had to put the vest on.
frowned. He couldn't remember more than two or three times before when Fraser
had worn a shirt untucked, so why . . . okay, that's why. God. He was worrying
about the way he looked. No, that wasn't quite right, this wasn't vanity. Ray
knew that. This was Fraser worrying about not being the same guy Ray
remembered, about being out of shape and . . . human, and maybe being a little
unsure of his own appeal - the kind of worries Ray used to think Benton Fraser
didn't share with the rest of the world. Maybe he could do something to help
"Hey." He closed the few steps separating them and slid his
hands around Fraser's waist, tucking the shirt back into place. Fraser sucked
in a startled breath, going as still as a proverbial deer in the headlights.
Ray didn't remove his hands from where they'd stopped, an inch below the
waistband at the back of Fraser's jeans, just tugged him a little closer.
It was then that Ray figured out the main difference
between being seventeen and being thirty-nine; he'd learned how to be patient,
at least a little. No, it wouldn't have taken much to just slide his hands
down a little lower, another inch at the most, until they were touching
Fraser's ass - and God, wasn't just the thought of that enough to make him
wish he had a paper bag to breathe into - but he didn't do it. There was a
really nice lady warming up beef-barley soup no more than twenty feet from
them and it wasn't like this was going to be his only chance.
Reluctantly, he slid his hands out and was perversely glad to see a
disappointed expression on Fraser's face. "Come on. Let's go in."
kitchen was like Hannah herself; it was small but practical, and with an
underlying warmth that had little to do with the heat emanating from the open
As soon as they walked in the room, Hannah glanced up from the table
with a satisfied look on her face and nodded. "Good timing, boys. Now get
yourselves washed up and let's get some food into you."
to look back at Dief, who'd followed them into the kitchen. "Shall I ask him
to wait outside?"
"No need," Hannah said, setting the biscuit tray
down. "The more, the merrier. Even got a beef bone here for him that I used to
make the stock. He like bones?"
Fraser sighed. "I think you'd be hard
pressed to find anything he doesn't like."
Once Diefenbaker had settled
down happily under the table with his snack, they took turns at the
old-fashioned enamel basin, washing their hands, then drying them on a faded
pink dishtowel hanging nearby. Ray wondered for a moment if it had once
belonged to Tilda Johannsen and chuckled. Fraser looked questioningly at him,
but Ray just shook his head and smiled, drawing a confused answering smile in
Ray hung the dishtowel over the handle of the oven door to
dry, which earned him a nod from Hannah. Fraser cleared his throat. "Could I
be of assistance with anything?"
Hannah snorted in response. "The day
I need help serving up soup to company's the day somebody'd better haul me off
and plant me in one of them old folk's homes down in Regina. You just sit
yourself down, Benton Fraser. And you too, Ray Kowalski. We don't want these
biscuits cooling off now, do we?"
They both did as she asked, although
Ray smiled to see Fraser's noticeable hesitation over sitting down before his
hostess. If Hannah was anything like his mom, she'd be up and down like a
jack-in-the-box until everything was just right. Sure enough, it wasn't until
the soup had been served, the basket of fresh biscuits had been set down in
the middle of the oak table, and tall glasses of apple cider had been placed
in front of each of them, that Hannah finally sat down.
She pulled a
napkin out from the brass holder and placed it on her lap, then pursed her
lips. "Well, come on. Dig in, boys. You know, when my kids all still lived at
home, anyone who waited around this long to start eating would've found
themselves going to bed hungry. My brood used to go through meals like a swarm
of locust." She fixed a glare that took in both of them at once - no easy
trick considering they were sitting on opposite sides of the table - and they
immediately reached for their spoons.
To be honest, Ray didn't need
much encouragement to eat. It had been a long time since they'd shared
breakfast that morning, and the rich aroma of the soup reminded him how hungry
he was. Still, he'd only finished half of his soup when Hannah got up and
reached for Fraser's bowl to refill it. Fraser began to protest, but Hannah
would hear none of it.
"You don't want to insult the cook, do you? You
know, there's nothing so satisfying as seeing someone appreciate their
cooking, Benton. I like a man with a good appetite. You take another couple of
those biscuits, too."
With a rueful smile, Fraser nodded and took the
bowl from Hannah. "Thank you."
They were just starting to clear up
after lunch when the doorbell rang. Hannah sighed. "He's back, and he's got my
babysitter with him."
"Constable Traynor isn't a babysitter, Hannah.
You know that."
"That's as may well be, Benton," she said
disconsolately. "But it's what it feels like."
Fraser put his arm
around her shoulders. "I'm more sorry about this than you can imagine, but
we'd be derelict in our duties if we didn't make every effort to ensure your
Hannah pulled back and stared at Fraser for a second, then
turned to face Ray. "Don't you just love the way he talks?"
back a laugh. "Yeah, I do. Listen, you want me to get the door?"
she sighed. "I may as well face it now as later."
The bell rang a
second time. "All right, all right already," she called, walking into the
living room. "Hold your horses."
Fraser and Ray placed the last of the
dishes in the sink, then left the kitchen to find Hannah sitting on the couch
and engaged in an animated discussion with Arden Traynor about termites.
Zhertak was still standing there with a wary expression on his face, looking
for all the world like he was worried the wrath of Hannah might turn back on
him at any second.
"Ah, Corporal Fraser," he said, visibly relieved. He
walked over to join the two men and nodded a greeting to Ray. "Sally and I
were able to come up with the information you requested. The registration for
the vehicle in question belongs to Crawford Jones."
That's Lana Jones' oldest son, isn't it? I didn't know he was old enough to
"He is indeed of legal driving age and has been since this past
summer. The vehicle formerly belonged to his Uncle Turner, who apparently
signed over the ownership to him as a birthday gift."
"I see. And his
"12A Pine, Lot#3, Duck Lake."
Ray nodded. "A trailer
Zhertak glanced at Ray. "Yes, it is a trailer park, Mr.
Kowalski, but how did you know that?"
"Well, first of all, that's
Detective Kowalski, so there's a clue right there. Second, it sounded
familiar. I spent the first eight years of my life in a trailer park." He
paused to see if he was going to get any smart ass comments from Zhertak, but
when none were forthcoming, he grinned. "Plus, I passed the sign for Duck Lake
on my way into town yesterday."
Fraser had that expression on his face
that probably looked all serious and business-like to almost everyone else,
but looked to Ray like a guy trying real hard not to laugh.
Fraser? You want to take a ride?"
"I think that would be a good idea.
Constable Zhertak, would you mind keeping an eye on the detachment? I suppose
I could ask Constable Traynor if you'd prefer to stay here and . . .
"No, quite all right, sir. Happy to watch over things. Call if you
require any more assistance. Really. No trouble." He was still offering his
assistance as he backed out of the door and bolted for his car.
looked up from the couch and cackled. "Scared him off, did I? Looks like you
don't scare as easy, eh, Constable?"
Arden Traynor smiled. "I don't
scare at all."
Ray went to fetch a sleepy wolf from the warm kitchen,
and when he returned, Fraser had put his jacket on and was giving last minute
instructions to Traynor.
". . . leaving Dief here to do outside
reconnaissance, and we'll let you know within the hour."
Corporal. Hannah and I will be just fine."
Hannah nodded. "Run along,
boys. We'll entertain ourselves somehow. I think I'll show Arden the nest of
wolf spiders up in the attic."
Ray didn't think that sounded
particularly entertaining, but Traynor looked pretty eager at the prospect of
crawling around in the attic looking at spiders, so who was he to
Before leaving, Fraser and Ray took a quick walk around the
sparse woods that surrounded the house, seeing if there was any evidence of
anyone having been in the area recently. Of course, Ray knew that only
Fraser'd be able to notice anything hinky; the extent of his woodlore
consisted only in knowing that thing about moss only growing on the north side
of trees - except that he remembered Fraser once telling him that wasn't
actually true, particularly the further north you went, so he guessed his
woodlore was really pretty much nonexistent.
But he wasn't about to
pass up a chance to spend a few minutes actually alone with Fraser, even if
they were supposed to be working. Didn't take much in the way of
self-awareness to realize it was getting harder and harder to keep his hands
off him, and when Fraser - his eyes still trained on the underbrush - reached
over and took hold of his hand before clearing his throat almost immediately
and releasing it again, it looked like he wasn't the only one having trouble
keeping his head on straight.
Patience. He could be patient. Even if it
was a damned over-rated quality.
Duck Lake turned out to have neither a
lake, nor any ducks that Ray could see. What it did have, though, were lots
and lots of electrical cables and mini satellite dishes attached to the sides
of almost all the trailers in the park. The Jones home was no exception. As
they approached the door, Ray could hear an all-too-familiar sound. Fraser
paused before knocking on the door and frowned.
Ray laughed. "Just a
'toon losing a fight with a train, Fraser. I thought you said you'd been
"I thought I had." Fraser smiled. "Evidently my
television-watching has been missing a vital component."
and the door was opened by a young boy wearing a wrinkled Digimon t-shirt and
Nike sweatpants. Before Fraser could say anything, the boy started yelling.
"Mom! Some guys are here!"
He wandered away to join another slightly
older boy down on the floor in front of the television, but in a few seconds,
they were greeted by the sight of a harassed-looking woman waving bright red
fingernails in the air in front of her. "Colin! Bennett! I told you to turn
that down or turn it off!"
Fraser tapped on the metal edging. "Lana
She turned toward the door. "Hey! Corporal Fraser. Haven't seen
you in ages. Come on in."
"Thank you kindly. I'd like you to meet my
good friend, Ray Kowalski. Ray, Ms. Jones runs Lana's Hair Salon on
Ray looked at Fraser's hair curling over his collar and
raised his eyebrows. "Yeah, I can tell you haven't seen him for a while," he
laughed. "Good to meet you, Ms. Jones."
"Please, call me Lana. Everyone
does," she said, looking pointedly in Fraser's direction. "Now what can I do
for you gentlemen today?"
"Actually," Fraser said, "I was hoping to
have a word with your son, Crawford."
"You and me both," she muttered.
"What's he done, now?"
"We're not certain he's done anything . . .
Lana, but we'd like to ask him some questions, if that's all right with
"If you can find him, you can ask him whatever you want," Lana
said with a smile, pushing a lock of straight, dark hair back from her face.
"That boy's getting harder and harder to keep track of these days. He took off
early this morning and hasn't been back since."
"Ah. Perhaps you might
let me know where he might be. Some friends, perhaps?"
Lana shook her
head slowly. "I honestly can't think of anyone he might be visiting. Crawford
. . . well, Crawford doesn't have many friends here in La Rouille, not like
those two," she said indicating the boys still parked in front of the muted
Though black-haired like their mother and brother, they were
round-faced and smiling. Not much like their brother, who Ray remembered as an
angular, sullen young man from his brief glimpse outside Dixon's Masonry.
"He used to play with some of the neighbor kids when he was younger,"
Lana continued. "But these days he's either planted in front of his computer
or he's pulling a disappearing act. Teenagers, huh?"
One of the boys
started to giggle, and all three adults turned to look at them, which just set
both of them to laughing harder.
"What's so funny, you little
The older of the two started to chant, "Crawford's got a
girlfriend . . . Crawford's got a girlfriend," and the younger one hummed
along, until Lana waved them into silence with her still-drying
"Since when? Bennett? What's this about a
The older boy giggled again. "Crawford's got a
"Yes, so you said," Lana sighed. "What makes you think
he's seeing someone?"
Bennett rolled over on his back on the carpet.
"Because he's always doing that online chat thing and whenever me or Colin get
near, he threatens to beat us up, and he's started buying that stinky stuff
like girls like to wear."
Fraser and Ray exchanged glances. "What kind
of 'stinky stuff,' Bennett?"
"You know, like perfume stuff. Me and
Colin opened one last week and, man does that stuff reek! We kept the windows
in the bedroom open for three whole hours, but as soon as Crawford came home
he knew we'd done it. Said he'd beat us up for that, too. Didn't do it,
"Would you mind showing us where he keeps this stinky stuff .
. . if that's all right with you, Lana? I must warn you that the case we're
investigating is actually quite serious and you'd be well within your rights
to ask us to leave until a search warrant is issued by the local justice of
"No, Corporal, it's all right with me. Come take a look. I
swear, that boy used to tell me everything, and now everything's a big
Ray nodded. "Yeah, my mom used to say the same thing about
"Sure," he said as reassuringly as he could.
"Happens to all of us. Well," he turned to look at Fraser and smiled, "it
happens to most of us."
Lana led the way to the boys' bedroom, with the
two younger ones trailing after them. She opened the door and they saw a bunk
bed by the window and a twin bed along the opposite wall, plus three small
dressers all jammed into the room. Colin started to open the top dresser
drawer by the twin bed, but Bennett bumped him out of the way.
"Hey! Cut it out!"
They started poking at each
other, and finally Lana had to separate them. "Oh, for heaven's sake! Can't
you two get along for a minute?"
She opened the drawer and took a long
look. "Nothing but socks and underwear, boys. Are you sure you saw
"Well, duh!" Bennett said indignantly. "There were ten
whole bottles of that gross stuff in here yesterday."
around the room. "Do either of you boys remember if there was anything written
on the label of the bottles?"
Bennett frowned, but Colin nodded, "Uh
huh. CK, like my initials. Right mom? Colin Kenneth is CK."
are, sweetie," Lana said, ruffling her son's hair.
The two boys left
the room and went back to the living room, presumably to go back to watching
t.v., if the sudden increase in volume was any clue.
couldn't be more help, Corporal."
"Unfortunately, this may have been
more helpful than we all might have liked. May I ask one more
Fraser winced a little, and as he
spoke, Ray realized why.
"I know most of the young men in this area
hunt. Does Crawford have a rifle?"
Lana paled, her eyes searching
Fraser's face. "Why would you ask that?"
"It's always good to be fully
prepared," Fraser said quietly.
She swallowed heavily. "He has one,
but it's locked in the gun-case in my room, under my bed. And it's staying
there," she said, her voice going hard, along with the line of her
Fraser nodded. "Lana, if your son does turn up before we encounter
him, I'd encourage you to retain counsel before speaking with us
Lana was visibly shaken, but her voice was calm. "And if you
find him first?"
"I promise you we'll contact you before taking any
action, if it's at all possible."
"I'm trusting you with my boy,
Fraser nodded. "I'll endeavor to be worthy of that trust,
Still looking pale and concerned, she ushered them to the
door. "You be careful on the step there, let me get the lights for you," she
said, flipping a switch that lit both the light beside the door, and one at
the end of the walk that was supposed to look like an old-fashioned street
lantern on a short post.
Fraser thanked her, and after she closed the
door behind them, Ray turned and looked at Fraser. "You didn't mention the
Fraser shook his head. "No. I don't have a warrant, so
confiscation would be suspect. She might have given it to me willingly,
however I didn't want to chance tipping our hand."
Ray nodded. "Yeah,
true. We'll just hope he doesn't get spooked and wipe it."
"Even if he
does, it could likely be reconstructed by the RCMP's Computer Investigative
Support Unit. Shall we go?"
Ray nodded, took three steps toward the
car, and then stopped, glancing at the nearly over-flowing trash can that was
set out in the street for pick-up.
"Fraser. . . we need a search
warrant for that?" he asked, nodding at the can.
"No, it's on public
"You got any gloves?"
Fraser paused for a moment,
looking at him oddly, and then nodded and went to the Suburban, opening the
back. A moment later he returned, carrying two pair of latex gloves, and a
couple of ziploc bags, one medium, one large. Ray accepted one pair of gloves,
pulled them on, and went over, lifting out the bag of what was obviously
kitchen garbage and then picking carefully through the less messy items left
in the bin. After a moment he found a box and some bubble wrap. Pulling it out
he checked the return address label.
"eScents-dot-com," he read aloud.
"And lookee here, a packing slip and receipt to one Mr. Crawford Jones, for
one dozen bottles of CK. Huh, not as expensive as you'd think. These online
places have good prices."
Fraser opened the larger bag and held it out.
"If you please?"
Ray dropped the box into the bag. "Thank you kindly,"
he said with a cheesy grin. "Let me see if I can find anything else. He turned
back to dig in the trash some more, and when he glanced up, Fraser had that
funny look on his face again. "What? What?"
"I. . . it's trash,
Ray looked down. "Wow, really? No kidding?"
that no one. . . I mean usually it was. . . oh, never mind."
nobody ever dug in the trash for you before?" Ray asked,
Fraser shook his head. "No. Well, not without
"Well, that's why we're a duet," Ray said. "We share.
Even the icky stuff." Spotting a gleam that looked like glass he reached for
it, the tips of his fingers grazing. . . there. He had it. Pulled out a
bottle. "Exhibit number two," he said, brandishing the empty CK bottle. "Kid's
not real bright, is he? Not a hardened criminal, at any rate. He's probably
"Arson is a serious crime, Ray," Fraser said severely,
opening the second bag for him. "I can't believe you're excusing his
Ray dropped the bottle into the bag and held up his hands.
"Not excusing him, Fraser. Just saying. . . I get it, you know? I've worked
with a lot of kids, and the thing is, they're dumb about stuff. Not because
they have low IQ's mostly, but because they just don't. . . think. They don't
get cause and effect. That's the thing most grownups forget. You have to
remember that YOU were just as stupid at one point or you can't deal with kids
at all. Didn't you ever do anything stupid when you were a kid?"
surprise, Fraser coughed, and colored enough that Ray could see it even in the
artificial glow of the nearby street and porch lights. "I. . . ah. . .
Sensing a story, Ray jumped. "No ah-ing allowed here, Fraser. Yes or
"Yes," Fraser admitted, blushing darker.
"Hah! I knew it.
Spill! What was it?"
"Well, ah. . . It involved a goldmine, a boomerang
and a tank full of gasoline. But this isn't the time or place, we've a case to
Ray eyed him narrowly. "Yeah. Okay. You're right. But don't
think you're off the hook, Benton."
our game plan? We've got some evidence, but we don't know where our suspect
is. Seems like maybe our best bet would be to go back to Hannah's, find a
place where we stake it out without being screamingly obvious."
thoughts exactly," Fraser said. "Since Hannah's daughter has custody of her
van until her license is reinstated, we can probably put the Suburban in her
detached garage. And as I recall, there's a small workshop above it, which
Hannah's husband Mike used to use for woodworking before he passed away a year
Ray nodded. "It have windows?"
"On all four
"Perfecto. Let's go. Dief's probably tired of walking a beat
"It's good for him. He's gotten soft," Fraser said. A
moment later he sighed. "Like Mountie, like wolf."
Ray reached over and
squeezed his shoulder. "Not soft, Benton. Just a little neglected." He moved
his hand slightly, trailed his fingers up Fraser's neck, raising gooseflesh
and a shiver. "You just need some. . . attention."
Fraser was staring
at him, eyes slightly glazed, lips parted. He leaned forward slightly, and Ray
found himself leaning too, and just in time remembered that there were
probably at least three pair of eyes glued on them at that moment, and he
pulled back, looking around guiltily. "Let's go."
* * *
fortunate that there was no traffic, since Fraser drove the few miles back to
Hannah's with less than the requisite amount of attention on the road. He
couldn't believe he'd almost kissed Ray right there in the middle of the
street. What had he been thinking? A moment's thought forced him to admit that
he really hadn't been thinking at all. Simply feeling. Feeling Ray's
acceptance, his desire, his. . . love. Feeling all those things himself. To
have Ray acknowledge and echo his own feelings, on top of the satisfaction
he'd already gained by finally feeling useful, needed, and effective was
"You're pretty quiet there. Penny for your
He glanced briefly at Ray, felt, more than saw his quizzical
gaze in the darkness inside the vehicle. "I was just contemplating how it
might feel to win the lottery."
There was a short pause, and then Ray
chuckled. "Ohyeah. I get that. This is just. . . the best, you
"I do indeed," Fraser said warmly.
"God, I wish. . . ."
Ray began, only to break off abruptly.
Fraser knew without a doubt
what he'd been about to say. He sighed. "As do I, Ray."
that Ray would be leaving the next day kept them both quiet for the remainder
of the drive. Once they reached their destination, a few moments conversation
netted them the use of the garage to conceal the Suburban, and the workroom as
an observation post. Hannah furnished them with a large thermos of coffee and a
five-pound coffee can festively decorated with maple-leaf patterned
contact-paper, which was filled with sugar cookies. In addition, she gave them two Hudson's Bay
blankets and the information that there were some old lawn-furniture cushions
stored in the garage that they could sit on, though the furniture itself had
long since fallen apart.
"All the comforts of home," Ray said, beating
Fraser to it. "Thanks. This is the best-equipped stakeout I've ever been
Hannah beamed at him. "Well, it's the least I could do." She
looked hopefully over at Fraser. "So, should Constable Traynor go home
Fraser shook his head. "No, I'd like her to stay, if you don't
mind. Just in case we miss anything."
Hannah sighed, and Fraser heard
Ray snort under his breath.
"Shyeah. Like you'd miss anything."
He sent a quelling glance at Ray and set the coffee and cookies on top
of the folded blankets he already held. "Why don't you take these, and I'll
just go move the truck."
Ray grinned at him irrepressibly, and nodded,
heading out the kitchen door and over to the garage. Putting down his burden,
he opened the garage door and waited for Fraser to drive the Suburban inside.
Once he'd parked, Fraser got flashlights and a packet of disposable
double-cuff restraints out of the back of the unit. Ray, blankets draped over
his shoulders and still maintaining his grip on the thermos and cookies,
somehow managed to grab a couple of the green vinyl cushions off the shelf
where Hannah had indicated they could be found and disappeared out the door
with them. Fraser followed him a moment later, closing the garage door before
ascending the staircase that led up to the workshop. Dief appeared out of the
small copse to the south of the house and followed him, grumbling about the
Ray had put the coffee and cookies down on the
workbench and was in the process of rearranging several gallon paint cans, a
sawhorse, and two sheets of heavy plywood into a makeshift seat facing the
window which fronted on the house. That done, he put the chaise-style cushions
down on the plywood and sat down for a moment, testing his construction. When
it held up, he nodded looking pleased. "There. Not quite as good as the GTO's
bucket seats, but hey, at least we won't have to stand up or kneel the whole
time, and our butts won't get numb."
"It certainly should help, thank
you," Fraser said, taking a moment to orient himself, identifying the path to
the door and making sure it was clear, as well as noting the positions of the
workbench, a second saw-horse, and a table-saw before reaching up to grasp the
chain that would turn out the overhead light. "All set?" he asked
Ray took a look around. "Hang on," he folded one of the two
blankets and put it down on the wooden floor under the workbench. "There you
go, Dief. Why should we get all the perks?" he asked, and then nodded at
Fraser as Dief curled up on the cushion. "All set. Go for it."
tugged on the chain, plunging the room into darkness. He stood for a moment,
allowing his eyes to adjust, and then moved forward toward the window. The
vantage point was quite good, showing the rear and both sides of the house,
away from the porch light that flooded the front yard with light.
view," Ray said.
"It is an excellent vantage point," Fraser said
before glancing back to find that even though they were on the dark side of
the house, there was enough light coming in the window to faintly illumine the
room they occupied, and that Ray was not looking out the window, but rather at
his backside. He was torn between feeling foolishly pleased, and feeling
slightly exasperated. "Ray," he said, trying to sound severe but succeeding
only in sounding rather fond. "We're working."
Ray grinned. "Yeah, but
that doesn't mean I'm blind, Benton. From this distance, I don't even need my
glasses. And that is one world-class view you got there, I'm telling you. And
as a connoisseur, I should know."
Fraser's face went hot. "Nonsense,
Ray. If you're not blind, you can't have failed to notice that I'm . . . not
in optimum condition."
Ray sighed, shaking his head, scratching at his
stubble with a raspy sound before patting the cushion beside him. "C'mere,
Fraser sat, somewhat gingerly at first until he realized
that Ray's makeshift couch was sturdy enough to support him. Ray reached out
and put a hand on his thigh, squeezing lightly. Fraser's entire focus seemed
suddenly to be concentrated on that spot. He could feel the warmth of Ray's
hand through the denim of his jeans, could make out each individual finger
where it lay. He swallowed hard.
"Look, we're pushing forty here,
Benton. Optimum condition left us both in the dust a few years back. Don't
sweat it, okay? I'm into the whole package, not just bits and pieces. All of
you. If putting up with your passive-aggressive crap back in Chicago didn't
put me off my feed do you really think anything else
"Passive-ag. . . I am not!" Fraser said hotly,
"Tell me another one," Ray said, his voice dripping sarcasm.
"Your picture's in the dictionary right next to the definition, Benton. But
that's okay, because that's you and I got to kind of like that about you. And
besides, my picture's in there next to just plain old ordinary aggressive so
it's not like I got room to talk. Just cop to it."
about protesting, but then Ray's fingers shifted slightly up and down his
thigh in what could only be termed a caress, and he found himself barely able
to think. "I . . . ah. . . what were you saying?"
passive-aggressive," Ray prompted.
Right. Yes. That was the topic.
Fraser tried to marshal his thoughts, a task rapidly becoming nearly
Herculean. "I suppose. . . some people might. . . view it . . . in that
Ray's chuckled, fingers straying slightly higher, moving toward
his inner thigh, toward the crease where thigh and hip joined. "You're
breathing kind of heavy there," he teased.
Fraser lifted his gaze from
the hypnotic stroke of fingers on his thigh and looked into Ray's face,
shadowed, mysterious. His mouth was curved in a faint smile, his eyes shone
with reflected light. He hesitated for a moment, and then remembered that Ray
was leaving in the morning and he might never have the chance to do this
again. That thought was. . . unbearable. He had to know. Had to. He had no
choice at all. Lifting a hand, he slid it behind Ray's head, feeling the plush
prickle of short-cropped hair against his palm as he leaned over, tilted his
head a little, and brought their lips together.
Ray leaned into him,
lips parting, breath sighing into his mouth, the hand on his thigh tightening
a little, his other hand coming up, fingers threading into Fraser's hair,
tugging a little to reposition him, and then Ray's tongue flicked his lower
lip, slick and warm, and Fraser shivered and opened wider to let him in,
shifting closer, up against Ray. He felt solid, warm, and strong. As Fraser
moved, Ray let his hand slide along Fraser's leg until his thumb was resting
in the crease where thigh met groin, and. . . squeezed.
Fraser let out
a startled gasp which made Ray start laughing, and determined to even the
score, Fraser slid a hand down Ray's back until it was resting on as much of
his backside as he could reach, and he squeezed back. Surprised, Ray twitched.
Okay, it was more of a jump. The movement unbalanced Fraser, causing him to
shift most of his weight to one side. Suddenly the cushions, plywood, Ray. . .
everything, was sliding, accompanied by the incredibly loud sounds of
paint cans falling and rolling, the hollow, ringing thud of a sawhorse hitting
the floor, and Diefenbaker's startled barking. Too stunned to react, they rode
the avalanche down to the floor and lay there for a few seconds, trying to
catch their breath, adrenalin mingling strangely with arousal. Ray lay
sprawled mostly beneath him, but as he pushed up onto his hands to look
around, Fraser rolled off him and sat back on his haunches.
sorry! God, that was stupid!" Ray gasped in apology, looking rather stunned.
"What the fuck just happened?" He rubbed the back of his head.
no fucking idea," Fraser echoed, rubbing his elbow where it had come down hard
on the floor and still smarted.
Ray stared at him, shocked, and then
started giggling. "You. . . you. . . . Holy shit, Fraser!"
found himself laughing too, it was irresistible. "That sums it up
"I think. . . Dief, shut up, okay? You're going to give
it away if we haven't already!" Ray snapped. "I think one of the paint cans
fell over and it kind of. . . snowballed from there."
the devastation. "I believe you're right."
Introducing the subject of
sexual orientation really did seem something of a moot point at this stage of
the proceedings, but Fraser couldn't quite keep his need to question
entirely at bay. "So . . . you're . . . what I mean to say is . . .
have you always . . . ?" He struggled to find the right words, but Ray just
looked as if he was finding the whole situation more and more hysterically
funny every second. "Ray, if you'd just stop laughing for a moment, I could .
. . ."
"You could what? Finish a sentence?" Ray lay back down on the
floor, wheezing with laughter. "You really think you need to ask what
you're trying to ask? Now?"
It did sound a bit stupid, after
all, but he was nothing if not persistent. "Perhaps not, but if I were
to ask, would you say you were . . . ."
He laughed. "Well, if I'm
not, I'm going to have to have a serious discussion with my dick
because it seems to think I am."
Fraser blushed, but smiled back
at his friend, then paused for a moment before saying, "Ray?"
"Aren't you going to ask me if . . . ."
me, I've got nothing to ask you, Octopus Boy." And then Ray,
still lying on the floor, started to laugh again until Fraser couldn't help
but join him.
After they got their laughter almost under control, they
picked themselves off the floor and put the makeshift bench and their supplies
back to rights in fairly short order. Diefenbaker, however, was not so quickly
settled. He pranced around the small workroom over and over again, stopping
occasionally to vocalize in a manner that sounded suspiciously like laughter -
and not even Fraser's quelling glare had any discernable effect on his
As he began his fifth circuit of the room, Ray reached over
and stopped him in his tracks. He placed a hand on either side of the wolf's
head and turned him around to face him. "Yeah, so me and Fraser are both
idiots. I think you've made your point already, don't you? Or do you have more
to add to this discussion?"
Dief shook his head free of Ray's hands,
looked over at Fraser, and barked sharply before lying down on the blanket and
curling up into a ball.
Fraser sighed. "I don't know where he acquired
this unfortunate need to always get the last word in."
Ray glanced at
him. "Well, it's not from my side of the family."
frowned, unable to understand for a moment why Ray had said that - and with
such a serious tone of voice. Then he saw the corners of Ray's mouth start to
curl up into a grin, and he relaxed into the almost forgotten rhythms of the
easy banter that had once been as familiar and welcome as the purple saxifrage
that carpeted the Northwest Territory each spring in his youth.
turned to Ray and raised his eyebrows. "I certainly hope you're not suggesting
this trait comes from my side of the family."
Ray's grin grew wider.
"Hey, if the shoe fits."
"See?" Ray laughed. "You're doing it right now. Can't let it go,
Unexpectedly, Fraser found himself unable to respond. Ray's
words, spoken without rancor and clearly joking, were suddenly far too
reminiscent of an earlier - and not at all funny - exchange three years ago on
the shores of Lake Michigan. The sudden memory of angry words and punches
traded on that day spawned an unwelcome sense of foreboding. They'd come so
close to ending their partnership that day. And how close they were now to the
time that Ray would have to depart for Saskatoon and leave him once again
without a partner. Alone.
He could feel rather than see Ray's worried
gaze on him, and he knew he should say something to lighten the mood, but he
couldn't find the right words. Ray began to fidget on his end of the bench,
but he remained silent, giving Fraser time to pull himself together. It wasn't
until he heard a soft whine from Diefenbaker that he was able to shake himself
out of his own silence and face Ray again.
He offered what he hoped was
a reassuring smile, and Ray returned it with a small smile of his
"Yes. I was . . . I'm sorry, Ray. Perhaps I'm a
bit . . . shaken."
"Yeah, falling on your ass in a pile of paint cans
and cookies can do that to a guy."
As he forced himself back to
normal, he considered how ironic it was that when it looked as if he was
finally reclaiming a passion for the work he'd always loved, now he also had
to contend with his passion for one Raymond Kowalski as well.
wasn't as if he had never encountered this state of affairs where Ray was
concerned, but back in Chicago he had believed that the hope of anything
coming of his desire for his partner was firmly in the realm of fantasy, and
so it was fairly simple to find a balance between thoughts of Ray and
attention on his work.
But now, the discovery that Ray returned his
interest - and apparently in no less intense a way - tipped the scales so far
that maintaining any kind of a balance was all but impossible.
picked that moment to reach over and take Fraser's hand in his own. He
squeezed Ray's hand automatically, but followed that almost immediately by
pulling his hand away, leaving Ray looking visibly unhappy.
"Nah, it's okay. If you're not in the mood, you're not
in the mood. Been there, done that, got the tattoo."
said I get it, Fraser."
"It isn't that I'm
'not in the mood,' as you put it."
Ray remained silent, but turned to
"The truth is, I think the exact opposite is the case. I'm
too much in the mood, and every time . . . every time you touch me I
lose all sense of where I am and what I'm supposed to be doing. We're supposed
to be working, Ray," he said, pleadingly. "I can't . . . you're too
much of a distraction."
"Oh." Ray frowned for a moment, but then he
started to smile. "Oh. Okay. Okay, I get that." He laughed explosively. "Boy,
do I get that. Yeah. We're on our best behavior, both of us. Hope that kid
shows up soon," he said a little plaintively.
"As do I."
both stared out the window for some time, watching intently.
really think he's going to show?" Ray asked, out of the blue.
logical assumption. Ms. Moss' property fits all the requirements."
looked out the window, thoughtfully, then turned back to Fraser. "You know,
he's not going to show if those lights stay on. They'll scare him
Fraser looked over at the house, nodding. "You're probably
"You got her phone number?" Ray asked, pulling out his
Fraser nodded, and got his own phone out. "I do, but put
that away. There's no point in you making a long-distance call from ten yards
away," he said, dialing.
Ray laughed, closing his phone and sliding it
back into his pocket. "Yeah. For a second there I kind of forgot we weren't
back in Chicago - it feels like old times."
Ray's words brought home,
yet again, the fact that tomorrow he would be going back to Saskatoon, and the
day after, back to Chicago, and Fraser would remain behind and his life would
go back to what passed for normal. Before he could think of anything to say,
Hannah picked up her phone, and Fraser pushed away his personal pain to deal
with the matter at hand. After asking her to turn out the lights in the house,
he closed his phone and put it away. A few moments later the porch light
winked out, followed a moment later by the lights that shone in the windows,
one by one. The last one to go out was on the upper floor, Fraser assumed it
was Hannah's bedroom.
"That'll help," Ray said softly, as if the
darkness also required quiet.
Fraser nodded, then realized that in the
lessened light, he probably couldn't be seen. "Yes, it should. Good idea." He
fell silent then. Ray didn't speak either. After a few moments, Fraser
realized that while they could see the house, he couldn't hear a thing. He
reached over and found the catch that locked the window and opened it, then
slid the window open a few inches.
"You figure freezing our butts off
will keep us from jumping each other's bones?" Ray asked, sounding amused.
"Kinda like a cold shower?"
"I'm afraid we'll have to rely on will and
good sense for that," Fraser returned. "I just thought it would be helpful to
be able to hear the approach of a vehicle, or a person on
"Smart. You get the east window, I'll do the south and west
A few moments later they had all the windows open a small
amount, and the ambient temperature in the room had dropped precipitously. Ray
shivered and opened the coffee, pouring some into the cup-lid, taking a couple
of gulps, then handing the cup to Fraser who did the same, wanting to share
that with Ray, though the contrast of heat in his mouth and the cold air
against his face actually seemed to make him feel colder. He shivered a little
too, as he handed Ray the empty cup, which he put back on the thermos. After a
few minutes, Ray picked up the blanket, Fraser could see the pale wool plainly
as he shook it out, and then wrapped it around himself, holding one side out
like a wing.
"Come here, we can share. I promise not to get
Fraser nodded, and moved into Ray's space, taking that side of
the blanket from him to hold it around them.
"Better," Ray said after
a moment. "We didn't exactly dress for a stake-out this morning."
Fraser allowed. "In retrospect it might have been prudent to go home and
"Yeah, but it wouldn't have been us," Ray said. "What
time is it?"
Fraser shifted his arm until he could see the luminescent
hash-marks on his watch. "It's about nine-twenty."
Ray sighed. "Bet he
doesn't show until after midnight."
"I don't bet."
"Yeah right. Sure you don't."
His laugh was warm, intimate. His voice
more so. The right side of his body warmed the left side of Fraser's. When he
breathed in he could faintly smell the warm, spicy scent of him . . . and
warmth began to build inside him. Heat. Fire.
"Damn it!" He stepped
away, out of the warmth, trying to stop thinking about how Ray's skin had felt
under his hands, about what he had tasted like, the complete uninhibited
response he had shown to Fraser's touch.
"What?" Ray asked, sounding
startled, reaching to grab the trailing side of the blanket.
"I. . ."
he paused, casting around for an excuse, and found one. "I'm an idiot. I need
to call Dave Byrnes." He pulled his phone out of his pocket and opened
"If our suspect actually does manage to set a blaze
before we get to him, the fire suppression unit will need to be here as
quickly as possible." He dialed, waited as it rang, and then explained the
situation to Dave, who agreed to put a skeleton crew on standby, just in case.
Ending the call, he glanced at his watch. A whole six minutes had passed.
Lord. He was never going to make it through this. It was torture.
done?" Ray asked impatiently.
"Good, then get back over
here, I'm cold."
Ray sighed. "That's too
much, too, huh?"
Fraser scowled, annoyed with himself. He wasn't that
big a 'wuss,' as Ray would say. "Certainly not," he said moving back to Ray's
side, and sliding an arm around his waist.
"Better." Ray relaxed
against him, and they stood looking out at the house. After a few minutes, Ray
fidgeted a little. "You know, this was easier in Chicago. At least there we
could play the license plate game to keep sharp. And there were convenience
stores handy, most of the time. And I wasn't having such a hard time keeping
my hands to myself."
Fraser told himself he absolutely would not
whimper. It was beneath him. "There are cookies and coffee," he pointed out,
steadfastly ignoring Ray's suggestive comment. "Though I'll admit that even if
we were out where we could see the road, the odds that we would encounter any
license plates other than Saskatchewan ones are slim to none."
I thought. Guess we could sing songs or something."
Fraser looked at
him, wishing he could see his face. Surely he was joking. "Sing?" he asked
cautiously. "Wouldn't that 'give it away' as you put it
"Well, I don't mean sing sing, not like belting out
Broadway show tunes. Just sort of. . . I dunno. Hum? Whisper the lyrics?" He
thought for a moment, and made a face. "Okay, forget it. Dumb idea. Guess
we'll just have to . . . sit here."
Fraser nodded, sighing. "As you
"Well, look at the up side here. You won't have to hear me sing
Fraser shuddered eloquently. "Thank God. I believe that
could be considered grounds for justifiable homicide."
you're a funny guy, Fraser. And yeah, for once I do mean 'funny ha-ha.'" Then
Ray nudged his knee into Fraser's leg, pulled the edge of the blanket more
tightly, pulling Fraser in closer to him in the process. "Of course, 'funny
weird' hasn't been taken off the list yet, so don't get too
"Don't worry, I'm not excited," Fraser said, laughing a
little, only to find himself gasping slightly as Ray's hand slipped beneath
the blanket and rested on his knee, fingers curled on his inner
"What was that you were saying about not being excited?" Ray
asked, running his fingers lightly up the inseam of Fraser's
"Ray!" He said, trying to sound stern, but succeeding only in
moaning his name in an embarrassingly loud manner. "I thought we'd agreed to .
. . oh, God. Ray, could you . . . oh, you're. Oh, yeah. Just another
millimeter and . . .mmmm."
Ray's fingers lingered for a moment, but
then he pulled his hand away and Fraser wanted nothing more than to have that
hand back where it had just been. Amazing. He had no control where Ray was
concerned. None whatsoever. He leaned over, elbows on his knees and buried his
face in his hands, but no more than two seconds later, Ray reached over, took
Fraser's face in his hands, turned him slightly, and gave him a quick, hard
kiss on the mouth before returning his hands to hold the blanket.
"Sorry. I'm . . . okay, I'm not sorry I touched you, and I'm sure as
hell not sorry I kissed you, but . . . I know, I know. Not yet. We got a job
to do and we're professionals, damn it."
Ray sighed, then wrapped his
arm around Fraser's own arm and leaned his head on Fraser's shoulder. For a
moment, Fraser continued to sit upright, but the temptation to lean slightly
against Ray's head finally proved to be too much.
He couldn't have
said how long they sat there, holding each other - leaning against each other
- but this time, almost miraculously, he didn't find the close proximity to
Ray a distraction. Yes, he remained aware of Ray - of everything about
the man beside him, in fact. The tickle of spiky hair against his temple. The
familiar, and probably unconscious, tapping of Ray's foot on the softwood
floor. The puffs of breath that could be seen in the bright gleam of moonlight
spilling into the small, chilly room.
However, this once familiar
hyper-awareness of his surroundings which had been all but dormant for far too
long and which was now waking up with a vengeance, didn't stop with his
awareness of Ray. The whisper of wind - barely audible on this still night -
rustling through the branches of the birch trees outside. The faint smell of
pine needles coming from somewhere beyond the stand of birches. The faint
sound of leaves, half buried in the light dusting of snow, crackling underfoot
. . . underfoot?
"Ray," he whispered. "I think we have a
Ray sat up, instantly alert. "Where?" he whispered squinting
out the window.
"Not sure yet, I heard. . . just a moment. . ." Fraser
strained his eyes, saw a vague movement near the back porch of the house. He
waited tensely, knowing it was as likely to be a deer or elk as a person, but
a moment later the shape resolved into a human figure as the visitor stepped
onto the porch and was silhouetted against the side of the house. "Back
Ray nodded, watching intently. The shadowy figure squatted
down, and began to make splashing and pouring motions around the area where
the wooden porch joined the house.
"Got him," Ray whispered, rolling
gracefully to his feet, the blanket falling unnoticed to the floor as he
picked up one of the flashlights.
Fraser surged to his feet as well,
grabbing the other light, and followed him to the door. Dief leaped up as
well, dancing excitedly, though for once quietly, at their feet. They stood
for a moment, still watching, as a sudden flare of light on the porch
illuminated the figure. Fraser realized that he had flicked a
cigarette-lighter into life. "Go!" Fraser growled, and put his hand against
Ray's back, urging him forward.
Ray was already in motion. He pushed
the door open, and headed down the stairs. The sudden creak and squeal of the
door's hinges sounded as loud as a scream in the quiet night. The figure on
the porch whirled, still holding the lighter. Its fitful flicker illuminated
Crawford Jones' pale, scared-looking face as he stared at them, mouth
"Shit!" Crawford yelped. The lighter went out, and the sound of
breaking glass told Fraser he'd dropped the bottle of after-shave.
"RCMP, remain where you are!" Fraser called out, not particularly
hopeful that Crawford would obey him, but he had to try.
suspected would happen, his words triggered movement, not stillness. He saw a
dark blur and could hear running steps, moving away in fast, hard thuds
against the hard ground, the sound interrupted by a periodic crunching sound
as Crawford hit patches of snow instead of winter-dry grasses and
Already halfway down the stairs, Ray yelled, "Oh no you don't!
Freeze, you little dickweed! Chicago PD!"
There was a brief
interruption in the sound of running feet, like as not while the boy tried to
process both Ray's colorful phrasing and the command he'd probably never
expected to hear outside of an American television show. Ray took advantage of
the moment to vault over the railing to the ground. Instantly Crawford took
off again. Ray landed, rolled, and was up and running after their suspect
before Fraser even made it down the rest of the stairs. Realizing that their
suspect was heading for the trees behind the house, and guessing that he had
parked his vehicle on the old logging road on the other side of the copse, he
calculated the best way to cut him off.
"Dief, stay with Ray!" he
ordered, as he swung to the south to take a diagonal track through the woods
and cut Crawford off. A light flared on some distance away, swinging wildly,
and he realized it was Ray's flashlight, tracking Crawford and also
illuminating his own path through the stand of trees. Smart. Ray was far less
likely to injure himself if he could see roughly where he was going. It also
showed Fraser that they were quite a bit further ahead than he had realized.
He had to get ahead of them or Crawford might be able to get to his
car before Ray caught him, and too many people, both guilty and innocent, had
been killed in car chases for him to let that happen here. He didn't want
Crawford hurt. Or Ray. Or Zhertak. Or some family heading home late from a
gathering up on the Reserve. He could do it. It wasn't that far.
Three-quarters of a mile, perhaps. An easy run, really. He ignored the breath
catching in his chest, tearing at his throat, making him feel like he was
fighting for air. Ignored the burn building in his thighs, the ache in his
knees. Kept pushing himself. Faster. Faster. Just one thought in his head.
I have to get there first. He stumbled, caught himself with both hands,
wincing as they scraped on twigs, rocks, and crusted snow.
himself upright he saw the flicker of Ray's flashlight, closer now. Heard Dief
barking. Heard the sound bounce a little. Echo. He had to be close to the
road, to hear that, because the trees would deaden and mute the sound if he
were still deep in the forest. Almost there. Almost there. He sucked air into
his laboring lungs and put every once of determination he owned into his run.
He broke out of the trees, the moon-silvered gravel of the road stretching
ahead of him. Seconds later a lanky figure burst into view a hundred yards
down the road, heading for the beat-up old Gremlin parked beside the road. Not
quite tall enough and too skinny to be Ray. Crawford.
One last time.
One last time. His heart was trying to pound itself out of his chest. His
lungs burned. His legs ached. Every muscle he owned felt like jelly. The
gravel slid beneath his feet, trying to make him fall, but he dug the cleats
of his boots into the scree and managed not to, running low and flat-out, arms
pumping, and the distance closed, vanished, as he flung himself forward and
tackled Crawford like an American football player would, taking him down just
seconds before he reached the car.
The gravel tore through his jeans
and bit into his knees, scraped the backs of his hands raw. He ignored the
pain and hung onto his prize doggedly as it kicked and flailed.
. C. . . MP. . . ." he panted. "You're . . . under arrest."
He heard Ray call from behind him.
"Here!" he gasped.
heard running steps on the gravel and Ray was there beside them, the
flashlight illuminating the scene. "Restraints. . . pocket!" he
He felt Ray's fingers trail over his backside as he hunted for
them, and thanked his lucky stars that he was in too much distress to respond
to that touch. "Jacket!" he snapped.
Ray's hands moved, locating the
packet of interlocking plastic loops. Pulling out a set, he grabbed one of
Crawford's hands and snugged the band securely, but not painfully, around that
wrist. Crawford kept kicking, and flailing around with the other hand.
"Give it up dickhead!" Ray growled, threading his fingers into
Crawford's long dark hair, holding him by it, not quite pulling. Yet. "Or do
you want to add resisting arrest to the arson charge?"
One last flail
caught Fraser in the ribs and stole what little breath he had recovered, but
then Ray did yank, and Crawford subsided sullenly.
"Ow man!" he
whined. "That hurts! Police brutality!"
Ray snorted. "You think that
hurts, you ought to try my patented head-kick." he said, taking his hand out
of Crawford's hair to loop the restraint snugly around the boy's other wrist
as neatly as a cowboy roping a calf.
"He threatened me!" Crawford
Fraser levered himself off his legs and sat up, sucking in
deep lungfuls of cold air, desperately trying to re-oxygenate his system,
shivering a little as his sweat cooled him down too much, now that he was
Crawford looked at him scornfully. "What's the matter,
Corporal? Too many hash brown casseroles and cream pies from the Ladies'
Fraser felt heat flare across his face that had nothing to
do with exertion. He didn't reply, because the only reply he could give would
Ray reached down and smacked Crawford lightly on the back of
his head. "Yeah, well he caught your skinny ass, didn't he?"
can't do that! Can he do that?" He asked, looking at Fraser, then back at Ray.
"Who are you anyway?"
"Detective Ray Kowalski," Ray said.
. . wait! You're one of the guys from Chicago! I remember you. You were on the
"Yeah. That's me. Corporal Fraser's partner. . . and
friend." He shot a look at Fraser that was full of warmth, then looked back at
Crawford, his gaze narrowed and glacial. "And you're in a world of hurt here,
Mr. Jones. Arson. Attempted murder. You might think about that next time
you're tempted to sass the Mountie."
Crawford's mouth dropped open.
"Murder?" he squeaked. "No way! I never hurt anybody!"
Ray said ominously.
"Indeed," Fraser said, finally having enough wind
to speak coherently. "I'm afraid Detective Kowalski is right. Had you
succeeded in lighting that fire tonight, you could have killed Mrs.
"She's not even home!" Crawford scoffed. "Everybody knows she
goes up to the Reserve to visit Mary on the weekends."
"If that's so,
then you'd think that 'everybody' would also know that she didn't go up
this weekend," Fraser said without trying to soften it as he usually would,
anger at the sheer thoughtlessness of the boy's actions pushing him to make
Crawford aware of just how big a mistake he'd nearly made. "Mary is ill and
Hannah stayed home."
"Really?" Crawford stared at him, looked at Ray as
if to request confirmation. Ray nodded. And suddenly all of Crawford's
flippancy and attitude vanished, melting away as tears welled in his eyes.
"I didn't know!" he wailed. "I swear I didn't know! I thought she was
gone! I wouldn't have. . . I didn't want to hurt anybody!"
washed streaks through the dirt on his face, acquired, no doubt, in his wild
run through the woods. Maybe he'd fallen, wiped his sweaty face with his dirty
hands. He no longer looked like a young man, but like a little boy. Fraser
heard Ray's voice, not aloud, but a memory: 'You have to remember that you
were just as stupid at one point or you can't deal with kids at all.' His
anger seemed to evaporate. He'd done plenty of stupid things in his life,
hadn't stopped doing them once he hit adulthood, either, as his current
physical state eloquently reminded him. He reached out and gently put his hand
on Crawford's shoulder.
"I know you didn't. Come on. Let's go back to
Hannah's. I suspect you have something you'd like to say to her. And then
we're going to call your mother, go to the detachment, and have a serious
discussion about what you've been doing and what we're going to do about
Crawford nodded, sniffling, unable to even wipe his face because
his hands were restrained. Fraser pulled a clean handkerchief out of his
pocket and did it for him, even holding it so he could blow his nose, like the
child he suddenly seemed. Small and scared, never mind that he was nearly as
tall as Ray. He glanced at Ray, who nodded at him approvingly, and he felt a
warm glow in his chest as he helped the boy to his feet.
flare of light and the crunch of tires on gravel brought them all around to
watch as Constable Traynor pulled up in the Suburban and set the brake,
leaving the engine running and the lights on as she got out and headed their
way. Ray switched off his flashlight and Fraser frowned, fingering the keys in
"Constable," he said.
"Sir," she responded
formally. "We heard. . . I mean, I thought you might need assistance in
rounding up the suspect."
He almost winced at the further proof that
his subordinates felt he was incapable of doing his job, but somehow managed
not to show his dismay. "Thank you, but Detective Kowalski and I have matters
well in hand. Er, how did you. . . ?" he nodded at the vehicle.
looked a little sheepish. "I, ah, hotwired it, sir."
He gave her a long
look, and she cleared her throat. "I'll put everything back to normal when we
get back to the detachment."
"Yes, you will," he said, refraining from
further comment. "Well, as long as you're here, you can drive us back to Mrs.
Moss', and then we'll head back to the detachment from there. And since you're
carrying a radio, would you also call in the arrest and have Constable Zhertak
request that Mrs. Jones and her attorney meet us at the
"Yes sir!" She pulled out her radio and made the call as
Fraser escorted Crawford to the Suburban and put him in the back seat, getting
in beside him. Ray let Dief into the cargo area and then took the passenger
side front seat himself. A moment later Traynor joined them, getting in and
putting the vehicle in gear as she released the parking brake. None of them
spoke, though Crawford still sniffled periodically.
* * *
paced restlessly outside the detachment, feeling unfairly excluded, halfway
wishing he smoked so he'd have something to do besides bite his nails. He'd
killed some time helping Traynor put the Suburban to rights in the big, heated
garage that took up most of the back side of the detachment building. She
hadn't really needed any help, but had let him kibitz, probably just to be
nice. Once that was done she'd taken him inside and offered him some coffee.
Cop coffee was the same no matter where you went: Thick, black, bitter, and
super-caffeinated. Which probably explained why he'd started pacing in front
of the main desk for a while, until he got tired of Traynor and Zhertak
looking at him like they half expected him to pull out a rubber hose and push
his way into the interrogation room where Fraser, Crawford, Crawford's mom,
Crawford's lawyer, and even Diefenbaker were all sitting around yakking
in that calm, polite Canadian way.
It didn't quite seem fair that he
had to stay out when he'd been in on everything else, but the lawyer
had insisted and Fraser had asked him to wait outside. What was taking so long
in there anyway? How hard could it be to book the kid and come out so Ray
could take Fraser home and show him some real appreciation. Which apparently
no one around La Rouille ever bothered to do, or at least hadn't until now.
Zhertak had been almost annoyingly respectful and admiring when they brought
Crawford in. Ray was still sure that the too-buff constable had designs on
Fraser. And Fraser wasn't open for designing. He was Ray's.
some more. Shivered a little. It was pretty damned cold outside when you
weren't being kept warm by the adrenalin pumping through you as you chased a
suspect through the woods in the dark. He finally decided he was being stupid
standing around outside freezing his nuts off, since he had plans to use them
later. He headed back toward the doors just as they opened, Fraser holding
them open so Lana Jones and Crawford's lawyer could walk out. Judging by the
looks on their faces they weren't happy, but they also weren't completely torn
up. Must've come to some sort of arrangement about the charges, though it
looked like Crawford was definitely spending the night. No surprise there. He
was, after all, an arsonist.
Ray lifted his eyebrows at Fraser who put
a finger to his lips and then pointed at the Suburban. Ray nodded and headed
for it, getting in and starting it as Fraser and Dief escorted the two over to
their car, waited until they had started it and pulled out, then they came
across the parking lot to join Ray. Fraser let Dief in the back seat and then
opened the front door, pausing for a moment before he got in, eyeing Ray in
the driver's seat.
"You think you can find your way back to the
Ray rolled his eyes. "Benton, this town's the size of my old
neighborhood in Chicago. I think I can manage, especially since I've done it
once already. Besides, you know I can't stand to go more than twenty-four
hours without getting behind the wheel of a car. Get in."
chuckled and nodded, getting in. "True. I wouldn't want you to go through
Ray waited for him to buckle up, and then headed for the
house. "So what happened?"
"Crawford confessed to setting both previous
fires, and to the attempt tonight. He's in a great deal of trouble, but we're
hopeful that the Stevensens and Mr. Dixon will see their way clear to letting
Crawford attend a sentencing circle instead of going through the court system.
He is genuinely remorseful; discovering that Mrs. Moss was home tonight came
as a great shock to him and made him realize how dangerous what he was doing
is. He's offered to lay information against Zoltan Motherwell as well, which
should help us shut down his access to the Internet and possibly prevent
repetitions of what happened here."
Ray nodded, chancing a glance at
Fraser. "What's a sentencing circle?"
"It's an aboriginal justice
program in which the perpetrator is required to face his tribal elders and
receive a sentence at their hands, in lieu of going through the regular court
system. It's been shown to be quite effective, especially with youthful
offenders like Crawford."
"Sounds like a good idea." He tapped his
fingers on his thigh, and looked back at Fraser. "You know, what I can't
figure out though, is how the heck Crawford got hooked up with Motherwell of
all people to begin with. It's one hell of a weird coincidence."
sighed. "Actually, it's not a coincidence at all. I'm afraid it's my own
fault. I was invited to give a talk on careers in law enforcement to local
high-schoolers, and in an effort to enliven the proceedings, I used several
anecdotes from my time in Chicago."
The light dawned. "One of them
being our first case together?"
"Indeed. And as the assembly was
mandatory attendance, Crawford was there. Later he grew curious about Mr.
Motherwell and looked him up on the Internet, and the rest, as they say, is
Ray snorted. "Dumb kid. I can't believe he was stupid enough
to think he'd get away with it, considering he was following the m.o. from a
case he knew you'd already solved."
"That we solved,"
said Fraser quietly. Ray glanced over at him, but Fraser's eyes were closed
and he was leaning against the passenger side window. "As you said yourself,
Ray, young people often seem even less likely than adults to consider the
possible consequences of their actions. Crawford's finally been forced to take
a hard look at himself and his behavior, and hopefully he'll be able to make
better choices from here on out and live a life he's proud of." Fraser paused,
and laughed softly. "And, Ray, if I start sounding like a bad religious
pamphlet again would you kindly shoot me?"
Ray laughed. "Yeah. You got
As Ray turned the Suburban onto the main road, he thought about
what Fraser had just said. Yeah, if everything worked out right, this would
probably jolt the kid into making some changes, but whether they were going to
be long-term changes or not was another story. Down at the detachment, it sure
seemed that Crawford's mom loved her son, but if that was the case, where the
heck had she been when her kid was getting into this mess to begin with? How
could anyone pay so little attention to someone they cared so much about?
He sighed. Two other kids, a full-time job, and a loner son who'd hit
the age where everything had to be a big secret: that's how Lana had
missed the signs. No big mystery there. Maybe the real mystery was how he
had managed to miss seeing so much about his own best friend for so long.
Ray turned into the drive, put the car into park, and shut off the
ignition, but Fraser didn't move. His eyes were still closed, and he'd slumped
down a little in his seat, clearly asleep. He looked so completely exhausted
that Ray almost felt guilty waking him up, but he sure as hell wasn't going to
leave him out in the car all night. He unbuckled his seatbelt, then turned in
"Hey," he said, laying his hand on Fraser's shoulder and
shaking him gently. "We're home."
Fraser smiled in his sleep and turned
his head slightly toward the sound of Ray's voice, rubbing his cheek against
the knuckles of Ray's hand in the process. "Mmm . . . nice."
it's nice," Ray said, sliding his thumb along Fraser's cheek. "But it'll be
He walked around to the passenger side and opened both
doors. Dief, who'd been curled up on the backseat, stretched himself awake and
slipped out of the car. Fraser wasn't quite so fast. Eyes still closed, he
unbuckled his own seatbelt, but he sat for a moment before finally answering
Ray's smile with a bleary-eyed grin of his own. He groaned a little as he
began to straighten his legs, and stopped to test his weight on each knee
before releasing his hold on the roof. He took a deep breath, then shut the
car door behind him, and headed slowly for the house, Ray walking close beside
They entered the warm kitchen. Ray held his hand out for Fraser's
jacket, and took it into the living room to hang up on the coat rack along
with his own. When he returned to the kitchen, Dief was lapping at a bowl of
fresh water, and Fraser was still standing in front of the sink, holding his
hands under the running water and wincing slightly.
Ray reached over
and turned Fraser's hands over, palms up. No gravel imbedded in them, but it
looked like he'd done a number on both his hands sometime during the chase in
the woods. "Kind of messy. You got any of that pregnant mucus stuff
Fraser smiled. "I'm afraid not, Ray. There should be some
antibiotic ointment, however."
"In the bathroom? I'll get it for
"You don't need to do that, Ray."
"It's not a problem.
Trust me when I tell you I was heading that direction anyway." Ray grinned.
"I'll bring the ointment and some band-aids or something out with me when I'm
done, okay?" Fraser nodded, and Ray left him fixing a bowl of food for
Fraser was sitting on the couch, his boots and socks removed and
placed next to him on the floor, when Ray joined him in the living room a few
minutes later. He was leaning against the back cushion, eyes closed, and
breathing in the steam from a mug he held in his hand.
"Hey," Ray said,
laying the tube of ointment down on the coffee table. "I found a bottle of
aspirin in the medicine cabinet. Looked like you were walking a little stiffly
when you got out of the car. You might want to take a couple of these before
you go to sleep; it'll help if there's any swelling."
"Thanks, Ray." He
took the aspirin, and swallowed the tablets dry, as if he'd forgotten he was
holding a drink in his other hand. "I heated up some chicken soup in the
microwave," he said, indicating the second mug sitting atop a magazine on the
table, "but if you'd prefer a more substantial meal, I'll see what I can come
"Nah, this is good." Ray reached for the cup and took a
careful sip. "I think I'm too tired for anything more ambitious than instant
Fraser opened his mouth to reply, but it was swallowed up in a
yawn. "As am I, apparently."
"Yeah. Looks like it's time for Doctor
Ray to do his thing. Give me your hands."
"Ray, I'm perfectly capable
of putting antibiotic ointment on my own hands."
He sat up, but Ray
pushed him backwards again. "Just go with it, Fraser. I'm in the mood. You
don't want to come between a man and his mood, do you?"
no," Fraser said with a grin, relaxing back against the pillows as Ray applied
cream to his hands and covered the worst of the scrapes with
"Okay," Ray said, taking the empty mugs from the table. "Be
back in a second."
When he returned from the kitchen, Fraser had fallen
asleep again, his head tilted to one side. He laughed to himself. Whatever
fantasies he'd been having about a night of hot monkey sex were obviously
going to have to be put aside for the time being. He was pretty tired himself,
but Fraser looked like he was just this side of lapsing into a coma.
knelt down on the couch and put his arm around Fraser's shoulders and squeezed
gently until he finally stirred.
"Come on, let's get you to
Fraser looked away. "The couch is fine, Ray."
maybe. Unless . . . ." Huh. It hit Ray that maybe he'd been making a few too
many assumptions. A little groping in a cold garage didn't necessarily mean
that Fraser wanted to be sharing a bed with him. "You know, I'm not going to
boot you out of your bed again. I can take the couch if you don't want to . .
"No!" Fraser's said instantly, with a stricken expression. "That's
not what I meant at all!"
"Oookay." Then Ray waited, hoping Fraser
would add something that would help him figure out what was going on, but
after about twenty seconds passed - which had to be the longest damn twenty
seconds Ray had ever sat through - he gave up. "So . . . um, you want to tell
me what you did mean?"
Fraser opened his mouth to reply, then
lifted his hands helplessly before letting them fall again and said wryly.
"You know, I don't have the faintest idea what I meant. I'm so tired I'm
Ray grinned. "Okay, that's progress - sort
Fraser smiled back at him through tired eyes, then pushed himself
up off the couch and held his arm out in the direction of the bedroom hallway.
"Ray, my very good friend - would you do me the honor of sharing my bed with
"Yeah, see . . . that's better! You've got the
'formal invitation to give a guy a sleeping-with-a-Mountie alibi' thing down
Fraser smiled, and Ray stood up, and almost instantly his spot on
the couch was taken over by sixty pounds of wolf, who curled up in the warmth
left by the two men.
"Well, he's looking comfy. How about you and me go
follow his lead?"
"If you insist, Ray," Fraser said, eyes bright with
humor. "But I hardly think there's enough room on the couch for all three of
Ray rolled his eyes. "Did you get any sleep last
Fraser sighed. "It doesn't appear that I did, does
"Nope. Hey," Ray said, looking back at Dief. "The wolf's already
"Yes, well . . . he isn't often allowed to sleep on the
couch. I think he's availing himself of this rare opportunity while he
"Smart wolf. So . . . bed?"
the living room and kitchen lights were shut off, and the two men were finally
heading in the direction of the bedroom, but Ray halted Fraser's progress with
a quick tug on his sleeve as they passed the bathroom.
"What is it,
"Hang on a second. You got anything like Ben-Gay or Aspercreme in
here somewhere? Coming out from the car, you looked a little stiff . . .
Fraser snickered, and Ray shook his head.
"You been watching
Beavis and Butthead? I didn't mean that kind of stiff."
didn't even make an attempt to look confused by the reference, just smiled and
said, "Top shelf of the medicine cabinet, I believe."
Ray walked into
the bathroom and found an unopened tube of Aspercreme where Fraser had said it
might be. "Got it. You want to go on in to the bedroom?"
I could have a moment to myself here . . . ."
"Huh?" Ray looked around
the room. "Oh. Oh, yeah. Let me get out of your way. Just let me know when
you're done, okay?"
Fraser nodded, and Ray walked back out into the
hall, shutting the door behind him. He supposed he could give the man some
privacy, even if just having a bathroom door closed between them felt like too
much of a separation at the moment.
He went into the bedroom and put
the Aspercreme down next to the lamp on the window side of the bed. Not
exactly the kind of stuff in a tube he'd been hoping they'd need to have handy
on the bedside table, but, yeah, it had been a long day, and it wasn't
just Fraser who was wiped. He probably wouldn't be good for much except sleep
right now, either.
Ray sat down on the edge of the bed and removed his
boots and socks. By the time he'd taken off his sweatshirt, undershirt, and
jeans, Fraser had appeared in the doorway.
"The bathroom's free,
"Thanks. Just going to go wash up and brush my teeth. Be back in
Ray's words were spoken easily - casually - like it was no
big deal for the two of them to be getting ready to sleep together, but inside
. . . well, inside was a different matter entirely.
The thing of it
was that this should have been no big deal. Even before their Arctic
trek, they'd shared sleeping quarters - even the same bed - more times than he
could count. And on the quest, well . . . there usually wasn't more than an
inch or two separating them most nights after they'd set up camp. But this was
different. This was sleeping together with intent, even if they were
collectively too beat to really get down to business. Kind of scary, even if
it maybe shouldn't have been. But scary in a good way, like when you're at the
top of the first hill on a roller coaster and you know there's no way to stop
the damn thing and you're really, really looking forward to the heart
pounding rush that's going to come any second.
Ray broke some kind of
land-speed record getting in and out of the bathroom, but by the time he
returned to the bedroom, Fraser was already under the covers and looking a
little freaked out. Okay, he was damned if he was going to get into the bed
while Fraser was looking this nervous.
Okay, he was still capable of talking. That was a good
"You put any of that gunk on yet?"
Fraser glanced over at
the bedside table. "No, however, I don't believe I really need to use any
tonight. I'm sure by morning, I'll . . . ."
"Let's take a
"Let's take a look. Slide your legs out of
the bed and we'll see."
"It really isn't necessary, Ray." Fraser gave
him a small smile, but at the same time he clutched the blanket even closer to
his chest than he'd been holding it a minute before. Frightened virgin
routine? No way. Not after that scene up in Hannah's workroom. So what was
this all about?
"It's necessary for me, Fraser. Don't you get
that by now? Don't you get how much I care about you?"
"I . . . ."
Fraser closed his eyes for a moment, then slowly slid his legs over to the
side and out from under the covers.
Even with the awkward way Fraser
was sitting, he kept the blanket held against him as much as he was able to do
while still showing his legs, and it probably wasn't about being cold or
anything since the house was nice and warm. Besides, if anyone was going to be
cold on a late fall night in Canada, it was more likely to be him, but he was
standing there in nothing but briefs and felt perfectly comfortable while
Fraser was still wearing his long-sleeved henley and looked - well, Ray
wouldn't exactly say it looked comfortable.
What was with him? Wasn't
this the same guy who'd practically broken the public decency laws of two
countries the day he'd smuggled files into the consulate for Ray? He could
still remember how weird it had been watching Fraser peeling down in front of
him and Turnbull a little more enthusiastically than he'd ever seen anyone get
half-naked. When he'd started flinging clothes right and left to get to the
folders he'd hidden down his pants, Ray'd thought if Fraser ever wanted to
change professions, the Lucky Horseshoe over on Halsted would probably be
happy to hire him for Ladies Night.
Ask him? Don't ask him? Maybe it'd
be better to stick with not asking him. After spending over a year
pretending he didn't notice Fraser talking to thin air; pretending not to
notice this particular weirdness would be a piece of cake in comparison. Maybe
it was just that now with everything out in the open, he was a little nervous
about getting. . . out in the open. That was probably it.
little at that thought, he crawled across the bed and grabbed the tube of
ointment off the table, then sat down beside Fraser on the edge of the bed.
Turning the bedside lamp up to its highest setting, he took a look at Fraser's
knees. No broken skin, which was a good thing, but they were swollen and
bruised. Fraser was probably going to be one hurting puppy come morning, maybe
even with the Aspercreme.
It struck him as funny, all of a
sudden, that this was the first time he'd ever gotten a really good long look
at even this much of Fraser's bare skin, and he was wasting time thinking
about some over-the-counter medicine. Tired or not, this was pretty
ridiculous. He should at least be doing something about getting his hands on
"Doesn't look too bad, but this stuff's going to help. Lay
back against the pillows, okay? I'll put some on for you."
"Ray, I can
. . . ."
"Fraser, what did I say about wanting to do
Fraser sighed resignedly, then edged back on the bed until his
back was touching the pillow and both legs were stretched out in front of him.
Ray crawled over his legs, sat down cross-legged in the middle of the bed, and
flipped open the cap.
He sniffed. Not bad. Smelled sort of sweetish.
Not like a doctor's office, at least, or the rotting-stuff smell of whatever
that crap was Fraser had used on him once upon a time. A little aloe or
something, maybe, but that was all he could smell.
He squeezed some of
the cream on his palm and put the tube down by his side on the bed. Then he
dabbed a little on each of Fraser's knees.
Okay, he'd been right to
think this was going to be a little weird.
It felt nice, actually. Nice
to be touching Fraser's warm, smooth skin finally. But . . . knees? He had to
start with knees? Wasn't exactly on the top ten list of seduction fantasies
that'd been running through his head for the past twenty-four hours.
started to move his hands up a little on Fraser's bare thighs, but he could
feel a slight tensing in his muscles, so he decided to head the other way for
the time being. He rubbed some of the cream into Fraser's calves, relieved
when the tension that had surfaced began to dissipate. As Ray worked the cream
in, Fraser let out a small groan, and relaxed more fully against the
"Thank you, Ray." Fraser said quietly. His eyes were closed,
but a contented smile was playing on his lips. "This is nice."
Good." Ray slid his hands slowly up the calves and then past Fraser's knees to
the outsides of his thighs. He rubbed gently now, slow strokes up and down,
feeling the slight crisp-rough texture of hair shift beneath his hands. "So .
. . roll over, okay?"
Fraser's eyes went wide, and he stared at
"What? You got a problem with my seduction technique? Damn. It's
always worked before," Ray cackled. "No, you goof. I was just thinking I'd
give you a back rub before we go to sleep, if you want, I mean."
hesitated for a moment, and then nodded. "That would be nice,
"Good. So roll over, and give me credit for a little finesse," he
muttered as Fraser, somewhat reluctantly, complied, lowering the blanket about
midway down his back.
Ray shook his head. He knew there was no way that
was going to be enough. Ever since he'd met him - but more frequently after
the Scarpa case - Fraser'd had intermittent back spasms, and they were almost
always in his lower back. If Ray knew him, the pain he felt there every
so often would probably be enough to send anyone else screaming for a
chiropractor or a surgeon or something, but Ray had learned to look for more
subtle clues than screaming when it came to Fraser. A wince. Leaning on the
edge of a desk when he could have been standing. That sort of thing.
He couldn't get over how much he'd noticed about Fraser even before
he'd figured out what it was he was feeling for him - or how much he liked the
fact that there was finally something he could do to make him feel better. Who
didn't like getting back rubs? He tugged the covers down some more, and got
A minute later, he wasn't sure that Fraser actually fell into
the 'liking back rubs' category. First off, it was kind of hard to give a good
back rub through a shirt. Second, every time Ray's hands strayed lower than
the bottom of his ribs, Fraser tensed up again. And it wasn't just when he
touched his lower back. The same thing happened when his hands traveled over
to Fraser's sides, no matter how high up on his back they were, and he knew
Fraser was not ticklish. It was like trying to give a back rub to a
squirming plank of wood.
He was just about to give up when he
inadvertently slid his hands down along Fraser's sides to his waist and Fraser
stiffened up like he'd gotten an electric shock or something. No, it was more
than that. This was someone who used to stick his tongue into electrical
outlets. Willingly. Electricity and him had to be old friends by now. Ray
paused - his hands stilled on Fraser's waist, with Fraser trying his damnedest
not to breathe, near as he could tell - when his instinct finally kicked into
gear and he figured out what the hell was wrong.
It was the same thing
that had been going on for the past two days. Fraser turning away to put on
the Kevlar. Leaving his shirt hanging outside his jeans. Well, fuck that, Ray
thought, though he had the sense not to say it. He left his hands where they
were and leaned down, kissing the back of Fraser's neck, the little knob at
the top of Fraser's spine, and then started working his way lower, at the same
time letting his hands slide up and down Fraser's sides in a rough caress.
"Ray!" Fraser choked.
"Shut up, Benton," he said against the
small of his back. "I'm gonna get offended here if you keep thinking I'm a
"Ray!" This time Fraser sounded shocked in an 'I
can't believe you just said that' way, instead of in an 'I'm freaking out'
Ray laughed, and moved up to nuzzle the back of Fraser's neck,
kissing him behind his ear. "What's the matter, that word not in your approved
vocabulary?" he whispered into Fraser's ear. "I've got a ton of 'em. I could
make a sailor blush, but I'll settle for a Mountie. Now would you just relax
and let me do this for you?"
Fraser nodded. Ray started over again,
this time putting a little cream on his hands and pushing them up underneath
Fraser's shirt. After one initial flinch that Ray thought was more surprise
than self-consciousness, Fraser began to relax into his hands as he rubbed the
cream into the skin he couldn't see, but he could feel. The thing that got to
him was that Fraser didn't feel all that flabby or out of shape. Just.
. . solid. The weight he'd put on was distributed so evenly over his frame
that he didn't have much in the way of a gut or anything, just some
love-handles that even Ray had fought off and on himself. They ran in his
family. He figured he'd lose the battle one of these days.
a sort of contented almost-purr as Ray worked his fingers around his shoulder
blades, and he turned his head, settling onto his pillow a little more with a
sigh. That was followed a few moments later by a jaw-cracking yawn. Ray
suppressed a chuckle and kept working, until Fraser reached back, awkwardly,
and caught his hand, tugging a little to pull Ray down closer.
Ray asked quietly.
"C'mere," Fraser muttered.
closer, his nose nearly touching Fraser's, so he could hear whatever it was
Fraser had to say. To his surprise, Fraser didn't say a word, just turned his
face up, searching blindly until their lips met. Ray smiled against Fraser's
mouth and returned the awkward kiss. When their lips parted again, he eased
himself down alongside Fraser, one arm across his waist, their heads on the
same pillow. It felt good. Felt good. Everything finally felt right
again, after being all wrong for two damned years. He had no idea what they
were going to do about it, he just knew that he didn't want to give it up
* * *
Warm. Comfortable. Horny. Pretty typical way to
wake up, Ray thought, except that he hadn't woken up to the unmistakable
presence of another person in bed with him in so long that when he got
conscious enough to realize it, he kind of jerked a little, startled. The deep
breath he took as he did was full of a familiar scent, though, and he
remembered where he was and who he was with, and settled back again. Fraser
was spooned up behind him, actually wrapped half around him, one thigh across
his, an arm around his waist, nose buried in the crook of his shoulder. And if
the hard-on poking him in the ass was any sign, Fraser was feeling warm,
comfortable and horny too. He grinned. Bonus.
Fraser responded, sounding both sleepy and cautious. An odd combination.
"Just checking," Ray said.
Fraser's head lifted and his arm
tightened around Ray's midriff. "You have to check to see who you're in
bed with?" he demanded, sounding outraged.
Ray patted the hand on his
stomach. "Nah. I was just checking to see if you were awake yet, so
settle down," Ray said with a chuckle. He shifted his hips, just a little, and
was rewarded with a swift intake of breath and a similar shift of hips against
"Ray?" Fraser's breath was warm against his ear.
Ray said, encouragingly.
"I'm in. . . I want . . . I . . ."
hand closed around Ray's shoulder and he shifted backward, pulling Ray back
too, until he was lying flat on his back looking up at Fraser. Sleep-wrinkled,
hair sticking up every-which-way, patchy stubble, but eyes brilliant with
everything he couldn't say. He was beautiful.
"Yeah, me too," Ray said,
his voice thick. It was hard to swallow for a moment.
came down on his, gently at first, in a sort of 'hi, nice to meet you' kiss.
But after they both figured out they already knew each other, it warmed up
fast. Pretty soon they were back to where they'd had to leave off the night
before when they were interrupted by a minor avalanche. And just as quickly
past that point. Fraser was apparently just as perceptive in bed as he was out
of it, because when his fingers brushed Ray's nipple and it tightened and Ray
gasped, Fraser went for the little nubs like there was a neon sign on them or
something. Stella had always thought it was weird that Ray liked to have his
nipples played with more than she did. Clearly Fraser didn't find it weird at
With his few functioning brain cells, Ray realized that he could
finally do what he'd wanted to do last night, and got both hands on Fraser's
ass and squeezed. Fraser, in the middle of raking his teeth across one of
Ray's nipples, bit down almost too hard, and Ray barely managed not to yelp.
Once he was sure Fraser's teeth were clear, he petted again and Fraser moaned
breathily against his chest, clutching his shoulder as he rocked his hips,
pressing the hard length of his cock against Ray's thigh.
up, finding Fraser's hip, rubbing against it the same way Fraser was rubbing
on him. "Yeah," he muttered. "Good."
Fraser nodded, clutching at his
hip, and lifted his head to bring their lips together again, tongues stroking.
When the beeping sounded, for a minute Ray thought it was the smoke detector
and he had a muzzy thought about that being appropriate, considering the heat
they were generating. But then it dawned on him that Fraser had gone still.
Was pushing away from him, turning toward the night-stand. . . oh. Whew.
"Shut that thing off, okay?" he growled, reaching for Fraser. "We're
Fraser silenced the alarm clock, then he sat back,
flushed, breathing heavily, and with the most. . . lost. . . expression on his
"We have to stop," he said quietly.
Ray stared at him,
jaw dropped. "What? Why?"
Ray still didn't get
it. "There some law here against sex on Mondays?" he asked,
Fraser sighed deeply. "You should leave here in an hour if
you're going to make it back to Saskatoon in time for your court appearance
Saskatoon. Court. LeBeau. "Shit," he moaned, covering
his face with his hands. "But. . . we could. . . we've got time. . . I can
speed!" he offered, incoherently.
"Please, Ray. I . . . let's just
leave it here, all right?"
Something about Fraser's voice made him
uncover his face and look, really look, at Fraser. He looked. . . about as
miserable as Ray felt.
"This isn't about. . . ." Ray stopped. How the
hell could he ask if it was because Fraser didn't feel attractive without
making it sound like Ray thought he was acting like a fifteen-year-old girl?
He couldn't. And he didn't want to push. Pushing was bad. He swallowed down
his disappointment, and nodded. "Okay. Okay, no problem," he lied. "I . . .
um, don't suppose you want to go to Saskatoon with me?"
again. "I'd love to, but I'm afraid I can't. Duty. . . ."
Ray sighed too. "Okay. You, um, mind if I get a shower and shave?"
course not!" Fraser actually looked appalled. "Be my guest."
managed not to comment that 'guest' status wasn't exactly what he'd been
hoping for, as he sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bed. Standing
up, he was glad now that he'd worn his briefs to bed, because they made it at
least a little less obvious that he had a woody he could pound nails
He walked out of the bedroom, but Fraser calling his name brought
him up short. He turned, hoping maybe Fraser had changed his mind about not
having enough time before he had to leave, that maybe he'd figured out that
what happened next between the two of them was more important than any damn
clock or court. But all he saw was Fraser - somber and silent - holding out a
fresh towel for him, and that fantasy bit the dust.
Who was he
kidding? This was Fraser. Nothing was more important than justice. And that
was right, really. He knew that. Plus, it gave them a reason to stop, and
something in him thought maybe Fraser wanted that. Maybe this was all just a
little more than Fraser had bargained for. Fraser had been lonely, hungry for
human contact. And Ray had been there and he was . . . safe, in a way
no one else was. Especially last night when Fraser was tired and hurting and
his brain wasn't firing on all cylinders.
But now in the cold light of
morning things looked different. Yeah, he knew the name of that tune. There'd
been a couple of mornings right after he and Stella'd called it quits where
Ray couldn't figure out what the hell he'd been thinking the night before.
Mornings when he looked across the kitchen counter and the near-stranger he
was sharing coffee and toast with was so obviously not what he'd imagined her
to be the night before - not what he'd wanted her to be - that he'd
just sit there wishing that grown-up life had do-overs the way kids' games
It didn't look like there was going to be any do-over this
morning, either. This wasn't a game - and he and Fraser weren't kids. They
were adults and they were friends, and he had to let this go, had to be what
Fraser needed him to be, even if that meant letting whatever he thought they'd
been building up to over the past two days just fade away.
grabbed the towel from Fraser's hand and stalked out of the room, feeling
stupid and angry with himself. He could almost feel Fraser's eyes boring into
the back of his head as he walked away. He knew if he were to turn around he'd
be met with one of those "Why are you so angry with me, Ray?" looks that
Fraser used to give him a lot back in the early days of their partnership -
before he'd figured out that an angry Ray didn't necessarily translate to
angry at anyone but himself.
He shut the bathroom door behind him,
managing not to slam it by sheer force of will. He leaned heavily against the
sink, fingers curled tightly around the edge of the basin. He was going to
have to get himself under control or he'd never be able to leave the bathroom
and face Fraser. It wasn't his fault. There was no reason to take out his
frustration on the one person in the world he least wanted to make
unhappy. This wasn't all about him.
He stepped into the tub and pulled
the curtain all the way around so that the floor wouldn't get soaked, then
took the quickest shower he could remember taking in his life. A little colder
than he usually liked it, too, not that he really needed much in the way of
cold water dick-wilting. Frustration and anger had done a good enough job of
taking the starch out of him that he wasn't going to have to worry about being
in pain all the way back to Saskatoon. Not in physical pain, anyway, unless he
counted the lingering embarrassment over yanking the towel away from Fraser
and stomping out of the room like a little kid. After drying off and putting
on his briefs, he stared at himself in the mirror for a moment, blew out a
long sigh, and set his jaw. Okay. Time to face the music.
the bedroom to get dressed, Ray found Fraser was nowhere to be seen. He got
that. No reason for him to just sit there waiting for a second go-round at
being treated like shit. It looked like Ray was going to have to do a little
fence mending, make sure Fraser knew he still wanted to be his friend. No
matter how much he wanted more than friendship from Fraser, the thought of not
even having that much was way too crummy to think about.
He tossed his
suitcase up on the bed and started pulling out the last of his clean clothes.
He gave the trousers an assessing look. Not bad. A little wrinkled, but he'd
be sitting in the car for five hours in any case. He could probably get away
with wearing them down in Saskatoon since they'd told him he wasn't going to
be asked to appear in open court. Of course, if they changed their minds about
that, he was out of luck. Welsh would have him on traffic duty for a month if
he embarrassed the department by looking like he didn't have the proper
respect for the Canadian judicial system.
As Ray started to zip up his
bag, his eye was caught by the sight of Fraser's henley lying on top of the
dresser. What were the odds that he'd be able to get away with 'accidentally'
slipping the shirt into his bag and taking it with him when he left? He could
always send Fraser a new shirt to replace the one he'd taken, and besides,
Fraser had plenty more where this came from, and. . . okay, if he was really
going to swipe the shirt, he should just do it and not try to justify it.
Because there was no real way to justify it, nothing that would make sense to
anyone but him. He just . . . wanted it.
Furtively he slipped the
shirt in with his own, then zipped the bag shut. Leaving the bag in the
bedroom for the moment, he went out to the living room. Neither Dief nor
Fraser was out there either, but he could smell something cooking, so he
followed the scent into the kitchen where he found Fraser standing in front of
"Ah, Ray," Fraser began a bit hesitantly. "Breakfast is
nearly ready. You've a long drive ahead and I didn't want you to have to set
out on an empty stomach."
"Wow," he said, glancing over at the table.
It was set with green place-mats under the two plates. A pot of freshly brewed
coffee and a bowl of mixed fruit with yogurt spooned over the top occupied the
center of the table. A short stack of french toast sat on a plate beside the
stove, while Fraser finished cooking the last two pieces. "You didn't have to
go to all this trouble," he said, feeling even more guilty. "A cup of coffee
and a leftover bannock from yesterday would have been fine."
still familiar with your eating habits," said Fraser wryly. "But, well,
you're. . . I wanted . . ." He shrugged helplessly, a very un-Fraser thing to
do, then turned back to the pan on the stove in front of him and removed it
from the flames. "Sit down," he asked, his back turned.
"Yeah. Yeah, sure." Ray pulled the chair out and sat down at
the table. Place-mats? Cloth napkins, even? Jesus, how the hell was he going
to get through this meal? He was having enough trouble just swallowing the
coffee. He gave himself a good mental shake. For god's sake, take it like a
man, Kowalski. Grab that bottle of real maple syrup and choke down the damned
french toast and stop being such a wimp.
"Is the coffee all
"Huh? The coffee?" He took another sip and actually tasted it
this time, looked up, surprised. "Yeah, it's great. What did you put in
"It's Dutch Mocha. I thought you might like it, though I'm sure
it'll never transcend the experience of M&M's in your coffee," said Fraser
with a crooked grin.
Ray smiled back weakly. It wasn't fair. Why
couldn't the man just act like a shit? Or better yet, go back to the distant
act he'd been so good at back when they'd first met? Why did he have to be so
nice and so thoughtful and so fucking gorgeous - even in an old t-shirt and
sweatpants - that Ray wanted to jump him right here on his kitchen table?
God. He had to get the hell out of there before he did just that.
Fraser sat down and forked a piece of french toast onto his plate,
then looked pointedly at Ray, who hastily stabbed a couple of pieces,
slathering them liberally with syrup. Fraser nodded and turned his attention
back to his own meal. Ray shoveled in some food, not really even tasting it.
It sat in his stomach like a lump of lead, and once he'd eaten enough that he
didn't think Fraser would be offended, he took his dishes to the sink and
rinsed them. Finally, with a deep breath, he turned slowly to face Fraser,
taking a long moment to look at him. His friend. His partner.
"I. . .
uh, thanks for the breakfast, Fraser," he said finally. "It was
"I'm . . . I'm glad you enjoyed it, Ray."
minute passed where neither of them said a word. Ray looked down at his watch.
"Well, guess I'd better be hitting the road if I want to get to
Saskatoon on time. I figure Canadian judges don't like to be kept waiting any
more than American ones do."
"No, no, they don't. Can I help you take
your things to the car?"
Ray shook his head. "Nah, just have the one
bag." He smiled a little. "Lot less of a load going back."
nodded. "Please give my thanks and best wishes to everyone. I'll send notes,
of course, but considering the respective postal services involved, I suspect
that you'll arrive long before they do."
"Yeah. Unless they decide they
need me to stick around in Saskatoon for a few." Ray winced a little at the
eager note in his voice. "Anyway, I'll go get my stuff. Where's Dief? Can't
leave without saying goodbye."
"Outside. I'll get him."
to the bedroom to get his bag while Fraser opened the kitchen door and called
Dief. He picked up his bag, stood there for a moment with it, staring at the
bed a little blankly, and then shook his head in exasperation and headed for
the front door. Fraser was standing there next to Dief, waiting. His
expression was carefully pleasant, so Ray put on what he hoped was a similar
face as he knelt to ruffle Dief's fur. "Hey, you take care of Fraser, okay?
Don't let Zhertak hit on him. Well, unless he wants him to, I mean," he
amended, suddenly realizing he might be sort of out of line there. It was none
of his business who Fraser went out with.
"Ray! I don't. . . ." Fraser
began, sounding dismayed.
Ray waved a hand, cutting off the protest. "I
know, I know. You don't think Zhertak has a thing for you. I got that." He
scratched Dief's ears, staring at him because he knew better than to look at
Fraser right then. Dief whined, and did a worried looking eyebrow-thing at
him. Ray made a face. "Don't worry, I'm good. No more fruit tarts,
Dief grumbled, but shoved his nose under Ray's hand and Ray
figured that was an agreement. He stood up, his bag in his left hand, and put
out his right hand, sort of staring past Fraser's shoulder, trying to make it
look like he was looking at him. "Well, thanks for everything. It's been real,
Fraser hesitated for a moment, then clasped his hand. His hand
felt cold. Ray couldn't ever remember that happening before. Fraser's hands
had always been warm, even on the coldest days. Before he could really process
that, Fraser was pulling him in close, wrapping his arms around him, tight, so
tight he could barely breathe. Against his ear he could feel Fraser's warm
breath as he spoke.
"No, Ray, it hasn't been real at all."
thought he felt the brush of lips against his cheek, and then Fraser was
pulling back. The shock of it made him forget he wasn't going to look at
Fraser. Their eyes met. Fraser's were shadowed and full of regret. Ray
flinched, looking away. God, and he thought it had been bad the last time. He
lifted a hand, reaching out, then let it fall again before he could touch
"Sorry," he whispered.
"Me too," Fraser echoed
For a moment they stood there, unspeaking, then Ray cleared
his throat. "Well. Guess I'd better. . . get at 'er."
acknowledged, opening the door.
Ray extracted the rental's keys from
his pocket, and stepped out into the cold morning air. He didn't stop until he
got to the car. He unlocked the door, opened it, tossed his bag into the
passenger seat, and started to get in. Before he did, though, something made
him turn back and look. Fraser was gone. The door was closed. He swallowed
"Well, that's that, then," he whispered, and got in.
As Ray lifted his bag and turned away toward the car, Fraser could
feel his deliberately neutral expression begin to crumble. However, for Ray's
sake - and for his own, if he were to be entirely honest - he couldn't allow
himself to show how difficult this was for him.
From the very start of
their partnership in Chicago, Ray - outwardly brash and aggressive though he
was - had permitted Fraser to see far deeper inside him than he allowed the
rest of the world. In particular, the still-raw wounds of his broken marriage
and the pain caused by his long estrangement from his father over his career
were so close to the surface that he'd sometimes imagined Ray's pain was
actually being spoken aloud, even when his partner said nothing at all about
it. In many ways, Ray's quip about being a poet on the inside had been true.
Gradually the dynamic of their relationship had changed, though, and
Fraser started to allow himself moments of vulnerability with Ray. It didn't
take long for him to learn that Ray's sensitivity went both ways - or at least
it did where he was concerned. Over time, Ray's rough care and understanding
had dragged more honesty of emotion out of him than he had felt comfortable
showing to anyone since his youth. Unfamiliar as revealing his feelings was at
times, Fraser had come to believe that as long as there was some sort of
balance in the relationship, as long as he was still able to provide something
in the way of support to his partner, it might not be a sign of weakness to
accept the concern that Ray offered him.
This weekend, however, there
had been no balance. Even while working the case, it was clear Ray's primary
concern had been for him, and while that wonderful on one level, on
another level it was almost as humiliating as realizing his subordinates
clearly had severe misgivings about his ability to do his job. How could he
have spent the past two days doing little but bare that unhappiness to Ray,
over and over again, when he could have spent the time more enjoyably? It
seemed incomprehensible now that he could have been oblivious to his own
unhappiness for so long, but the last thing he wanted, after everything Ray
had given him this weekend, was to fall apart and make Ray feel guilty for
That was why he'd let the ring of the alarm that morning put
a stop to their lovemaking, even though he'd desperately wanted it to
continue. As Ray had touched him in ways he hadn't been touched in years, his
feelings were so intense that he knew if they'd gone any further - if they'd
moved even an inch closer to completion - it would be impossible to keep his
need, his desire, his love for Ray in control. And despite his apparently
immense capacity for denial and self-delusion, he was still well enough
grounded in reality to know that was simply not an option.
his head, trying to clear it. Surely he could keep his emotions in check long
enough for Ray to walk from the house to the car. He had a lifetime's
experience with repression - how was this different? When Ray reached the car,
he could wave goodbye and Ray would wave goodbye in return - and the two of
them would be able to carry on as if some aspects of this weekend had never
His hands clenched into fists at his sides as he fought down
the urge to go after him. The problem was, he didn't want this weekend to be
forgotten. He didn't want his time with Ray to come to an end at all. But it
had to; he knew that. Ray had responsibilities in Saskatoon and back in
Chicago, and he had responsibilities at the detachment. They couldn't
be together. That was the simple truth, painful as it might be.
Diefenbaker moaned softly beside him - the sound an uncomfortable echo of the
ache growing inside him - he broke. Turning, he blindly opened the door, and
both he and Diefenbaker slipped inside the house. He shut the door, closing
himself off the only way he could, because he was just far too open in every
other way right now. He closed his eyes and leaned against the door, chest
pressed to its cool surface, his head against his crossed arms, and stood
there for a long time- barely breathing, eyes still shut, simply existing,
trying not to think - but when he was finally able to force his eyes open and
move to the side window for one last look at Ray, he was gone.
minutes. The clock on the mantle showed that only four minutes had passed from
the moment Ray said he'd had to go until now. How could only four minutes have
gone by? He took a deep breath, then headed for the bathroom. He was being
ridiculous. Maudlin. His father would be appalled. There was no point in
spending any more time thinking about this. He just had to accept that Ray was
gone and get on with his life.
Of course, telling himself he wasn't
going to think about Ray being gone was far easier said than done. He
remembered all those times in childhood when his grandfather would tell him to
think about anything he wanted except a caribou sitting at the kitchen table -
and how for the rest of the day, he was able to think of nothing but
the imaginary caribou he'd been trying so hard to ignore. And thoughts of Ray
were far less easy to ignore than thoughts of the caribou had been,
particularly now that Ray had actually been in his home, and everywhere he
turned, there was yet another reminder of his partner.
brought its own set of problems. The soap in the holder at the side of the
bathtub was still wet and slightly lathery from Ray's shower earlier that
morning. As Fraser rubbed it over his torso, he imagined Ray's hands on his
body instead, sliding over his wet skin, down over his hips, rubbing lightly
across his thighs. The fantasy continued until he could feel Ray's long
fingers teasing at the base of his penis, at its head, fingertips stroking
down along its hard length, wrapping themselves firmly around his shaft,
sliding up and down. He started to breathe harder, could feel his penis
stiffen and thicken in Ray's hand.
No. Not Ray's hand. His own. Ray
was gone. He squeezed more tightly, holding onto himself as he'd wanted Ray to
hold him. Stroking. Up and down, his hand firm and tight along his foreskin,
up and down and missing Ray and desperately wanting this to be Ray's hand on
him. He kept stroking over and over until his body finally yielded, catching
the come in his free hand, sliding it over his stomach as Ray might have done,
gasping out Ray's name as the final pulses of orgasm drove through him. As the
sensations faded he slid down along the tiles and knelt, hunched over slightly
in the tub, warm water raining down on his head, streaming down his face,
letting him pretend that was all it was.
* * *
He couldn't stay
in the shower forever, no matter how much he wanted to. He got out, dried
himself off with the same towel Ray had used earlier that day, shaved -
carefully enough to avoid more than a single, rather painful nick on his jaw -
and then picked up his used t-shirt, sweatpants, and boxers.
his bedroom, Fraser opened the hamper in his closet and threw in the clothing
he'd picked up from the bathroom floor, then turned to get the henley he'd
been wearing the previous day to add it to the hamper. He thought he'd put it
on top of the dresser, but as distracted as he'd been last night, it could be
anywhere. He searched the living room, checked the bathroom again, and finally
took a quick look in the kitchen just in case he'd left the shirt hanging on
the back of a chair, but it was nowhere to be found. He frowned, wondering
where on earth he'd left it. Was it possible Ray had mistakenly packed it? It
seemed unlikely after having seen Fraser wearing it all day, but perhaps Ray
had been distracted too.
Fraser shook his head. Why was he obsessing
about a shirt? It would turn up eventually. He got his blue uniform out of the
closet, looking a bit wistfully at the red serge tunic as he did so, and
dressed for the day, then he and Diefenbaker got into the car and drove down
to the detachment.
Although it was still early when he arrived at the
office, Sally was already at her desk and talking to somebody on the phone.
She nodded as he walked in, though, and handed him a stack of telephone
messages before returning to her own conversation.
Fraser paused at
the door to his office. Ray was right; it was laid out nearly identically to
Lieutenant Welsh's office in Chicago. He wondered, for a moment, if he'd had
an unconscious wish to make things as familiar as possible, or if the
similarity had been purely coincidental. He sat down and sighed; either way,
now that his attention had been drawn to the resemblance, it was going to be
impossible not to think of the 27th District every time he came to work - as
if he could ever forget. He was going to have to rearrange the
As he was saying goodbye to Henry Cooper, the elder who'd
called to set up a preliminary meeting regarding the sentencing circle - he
heard a soft knock on his office door and looked up to find Bose Zhertak
standing in the doorway, holding a mug in his hand. "Good morning, sir. I . .
. uh, Sally just made a pot of coffee. I thought you might want a
"Thank you kindly, Constable. That's very thoughtful of
Zhertak flushed, but brought the mug over and placed it on his
desk. "Sir? Um . . . do you have a moment?"
Fraser nodded. "Of course.
Take a seat." He waited until Zhertak had sat down. "What can I do for
"On behalf of all . . . well, me, really, I'd like to apologize
for my behavior over the past few days. I realize that my actions yesterday
almost succeeded in scaring Crawford Jones away before you were able to come
up with any proof of his involvement in the fires, and for that, in
particular, I'm truly sorry. I've taken the liberty of drafting a reprimand
for my personnel file, and . . . ."
A sudden feeling of deja vu swept
over Fraser; God, had he ever been so young? "Bose, that won't be
necessary," he said gently. "However, we don't want to see anything like that
happening again, do we?"
"No, of course not."
"No, and since we
don't, would you mind telling me why in the world you came out after me
without hearing from me first?"
Even as he asked the question, it
struck him that perhaps Zhertak's answer wouldn't be anything he wished to
hear. He was almost ready to tell him to forget it, when he heard a slightly
"Could you repeat that, please? I don't think I heard
what you said."
"I . . . um . . . I was jealous,
"Jealous?" His jaw nearly dropped. Had Ray been right when he
suggested that Zhertak had a more than fraternal regard for him?
. . not jealous in the sense of being jealous. I mean, in the sense of
. . . um . . . I mean, well, do you know what I mean, sir?" Zhertak asked,
turning a spectacular shade of red.
"Not precisely. Perhaps you'd care
to elaborate," he said, rather hesitantly.
Zhertak took a deep breath,
then said, "I wanted to be working with you. I'd read so many things about you
before I came here this year, and . . . sir, did you know I requested
this posting just so I could work with you?"
Fraser was sure there was
a dumbfounded expression on his face, but he couldn't do anything about it.
"No, I don't suppose I knew that."
"Oh yes. We'd all heard so many
extraordinary things about you through the Depot grapevine. You're . . .
you've become rather a legend, sir, if you don't mind my saying so."
was Fraser's turn to flush. He rubbed his thumb across his eyebrow and dropped
his gaze to his desktop, trying to find something to look at besides Zhertak's
uncharacteristically earnest expression, but apart from the phone messages,
there was nothing to see except . . . except the rubber duck, which he
immediately slipped off the desktop and held in his hand, down below the edge
of the desk.
"But then I arrived and . . . well, permission to speak
"It's just . . . well, you didn't
seem exactly as I'd imagined you'd be." Zhertak bit his lip and took a deep
breath before continuing. "I'm sure it's my own fault for being taken in by
tales that never sounded entirely plausible. I mean, tracking a litterbug over
1700 kilometers of wilderness? Honestly, sometimes I can't imagine how
somebody as naive as I must have been was ever allowed to become a member of
the RCMP. But the stories were always so fascinating, and then the part about
having a deaf half-wolf turned out to be true, so . . . ."
nodded. "It was just that the rest seemed a bit disappointing, didn't it?" He
glanced down at the rubber duck he still held in his hand, thumb rubbing
across the smooth yellow surface with careful pressure, not wanting to make it
squeak. Not attraction, Ray. Hero worship. And sadly misplaced hero
worship, at that.
"Not disappointing," Zhertak exclaimed, beginning
to sound a little worried that he'd gone too far. "And La Rouille isn't
exactly a hotbed of criminal activity, so I can see why you weren't . . .
anyway, then the fires took place, and . . . I have to admit that none of us
believed it when you suggested that the first one might have been set
"I understand your reluctance to believe that,
Constable. At that stage there was neither any hard evidence, nor a pattern,
and . . . ."
"No! That's just the point. You didn't have any hard
evidence at all, and yet somehow you still knew it was arson! And you wouldn't
let it drop . . . wouldn't let it go."
This is what engendered the
sudden burst of hero worship? A combination of intuition and obsession? "You
know, Constable, much of the . . . credit for solving this case has to go to
Detective Kowalski. Without his appearance in La Rouille, I'm not at all
certain I'd have pursued the case with the same . . . fervor."
no doubt you would have, sir," Zhertak said emphatically, an intense look in
his eyes. "Although . . . ."
"What is it, Constable?"
gaze fell. "Detective Kowalski. There was finally something to investigate
here and, well, you seemed so happy to be working with your former partner
again. I'm not certain 'jealous' is the right word, but I certainly envied his
position. We all did, sir."
Fraser shook his head. How disconcerting to
discover that his subordinates weren't concerned he couldn't handle the
investigation, but that they had simply wanted to be a part of it - to learn
from him. God. How could he have read them so inaccurately? He suddenly felt
guilty. He'd failed them as O.C. It was his job to include them on
investigations, to teach them, not to let an outsider usurp their duties.
And to find out that he was actually being admired for being
obsessive? He'd have to set them straight about that, at least. Obsessions
rarely worked out the way one might wish, all evidence from this case to the
contrary. He looked back down at the rubber duck in his hand, still finding it
difficult to believe that he'd actually stolen the toy from Ray's desk, just
so he'd have something tangible to remember him by. If being obsessed and
unrelenting was all it took to get what you wanted, he and Ray would be
together. No, it also took . . .
For God's sake.
It also took
Ray wasn't a suspect in a criminal
investigation. The point wasn't to pursue him without his knowing anything
He thought back over the past two days. Had he ever, at any
point, said anything to Ray that would have let him know that he wanted to be
with him on an ongoing basis? Had he indicated in any way the depth of
his feeling? That he. . . loved him? How in the name of God had he expected to
know whether Ray reciprocated those feelings if he never actually said
anything? No. He was doing it again. Not communicating. When he knew
What sort of evidence had he been looking for from Ray before
he'd be willing to risk saying something? God knows he had more hard evidence
of Ray's feelings for him than he'd had for the possibility of the fires being
set intentionally - and yet he pursued the arson investigation despite an
almost complete disbelief from his colleagues that the two fires were anything
more than a coincidence.
Ray had kept in contact with him for years
when all his other friends and acquaintances from his time in Chicago had
apparently lost interest. He 'stopped by' La Rouille because he was 'in the
neighborhood,' when that was patently untrue. He was . . . he had to admit it,
Ray was clearly attracted to him despite his less than splendid condition. And
Ray cared about him. So much so that he'd been clearly desolate when he'd had
to leave . . .
. . . so much so that when he had left this
morning, he'd taken Fraser's henley. That hadn't been an accident; Fraser was
suddenly dead certain that it hadn't. Ray had taken the henley for the same
reason that he, himself, had taken the rubber duck - to have at least
something to hold onto if he couldn't have the whole person.
intuition. A hunch. Extrapolation based on personal knowledge of the suspect.
Call it whatever you want. But he was damned if he was going to let the most
important person in his life just disappear without finally telling him that
this wasn't just about being bored and lonely, or thinking Ray attractive, or
caring for him as a friend, but that he loved him and that he wanted to be
with him. Forever, if possible. Why had he been trying to keep his
feelings from Ray? Was he an idiot?
God. How long had
Constable Zhertak been trying to get his attention?
Constable," he said, pushing his chair back from his desk and standing up. "I
don't mean to be rude and I'm sorry to leave in the middle of our
conversation, but you've just reminded me of something vitally important I
have to do immediately."
"Um.. . . quite all right, sir," Zhertak said,
standing as well, looking completely confused.
"Thank you for being so
understanding. Sally?" he called as he grabbed his jacket off the coat rack
and went out into the reception area, indicating to Dief that he should
follow. "I have to leave, and I'm not sure when I'll be returning. Take my
calls, please, and I'll have my cell phone on if you have any emergencies." He
turned back toward Zhertak. "Constable?"
Zhertak popped his head out of
Fraser's office. "You have an appointment, sir?"
"Of a kind. I'm
leaving you in charge until I return."
"You are?" Zhertak sounded
Fraser was halfway out the door
when he heard Zhertak ask, "Can I use your computer?"
He turned back
and smiled. "Use my computer. Sit in my chair. Draw with my colored pens.
Whatever you like, Constable."
Zhertak gave a surprised-sounding laugh,
then managed to assume a serious expression and nodded. "You can rely on me,
"I'm sure I can, Constable." Fraser said, still smiling.
Dief trotted out the door Fraser held open for him. Fraser
followed and stood for a moment, taking a deep breath of the crisp air, and
then headed for the Suburban. Realizing he was still holding that damned duck,
he laughed a little and shook his head, putting it up on the dashboard.
Settling in, he buckled his seatbelt, glanced at his watch and winced. God. He
was never going to catch up with Ray, who had an hour and a half head start.
He pulled out of the parking lot and headed east, trying to plan out his
route, trying to anticipate Ray's movements. Ray wouldn't be speeding, he was
too smart to risk that with marginal road conditions and an unfamiliar route.
Even so, he must be a third of the way to Saskatoon by now. However, if he
knew Ray, which he did, he would likely stop in Weyakwin to get gas, use the
restroom, and get more coffee. That would delay him for somewhere between ten
and twenty minutes. Not nearly enough time, but a start.
He knew a
shortcut that would take a good twenty minutes off the drive, and then once he
hit the highway, well, the Suburban was better equipped for the road than
Ray's Taurus, and he was more than familiar with the route, so speeding wasn't
an issue. And it wasn't exactly proper use of RCMP equipment but he did have a
lightbar and this was an emergency . . . of sorts. But no matter what, he'd
still be behind. He might well have to chase Ray all the way to Saskatoon. The
thought was daunting, but he wasn't going to let it stop him.
Hmm. He glanced at the radio and thought for a moment about calling in a stop
and hold order on Ray's rental car, but just thinking about Ray's reaction to
that put a halt to that line of thought instantly. Even if he didn't
get suspended for pulling such a stunt, Ray would probably kick him in the
head. Turning, he glanced at Dief. "Hang on, this is going to be a rough
Dief just grinned at him, tongue lolling.
His teeth were
still rattling in his head a good ten minutes after he'd left the graded dirt
road across Sam Steele's back forty and gotten onto the CanAm. His brain was
definitely rattled as well, although some of that rattle had less to do
with being shaken like dice and more to do with the speech he kept trying to
put together for whenever he actually did find Ray. Between that, and
concentrating on the road in front of him, he nearly missed the lone blue Ford
Taurus that passed him going the opposite direction. If Dief hadn't suddenly
barked, it might not have registered at all. He slammed on the brakes, his
eyes going to the rear-view mirror. Blue Ford Taurus? What on earth? He looked
"Are you sure?"
Dief snorted, his expression was
"No, I'm not questioning your eyesight. It's just. . .
well, he's going the wrong direction! How could anyone manage to get
completely turned around on a straight road with virtually no
Dief made a sound suspiciously like a laugh, and Fraser felt
his face warm. "That's a fallacious comparison. I'm talking about
driving," he growled, cranking the wheel around as he hit the brake,
doing a 180 and leaving a season's worth of tread on the road. Reaching down
he flicked on the lightbar and siren, and floored it. Ahead of him he saw
brake lights flare, and a sudden wash of near-panic flooded him. God, what if
it wasn't Ray?
The Taurus pulled to the side of the road ahead, and
Fraser pulled in behind it. The rental sticker on the back of the car
reassured him, but panic returned a moment later as every potential sentence
he'd composed for the moment deserted him. What the hell was he going to say?
Mouth dry, he opened his door with a quiet admonition to Dief to stay put.
Walking toward the car where Ray waited, he could see that Ray had the window
down, fingers tapping impatiently on the door. He almost laughed at that, and
he suddenly realized that Ray hadn't really looked at the person
approaching his car. He didn't know. He certainly wouldn't expect it to be
anyone he knew.
Some perverse impulse made him fumble his ticket book
out of his pocket, and take out a pen, actions Ray would expect from anyone
who pulled him over, and he took up a stance next to the car that would
prevent Ray from easily seeing his face unless he leaned down and craned his
head back to look past the roof-line.
"Hey, sorry about the speeding,"
Ray said before he could speak. "I can't seem to get that KPH to MPH
conversion thing down. How bad was it?"
"I'm afraid it's worse than
that, sir," Fraser said. "Grand theft is an extremely serious
There was a moment of silence, then Ray swore, opening his
door, forcing Fraser to step hastily aside to avoid getting what Ray once
called the 'Orsini treatment,' and then Ray was out and pushing Fraser up
against the car with his hands fisted in his coat lapels.
Frickin' Fraser," Ray growled.
"Assaulting a peace officer is a
serious offense as well," Fraser said a little breathlessly as Ray braced
himself there, just inches away.
Ray snorted. "Assault, yeah," he
said, bringing up one hand to cup Fraser's jaw, fingers caressing it. "What
the fuck are you doing out here?"
"I might ask the same," Fraser said,
grinning foolishly. "Especially seeing as how you're headed in entirely the
wrong direction. Were you lost?"
Ray's eyes met his, grave and intent,
almost gray, reflecting the cloudy sky. "Yeah. Lost, and getting loster every
minute farther away I got."
A shiver raced through him as the meaning
of Ray's words sank in. So familiar. "God, yes. Exactly."
sharpened, curious. "Exactly what, Benton?"
"Lost, and getting loster,"
he said. "Ray. . . I . . . ." he had to swallow down the lump in his throat
before he could go on, could say the words he'd never said to another living
soul. "I need you."
Ray leaned in, his weight coming full against
Fraser, touching from knees to groin to chest, solid, warm, unbearably . . .
near. "That hard to say?" he asked, his tone strangely conversational, in
contrast to the intensity of his gaze.
"You have no idea," Fraser
grated, his voice barely functioning, unable to look away,
"Yeah, I do," Ray said, his eyes drifting closed as his
lips brushed Fraser's. "I know exactly how hard it is. I. Need. You," he
whispered, punctuating each word with another brush of lips, the last one
prolonged as his hands came up to cup Fraser's face, his long, oddly-jointed
thumbs lying along his jaw, stroking slightly, holding him still for a kiss
that was deep, and sweet, and no less hot for all that sweetness. When he
pulled away, he smiled. "Not just for that, either," he said meaningfully.
"You know that right?"
Fraser nodded. "Yes. But that's part of
Ray nodded back. "Yeah. It is. Kinda scary, huh?"
little," Fraser admitted, since Ray had.
Fraser let his hands slide around Ray's waist, pulling him closer, feeling the
hard length of his cock pressed against him, knowing Ray could feel his own
arousal nudging at his hip.
Ray sighed, and rocked against him a bit,
then a little harder, before dropping his forehead down against Fraser's
shoulder with a soft groan. "Jesus, Benton, I can't do this again. I'm gonna
have the bluest balls in Canada." He laughed a little. "Well, except for
A wave of heat swept into Fraser's face and he cleared his throat
Ray looked up, shrewd eyes assessing his face, and then he
gave a strangled-sounding laugh and thumped his head against Fraser's shoulder
several times, hard. "Oh, that's just not fair, it's really
Fraser got a hand under his chin and tipped his face up. "It was
awful," he confessed.
Understanding filled Ray's eyes, and he nodded.
Fraser pulled Ray in again, and this time he initiated the kiss. Ray responded
instantly, eagerly, holding nothing back, nipping and licking and sucking
until Fraser grabbed him by the hips and twisted, pushing Ray back against the
car as he had just been, using his weight to pin him there, thrusting against
him. Ray spread his thighs, bracing himself, his hands coming down to rest on
Fraser's backside, kneading. Fraser choked a little, moaning, one hand sliding
between them, reaching for Ray's zipper, tugging at it, needing to feel skin,
needing to touch, to taste, to smell, prove to himself this was real. An
annoying repetitive sound finally penetrated his consciousness.
He jerked back. "What?"
"Is that an engine?" Ray
asked, breathing hard.
Fraser listened. "Mmmhmm," he agreed, leaning
back in, not really understanding why Ray wanted to know. Ray pulled back
slightly, lifting his eyebrows, so he clarified. "Yes. Eighteen wheeler by the
sound of it. Probably the weekly resupply for Robinson's Trading. About two
miles off, I'd say. Sound carries well here."
"I . . . um. . . don't
guess it would be really good for them to drive by with us making out here.
You being in uniform and all."
"Probably not," Fraser agreed, reluctant
to push away.
"If he's two miles away and going sixty he'll be here in
two minutes," Ray said, annoyingly practical.
"Right you are." Fraser
let go of Ray's waistband, stepping back with a sigh, reaching down to adjust
himself to a slightly less uncomfortable position.
Ray watched him,
then looked up, slowly, his gaze smoky. "Do you have any idea how close you
are to getting molested in the back of your damned Suburban?"
believe it's considered molestation when both parties are of age and
consenting," Fraser said huskily.
"Fraser," Ray said warningly.
"Right, right," Fraser said, closing his eyes, trying to think. Where
were they? He'd passed the turn off to Weyakwin not five minutes before he'd
seen Ray. He opened his eyes. "I think we could safely take a short side-trip
without negatively impacting your arrival in Saskatoon. Follow
"Got a plan?"
"I do indeed."
"It involve a pirate
ship?" Ray asked, trying not to smile.
Fraser shook his head. "No
pirate ship," he assured Ray solemnly.
"Count me in."
minutes later he pulled into the parking lot of the Kisseynew Cabins &
Campground and got out. Dief jumped out, looking at him knowingly. Fraser
looked past the lodge to the woods beyond, and then back down at Dief. "I
don't suppose you'd like to take a long exploratory walk in the woods? Perhaps
see if you can scare up a rabbit or a squirrel?"
Fraser shook his head. "I certainly will not. That's
Dief turned his back and looked at Ray's car, pulling into
Fraser sighed. "Please, Dief? I'd very much appreciate it."
Dief looked back at him and pushed his nose under his hand for a
moment, and then bounded off toward the woods. Fraser stared after him,
somewhat stupefied by his own success, as Ray parked next to him, stared up at
the sign above the lodge office, and shook his head.
"No. Just. . .
no. I'm not doing this in a motel called 'Kisseynew,' Fraser! I'm just
"It's a lodge, not a motel."
"Motel, lodge whatever, it's
still Kisseynew. It's. . . cute." He shuddered eloquently.
cute, Ray, it's Cree."
Fraser nodded. "Yes. It means
'it flows swiftly.' Well, actually, it could also mean 'they salted it down'
or 'it is old' or 'old number four;' no one really seems to know for sure any
"Uh-huh." Ray looked dubious.
"No, really, Ray. It's
named after Lake Kisseynew in Manitoba. When Rollie Thompson decided to open a
second facility here, he didn't want to pay to have new matchbooks and pens
printed so he used the same name as his other location in
Ray chuckled at that. "You know, that I can believe. Cheap
is the same all over. That's all right then. I thought it was one of those
cutesy things like 'Dew Drop Inn,' you know?"
"I would never subject
you to such a thing," Fraser said, trying not to smile. "Shall we?"
nodded and got out. "Wait. We're just going to walk up there and get a room,
straight out, with you in uniform and all?"
This place rent by the hour?" he asked dubiously.
"Not normally, no."
Fraser walked up the three steps to the office porch. "Coming?"
nodded. "You bet. This I got to see."
Fraser opened the door and
motioned Ray in, then followed him. The desk was empty, so he rang the bell. A
moment later Clydene Waters came out of the back room. Fraser heard a brief
moment of television dialogue and determined she had been watching a soap
"Hi there, what can I do for you gen. . ." she began, then she
realized who she was addressing and looked surprised. "Corporal Fraser! What's
this about then? There a problem?"
"No reason to be alarmed, Clydene,
my colleague and I just need a quiet place to have a conference for an hour or
"Conference?" She frowned thoughtfully. "Well, we don't exactly
have a conference room but there's the poker room in the back of the bar if
"Actually, one of your standard cabins would be do nicely,"
Fraser said evenly, hoping that he was feeling warm because of the ambient
temperature in the lodge, not because of a blush. This was harder than he'd
Clydene looked from him to Ray and back, narrowing her eyes.
Fraser wondered if he had beard-burn. Ray had shaved that morning, but he did
stubble up awfully quickly. "Yeah?"
"Yes," Fraser said firmly. "Quite
"Okay, if you say so," Clydene said with a shrug, reaching
for a key.
Ray leaned closer. "You got anything kind of in the back?
I'm undercover," he said confidentially. "Can't have anyone see me or listen
"Ohhh," Clydene said knowingly, eyes wide. She put back the first
key she'd picked up and got a different one, waving it at Fraser, though her
eyes were still on Ray. "Here you go. And don't worry about a thing, I
"I sure as hell hope not," Ray muttered, sotto
voce, as they walked out of the office.
Fraser choked on a laugh,
wanting badly to kiss him. It was nearly impossible to wait until they had
picked up Ray's bag and were safely inside the cabin, drapes drawn, before he
could pull him into his arms and give in to the urge.
kissed him back, laughing, peeling off his coat and dropping it next to the
door, then walking Fraser backward toward the bedroom with its queen-sized
bed. "Conference?" he asked between kisses, grinning. "Conference? Is
that what they call it up here? Gotta remember that. That mean phone-sex lines
are conference calls?" He wrestled Fraser's jacket off, dropping it beside his
own, and then started unbuttoning Fraser's shirt with one hand, pulling the
tails out of his trousers with the other. "You know I love a man in uniform,
but the clothes have to go, because I really need to have a serious
conference with your dick."
Ray steered Fraser backward until
the bed caught him behind the knees. He grabbed Ray's shoulders as he lost his
balance, pulling Ray along with him as he fell. They hit the bed and bounced a
little, and Fraser took advantage of the moment to flip Ray onto his back and
push himself up a bit so he could look down at him. "Honestly, Ray, I don't
see that undercover is much of an improvement," he teased.
grinned, shaking his head. "No, not much. But hey, between the two of us, it
worked. One-two punch, just like old times."
Fraser looked down at Ray
and felt his smile fade, suddenly serious. "Not quite like old times," he
said, moving a hand to the second button on Ray's shirt, the first already
lying open. His fingers shook as he eased it from its buttonhole, then moved
to the next one, opening it as well, baring Ray's prominent collarbones, and
the almost triangular indentation of his sternum.
"No, not quite," Ray
agreed, just as serious. He lifted one hand to slide it beneath the fall of
Fraser's open shirt, fingers trailing the curve of his chest, down to one
nipple, barely brushing it through his henley.
Fraser gasped, startled
by a shock of pleasure out of proportion to the lightness of the touch. Ray
touched him there again, more firmly, framing it between two fingers, then
pushing his shirt aside with his free hand so he could bend his head and touch
his tongue to it. Fraser arched, fingers fumbling on the next button of Ray's
shirt, tugging impatiently until the button popped free and spun away, falling
silently on the carpet. It was all he could do not to grab Ray's shirt in both
hands and rip. He wanted him naked. Now. Sooner than now.
somehow, to get the other buttons open, to undo belt and button and zipper and
plunge his hand below all those maddening layers of fabric to find a familiar,
yet strangely unfamiliar length of flesh, gripping it in his palm with a growl
"Benton, God!" Ray gasped, his whole body tensed, shaking,
as Fraser stroked and squeezed with calculated roughness.
enough. He wanted it all. Letting go, he sat back on the bed and manhandled
Ray out of his shirt. Ray squirmed a little and he heard the telltale thumps
of boots hitting the floor, then he was squirming more. Fraser helped Ray
shimmy out of his pants, leaving only his boxer-briefs. He slipped his fingers
under the waistband and hesitated a moment, nervous, until Ray reached down
and pushed with one hand, helping. Fraser took over from there as Ray lifted
his hips to make it easier.
"Oh yeah," he sighed, sliding a hand down
Ray's chest, down his abdomen, spreading his fingers to comb through the
thick, sand-colored curls that surrounded his cock, which arched hard and
strong, the head damp and shining already. He licked his lips, and watched
Ray's whole body respond to that with a jerk like he'd been shocked. He looked
up, meeting Ray's eyes.
Ray pushed himself up onto his elbows, and as
Fraser gave ground he sat up all the way and looked at him evenly. "Your
turn," he said, his fingers not much surer as he helped Fraser peel off his
shirt. He looked a little startled when Fraser tugged the shirt out of his
hands and tossed it on the floor. He started to grin as Fraser discarded each
successive piece of clothing on the floor beside the bed, and when he pitched
his boxers halfway across the room, Ray started to laugh.
on top of Ray, Fraser kissed him, tasting the curve of his mouth and the tang
of his amusement. As he settled in against Ray's long, bare body the laughter
faded, and the brilliance in Ray's eyes shaded to smoke. One of Ray's hands
swept down his back, came to rest on his hip, and tightened a little, pulling
Fraser closer against him. Fraser was shaking, felt it echoed in Ray, though
it wasn't cold in the room.
It was so different from what he
remembered, only the feel of warm, satiny skin against his own gave him a
point of reference. He was glad of that. Nothing to remind him. Just Ray,
known, and dear. Long legs rough with hair, big feet, big hands, strong hands,
wide chest and shoulders. He was all planes and angles, or mostly. Even Ray
with his boundless energy and racing metabolism had softened some over the
years. Somehow he hadn't noticed that last night. It made him smile. Ray
reached up and touched the corner of his mouth with a finger.
that for?" he asked.
"I'm . . . happy," he confessed in a whisper,
feeling as if saying it might somehow make the gods jealous and they'd take it
away from him.
Ray's mouth curved upward too. "Me too." He put his
other arm around Fraser and squeezed, hugging him close. The action brought
their groins fully together, and they both shivered. Ray nuzzled his throat,
making a sound not far different from a purr. "'S nice, Benton. Do it
Fraser obliged, though he thought 'nice' was a feeble way to
describe the kiss of flesh on flesh. He rocked slowly, dragging his cock along
Ray's. Ray groaned and clutched at his hip, proving that 'nice' was an
understatement for him as well. His free hand moved up from Fraser's shoulders
to his hair, fingers tangling in it, pulling Fraser's mouth roughly down to
his at the same time he thrust upward against Fraser's hip. Fraser growled
into Ray's gasp, and ground against him, needing the pressure, the friction,
Ray arched under him sliding one leg to the side and then
hooking his calf over the back of Fraser's thigh and knee. The intimacy of the
act astonished him, and he bit hungrily at Ray's mouth, thrusting faster,
feeling Ray echo his pace, and oh, God too soon, too soon, he felt the
rhythmic clutch of orgasm seize him, shake him, each spurt almost painfully
"Christ, oh, Christ, Benton. Yeah. . . ." Ray pumped against
him, his cock gliding now in the slick, hot mess between them, once, twice,
and then the mess wasn't just his own and Ray was shuddering silently in his
arms, his teeth caught in his lower lip, his hands clenched bruisingly tight
on Fraser's hip and pulling at his hair hard enough to bring tears to his
eyes. At least he told himself that's what it was.
The scent of sex
was strong in the air, his own familiar smell, and a new one layered with it,
rich and strange. He wanted to imprint the moment on his senses, to call up on
future lonely nights when he needed comfort. The sound of Ray's breathing, the
feel of his sweaty, spunky skin, the taste of his mouth. The taste of his
throat, and his collarbone, and . . . Fraser turned his head to pull free of
Ray's slackened grip and slid down his body, licking a swath through the
thick, pale fluid coating Ray's belly where they'd been pressed together,
savoring the salt-bitter-sweetness of their mingled flavors, feeling the swirl
of wet hair against his tongue as he cleaned Ray off.
known you'd want to lick something," Ray said, gently amused.
smiled at that, then leaned in to tongue his cock. God, the skin was so
smooth, soft, silky. Emboldened by Ray's easy acceptance, he slid his fingers
under the softened length of Ray's cock and lifted it, taking it into his
Ray gasped, and gave a whole-body twitch. "Jesus!" His hand
found Fraser's hair again, lightly this time, stroking. "God, that feels. . .
wow. . . but, I. . . uh, don't think I'm going to be good for much at this
point," he said apologetically.
Fraser soothed a hand up and down his
thigh, and shook his head a little, not wanting to let go long enough to use
words explain that it didn't matter, he just needed to do this. Fortunately,
he didn't have to.
"Yeah, okay. Got it. Knock yourself out," Ray said,
chuckling a little. "Long as you're not expecting anything." After a moment he
sighed and relaxed, still stroking Fraser's hair. "You know how long I've
wanted to get my hands in your hair?" he asked, fingers sliding through the
disheveled waves. "I like it longer like this. Course I like it short, too."
He laughed softly. "I pretty much just like you any old way."
felt a flush rise in his face. Ridiculous, really, considering the fact that
they were naked and he, at least, was sticky with semen, and he had Ray's
penis in his mouth, but he couldn't help the embarrassed delight Ray's words
gave him, every bit as amazing as the physical pleasure he'd just supplied.
With one last lick, Fraser let Ray go, and pillowed his face on Ray's thigh,
one arm across his belly. Ray kept stroking his hair, his caresses slowing
gradually, and under his arm he felt Ray's breathing even out. He found his
own breathing slowing to match Ray's, the petting almost hypnotic. He closed
his eyes with a sigh, completely relaxed for the first time he could remember.
* * *
Ray scowled, trying to stay asleep despite the annoying
scratching noise. What was that? A branch brushing against the house? Must be
a storm or something. Except. . . storms didn't . . . whine. And that was
definitely a whine. Dief? Yeah, sounded like him. Wondering what the heavy
thing making a numb and slightly damp place on his thigh was, Ray opened his
eyes, and . . .
"Fuck!" He sat bolt upright, dislodging Fraser who was
using his thigh for a pillow. "What time is it?"
Fraser blinked at him,
disheveled and confused, one side of his face red from where it had been
pressed against Ray's leg, and a little shiny with moisture. "Wha. .
"Time! What time. . . ." Ray remembered suddenly that he was still
wearing his watch, and he looked, and groaned. "Oh God, I am so screwed. I'm
due in Saskatoon in less than two hours and there's just no way, short of
alien intervention, that I'm going to get there in time."
almost see Fraser's brain start working. The vacant expression sharpened, his
eyes narrowed, and then he reached over the side of the bed and grabbed his
pants, detaching his phone from the belt before pushing himself up to a
sitting position. "Let me see if I can do anything. Who have you been working
with in Saskatoon?"
It took him a minute. He always messed up the name.
Wait, he had it. "Guy named Thobhani."
"Aki Thobhani?" Fraser asked. Of
course he pronounced it exactly the way the guy himself did.
nodded. 'Yeah, that's him."
"All right, good." He opened his phone and
dialed. A moment later he started to speak. "Aki? Hello, it's Benton Fraser.
Yes. Mmm? Fine, yes, relatively quiet, though we've had a bit of excitement
lately, which is why I'm calling. You're expecting my former partner from
Chicago, Ray Kowalski, this afternoon, to give a deposition on the LeBeau
case? What? Yes, actually, he is. Yes, that's the one. The submarine and the
nerve gas, yes." Fraser rolled his eyes at Ray with an exasperated expression
on his face. "Yes, in any case, he's been assisting me with an arson
investigation in La Rouille and to be quite frank time's gotten away from us
and there's simply no way that he can be back in Saskatoon in time for his one
o'clock appointment this afternoon. Is there any way he could. . . yes. Yes.
Four o'clock? That should do just fine. Thank you very much."
closed his phone and looked at Ray smugly.
Ray gaped. "Fraser! You
"Yes, I did," Fraser said, somewhat defiantly, only to
correct himself a moment later. "Well, after a fashion,"
"Okay, now I know you love me." He paused for a moment and looked at him
seriously. "You know I do, right? Love you, I mean."
Fraser set the
phone down on the floor next to his pants, then rolled back over onto his
side, facing Ray. He reached out and touched Ray's face, fingers gently
brushing back the hair from his forehead, thumb trailing gently over his
eyebrows. "I . . . hoped. And now I do," he said, an almost imperceptible
quaver in his voice.
"Good!" Ray said fiercely, wrapping an arm around
Fraser's waist and holding him tightly. "Don't ever stop knowing it,
Fraser buried his face for a moment in the warmth of Ray's neck,
then pulled back just long enough that Ray could see his suspiciously bright
eyes before he leaned back in and kissed Ray, hard, on the mouth. "I won't,
Ray. I won't stop knowing it. Just . . . keep reminding me, all
"Yeah. I think I can do that."
Fraser started to smile,
but it was an odd smile like Ray had never seen before on his friend's face -
and one he wasn't sure he ever wanted to see again. Happiness was there like
you'd expect to see - like you'd hope to see - in a smile, but, God, something
else was there, too. Something that pressed hard at the corners of Fraser's
mouth and eyes. Not pain, precisely. Not really fear. Neither of those - or
maybe a little of both. Something almost . . . desperate.
up, his palms against Fraser's temples, thumbs brushing lightly over the soft
skin below his eyes, trying to erase that look of desperation with his hands.
He felt the warmth of Fraser's breath against his cheeks, his mouth, each
rapid exhalation an unspoken plea. He leaned in, closing the gap between them
until there was just a whisper of space between his lips and Fraser's own
slightly parted lips. He held himself still, felt his own shallow breaths find
entry into Fraser's open mouth, then sealed their mouths with a
He felt Fraser's fingers stroking the short hairs at the back of
his head, tasted his tongue as it begged access to his mouth, heard the soft
sounds he made in his throat as they kissed. Then Fraser broke the kiss and
spoke, slowly and deliberately, but so softly and hoarsely that if they hadn't
been so close, Ray would never have been able to hear him at all.
Ray squeezed his eyes shut tightly, just for a moment, a
feeble barrier erected against the sudden sting of tears. He hadn't known how
much he'd needed to hear Fraser say those words until they were finally
He opened his eyes and looked at Fraser. God. He looked as
relieved as Ray felt, but he looked . . . surprised - like he couldn't believe
he'd actually been able to say it. Ray shook his head and smiled reassuringly.
He knew that was a damned scary thing to say when it was for real. His smile
drew an answering one from Fraser, unclouded now by the fear and pain that had
been there moments before.
Ray wrapped his arms tightly around Fraser
and smiled. "I don't need to ask you if that was hard to say."
grinned, blushing slightly, then his expression turned serious. "Not as hard
as saying goodbye's going to be. Ray, I . . . God, I don't want you to leave,
but you have to get to Saskatoon. Aki's already done us a great favor
in agreeing to have the time changed. Our judicial system is far less . . .
flexible, I suppose you'd say, about scheduling matters than the Chicago court
system appeared to be, and we shouldn't impose upon him a second time,
particularly not when, well . . . ."
Ray nodded. "No, you're right. And
you know, I do understand how much being dishonest grates on you, even
when it's a matter of life or death."
Fraser frowned. "A matter of . .
"I was dying of waiting, Benton," said Ray gravely.
Fraser said with a smile. "Of course."
Ray dropped a kiss on Fraser's
too-welcoming mouth, then slid out of the bed reluctantly and began to
retrieve his scattered clothing from the floor. He could feel Fraser's eyes on
him as he slipped his briefs on and turned, about to make a joke about
charging admission, but he stopped when he saw the expression on Fraser's
He couldn't remember ever being looked at with such a
combination of longing and love in his entire life. It was a little weird to
be the focus of such intensity, but he wasn't about to say anything that might
make Fraser think that any part of what he was feeling was wrong. He reached
out again, but Fraser shook his head this time.
"No, we really have to
Ray put on his socks and
trousers, but the shirt was another matter. Not only was one of the buttons
missing, but there was a tear in the buttonhole too. Okay, so maybe there was
a slight drawback to Fraser's intensity. He threw the shirt on the bed and
pulled another one from his bag.
"Good thing I still had a spare. I
don't know if showing up looking like a caveman just had his way with me would
go over real big in Saskatoon."
"I'm so sorry," Fraser said, looking at
the damage he'd done earlier. "I'll replace it, of course, and . . .
"Nah, don't worry. It died in a good cause," Ray grinned. "Besides,
I . . . um . . . I kind of owe you a shirt, anyway."
"You do?" Ray asked, looking surprised.
nodded, then pushed himself off the bed and up onto his bare feet. He walked
behind Ray and brought his arms around him, his body warm against Ray's back.
"You're welcome to anything I have, Ray. When you . . . ."
for him to go on, but the sentence remained incomplete. "Fraser? What were you
going to say?"
"It was nothing, Ray."
"Come on, Benton," he
said, turning around in Fraser's arms to face him. "It didn't sound like
"Actually, it was. I was going to say . . . well, I was going
to say that when you wore the shirt you could think of it as if I had my arms
around you, keeping you . . . oh God, would you stop me, please?" He buried
his flushed face in Ray's shoulder.
Ray patted his back and chuckled.
"Keeping me warm? You're really sweet, you know that?"
Ray was still laughing when they heard the scratching sound
coming from the cabin door again.
"Oh, Lord. I completely forgot about
Diefenbaker. He's been outside all this time."
"Man," Ray said,
shaking his head. "I don't envy you. That's going to be one pissed off
"Ray, could you . . . ." Fraser said, one foot in his boxers.
"Yeah, I'll let the guy in. Go, um, look busy or
Ray opened the door. Diefenbaker, after giving Ray a
perfunctory lick on the hand, jumped up on the bed and started to bark at
Fraser paused, pants in his hands. "You couldn't possibly have
heard me since, as you have told me repeatedly, you're deaf. In any case, I
have not been watching too much daytime television."
down on the bed and put his hands on the side of Diefenbaker's muzzle, turning
him slightly to face him.
"Enough with the yapping, okay? First off,
you're a wolf and wolves aren't supposed to bark, right? B, you're in now, so
stop complaining. Besides, if you behave, Benton's going to get you an order
of chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes with gravy from Tilda's when
you get back home . . . aren't you, Benton?"
"Ray," Fraser said
severely, trousers on now, but unfastened as he reached for his shirt.
Fraser sighed. "Of course I am, Ray.
grinned. "Good. See, Dief? Life's good."
Diefenbaker woofed in
agreement and curled up contentedly on top of Ray's discarded shirt.
"Hey! That's mine!" Ray protested, reaching to tug it out from under
Fraser reached out and caught his wrist. "Wait, Ray. If it's not
too presumptuous of me, perhaps you might let Dief keep it? I mean. . . I'd
love to wear it myself, but I'm afraid that's not an option, and in any case
it's ruined, so someone might as well get some use from it," he said ruefully.
Ray looked from Fraser, where he stood holding his own shirt, to Dief,
happily snoozing on his shirt, and he smiled. "Dief, huh? Well, if you
can wrestle it away from him, lemme tell you that a shirt makes a pretty good
Fraser's eyebrows drew down slightly. "I'm not sure I take
Ray felt himself flush a little. "See. . . I, um,
actually owe you two shirts. You left one in Chicago back when you
moved, and I just sort of. . . forgot to send it back to you."
Chicago?" Fraser sounded, and looked, like he'd been poleaxed. "That
Ray nodded, feeling his blush deepen. "Yeah. Okay, so I
admit it. I'm a moron. But at least I finally got a clue, eh?"
did a bit of a double-take, and smiled. "You said 'eh.'"
chuckled. "'Eh.' People back home keep asking me if I'm Canadian. I also drink
tea and read books and I'm even polite. Well, mostly. Except when I'm not."
"And I drink coffee and swear and watch television. Good lord. I
didn't realize national characteristics were infectious."
and pulled on his shirt, buttoning it. "So what happens now?"
go to Saskatoon and take care of your responsibilities with the Le Beau case,
and I return to La Rouille to finalize the arrangements for Crawford's
sentencing circle." Fraser said evenly, not looking at Ray as he put on his
own shirt and tucked it in, then zipped up.
"Yeah, and then
what?" Ray asked, as he shoved his feet into his boots and stamped them
on. "Because I've got to tell you, Benton, my days of being somebody's pen pal
ended back when I was in sixth grade."
Fraser paused in fastening his
belt and sighed. "What happens next, then, is that we try to determine what
employment opportunities are available for me in Chicago, although honestly, I
can't imagine being able to leave my posting before . . . ."
stopped in the middle of picking up his jacket off the floor. "Wait a minute.
You're thinking about moving to Chicago?"
"Well, yes." Fraser frowned,
his expression going very. . . expressionless. "Unless I misunderstood? I may
have been jumping the gun a bit, but I assumed we. . ." He stopped. Swallowed.
"But if you're not ready to make that kind of decision yet, I understand
completely. I'm certain we can . . . ."
"No!" Ray almost shouted, then
he toned himself down. But he could see that Fraser was trampolining to a
wrong conclusion and he was determined to head him off at the pass. Or
something like that. Talk about mixing metaphors. "No, of course I'm ready.
Decision's been signed, sealed, and delivered at my end. Fraser, I want to be
with you - you know that. But . . . Chicago. Wow. I guess I didn't
think you'd be willing to move back there."
Fraser sat down on the bed,
holding his hiking boot but not putting it on as he looked at Ray with
something like consternation. "Where else could we be, Ray? That's where your
job is. Your career. Your family and friends. I wouldn't dream of asking you
to give up all the things that are important to you."
Ray poked two
fingers at him, scowling. "Hey, get it straight. It's you that's most
important to me. Do you hear that?"
"Well, yes, but . . .
"No. I mean, do you really hear it? Because I'm telling you right
now, Benton Fraser, I would give up anything . . . anything, to be with
you. I'm not going to be without you in my life. Not again. And if that means
moving up here to Canada, then that's the way it's going to be." He stood in
front of Fraser with his fists clenched, ready to. . . he wasn't sure what. .
. but whatever it took to convince Fraser he meant it.
expression softened, and he reached to take one of Ray's clenched fists in his
hand, prying at it, opening his fingers. "I feel the same way, Ray, but you
have to understand that it's no sacrifice for me to leave Canada. Not now.
You've seen what my life's been like up here. Even this weekend, when I
actually had an investigation to pursue, the pace has been, well . . . Ray, to
be honest, after Chicago, it's driving me out of my mind."
had seen that. But he'd thought it was something else. "You sure it's not just
because you've . . . um . . . been lonely?"
Fraser nodded, his gaze
never leaving Ray's. "I'm sure. That's been a part of it, of course, but it
isn't the whole answer."
"Okay," said Ray slowly, thinking. "What if we
moved up north? Don't you still miss the Territories?"
"I don't know
about down in the United States, but here in Canada we have a little thing
called 'a vacation,'" Fraser deadpanned.
Ray smiled, but shook his
head. "Come on, I'm serious, here. I did okay on our trip, and that was a lot
tougher than living up there would be. I could hack Inuvik or Yellowknife or
wherever if it would make you happy."
"I appreciate that more than you
could possibly know, Ray, but it's not necessary," Fraser said. "At one time,
being allowed to return north would have come as a godsend, but quite frankly,
I'm no longer certain I'd be comfortable with that degree of isolation, or the
Ray turned that over in his head, and thought he understood.
"People change, huh?" he asked after a moment.
"People change," Fraser
agreed, sounding relieved.
"Okay, so it's Chicago for the both of us.
That's good," Ray said definitively. "I like that. Okay, so how about I talk
to Welsh when I get back? See if he has any suggestions."
nodded, then sat back down on the bed to put on his boots. "Good idea. For my
part, I think I'll get in touch with Assistant Commissioner Underhill. He's
the one who instituted the RCMP liaison program, and . . ."
liaison thing was his idea?" Ray interrupted. "I think I want to kiss
"Perhaps you'd find a hearty handshake sufficient," Fraser said,
as Ray chuckled. "In any case, he's currently serving on the commission
developing a pilot program involving the cooperation of a number of
governmental agencies from both our countries. I'm afraid I don't know as much
about this as I might, but now's as good a time as any to
"Sounds good," Ray said, nodding. "Hey, you know what? I take
back what I said. Forget that Underhill guy; I think I want to kiss you,
He tugged Fraser up off the bed and pulled him into his arms,
kissing his mouth, then leaned against him, just holding him. The thought of
having to lose this closeness when they'd only just found it, was more than he
wanted to think about.
"Don't want to go," he muttered.
want you to go," Fraser said softly. "Perhaps . . ."
was thinking that perhaps I could come down to Saskatoon tomorrow evening
after work. Between Constables Traynor and Zhertak, I'm sure the detachment
will survive without my presence for a bit longer."
"Yeah? You really
think you could get away?" Ray asked eagerly. "Or maybe I could go back up to
La Rouille. I don't think I'm going to have anything much to do after tomorrow
afternoon, and my flight back to Chicago isn't until 3:00 p.m. on
Diefenbaker jumped off the bed and yipped happily at Ray's
Fraser shook his head. "Well, that's one vote for you coming
back up to La Rouille. You know, he's only taking this much of an interest
because he believes you to be a softer touch when it comes to contraband snack
food than I am."
"I'm hurt," Ray laughed, bending down to let
Diefenbaker lick him. "I thought he liked me for my conversational
"Perhaps he does," Fraser said. "Actually, if he's anything
like me, he likes having you with him for every possible reason."
looked at him with a mock frown. "Not that I don't appreciate the sentiment,
Benton, but I'm not sure I want the wolf liking me for all the same reasons
you like me."
Dief growled, and Fraser's eyes widened.
Ray laughed. "Jeez! Settle down, both of you! I was joking." He looked
down at Fraser's feet. "Finish tying your shoes, Benton, we need to get out of
here pronto." He glanced past Fraser, and winced. "Oh God. . . the bed.
They're never going to buy the conference story once they get a look at
Fraser, kneeling to tie his second boot, craned around, and eyed
the rumpled bed critically. "Actually, Ray, I think all we need do is
straighten the covers."
"You don't think the come stains kind of give
it away there?" Ray asked drily.
Fraser looked at the bed for a moment
longer, and started to smile. "I suppose they do at that." He stood up, and
pulling out his wallet, removed several bills and placed them on the rumpled
"What are you doing?"
"Paying for the use of the room and
leaving a cleaning fee."
Ray blinked. "Don't you . . . uh. . . . ." He
stopped, thought for a moment, and looked at Fraser again, perplexed. "What,
people don't gossip in Canada?"
Fraser's smile grew broader. "Of course
"So then. . . ." Ray got it, like the clouds opened up and
trumpets sounded. He felt his own eyes widen. "Oh."
looked a little concerned. "Is that all right?"
Ray swallowed hard, and
nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, it's fine. Except. . . what if . . . won't you get . . . .
" He couldn't say it. Pussy. He took a breath. "I'm not going to be here to
watch your back, and damn it, Benton, I do not want to get a phone call
telling me that somebody didn't back you up because of this
Dief whined. Fraser looked down at Dief. "Certainly not. I
think it's Ray who's been watching too much daytime television." His
gaze shifted to Ray's face. "Do you know of any actual incidents where that
Ray thought about it. Hell, they had a bunch of gay cops on
the force in Chicago. They even had a gay community liaison. Nobody batted an
eyelash. "Um, no," he muttered.
"I thought not."
he asked, knowing he was beet red.
Fraser smiled and shook his head.
Ray put a hand over his eyes. "Shit. It's just. . . it's
you, Benton. It's not just some 'gay cop.' It's you. I worry, you
"I do know. And that's all right. I know I've worried about you
ever since I came up here, for all the everyday, mundane reasons one worries
about a cop. I know what can happen, with or without backup. But you can't. .
. we can't. . . let fear rule us."
Fear? Try sheer terror, Ray
thought, but he straightened up and reached to pull Fraser close and hug him.
"I'm happy to be gossiped about, 'long as you're part of it. And if anybody
says anything mean to you I'll be on the next plane up here to kick 'em in the
head, got that?"
Fraser chuckled against his neck. "It's probably
fortunate that there are no direct flights, then."
Ray laughed. "Yeah,
probably." Pulling back, he brushed one more kiss across Fraser's lips and
then let him go and stepped back, running a hand through his hair. "I look
okay?" he asked.
"You look marvelous," Fraser said huskily.
put out a hand. "Down boy! I meant do I look respectable enough to talk to a
Fraser eyed him more critically. "Yes."
"Good. He took a step toward the door and hesitated as another thought
occurred to him. He inhaled deeply, but damn, he really couldn't tell. He
looked back at Fraser. "Um. . . do I smell like I just got
Fraser laughed. "Only to me, Ray. I don't expect anyone would
detect it at a normal distance."
"Guess I better not let anyone get too
close then," he joked.
Fraser's eyes darkened. "That's
Ray's eyebrows shot up. Note to self: Fraser had a jealous
side. Good to know. It was okay, though. Ray knew all about those. "Count on
it," he said.
He glanced around the room to be sure he hadn't
forgotten anything, and saw the money on the bed. That was wrong. He walked
back over, got his own wallet and took out a crisp US twenty dollar bill.
Replacing one of Fraser's bills with the twenty, he handed Fraser back the
bill he'd taken off the bed. Fraser didn't protest, and the look in his eyes
told Ray the gesture was understood, and appreciated.
"All set then?"
Fraser asked, pocketing the money.
Ray nodded. "Ready as I'll ever be."
He opened the door and stepped outside into chilly gray day, waiting.
Fraser zipped up his jacket, picked up Ray's discarded shirt, and
followed, Dief at their heels. They walked in silence back to where they'd
parked. Ray noticed that Clydene was watching them from the office window, and
he waved at her. They got to their cars and Fraser opened the door of his
Suburban and tossed Ray's shirt inside, then came over as Ray unlocked the
Taurus. As soon as he opened the door, Diefenbaker jumped in and squeezed
through between the seats to the back where he sat down next to Ray's duffel
bag and looked at them expectantly.
"Come on guy!" Ray protested.
"Don't make this harder than it already is. You know we gotta go different
directions here." He opened the back door and made shooing motions. "Out. You
can't come to Saskatoon with me. The hotel doesn't take wolves,
Dief just whined and lay down, his chin on Ray's bag. Fraser
"I know, Dief, but really, we can't, either of us. Not at this
That got a moan, and Dief put a paw on top of Ray's bag
"Honestly, it's all right. Ray will be back.
We'll see him again soon." Fraser looked at Ray and nudged him with an elbow.
"Yeah," Ray added hastily. "Promise. Soon as I can get back here,
okay? I'll, uh, bring you something."
Dief growled and eyed him
disdainfully. Ray spread his hands. "Okay, sorry. I won't bring you anything."
He looked at Fraser ruefully. "Guess bribes only go so far."
could possibly replace your presence," Fraser said a little wistfully.
Ray blinked hard and shook his head. "Okay, enough of that. Dief, out
now. I mean it. Do not make me come in there and get you. One. . . two
. . ."
Diefenbaker reluctantly heaved himself to his feet and exited
the car. Ray closed the door and turned to Fraser, who avoided his gaze.
"I suppose this is goodbye," Fraser said, holding out a hand as if to
Ray stared at his hand, took it, and pulled him in for a long,
tight hug instead. "Just see you later, okay? Not goodbye," he said into
Fraser's ear. "Hey, you want to really give ol' Clydene something to
Ray cut off Fraser's question by
kissing him. There was a moment of startled stillness, and then he responded,
returning Ray's kiss with as much passion as he had earlier. Fortified by his
nap, Ray's body reacted predictably and he was half hard by the time they
finally stopped. "Shit," he muttered, trying to settle himself into a less
uncomfortable position without being too obvious about it. Kissing in front of
Clydene was one thing. Grabbing himself was another.
licking his lips. "Indeed."
"Not up there on my list of 'greatest ideas
"Possibly not, but appreciated nonetheless." Fraser looked
at the car. "Ray, you really should. . ." he gestured out to the south.
Ray nodded. "Yeah, I know. I have to go. I know that. I'm going.
Really. Now. Right now."
"Wouldn't it help if you were actually in the
car?" Fraser asked, the lines around his eyes and mouth deepening a little as
he fought to keep from smiling.
"Yeah, yeah," Ray got in and fastened
the seat belt. Fraser closed the door for him, and then leaned down as Ray
rolled down the window.
"One for the road?" Ray asked, feeling stupid
Fraser kissed him again. Softly this time. Exactly what he
needed. When their lips parted, Fraser cleared his throat.
get going, Ray. I'll talk to you tonight and we'll make plans."
nodded, put the key in the ignition, and started the car. "Yeah, we
He pulled out, turned around and headed down the drive. Looking
in the mirror, he nearly hit the brakes as he saw both Fraser and Dief
standing beside the Suburban, watching him. Shit. How could he leave? How
could he not leave? He had to leave. This. Sucked. He dragged his eyes from
the rear view mirror and stared straight ahead. Drive, Kowalski. Just drive.
Twenty six minutes later, back on the CanAm and determinedly headed
south, he pulled over onto the shoulder and got out his cell phone, turning it
on, hitting the first autodial. A moment later his call was answered.
"Corporal Benton Fraser speaking."
a moment of silence. "Ray? Is something wrong?" Fraser sounded
"Other than the fact that you're headed north and I'm headed
south, nope. Nothing."
"Ah. Then. . . why are you
He could hear Fraser swallow. "Ray. . . ."
his voice cracked a little. "Ray, it's unsafe to use a cellular telephone
"I pulled over."
"I love you too."
grinned. "Would you still love me if I hadn't pulled over?"
that goes without saying."
"Okay, good. Bye."
He got back on the road. Thirty two minutes later his phone rang.
"Kowalski," he answered.
He laughed, glad the road was
deserted so if he wandered a little as he laughed and drove and held the phone
it wasn't a problem. "Cripes. We're a pair aren't we?"
"I think that's
an excellent description."
"I just . . . miss
"Did you pull
"What if I don't talk? I'll just hold
the phone to my ear and you can . . . um. . . breathe at me or
Fraser groaned. "Now you're making me drive
"You didn't pull over?" Ray asked, mock-appalled.
"Tsk, tsk. Hey, this line secure?"
"I seriously doubt it."
means anybody could, like, overhear this call?"
won't tell you what I'd really like to be doing to you right now
Ray chuckled. "How many people you think Clydene's
called so far?"
"A dozen, at least. Starting with Sally."
That way Zhertak will know to keep his hands to himself because you're
"Ray, I've told you before, Constable Zhertak doesn't like me
in that way."
"You just keep on thinking that."
"Ray, he has a
girlfriend. Two girlfriends."
"Compensating," Ray said with a
grin, constitutionally unable to refrain from chain-yanking, then he had to
slow as a drift of snow pulled at his tires. "Hey, the road's kind of messy up
ahead, I need both hands. I'll talk to you later."
"Yes, you will,"
Fraser said huskily.
He made it to Saskatoon without incident, with
twenty minutes to spare, and was really glad he'd been to the Courthouse once
already so he knew where he was going. Nobody looked at him weird and nobody
sniffed at him so Fraser must have been right about him looking and smelling
okay. After he gave his deposition, Aki Thobhani invited him to dinner along
with a couple of the other RCMP guys working the Le Beau case for a hob-nob,
though it turned out they mostly wanted to talk about the submarine thing,
which was okay by Ray because it gave him a good reason to talk about Fraser.
When he stopped outside the restaurant to call and let Fraser know his
plans, Sally answered Fraser's line and told Ray he was busy with Lana and
Crawford Jones, but that she'd tell him about the dinner thing and that he'd
call him after they got done. Then, to Ray's surprise, she told him that his
visit had clearly been good for Fraser and she hoped that he'd visit again.
He'd been blushing when he'd gone back to the table, and he wondered just how
much ribbing Fraser was going to get over that stop in Weyakwin. It looked
like everything was pretty much out in the open, which was good, but Fraser
wasn't used to it and it might be a bit much for him.
made it back to the motel. Once inside his room, he went to call Fraser but
couldn't get decent cell coverage so he stripped to his shorts, pulled back
the covers on the bed, and pulled the hotel phone closer to the bed. Finally
he settled on the bed, read the instructions for how to place a call, and
Fraser answered on the first ring. "Ray?"
"It's really not kind of you to say things like that when
you're two hundred and thirty five miles away."
"Sorry. How'd it go
"My day was fine, yours?"
Ray sighed and settled himself
more comfortably against the pillows. "Benton, don't you think we're past
'fine' as an answer to that question? How much shit did you get
"Well, I wouldn't precisely call it 'shit,' although I did get
a lecture from Sally for not filing a leave notification before I left the
detachment this morning, since she's responsible for maintaining our time
"Are you going to beat around the bush all night? How. Did.
Fraser's voice softened. "Very well, actually. I was
pleasantly surprised by the number of congratulatory remarks made and the
variety of people who made them."
Ray started to smile, a feeling of
relief spreading through him, easing his tension. "Yeah? Like
"Er. . . well, the Episcopalian Ladies Auxiliary brought me a
cake." He cleared his throat. "I gave Dief a piece and put the rest in the
"One piece won't kill you, Benton," Ray said, rolling his
"No, of course not. I just wanted to wait for you."
realized he was grinning like an idiot and would have made himself stop, but
there was no one to see so he didn't. "Oh. Uh, okay. Cool. So nobody got
"Not precisely nasty, no. There were a few less than polite
comments but nothing serious."
Ray sat up. "What did they say? Who said
Fraser sighed. "Ray, will you please relax? It was nothing, and
even if it were something, I'm a trained peace officer and perfectly capable
of handling things myself."
He sounded more than a little irritated.
Ray swallowed his protest. "Sorry. I just . . . ."
"I know. How did the
"Smooth as silk. LeBeau's going away, no doubt.
Everything was by the book. I might have to go back in sometime in the morning
and answer a few more questions, but Aki thinks they should be finished with
me by noon, latest."
"Dinner was good. They all
wanted to talk about you. Everybody wants to know about the sub thing. And the
litterbug thing. And the fishing over the limit thing, but that was before my
time. You'll have to get me up to speed so I know the story for next
Fraser groaned. "Oh God, I'm never going to live that down, am
Ray chuckled. "Probably not. Hey, there's another plus for Chicago.
Nobody's going to be asking you about that one there!"
Ray lay back and cradled the phone between his ear and the
pillow. He could almost see Fraser's blandly studied expression as he said
those words, his eyebrows arching just a little, the tilt of his head. All
those were old things - comfortable things; he'd spent close to twenty months
with that blandness, those arched eyebrows, that tilt. Longer than that
without them, but that was going to change.
He closed his eyes, then,
and thought about the new things. Hair curling at the base of Fraser's neck,
the slight softness beneath his chin, the patchy stubble on his jaw in the
morning that could hardly be seen, but that Ray had touched with his
fingertips, his cheek, his lips.
He shifted in the bed, stretched his
arm out just a little, then a little more, almost as if he thought that if he
just kept reaching out, he'd be able to touch Fraser somehow. But he felt
nothing under his hand except the too-slick bedspread, and, God, that wasn't
what he wanted to touch. He pulled his hand back, his fingers curled into a
fist at his chest, but no matter how tightly he curled his hand, his arm - his
body - he still felt empty. Cold.
He sighed. "Yeah. Yeah,
I'm here. Sorry. I was . . . ."
"Are you all right?"
said he was, but he hadn't let Fraser get away with 'fine' before, and he
wasn't going to let himself get away with it now.
"No, not really."
"What's . . . ."
"Nothing, except you're not here."
miss you, too."
Fraser's voice was soft and too gentle, and Ray knew
he was worrying him, but he didn't want to not say what he was feeling. And
with his mouth, the words were going to come whether he wanted to say them or
"It's just . . . ." He put his hand over the mouthpiece. What was
the matter with him? He'd gotten through the day okay. Through dinner with Aki
and his friends. Hell, he'd gotten through the last two years just fine. Why
was it so hard now? "It's just . . . I don't know what the hell's going on,
Benton. I'm flipping out here or something. I really need to touch
God, he had to stop this before he started hyperventilating or
some other dumbass thing that would probably freak Fraser out so much that
he'd rethink this whole being-together deal. Stop it, Ray. Just stop it, for
"Ray. Stop it," Fraser said, the words a weird echo of
his own thoughts.
"Sorry. I'm . . . I didn't mean to . . ."
something for me. Go get your bag."
"Okay," he said, shivering a little
as he crawled out from under the covers. Why were hotel rooms always either
too damned hot or too damned cold?
He put the phone down on his pillow
and did as Fraser'd asked. He took the bag off the chair, dropped it down on
the middle of the bed, then picked up the receiver again. "I'm
"Good." Fraser paused - long enough for Ray to start worrying if
he was okay. "You . . . um . . . you said something earlier about . . .
maybe this is a foolish suggestion, but . . . Ray, take my shirt out of your
bag and put it on."
Automatically, Ray put the phone down and followed
his instructions. He rummaged though his clothes, found the henley, and slid
it over his head.
"Okay, I've got my security blanket," he said. "Now
"Ray, I . . . I don't want you to think I'm treating you like a
child. I just thought . . . ."
Great. Now he had Fraser worried about
him and worried about trying to help. "Nah, it's good. Don't know why I
didn't think of this myself. This is great."
"Really?" Fraser asked,
disbelief plain in his voice.
"Yeah. I feel like Linus, but I also feel
better." No lie there. He did feel better suddenly. Just being able to breathe
in the scent that still clung to the shirt made it better, at least a little.
"It's not as good as having you here with me, but . . . better, yeah. Thanks,
Benton. What, are you psychic all of a sudden or something?"
"Not . . .
exactly," he replied hesitantly. Ray could almost see that thumb rubbing at
his eyebrow. "I'm afraid I had a similar need for your presence, and . .
"Benton? Did you just have to fight the wolf for my
"There was no need to
fight," Fraser sighed. "I've recently discovered that where Diefenbaker's
concerned, if you just look miserable for long enough, eventually he'll
demonstrate some compassion."
Ray got back under the covers, then lay
his head down on the pillow and smiled. "Man. Playing for sympathy from a deaf
half-wolf. That's kind of . . . well, it's kind of pathetic."
know, Ray," Fraser said in a blandly superior voice, "I think I'll refrain
from sharing just how useful I find your assessment of 'pathetic' - and do you
Ray heard the undercurrent of amusement in his partner's
voice and laughed. "Yeah, because you love me, right?"
Fraser said matter-of-factly. "Now, I think it's time we got some sleep, don't
"I suppose. Still don't like being here without you though," Ray
groused. "Being alone in Chicago until you can get things tied up here is
going to be a bitch, you know?"
"I know," Fraser sighed. "I'm not
looking forward to it any more than you are. However, there's no reason to
borrow trouble. We'll be together tomorrow night, and after that . . . well,
you know I'll do my best to speed things along at this end."
better," Ray said, stifling a yawn. "Okay, I'm just about wiped out. 'Night,
Fraser." He reached over to switch off the lamp and, on impulse, pulled the
spare pillow under the covers next to his body.
"Ray? Are you sleeping
with a strange pillow? Is this something I should worry about?"
heard that? How the hell did you hear that?"
Fraser chuckled. "Good
He could hear Fraser hang up the phone. A
minute later, the phone started making a really, really annoying sound,
but Ray just put his hand over the earpiece and held the receiver tight
against his chest as he drifted off to sleep.
* * *
thing that had made that first night alone bearable for Ray was the certainty
that he and Fraser would be together again the next night. If Ray had known
how long it was really going to be until he could see him, he might have taken
a cue from Dief and just crawled into the back of Fraser's SUV and refused to
In court Tuesday morning, Aki had passed Ray a message from
Fraser saying that things were pretty slow in La Rouille and that he thought
he'd be able to come down to Saskatoon that evening, but in the end, that
proved impossible. Sometime in the early afternoon, a fight broke out between
the parents of the visiting Prince Albert girl's hockey team and some of the
local parents over a disputed call. What began with angry words soon escalated
to screaming, punches being thrown, and finally a car being driven though the
rink wall onto the ice, scattering players and officials alike and causing
serious property damage. By three in the afternoon, the small La Rouille jail
was packed to capacity, and Fraser had to give up on any chance of leaving
town that night.
Travel advisories for the night aside, Ray really
didn't mind the thought of driving all the way back to La Rouille, not when he
knew he had Fraser waiting for him at the other end, but as the day went on,
Ray grew more and more sure there was a plot to keep him in Saskatoon. Despite
Aki's assurance that he'd be scheduled early in the day's proceedings, he was
still waiting around to be called at four in the afternoon. First, the judge
had been caught in traffic, delaying the start until almost noon. Then, when
things did get going, one of the Canadian officials who'd been called to
testify had to have his time moved up so that he could make a flight to Ottawa
later that day. And finally, no more than five minutes after Ray took the
stand, the courthouse's antiquated sprinkler system malfunctioned and flooded
the courtroom, soaking all the participants and postponing Ray's testimony
until 9:00 a.m. the following morning.
Aki was all apologies, but Ray
knew it wasn't his fault. Sure, he was overseeing the case for the RCMP in
Saskatoon, but he wasn't to blame for screwing up Ray's plans. There wasn't
anyone to blame. Knowing that didn't make Ray feel any better about not
getting another chance to be with Fraser before he had to head back to
In the end, they were lucky to even get a chance to talk to
each other. The early winter storm that had been threatening the northern end
of the province finally hit with a vengeance at six in the evening, knocking
out telephone service in the La Rouille region. Ray left his cell switched on
when he went to sleep, hoping that Fraser would be able to get through, but
the room was still apparently cell-proof. By the time Ray woke up the next
morning the battery in his cell phone was dead from being left on all
It wasn't until Ray was already checked in at John G.
Diefenbaker International Airport in Saskatoon and waiting for his flight when
he got an opportunity to talk to Fraser, and even then it was just a too-short
call with him huddled over a payphone next to the boarding gate. There were a
million things he wanted to say to Fraser, but the blue-haired lady in the
next booth was getting way too interested in his end of the conversation. She
leaned closer and closer with each passing minute until he was about to ask
her if she wanted him to send her a written transcript when he was
Then the flight - the first one, the one to Minneapolis - was
called, and Ray had to hang up without having said any of the things he'd
wanted to say, although it probably wouldn't have made a lot of difference to
the way he felt because talking was really pretty low down on the list of
"Ways to Say Goodbye to the Person You Love."
* * *
didn't make it after all?"
Fraser looked up from the report he was
working on, pretending he didn't know what Sally meant. "'He?"
expression told him he wasn't fooling her. "Detective Kowalski."
sure he'll be here sometime today, but not for the initial ceremonies. There
were some flight delays which impacted his arrival
he's coming?" Sally prodded, frowning a little.
"Yes. He had to stay in
Prince Albert last night when they closed down the airport there and he was
unable to complete his flight or find a rental vehicle."
cleared. "Okay. Good. That's good. Isn't it about time for you to
Fraser smothered a smile. "As soon as I finish up this report,
yes. Thank you for the reminder, though."
"No problem." She headed back
out to the communications desk.
Fraser sighed, rolling his shoulders
and glancing at his watch. It had been three weeks, two days, 10 hours, and 23
minutes since they'd parted in that parking lot in Weyakwin. As soon as he
thought it, he smiled a little, shaking his head. Ray would no doubt ask why
he hadn't counted the seconds, too. At some point in their lives, either he or
Ray or both must have offended the gods of travel, as they seemed to be
actively impeding their reunion. The peculiar mixture of anticipation and
frustration he'd been feeling since Ray's last call the night before left his
stomach vaguely unsettled and gave him a ache that seemed to center right
between his eyes. He rubbed absently at the spot but it didn't
The first call from Ray the day before had come from Minneapolis,
where snow had delayed his connecting flight for almost three hours. The
second call had come from Saskatoon, where the shuttle flight he was supposed
to take to La Rouille via Prince Albert had also been delayed, supposedly by
half an hour. Three calls later that half hour had stretched out to two and a
half. Finally Ray had called to tell him the flight was boarding and he'd see
him in around an hour.
Forty-five minutes after that, he'd gotten yet
another call, this time Ray sounding ready to kick someone in the head as he
explained that he was stuck in Prince Albert because all flights in and out
had been grounded due to high winds and low visibility and wouldn't resume
until sometime late the following morning. He'd then launched into a rant
about car-rental places that closed at six in the evening and how he was going
to find out the name of the manager so he could go roust them out of bed to
rent him a car to drive the rest of the way.
Fraser had reassured Ray
that the elders would understand about the delay, and told him to get a room
in Prince Albert for the night and just come up the next day whenever he
could. Ray had grudgingly agreed, and they had commiserated for a few moments
on the universal unfairness of the delay, until Ray's phone had run out of
charge. Fraser had gone to bed to get some sleep, trying unsuccessfully to
not think about what he might have been doing instead. Sleep had mostly
evaded him, but he had drifted off sometime around three, and then been up at
seven to take Dief out for a run, then shower, shave, dress, and polish his
boots before going in to work.
He shook his head and focused on
finishing his report, ignoring the soft knock on the molding next to his door
for a moment as he concentrated. "Just a moment, I'll be right with
"'S'okay Benton. I'll just go steal some coffee."
stood up so fast he caught his knees on the underside of the pencil drawer
because he'd forgotten to push his chair away from the desk. "Ouch, damn it!"
he swore softly. "Ray!" he called after the figure retreating down the hall.
Ray turned, a broad smile lighting his face. "Done
"You're here!" Fraser gasped, completely stunned.
laughed softly. "Surprise."
"Indeed," Fraser managed, pulling Ray into
a fierce hug. "God, it's good to see you!"
Ray hugged him back, and
after a moment turned his head and planted a kiss right on Fraser's mouth. His
lips were a little chapped, but the kiss was open and welcoming, a little
slide of tongue sending a shiver through him. Fraser returned the kiss without
hesitation, his fingers cupping the back of Ray's head, stroking his hair .
The knot that had been sitting in his stomach for over three weeks finally
loosened up. After a moment Fraser let him go and stepped back. "How on earth
did you get here? Did they have an early flight?"
"Nah. Word was they
wouldn't let anyone fly until at least noon, so Scotty Hughes drove me up from
Fraser frowned. "Scott. . . you mean Prescott Hughes?
"Yeah, he was the one in the cockpit from Saskatoon to
Prince Albert where we got grounded. He was going to swap out there with some
other guy but we got to talking when we were stuck. I told him about my
problem, the circle and all, and he said he had a hankering for Tilda's
special caribou and turnip stew and said I could tag along if I
Fraser frowned, trying to make the timeline make sense. "But,
Ray, that's at least a four hour drive under conditions like last
"Try six. Good thing Scotty knows the road. I'd never have
made it on my own," Ray said rubbing his stubble, his fingers making a faint
'scritching' sound as he yawned.
"Six. . . but that means. . . ." his
voice trailed off as he realized that Ray must have left Prince Albert not
long after they had last spoken. Good God. They couldn't have done more than
about twenty miles an hour the entire way.
"Yeah," Ray said,
stretching. "Drove all night. White knuckled it most of the way. Well, I did
anyway. Scotty was cool. Don't mind telling you I'm pretty fried though. I
seriously need coffee." He started walking toward the coffee-station in the
break room, and Fraser followed him. "So while I'm fueling up, tell me again
about this sentencing circle thing, what exactly is it I'm supposed to say?
Because I think I'm going to need cue cards or something to make sure I get it
right. In my condition I shouldn't be left to ad-lib."
"Well, you won't
have to say a lot actually. It's mostly up to Crawford and the elders, but he
has to speak to everyone affected by his actions, ask forgiveness, and find
out what he can do to make restitution."
"Hmm," Ray said, reaching for
one of the clean mugs by the coffee pot and tipping the carafe over it. "That
might be a bit of a problem, then, because really we ought to be thanking him.
If it wasn't for him, we probably wouldn't have figured out what was up with
Fraser shot a glance at him, feeling a surge of warmth go through
him as he nodded. "True enough, however I think that stating that might run
counter to the intent of the circle so perhaps we can just make a statement
about law and community that will suffice."
"Sounds good to me," Ray
said, nodding. "How long does it last, this circle?"
"It's entirely up
to the elders involved, but I'm guessing three or four hours at
Ray sighed. "Oh. Damn."
Fraser sighed too. "I
"But after that you've got until Tuesday morning off,
"Good. I hope you're provisioned up because
after we're done here today, we are not leaving the house unless we have to,"
Ray said with a significant look.
The surge of warmth moved lower and
intensified. "I believe you'll find the cupboards fully stocked," Fraser said
"Good." Ray graced him with a smile that did nothing to
extinguish that warmth. "That's what I like to hear." He headed back toward
Fraser's office, sipping his coffee. "Speaking of cupboards being stocked, you
still got those Fig Newtons in your. . ." Ray pulled open Fraser's desk drawer
and stopped, staring.
Fraser's face went hot. Good God. He completely
forgotten to take the latest arrivals home on Friday. He started to push the
drawer closed, but Ray beat him to it, reaching in to pull out the top three
books, and lifted his eyes to Fraser's, his brow furrowed in confusion.
"Um. . . should I even ask why you have three copies? I mean,
one I get, hell, I have one myself. Picked it up in Boystown last week,
but. . . three?"
Fraser thumbed his eyebrow. "It's a. . . an ongoing
practical joke of sorts. They started appearing soon after you
Ray looked from the books in his hand, to Fraser, and his lips
twitched. "Oh yeah?"
Fraser nodded. "Yeah."
"It's really not funny," Fraser said sternly, obviously trying
not to smile either. "It's very unprofessional to get them at work. At home
was bad enough."
"At home?" Ray asked, eyebrows climbing.
home," he confirmed with a sigh. "Amazon and UPS have apparently been doing a
booming business in La Rouille of late, since this sort of book is not
generally found at Chapters."
Fraser hadn't thought Ray's eyebrows
could get any higher, but he was wrong.
"Booming? Just how many books
are we talking about here, Benton?" Ray asked, clearly struggling with
"Er. . . ." Fraser lowered his voice. "So far, four copies of
'The Joy of Gay Sex.' Six of 'The Gay Kama Sutra.' Five
'An. . .'" Unable to bring himself to finish that particular title
while standing in his office, he coughed. "Well, in any case, five copies of
a book written by a physician and published by a company with the quaint name
of 'Good Vibrations,' and an assortment of other. . . instruction
"Instruc. . . ." Ray's control failed completely and he
started giggling. Putting down his coffee to keep from spilling it as he
groped for a chair and sat, putting his head down on Fraser's desk, laughing
so hard he had his hands pressed against his stomach as if it hurt.
Fraser's own lips twitched, despite his resolve not to give in. A
knock on the door frame brought his attention away from Ray and he saw Sally
standing there watching them, a duffle bag in one hand and a garment bag in
"You two better get moving if you're going to be on time,"
she said. "You've only got half an hour and he looks like something the
cat dragged in. Here's your things, Mr. Kowalski."
Ray looked up at
her, waving a hand weakly, trying to hide the titles of the books with the
other one. Sally shot him a knowing look and Ray blushed, coughing a little as
he fought to control his laughter. Fraser relieved her of Ray's
"Thank you, Sally. We'll manage from here. Ray, do you want to
use the men's room to freshen up?"
Ray nodded, reaching for his coffee
and taking a gulp. "God," he said after swallowing. "Sorry about losing it
there. I'm punchy. I've got my good suit in the bag, but do I have time to
shave and work on the hair?"
"I think so, if we're quick, though you'll
have to share the lavatory with me as I need to change as well."
chortled. "We go in there together and everyone in the building is gonna be
outside with a glass against the door."
"Nonsense," Fraser said, though
he wasn't entirely sure Ray was wrong. "They're professionals. And so are
Ray sighed. "Spoilsport. But yeah. Okay." He took a last sip of
his coffee and then stood up. "Pitter patter, Benton."
behind the door to get his own garment bag off the hook there, and Ray took
back his duffel, opening it to get out his shaving kit, and then left the
larger bag on the chair next to Fraser's desk as he followed him to the men's
lavatory. Hanging both their suit carriers from a pipe, Fraser started
unbuttoning his tunic as Ray stationed himself in front of the sink and got
out a razor and shaving cream and started to lather up. Fraser shrugged out of
the blue tunic and then unbuttoned his shirt and stripped it off as well,
leaving on just the a-shirt beneath it. As he started to unfasten his belt and
unzip his pants, something made him look up to meet Ray's gaze in the mirror.
Ray smiled, and he felt himself warm at the appreciation clearly reflected in
"Wow, Fraser. You look good. I can't believe I didn't
notice. You get a haircut or something?"
Automatically Fraser's fingers
went to his considerably shortened locks. "Yes, actually. Lana did it for me.
She said she was tired of bringing Crawford in to see me and having to look at
Ray lifted an eyebrow. "Isn't that bribery or
"No, since I paid her the going rate to do
"That works. Looks really good. She's got talent. Of course, it's
pretty much impossible for you to look bad so it's kind of like cheating but
still." Ray gave one last appreciative look, then turned his attention back to
If it had been anyone else saying those words, Fraser
might have doubted their sincerity. He'd never been particularly vain, but
over the past few weeks he'd had reason to think about his appearance, and
despite having taken some necessary steps toward countering the bad habits
he'd adopted since leaving Chicago, he was still out of shape. However, he
knew Ray meant what he said, and that never failed to warm him
should have been difficult to reconcile both his own highly critical
self-assessment of, and Ray's open admiration for his looks, but oddly, it no
longer was, perhaps because he now understood that Ray's appreciation of his
appearance was a result of his love for him, and not the reverse. As the
proverb went, 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder.' More than one person had
expressed a negative opinion of Ray's appearance during the course of their
partnership, while he had never found Ray anything but attractive.
Disturbingly so, at times.
After a moment Fraser realized he was just
standing there watching Ray shave, so he finished undressing, got out his
dress uniform, and pulled on the jodhpurs, tucking his undershirt in neatly.
He hesitated for a moment and resisted the urge to suck in his stomach as he
grasped the waistband and went to do up the button, then he set his jaw and
pulled the edges in. The fabric strained a bit, but the button went into its
buttonhole and held, and the waistband didn't cut into his waist too badly. He
zipped up and reached for the tunic, shrugging into it. It was still a little
tight across the shoulders and upper arms, but the buttons fastened without
gapping between each one, and the tunic lay mostly smoothly across his chest
A tiny sigh of relief escaped him, and he got out his
lanyard and the dress belt. Ray finished shaving and rinsed his face, dried
off with a paper towel, then straightened and looked at Fraser.
Haven't seen that in a long time! Thought you said you couldn't wear
Fraser felt his face go hot. "I couldn't, when we spoke about it
on the phone three weeks ago. But I felt I should wear it today to honor the
solemnity of the occasion and so I asked Constable Zhertak to assist me in a
developing a training regimen. Since he's unmarried but living in quarters
designed for a family, he's converted the spare bedroom into a gym of sorts
with a bow-flex, treadmill, and free weights."
"And you did it. Like
there was any doubt. Still, congratulations!"
"I must admit that I
found it necessary to reposition the buttons slightly."
works," Ray said with a wink, then his grin suddenly faded to a frown. "Hey,
wait. You been working out with Zhertak? At his place?"
answered, puzzled by Ray's reaction. "He's been very helpful."
yeah. I bet he has. I've seen those infomercials too, you know. Guy working
out on that flex thing with nothing on but skimpy shorts so everyone can
The light dawned. Fraser smiled gently. "Ray, there's nothing to
worry about. If anything I've put a crimp in Bose's social life, as he's been
spending a good deal of time with me when he would otherwise have been out
with Darlene or Amelia."
"Sure he would. I'm telling you, he's after
your ass," Ray said darkly.
"He's not, Ray, I assure you. And in any
case I was fully clothed during all of our workouts and he never once touched
me inappropriately. And whether or not he was, you can trust me," he
said earnestly, trying to assuage Ray's discomfort.
Ray opened his
mouth, closed it, and shook his head with a sheepish smile. "Yeah, I know. I
know I can trust you. Have since the day we met. I just have a little
trouble understanding how anyone can keep their hands off you." He reached out
and let his hands rest on Fraser's hips.
Fraser closed his eyes,
feeling the warmth of Ray's hands even through layers of heavy wool. He lifted
a hand to touch Ray's lips with his fingers for a moment before dropping his
hand to Ray's shoulder, sighing. "The feeling is mutual, however, we've got
seventeen minutes before we need to be at City Hall."
Ray groaned and
stepped back. "Right. Right, I knew that." He turned away ostentatiously and
looked at the mirror. "Man, six hours under a toque gives a guy seriously
depressed hair. Think I can salvage this?" he asked, fingering his very flat
"I have every confidence in you," Fraser assured him.
"What are the chances we could get something like this going in
Chicago?" Ray asked, watching Crawford where he sat, his face still blotchy
from crying, talking with Nancy and Todd Stevensen after the circle had
"I'm not sure," Fraser answered. "I know it's been
attempted in the States before, in Minnesota I believe. But I didn't know
there were a lot of aboriginal youth in Chicago."
"There's a few. But I
was kind of wondering if there's any way to adapt it for inner-city kids. The
whole victim-impact thing is really good, so is the fact that the offender has
to take responsibility for his actions, and work in the community to make
restitution. Plus I liked that part where nobody else gets to say anything
until you're done. No stupid 'objections' and 'overruleds' you
Fraser smiled. "The Crown Prosecutor did seem to be having a bit
of a hard time with that. She's new to the area and this was her first
sentencing circle, but all things considered she didn't handle it too badly.
In any case, I really don't know if there's any potential for attempting a
similar community justice partnership program in Chicago, but we can see for
ourselves once we're settled."
Ray nodded, his gaze still resting
thoughtfully on Crawford. "Yeah. Maybe Louise St. Laurent would be willing to
help out. She's been working with the juvenile program lately.
worth talking about," Fraser said, taking the opportunity to really study Ray
without risking another elbow in the side from Hannah
Clean-shaven, with his hair acceptably un-depressed, wearing an
unfamiliar navy suit, crisp ivory shirt and navy tie, Ray looked marvelous,
even if the circles under his eyes and the slightly pinched look of his face
betrayed the fact that he was tired. Though as far as Fraser was concerned Ray
had looked equally marvelous prior to grooming and changing, but still,
since Ray had been placed almost directly across from him in the seating
arrangements, it had been hard not to just stare at him through the entire
four hours and forty-six minutes of the proceedings. Hannah had elbowed him
three different times in order to get his attention focused on the person
speaking instead of Ray. Of course, every time he got elbowed, Ray had been
looking back at him, so it hadn't been entirely his fault.
suspected they might have a little trouble along those lines when Ray
returned. It was why they had planned for Ray to come in a half-day early, so
they could get some of that out of their systems before the circle.
Unfortunately, November weather in Saskatchewan rarely cooperated with plans
of any sort, and theirs had been no exception. His gaze rested on the line of
Ray's jaw, remembering what it felt like against his lips. . . An elbow caught
him in the ribs and he coughed and turned to find Hannah standing next to him,
her dark eyes alight with amusement.
"Put your tongue back in your
mouth young man. Don't you know this is a solemn occasion?"
burning, Fraser nodded. "Yes, it is. I'm terribly sor . . ."
smacked him on the arm. "I'm teasing you, Benton, you look all you want now
that the serious part's over. But that's not what I wanted to talk about. So
you're really leaving us?"
"Yes, I am," Fraser admitted. "I'm returning
to Chicago to work in the new permanent RCMP liaison office under development
"Got both your old job and your old partner back, then?
That's good. We'll miss you, but I think you'll be happier there." She looked
at Ray, then back at Fraser, and winked. "No, I know you will."
couldn't help but smile. "Thank you. I suspect you're right. I'm afraid I got
acclimated to the pace there."
"That happens," Hannah said sagely. "I
was talking to Arden Traynor earlier, she said your replacement is coming in
on Monday, and that she doesn't figure the new guy'll be half as good as
"I'm sure that's not true. Sergeant Carol is an excellent
officer, I had occasion to work briefly with her when I first arrived in
Chicago and took her place there." Fraser almost smiled, remembering how
then-Constable Carol had berated him for doing precisely that, though her
meaning had been vastly different.
Fraser nodded. "Yes.
Sergeant LeeAnne Carol. She's transferring in from Red Deer."
turned at that, putting a hand on Fraser's shoulder. "The detachment's going
from a CO with two last names to one with two first names?" he asked with a
grin. "What are the odds, I wonder? And speaking of odds, what are the odds of
getting something to eat anytime soon? I haven't had anything but coffee since
lunch in Saskatoon yesterday."
Fraser was surprised. He wished Ray had
said something earlier, he'd have given him something out of the break-room
refrigerator in the detachment if he'd known. No wonder he looked tired and a
bit out of sorts.
"Yesterday?" Hannah said, sounding appalled.
"Benton, take him home and feed him, right now. You hear me?" She made shooing
motions with her hands.
Fraser bit the inside of his lip, trying not to
smile. "Yes, ma'am." He turned to Ray. "Shall we go?"
gratefully. "I'm all over that."
They left the City Hall together, and
Ray headed across the street to the detachment to get his bags out of Fraser's
office while Fraser went to the trading post and rounded up Diefenbaker from
Don Robinson who'd kept an eye on him during the sentencing circle. Fraser let
Dief into the Suburban, got in and started the engine, expecting Ray to be
right out, so when Ray hadn't reappeared several minutes later, he turned off
the engine again and got out, walking toward the detachment. Just before he
got there, Ray finally came out, looking decidedly embarrassed. Fraser fell
into step beside him.
"Is anything wrong? What took so
"I, um. . . had to assure Sally that my intentions were
honorable. Are you sure she's a civilian? The way she grilled me she'd make a
hell of an interrogator."
"I'm sure, though lately she's been making
noises about possibly applying to become a member. Give me your bag and I'll
put it in the back."
Ray surrendered his duffel without protest, and
shook his head. "Well, if she goes for it I'd write her a recommendation.
She'd make a good cop, "
"I'm sure she'd appreciate it."
reached the Suburban, where Dief was inside going noisily crazy as he watched
"Hey! Dief! Long time, no see!" Ray said as he stuck
his fingers through the two inch gap at the top of the window. Dief licked
them happily as Fraser went around and put Ray's bags in the back, then got in
on the driver's side and leaned across to unlock Ray's door. Ray paused a
moment before opening the door, giving Diefenbaker a stern look. "You got your
licking quota in already, so my ears are off limits, okay?"
grumbled but curled up in the back seat with a little sigh, his chin on his
paws. Ray opened the door and got in. Moments later they were on the road,
heading toward Fraser's house. Ray leaned back in his seat with a yawn. "God.
Long two days. Sorry about all the screwups, Benton. Wish things had worked
"Me too. In fact, I was beginning to understand that whole
'dying of waiting' concept," Fraser confessed ruefully.
"Sucks, doesn't it?"
"It does indeed." Fraser decided it was time to
change the subject. "How was your trip? Well, aside from the last part, which
I know about already."
Ray made a disgusted face. "Oh man, you do not
want to know. First I slept like crap night before last, up every hour to look
at the clock 'cause I was afraid I'd oversleep. Then I finally did fall asleep
about ten minutes before I had to get up to make the flight. Then there was
this kid behind me, maybe a year old, did not want to be there at all.
Howled the entire time. Gave me a splitting headache, which still hasn't
completely let up."
"I suspect that's partially dehydration. There's a
first-aid kit under the passenger seat, aspirin included, and you'll find
several unopened bottles of water behind my seat."
"Fraser, you are a
god. Don't ever let anyone tell you different."
"Surely only a
demi-god," Fraser demurred as Ray dug out the first-aid kit and found the
aspirin, then reached behind the seat to get a bottle of water. After downing
several of the white tablets, he finished off the bottle of water in several
long swallows, and then rolled his neck.
"Thanks. That should
"I hope so." Fraser reached forward and slipped a tape into the
cassette deck. A moment later the haunting sound of aboriginal flute music
drifted from the speakers.
Ray's lips quirked upward. "You into that
New Age stuff?"
"I find this particular tape soothing. Hannah gave it
Ray listened for a few moments, and then yawned widely. "Yeah.
Fraser reached over with one hand and gripped the back of
Ray's neck, massaging firmly. Ray groaned, dropping his head forward, offering
more of his neck to Fraser's fingers. Fraser continued his massage for a few
moments. Ray yawned again. When Fraser let him go and put his hand back on the
steering wheel, Ray sighed and settled into his seat, leaning back against the
headrest, eyes closed. Fraser concentrated on driving, letting Ray rest his
eyes. He remembered Ray saying he'd slept badly, and suspected that by 'badly'
he meant 'not at all.'
School was letting out just as they reached it,
and Fraser stopped for several minutes to let a large group of children cross
the road. He was fairly certain that they were taking an inordinate amount of
time doing so simply because of his presence. They were gawking at the
vehicle, no doubt wishing he would turn on the lightbar and siren. Glancing
over at Ray, he saw he was clearly asleep, leaning a little toward Fraser,
lips slightly parted. Fraser moistened his own lips, then shook his head and
rolled his eyes at that near-Pavlovian response. A moment later he heard a
snuffling sound and he turned to see Dief straining forward to nuzzle at Ray's
hair. Ray twitched a little and waved a hand as if he were shooing away a fly.
Fraser frowned at Dief and shook his head. Dief slunk back with a grumble and
lay back down.
Once the children were clear of the crosswalk he
accelerated, slowly, so as not to startle Ray awake. Within seconds, though,
he again found himself looking at Ray instead of the roadway. Annoyed, he
forced himself to stop. As if that were his cue, Dief was up and nuzzling
again. Ray stirred slightly, and Fraser reached back awkwardly with one hand
to push Dief away. Dief growled. Fraser growled back, albeit softly, baring
his teeth. Dief, after a moment of comically brow-furrowed surprise, gave
ground and resumed his place on the back seat with a little huff, pointedly
not looking at Fraser. Fraser grinned, even though he knew it was silly to
feel smug over getting the last word with Dief for once.
He managed to
resist the temptation to look at Ray again until he'd pulled into his own
driveway and parked. "We're home, Ray."
Ray opened his eyes instantly,
blinking a little, confused, until he saw Fraser and smiled. "Oh. Okay. Home.
"Food," Fraser confirmed. "And then bed."
chuckled. "A little anxious?"
"To see you get some rest,
"I'm good. Don't worry about me."
"I'm not worried. I just
prefer you fed and rested. I know from experience you're much less cranky that
Ray cackled and stretched. "True enough." He opened the door and
got out, then let Dief out of the back. "Someone's on their best behavior
today," he said with a nod at Dief.
"Only because I threatened him."
Fraser said, getting out as well, and walking around to retrieve Ray's bags
from the back.
"Whatever works," Ray said. "So what have you got
food-wise that's fast?"
"We could have soup, or sandwiches, or
"A sandwich would be good. Got any window putty?" Ray asked with
a wink, following Fraser up to the door.
"I'm terribly sorry, I
completely neglected to get any at the store the other day," Fraser said,
opening the door. "I do have roast beef, turkey breast, and tuna salad,
Ray sighed exaggeratedly. "I suppose I'll have to make do.
But your rep for proper preparation just took a major hit, you
"I'll just have to make up for it in other arenas. Help yourself
to whatever you like in the refrigerator, I'll put your bags in the
"Other arenas, huh?" Ray asked suggestively. "Been reading
those instruction manuals have you?"
Fraser paused in the doorway to
the living room, turning to look back at Ray. "As a matter of fact,
The sound of Ray's laughter followed Fraser through the living
room and down the hallway, and when he reached the bedroom, his own laughter,
slightly manic, bubbled up suddenly, leaving him almost lightheaded by the
time he could finally draw a breath.
"Hey, Fraser!" Ray called from
the other room. "Everything okay in there?"
"Everything's fine, Ray!"
he called back automatically, although he was still having a surprisingly hard
time getting his breathing back under control. "I'll be out in a
Still laughing, he placed Ray's duffle bag on top of the
shorter of the two maple dressers, then carried the garment bag over to the
closet and began to slide his own clothing to the side to make room for Ray's
things. He wondered which side of the closet Ray would prefer, whether the
right or the left would be more convenient. Or perhaps Ray might like his bag
unpacked? He really should have asked Ray for his suit jacket while he was in
the other room. The jacket would surely do better placed on a wooden coat
hanger and hung up neatly in the closet than it would do tossed over the back
of an old kitchen chair. Should he go back in the other room and get it?
Perhaps Diefenbaker would bring it in if he asked poli . . . Fraser's
laughter, which had come to a halt only a moment ago, returned in full force.
He wanted Diefenbaker to fetch Ray's jacket? Was he
He turned around to find Ray standing in the
doorway to the bedroom, jacket slung over his shoulder.
Fraser said encouragingly. "Bring me the jacket."
"Um, Fraser?" Ray
said worriedly. "Are you okay?"
Was he? It was difficult to know for
certain, and the look of confusion on Ray's face wasn't helping any; all it
was doing, in fact, was making him laugh harder. Without knowing quite how he
was able to accomplish the feat, he hooked the garment bag over the closet
door and then collapsed in a fit of helpless giggles on the bed.
next thing he knew, Ray was on the bed beside him with one arm wrapped around
his waist and his other hand stroking his hair.
"Hey, Benton," Ray
asked quietly. "Any particular reason you're flipping out here?"
not . . ." He looked up and saw the clear disbelief in Ray's eyes. "Well,
maybe I am, just a little. I was . . . I was hanging your bag in the closet
and . . ." He took a deep breath, bringing a halt to his now teary-eyed
laughter by sheer force of will.
Ray glanced over in the direction of
the open closet door and sighed. "Started to feel a little claustrophobic,
huh? Yeah, I get that. Like . . . Stella moving out was the same thing in
reverse. I took a look at all the empty space in the closet and started
feeling all . . . what is it? Arachnophobic?"
Fraser turned his head
and stifled a laugh against Ray's sleeve. "Are you thinking of
"Yeah, that's it. Anyway, it was just a whole lot of
emptiness in the closet - sort of like a symbol for my whole life back then,
you know? So I get it if you're feeling a little crowded." Ray looked toward
the hallway, then back at Fraser. "I can put my stuff in the other room if you
"No, don't!" Fraser shook his head. "That's not what . . . I'm
not feeling claustrophobic."
Ray propped himself up on his elbow. "You
got any clue what's up, then?"
"I think I'm just . . . nervous,
"About being with me?"
"Not about being with you,
precisely, but . . . about being with anyone. I've . . . I've never really
lived with anyone, apart from my family, of course, but that was when I was a
child, and in any case, this is . . ."
"Yeah. And I don't want to . . . ." He rolled over on the
bed and faced Ray. "I really don't want to screw this up."
his head, then leaned over and kissed Fraser once, gently, before sitting up
on the bed. "We don't want to screw this up."
We. Of course.
Fraser was trying to think of a way to tell Ray he understood, and appreciated
that inclusion, when an odd rustling noise made him lift his head and look
toward the door, and instantly he started to laugh again as he saw Dief.
Puzzled, Ray craned around to look too. "What the. . . ." he began as
Diefenbaker came up to the bed, a bag full of french rolls held in his teeth.
Dief nudged Fraser's arm and placed the bag on the bed. beside them. Ray
looked from the bag to Dief to Fraser, perplexed. "What's this all
"Diefenbaker is not-so-subtly reminding me that I'm remiss in
my duties. I believe he feels I'm supposed to feed you before we end up in
"Like one of those St. Bernard's with the brandy?" Ray asked,
chuckling. "Well, you're definitely a lifesaver, Dief. My stomach thanks you."
He started to open the bag and extract a roll, but Fraser sat up and
reached to stop him. "No, you need more than just a roll. Come on, it won't
take but a minute or two to prepare sandwiches, and probably less than that to
eat them if I know you."
Ray grinned. "Okay, up and at 'em." He slid
off the bed and stood up, holding the bag of rolls in one hand and reaching
the other out toward Fraser. "Let's go fuel up." Ray lifted his eyebrows
Fraser took Ray's outstretched hand and let himself be
pulled up off the bed.
As he'd guessed, it took them barely two
minutes to fix their meal, although rather more time than he'd estimated for
Ray to eat the sandwiches he'd made for himself. He'd finished a turkey
sandwich and had started to make serious inroads on the roast beef when he
looked over at Fraser's plate with its serving of tuna salad.
all you're having? You didn't even have a roll."
Fraser glanced over at
the open bag, then shook his head. "Yes. This is plenty. You look like you
could still do with more, though." He got up from the table and opened the
refrigerator door. "I took the liberty of paying a visit to Tilda's last night
and picking up one of her tarts."
"This the same kind that Diefenbaker
scarfed down the last time I was here?"
Fraser nodded, unaccountably
embarrassed by the memory of that morning. He put the tart and a bowl of
whipped cream on the table, then cut a slice of the dessert and placed it on a
plate in front of Ray before sitting back down.
"Looks great!" Ray
said, putting a dollop of cream on his serving. Then he looked over at Fraser
and frowned. "Aren't you having any? Tilda said this was your
Fraser shifted uncomfortably. "It is, but I don't need any
at the moment."
Ray snorted. "Having dessert every once in awhile isn't
a need kind of thing. Nobody needs dessert." He slapped the palms of
his hands on the table, pushed himself up from his chair, and started to walk
out of the kitchen. "I've got an idea. Follow me."
on, Benton," Ray called in a slightly muffled voice from the living room. "And
bring the plate with you."
Fraser glanced over at Diefenbaker, but the
wolf looked just as perplexed as he felt.
"Should I just play
Diefenbaker yipped once, encouragingly, before curling up on
the rug by the sink and closing his eyes. Fraser stood up, quickly put the
remainder of the tart back in the refrigerator, then picked up Ray's plate
from the table.
He walked into the living room. No Ray, but there was a
trail of discarded clothing - tie, shirt, trousers, socks, briefs - leading
through the room and down the hallway to his bedroom. His pulse began to pick
up in anticipation. Stopping in the doorway, plate still in hand, he looked
over to find his blankets draped over a chair, and a grinning and quite naked
Ray sprawled across the bed.
"Found me, eh?"
"Taunt a Mountie, and he'll track you to the ends of the earth."
laughed, then rolled over onto his side and propped himself up on one elbow.
"Or at least the bedroom. Okay, so here's the game plan . . .
have a plan?"
"I do. A man with a plan, that's me."
"And my part
in this plan would be . . . ?"
"Your part involves getting naked, while
I'm . . . here, hand me the plate. You'll see my part of the plan as it
unfolds. All will be revealed," Ray said mysteriously.
the plate over and began to remove his clothes as Ray had asked. He knelt to
remove his boots and socks, slid his braces off his shoulders, then unbuttoned
his jodhpurs and stood to step out of them along with his boxers, face going a
little hot. Finally he unbuttoned his henley, but hesitated a moment before
pulling his shirt over his head.
He told himself that his unaccustomed
self-consciousness was irrational, but it was difficult to ignore his
embarrassing lack of condition entirely, despite believing that Ray's
appreciation for both his mind and body was quite real. Feeling foolish, he
took a deep breath and took the shirt off, resisting the urge to suck in his
stomach before turning around. What he saw when he looked at Ray would have
made any attempt to hold his breath useless in any case.
Ray was laying
on his back again, but now his torso was covered with the ingredients of
Tilda's tart. Custard coated his chest and mid-section while berries ringed
his nipples and navel.
Swamped by both arousal and hilarity, Fraser
began to laugh. "Ray? You're . . . um . . ."
"Just think of me as a big
serving tray. I thought this might give you an incentive to indulge a little."
He dragged a finger through some of the custard and then licked it off before
shooting a flirtatious look at Fraser. "Did it work?"
He cleared his
throat. "I think I can safely say it would be hard to resist anything served so
"Yeah?" Ray grinned. "Then what are you doing all the way
over there? Come and get it, Benton."
Fraser took a step, then paused,
feigning confusion. "I'm not at all certain this is the same dessert I brought
in. Something's missing."
"Oh yeah. Almost forgot. . ." Ray reached
over to the plate and scooped the whipped cream up in his hand, then slathered
it on his penis. "Whoa! This stuff's kind of cold. Want to give
me a hand warming it up a little?"
Fraser smiled. "I think I can offer
more than a hand, Ray," he said, crawling across the bed.
his arms out and grinned. "Have at it."
Still on his hands and knees,
Fraser lowered his head to Ray's chest and started to suck gently on one of
"I. . . uh, think you're missing the good stuff,
"I'll get to it, Ray," he murmured, raising his head slightly.
"This is . . . this is the good stuff."
"Mmm. Yeah. That's good
stuff, all right," Ray moaned, writhing a little as Fraser's tongue teased
each nipple in turn. "Oh man, do that again."
Fraser licked a path up
Ray's chest, then tilted his head up until their eyes met. "You know, I don't
recall any dessert ever telling me what to do before."
"Yeah, well . . . you just never met the right one before."
small corner of his brain he'd set aside for thinking about anything other
than the way Ray's skin tasted beneath the sweetness of the custard and the
tart bite of the berries, Fraser acknowledged how apt those words were. He
never had met the right one before.
He'd spent so many years
alone, but each time he'd come close to allowing another person to get close -
rare though those times had been - he'd always felt an undercurrent of sheer
wrongness, to use Ray's expression. Even if he were to take Victoria
out of the picture - although forgetting her wasn't something he'd ever be
likely to accomplish entirely - he still couldn't come up with a single
instance of a relationship in which he had anything resembling the connection
he'd found with Ray. Either he held too much of himself back, which ensured
that forging a true partnership would be all but impossible, or - as he'd done
with Victoria - he allowed so much of who he really was to be submerged in the
other person's needs and desires that in short order, he was no longer able to
But with Ray, he always knew exactly who he was. In
fact, he'd come to recognize that he was more himself - more the man he
had always believed himself to be and had always wanted to be - when he
was with Ray than when he was without him. And being that man made it possible
for him to be the kind of person who had something to give back to a lover.
Not just something, but everything. In fact, some of his best traits
were focus and perseverance, and he could apply both now.
worked his way down Ray's body, he suspected he was getting more of the tart
on his skin than in his mouth, but the way Ray was arching beneath him was a
clear indication that what he was doing was more than acceptable. He lifted
his head a moment and looked at the mess he was making of himself, Ray, and
the bed, but he couldn't really bring himself to care. All he was really
interested in was seeing if he could use his tongue to remove the single
Saskatoonberry that had rolled into Ray's navel.
"Hey!" Ray giggled,
curling in slightly, sending most of the remaining berries sliding off onto
"Ticklish?" Fraser asked.
"Of course not," he said
with a wink, still laughing. "Just wondering if you were planning on getting
around to the whipped cream sometime this century."
Fraser looked down
at Ray's groin and bit back a smile. "You know, it'd be a shame for you to
miss out on this fresh whipped cream when you've already foregone your share
of the tart."
"So you got a solution to that little dilemma? 'Cause I'm
telling you, Benton, there's no way I'm limber enough to do that taste
Fraser closed his eyes for a moment, trying to shake the mental
image of Ray making the attempt, and what should have looked silly instead
looked. . . erotic. "A pity," he said huskily. "But I think I may have a
solution." Fraser reached out and took half the cream from Ray's body, then,
flushing slightly, spread it on himself. Ray was right, it was cold, and along
with the slight physical discomfort came the certainty that he'd never looked
so foolish in all his life. But maybe letting yourself look foolish was part
of what relationships were all about. "As someone once said, 'partners is
Ray chuckled at that. For a moment Fraser sat, indecisive,
then he turned around and stretched out next to him with his head near Ray's
knees. The action was executed a little more awkwardly than he'd imagined he'd
do when he'd played out this scenario in his imagination over the past weeks.
He looked up to see Ray's eyes widen in surprise, and he swallowed hard,
hoping he was correct in assuming Ray knew what he had in mind because he was
suddenly feeling less than articulate.
"You really have been paying
attention to those books, haven't you?" Ray asked, rubbing his hand lightly
across his own stomach, his voice a husky whisper.
wondering if Ray thought he was completely untried. "I didn't need a book for
this. I'm not entirely without experience, and . . ."
"Really, what? Are you referring to my experience
with mutual . . . with this? Well, it wasn't precisely the same since she . .
." He was starting to feel something close to exasperation. "Do I need to
furnish a resume?"
"No, I didn't mean that. . . I meant . . . oh, man.
. . ." Ray started to laugh, shaking his head.
"What's so funny?"
Fraser asked, a little lost.
"You. Me. Something." Ray said, still
laughing. "Never mind. Sixty-Nine, huh? Maybe you'd better let me read
one of those books of yours."
Fraser eyed him, puzzled. Was it possible
that Ray was even less familiar with this than he was? It hardly seemed
likely. "Well," he said hesitantly, "if you'd like to wait until
you've read up on this particular configuration, we could certainly . .
"No, no!" Ray shook his head vigorously. "I'm good. It's just that
we never . . . I mean, it never really worked very well with Stella, she was
too short. . . and um, I'm just going to shut up now," Ray said, turning red.
Oh. Fraser had finally got the picture. More of a picture than he
actually wanted. He tried to think of a way to distract Ray from those
thoughts. . . yes. He had it. "Right. Well, then," he said, starting to grin,
"a quick lesson is probably what's called for right now. I want you to think
of your mouth as a flower that opens by day and then closes down at night. All
Ray laughed. "You're a freak, you know that? But I like that in
a guy." He scooted down on the bed, positioning himself so that he could slide
his arm beneath Fraser's waist and pull them closer together. "Huh," he said
after a moment. "This is a little weird. I sort of miss being able to get to
your mouth. Guess I'll have to find something else to kiss," he said with a
Fraser shivered as he felt the first brush of Ray's tongue
licking at some of the whipped cream smeared between his hip and his belly. He
took a quick indrawn breath, tensing automatically when Ray moved his head and
his hair brushed against the tip of his penis.
"Come on, Benton," Ray
murmured against the soft skin of his belly, his hands firm on Fraser's hips,
fingers stroking the small of his back. "Relax, okay? I've got
Fraser took a deep breath, then slid his arm beneath Ray's leg
and rested his cheek on the lightly-furred thigh. As the tension eased slowly
out of his body, he turned to taste the smoother skin of Ray's inner
"Mmm, nice," Ray said softly, rubbing a thumb along the base of
Fraser's spine. "Like that. I like us . . . like this. God, I've wanted you.
"So have I, Ray." He tightened his hold on Ray's thigh,
then turned his face toward the soft dark blond curls at Ray's groin, catching
the musky scent beneath the lingering aroma of whipped cream.
in closer, breathed deeply, wishing he could surround himself completely in
the scent and taste and touch of Ray. He rubbed the side of his face against
Ray's groin, mindless of the whipped cream smearing his face, then raised his
head slightly, closed his eyes, and brushed his chin along the hard length of
Ray shuddered and groaned, and then shifted a hand to
push Fraser's thighs apart. He felt a sudden shock as Ray started to nibble
gently at the base of his own penis. God! There was something frighteningly
erotic about that gentle skim of teeth in such a vulnerable place, knowing he
should be afraid but trusting Ray too much to muster any fear, and aching for
more. He'd never wanted anything as much as he wanted to feel Ray's mouth
around him right then - except perhaps for the desire to take Ray's penis in
his own mouth. He angled his head slightly, almost panting, needing to
know the taste and texture and weight of Ray's cock, but he held back
another moment, letting the tease of anticipation intensify his own
Finally he let his lips brush against Ray's erection, sliding
his mouth sideways along the hard length of it. The sweetness of melting
whipped cream overwhelmed his senses first, but was fast overcome by the
clean, slightly salty flavor of Ray's skin. Just as his tongue reached the tip
of Ray's cock, his own penis was engulfed in the warm, wet heat of Ray's
mouth. He gasped, losing contact as sensation swamped him, fighting the urge
to thrust. He breathed through it, and after a moment the insistence faded a
little, the warm pull of Ray's mouth on his aching cock becoming a sensual
background of pleasure as he took the head of Ray's cock in his
Ray moaned around him, and the vibration sent shivers through
him. Wanting to duplicate the experience for Ray, he tongued the sensitive
spot below his glans and hummed. Ray clutched at his back, and the suction
around him intensified as Ray swallowed convulsively, breathing hard through
his nose. Taking that as a positive response, he kept licking and sucking and
occasionally humming until his jaw started to ache and he was getting a little
lightheaded. Reluctantly he let Ray slide from his mouth and lifted his head
to take a deep breath.
Taking advantage of the moment, Ray let go of
him and rolled over onto his back, tugging until Fraser was all but blanketing
him. Instinctively Fraser tried to balance on his knees and elbows, not
wanting to let all his weight settle on Ray, but Ray wasn't having any of
that. He wound his arms around Fraser's hips and pulled him down. Once Ray
began to brush his lips along the length of his shaft again, he couldn't for
the life of him remember why he had ever wanted to be anywhere but right where
They were so closely matched in height that all he had to do
was lower his head to kiss the soft skin below Ray's left hipbone, tasting a
faint trace of whipped cream there. He wanted more. More of Ray. He pressed
gently against one of Ray's knees with one hand until Ray took the hint and
let his legs fall open, drawing his knees up, giving Fraser complete access.
Eagerly he licked a path down the crease of Ray's right thigh, nuzzling crisp
curls and soft skin, chasing hints of vanilla and honey and Ray. He sucked and
nibbled at the soft weight of his testicles, until Ray moaned, his sucking and
licking at Fraser's erection faltering.
He still wanted more.
Frustrated, he slid his hands under Ray and urged his hips upward, his knees
outward, and curled around until . . . yes. . . there, he could chase
the slick sweetness of liquified whipped cream down to the root of his cock,
lick there, suck there. Ray's moans seemed to turn a little desperate, his
cock tracing wet trails against Fraser's throat and shoulder as he thrust
erratically. Fraser braced an elbow on the bed and cupped one of Ray's
buttocks, his thumb pressing firmly into the smooth span below his cock as he
worked his other hand up under his chin so he could wrap his fingers around
It was awkward as hell but worth the effort, as Ray jerked
and shuddered, the movement making Fraser's hand slide against skin smeared
with residual whipping cream. His thumb brushed across the small aperture
between Ray's cheeks. Ray gasped, hips moving in a fluid surge, first pushing
his cock hard into Fraser's hand, then pushing down against his probing thumb.
A surge of heat exploded through Fraser as weeks worth of late-night reading
and desperation brought fevered images to his brain. "Oh God," he gasped, his
whole body tense with the effort of not coming.
"So good," Ray rasped,
"Can I?" Fraser asked, unable to summon words for anything
"Anything," Ray said, pushing down against his hand
again. "Anything you want."
He wanted everything. But he couldn't have
it. . . at least not all at once. He had time, he reminded himself.
They had time. Days of time, uninterrupted, to learn each other, to
enjoy each other, to love each other. And time after that, maybe not so
uninterrupted, but time with no foreseeable cut off. Forever - as much of
forever there ever was for a finite being. No reason to rush. But oh, he
wanted. He wanted. Everything. Shifting over to one side, he turned once more,
sliding down to the foot of the bed, his shoulders between Ray's thighs. Once
in place he returned his hands to their former positions, one cupping his ass,
his thumb right. . . there, so close, the other curled around Ray's erection,
stroking gently, slowly.
He wished Ray would give him more room. A
moment after he wished it, Ray shifted, spreading his thighs wider, raising
his hips, a little. Fraser shivered. Not a word spoken, but the desired
results achieved. Communication on a nearly telepathic level. Ray wanted him.
Wanted this. Wanted everything. He squeezed the spare curve of Ray's ass,
stroked his thumb across the opening again, and then, daring, he licked down
low, right where perineum became buttocks, close, so close, but not quite
there. Even there he found hints of sweetness along with the bright tang of
"Christ!" Ray gasped, sounding a little panicky, shaking a
little, thighs and belly taut. Slick wetness welled hotly from Ray's cock to
coat his stroking fingers. Fraser squeezed again, licked again, same place,
not moving closer, sensing Ray wasn't ready for that yet. Sensing perhaps he
wasn't ready for that yet, either. He licked once more, and tightened his grip
on Ray's cock, moving his thumb to rest directly over Ray's anus, pressing
lightly. Ray shifted, and shimmied, and pushed back, and it slipped in with
surprising ease. Ray hissed in a breath, tensing, and Fraser
"Ray?" His voice shook as much as his hands suddenly
"'s good, Benton," Ray said breathlessly. "Just . . . give me a
Fraser nodded, and rubbed his suddenly itchy nose against
Ray's thigh. Ray started to relax, he could feel it. Experimentally he
tightened his hand around Ray's cock and gave a long, slow stroke. Ray's hips
followed the movement, and the tension just seemed to flow out of him. He
stroked again, and pushed in a little with his thumb, searching. . . he knew
the general vicinity to search, just not where exactly. . .
"Holy . . .
fuck!" Ray's hips bucked and he shuddered, then he was reaching down, fingers
tangling in Fraser's hair, tugging nearly hard enough to bring tears to his
eyes. "Up. Here. Now." Ray said, panting between each word.
nodded, wincing a little, and started to slip his hand free so he could move.
"Leave it!" Ray growled. "The rest of you."
The rest. .
. oh. He thought he knew what Ray wanted. Clumsily managed to crawl up Ray's
body, but with his arm in that position it just wasn't going to work. "Ray. .
. I'm sorry, I have to . . ."
"Yeah, yeah," Ray sighed, and twisted his
hips up and away. "There."
Better. He rolled over so Ray was on top and
then slid his hand down Ray's back and stroked his thumb against the small
opening again. Ray spread his thighs, letting them drop to either side of
Fraser's, and bit his ear.
"Tease," he accused.
Not wanting to
be unfairly labeled, he pushed. It went in. Even more easily this time. Ray
moaned, rolling his hips, his cock sliding against Fraser's with mind-bending
results. Fraser gripped Ray's hip with his free hand and thrust up against
him. "Oh. . . Ray."
"Mmm," Ray said, licking his way around Fraser's
ear, an erotic tickle, then across his cheek, then finally tracing his lower
lip with just a tongue-tip, all the while rocking in a way that made Fraser
dizzy with need.
He turned his head, and opened his mouth, catching
Ray's lips with his own, sucking at his maddening tongue, pulling Ray against
him with one hand, and using the other in a way that made Ray lose his rhythm
and whimper into his mouth. Instinct took over, his body driving hard against
Ray's, again and again, absorbed in the feel of Ray's cock riding along his
own, the tight, silky heat of him around his thumb, and his imagination melded
the two sensations into a single one and with a moan he shuddered and came,
pulsing out his pleasure over Ray's belly and cock, hands clenching.
Ray arched against him with a gasp, his cock sliding easily in the
spreading mess between them, and then he was coming too. Fraser could feel
each pulse both against his stomach, and inside Ray as well. They lay there,
panting, for a few moments, and then Ray leaned to kiss him again, tenderly
this time, stroking Fraser's jaw with his fingers, then he sighed and relaxed
fully, his head tucked into the crook of Fraser's neck. Fraser carefully eased
his thumb out, unwrapped his fingers from Ray's hip, hoping he hadn't left
bruises, and slid his hands up Ray's back and just held him.
brought a hand up and curled his fingers loosely around Fraser's left biceps,
and yawned. The movement made the light from the bedside lamp glitter oddly in
his hair, and looking closer, Fraser realized for the first time that there
was silver in Ray's blond, along his temples primarily, but a few gleaming
strands scattered across the crown as well. For some reason that made a lump
rise in his throat. He lifted a hand and stroked Ray's hair with the backs of
Ray lifted his head, looked into his eyes, and frowned a
little. "Hey. What's up?"
Fraser shook his head. "Just. . . wishing we
hadn't wasted so much time," he managed after a swallow.
puzzled. "What brought that on?"
Fraser felt himself redden a little.
"Ah. . . you've got. . . " his sentence trailed off. He wasn't sure how Ray
would take it.
"I've got what? A flat ass? Crabs? What?" Ray demanded,
a little irritably. He was sleepy, and not up to deciphering Fraserspeak at
Laughing, Fraser figured his discovery was certainly
better than either of those options. "No, Ray. There's just a little grey in
"Oh. That." He traced a finger along Fraser's temple, then
up higher, along his hairline, where Fraser was all too aware he was starting
a streak. "You too." He smiled wryly. "Some detectives, huh? We can figure out
anything except how much a pound of cheese weighs on Pluto."
chuckled, remembering the rest of that conversation. 'But do you know
what's right in front of your nose?' "Indeed."
Ray yawned again.
"Now can I go to sleep?" he asked a little plaintively.
that Ray had been up for nearly forty-eight hours straight at this point,
Fraser decided he could postpone his need for intense conversation for a
while. "Go to sleep," he said softly, hugging him with one arm.
nodded and relaxed, dropping his head back down with a sigh. He was quiet for
a few moments, his breathing deepening, evening, then suddenly, out of
nowhere, he kissed Fraser's shoulder a little sloppily and muttered. "Love
"And I you," Fraser whispered.
Ray made a satisfied
little sound and went limp.
Fraser lay there for some time with a
smile on his face that he suspected was fairly fatuous, but he couldn't really
help it. After a while he started feeling sleepy himself. Like Ray, he hadn't
rested very well in the past few days. Anticipation was not a considerate
bedmate. He yawned shallowly, noticing it was a little hard to take a deep
breath with Ray relaxed and heavy against him. He should probably have
suggested that Ray sleep somewhere other than right on top of him. Although
there was something kind of nice about it, despite the discomfort. He yawned
again, more widely, eyes tearing up a little from the stretch, and when he
lifted a hand to wipe his eyes he noticed that his fingers were... purple. And
red. And sticky.
It dawned on him that some of the stickiness he'd
been trying not to notice was tart residue, not semen. The sheets were covered
with the stuff, as were both he and Ray. He really ought to get Ray up so they
could shower. And the sheets needed changing desperately. He shifted a little,
put a hand on Ray's shoulder to shake him, and . . . he stopped. The hell with
it. If Ray didn't care, neither did he. He could wash everything just as well
in an hour or two.
* * *
Still half asleep, Fraser could sense
that someone was watching him. Smiling, he began to open his eyes, certain
he'd discover Ray had woken for some reason, but no . . . Ray was still fast
asleep, curled up next to him. However, the feeling of being under observation
only grew stronger. Taking care not to disturb Ray, he slid his arm out from
under him and slowly turned to . . .
"Oh, for God's
There, looming over them on the bed, was Diefenbaker,
berry-coated tongue lolling out of his mouth, looking as fidgety as a wolf
could look. It dawned on him that he could see far too clearly for it being
night-time in the middle of winter. They'd left the bedside light on the
entire time they'd been asleep.
Fraser scrubbed the sleep out of his
eyes and felt Ray stir beside him.
"What's up, Frase?" His voice was
raspy. "We got visitors?"
"One lupine visitor, to be precise.
Diefenbaker's reminding me that he doesn't have opposable thumbs and so hasn't
been able to let himself out of the house."
Ray chuckled, then rolled
over and reached across Fraser to let Dief lick at his hand. "Doorknobs are a
dumb invention, huh, boy?"
Diefenbaker moaned in agreement, then jumped
off the bed and went to sit impatiently by the bedroom door.
leaned over and kissed Ray. "Good morning."
"Morning? I think your
internal clock's busted, buddy. You trying to tell me we slept through the
Fraser grinned sheepishly. "Well . . . no. I've just been
looking forward to being able to say 'good morning' to you when I woke up, and
now seemed as good a time as any to start."
Ray put his arm around
Fraser and squeezed tightly. "Yeah, I get that. 'Morning to you, too." He
raised his head, craning it slightly to see if he could get a look at the
alarm clock on the other side of the bed. "What time is it anyway? The sun's
"You're kidding! We slept for almost six
"It would appear so. You . . .we clearly needed the rest." He
lay his hand down on Ray's forehead and brushed his thumb across one eyebrow.
"In fact, why don't you go back to sleep? I'll just see to Diefenbaker, and
I'll be back to join you in a moment."
"Nah, I'm good." He stretched
and slid one hand up Fraser's arm, using his shoulder for balance to sit up.
"Why don't you let Dief outside and . . . you want me to boil water for tea or
Such a simple thing, but sitting in the kitchen late at
night and sharing a pot of tea with Ray sounded wonderful. He knew it was the
kind of thing most people took for granted, but he wasn't sure he would ever
become altogether accustomed to having Ray to share things with. In truth,
though, he never wanted to become complacent about this gift he'd been
lucky enough to be given.
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak for
a moment, then cleared his throat and smiled at Ray. "That sounds good.
Perhaps we could make some toast as well?"
"Sure. I'm going to go to
the john first and . . . Fraser?" he said, stopping before he'd gotten one
foot out of the bed.
"What is it, Ray?"
"I'm . . . um . . . I
think I'm kinda stuck."
Fraser took his first serious look since
waking at the wreckage that had once been recognizable as his bed. The pillows
had been knocked to the floor and were laying on top of the crumpled blanket.
The badly stained sheets were stuck to both Ray's skin and his own by a
combination of dried custard, berry juice, and semen. It was even worse than
he'd remembered. How could either of them have fallen asleep in this disaster
He started to peel the sheet off one of Ray's legs, then started
laughing. "You know, I'm not sure this is the romantic scene I envisioned when
I dreamed about your return."
Ray grinned. "Welcome to the Fraser Arms
Honeymoon Suite. Just $19.99 for the first night."
"Is that . . . in .
. . American . . . or Canadian dollars?" Fraser asked between laughing fits.
"Canadian. This is definitely a Canadian thing, Benton."
freed Ray from the sheet, Fraser leaned forward to kiss his smiling mouth,
then started pulling the bed linens together into a pile in the center of the
bed. "Ray? Do me a favor and open the window."
"Why?" Ray asked, even
as he crawled out of the bed. "We just going to chuck the evidence outside and
hope it's dragged away by a wild animal?"
He chuckled. "It probably
wouldn't be a bad idea, but no, I'm just providing Diefenbaker with a means to
get outside while we - and the bedding - pay a visit to the
Ray pushed the storm window up two feet, letting a blast of
cold air into the room "Come on, Dief. You need some help getting
The wolf gave him a disdainful glare before jumping on top of the
dresser and out through the open window.
"Should I shut the window?
It's going to get pretty damned cold in here in a minute."
open for the time-being. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to air out the
room, and in any case, Diefenbaker . . . ."
"You scared of what Dief's
going to say to you if he gets locked outside on top of not being let out when
he needed to go?" Ray said with a grin.
"Of course not," Fraser said,
unwilling to admit that he really didn't want to have to listen to any longer
a list of complaints from the wolf than he already heard on a regular basis.
"He's a rational creature, and there's no reason for him to . . .
"This is Dief you're talking about, right? The wolf with a doctoral
degree in irrational grudge holding?"
After taking a moment to consider
Ray's words, Fraser made a mental note to purchase a supply of rawhide treats
when the shops opened in the morning. "Good point." He smiled at Ray, then
looked toward the bed. "Let's see what we can do to get some of this mess
rinsed off the sheets."
"And ourselves." Ray rubbed his hand down his
chest, grimacing at the whipped cream congealed in his chest hairs. "We need
to be hosed down. My thighs are trying to stick together."
be a great pity," Fraser said with a grin.
"It would," Ray said,
returning his grin.
"I'm surprised we weren't stuck to each other,"
Fraser said, scratching at an itchy spot on his stomach. "I guess we both must
have moved around enough to prevent that."
"So, after we get cleaned
off, you want to do some more of that 'moving?'" Ray was . . . leering at him.
There really wasn't any other way to describe it.
He smiled. "I think
a little more 'moving' could be squeezed into the weekend schedule." He picked
up the heap of bedding and headed for the door. "Could you bring the mattress
pad along with you?"
"From an army cot to a queen-sized bed complete
with a mattress pad. You really were corrupted, weren't you?"
turned around halfway through the doorway and raised his eyebrows. "It came
with the house, and I didn't hear you complaining about the bed six hours
"Believe me, Benton, I'm not complaining. Viva la
Fraser walked into the bathroom, then dropped the pile of
bed clothes into the tub. He turned the taps on, then looked up to see Ray
standing in the hall, the mattress pad draped across his shoulders like a
"Ah. Your Majesty! Would you be so kind as to bring your
mostly naked self over here?"
Ray grinned, then threw the mattress pad
across the room and into the rapidly filling tub. "Always knew you had a kink
for royalty. That picture of the Queen was a dead giveaway." He walked over to
the edge of the bathtub and looked at the purple-tinted water. "You really
want to put your sheets and us in there? Wouldn't it be less disgusting
to just take everything down to the river and beat the sheets against a rock
Fraser looked down and sighed. "It is rather
unappealing, isn't it? I considered just putting everything into the washing
machine, but . . ."
"You have a washing machine?"
Didn't I mention that?"
"Nope. Come on. Let's toss everything in the
machine and then we can wash off in a tub that doesn't look like Barney the
Dinosaur took a leak in it."
"He's a . . . never
mind. Just be grateful you haven't had to experience the joys of babysitting
Frannie's rugrats yet. Nice kids, but after a couple of hours, you end up
singing kiddy t.v. show theme songs the whole next day, and, trust me, that's
not something you want to be doing down at the station." He scooped up an
armful of wet sheets. "After you."
Fraser led the way to the small
washing machine installed in one of the hall closets. "Do you think we should
do an online search for stain removal suggestions? I really should have taken
care of this sooner, but . . . ."
"We had other priorities," Ray said,
with a grin. "Nah, we don't have to go online. You got some peroxide in the
bathroom?" Fraser nodded. "Okay, go get that and I'll get some dishwashing
stuff from the kitchen."
Fraser looked up from the machine. "Peroxide
and dishwashing liquid?"
"Yeah. It's a secret Kowalski family stain
"Nah." Ray smiled. "My mom got it
from Good Housekeeping. It works, though."
Once the 'secret
ingredients' had been poured on top of the stained bedding, Fraser turned the
machine on and they returned to the bathroom. Ray looked into the tub, which
was filling with fresh, hot water. "That looks better."
"I thought it would defeat the purpose to get into a tub full of dirty water.
Perhaps this time we won't risk looking like Violet Beauregarde when we're
"You know Willy Wonka, but you don't know
"It was a book long before it was a movie. Though clearly I
have yet to catch up with my cultural literacy in the area of children's
television programming." He tested the temperature of the water, then stepped
into the tub and held his hand out.
Ray paused before he got into the
bathtub and grinned. "This going to be one of those 'oh dear, I dropped the
soap' kind of deals?"
Fraser laughed. "I was actually thinking of
bathing this time, but maybe we can try that scenario
When Ray stepped into the tub, they rinsed the worst of the
sticky mess off their skin under the shower, then Fraser closed the drain and
as the tub filled they eased themselves down until they were both sitting, Ray
leaning back against Fraser's chest. Fraser reached around and handed him a
bar of Ivory Soap, but Ray made no immediate attempt to use it. Instead, he
put the soap back on the edge of the bathtub, then took both of Fraser's arms
and wrapped them tightly around him before letting his head drop back on
"Mmm. This is nice," he murmured
Fraser slid one arm out from under Ray's, then started to
card his fingers through Ray's hair. "It is. I wish . . . ." He
"What do you wish?"
"I just wish . . . that it could be
like this all the time."
"Hey, I'm up for it," Ray said, stroking his
forearm lightly. "You and me figure out how to grow gills, we can stay in the
bathtub permanently if you want."
Fraser snorted. "That's not exactly
what I meant."
He could almost see the smile blooming
on Ray's face. They lay quietly in the tub for a while, cocooned in hot water.
Fraser closed his eyes. The next time he opened them, with a little start as
he realized he'd been asleep, the water was lukewarm and the trickle of cold
air from the gap beneath the bathroom door reminded him that the bedroom
window was still open. He sat up a little from where he'd slid down in the
water. "We should finish up," he said decisively. "And go make that
Ray jumped. "Wha? Huh?" Apparently he'd been asleep too. "Oh. . .
yeah, sounds good," Ray agreed. "Soap?"
Fraser lathered up his own
hands, and then handed the soap to Ray. He figured it was best not to offer to
scrub him, since he actually wanted them out of the tub reasonably quickly.
Once they'd soaped, they stood up, opened the drain, and rinsed off with the
shower. They dried off, and Fraser gave Ray his robe that was hanging on the
back of the door, since they'd forgotten to bring clothing in with them. The
navy terrycloth looked wonderful against his skin, and with his hair flat, Ray
seemed years younger than his actual age.
"I'll go fill the kettle
while you put something on," Ray said, then with a grin he nodded at the door
and asked, "You ready?"
"On three," Ray said.
They counted to three, then Fraser opened the door and dashed, shivering, for
the bedroom, grabbing his sweats out of his dresser and yanking them on
quickly as Diefenbaker stood in the doorway and snickered. He glared at his
companion as he closed the bedroom window.
"It's hardly my fault that I
don't have a pelt," he said haughtily, going to join Ray in the kitchen where
he stood filling the teakettle and frowning thoughtfully.
Benton," he said as Fraser came in. "What you were saying before - I get that.
I know what you're feeling 'cause I feel it too. It's just so easy like this.
Being together. Just hanging out. No stress. But you know it's not going to be
like this all the time when we get back to Chicago. In fact, it's not even
going to be like this often."
Fraser nodded as he got the bread out of
the refrigerator. "I know."
"I can be kind of hard to live with," Ray
continued as if he hadn't spoken. "In case you've forgotten, I'm loud and I
can be kind of manic and I have a temper and . . ."
"I know, Ray. It's
all right," Fraser interrupted. "I can be stuffy and stubborn and I, ah, I
have a temper too." Ray snorted at that, nodding. Fraser ignored him and went
on. "But we'll be all right. We were before."
"Yeah, well, we weren't
living together before," he said, setting the kettle on the stove and turning
on the burner under it.
Fraser smiled. "Weren't we?"
about it for a moment. "Hell. I guess we kind of were. We were together more
than most married couples are, and we fought a lot less."
soberly. "I know we probably can't avoid an occasional disagreement." He
smiled a little in response to Ray's cackle. "We can both be pigheaded, but I
think we learned how to keep it to the occasional carping rather than a
"Yeah," Ray agreed. He reached over to take
Fraser's hand and curl the fingers into a loose fist, then wrapped his own
hand around it. "We gotta talk. And listen. Because I don't ever want to punch
you again, and I sure as hell never want to get punched by you again.
So we have to communicate."
Fraser nodded, then lifted their hands and
brushed his lips against the back of Ray's knuckles before slipping his hand
free. Putting two slices of bread in the toaster he depressed the lever to
start the bread toasting. "I have orange marmalade or peanut butter for the
toast, if you'd like."
"Both sound good," Ray said. "Did I remember to
tell you that UPS delivered the camping gear and your trunk the day before I
"No, you hadn't. I'm relieved to hear they arrived safely."
"Yeah, though we'll need to look for a new place pretty soon, because
I can already tell my place ain't big enough for the both of us,
"That's not a problem. Once we find a place acceptable to
both of us. . . excuse me, all three of us," he corrected himself as
Diefenbaker gave him a dirty look, "I'll be happy to either buy or rent. My
savings should be more than adequate to cover my share, no matter what we
decide to do."
"Be nice to have a real place," Ray said, looking around
the kitchen with a slightly wistful expression. "Speaking of which, what all
are we packing out when we leave next week?"
"Just my remaining
clothes, and Diefenbaker. Since this house is a furnished rental I don't have
to worry about the furnishings, other than the television which I've arranged
to donate to the Band Council."
"The band? You think they should be
watching TV instead of rehearsing?" Ray asked, eyes wide.
his eyes. "You, sir, are a smartass."
Ray grinned. "Yeah. And it's your
duty to keep feeding me straight lines."
"And toast?" Fraser asked,
catching the slices in mid-air as the slightly over-exuberant toaster expelled
"And toast," Ray confirmed.
* * *
It was really
kind of weird, Ray thought, kissing his way down Fraser's naked back, running
his tongue across the cratered scar next to his spine before moving lower, but
so far nothing they had done had turned him off at all. And in the last two
days they'd done damned near everything he'd ever heard of that two guys could
do. Okay, well, just short of everything. There was one thing Ray had been
avoiding because he was afraid Fraser wouldn't like it. Fraser seemed to want
it. Acted like he wanted it. Bad. Bad enough to lay there spread out on the
bed like an invitation to a wet dream. Not that Ray minded, since it let him
return a favor from the night before, but he wasn't sure that Fraser really
knew what he was asking for. Stella hadn't liked it. He remembered that very
Shaking off that thought, he ventured lower, reached the
little indentation right at the top of the cleft between Fraser's buttocks,
and flicked it with his tongue. Fraser whimpered, his hips curling forward,
rubbing himself against the mattress. Oh yeah. Ray put a hand on each of
Fraser's cheeks and pressed outward, just a little, then followed the cleft
south a little further. Man. He couldn't believe he was doing this, even more
he couldn't believe how much it was turning him on to do it. He was harder
than he'd been since he was sixteen years old, his breathing ragged, his whole
body flushed with heat and damp with sweat. He was so hard he almost hurt, but
it was such a good hurt.
He pulled his tongue back in to
moisten it, licked out again, closer. Fraser gasped. He tasted like clean skin
and sweat. Ray's fingers dug into the soft-firm curves under them a little,
pulling him open more, and he pointed the tip of his tongue and . . .
Fraser's whole body jerked, nearly bucking Ray off. "Raaaaay!" he
Ray held on with both hands and did it again, probing.
"Oh. . . God. . . Ray!"
He squeezed, he licked, he flicked, he
kissed. He felt Fraser open up for him, relaxing, and he went for it, he
delved, going deep, as deep as he could. Kept at it until Fraser was
shuddering and babbling, a mindless stream of half-sentences and words, all
variations on 'fuck me now,' spreading his thighs wider, pushing his gorgeous
ass back at Ray, asking for more. Damn, if he'd had any clue that Fraser would
be like this in bed, he'd have jumped him the day they met.
"Ray. . .
please!" Fraser pleaded. "I need . . ."
Jesus. He sounded. . .
broken. Needy. Ray's fingers twitched, He gave one last lick, shifted one
hand, sucked on his finger for a minute, and then slid it inside Fraser in a
slow, smooth push. Fraser's body tightened up around his finger, sucking at
it. His neglected cock jerked a little at that, drooling a little puddle of
pre-come onto sheets that still held faint ghosts of blue, red and purple
stains, and several more recent, less colorful ones, still damp. They were
going to have to do laundry again soon, he thought distantly, with amusement.
Thank God Fraser had three sets of sheets.
Fraser. . . undulated, using
Ray's finger as a pivot. "So goood. . ." he breathed. "Please Ray.
He'd been asking that for the last day and a half. There was
only so much a man could take. Especially feeling that smooth, tight heat
gripping his finger like that, imagining what it would feel like around his
cock. And he'd already had two fingers in there at some point. . . he'd lost
track of exactly when but he knew he'd done it, helped along by the lube,
thankfully not home-made. Fraser had bought it from the same internet site
that had shipped Crawford Jones the CK. And Fraser had come like a fountain
and kept asking for more. So it was okay, right? Had to be. He dropped his
forehead down to rest it on the warm, flushed curve of Fraser's ass. Licked
it, the skin peach-soft against his tongue.
There was only so much 'no' in him, and apparently he'd just
hit bottom. So to speak. "Okay. Okay, you win. I give. Where's the . . .
"Night table drawer," Fraser said, stretching to fumble at the
drawer, finally getting it open, pulling out the little bottle, opening it.
Ray eased his finger out of Fraser's heat and held out his
hand. Fraser upended the bottle, pouring so much slick across his fingers that
Ray had to catch the drips with his other hand. He stroked himself with the
extra, clenching his teeth a little against the urge to just finish himself
off right then. The other hand returned to the cleft between Fraser' s cheeks,
letting the lube drip off his fingers, rubbing it up and down the crevice,
into the little furl, pushing it inside with first one finger, then when
Fraser seemed nice and relaxed, another one. God. Tight.
He curled his
fingers forward, and Fraser jerked, hissing "Yesss!" through his teeth. He
stroked in and out a couple of times, feeling how nice and easy it was. Tried
slipping another finger in. It went in easy, too, even though it felt like he
had his fingers in a smooth, hot vise. Ray leaned around and found Fraser's
mouth with his own, kissing him as he kept stroking. Fraser kissed him
frantically, his hips moving with Ray's caresses, licking and sucking at Ray's
mouth between gasps of "Now, now!"
Ray slipped his fingers free, and
settled between Fraser's thighs, rubbing his cock between Fraser's cheeks in
all that slickness there, feeling the head of his cock catch against the
little hole and dip inside just a tiny bit, once, twice. Feeling Fraser push
back each time, trying to get him in deeper.
"Tell me," he whispered
fiercely into Fraser's ear. "You better fucking tell me if you need me to
Fraser nodded jerkily. Ray braced one slick hand against the
sheets beside Fraser's hip, wrapped his other hand around himself, aimed,
shifted his hips forward, and . . .
"Oh, fuck," he breathed, feeling
himself sliding in. Just as tight and hot as he'd felt around his fingers.
Almost like being sucked, but different, better.
Fraser made a
kind of a grunt. Didn't quite sound. . . comfortable. Against his lips he
could feel the flex of muscle in Fraser's jaw. Wait. Wait. He thought about
pulling back, but Fraser hadn't asked him to stop. He stopped, just the head
of his cock inside Fraser. Benton. Waiting. Felt Fraser relax. Okay. Slow, he
told himself. Slow. He pushed a little harder. Felt that snug channel yielding
to him, opening up, but just barely enough to let him in. Felt so damned
good. Fuck. Fuck. He was losing it. fuckfuckfuckfuck . . . He
held onto the word, chanting it like a litany, meaningless, in his head, for
"Yes!" Fraser panted, making Ray suddenly aware that he'd
also been saying it aloud. "Fuck me." He made a sound in his throat,
somewhere between a growl and a purr, and pushed back against Ray,
"Jesus Christ!" He was in, all the way in, wrapped tight
in silky heat. He pushed, trying to get deeper, impossible, wanting. Pulled
back, almost all the way out.
Fraser reached back a hand, scrabbling
at his hip, trying to tug him back. Ray obliged, sliding home again. Fraser
moaned, pushing up onto his hands, torso arched, head back. The new angle
shifted most of Ray's weight onto Fraser's ass, grinding Fraser's groin
against the bed. Ray rolled his hips, again, again, a fluid glide, in and out,
just enough for friction. Fraser panted, shifting his thighs wider apart. Ray
kept up the rhythm, feeling Fraser tighten up around him on every in-stroke,
feeling the flex of his glutes, the slick slide of his sweaty thighs against
Fraser shifted up onto his hands and knees, startling Ray
for a moment, but it took him only seconds to realize what he wanted. He
braced his own knees against the mattress and pulled Fraser back against him
with one hand tight on his hip, then reached to curl his other hand around the
heavy length of Fraser's cock, so that with each thrust of Ray's body, Fraser
echoed the movement into his hand.
"Yes!" The word was an explosive
gasp. Fraser let his head drop forward, bent, and Ray knew he was staring down
the length of his own body to watch as Ray jacked him. Each of his thrusts
forward was met by one of equal strength back against him, and he felt Fraser
start to shudder under him. He tightened his grip, moved harder, faster, and
then Fraser was coming, hot slickness spurting against his fingers, against
Fraser's belly, his whole body taut and shaking. Ray managed a few more ragged
thrusts but the close, hot channel that gripped Ray's cock seemed to pulse,
squeezing him, dragging him over the edge. He started to come just as Fraser's
knees gave out. Ray pancaked down on top of him, one arm trapped beneath him,
laughing and gasping, and coming, his whole body nearly shorted-out with
"What's funny?" Fraser asked a few moments later, his breath
Ray kissed the side of his neck, tasting the salt of his
sweat. "Not a thing. Just. . . I'm so freakin' happy."
his head, trying to see Ray, without much success.
shifted his hips, disengaging. Fraser hissed a little and Ray soothed him,
rubbing softly. "You okay?"
"I'm. . . good," Fraser said, making good
sound like so much more than it ever had before, rolling over to look at him,
a lopsided grin on his face that made Ray want to kiss it off him.
he did. A moment later he pulled back. "Really," he said, finally answering
Fraser pulled him close and they lay quietly for a
little while. For some reason Ray found himself thinking about Stella. She'd
always said they had a great sex life, and all the time they'd been together,
Ray had thought so too. Mostly. But at some point he'd started to realize that
there was something missing. After the divorce he'd kept trying to tell
himself he was wrong, that it really had been great, perfect, the best. But
no, he hadn't been wrong; something had been missing. Now he knew what
that something had been. Equality.
Not to mention he was . . . gay.
Apparently. He felt a little dumb to be just figuring that out at his age. He
guessed being 'in love' with Stella all those years had kept him from thinking
about what he really liked, what he really wanted. And those post-Stella
mornings sharing coffee and toast with strange women - they could never
have been what he really needed. Because what he needed was . . .
Maybe he should send Stella a thank-you card, though, for
dumping him on his ass and making him figure things out for himself. Might be
hard to find one like that at Hallmark, though.
* * *
got out of the Suburban, Diefenbaker took off like a shot toward the empty lot
next to the detachment.
"Where's he off to?" Ray asked,
"He wanted one last chance to play in the snow," Fraser said,
gazing after him. "He is an arctic wolf, after all."
Ray rolled his
eyes. "We get snow in Chicago, Fraser." After a moment he frowned, suddenly
realizing that maybe 'snow' was just a metaphor here. "You sure about this,
Benton?" he asked as they headed up the walkway toward the main doors of the
detachment. "You seem to be doing better here now. If you don't want
to leave, there's probably still time to get things put back the way they
were. I mean - for you anyway. I'd have to come up with a new Canadian career,
but at least you could stay up here." He didn't quite know why he was asking.
Okay, maybe he did. He didn't want there to come a time when Fraser told him
he hadn't really wanted to leave and he'd only done it because Ray wanted him
Fraser stopped and looked at Ray, the brim of his Stetson
shielding his face from the falling snow. "I'm sure. I've never been more
sure. And, for your information, the reason I'm doing better is because
there's finally a light at the end of the damned tunnel."
Ray looked at
Fraser with wide eyes, then had to blink as a snowflake hit him in the eye.
"The what tunnel?"
Fraser gave him a look.
"So you're cool with going?"
"I am ecstatic about going. I can't wait
to leave. I've never been so happy to leave anyplace in my life. Well, except
for that time I was assigned to a two-man post in . . . ."
interrupted him. "It's freakin' snowing out here. Tell the story inside
if you have to."
Fraser smiled. "Just yanking your
"Coolness." Ray smiled. It felt good to have Fraser teasing him
again. He looked at the building. "She here yet?"
unfamiliar vehicle in the lot, so I assume so."
"You nervous?" Ray
asked as they stopped again, just under the overhang at the front door.
Fraser narrowed his eyes at Ray, and then sighed. "I. . . a
"Well, just remember, you're ten times the man she'll ever
Fraser looked puzzled. "I expect that's true. Though I suppose she
could have a surgical gender alteration and . . ."
"Mountie. I meant
Mountie. So don't let her cow you."
"Ray, make up your mind, am I a
man, a Mountie, or a cow?"
"Um. . . is this a trick question? Give me a
minute here. . ."
Ray laughed. "You're Benton Fraser.
That's the important part." He opened the door, motioning Fraser through, then
as he walked in behind him, he mooed. Loudly.
Fraser gave a single,
startled snicker. Sally looked up from her desk, saw who it was, shook her
head and looked down again.
"Has Sergeant Carol arrived,
Sally looked up again. "Yep. She's in your office. I gave her
"Thank you kindly. Is everyone here?"
nodded. "In the break room, nervous as cats in a room full of rocking chairs.
I told them they had to wait for you, just like you said."
Fraser took off his hat and peacoat and shook snow off them over the mat in
front of the door. Ray followed suit with his parka, and brushed his hands
through his hair briefly to get the snow out, and make it stand up right.
Fraser eyed him, and shook his head. "I don't know how you do
"Get your hair to look right without a
"Talent, Benton. Sheer talent. Let's do this
Fraser nodded, hung his coat and hat on one of the hooks next
to the door, and headed for his office. Ray quickly put his coat next to
Fraser's and followed him. As Fraser paused for a moment in the doorway, Ray
took moment to study the woman sitting in one of the two 'visitor' chairs. She
was about his age, and looked like she'd be tall, standing up. Built. Pretty.
Well, no, not pretty. Beautiful, even without any makeup. She wore her long,
dark-brown hair loose and wavy, and made the boring blue uniform look good.
Ray suddenly realized she was holding his. . . Fraser's rubber duck, rubbing
it with her thumb, smiling a little. He stifled the urge to go yank it out of
"Sergeant Carol," Fraser said evenly.
around and smiled. She looked even prettier when she smiled. For a second Ray
wondered if he was supposed to notice that a woman was pretty, now that he'd
figured out he was gay. Then he decided that was a stupid thing to wonder.
Attractive people were attractive people, didn't matter who you were sleeping
"Corporal Fraser! It's good to see you," she said, putting the
duck down on the desk and standing up, reaching out to shake Fraser's hand
firmly, sparing Ray a curious glance.
"Indeed," Fraser said. "It's been
quite some time." He moved around to the back of his desk and opened a drawer.
"In fact, I've been hoping we might someday meet again."
He had? Ray
was a little puzzled. Fraser hadn't said anything about that before.
Sergeant Carol turned red. "Oh, God," she said, putting a hand over
her eyes. "I'm so sorry about. . . what happened. To this day I can't believe
I was such a bitch about it. I was really hoping you'd forgotten. Since that's
out, I guess I'll have to hope you've forgiven me instead."
course," Fraser said blandly. "Had our positions been reversed, I imagine I
might have been similarly perturbed."
Sergeant Carol shook her head.
"That's bullshit, Corporal, and we both know it, but it's kind of you to say
so. I hear you're going back to Chicago."
"I am. They've instituted a
full-time official liaison program there now. I'll be working out of the 27th
division with my old partner, Detective Kowalski." Fraser nodded at
Sergeant Carol turned, holding out her hand. "I'm very pleased to
meet you Detective Kowalski! I've heard so much about you."
Ray shook her hand, braced a little as he waited to find out what she'd heard.
The sub probably. It was almost always the sub. Though sometimes it was the
Henry Allen. Ghosts and gold got people's attention almost as fast as nukes
and nerve gas.
"Ali Thobhani was very impressed by the thoroughness
and tenacity of your work on the LeBeau case. It's good to know we'll have
such a capable officer working with our liaison in Chicago."
blinked, startled. He hadn't expected that one at all. "Thanks. It was good to
get the guy off the streets, no matter where he ends up."
"Please, seat yourselves." Fraser said. "Before I
introduce the rest of the members, I'd like to take the opportunity to do
something that I've wanted to ever since I saw you last."
Carol resumed her seat. "And that would be?" she asked, looking a little
Ray sat down in the other chair, watching. Fraser was up to
something, Ray could tell. He had that gleam in his eye, even though his
expression was placid. He leaned forward a little, waiting to see what would
Fraser reached into his desk drawer and brought out a black
metal full-strip stapler. "I'd like to return this. You left in rather a hurry
and. . ."
Sergeant Carol started to laugh. "Oh my God! I don't believe
it! You've had that all this time. . . just waiting?"
"Well, honestly, I'm not entirely sure how I ended up with it when I left
Chicago, but when I found out who was going to replace me here, I couldn't
She shook her head. "And to think I thought you had no sense
of humor! Though I really ought to report you for appropriating RCMP
property!" she said with mock severity.
"Yeah, you really can't trust
him with office supplies," Ray put in with a grin. "He's got a real problem
"Now, Ray, you know the incident with the CPD hole punch has
been greatly exaggerated," Fraser said with great dignity. "And as for the
stapler, you can both see that it's right here on RCMP property, being used
for its intended purpose, so it's hardly anything I could be held accountable
The sergeant laughed again. "Corporal, you're something else. I'm
beginning to think I was an idiot. Maybe I should have stayed in Chicago," she
The hair on the back of Ray's neck prickled a
little. He reached out and picked up Fraser's duck. "Nope. He managed just
fine there on his own."
She looked over at him searchingly, glanced
down at the duck, back up at his face, and then she nodded. "So I see." She
turned back at Fraser. "Well, thank you for taking such good care of my
stapler all these years. I'll try to do as well with your detachment
"I'm sure you'll do an excellent job. I've heard nothing but
good things about your work, and I recall that the liaison office was in
excellent shape when you handed it over to me."
Sergeant Carol snorted
inelegantly. "You mean when I stomped off in a huff, don't you? In any case,
thanks for the compliment." She glanced at Ray again, then back at Fraser.
"And, Corporal, congratulations on your. . . new posting."
nodded. "Thank you kindly, Sergeant Carol. Let me just check to see if
everyone is here now so I can introduce you. Ray, perhaps you'd like some
Ray recognized a cue when he heard one. "Sounds good, Benton."
He stood up, pocketing the duck. "You want a refill?" he asked, nodding at
Sergeant Carol's mug.
"No, thank you, I'm fine," she
Ray followed Fraser out of the office and down the hall.
Fraser stopped between his office and the break room, and looked at Ray.
"Is there a problem?" he asked softly, his voice pitched for Ray's
"She was flirting with you!" Ray hissed,
Fraser smiled. "Yes, she was. However, I wasn't flirting with
Ray thought about that. Nodded. "No. You weren't."
don't have to defend my honor, you know."
Ray sighed. "Yeah, I know.
Sorry. I just. . . " he shrugged. "Sorry," he repeated.
"For what it's worth, I suspect the first time I'm confronted with a similar
situation I may have a comparable reaction."
"Really?" Ray thought
about that for a moment, raised his eyebrows, and grinned. "Cool. So, you want
me to cover the com-center while you rally the troops for the official
"I'd appreciate it, if you don't mind. It will just be a few
"Not a problem. But I still want that coffee."
thought you would. Let's just hope they've left you some."
opened the break-room door and Ray stepped through it, heading for the coffee
pot. Six pair of eyes locked on him for a moment, then shifted away as the
four constables and two community policing representatives realized he wasn't
their new C.O. He nodded at them, filled a mug and sugared it, then went out
to the front counter. Sally looked up at him questioningly.
wants you in the break room. I'll watch the com-center, okay?"
him narrowly. "You ever work a com-center before?"
"Not as such, no."
Jesus. Could he sound any more like Fraser? He shivered a little. That was
kind of scary. "But I'm a quick study." He gave her his best grin.
shook her head, smiling a little. "I assume you can use a phone and know what
a hold button is?"
"I'm a phone ace, Sally, trust me on that
"All right, how about a radio mic?"
"You hold down the
little button on the side to talk, right? And let it go if you don't want them
"Right. Okay. Well, I guess you'll do. But you come and get
me right off if you have any questions. Oh, and if anybody calls you have to
remember to say 'Good morning, La Rouille detachment and then. . .
"And then 'Bonjour, c'est le détachement de La Rouille.'" Ray
finished for her. "I got it," he assured her. "Now go on before you miss the
She looked a little startled, but she got up and went. He
watched her, wondering if it was scarier that he'd just sounded like Fraser,
or that he knew how to answer the detachment's phone in French. He sat down in
her chair and went to scoot it in, then had to adjust the height setting so he
didn't feel like he was riding a tricycle. He sipped his coffee, and leaned
back. Not a bad chair. The computer screen was set on a map of the area
showing weather conditions. He figured Sally wouldn't appreciate it if he
started surfing the Chicago real estate ads on her computer so he left it
where it was.
A flash of red caught his eye and he glanced over to see
Fraser escorting Sergeant Carol toward the break room. He discovered that if
he leaned just a little to the left, he could see in. Almost a straight shot
to Bose Zhertak and the other guy Mounties. . . Will Goodrunning, plus a
little of Patrice Bourque - sideburns and beard mostly.
He pushed the
chair back another inch, then one more. Okay, that was better. At least he
could see Fraser now even if he couldn't hear what he was saying.
smiled. Just about everyone was doing that 'I'm nodding so you'll know I'm
listening' thing. The only one who wasn't doing the bobble-head doll routine
was Zhertak, and he was . . . Christ, he looked shell shocked. Transfixed.
Then his tongue darted out and swiped his bottom lip, and Ray just about fell
off his chair. What the hell?
He glanced back at the switchboard to
make sure he wasn't missing anything, then slid the chair back another few
inches. He knew Fraser didn't think Zhertak had a thing for him, but Ray knew
infatuation when he saw it and Zhertak was showing all the signs. Then Ray
looked harder and . . . weird. Yeah, he had that stunned look on his face, but
. . . he wasn't looking at Fraser at all. In fact, it looked like he had those
adoring puppy dog eyes trained right on Sergeant Carol.
to himself as he rolled the chair back to Sally's desk. Too bad they weren't
going to be sticking around long enough to watch this story play out. It might
be pretty amusing now that it wasn't Fraser being stared at. Heh. Looked like
Zhertak had a thing for authority figures in general.
introductions were finished before Ray'd even gotten a chance to check out the
weather conditions in Saskatoon and Minneapolis, and everybody started filing
out of the break room. He watched as Carol shook Fraser's hand, then went into
his . . . her office. Fraser leaned in the doorway for a moment, then joined
"Seems like that went well."
"Yeah, from what I could see,
the handover went pretty smooth."
"I noted your keen interest in the
proceedings." Fraser smiled. "I'm sure she'll do fine here. Better than I did,
to be honest. She's actually eager to begin her duties here, and it looks like
everyone is responding positively to her obvious enthusiasm."
sure is," Ray said with a grin.
"Indeed," Fraser said, dropping his
voice. "It appeared that way to me as well. I believe there might be a bit
more response than is ordinarily acceptable under the RCMP fraternization
Ray looked past Fraser and saw Zhertak knock on Carol's
door, then enter. "You going to say anything to her about it?"
shook his head. "No, I don't think it's necessary. In the first place, I have
a suspicion that you and I are prone, at the moment, to seeing rather more of
a personal interest between people than may really exist."
we've got love on the brain?"
Fraser flushed slightly, then cleared his
throat. "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying." Ray grinned. "In any case,
Sergeant Carol is more than capable of speaking up for herself."
say," Sally interjected from behind Fraser's shoulder.
"This one seems like a pretty tough cookie. I'll
watch out for her though."
She looked at her desk, then at Ray, and he
jumped up. "Sorry. Guess I'd better let you have your chair back,
"Thanks for looking after things, Detective." She glanced over
at Fraser, then stared hard at Ray. "Make sure you keep doing
Man. How many moms did he and Fraser have between them? "Um . .
. yeah. I will. Um . . . Fraser? You got anything left to do
"Just packing up the last of my things here, and then I think
we'd best head for the airport."
"Okay. So . . . bye, Sally," Ray said.
"It's been good knowing you."
"Same here. You're okay, Kowalski. And as
for you, Benton Fraser," she said, hugging him tightly. "We'll miss you. You
go and have a good life down there in Chicago. Just remember you've got
friends here if you ever need them."
She hugged him again, and Ray
could see Fraser squeeze his eyes shut briefly as he returned her embrace. He
shook his head. Couldn't help think how much easier it would've been for
Fraser these past two years if he'd been able to recognize that he really had
been accepted and appreciated by the people in La Rouille. Looked like there
were a whole lot of things in this life that you just couldn't see until you
were ready. On the other hand, if Fraser had felt included from the start he
might not be coming home with Ray, so he was just as glad it hadn't
Sally released Fraser and sat down at her desk. "Okay, run
along, boys. Constable Traynor's gone outside to round up your wolf and take
the three of you out to the airport. Then maybe things will get back to normal
around here." She grinned.
"Yes, yes . . .true." Fraser's voice was a
little unsteady. "I'll just . . ." He turned and started to head back to his
old office, but when Ray caught up with him and put a hand on his shoulder, he
"You okay?" Ray whispered.
Fraser turned to Ray, took a
deep breath and nodded. "I'm okay." Then he smiled. "Let's say our goodbyes,
They said their farewells to Carol and Zhertak as they
collected the last of Fraser's personal papers and supplies in a small
cardboard box. Just before sealing the box with duct tape, Ray slipped the
rubber duck out of his pocket and in with the rest of things Fraser was taking
"Okay," Ray said, turning to Fraser and smiling. "I think
we've got everything. Let's get started."
* * *
"I have to
admit, Ray," said Fraser as he plugged his new computer into a surge
protector, "in all the time I liaised with the 27th, I never noticed an empty
office on this side of the squad room."
"Yeah, kind of weird, isn't
it?" Ray said, ripping the duct tape off the last of the boxes. "Not a bad
office, though. I thought for a while they were going to make you work out of
the supply closet. There was some talk of letting you have the break room but
that kind of caused a small-scale riot so they had to rethink that one fast.
This one's a little small, but I think it's better than your old office at the
Consulate, especially since you don't have to share it with all the file
boxes." He opened up the box on the desk, and there on top was the rubber
duck. "Don't think I didn't notice that you're not just light-fingered with
office supplies," Ray said with a grin as he flourished the
"You're a fine one to talk, Mr. 'He won't miss a shirt or four,'"
Fraser said, repositioning the duck more to the center.
Ray held out a
sheaf of papers. "Guilty. Here. Put these in your in basket. You'll look
Fraser took them, frowning. "I need to sort them out
"Just do it." Ray said. "Sort them out later."
hesitated for a moment, and then put them in the in-basket. Ray nodded
approvingly. A tap at the door made them both look around to see Harding Welsh
standing in the doorway, his broad, solid presence familiar and
"You've returned, Corporal," he said with exaggerated care.
"Upon reflection, I imagine that pleases me."
Fraser smiled. "It
pleases me too, sir."
Welsh looked sharply at Ray. "What are you doing
here on your day off, Kowalski? Just can't stay away?"
Ray glanced over
at Fraser, then back at his lieutenant. "Just helping Fraser settle in. Um . .
. sir? There's something I think we gotta talk about."
"If it's about
you and the Mountie, I figured that out years ago. Took you guys long enough."
He watched as Ray set the duck on top of Fraser's computer monitor, and shook
his head. "You know, Detective, just because the wolf's a florist doesn't mean
you have to go into interior decorating."
Ray did a double take. "How
do you know about the wolf?"
"I read reports, Kowalski."
do? Jeez. All this time I figured they went straight upstairs and were never
Welsh glared at Ray. "You know, it's not too late to
arrange for a long-term undercover assignment at The One Liner."
Fraser said quietly.
Welsh looked over at him, eyebrows
"Is it going to be a problem?"
"Not unless you make it
"Understood," Fraser said.
Ray nodded. A sudden commotion
outside the office had Welsh turning, opening the door. The bullpen was filled
with milling figures. Welsh scowled.
"Who are all these people in my
Fraser stepped out from behind his desk and looked through
the open door. "Well, sir, there would appear to be a construction worker, a
fireman, a policeman, albeit one from another jurisdiction by the look of the
uniform. A butler, a butterfly collector, an . . . elf?"
"What? We got
a Village People reunion here?" Welsh asked, bemused.
transvestite bride!" Ray said. "Wait. There was never a transvestite bride in
the Village People."
Welsh looked at him. "And you know this how,
"Hey, I was young!" Ray said defensively "And the
construction worker was. . ." He glanced at Fraser and felt his face get warm.
"Um, never mind."
Fraser lifted an eyebrow at him. Ray had a feeling
they were going to have a Discussion later.
A uniformed officer,
dragging what looked like Elvis during the Fat Years, stopped for a moment,
looking harassed. "Sorry, sir. There was one of those 'murder mystery weekend'
things going on at the Millennium Knickerbocker and a fight broke out when the
murderer was revealed to be Mr. Mustard in the library with the poison rather
than Mrs. Teal in the kitchen with the duct tape. We had them all down in
booking and they said they wanted to appeal to a higher
"Send 'em up to records, then," Welsh snapped. "But I want
them out of my squad room."
"Yes, sir!" the uniform said, and continued
his Elvis herding.
"Duct tape?" Fraser murmured, eyebrows lifted.
"We get the Red Green Show down here, too, you know," Ray said.
From outside the office, someone yelled. "It was not Mrs.
"I don't care who killed who with what!" Welsh bellowed. "Just
get 'em out. Now!" He started out the door, and then stopped suddenly and
turned to Fraser, shaking his head. "You know, Corporal, in the two years
since you left, the strangest thing anyone brought into my squad room was a
chocolate chip bagel. You've been back for less than a day, and it's already a
madhouse in here." Welsh paused, then looked surprised. "What, you break your
face or something Fraser?"
Ray turned to find Fraser smiling. . . the
kind of smile he hadn't seen since they'd dug themselves out of the snow after
falling out of a plane. He felt a smile tug at his own mouth as Fraser shook
"No, sir. I'm home."
* * * Finis * *
Feedback to: Beth H and Kellie Matthews
Websites: http://www.mrks.org/~beth-h and http://www.mrks.org/~kellie
1. For those of you looking at us in confusion, Canadian
bannocks are not like Scottish bannocks, which are flat oatcakes. The Canadian
version is more like what is commonly known in the U.S. as 'frybread', and is
often made with the addition of raisins or other dried berries. For a site
with a history of bannock and recipes, go to: http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/kamloops/fnb/FNB.htm