I started writing "Freak" in the summer of 2000 soon after I became interested in dueSouth, but after three months of opening and closing the story file, all I had was a small collection of loosely related scenes. I was given some good comments on those scenes from some of the members of a list I was on at the time. I have a distant memory of Gearbox and Mia, in particular, offering useful feedback (I just hope I took it!), but I'm sure there were others whose input I've since forgotten, and for that, I apologize.

In any case, long before the random scenes I'd written could coalesce into a finished work, an image of Fraser and Kowalski sharing a kiss in the doorway to Ray's kitchen popped into my head, and I started working on "Touch and Go." In the end, that was the story that became my first ever piece of completed fanfiction.

However, even though I put "Freak" aside, I never forgot about it entirely (mostly because CLFinn kept chastising me for abandoning it). Finally - after almost two years - I dragged the story out of mothballs for one last look and decided to finish it.

I want to thank Rowan, Kellie, Sihaya, and Starfish for their insight and thoughtful comments at various stages in the life of this story. Any remaining peculiarities are entirely a result of my own stubbornness.

Needless to say, any recognizable characters remain the property of Alliance and the Pauls.

Christine - for refusing to let me forget about this story, this is for you.

by Beth H.
(c) August 2002

(Rated PG. (mostly because I like typing those initials, for some reason. *g*)


We were walking back to the station after lunch, but as we passed the Golden Dawn Market, Mrs. Wu made a beeline for Fraser and grinned a toothless grin up at him as she handed over a small porcelain bowl. No idea what she said to him, but I'd recognize Fraser's 'Thank you kindly' in any language. Mrs Wu patted him on the arm before hurrying off to take care of a customer inside the shop.

He sniffed at the contents, and a little huff of pleasure escaped his lips. He started to stir whatever it was with his fingers, then pulled something out before offering the bowl to me.

I glanced inside and still had no better idea what I was looking at except - oh, God - something was moving in the bowl.

"Eew! What is that? You can't eat that!" I said, as he proved me wrong by putting some still-wriggling thing into his mouth and beginning to chew.

"I assure you, Ray, grubs are quite safe to eat and not at all unappealing if seasoned properly. In fact, they taste much like . . . ."


Fraser looked blankly for a moment, then gave me a small smile. "I admit they may be something of an acquired taste, but then, so were you. Both can be quite delicious."

"You comparing me to a grub?" I asked, looking again into the bowl.

"Well . . . ."

"You're a freak. You know that, don't you, Fraser?"

Another smile, a big one. "So I've been informed on more than one occasion, Ray."

That grin on his face just knocked me out. I was right in the middle of the kind of sappy, falling-in-love stage I hadn't been anywhere near since junior high, and I was in no hurry for it to end. I just wanted to keep looking at him all the time, keep seeing his smile.

Mrs. Wu came back outside to retrieve the bowl, and his face settled back into the standard polite-Mountie face as he thanked her, but when I looked at him, I kept seeing the after-image of his goofy grin, and, like usual, I had to work hard to keep from grinning like a dope myself.

"Hey, come over here," I said as soon as we were alone. "I got something to show you in this alley."

"What would that be, Ray?" he asked, smiling for real again but not making any move to follow me around the corner of the building.

"Some, uh, lascivious conduct is about to occur."

Fraser raised an eyebrow. "And how do you know such a thing is about to transpire since you cannot . . . . "

"Cop instincts, Benton-buddy. Cop instincts."

"Ah." He nodded, then started to follow me.

"Okay, that's good. I like the sound of that 'ah.' You keep it in mind. It might come in handy for the, um, investigation."

We ducked around the corner. He gave a quick glance down the alley to make sure no one was around, then reached for my shoulders and tugged me toward him as he backed up against the brick wall. "Would you like to conduct the investigation here, Detective," he said, real serious, holding me tight to his chest, "or do you think you'll have to take me in for questioning?"

"Oh, here'll do just fine," I said. "There's nothing I got to do back to the station. Okay, now let's hear an 'ah' from you, Mountie. Open wide.'"

"I see. It's a medical examination you have in mind."

I narrowed my eyes. "You got some objection to playing doctor all of a sudden?"

In answer, Fraser laced his fingers behind the back of my head. No, he didn't have any objections. I braced my hands flat against the brick wall and let him pull me forward. Then our mouths joined, my teeth bumping hard against his teeth.

I didn't come up for air for the next twenty minutes. Seemed that way, anyhow. It always does. It's like maybe I don't need to breathe or something when I'm kissing him because he does my breathing for me. Been like that ever since the not-quite-kiss on the Henry Allen.

It's not technique. Don't get me wrong, he's nothing but good in that department I mean, Fraser doesn't exactly have the longest track record in the world where a sex-life is concerned, but ever since we got together, he's been making up for lost time like a man on a mission.

Still surprises me a little, in fact, the way he just lets himself go with me sometimes. We're talking about a guy who thinks everything through, down to the best way to tie a knot. Just about the only time he doesn't look like he's stopping to plan ahead is when he's going after a perp. Real danger rears its head and - boom, boom, he's there - leaping out of windows, grabbing onto the fenders of speeding cars, facing down armed felons. Doesn't look like there's any stopping to worry about whether he's gonna get hurt when the chase is on. All instinct. No fear.

Right then, though, the only thing he had to be scared of was getting a bad case of beard burn, and the way he was going at it told me he wasn't worrying too much about the risk. Me? Work or no work, I'd probably have been happy with rubbing up against him in the alley for the rest of the day if my cell phone hadn't started vibrating.

"What? I mean, um, Vecchio here." I was panting, like I'd just done a couple laps around Lake Michigan.

"Ray?" Oh, great. Frannie. Was there something I forgot I was supposed to do this afternoon back at the station?

"Hey, Frannie." I rested my head on Fraser's shoulder. "What's up?"

"Lieutenant Welsh wants to know whether you're anywhere near Marty's Diner."

I put my hand over the mouthpiece. "Is Marty's the place here or that other place by the dog place?"

"The place here, Ray," he said, smiling a little - and how good is it to be with someone who doesn't need a phrase book to figure out what I'm saying those times when I'm barely making sense to myself?

"Two blocks away." I gestured to Fraser that we needed to get going, then he and I started to walk toward the street. "What's going on over there?"

"The Lieutenant got a call from Frank Travanti over at the 25th saying it looks like they're facing a hostage situation. They sent a bunch of their own people down there already, but it's all the new guys. Everyone who's been on the force longer than five minutes came down with chicken pox last week, and Travanti wanted to know if we could send someone over."

"Chicken pox?" I asked.

"Yeah. Freak coincidence. None of them got it when they were kids, so now they're all at home, being itchy."

"Weird. Welsh want us to go over and see if we can do anything?"

"Yeah. Call in when you get there, okay?"

By the time we got over to Marty's, the street was already crawling with gawkers, mostly teenagers who looked to be from Daley High School just down the street from the diner. A couple of harassed-looking uniforms were trying to keep the street out front clear, but they didn't seem to be having much luck. WCGO's camera crew and a couple of stringers from the daily papers had already staked out the spots where you usually find the press - close enough to the action to be pains in the ass and get in everyone's way.

When we squeezed through the barricades, it didn't take long to figure out who was running the show. Dolores Rivera was a good foot shorter than most of the fidgety, baby-faced cops that surrounded her, but she still looked as tough and in charge as she did the first day I was put on foot patrol under her eagle eye.

"Hey, Rivera!"

She turned around, scowling, looking to see which of the rookies needed a lesson in manners, but something that I think was supposed to be a smile passed over her face when she saw me. "Ray Ko . . . Vecchio! Long time, no see. Word is, uh . . . you haven't been feeling 'yourself' recently, but you're looking good, hijo. So what the hell you doing here?"

I shrugged. "No idea. Got word from my lieutenant that everybody at the 25th with half a brain was at home scratching themselves."

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, I staged a miraculous recovery."

"I see that," I said, smiling a little. "You want me and my partner to hang around anyway?"

"Sure. You know it's going to be handed over to you, anyway, Mister Bigtime Detective," Rivera said, grinning up at me. "Who you partnered up with these days?"

I pointed at Fraser, who was standing alone in the middle of the street and looking in the direction of the deceptively quiet diner.

"Oh yeah, I heard about the Mountie over at the 27th. Didn't know he was yours, though."

Fraser chose that moment to look back in my direction and nod. I nodded back to him, and he started to walk toward us. Yeah, he was mine, all right, and didn't that just keep feeling greater and greater? When I finally dragged my eyes away from him, Rivera was still standing there, eyebrows raised, waiting for an answer. I cleared my throat, really hoping I wasn't going to start blushing. "Yeah, he's mine. So what's the story? They sending down a negotiating team or something?"

"There's been some talk, yeah, but I think they're waiting for . . . okay, I have no idea what they're waiting for. We're not even sure how many people are in there."

"One young man with a gun, ma'am," said Fraser, as he joined us, "and a group of eight others, comprised of six young people, the cashier, and Mrs. Mitchell, who waits tables on weekday afternoons."

Rivera stared at Fraser for a moment, then turned back to me. "X-ray vision?"

"Nah. Mountie vision. This is my partner, Constable Benton Fraser. Ben, this is Sergeant Dolores Rivera. So did anyone talk to the kid yet?"

"Everyone's talked to him," she said, "but he's not talking back."

"In that case, perhaps we might be able to offer some real assistance. Ray, the young man in question is Gary Dolman."

For a second, I couldn't place the name. Gary Dolman?

"Oh, yeah. Dolman's the bus boy, right? The kid who asked all those questions about wolves a couple weeks ago? Where they lived, how they hunted, how you learned to talk with them?"

Fraser nodded, and Rivera raised her eyebrows, but she didn't say anything about the 'talking with wolves' thing. "So, what's the deal? The kid wants to go work at a zoo or something?"

"No." Fraser glanced back toward the diner. "His questions were rather a means of collecting background information for a role playing game in which he wished to become involved. The character he was intending to create was apparently part wolf."

That got some attention from Rivera. "So maybe the kid's got violent tendencies. Is that what you're saying?"

I looked away for a second, biting back a grin. No way was I getting involved in this. Let Rivera deal with the 'popular misconception' lecture on her own. She's a big girl.

"Actually," Fraser said, narrowing his eyes. "The notion that wolves are particularly violent creatures is a popular misconception. In most cases you'll find they only kill when hungry or - like any other wild animal - if they're feeling trapped or threatened." He looked in my direction, then bit his bottom lip. I thought I'd gotten over the whole 'rolling my eyes at long-winded stories' thing, but maybe I hadn't quite mastered it. "In any case, we've had previous communications with this young man, so perhaps . . . ."

"Yeah." I nodded. "Maybe us doing a little talking might be good."

"You want to talk to him, Ray?" Rivera looked doubtful.

I glanced at Fraser, who gave me a small answering nod. "I could, but I think we got a better chance of getting him to talk back to Fraser."

She stared hard at him for a few seconds, then shrugged. "Okay. Garrison!" she called out. "Get the Mountie here the phone, and give him the number for inside the diner."

Garrison was a smirking, square-headed kid - funny how everybody's starting to look like a kid to me these days - who just screamed 'new guy.' Even his uniform looked shiny, like it was fresh out of the wrapper, but it was really the swagger as he walked - that "I'm bad 'cause I got a gun" thing - that gave him away. Okay, truth? Most rookies don't really have that kind of attitude, but when one does you can spot it a mile off. And yeah, some veterans think that way too and have the same kind of dumb-ass strut, but veteran cops with that attitude usually have jelly donut stains on their uniforms.

Garrison handed the cell to Fraser, then returned to the line of cops keeping watch on the door to the diner. The whole gang of them looked a little edgy, who knows why. Probably most of them hadn't been in a situation like this before. Fraser had, though - we both had, more times than I wanted to think about. He waved off the weapon cover, then moved closer to the diner so that Dolman could see his red jacket and dialed the number he'd been given by Garrison.

"He good?" Rivera asked.

"At talking? Yeah, it's one of his best things."

"I noticed. No, I mean . . . ."

"I know what you meant." Oh, what the hell. There were whole years there when Rivera knew more about me than my mom and Stella combined. "He's . . . good. He's really, really good."

She took her eyes off Marty's front door, then turned to face me. "Sounding a little moony there, Ray." I could feel my face heating up, but she just chuckled and turned back to the diner.

By the looks of things, everything was going okay. Fraser was still talking, which was usually a good sign, and the line of rookies had all settled down a little. Then I started to relax . . . and all hell broke loose.

The first thing I heard was the sound of glass shattering. Loudly. The diner windows were still intact, but I put my hand on the butt of my gun automatically and started heading for the entrance. I'd only taken a step or two, though, when I saw Fraser look behind him and shout 'No!' The next thing I heard was the sound of a weapon discharging - and it wasn't coming from inside the diner. It was coming from Garrison, the trigger-happy jackass. He was firing into the open doorway, and some of the idiots around him were freaking out bad enough from the sound of live gunfire that they were drawing their weapons, too.

Fuck! Rivera started yelling for everyone to cease firing or she was going to start ripping someone's nuts off, and that threat must've got through somehow - even to the women - because almost instantly everything went quiet. Garrison hadn't even lowered his weapon all the way when Fraser took off for the door - with me right behind him, putting in a call for an ambulance just in case.

Ignoring, like always, the fact that he wasn't carrying a gun himself, Fraser pushed through the door and headed straight over to the counter, where the Dolman kid lay curled up on the floor with his right arm wrapped tightly around his side, trying to cover what looked like a couple of messy gunshot wounds. He still had the gun in his hand, but it was dangling kind of uselessly from his fingers. He didn't put up any resistance when Fraser got down on his knees beside him, removed the gun from his hand, and handed it over to me - just curled up into an even smaller ball and began rocking back and forth a little.

Nobody seemed to be hurt except Dolman, as far as I could see. Mrs. Mitchell was shaking a little over by the far wall, and the cashier - Loretta, Lorraine, something like that - was white-knuckling the cash register, but they were the only people who'd been working in the place that afternoon except for the cook, who'd slipped out the back when the whole thing started and called the report in to the 25th. The six teenagers were still huddled together in the big booth up front, but they seemed okay too, if you didn't count the fact that one of the boys and all four girls were looking kind of green.

I turned around when I heard the sound of the ambulance turning onto the street, and the other boy - a big blond kid with Donny Osmond teeth - took that opportunity to slide out of the booth, pick his way across the broken glass and sticky soda that covered the floor, and aim a kick at Dolman's back. However, Fraser reached across and grabbed hold of the toe of his boot before it could actually make contact with Dolman.

"It's understandable that you're frightened and angry at the moment, but you have to let the law handle things from this point on." He waited until he got a resentful nod from the boy before releasing his boot, and by then EMS had arrived and were setting up a stretcher to transfer Dolman so that they could get him over to the hospital.

The paramedics moved the kid outside and loaded him into the back of the St. Xavier ambulance. Fraser came over to stand by the front window with me, and we could see Rivera sending one of the uniforms along for the ride, although not Garrison or any of the other jerks who obviously needed a remedial course in when to draw a weapon and when to keep it holstered. Hurt or not, Dolman was probably going to get charged with something, and somebody had to be at the hospital to keep an eye on things.

After the ambulance took off, Fraser turned to me. "Ray, do you think it would be out of line if I also went over to St. Xavier's and spoke with Gary after he's been seen to by the doctors?"

At first I thought it was a weird question - getting some early questioning in is standard procedure - but then I got it.; every once in a while Fraser remembers that he doesn't really have any official standing with the CPD. Good thing everyone else seems to have forgotten, too, including both our bosses.

I dug into my pockets and handed him the keys to the GTO. "Take the car. I'm going to hang out here for a while and see what I can come up with, and I'll meet you over at the hospital later on."

"Are you certain you won't need your car this afternoon? It might be quite a while before I'm allowed in to speak with him."

"Nah, don't worry. I'm going back to the station when I'm done here, and I'll get someone to run me over to St. X's later. Just give me a call if you decide you don't want to hang around there all day, okay?"

"Certainly, Ray." He looked down at his blood-stained jacket. "I believe I'll stop by the Consulate first to change and see to Diefenbaker, however."

"Yeah, you'd better get him out of there before he gets bored enough to break into the Ice Queen's private cookie stash."

Fraser smiled. "You know, it strikes me that I probably shouldn't have even told you about that."

"You saying I'm less trustworthy than a wolf?"

"Perhaps not less trustworthy, precisely," he said, still smiling. "However, there's often little to choose between the two of you when it comes to the question of controlling your . . . urges."

I took a quick look over at the booth where the kids had started going over what'd gone down with some cop I recognized from the 25th, and once I was sure they weren't paying any attention to either of us, I stepped in front of Fraser and - as inconspicuously as I could manage - pushed back into his groin with my hip. I kept at it for a few seconds until I heard his breath catch and felt him lean against me - which didn't take as long as you might think - then stepped away and turned around. His face was a little flushed and his lips were parted slightly.

'Oh yeah," I whispered. "Way to be an example of 'urge control' there, Ben."

He turned even redder than he'd been a second before, then shook his head. "You're incorrigible, Ray."

"Would you prefer I was 'corrigible?"

He blinked. "Are you positive there's such a word?"

"Yep. Heard it on Discovery the other day and looked it up." Hey, I love that he's so smart but I love it even more when I know something he doesn't. "Go on. Do your ambulance chasing thing, and I'll catch up with you later."

Fraser nodded and started to walk toward the door, turning back just long enough to exchange a look with me that said "I wish I could kiss you goodbye." Or maybe it said "I'll find a way to make you pay for knowing the word 'corrigible' when I didn't." Maybe it meant both; I'm not really sure.

After Fraser headed off in the direction of the 27th to pick up the car, I went over to sort out the jurisdictional stuff with Rivera. No surprises there - she'd been right about this falling into my lap even though the 25th got the original call. Truth? Rivera was going to have more than enough shit to face over the fallout from Wild Bill Garrison's incompetence, and it looked like she was more than happy to hand the case over.

"Come on, Rivera. Admit it," I said, nudging her shoulder. "You just don't want to deal with all hassle of the paperwork, do you?"

"Es un milagro! You actually remembered something I taught you when you first came on the job."

"Yeah, well, I couldn't forget everything. I tried, but . . . ."

She scratched the tip of her nose with her middle finger, then grinned. "You ever learn how to type?"

I snorted. "With two fingers, same as you - but now I got a partner who types a hundred words a minute."

"You shitting me?"


"Lucky you," she said, nodding her head.

"Yeah, lucky me."

I walked back into the diner, so I could talk to the kids. They'd pretty much calmed down by this point - which was good - and Officer Cho let me know they'd already called their parents to come get them. I pulled a chair over and sat down next to their table.

"Hey, guys. I'm Detective Ray Vecchio, and I'd like to ask you a couple questions, if you're good to talk. You doing okay? No one hurt?"

One of the girls tossed her head, then brushed a wisp of copper-colored hair back from her face. "I don't think so, unless you count that geek completely destroying a brand new pair of Prada shoes. Do you have a form so I can file a property damage claim?"

Okay. It didn't look like there was going to be any lasting psychological damage here. "Yeah, we can arrange for that. What I was . . . ."

"I'll need one, too, Detective," said a girl with a honey-blond bob, showing me a small soda stain on the sleeve of her linen jacket. "Honestly, I can't imagine what they were thinking of, letting him work where he'd have to be around normal people. He can't even pick up a glass of Coke from the table without spilling it on someone."

"This is Gary Dolman you're talking about? You know him?"

The head-tosser rolled her eyes. "God, yes. Unfortunately. We've known him for . . . how long, Gina?"

The girl sitting next to her, who was wearing a letter jacket that looked big enough to belong to one of the boys, said, "Forever. I had to sit next to him in fifth grade until I got my mother to write a note saying I needed to be closer to the blackboard. He kept showing me pictures of these alien space crafts he was designing. I think he was an alien."

The other kids laughed, then the not-blond guy leaned forward. "I heard that he's gone nuts. Mr. Beekman said he's on Prozac or something."

Gina nodded. "Which is why I told Wayne not to tr . . . get near him. He always looks like he's going to cry or scream or something.

"Oh, now you're feeling sorry for him, Gina? Maybe you have a little thing for the crazy boy, huh?" Wayne said with a smirk.

"Shut up!" she said, flicking a napkin at him across the table. "I don't have a 'thing' for him. Don't make me puke. But I read, which is more than I can say for you, and I read that you shouldn't risk provoking that kind of person."

I frowned. "You guys know if he has a history of violent behavior? At school or around the neighborhood?"

Wayne laughed. "Does carrying a plastic light saber around in junior high count?"

"He ever hit anybody with it?" I asked.

"No way. He just kept it stuck down his pants for two years straight."

The girl with the copper hair flicked her head again. "I'll bet that's all he ever had down his pants. Look, Detective," she said, after her friends had stopped laughing, "like we already told the other police officer, Gary tripped over Wayne's foot, which was just accidentally in the way when Gary was clearing the table, and the idiot ended up spilling Coke all over me and Pam, probably on purpose. Wayne pushed him out of the way . . . ."

"I barely touched him."

". . . and he made a big deal out of it, then he slipped and fell onto the floor. And okay, we were laughing a little, but you'd think he'd be used to that by now - and besides, it wasn't like we were saying anything to him."

"The next thing we knew," Pam said, "He was screaming something, like, totally unintelligible and he had a gun in his hand."

"Could you tell who he was aiming it at?"

She traded a quick look with Gina. "Oh . . . I'm not really sure. Just sort of waving it around, you know? He could have shot any of us, though. I know that. He's such a freak."

"If we're lucky, maybe next time, the little freak'll shoot himself," Wayne muttered.

Sheer force of habit - and some vague memory that I was supposed to 'serve and protect' - kept me from reaching for my gun. Okay, that's a bunch of crap, but these were exactly the kinds of kids that made me slip into a leather jacket and try to look like a hard ass back when I was in high school, and it would be pressing my luck to talk to them much longer. I've learned to do 'polite,' though, so I thanked them kindly for their time and asked Cho if she'd keep an eye on them until their parents showed up, then I got out of there and headed back to the station.

Met up with the usual chaos and a ton of paperwork from the maybe-not-a-hostage thing, so it was a little late when I got to St. Xavier's to pick up Fraser and Dief. The uniform who'd gone over in the ambulance was planted in a chair outside Gary Dolman's room, but judging by the painful-looking angle of his head, he'd been sacked out for a while now. Dief, though, looked like he'd taken over guard responsibilities when he realized no one else was going to. He woofed softly when he saw me, then went back to sitting alertly outside the hospital room door where I'm sure Fraser had left him.

A bunch of people were milling around in Dolman's room when I glanced in. A nurse had just finished writing something on the chart at the foot of his bed. A couple of older people who were still wearing coats and scarves and who looked right to be the parents were standing stiffly to the left of the bed. Fraser was standing near a chair on the right side, looking pretty fed up under his usual nothing-touches-me expression.

And in the middle of them all, lying in the bed, was Gary Dolman. The kid. I'd seen him a couple times before at the diner, but today was the first time I'd ever paid any real attention to him. He looked pretty small for eighteen, but being in a hospital bed always makes everyone look smaller than they are. He had lank hair, long as kids were wearing it back when I was in school. Puffy, narrowed eyes. Pale skin stretched taut over sharply angled cheekbones. A stain on his cheek. Quiet.

" . . . and then perhaps some counseling would be a good. . . ."

"Listen." I heard the boy's father snap, "I don't know why some Dear Abby impersonator was sent to stick his nose into this, but trust me, you don't know jack shit about my kid."

Mrs Dolman aimed a tight-lipped scowl in the direction of her husband, but it was pretty obvious she wasn't disagreeing with his assessment of Fraser exactly, just pissed off that her husband was raising his voice in public.

Fraser was just taking it, calm like he always does, but for a minute there he looked a little pinched, a little frayed around the edges. Then I looked a little more closely and that look was gone like it'd never been there in the first place. He was back to normal, game-face screwed on tight.

"What I want to know," the father continued, "is whether I'm gonna be expected to pay for this stay at the Hilton or whether your half-assed department is going to pick up the tab. Least they could do after shooting my kid."

"I'm not a member of the Chicago Police Department," Fraser began, "but . . . ."

"You're not a cop? Then could you tell me who the hell you are and why I'm wasting my time talking to you?"

"I first came to Chicago on . . . ." Fraser began, then stopped short as he cocked his ear to the right the way he does sometimes like he's hearing something at a register only dogs and Mounties can hear. "That's not important. What is important, as I'm sure you'd agree, is your son's welfare. This has clearly been a traumatic experience for Gary, and . . . ."

"You want to know what's traumatic? I'll tell you what's traumatic. What's traumatic is knowing that I'm going to have to go into the office tomorrow after everyone's seen my idiot son on the six o'clock news." He turned toward his son. "Just once . . . just once it would be nice if you'd think before you did something. There must be something knocking around in your head other than computer games and a bunch of boring 'little-known facts.' You know why all that crap you're always spouting is 'little known?' It's little known because nobody's interested in it except for you. Don't you get that? Would it kill you to just be normal for once?"

I'd been watching this play out from the hallway, and the whole time the kid had been doing the old stoic routine - almost as good as Fraser - but here his face just kinda crumpled up and he started to cry. And even that might not have been enough to drag me into the room and the middle of this conversation - some of that Mountie politeness had rubbed off on me - but then I looked over at Fraser.

It was weird. For a second there, it seemed like I was seeing a ghost of Dolman's expression super-imposed on Fraser's face. Gone by the time I blinked, but it was enough.

I gave the hall chair a little kick to wake the useless guard and walked into the room, bringing Dief along with me as I did. Flashed my badge as I entered. "Detective Ray Vecchio, Chicago P.D."

"Someone official this time?" the father asked, sneering a little in Fraser's direction.

"Same kind of official as Constable Fraser, like I'm sure he's told you by now."

Fraser began, "I did endeavor to explain that I was speaking with Gary at the behest of the Chicago Police Department, but . . . ."

"Behest!" snorted the father. "What kind of word is that?"

This time I wanted to kick more than the chair, but I didn't. "Perfectly good word. And now I got a behest of my own. Visiting hours are over, everyone get out." Fraser opened his mouth slightly - probably to tell me I wasn't using the word 'behest' properly, which I already knew - but he clamped his mouth shut again as soon as he knew I knew.

Dolman's parents shook off their 'this is all about us' attitudes just long enough to tell their kid they'd see him later. His mother even leaned over to kiss him on the forehead, but he turned his head and didn't say a word until they walked out the door. As soon as they were gone, though, he turned back to Fraser and looked like maybe he wanted to say something, so I left the two of them together and steered his parents down the hall to the cafeteria.

I bought them each a cup of coffee and sat down with them for a few minutes to let them know what was going to happen next. Ordinarily, I don't bother talking to the parents unless the kid's underage, but according to the copy of the school report that Frannie got for me, Dolman had just turned eighteen a month ago and still lived at home, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to try to involve them in the process a little. And I figured that keeping them out of the way while Fraser talked to Dolman wouldn't hurt either.

It wasn't very late when we got back to my apartment that night, but by the time we got there, Fraser was dragging his ass like he'd just finished a three-day stakeout. I told him I was going to make something to eat - some spaghetti maybe - and if he wanted to grab a shower, he should.

I pushed him out of the kitchen as soon as I heard the first words out of him about helping me with dinner, and it was a mark of how wiped he was that he let himself be pushed without offering much of a protest. Dief stayed with me. I'd like to think it had something to do with my natural charm, but it was more likely the chance that he'd get scraps from me while Fraser was out of the room.

From the bedroom, I could hear a drawer - had to be Fraser's drawer - being pulled open, and I smiled. After a few weeks of him having to make do with my clothes whenever he took a shower at my place, Fraser finally gave into the inevitable and started leaving some of his and Dief's stuff here.

Me? If I had any real say in this relationship like I sometimes kidded myself into thinking I had, Fraser would have been living with me by this point. However, this was something I had zip control over.

No question in my mind that Fraser wanted to be with me, but whenever I brought up the living together thing, he pretty much flat out refused to discuss it. Politely, of course, but still wouldn't discuss it. For a while there, I wondered if he was scared of commitment or something (yeah, yeah . . . so I'd been reading Frannie's old magazines in the break room; sue me), but it was pretty clear that he was about as committed to me as anyone could get without having himself permanently fused to my hip, so I really didn't get it. Just another one of those things I was still trying to figure out about him

Anyway, when Fraser's tired, a quick shower is usually all it takes to bring him back to the land of the living, but not that night. He was trying, for my sake I think, but it was pretty obvious that he didn't want to talk, didn't want to eat, probably didn't even want to still be awake.

He ate some, anyway. Like normal, he didn't want to take the chance of hurting my feelings when I was the one who'd done the cooking, but he ran out of steam pretty quickly and just sat there staring glassy-eyed in the direction of his still mostly-full plate.

"You okay, Fraser?"

"Certainly, Ray," he responded automatically and more dully than I could remember him sounding in a long time. Maybe he was more freaked out about Dolman getting hurt than I'd thought. Kind of funny, though. I didn't think he even knew the kid that well.

"Hey," I said, leaning across the table. "You got Benton Fraser in there somewhere? Pale guy? Usually kinda yappy?"

His only reply was a variation on his usual "hmm." Fraser figured out pretty early on that I've got, well, a problem with being ignored, and I think this "hmm" was a half-assed attempt to be responsive even though he was just about totally zoned out by this point.

I snapped my fingers in front of his face a couple times until I finally got a little eye contact going. "I think it's time to call it a night, Frase. What do you think?"

"Sorry, Ray," Fraser said. "I must be more tired than I thought. Come Dief, let's go."

I sat there kinda shell-shocked as Fraser got up and began to put on his jacket. I wasn't the only one who thought he was acting weird, either, because the wolf slunk further under the table and started to whine a little.

"Dief," Fraser said sharply. "Let's go."

Luckily Diefenbaker was in no mood to listen - not that he can listen - anyway, he gave me enough time to snap my jaw back from its "huh? what?" position and speak. "Uh . . . why are you going?"

Fraser turned toward me and wrinkled his brow. "You said . . . you said we should call it a night. I naturally assumed . . . ."

"You assumed I was sending you back to the Consulate? You assumed wrong." I went over and started tugging his leather jacket off his shoulders. "I don't get to kick you out of here even if I want to. Which I don't. As far as I'm concerned, this is your place as much as it's mine."

I tossed the jacket over the back of a chair, and he said hesitantly, "Ray, Dief still needs to go outside, despite his obvious reluctance to comply with my wishes."

"Yeah," I agreed, "but that's not something you have to worry about. Mi casa es su casa . . . your lobo is my lobo. You get into bed. Me, I'll take the fur-face out for a quick tour around the neighborhood." I knelt down and turned Dief's face in my direction. "Come on, Dief - move it or lose it."

Dief yipped once and crawled out from under the table, tail wagging like crazy. Fraser narrowed his eyes at the wolf, then offered a token protest that I shouldn't be the one to have to go outside. Dief, however, seemed more than happy with my plan, judging by the way he butted the back of my legs and then trotted enthusiastically to the door.

Fraser muttered something about 'disloyal animals,' then thanked me quietly and walked off into the bedroom.

When Dief and I returned, I could see that Fraser must've got a burst of energy from somewhere 'cause the dishes were washed and the leftovers from dinner had been put away.

In the bedroom, the light over on what had unofficially turned into 'my side of the bed' was still switched on, but Fraser - over on the other side of the bed - looked pretty much out for the count.

Seeing him like that must've worried Dief, 'cause as soon as the wolf got into the bedroom, he started making little whimpering sounds and looking back at me like he expected me to go fix something.

"Dief," I hissed. "Cut it out. Come on out into the living room and let him sleep."

Amazingly enough, the wolf actually started to head my way when Fraser said, "It's all right, Ray. I seem to be having some difficulty falling asleep tonight."

"You want me to . . . um . . . give you a 'hand' with that problem?" I asked, trying for a Groucho Marx leer.

Fraser laughed a little at that. Well, maybe not really a laugh - more like a chuckle. Whatever it was, though, it was kind of encouraging.

Except I could tell things still weren't cool with him, and as usual, he wasn't talking about it.

One thing about Fraser - even now - is that he's hard work, especially when it comes to the relating side of the relationship. Me, I'm more of a spill-it-all kind of guy, or at least I am when anyone wants to listen. Which isn't all that often. Or at least, it didn't used to be. Fraser, though . . . it's like his feelings got stuck in a bear trap somewhere along the line, and sometimes the only way he can figure out how to get free is by chewing his own leg off, metaphorically speaking. He'll do it - he'll talk - but it's kind of painful. I get that about him. I get that, for Fraser, saying how he's feeling is a struggle, maybe almost as bad as shutting up about my feelings is for me. But it doesn't mean I gotta like his not-talking thing, and that's something that he gets.

We ended up with a sort of compromise position - Fraser nibbles at the edges of his feelings, trying to free himself up that way, and I kind of root around the area seeing if anyone left a key that'll just spring the lock all at once. Not having much luck with that, but it's paying off a little.

That night, though, I figured talking could wait. Any nibbling I was going to do was going to be on his skin. I crawled under the covers and reached over, tugging at his arm a little until he rolled over onto his stomach, then I began to rub gently along the base of his spine. He sighed - and I started counting.

I'd gotten pretty good at estimating how long it would take from Fraser's first real response when he's all shut down and quiet to the moment he just gives in - that point where he's all mine, no walls, nothing held back. The wide-open stage doesn't last too long, but at least the lead-in time's getting shorter by the week. Lately, it'd been somewhere around ten, maybe twelve seconds from the first sigh. Today, though, it was anybody's guess.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six . . . .

Fraser curled in toward me and cupped my chin in his hand. Six seconds. Wow.

"You ready to talk yet?" I asked quietly.

He shrugged - as much as it's possible for someone to shrug when he doesn't really shrug. "It's nothing, Ray."

Uh huh. And I'm Italian.

"Okay, you want to talk about 'nothing,' then?"

In answer, he sighed again, then leaned in and licked my chin before settling back on the pillow. Sometimes, I wonder whether he got his romancing moves from Dief.

"It's just . . . I've been thinking about Gary Dolman. Or rather, about the Dolman family."

It was getting crowded in this bed. I shifted closer to Fraser to make room for Dolman and his parents, and made an encouraging 'keep talking' sound.

"I may have misunderstood some of the nuances of the family dynamic, but . . . his parents didn't seem terribly concerned about his state of mind, did they?"

I snorted. "No, they did not."

"Of course, it's possible that they were, understandably, in a state of shock that their son was injured, but . . . ."

"Ben, I don't think the way they were acting had much to do with him getting shot. You heard what the dad said; he's more worried about the people at work talking about his son the freak."

Fraser nodded, then closed his eyes long enough that I thought he might have fallen asleep.

"Ray," he said, his voice sounding oddly hoarse. "Gary wasn't aiming the gun at any of his classmates."

I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him tightly against my chest. "He wasn't, huh? He tell you that while I was out of the room?"

"He just kept whispering 'I wanted it to stop.' Over and over again: 'I wanted it to stop.' I believe . . . I believe he was considering taking his own life, Ray."

"And you didn't think to mention this before?" I pulled back from him and propped myself up on one elbow. "Shit, Ben, you know you can't keep stuff like this to yourself!"

"I didn't, Ray," he said, looking appalled. "I shared my concerns with Doctor Nichols. She assured me that he'd be closely monitored and that she'd schedule a psychiatric evaluation for Gary with Brian Tennyson."

I stared hard at him for a moment, then nodded. "Okay, that's good. That's good." I lay back down on the pillow. "You still should have told me about this earlier, you know."

"I wasn't sure if . . . ."

"Doesn't matter if you're sure or not. You know that. It's not . . . ."

"Buddies?" he asked, a small tentative smile on his face.

"Yeah, smart ass." I wiped the scowl off my face and smiled back at him. "Cuteness isn't getting you off the hook, either. You know that, don't you?"

He rolled his eyes - probably at the idea of his using 'cuteness' for anything - then glanced over to the foot of the dresser. "It seems to work with Diefenbaker."


He sighed. "I know, Ray. It's just . . . well, I recognize I often come across as rather over-zealous in my championing of . . . ."

"Lost causes? Underdogs? Freaks?"

I'd reeled off the list as a joke, but when his only response was a quiet 'mmm,'' I sighed. "Look, I know you've got that obsessive protect-the-downtrodden gene in your DNA, and that's cool, but . . . ."

"It . . . it doesn't annoy you?"

I looked at Fraser in disbelief. "You really think you'd be with me if it did?"

"Well," he began slowly, "I suppose I imagined you were just trying to overlook some of my . . . "

"No, no, no . . . I meant no way would you be with someone who didn't get that about you, not if you were in your right mind, anyway. Which you mostly are. Look, all I'm saying is that if you want to help everyone, even hostage-taking weirdos, that's great. Just don't keep me in the dark about what's going on in that crazy-ass head of yours, okay?"

He nodded in agreement, then gave my bottom lip one last lick before rubbing his cheek against mine and wrapping his arms around my waist. The nod probably meant, 'Not until next time,' but what can you do?

I was woken at six the next morning by a phone call from Turnbull. I handed the phone over to Fraser right about the time Turnbull started shrieking "apres moi, le deluge!" It was a little too early for me to understand him even if he'd been speaking English, let alone deal with him getting hysterical in French.

Fraser slid out from under the covers and tucked the telephone under his chin so that he could dress and continue his conversation at the same time. "Yes. Yes. No. Yes. No, don't turn on the electric space heater. Yes. Yes. The phone number for AAA Plumbing is in my rolodex. No. Under the A's, Turnbull. Yes, I'm quite certain you won't be cashiered out of the RCMP. It could happen to anyone. No, that's quite all right."

When Fraser sat down on the edge of the bed to tie his boot laces, I crawled over next to him and rested my head on his thigh. He looked down at me and shook his head when he saw me grinning. "No, Turnbull, you were quite right to phone. Detective Kowalski? No, I'm sure he's not unduly aggrieved for being woken at such an early hour. Yes. I will. Okay. I will. Right. Right. Okay. See you soon."

He finally succeeded in hanging up the phone. "That man is a menace."

"What happened?"

"You really don't want to know. Suffice it to say that's the last time Turnbull will ever attempt to re-adjust a recalcitrant pipe with a sledge hammer."

"He didn't."

"Oh, indeed he did. Apparently the resulting flood has started to spill out the front door of the Consulate. I need to get over there right away."

"What about your stuff?"

"In my office?" I nodded. "To be honest, Ray, I've been trying to remember whether any of my belongings might have been in the path of the water, and it occurs to me that I may very well have almost everything of a personal nature here in your apartment."

"See what a good idea moving in here would be? Your stuff would be safe from floods and other acts of God."

"I hardly think Constable Turnbull qualifies as even a minor deity, although today he bears a passing resemblance to the God of Chaos."

"You know what I mean."

He inclined his head. "I do." He stood up. "Ray, I need to go before the entire Consulate is washed away."

"Yeah, yeah. Go, already. You want to take the car again?"

"I couldn't do . . . ."

"You could. You can. Take it, okay?" I crawled out of bed with the blanket wrapped around me and walked him toward the door. "I'll call Jack and see if he can swing by and pick me up on his way into the station. Bring the car on over after the mopping-up's been sorted out."

"Of course. Would you . . . would you mind if I stopped by St. Xavier's first?"

"Still thinking about that kid, huh? Yeah, no problem. I'm going to drop by his high school today, then I'm going to go talk with Marty Zabrinskie."

He took off, and I stumbled into the bathroom to see if a shower could wake me up. I smiled when I saw Fraser had left his shaving stuff drying on the edge of the sink. It looked good there. Weird, but good.

I spent most of the day in a pool car, wondering if the Dolman case had a chance in hell of being sorted out before being turned into more of a circus than it had already become. The radio stations were leading every news break with stories about the shooting and the need for tighter hiring practices in the CPD, followed by slapped-together features about the hidden psychological dangers of playing computer games and experts talking about modern youth 'running amok,' while the t.v. news guys kept trying to maneuver their way into the diner. I don't know what the hell they were looking for - maybe some colorful shots of the kid's blood on the floor to lead the evening news.

By 4:00 p.m., I wasn't sure I knew what I was looking for either. I hated working the kind of case with no bad guy to chase down. Fraser always says that part of being a good detective is having the ability to take on the role of a psychologist, and, yeah, that's probably true when it comes to motivations and shit, but If I'd wanted to spend all my time figuring out why people did the dumb-ass things they did, I'd have gone back to school and become a shrink.

And it wasn't like anybody I talked to all day had a clue about why Dolman did what he did. Marty Zabrinskie was easy, if useless, since he'd been out of town and couldn't give me any information at all except to tell me that he hoped the kid was going to be okay and that he wanted me to know that the gun Gary had taken from behind the counter was registered. The principal at Dolman's school - a squinty-eyed, older guy whose hair looked like it had a charter membership in the Don King Fan Club - brought me into his office and talked for twenty minutes until he brought up something about 'the boy's contributions to the football team,' and I realized that he didn't know who the hell Dolman was. Talking to the kids at the school didn't help much, either, since just about all any of them could say about him was that he was weird.

By the time I got back to the 2-7, all I wanted was to not hear Dolman's name mentioned for an hour or so, but there was no chance of that happening. My desk was covered with phone messages from the Commissioner's office on down, asking me to call at 'my earliest convenience' and bring them up to speed on the case. I was just about to return the call to the State's Attorney's office when Fraser walked in, and I hung up the phone in relief.

"Hey, you're here." I stretched my leg out and pulled Schwartz's chair over to my desk so Fraser could sit. "How did the day go? The Consulate back to normal?"

He raised his eyebrows. "About as normal as it's ever been, which is to say . . . ."

"Which is to say 'not at all,' huh?"

Fraser nodded. "However, the building is dry once again, and it appears to have suffered no permanent water damage."

"What about Turnbull?"

"Ah, Turnbull." Fraser squeezed the bridge of his nose before answering. "Turnbull spent four hours wringing his hands and apologizing for the incident to anyone within earshot, including Dinah Washington, who delivers the morning post. When Inspector Thatcher finally walked in the door following her breakfast meeting with the Peruvian trade delegation, however, he turned his attentions to her, affording Diefenbaker and me the opportunity to . . . "

"You guys made a run for it, didn't you?" I laughed.

"I'm afraid we did. I hope you don't mind, but I took Diefenbaker over to your apartment before I went to St. Xavier's."

"You reminded him about the turtle rules?"

"Ray, he . . . yes, I reminded him about the turtle rules."

"That's okay then. So, anything new with the kid?"

"By the time I arrived, Dr. Tennyson had already conducted a rather lengthy psychiatric evaluation, and from my later discussion with Gary, I gather there's more to come. However, Dr. Tennyson informed me that he'd already been asked to furnish his preliminary findings to a number of interested parties, including the State's Attorney's office."

I leaned back in the chair and rubbed my forehead. "Someone's going to make this case go away, Fraser. They're going to make like this never happened."

He nodded. "You're probably right. I suspect it's become . . . inconvenient to have the shooting of a young man by an ill-prepared police officer being scrutinized so closely by the media in an election year."

"And so I ask myself what the hell was I doing driving around town all day in a crappy CPD-issue Ford and talking to a bunch of fucking morons if this is just going to disappear?"

"You were doing your job, Ray.

"Yeah, yeah . . . I know. I know the 'make it possible for good people to tuck their kids in at night' speech by heart. Look, I've got to check in with Forensics on the Malcolm shooting. You okay to hang out here for a while before we leave?"

He looked at the piles of papers cluttering my desk. "Take as long as you need, Ray. I'm sure I can find something to occupy my time until you get back."

I slid my hand casually along the length of his thigh as I stood up. "Okay, good. I'll try to be fast."

Fifteen minutes later, I was done and more than ready to head on home. Just a couple more phone calls to go and I'd be sprung. I walked back into the squad room to find Maeve Reilly - NFL notebook in hand - leaning against Ken Harper's file cabinet.

"Hey, Vecchio!" she said as soon as she saw me. "You want in on this week's pool?"

"The Bears game? Yeah, okay, put me down for four. How much is . . . "

Oh, yeah. Good move, Kowalski. Place a bet in front of your lieutenant while you're on duty. How about tomorrow you set up a roulette wheel in the Commissioner's office? Shit.

"Um . . . how much did I . . . um . . . borrow from you last week?"

She followed my glance until she saw Welsh standing in the doorway, then looked back at me apologetically. "I . . . I lent you twenty bucks."

I handed over the twenty as Welsh came over, shaking his head.

"Just paying off debts, Lieu."

"So I see. Lot of that going on today. Miss Reilly, you want to remind me how much you lent me last week."

Oh, okay. Welsh, too. Looked like I wasn't the only one around here who knew the importance of Monday Night Football.

"Forty dollars, sir."

He reached into his wallet and pulled out some bills, then handed the money over to Reilly and looked in the direction of my desk. "Does the Constable also owe you money?"

Reilly looked over toward Fraser, who was sitting in my chair, trying to look interested in something Dewey was saying to him.

"Fraser?" she squeaked. "You're kidding, right?"

She stared in open disbelief long enough that Welsh almost cracked a smile for a second. "Don't you have something to do that's more important than standing here mocking the questions of your elders, Miss Reilly?"

"Now what could possibly be more important than basking in your aura, Lieutenant?" she said with a fake southern accent and fluttering her eyelashes.

I walked away, shaking my head. Huey and Dewey had been talking lately about wanting to open a comedy club, but they didn't have to bother. This place was already full of comedians. I started to head toward the break room to grab the last of the coffee, but Frannie intercepted me before I got halfway there.

"Ray? You might want to get back to your desk."

I looked over. Now that I was paying attention, I could hear Dewey ragging on Fraser about his second visit to the hospital.

"Thanks, Frannie."

"No problem, Bro."

" . . . you bored? You want to do community outreach? I hear Warfield's looking for a penpal."

Fraser didn't react to what Dewey was saying, but that didn't mean it wasn't pissing him off. I swear, Dewey is such a dumb fuck. If I didn't think it'd make it worse, I'd pop him one right now, just for bringing up Warfield. I'd been wanting to punch something most of the afternoon, and he was as good a target as any.

Still talking. Doesn't he ever shut up?

"Hey! That wasn't bad. Penitentiary. Pen. Penpal. Yeah, there's something there." Mr. Language started rooting through his desk drawer. "Anybody got something I can write this down with before it's gone forever?"

"Like that would be such a loss to humanity," sniffed Frannie just to my left and holding out a pink marker.

"What's this? Aw . . . how sweet! It's a Hello Kitty pen!"

"You complaining?" Frannie snapped, "It writes, doesn't it? I'll keep it if you . . . ."

"Nah, Frannie. Come on," he said, getting up from his chair and reaching out for the marker. "And Vecchio? If you ask me, Dolman should be locked up permanently."

"Yeah, well, nobody's asking you."

"Touchy, touchy. What is he, your son or something?"

"What are you, stupid or something?"

"Ray!" Huey called from across the room. "A call from the State's Attorney's office about your diner case just got transferred to my phone by accident. It looks like there's not going to be a trial. They're packing Dolman off to Tate for six to nine months instead."

Fraser looked pleased "This is actually the best result we could have hoped for. In my experience, Tate's one of the few local mental health facilities with a good reputation for counseling troubled youth. Gary should do well there."

Dewey looked up from reading the file he'd snatched off my desk. "Know a lot about nuthouses, huh?"

"Actually, I do have a certain amount of personal familiarity with some of the area institutions."

"Yeah, I'll bet you do," Dewey muttered.

How did Huey work with this jerk? "Case related, dickwad."

"Whatever. You know, this isn't the first time your little boy's been naughty." He took a handful of reports out of the file and started waving them around. "Interesting reading here. A couple years ago, he got picked up for trying to break into the Museum of Science and Industry. Said he'd always wanted to sleep in the submarine. And last year? He . . . ."

Okay, I'd definitely heard just about all I wanted to about this case. "Yeah, well, the kid's a freak. Come on, Fraser, let's hit the road."

I was halfway to the door before I noticed Fraser wasn't following me. I turned back and saw him still sitting at my desk. "Hey, you coming?"

My words must've lit a fire under him 'cause he started to rise from the chair, but the look on his face - lips pursed and eyes narrowed - let's just say I never liked seeing that particular look on him, especially not when it's pointing my way.

"What? What's up?" I asked as he neared, but he just walked past me and pushed his way through the door without looking back. "Fraser?"

I hustled out the door after him and tugged on his elbow, stopping him in his tracks. "Ben? Come on . . . what's the matter?"

"Gary Dolman's a 'freak,' Ray?"


" A freak. You're familiar with the term, aren't you? I've heard it directed at me often enough."

Okay, this was weird. How did we get from wrapping up a case and heading home to Fraser being pissed at me so quickly?

"What does one thing have to do with the other?"

"A great deal, I'm beginning to imagine," he said, raising his eyebrows and using that snippy tone of voice he gets sometimes - the one that makes me feel like I'm back in junior high and about to be crammed into my locker by the captain of the cheerleading squad.

"What's up with you? If something's pissing you off about this Dolman thing, okay, but don't take it out on me."

He looked away and said something under his breath. I tugged at his arm. "What did you say?"

"'Partners means sharing,' my ass," he muttered. "Never mind, Ray. I'm sure you wouldn't understand."

Okay, I had to get out of there before I did something stupid.

"Freak," I grumbled as I pushed my way past him.

Then he pushed back at me from behind, and I almost fell flat on my face. I turned around and glared at him, halfway between being glad I didn't have my glasses on so that I couldn't make out the faces staring at us in the hallway and being self-righteously indignant. Indignation won.

"What the hell is your problem? You spoiling for a fight, Fraser? 'Cause I'm good to go if that's what you're looking for."

A hand clamped down on my shoulder. Welsh, again. Damn.

"Gentlemen - and I use that term advisedly - do you need a visit to the principal's office?"

"Forgive me, Lieutenant. I was just . . . ."

"Can it, Constable."

Ha! Goodie two-shoes Mountie's in trouble. I could feel my lips start to curl up at the corners when . . . ow! . . . Welsh tightened his grip on my shoulder.

"I'm not hearing an answer from you, Detective."

"No," I mumbled. "No principal's office . . . sir."

"Good, good. That's what I like to hear. Now would you two be so kind as to take whatever this is out of my station?" Welsh turned and walked away.

Took awhile for us to get into gear. Okay, we'd stopped sniping at each other, but both of us seemed to be stuck in neutral. I glanced over at him, but he was looking down like the tiles on the floor had suddenly got real interesting. I gotta tell you, worse than knowing that half the people in the station were still staring at me was knowing Fraser wasn't anymore. It sucks when he won't look at me. Totally sucks.

I knew he was upset.

Hell, I knew he was upset before I challenged him to a duel or whatever dumb-ass thing I did just before Welsh shut us up - and that the Dolman thing figured into it somehow. When we finally made a move for the exit, I was pretty sure he'd take off by himself as soon as we got out to the street. Shows how much I knew.

We got out the front door and . . . stopped. Just stood there, the both of us, barely noticing the people going in and out of the station around us. Finally, Fraser took a deep breath and nudged his hip into mine. "Car, Ray."

We walked around the corner into the parking lot, the wind whipping trash into little twisters on either side of us. We were both . . . well, I think we were both still pissed off, but we were walking close like we always did, close enough to bump shoulders, elbows, knees. Not talking though. Not yet.

Not when we got into the GTO either. Radio came to life like always when I switched on the ignition: Costello before he turned into Burt Bacharach. "Watching the Detectives." Always liked that song, but . . . whatever. I turned the radio off again.

I sat there thinking that maybe I should apologize, but I couldn't - not when I didn't really know what I'd be apologizing for. And I was still feeling kind of angry - not that I knew what I was angry about, either. And yeah, I was feeling dumb for having turned off the radio. No way I could beat Fraser in a 'who can shut up longer' contest. The longer Fraser didn't talk, the madder I got. And the dumber I felt.

Feeling dumb and getting mad: story of my life.

This was going nowhere. I reached out to put the car into gear, when Fraser spoke. "I'm sorry, Ray." I'd finally beat him in a battle of silence. Wondered why I didn't feel better about that.

I glanced over at Fraser, real quickly. He'd already buckled his seatbelt. It must be an automatic Mountie reflex - ignition on, belt on. I still couldn't figure out what to say, though . . . couldn't even figure out what had happened.

The talking and thinking parts of me might have shut down temporarily, but the part of my brain that's in charge of wanting to touch Fraser never seems to go on strike. I forced myself to relax and let my right hand go where it wanted to, and it sort of slid over to the passenger seat until the back of my fingers pushed up against Fraser's thigh. Kind of a ninth grade dating move on my part, but it worked good enough. Next thing I knew, Fraser was squeezing my hand - hard - and making these weird little throat-clearing sounds that actually mean he wants to do anything but speak.

We drove home in silence, then made a half-assed attempt to eat dinner . . . still in near silence. By the time the dishes were washed and put away, I was getting pretty sick of the sound of my own breathing.

I'd tried talking, I'd tried ignoring the whole thing until Fraser was ready to start talking, and now I was about to give a try to tying him to a chair and shining a light in his face until he cracked. I had to get him to say what'd put him into such a snit. But before I could haul out the chair, the rope, and the flashlight, Fraser carried his boots over to the couch and started putting them on.

"I'm sorry, Ray. Sorry both for being such poor company tonight and for taking out my frustrations on you earlier today at the station. It's probably better that I go back to the Consulate."

I got up from the chair and tried to stare him down, but it was a little hard to do since he wasn't looking at me . . . again.


Okay, obviously I had to take this non-existent discussion to a more sophisticated level, so I went over and kicked his remaining boot across the room.

"What are you doing, Ray?"

"Do not do this, Frase," I said angrily. "Do not do this . . . this thing you're doing. You see? This is what I keep talking about. This is why we should be living together."

He looked up, meeting my glare with a blank look. "Why, Ray? So you can have more opportunities to kick my footwear?"

"No, that is not what I meant, and you damn well know it!" I still wanted to kick something - preferably something that would demonstrate a little reaction - but I settled for kicking the front of my couch.


I got a sympathetic wince from Fraser as I limped around behind the back of the couch. Only when I was sure he couldn't see me anymore, I let myself silently mouth the universal facial sign for "Fuck! That hurt!"

"Are you all right?" he asked quietly.

"You care?" Challenging. Maybe a little defensive. Okay, a lot defensive.

"Of course I care," he answered, a mixture of surprise and exasperation in his voice.

"Then act like it, for God's sake," I said, climbing over the couch and wedging myself in between Fraser and the back cushions. "Act like it!"

"I don't understand what . . . ."

"That is such bullshit, Fraser!" My frustration was plain in my voice, even to my own ears. "You know, if we did live together, you couldn't do this running away and not talking thing you do."

"I do not run away from things," Fraser said indignantly, but it was almost funny the way I could feel his body immediately tense in preparation to get up and take off. Almost funny.

Uncurling from the cramped position I'd crawled into behind him, I straightened my legs - one on each side of his hips - and wrapped them around his waist before he could make another move. "Good. That's good. You don't run away." I tightened my legs even more firmly around him. "You're not running away."

We sat there together for a while, still not talking. The minutes passed and I could feel some of the tension easing out of Fraser's body.

Finally he spoke. "I am familiar with the NFL, you know."

Okay, I was officially confused. "Frase, is that one of those nonsensicals?"

Fraser twisted his head a little. "A nonsensical what?"

"What you just said. One of those statement things that come out of nowhere."

"Do you mean a non sequitur, Ray?"

"Yeah. That. A non sequitur."

Fraser leaned back against me and sighed. "No. Not really." I waited until he continued. "Did Maeve Reilly ask if you wanted to participate in the football betting pool?"

"Yeah, sure. Why?" I let my hand slip underneath Fraser's henley and start to rub his belly. The guy's in great shape; what little softness there is to him is all centered there in his belly. Soft center. Of course, after a few seconds, my fingers started to creep down under his waistband toward the warmth of his . . .

"Stop it, Ray." Fraser tensed up and leaned forward, his hand clamped firmly around my wrist.

"Sorry." I was, too. It looked like maybe he finally wanted to talk about whatever was bugging him, which I'd been trying to get him to do all night, and what was I thinking about, instead? How good it would feel to wrap my hand around his cock. Not that this wasn't a good thing to think about most of the time, but--

"Sorry. I'm just . . . sorry. Come here, okay?" I tugged at him a little until he let the back of his head drop against my shoulder. I rubbed his head for a while, curling his hair around my fingers until he finally started to relax again. "Why'd you ask about the football pool?" I prompted.

He sighed. "Perhaps I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, but . . . it would have been nice to have been asked. Just once."

I frowned. "You telling me you care what happens with the Bears all of a sudden?"

"No, not precisely."

"Then what . . . ."

"I'm not sure I can explain it to you, Ray." He was still sounding pretty damned snippy, but there was no way I was going to let this go now.

"Try it. Come on. Tell me what's going on in your head."

He shifted in my arms, not trying to get away this time, but I could tell he wasn't really comfortable, either. "I've had cause to wonder these past few days just how many catalysts there are which might result in someone holding a roomful of diners hostage. A spilled drink and the ensuing laughter appears to have been sufficient in Gary's case."

"Yeah, okay, but that wasn't a normal situation. You take a look at those little shits he goes to school with and those fucked-up parents of his, and you've got to figure he'd been heading in that direction for a while. Most people don't flip out like that so easily."

"No, as you say, it's usually something that builds over time. I think it's clear that in Gary's case, years of being made to feel like an outsider - a 'freak,' as you put it - helped push him over the edge." He brought his hand up to rub his eyebrow. "Ray, I know you've been frustrated by my reluctance to discuss our sharing an apartment on a permanent basis, but I don't believe you understand to what extent you'll be seen as . . . a 'freak' if we make our relationship official. I worry about . . . ."

"For Christ's sake, Ben. I thought we'd gotten past you thinking you can make my decisions for me."

"It's not just your decision, Ray."

"No. No, it's not. And if what you're really saying is that you don't want to move in with me for some reason, that's okay. I mean, I won't be happy about it and I'll probably keep nagging at you to change your mind, but it's your right. You don't even have to have a good reason. Hey, you don't like the color of the paint in my apartment, that's good enough."

Fraser's lips drew up, probably against his will, into a half smile. "I had been thinking about red."

"When aren't you?" Once a Mountie, always a Mountie. "And stop trying to change the subject. The point is, don't kid yourself into thinking this is okay. I love you, but it's not okay for you to think you can decide what's best for me or what I want."

"But what if you don't understand all the . . . ."

"What is it you think I don't understand about this?"

"About how you'll be seen by your colleagues, for one thing. Ray, you have no idea how much it can . . . ." Fraser stopped abruptly and turned his head away.


No answer. Just the edge of a tightly clenched jaw and shallow breaths. Not good.

"How much it can what?" I asked slowly.

He turned toward me, his eyes suspiciously bright.

"How much it can what, Ben?"

"How much it can hurt." And then it was like a dam burst open and words were coming from Fraser that sure as hell didn't have anything to do with apartment hunting. "Do you have any idea what it's like to go through life being seen as a freak? Do you think I don't hear what people say about me, even when they're making some kind of Herculean effort to be polite and not say I'm a freak to my face?"

Okay, so this wasn't about Fraser wanting to make my decisions for me or thinking he knew better than I did at all. I tightened my arms around his chest. "Yeah, I know it's been hard for you here, Fraser."

"You think this is about Chicago, that this is something new?" He laughed bitterly. "I've heard these sorts of things my whole life, Ray. My hearing has always been excellent. The one white child growing up on the edge of tightly-knit Native communities. A boy who spent most of his childhood in the company of elderly grandparents. A man whose work ethics were instilled by the example of a father who was himself a walking anachronism, out of step with his own generation. My father never cared about being out of step - I'm not sure he even noticed that he was - but I did. I did, Ray. I've spent a lifetime . . . a lifetime wanting to know what it's like not to be different, and I never have. Not once."

Okay, looked like this was one of those big leg-chewing moments. I didn't really know what to say, though, so I settled for rubbing his chest a little with my hand. "It sounds . . . lonely, Ben."

He laughed sharply. "Not a bad word for it - lonely. Ray, I know that when you call me a freak, it's said in jest, and I generally take it as such, but sometimes it's not as easy to shrug off because . . . because that's what I've always felt myself to be. And your use of that word to describe Gary this afternoon . . . I just . . ."

I'd never been so sorry in my life that I'd ever picked up the habit of using that word. I reached for Fraser's hand, wanting to apologize somehow, but he just stiffened and shook his head.

"I was angry, Ray. Not with you. I swear I wasn't angry with you. Not really. But I'd been . . . there's been an undercurrent of anger in me as long as I can remember. Anger about being viewed as an oddity. Anger about being expected to pretend it doesn't touch me. That it doesn't hurt sometimes. I try not to show it, but . . . ."


He turned around to face me, white as a sheet. "Do you think this might be why I've been so hesitant to carry a gun while I've been in Chicago? It's obvious I could have arranged a permit for myself if I'd been so inclined, but I never have. Perhaps I knew on some level that if I were to have a readily accessible weapon, I'd find it too easy to let my anger get the better of me and do something as foolish as Gary did the other day. Something irrevocable. Could an incident as trivial, for example, as my not being welcome to join in with a group activity which apparently everyone else has been invited to join be sufficient cause for me to . . . lash out in the way he did?"

Did he really believe this?

"You're not Gary Dolman, Ben," I said quietly.

"I know I'm not," he snapped, frustration plain in his voice. "But . . . Ray? Talking to him these past few days made me realize that there isn't really that great a difference between him and me. We're both . . . ."

"Not a chance, Ben. I feel for the kid. I kind of get what made him do it. But there's no way you'd ever do something like that."

"How do you know? How do you know? How can you be so sure?"

"Because I know you. You're my partner. And you're my friend."

Fraser bent his head down, then looked up at me with a pained expression in his eyes, but he followed the script we'd been rehearsing for a year. "Was . . . was that hard to say?"

"Not in the least." I looked him straight in the eyes. Hard. How the hell many times had we replayed this same conversation, trading off roles every time we did it? How many times were we going to have to? Probably until both of us really got it through our heads that maybe we'd both found someone who knew us better than we knew ourselves. I reached out for him again, and this time he leaned in and relaxed a little against me.

He took my arm and wrapped it tightly around his chest. "Ray," he said after a moment. "I don't want you to have to go through the rest of your life with people thinking you're a freak as well."

"You mean because we're living together?" He nodded, and I shook my head. "You are such a dope sometimes, you know? Let me clue you in on something. First of all, they already think I'm a freak, and the feeling's mutual. Second, I'd bet you anything that half the squad's already pretty much guessed we're a couple. They're detectives, for God's sake. And before you say you don't bet, let me just remind you that this isn't news to me, and it's not news to anyone down at the 2-7. That's why Reilly didn't ask you if you wanted in on the football pool. That's the only reason."

He shook his head. 'But . . . ."

"Ben, look," I said. "Yeah, you're a freak, the kid's a freak, I'm a fucking freak. Okay? Everyone's a freak. Did you know that Schwartz has a complete set of Star Trek action figures in his bottom drawer and that they're all posed doing unmentionable things to each other? Or that Tsu down in Records collects eyelashes in a baby-food jar? And Huey? Every Monday he comes to work wearing a silver-fringed thong under those fancy suits of his."

Fraser raised his eyebrows.

"Do not ask me how I know this. The point is, I don't think you've got a lock on the 'freak' title."

Even in the dim light of the living room, I could see his eyes were red-rimmed, but he smiled.

"I love you," he said. "You do know that, don't you?"

"I know, Ben. I know. I love you, too."

Fraser took a deep breath. "Ray, if you really think it wouldn't cause any . . . true difficulties for you at work, I think I'd like to discuss our moving in together. Unless . . . unless the events of tonight have convinced you that you don't want to live with an insane man, which would be perfectly understandable, of course."

I snorted. "Nah, I haven't changed my mind. The fact that you're a little nuts hadn't exactly escaped my attention before today." Then I tightened my hold on him, and he curled into me, and we sat together in silence for a long time.

I knew that this wasn't going to be the end of the discussion, but maybe I'd stumbled over that key to getting Fraser opened up that I'd been looking for. I didn't care how long it took to get him all the way out. He was worth it.

We were worth it.

I felt myself starting to drift off, and I could tell he was half gone, too. It would probably be a smart idea to move to the bedroom, but it was just way too comfortable there on the couch. Maybe just another few minutes.

Right before I fell asleep, I remembered what I'd wanted to say to him.


"Hmm?" he murmured.

"I'm not letting you paint the apartment red."


* * * * *

Chit chat, Critiques, Gratuitous Praise: Beth H

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