Disclaimer: You still need to ask? They belong to Alliance and the Pauls - and to each other.

Many thanks to Sihaya Black for endless encouragement, Kellie Matthews for asking the right questions, and AuKestrel for knowing the answers. I love you guys.

(This story is set post-CotW. Consider this a blanket spoiler warning for the whole series)


Q & A
by Beth H.
(c) May 2002


Monday 3:45 p.m.

If the gleeful look on her face was anything to go by, whatever Frannie had just read in the latest office memo couldn't be a good thing. Ray tried to ignore her, but when she sat down on top of the file he was working on with Fraser and started fanning herself with the piece of paper, he gave up.

"You're not going to go away until I ask you what you've got in your hand, are you?"

Frannie hopped off his desk. "I don't know what you mean, Ray."


"Oh, this?" She held the paper out at arm's length and stared at it in exaggerated surprise. "You wouldn't be interested in this, I'm sure."

"Fine, I wouldn't be interested." He hunched back over the file, ignoring the fact that she was still standing right next to him.

"Unless you had some plans for the weekend, that is."

Ray looked up, narrowing his eyes. "I've got the weekend off. My plans involve sitting at a Cubs game with a beer in my hand on Saturday followed by sitting at the lake with a beer in my hand on Sunday while Fraser and Dief commune with some of their local fish brethren."

"That's just what you think your plans are. Now they've been changed to . . . well, you said you wouldn't be interested, so I guess you won't mind waiting until Lieutenant Welsh talks to all of you tomorrow morning."

"Come on, Frannie, come on. . . tell me what you got there. You know you're dying to."

"Just a little directive from the Commissioner's Office requiring all police officers to attend team building seminars, and guess which lucky division they're starting with?"

"No. No way!" Ray smacked the top of his desk, drawing the attention of Detectives Huey and Dewey.

"Yes, way." Frannie smirked again. "I only wish I could be there to share the beautiful experience with the rest of you, but it looks like the Commissioner decided that only you real cop types need to attend. Seems they think locking you all up in a room together will mysteriously get you to catch more bad guys. I'll be thinking of you next weekend . . . while I'm out at the ballpark enjoying the beautiful weather."

"What's up?" Huey asked.

Ray glared at the piece of paper in Frannie's hand. "We're going to be tortured."

Fraser shook his head. "You know that's not an accurate characterization, Ray. Apparently, Detective Huey, we're all being invited to participate in a weekend seminar designed to foster interpersonal communication skills between partners."

"This is dumb! I already know everything there is to know about my partner!" As soon as the words were out, he could almost see Fraser raising his eyebrows behind him; he turned to face his partner. "What? You don't agree? Look at these dumb questions."

He reached out and grabbed the paper from Frannie. She tried to grab it back, but he raised his arm high over his head and looked up, reading from the list of questions in his hand. "Where did your partner go to school? Depot. What are his/her parents' names? Bob and Caroline Fraser. Does he/she have any siblings? One half-sister, Maggie." He glanced over at Fraser. "You don't have any other sisters or brothers I don't know about lurking in the woodwork, do you?"

"Not as far as I know, Ray."

"Okay. Any pets? Well, I guess Dief is close enough."

From his spot on the floor under Ray's desk, Diefenbaker gave an indignant yip, but the half a bagel Ray slipped him was evidently enough to heal his wounded dignity, at least temporarily, because he fell silent.

"Your turn."

"Ray, we're not supposed to be looking at these questions for another five days."

"Is that the point? No. The point is we don't need to do any of this. Come on, Fraser. Your turn."

Fraser sighed. "Associates degree from Daley College, BA in Criminal Justice from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Your parents' names are Barbara and Damian Kowalski. No siblings, although I have heard you refer to Francesca as one might a sister on a number of occasions. One pet, a box turtle named Curtis. Would you like me to continue?"

"Nope, that'll do."

"Okay," Dewey said, grabbing the questions out of Ray's hand. "Do me. Tell them . . . uh . . . tell them what my favorite book is, Jack."

Frannie snorted. "I didn't know you could read, Dewey."

"Anyone ever tell you you're a wit? Didn't think so. Come on, Jack. Let's have the answer."

Huey looked lost for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "John Grisham's book . . . um . . . what was that? The Client?"

"Nah, I didn't finish that one. You know, Jack. The one I was reading last month."

"Red Storm Rising?"

Dewey shuffled his feet and looked down at the floor. "Never finished that one either," he mumbled.

"I give up, then. What have you finished?"

"You know I've got a subscription to Sports Illustrated!"

Ray snorted. "That's not a book, numbnuts. It's a magazine."

"Whatever. What's Fraser's? The RCMP Cadet Training Manual?"

Frannie rolled her eyes. "You're such an idiot. Just because you don't have any poetry in your soul doesn't mean Fraser doesn't. Poetry, Dewey. Think poetry. By someone sensitive and full of deep feelings like Rod McKuen, right, Fraser?"

He reached under the collar of his tunic and tugged the stiff material away from the skin at his throat. "Well, not precisely, Francesca . . . ."

"Marquez. 100 Years of Solitude."

Fraser turned toward his partner and nodded. "Correct, Ray."

Dewey frowned. "Lucky guess. What's next on the list, Frannie?"

She looked down at the sheet in Dewey's hand. "Favorite food. Ha! That's easy. Ray's is M&M's."

"No way," Dewey interjected. "Pizza."

"Ham and pineapple," Huey added.

Ray leaned against his desk and folded his arms over his chest. "Wrong and wrong and wrong again. Field it, Fraser."

"Ah." Fraser tilted his head to the side and thought for a moment. "Currently? Kielbasa from Dominic Zabriskie's butcher shop. However, last week it was your mother's potato kugel. And the week before that, I believe, it was orange Dreamsicles, which I recall you characterized as 'nature's perfect food.'"

Ray grabbed the questions back from Dewey and scowled. "Yeah, okay, so I don't have one favorite food. I think I made my point, though. We don't need to waste the weekend sitting in a stuffy room learning 'interpersonal skills.'"

"Well, it's not like anyone cares what you think," Frannie said. "Whether you think you need to or not, you're going. You'd be going even if the two of you were Taiwanese Twins."

Ray rolled his eyes. "That's Siamese, Frannie. Siamese Twins."

"Siamese. Taiwanese. Vietnamese. Same neighborhood," she sniffed.

"Actually, the preferred term is 'conjoined twins,' Ray."

"Really? Is that new? When did they decide that?"

"Oh, about the time they decided that routine was the silent killer."

"Okay, here's an easy one," Dewey said, looking over Ray's shoulder. "First airplane trip. Jack, you're not scared of flying, are you?"

Frannie rolled her eyes. "Sheesh! If you don't even know that, there's no way you're going to pass this thing."

"This sort of exercise isn't intended to be regarded as a test that one passes or fails, Francesca, but rather as a means of developing communication skills between people who work closely together."

Dewey glared at Frannie. "See? No passing or failing!"

"Yeah? Want to make a bet you'll be the first person in the history of the exercise to fail? You lost your turn, dimwit. Fraser, when was Ray's first airplane trip?"

Ray sat down on top of his desk. "Hmm . . . I wonder if they mean first trip inside an airplane or first trip hanging off the wing?"

Fraser glanced over at his partner and raised his eyebrows. "That's . . . very funny, Ray."

Ray grinned. "I'm not just another pretty face, you know."

"What about this one, Ray," Huey said after reading over the questions. "When did Fraser first drive a car?"

"Perhaps you could ask him a different question, Detective Huey?" Fraser suggested.

Dewey smirked. "Finally come up with something the former Ray Vecchio can't answer?"

"Not precisely," Fraser said. "However, I'm afraid Ray would say I've yet to actually master driving a car."

Everyone laughed, all except Ray, who just frowned briefly as he took the sheet of questions back from Huey. Then Lieutenant Welsh's appearance in the squad room put an end to the laughter.

"Could somebody tell me if we're running a detective division here or a comedy club. Detective Huey? Detective Dewey? I seem to recall the two of you have some very limited expertise in this area. Perhaps one of you would care to explain what's brought so much mirth to my squad room that no one's interested in solving crimes anymore."

"Sorry, sir," said Huey. "Just a little game that got out of hand. We're getting back to work immediately."

"Good. Good. Because I'd hate to think everyone had suddenly decided that the work we're paid to do here isn't important." He glared at Huey and Dewey, who'd already returned to their desks and were trying to look deeply engrossed in their paperwork.

Frannie winked conspiratorially at Welsh, but he just raised his eyebrows. "Miss Vecchio. I detect your hand in this somewhere. Perhaps you'd like to accompany me to my office and start in on some of the very comical filing that's been accumulating on my desk for the past three weeks."

"No problem, Lieutenant," Frannie said quickly. "Always happy to assist."

"Glad to hear that, Miss Vecchio. And as for the two of you," he said, looking directly at Ray and Fraser, "we've just had a call that the guy you like for the Garrett B&E has been spotted down at Pat's Saloon. Perhaps you wouldn't mind paying a visit, if it wouldn't conflict too much with your afternoon amusements."

"No conflict, Lieu," said Ray, standing up instantly and tucking the questionnaire into his jeans pocket. He grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair while Fraser signaled for Diefenbaker. "We're practically there already."

Within minutes, he and Fraser had left the station. As they headed for the car, Ray called out, "Hey, Fraser!"

"Yes, Ray?"

"Here . . . catch." Fraser opened his hand just in time to catch the keys to the GTO. "You know where Pat's is, right? Why don't you drive."

"Are you certain, Ray?" Fraser frowned, but looked strangely pleased as well.

"Yeah, I'm sure."

Monday 10:53 p.m.

Will Bonny was, indeed, "their guy," if the arsenal he had on him when he was finally chased down in the alley behind the bar was any indication of guilt. The illegal weaponry he'd been packing brought the total number of charges to eleven, making the odds against having all of them dismissed before or during the trial pretty much astronomical.

Welsh was pleased; he liked clean arrests. "The grapevine tells me you've apparently learned the fine art of not drawing your weapon, Kowalski."

Ray's scowled, trying not to grin. "Yeah, well, there were a couple of stinky winos over by the dumpsters, and I don't want to get a reputation for endangering the lives of innocent stinky winos, do I?"

"Another lesson learned. You're beginning to amaze me, Detective." Welsh started to head toward his office, then turned back to face them. "Good work, gentlemen."

"Thanks, Lieu."

"Yes, thank you, Lieutenant."

"Forget about it. Go on . . . get out of here. Don't you two have homes to go to?"


Tuesday 12:14 a.m.

"What's your partner's favorite eating implement?" Ray asked, grinning. "A machete. Okay, what's mine?"

Fraser paused, the slice of meat he'd speared with the tip of his knife halfway to his mouth. "I'd hardly call this a machete, which, as I'm sure you know, is typically ten inches longer than this knife. In any case," he said, looking steadily at his partner as Ray slowly and deliberately licked barbecue sauce off each finger in turn, "I don't recall that question being on the list you and Francesca were squabbling over at the station this afternoon. However, if pressed for an answer at the moment, I'd have to say 'your hands.'"

"We were not squabbling," Ray said, laughing. "Anyway, those questions were boring. We know all that stuff. Let's come up with some new ones in case they spring something tricky on us this weekend."

"That's not really in keeping with the spirit of the exercise."

"Why not? I thought the whole idea was to get us to work better together like . . . um . . . a well-oiled engine. Make us a smoother running team, right?"

"Well, yes, it is."

"Okay, then. The more we know in advance, the better we'll do. Proper preparation and all that stuff."

Fraser inclined his head. "You do have a point."

"All right. Shoot. Start with . . . um . . . my most embarrassing moment or something."


"Yeah, really." Ray sat back on the couch, stretching his legs out onto the coffee table and pushing their dirty dinner plates to the side with his boots. "It's not a trick question, Fraser. You don't need to spend so much time thinking about it."

"Fine. Urinating in your pants at the bank when you were thirteen."

"See? Easy, right? Okay, you ask something."

Fraser tilted his head and narrowed his eyes almost imperceptibly. "What was my first arrest?"

He leaned back, looking smug, but Ray just grinned. "No brainer. Parking violation. Middle of the reception after your graduation in Regina, you go outside for some air, and there's this Mercedes parked in front of a fire hydrant. You had the car towed, then you go back inside. Twenty minutes later the North West Region's Deputy Commissioner's ranting and raving that his car's been stolen right from under the noses of a room full of police and he wants to know if anyone's going to do anything about it."

"Good Lord. You're right, but I don't remember telling you about that."

"You didn't." Ray chuckled. "It came up in conversation with Buck when we were returning the dogs."

"It just happened to come up in conversation? And you remembered it all this time?"

"Kind of hard to forget, Fraser. Besides, I sort of did the same thing for my first arrest."

"Ah, yes." Fraser smiled. "DWI. The Deputy Mayor, if I recall correctly."

"And you do recall correctly, of course." Ray grinned. "Kind of hard to believe we're still employed, isn't it?"

"We were just doing what the law . . . ."

"Fraser." Ray scowled at him.

"Oh, fine." Fraser rolled his eyes, then laughed. "I suppose it is rather hard to believe, at that."

"Your turn."

"Ah. Well," said Fraser, still chuckling, "perhaps I'll ask you the same question you posed earlier; what was my most embarrassing moment?"

Ray looked away briefly, then turned back. "Ask me something else, okay?"

Fraser smiled. "Stumped, are you?"

Ray stared down at his hands. "Nah, I just don't want to answer that one."

"Come on, Ray. Turnabout's fair play," he pressed. "My most embarrassing moment. Unless you're conceding defeat because you can't . . . ."

"Getting shot."

The words were spoken quietly, but it was nowhere near the silence that followed.

Minutes passed without a word being spoken. Even Diefenbaker lay perfectly still at their feet as if he could feel the increasingly oppressive weight of the silence in the living room. If Ray could've reset the clock, swallowed the words back down and make it so they'd never been said, he would've. But he never did seem to be able to not say stuff around Fraser. All Fraser ever had to do was ask. God, this was always the problem. Why couldn't he learn to just keep his mouth shut?

Finally, Ray turned toward Fraser. "Um . . . I didn't mean . . . I didn't mean that Vecchio shooting you was embarrassing, just . . . ." He held up his hands, then dropped them helplessly to his sides.

Fraser took a deep breath, then nodded and said quietly, "No, I understand, Ray. You were alluding to . . . all of it."

"Yeah." Ray shook his head. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have . . . I didn't mean . . . ."

"It's all right, Ray." Another long silence followed, then Fraser sighed. "You're very astute."

Ray scrubbed at his face with the heels of his hands. "This game sucks!"

"You know, I'm not certain it does . . . suck," Fraser said finally, rising to clear the dirty plates and clean silverware from the coffee table. "There is an element of . . . risk, one might say, but it does seem to be serving its purpose."

Ray responded with a grunt as he collected the sauce-stained napkins from the table and followed Fraser into the kitchen.

"You're not pissed off with me, are you?"

Fraser turned to face Ray, who was leaning against the counter, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. He took a deep breath, then exhaled and shook his head. "No. No, of course not."

"You had enough of this?"

Fraser walked over to the window and looked out onto the dark street. "Yes. Yes, I think so. For the time being, Ray."

"Okay, no problem."

Ray washed the dishes, and Fraser . . . well, he had to still just be looking out the window. "Hey, Fraser? What do you like better - chocolate or vanilla?"

Fraser turned around and looked unhappily at Ray. "I . . . I thought we'd agreed to let this drop for the time being."

"Yeah, Fraser, we did," Ray said quietly. "This isn't hypothetical. I'm asking you which ice cream you'd rather have for dessert."

Fraser looked at the plastic baseball helmet bowls that Ray had placed on the table.

"Oh," he said dully.

Ray frowned, then pushed Fraser down onto one of the kitchen chairs, squeezing his shoulder gently. "I think it's a two ice cream flavor night. What do you think?"

"I . . . . Thank you, Ray."


Wednesday 5:17 p.m.

Ray turned the key and started the engine, then pulled out of the parking lot behind the station house. "Perfect score on the shooting range. Not bad for a blind guy."

"Your accuracy and response ratings were really quite phenomenal," Fraser said curtly. "One might even say, miraculous."

Ray snorted. "Heh. You think you could sound any more insultingly surprised, Mister Only 98.4 Percent?"

"Are you suggesting I'm envious of your results? You couldn't be more wrong. And in the interests of accuracy, I'd like to remind you that my score was actually 98.5 percent."

Ray laughed. "Competitive much, Fraser? Listen, let me bask in my glory for a couple seconds. You think I don't know what those marksmanship patches on your uniform are for? This might be the only time I'll ever beat you in this . . . or anything else, for that matter."

Fraser squeezed his temples between his thumb and forefinger. "I'm sorry, Ray. I'm behaving . . . badly. I must be more tired than I thought."

"Yeah, well, I'll give you a free pass this time, seeing as how you usually do such a good job at pretending you don't have a petty bone in your body."

Fraser opened his mouth, then closed it again when Ray looked over at him and grinned. They drove in comfortable silence for a mile, until they neared the turnoff for the Consulate.

"Hey, Fraser, you want to go pick up Dief and bring him back to the apartment for some dinner?"

"I'm sure he'd like that, Ray. He was displeased when we left him behind this morning, but he really couldn't come along."

"Nah, 'course not. A shooting range is no place for kids." Out of the corner of his eye, Ray could see Fraser turn his head toward him sharply. "What? I mean, it's no place for wolves. You know that's what I meant, right?"

"Whatever you say, Ray," said Fraser, clearly trying not to laugh.

"Smart ass." Ray said. "You know, Dief's probably a better shot than some of those guys down at the range today."

Fraser sighed. "I'm afraid I have to agree. One can only hope they were among the 95 percent of police officers who never have occasion to fire their guns over the course of their careers."

Ray grunted. "I wonder about the shooting thing sometimes. I mean, I've probably fired my weapon over a hundred times since I've been on the job. Never killed anyone, but I've come close. I just wonder how many times I didn't really need to shoot, you know?"

He pulled the car into an open spot in front of the Consulate. Fraser unbuckled his seatbelt and put his hand on the door handle before asking "When was the first time you fired your weapon in the line of duty?"

Ray glanced over at Fraser in surprise. "Are we back to team-building question time, here?"

"If you like," Fraser said, inclining his head.

Okay, this was good. Back to Twenty Questions, which maybe meant he wasn't still upset about the whole foot-in-mouth Victoria thing from the other night.

"Yeah, so, firing my weapon, right? It didn't happen until I'd been a cop for about two years, I think. A kid was being held hostage in a warehouse over by the lake. After about ten minutes of me trying to talk him into letting this kid go, the kid starts screaming, the guy gets antsy, and he starts shooting in my direction. I shot back. I was trying to wing him, but I was a little off target. Ended up shooting the gun straight out of his hand."

"For which you received a citation."

"For which I received a citation, yeah. Dumb luck, huh? What about you? You carried up in Canada, didn't you?"

"Of course, Ray. Standard issue Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol."

"So . . . first time you fired?"

"It was also during a hostage situation. The gunman had already shot and wounded three officers. We'd finally succeeded in calming him down when two patrol cars arrived simultaneously with their lightbars flashing and their sirens turned up to maximum volume."

"So the guy started getting nervous again?"

"Yeah." Fraser nodded. "The negotiator was still speaking with him, but from where I was positioned, I had an unobstructed view, and I could see him throw the phone across the room, then aim his gun in the direction of one of the hostages. I drew my weapon, intending to - how did you put it? - to wing him, but my shot also went slightly off the mark."

"You missed?"

"No. I killed him."

The words were said calmly - almost mechanically - but then Ray noticed the quick brush of Fraser's thumb over his eyebrow, and he knew there was no way Fraser was as calm as he sounded.

"The paramedics had yet to arrive, but it wouldn't have made any difference if they had been on the scene. The medical examiner informed me later that the gunman had died instantly. I'm not sure whether I really understood he had died, though, until I felt a hand on my shoulder and the voice of my superior saying 'Good work, son.' The . . . he was pleased with my actions that day . . . ."

Fraser left his thought unfinished, but Ray had a sneaking feeling he knew what had been running through his partner's head. "But you've been wondering all this time whether you could've done something that didn't involve firing your gun."


No wonder he kept coming up with feeble excuses not to get a carry permit here where it wasn't mandatory. How long had this monkey been on his back?

"Fraser? How old were you when this happened?"

"I was 21, Ray. The same age as the man I killed." Fraser took a deep breath. "Well, I suppose I'd better go get Diefenbaker."


Ray watched as Fraser walked briskly toward the front doors of the Consulate.


Thursday 3:38 p.m.

Ray was sitting on the reception desk in the front hall, Consulate telephone tucked under his chin, when Fraser returned from his office.

" . . . yes, ma'am. We do handle emigration requests here on . . . um . . . Mondays and Wednesdays between the hours of eleven and four."

Fraser raised his eyebrows and started to reach for the phone, but Ray waved him away with his free hand. "You're very welcome, and we look forward to meeting with you next week. Good afternoon." He hung up the phone and grinned. "Think I might have a future in telecommunications?"

"Quite impressive, Ray," said Fraser, with a smile. "If ever you decide to moonlight as a switchboard operator, I'll be happy to write a recommendation for you."

"Thank you kindly. So how's Turnbull?"

Fraser glanced back toward his office. "I convinced him to rest quietly on my cot for a bit, but he doesn't appear to have suffered any permanent damage as a result of his ordeal."

"Good." Ray nodded. "What the hell happened to him? He just dropped like a ton of bricks out there."

"Yes, well, apparently he believed a murder of crows was . . . ."

"Murder of crows?"

"That's the term when one's speaking of crows as a collective, Ray."

"Like a school of fish?"



"In any case, he believed this horde of crows . . . ."


"Sorry," Fraser said with a wholly unrepentant grin. "He believed this big old bunch of crows . . . ."

"Yeah, that's better," Ray said, grinning.

" . . . was looking at him with malicious intent, and when one alighted on his Stetson, well, I'm afraid he fainted. Something to do with a traumatic episode from his childhood involving Alfred Hitchcock's classic film The Birds.

"Jesus." Ray shook his head. "You got anything that scares you that much? Nah. What am I saying? Nothing really scares you, does it?"

Fraser frowned. "On the contrary, Ray. A number of things frighten me."

"Yeah? Name one . . . because from where I'm sitting it looks like nothing scares you, not even when it's something you should be afraid of, like a maniac coming after you with a gun.

"I know I give that impression on occasion, but it's not true."

"Okay, then. What scares you the most?"

Fraser eyes flickered away, his wide-eyed gaze taking in a point somewhere just beyond Ray's shoulder. For a second, Ray wondered if by some freak chance, one of those hard-to-imagine things that scared Fraser was maybe sneaking up behind him.

Then Fraser opened his mouth to speak, but only succeeded in muttering, "No, that's not it, precisely," before closing his mouth again and sitting on the desk beside Ray.

Ray nudged his partner with his elbow. "Come on, buddy. You know you can tell me anything, right?"

"Of course, Ray," Fraser said. "It's just . . . ." He swallowed hard.

Ray sighed. Either Fraser had just been bullshitting about being scared of anything, or he really, really didn't want to talk about it. He got that. No way was Ray going to say any of what really scared him.

"Nothing, right? I figured." He patted Fraser's knee comfortingly. "That's okay, because . . . ."

"No, Ray. I'm just finding it difficult to articulate . . . well, perhaps it's the fear that I'm unable, on occasion, to assess whether what I'm seeing is real or if I just think I'm seeing it."

Ray frowned. "You mean like . . . seeing ghosts?"

"No, nothing so simple as ghosts, I'm afraid," Fraser said, somehow looking sad while he was trying to smile, which only made Ray more confused.

"Because, I'd get the ghost thing. Me, it's always been . . . um . . . mummies," he said, pulling the first freaky thing he could think of out of thin air. "You know, with the smelly bandages and the way they never stop following you, and . . . .brrr." He shivered.

"You're afraid of mummies?"

"What? You don't like that answer?" Ray asked. "'Cause I could come up with a whole list of things that scare me if you've got long enough."

"No, that's . . . ."

"Never mind," Ray said, grabbing the chance to let the subject drop before he dug himself a hole he couldn't get out of. "Why don't you go check on Turnbull, okay?"

"Yes, perhaps I . . . should."

"Go on. I'll stay here and . . . um, keep the place safe from . . . mummies and ghosts and things."

"Thank you kindly, Ray."


Friday 7:26 p.m.

"I told you, we are not watching that movie. For one thing, Leonardo DiCaprio sucks. For another thing, Romeo and Juliet sucks. Even Dief wouldn't come over here tonight because he didn't want to be subjected to that movie."

"Romeo and Juliet has long been acknowledged one of the classic tales of young love," Fraser said, launching into English teacher mode. "I don't know why you - "

"Young love sucks, that's why."

"But you and Stella . . . . "

"You just made my point for me, Fraser. Young love's stupid."

"Ah, but what about the joy of discovery, the memory of your first kiss . . . . "

"My first kiss," Ray cackled. "Oh yeah. There's a memory that'll keep me warm in my twilight years."

"Were you and Stella not, well . . . were you . . . . "

"Oooh. Benton Fraser's asking a personal question - film at eleven! Nah, my first kiss wasn't with Stella. I was thirteen . . . almost fourteen. Me and Stella were in Stella's cousin's basement one night playing spin the bottle, and . . . ." Fraser raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. "What? What's that look for? Don't tell me you never played, uh, spin the moose antler or whatever when you were a kid."

"I believe your story's still incomplete, Ray."

"Yeah, yeah, okay. So the spin lands on Chris Symons, and no one will let me have a do-over."

"Was there something about her you didn't like, Ray?"

"Apart from the fact that I was thirteen and Chris was an eleven year old boy? Nah. Apart from that, everything was peachy."


"Ah, yourself."

Fraser smiled. "Did you enjoy the kiss, Ray?"

"It sucked. He was all clammy and wet. And he was a mouth breather."

"I see. So you'd actually had prior experience with buddy breathing before our time on the Henry Allen."

"Ha. Ha. Ha." Ray picked up a pillow from the couch and smacked it into Fraser's chest. "Anyway," he said with a grin, "you were way better than Chris."

"Thank you kindly, Ray."

Jesus. What was it about this stupid game that kept making him say things he didn't mean to say out loud?

"What about you? Who was your first kiss? And don't tell me it wouldn't be chivalrous to discuss it because you already heard mine. Chivalry's dead. Cough up the goods."

Fraser took the pillow Ray had hit him with and put it behind his head. "My first kiss was shared with a childhood friend named June."

"You talking about short-haired, couldn't-boil-water June?"


Ray laughed. "Your first kiss was with a Boy Scout?"

Fraser raised his eyebrows. "I hardly think you're in any position to pass judgement on that, Ray."

"Yeah, I guess you've got a point." Ray waited a second, then grinned. "It wasn't really Innusiq, was it?"

"Of course not, Ray!" Fraser said indignantly, then paused. "He was the second person I kissed."

Ray's eyes widened in surprise. He'd kissed Innusiq?


Fraser nodded solemnly, then started to giggle. "No. Not really."

"Too bad," Ray murmured. Of course he'd been joking - just like he thought Ray had been joking before - and all Ray's wanting it to mean something else wasn't going to change anything. "Too damned bad."


Nope. Nope. Nope. No way he could keep sitting beside Fraser here on the couch when his partner switched on that sincere 'tell me what's wrong?' voice. He pushed himself off the couch, cracking his shin on the edge of the coffee table as he stood up.

"Shit! Okay," he said, heading for the kitchen, "I'm going to get a drink. You want a drink or something?"

"No, not at the moment," Fraser said. "Ray, are you all right?"

"Why wouldn't I be all right?"

Answer a question with a question. It might work if he could just get the hell out of the room.

"Well, your leg, for one. That sounded painful."

"My leg's fine, Fraser," he snapped.

"Then is . . . ."

Shut up, Ray.

"I lied."

Oh, hell.

"You lied about your leg?"

"No. Yesterday. I lied yesterday," Ray mumbled, looking away from his partner. Too late. Too freaking late to go into hiding. Maybe he could just develop a quick case of laryngitis.

"Ah. Do you . . . um . . .want to tell me what it was you lied about yesterday," asked Fraser hesitantly.

"Not really," said Ray, flopping down onto the chair facing Fraser.

Fraser moved forward on the couch. He clasped his hands in front of him, elbows resting on his thighs. "Please tell me, Ray."

And that was that. The worried voice. The sincere look. The concern. The 'please.' He was a goner.

"Okay." Ray took a deep breath. "I'm not afraid of mummies."

Confusion creased Fraser's brow. "And . . . yesterday you said you were afraid of them because . . . ?"

"Because I didn't want to tell you what really scared me," he said quietly.

Fraser nodded slowly. "Then as you said to me the other day, I hope you know you can tell me anything."

"Yeah?" Ray said, disbelief clear in his voice. "Well, I'm not sure about that this time."

"You're not ill, are you?"

Great, now he was freaking Fraser out.

He shook his head. "No. No, I'm not ill. It's nothing like that. It's not even really about me. Or maybe it is. Okay, it's about us."

"Do you . . . do you no longer want to work with me?" Fraser asked worriedly.

"God, no." Ray laughed, a little bitterly. "I almost wish that were it because it would be a hell of a lot easier to say."

It was like a light was switched on in Fraser's face or something. One minute, total cluelessness. The next, gears were turning and bells were ringing, and with all that action going on in his head, what were the odds that Fraser would just let this drop?


Not a chance.


Maybe he'd lied to Fraser twice now - the second time, when he said he wasn't ill. Just thinking about having to answer was definitely making him feel a little sick.

He looked up. Okay. Fraser didn't look worried anymore and he was . . . he was almost smiling. Thought this was funny, did he? All right, maybe this wouldn't be too bad.


"In keeping with the official instructions for the exercise, would you like me to see if I can answer your question for you?"

Why the hell not? No matter how Fraser said it, it couldn't be any worse than having to say the words himself.

"Knock yourself out." He slumped down a little lower in the chair, then waved the fingers of his right hand a few times. "Go on. Give it a shot."

He could deal with this.

And then Fraser's tongue darted out to lick his bottom lip, and Ray choked. If Fraser didn't freaking well say something in the next two seconds, he was going to call Turnbull over at the Consulate and ask for tips on how to pass out.

"Ray," Fraser said, "if what you were scared to say has to do with our partnership - our friendship - you don't have to be worried. I can assure you that I feel the same way."

Oh hell. Ray could feel his face drop. Back to cluelessness, because if Fraser really did feel the same way he did, there was no way he could be sitting there all casually and talking calm and easy like he was. And really, Ray was willing to just let it all just rest like that. It was near enough to the truth. But Fraser had obviously already seen something in his face that said 'close, but no cigar,' because that worry line between his eyebrows was back.

"Let's put it this way, Fraser. If we were curling, you'd be somewhere in the house, but not, um . . . ."

"Ah," he said, nodding slowly, "I see. I'd be on one of the outer circles. To extend your curling metaphor, how much harder would I have to push to land on the button?"

Ray narrowed his eyes. Did he get it or didn't he get it? What the hell was going on here?

"I don't know, Fraser. How far does it look from where you're sitting?"

Fraser looked away for a second, then shook his head. "No, I think this time you're going to have to tell me, Ray. I seem to have reached a point where I'm no longer certain of my ability to judge whether what I think I'm seeing is really there or not."

Which was exactly what Fraser had said he was frightened of yesterday. Was this what he was talking about? Not knowing how Ray felt about him? But he knew they were good partners. Knew they were friends. What was it he thought he saw? Maybe he . . . okay, just say it, Kowalski.

"You don't want to answer that one, I've got some different questions for you. Maybe these will be easier. One - Apart from, um, Chris Symons, has your partner ever kissed anyone of the same sex?"

Okay, Fraser was looking right at him . . . .

"Two - If not, do you think your partner would like to?"

. . . and tilting his head . . . .

"Three - Does your partner want to be kissing you?"

. . . and, oh man, that tongue was on his bottom lip again . . . .

"Four - If so, when would your partner like to start this kissing thing?"

It was weird, but the more Ray talked, the easier it was to talk. To say what he'd been wanting to say. But would it kill the guy to say something back instead of just sitting there politely and wearing the 'listening face' that Ray's second grade teacher made all the kids use when someone was talking?

"Um, Fraser? Feel free to jump in with an answer anytime."

Fraser nodded, way too slowly, and then he started to smile. "Would it be acceptable if I answered the last question first?"

Ray would've answered. Would've said 'yeah, go ahead.' But there wasn't enough time to say anything before Fraser knelt beside the chair, slid a hand around his head to pull him forward . . . and started kissing him.

Somewhere in the back of Ray's mind were a couple more questions, like 'how long have you been wanting to do this?' and 'why didn't you say anything earlier?' and 'God, where did you learn how to do that with your tongue?" but the desire for answers was pushed further and further back with each thrust of Fraser's tongue into his mouth, each stroke of Fraser's hands along his back, each press of Fraser's lips against his chin, his neck, his collar bone.

And when Fraser tugged at his shoulders, Ray - following the pull of that hot, wet mouth sucking at his skin - slid off the chair and down to the floor, dragging a seat cushion along with him. He didn't need another 'tuck in on the floor, I hurt my back" badge - already had one of those. The cushion was just a little insurance policy that nothing was going to make them move, 'cause he really, really didn't plan on getting up off the floor any time soon - not while Fraser was lying there, arms open, waiting for him.

Wanting him.

Ray stretched himself out on the floor, half on top of Fraser. One hip on the rug, a forearm under Fraser's head, fingers curled in Fraser's thick soft hair. He bent his right knee slightly, tucked it up tight between Fraser's legs, then moved inside Fraser's warm embrace - just a little - until he could feel the evidence of his partner's arousal pushing against his right thigh, could feel himself begin to get hard.

Stop, or don't stop? The question was asked in the way Ray moved back briefly, just a half inch, and looked into his partner's eyes, and answered in the way Fraser kissed him hard on the mouth, clung to him, pulled him closer than he'd just been.

Closer than they'd ever been.

The few times that Ray had allowed himself to imagine what it might be like to be with Fraser - be with him like this, all sweaty and panting and clutching at each other - he'd thought it would take a while to get things going. Thought it might be a little tentative. A little awkward. A little . . . scary.

But before he could even think about whether they should maybe slow down, that maybe it should be a little scary (and . . . why wasn't it?), they'd both tugged their shirts off and Fraser had already reached down and unbuttoned Ray's fly and he'd done the same with Fraser's and both of them were sliding their jeans down as far as they could before the need to press up against each other, touch each other's skin, slide against each other - cock against cock - became a hell of a lot more important than getting their jeans off.

And, yeah, so maybe now it was a little awkward with both of them trying to crawl up, around, into each other with their jeans down around their knees. But god, his cock didn't know it was awkward, no, his cock was just so damned happy to be rubbing up against Fraser and so was Ray, and Fraser . . . well, Fraser was sucking on his tongue and clutching at his ass and panting "oh god, oh god, Ray, oh god, I . . . oh fuck!" in his ear, and when Fraser came, hot and thick and so damned good all over his stomach, he sure as hell looked like a happy man . . . about as happy as Ray was a second later when Fraser reached down and wrapped his hand around Ray's cock, and stroked once, twice, three times - and Ray screwed his eyes shut tight, then came so hard he fucking saw lights, before he collapsed on Fraser's sweaty, sated body.

Two minutes later . . . well, five minutes . . . okay, maybe a short nap later, Ray decided that floors were pretty overrated as a bed-substitute, at least for a couple of guys pushing forty. But he had no complaints about the guy who was currently sharing floor space with him.

He lifted his head off Fraser's chest, then propped himself up on one elbow and scrubbed the sleep out of his eyes with his free hand. Fraser's eyes were still closed, but as Ray watched him, a smile began to bloom on his face.

"Hi," Fraser said sleepily. Happily.

"Hi, yourself," said Ray, then took a minute to nuzzle the still-warm spot at Fraser's collarbone where his cheek had been resting.

He pushed himself up onto his knees and stretched, then leaned over and kissed Fraser once on the mouth. "Come on, buddy. Time to get yourself up off the floor."

Fraser smiled. "Would you think less of me if I told you I don't think I can move?"

"Nah. I'd just take it as a compliment." He reached down and took Fraser's hands in his own, then tugged at him until they were both sitting up on the floor. "Well, that's a start. I figure I'll have you up and walking by sometime near the end of next month."

"What if . . . what if I don't want to go anywhere?" Fraser asked in a quiet voice.

"Then you stay." Ray leaned back against the base of the chair and pulled Fraser a little until he was sitting inside the circle of his arms. "You okay?"

"I'm . . . okay," Fraser said, rolling the words around in his mouth as if he was a little surprised to discover they were true. "Better than okay. Much, much more than okay. So much more than okay, in fact, that . . . ."

"Yeah, Fraser," laughed Ray. "I get it. But . . . okay, what else is going on in that head of yours? I know something's up."

"Of course you do." Fraser said, nodding slowly.


"Ray, I'm not certain how obvious it's been, but you should know that this . . . exercise has been, well, quite disconcerting for me . . . from, well, from the very start."

"But you didn't have any trouble answering any of the questions," Ray said, frowning a little. "Not even when I started asking personal stuff."

Fraser leaned back against Ray's chest, drawing Ray's arm more tightly around him. "I . . . it's not that I had any real difficulty formulating responses to your questions, but rather that the questions themselves came as a surprise."

"Why? You know I'm a snoop. Got the badge and everything." He really, really hoped Fraser wasn't going to say that the questions had seemed too pushy, that he'd been upset about answering them, that . . . .

"Because, Ray," Fraser said, "every time you asked another question, I was struck anew with the shock of realizing you truly didn't know the answer. That we weren't actually the same person."


Fraser turned slightly in Ray's arms and kissed his cheek. "You know me as well as anybody ever has, I'd imagine. Do you honestly believe I'd have answered most of those questions so readily if they had been posed by anyone else?"

Ray tried to imagine Frannie 'broiling' Fraser about his kissing history and sighed. No, he'd have run a mile before revealing anything serious - or maybe changed the subject to Tsimshian spiritual beliefs or something. "Okay, you got a point."

"This week came as something of a revelation," he said, settling back again. "Answering those questions was easy for me - or at least as easy as it would have been if I'd asked myself the same questions. And yet I know myself well enough to recognize that this isn't precisely normal for me. I've always been rather . . . ."

"Shy?" Ray asked, running his fingers through his partner's thick silky hair.

"I was going to say 'reticent,' but I suppose 'shy' is more accurate, at least where personal matters are concerned. For the first time in, well, possibly in my entire life, it was actually fine - nice, even - to allow someone to see all of me, even the . . . imperfect parts."

"The sad bits, yeah? And the angry bits?" Fraser nodded, and Ray hugged him tightly. "I feel the same way, you know?"

"So I realized tonight."

"Why tonight? Just 'cause I let you know I wanted you kissing me? Come on, Fraser . . . that could have just been a casual thing, couldn't it?"

"Not for you, Ray. And certainly not if it was, as you said, the subject that scared you most in the world to raise. You see," Fraser said, smiling a little, "I know you."

And that, he thought, was really at the heart of it all. Fraser knew him. He knew Fraser. And, god, wasn't that just a wonderful and freaking rare thing to stumble across in this world. "Hey, Fraser? I've got one more question for you."

"What, Ray?"

"What side of the bed do you like to sleep on?"


Saturday 10:02 a.m.

"Ray!" Fraser whispered sharply. "We should be listening to Ms. Robbins."

Ray grinned, then continued, unobserved by the other seminar participants, to slide his sock-clad feet slowly up the inside of Fraser's legs under the table. "I can multi-task, Mountie. How about you?" he whispered back.

Fraser narrowed his eyes at his partner, then turned slightly and brought his booted feet together, trapping both of Ray's feet between his own and effectively stopping their progress. "Is it impossible for you to do her the courtesy of paying attention to what she's saying?" he hissed, although a hint of laughter was audible beneath the surface.

"You got a kink for this kind of thing, don't you, Fraser?" Ray whispered, as he tried unsuccessfully to free his feet. "You want me to give you my cuffs, too?"

"You wouldn't happen to have a muzzle, would you?" Fraser muttered under his breath.

"Excuse me . . . Constable Fraser, is it?" Annette Robbins called brightly across the conference table. "Is there something you'd like to share with the group?"

A flush started at the base of Fraser's neck. "No, ma'am. I apologize for the disruption."

"Quite all right, Constable. I'm sure we're all eager to get things underway," she said, beaming. "Now, as I was saying, these factors - trust, communication, openness, understanding - are the very cornerstones of a successful partnership. In fact, it has often been said that a good partnership is like a marriage, and - "

Fraser squeaked. There really wasn't any other way to describe it. Ray turned to look, and - god - the guy was practically choking, he was trying so hard to keep from laughing. What the heck was so funny? Ray raised his eyebrows, but Fraser just clamped his lips together and lowered his head, like if he looked back at Ray for one more second, he was going to lose it completely.

"- it is our hope," Ms. Robbins continued, sounding more and more like an infomercial every minute, "and the hope of your Commissioner's Office, that this seminar will provide a first step toward developing a richer, deeper, and more intimate partnership."

Ray smiled to himself. He slid the weekend workshop schedule off the table until it covered his hand, then - slowly - reached over and took his partner's hand in his own. He heard Fraser sigh, felt Fraser's thumb brush tenderly over his palm.

A 'more intimate partnership?' Yeah, he could go with that.

"So," Ms Robbins chirped, " . . . any questions?"

* * * * *

Chit chat, Critiques, Gratuitous Praise: beth-h @ mrks.org

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