Rating: G
Pairing: Fraser, Kowalski gen
Thanks: Many many thanks with sparkles on to Miriam and estrella for brilliant betaing

Too Many Cooks

by china_shop

The double doors swung open, and Fraser went hurtling through before they had time to settle back to their closed position. Ray, gasping, pounded up behind, shoving through the left side, narrowly avoiding a youngish Chinese woman with a tray full of soup bowls. "Sorry, sorry!" he said and darted round her, not stopping to see whether she spilt them or not.

Not important. Gotta catch the guy, get the diamonds. Gotta find Fraser. He stopped for just a second to catch his breath.

The kitchen was fucking huge. Stainless steel benches all round the outside, and three long counters along the middle of the room forming narrow aisles where dozens of white-coated cooks were chopping and slicing and banging away at various ingredients with mallets and knives. There were bowls of brightly colored spices—paprika or cayenne, maybe—mounds of chopped leafy greens, and a stack of crispy roast ducks, but mostly the whole room was a symphony of steel gray and white uniform and black hair bundled under anonymous white hats.

Added to that, everything was moving all the time, people bustling, walking around with enormous trays and baskets, carrying towering stacks of plain white bowls. It was like being inside an giant ticking clock.

Added to that, the noise: hissing, sizzling, clanging, chopping, chattering. It was like a rock concert without the bass beat. It was overpowering.

Ray could smell sweet and bitter and salty and, if he'd had Fraser's nose, would probably have been able to identify half a dozen other smells. Soy sauce, he thought as he looked around. He flashed his badge to the room at large. "Chicago PD. Where'd he go?"

An older guy waved his cleaver towards the west end of the kitchen where the back door stood open. Ray caught a blur of Mountie red, still running full tilt, and followed. He drew his gun but left the safety on. Too crowded in here.

Then, fuck, Fraser reappeared, stopped, framed by the doorway, and scanned the room intently. His eyes caught on something, did a tiny double take, and Ray spun round, thinking Aw jeez, no, not here! and stared in the same direction, off to his right, peering at all the people, trying to see what Fraser was seeing. He didn't see anything. Just all these chefs, some focussed on their piles of raw pork and spices and hammers, and others with their hands loosely at their sides, watching the action. Just their luck that the diamond thief had been wearing a kitchen outfit too.

A crash sounded from behind him, and Ray whipped round, bracing his gun, but it was just some old lady with a pile of metal plate things. She screamed at the sight, and Ray lowered his weapon. Well, fair enough. He had a gun in her workplace. That was a bad standard of occupational safety, right there, and occupational safety was something you had to take seriously when you worked with deep fry. "It's okay," he said. "Sorry."

He turned back and headed down to the back door, to Fraser, checking out the faces of all the cooking staff as he went, though he'd only caught a tiny glimpse of the guy when the chase had started. "You seen a diamond thief?" he asked a couple of dishwashers. They shook their heads, backing away as he came closer.

By the time he reached halfway down the south side of the room, Fraser was already in motion, was speeding to the middle aisle. Ray dodged a guy holding a huge platter of fried rice, so he could see, and yeah! That was the guy! Ray recognized his nose, plus he could see the guy's shoulders heaving as he struggled to get his breath back after the chase, could practically hear him panting. His hands were flying, doing some cooking thing with little tiny bits of pastry.

Ray vaulted over the counter next to him, stomping in a tray of coconut jello and slipping around a bit when he landed, and then there was just one long counter between him and the guy. Fraser had reached the end of the middle aisle, so they'd basically got him cornered. "Chicago PD!" Ray repeated. "Freeze!"

The guy tensed, but he didn't look up or around. Instead he swiped a whole armful of little pastry packets into a sink of sizzling oil. There was a hiss and a billow of steam and spattering, and then he spun one-eighty and saw Ray, saw Fraser coming towards him, and he took off back towards the swing doors. "Hey!" shouted Ray. "Somebody stop that guy!"

Something landed splat! in the middle aisle, and exploded like a waterballoon of soft meat. Fraser yelled, "Duck!" and Ray twisted down, his body reacting to Fraser's voice before the instruction even registered in his head. Then the air was full of roast poultry, pelting him, whacking him in the small of his back and on his ear, which, you know, made him really mad.

Ray peered over the counter and yeah, there was a girl hurling duck after duck at him, except that it looked like she was trying to hit the thief, to stop him, but her aim really sucked. "Quit it!" shouted Ray. "We got him!" and a couple of ducks later she did.

Before Ray was even fully upright again, though, bamboo steamers thudded to the floor further along the aisle, and Ray heard a scuffle and swearing, and someone shouted "Watch out!". A couple of the kitchen staff had grabbed the guy and were struggling to hold him, but it was like the guy was crazy or something. He flipped around wildly and, when that didn't get him loose, he braced himself against his captors, raised his legs, and kicked another oil bin thing over. It went tipping and pouring like in slow motion, a fizzing searing tide of danger heading straight towards three women with big pans of noodles and a young guy with a scrubbing brush.

They screamed and dove sideways, and Ray, who was pelting down the aisle towards the oil, yelled too, getting a faceful of lo mein in the process. He tried to backtrack, tried to put the brakes on and drag the others out of harm's way, but there was no time. Even with the slow motion, there was no time.

He watched it unfold like a nightmare: oil and this awful burning smell as the oil hit the linoleum, and people screaming and his own feet refusing to stop, refusing to get him to safety.

Smash! Ray glanced over his shoulder. Fraser was hurtling along the bench on a wide shiny oven tray, his face set with concentration. He gripped the tray's lip at the sides like a kid on a sled, and he flew towards Ray, smashing aside the bowls of chopped chilli and pile of carrots on the counter in front of him, the knives and pastries and uncooked steam buns that went soaring every which way. It was like a car crash. Ray felt something wet hit his side and a glob of bok choy splatter his ear.

Still staggering forward, Ray was only two steps from being deep fried himself, when Fraser grabbed his arm and swung him out of the way of the tide of oil, and onto the counter behind him. Fraser's tray scraped to a halt, half hanging over the gap where the sink had been, and Fraser swiveled his legs down and kicked his boot against the base of the sink, shoving it hard up against a cupboard. The momentum of the oil lost all its force, just swirled around and, okay, there were some splatters, people were going to need to break out the band aids, but the possible third degree burns were prevented.

The thief was halfway up the aisle and oh god, please, someone stop him, and then Fraser reached back and seized something, and showered the thief with eggs, so he fell face first onto the floor and lay there cursing, a mess of white and yolk. "It's over," said Fraser, yanking him to his feet and cuffing him.

Ray hopped down to a safe dry piece of floor, but lost his balance thanks to his slippery coconutty shoes, and had to grab the counter to steady himself. Honestly, one more kitchen chase and he'd stop wearing sneakers for good. Boots were the answer. Asbestos boots.

But that could wait. He looked around and right next to him down by his knees was a fire extinguisher, and he broke that out and put an end to the sizzling smoking oily mess that was the diamond thief guy's present to the restaurant owner who, hey, turned up at just that moment, filling the air with allegations and complaint.

Ray stepped in because Fraser hates this bit, hates dealing with the fall-out from chases, all the nice innocent people whose feet got tromped on or bamboo baskets got squashed because of Fraser. So Ray stepped in and flashed his badge and smoothed things over in his official capacity. Because hey, that's what he was here for.

* * *

The black and whites had taken the guy away, but there was still no sign of the diamonds. "Where the fuck?" said Ray. "You checked his pockets, right?"

"Yes, Ray," said Fraser, for the third time. "He didn't appear to have them on his person."

"Unless he swallowed them."

"Or—" Fraser kicked aside the cooling oil vat and looked at the pile of congealing, half-cooked pastry packages inside.

A light bulb went on in Ray's head. "You know what I'm thinking?" he said.

"I believe so." Fraser found some tongs and started poking around amongst the fatty mess.

Ray sighed heavily. "That way'll take forever, Fraser." He grabbed a wooden mallet. "Step aside." And he started hammering away at the mess, smooshing all the little packets into mush, looking for priceless sparkles. It was like a party game. The kitchen staff gathered round to watch.

Yeah, there was one. And another. They'd hit the nail on the head this time. And—what was that noise?

Ray looked over his shoulder, to where Fraser was laughing. Fraser was laughing at him. Was laughing so hard he had to hold onto the counter to stay upright. "What?" he demanded, climbing to his feet, and jeez, he was getting old. Could feel it in his knees.

"Nothing, Ray." Fraser was wheezing. Fraser didn't wheeze.

"What?!" This was pissing Ray off. He swung the mallet at Fraser in a vaguely threatening manner. The kitchen staff backed off a pace, looking from Ray to comedy Fraser, and back again. "What is it?"

"Nothing, it's just that—" Fraser gasped for breath. "Just that that's a particularly wanton approach." He hiccupped. "To diamond recovery."

"Aw jeez." Ray rolled his eyes in disgust, and turned back to the deep fried packets, grinning just maybe a little.

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