Thanks: Sprat betaed this with her usual brilliance, and I am, as ever, enormously grateful. Her southern hemisphere shrine is under construction. Thanks also to Miriam and mergatrude for input at various stages.
"And at their annual festival, the Inupiaq release the bladders of their prey through a hole in the ice into the ocean. Then the animals' souls can return to the wild and be reborn," Fraser explained.
"Bladders." Ray grinned at him in the flickering firelight. "You got me. I can't top that."
"Oh surely, Ray," Fraser said in that serious way that meant he was teasing. "Growing up in a thriving metropolis such as Chicago, you must know a wealth of interesting customs and traditions."
"I got nothing." Ray shook his head, and splayed his fingers through the holes in his pocket, wiggling the tips of them into the dusty lining of his favorite jacket. He picked up a stick and prodded the fire, sending sparks whirling into the air. "Tell me another."
Fraser licked his lip, thoughtfully, and Ray ducked his head, thinking that times had changed, oh yeah, if he was asking for an Inuit story. For a long time, Ray had fought hard to make Fraser act more normal, more like a regular cop partner guy, but that was over. Ray was good to go now. Ready to embrace the freakishness (and the freak, too, given half a chance). He just needed to figure out exactly how far Fraser's reality-free zone extended.
Fraser's eyes reflected little twin campfires, and Ray zoned out. He had sweet sticky marshmallow taste in his mouth, and the air was full of the sharp smell of rotting leaves and dirt. If he tried, he could block out the traffic noise and city shouting, and it was a real wilderness, with Fraser tending his boyscout campfire right here. Maybe Ray could get used to this rough-living lifestyle—with the right incentive. He listened with half an ear to Fraser's story about Big Raven rescuing a whale by eating a magic mushroom or something—
"No," Fraser interrupted himself, "it was definitely a mushroom. I distinctly remember, because—"
Ray grinned. It sounded like Dief was baiting Fraser again, but when Ray glanced around he remembered that Dief was at the Consulate with Turnbull. "Who're you talking to Fraser?"
"I beg your pardon?" Fraser blinked at him, suddenly wide-eyed and innocent. Ray didn't buy it, and he felt a queer jolt that maybe Fraser really was unhinged.
"What's up with you?" Ray asked. He drew a Stetson with his stick in the soft dirt between his boots. In the firelight, the ground was the same color as Fraser's hands.
"Well, Ray, the Great Spirit told Big Raven to—"
Ray held up a hand to stop him. "That's not what I'm asking."
"Ah." Fraser twisted around to grab a couple of sticks and throw them onto the fire. Sparks spiraled upward. He stared into the flames. "We've known each other for some time now, Ray."
Ray nodded once, quickly, and then realized Fraser wasn't looking. "Yeah."
"We're good friends, wouldn't you say?" Fraser glanced over, and their eyes met. Fraser had a smudge of soot on his right cheek. Ray curled his fingers into his palm.
"The best," said Ray. His mouth was dry. Fraser wasn't going to just say something. Fraser would never make the first move, even if he was thinking along those lines, which Ray didn't think he was.
But then Fraser continued, "And friendship is about—about sharing." And he stopped.
"What's on your mind?" Ray managed, as casually as he could.
Fraser cleared his throat. Everything suddenly went quiet, so all Ray could hear was the crackling fire. The light flickered eerily, and Ray got a premonition that what Fraser said next was going to change everything. He held his breath.
"I'm afraid I have a—a confession to make."
"Yeah?" Christ, he was going to say it. Ray's pulse picked up, clanging like an alarm bell, so he nearly didn't hear Fraser's next words.
"Well, more of an admission, actually. A disclosure. And since we—"
Fraser was babbling. Ray was going to freak out any minute now, at the chance that all his hopes might come true—and Fraser was babbling. "Spit it out, Fraser. No, wait. Don't tell me. I think I know what you're gonna say, and—" He wanted the fire to go out, wanted the dark to swallow him up, but he had to say it. Why should Fraser take that risk? Ray could do this. "Me, too."
Fraser looked up, startled. "I beg your pardon?"
Ray took a deep breath, adrenaline-jittery but sure. "Don't freak out. I'm just saying—I feel the same."
"The same as what?" said Fraser blankly.
Shit. Ray's stomach flopped uncomfortably. "Nothing."
Fraser's eyebrows flew up, but Ray hunched his shoulders and glared at him, feeling like an idiot.
Fraser looked away first. A couple of drunks on the other side of the park were staggering around singing Oklahoma! After they'd finished the chorus, Fraser swung his attention back to Ray. Ray held his breath. "Right," said Fraser. "Well, then. It's just that—in light of our long-standing partnership, and my occasional—sorely provoked—anomalous behavior, it occurs to me that I've never actually mentioned that I—"
You love me, thought Ray.
"I see ghosts."
Ray frowned. "Ghosts." Fraser was yanking his chain. "You see ghosts."
Fraser gave a tiny nod. "Well, technically, just one ghost."
Ray sat up straight and looked at Fraser carefully, seeing the serious line of his lips, the worry written on his forehead. "You're telling me you're delusional."
Fraser's mouth opened and shut. He adjusted his hat. "I suppose," he said. "I suppose that's the most logical explanation, yes."
"Fraser," started Ray, and then stopped. "You see a ghost," he finished, flatly.
"Yeah." Fraser busied himself pouring tea, but he paused, the full cup in one hand, the thermos in the other. "Is that—is that a problem, Ray?"
Ray stared at him, then shook his head slowly. "You tell me."
"The delusions—if, in fact, they are delusions—don't appear to have any negative side-effects." He sounded sort of defensive. Ray put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"This ghost—And does this ghost talk to you?" Suddenly lots of things started to make sense. Things he'd always assumed were just Fraser being freakily Fraserish. Which, he guessed they were, but now they had a reason underneath them. Method to the madness.
Fraser looked even more worried, but he nodded determinedly. "Yeah."
"And you talk back," said Ray. "Okay, I get it. Okay." Fraser was crazy, really certifiable. It didn't seem right to speculate on whether that meant he was more or less likely to want to have sex with Ray, so Ray pushed that thought aside.
Fraser's eyelashes brushed his cheeks. "There's something else."
"Something else?" Ray leaned forward.
"About the ghost." Fraser looked at the sky a moment, raised his face to it like it was full of stars instead of pollution. "It's a rare thing, Ray," he said, his face in shadow. "It's a rare thing to be truly known, and—loved for who you are."
"I know you, Fraser," said Ray, recklessly.
Fraser's chin dropped and he smiled slightly. "That's true. However—"
Fraser was silent for a long time. Ray started to wonder if he'd lost the power of speech. More sirens wailed in the distance—car alarms, ambulances. A dog was barking. Finally Fraser rubbed his palms up and down his thighs and met Ray's eye. "It's my father."
* * *
They put the fire out and moved up the bank, where the grass was almost dry enough to be comfortable. Ray didn't think about it. He lay side-by-side with Fraser on the slope. "Scorpius was the first constellation my father taught me," said Fraser, pointing. "It's right there."
Ray pulled out his glasses and tried to see. "Where?"
"Slightly to the right of the Sears Tower, and up about nineteen degrees."
Streetlights flared on Ray's lenses. "I can't see anything."
"No," said Fraser. "The air and light pollution in the city together block out the stars almost entirely. But it's there all the same, whether we can see it or not." He sighed, and twisted his head slightly. "They all are."
Ray was having a hard time following the conversation. He rolled to one side and pulled a stone the size of an egg out from under his hip, then settled back down again. "So, uh, tell me about your dad."
"He was a great man." Fraser twirled his hat by the brim, then put it on the grass between them. "He apprehended more than five thousand miscreants in nearly forty years of service. Not that quantity is the only indicator of efficacy, but it's certainly—"
Fraser trailed off. Ray nodded and waited, wondering if this was how shrinks felt. Probably shrinks didn't want to play tonsil hockey with their patients.
"The first year my parents were married," Fraser said, his voice soft now, like he was telling a fairytale or reciting a poem, "they were terribly poor. My mother's family had made an unfortunate investment in a failing carbolic soap company and were deeply in debt, and my parents came to their aid. Then, late in September, my father disappeared."
Ray imagined being Fraser's mom, all alone in a cold snowy landscape, and shivered. Wow, that must've sucked.
"The RCMP didn't know where he was, and my mother was frantic with worry. She would have gone after him, if she'd had any idea where to start. After two weeks' absence, my father arrived home one evening in Colbert Craven's truck, and on the back of the truck was a gift for my mother."
"What was it?" Ray asked.
"A pianoforte. He'd made it himself out of several packing crates, an old mattress, and various abandoned objects. It was a remarkable feat."
"Wow." Ray spared a moment of gratitude that his own dad had been into cars and not freaky home-made instruments. "Did it work?"
"To some degree. It was rather recalcitrant when it came to staying in tune. But that's not the point, Ray. My mother didn't care about the piano. She turned on my father to tell him he was wicked to disappear without a word, to waste time on frivolous toys when she'd been so worried. When she'd needed him. But when she saw the look on his face, love and pride and fear—he was crazy about her, always so afraid that she'd leave—she knew she couldn't say any such thing. So she thanked him, and welcomed the instrument into their home, even though they'd barely room for the furniture they already had."
Fraser folded his hands on his stomach. "That was the way my father was—and still is. Never there when you need him. Thoughtful in all the wrong ways. Infuriating and pig-headed, and several forks short of a cutlery set—"
Fraser's voice was barely above a murmur, and Ray held his breath, listening to this rare spill of blunt honesty.
"And yet, he's clearly so well-intentioned, so big-hearted that it's impossible to hold it against him, even when you want to wring his neck."
That sounded kind of familiar. Ray bit back a grin. "And now he's haunting you."
Ray let his hand drift sideways, meaning to pat Fraser's arm, but somehow finding Fraser's hand instead. He gave it a squeeze, and let go. "Jeez, if my old man was hanging around being dead at me all the time, I'd go crazy."
"Some would say you'd have to be crazy for those conditions to occur," Fraser pointed out softly.
Ray propped himself up on one elbow. The trees were black against the city lights and Fraser's face was edged with gold. "You're not crazy, Frase. You're a freak, but you're not out of your mind."
Fraser turned toward him. "How can you be sure?" The question was heavy with worry and uncertainty. Ray's chest swelled with needing to protect Fraser, to reassure him. Even if it meant Fraser was certifiably sane. Even if that mean they were never going to do it, be partners the way Ray wanted to be partners.
He thought a minute. How would he know if Fraser was really cuckoo? "If you were crazy, Dief would tell me."
Fraser let out a surprised crack of laughter, and Ray flopped back on the grass, grinning, and let the warmth of making Fraser feel better make up for all the things he'd never get.
He took a deep breath and let it out real slow. The earth kept spinning. Life went on.
Fraser's warm strong fingers found his, stroked lightly. "Ray—" His voice was low and rich like thunder.
Ray went still. "Yeah?"
"About what you were saying earlier." And Fraser was suddenly close, his head propped on one hand, his eyes searching Ray's face.
Ray ran the tip of his tongue along the inside of his teeth, and breathed in deep through his nose.
"I feel the same, too," said Fraser.
"Yeah," said Ray, all the breath whuffing out of him. "Okay."
They stared at each other for a long minute, until Ray'd gone hot all over and couldn't stand it anymore. "So, uh, you gonna kiss me now?"
Fraser gave him a killer smile, and closed the gap between them, his mouth warm and open, sucking gently on Ray's lower lip. Oh yeah, thought Ray incoherently, bringing his hands up to frame Fraser's face, to make this real. He tasted Fraser's tongue, and lost all sense of time and place. There was only this kiss, stars whirling overhead, a tuneless piano in the snow, and this kiss, this kiss. Fraser's breath sweet in Ray's mouth.
Fraser grunted, and touched Ray's shoulder, his waist. His hands were nervous, fumbling. Fraser was nervous? That was brainless.
Ray pushed Fraser's head up a little, so he could see his face. They were both breathing hard, and Ray's thumb slipped sideways and smoothed off the small smudge of soot from the campfire. "Freak," he said.
Fraser's smile could have lit up the night. "It takes one to know one."
* * *
It was like a dream, except that Ray's arm was going dead. He pulled it out from where it was squashed into the mattress under Fraser's chest, and slipped it between the crook of his neck and the pillow, pulling him close.
Fraser's eyes were shut, and he was breathing deep, like he was nearly asleep, but Ray wasn't fooled. Fraser was smelling him again. He grinned to himself, then thought of something. "Hey, Fraser, tell me."
"How long've you felt like this?"
Fraser's eyes blinked open, and he looked at Ray, surprised. "I've always had feelings for you, Ray," he murmured.
"Yeah?" Ray tried to get his head around that. All this time. He ran his hand down the hot skin of Fraser's back. "So, uh, why didn't you say something? I mean, here I am, knocking myself out trying to figure Does he like me? I mean, I know he likes me, but how much does he like me? And you couldn't have given me a hint?"
Fraser's eyes glinted, but other than that he looked perfectly sincere. "Sorry, Ray. I thought you knew."
Ray pushed him away and looked at him, wide awake now. "You thought I knew. How could you think I knew? You never told me."
Fraser rolled onto his back, and reached up to trace the curve of Ray's jaw with his index finger, then the lines around his mouth. "I believed we had an unspoken agreement."
"You're the expert at body language, Ray. You know." Fraser seemed earnest. Ray couldn't figure out if he was faking or not.
"No, I don't know. That's what I'm telling you. I do not know."
"Ah." Fraser's finger curved behind Ray's ear, stroked a delicate trail down Ray's chest, and circled his nipple.
Ray caught his hand and held it. "Stop distracting me, Fraser. What was this agreement? What exactly did I agree to? Tell me."
"Well, Ray, you and I agreed—quite early on, in fact—not to act on our mutual attraction as long as you were undercover as my partner. I admit I was somewhat dismayed when your actions indicated this restraint was necessary, but you made it very clear that you couldn't otherwise carry out your role as Ray Vecchio convincingly." Fraser smiled brilliantly. "Have I mentioned how glad I am you changed your mind?"
Ray huffed out a breath, and stared and stared at him, but couldn't get angry, not while their bodies were tangled together like this, warm and lazy and worn out. "You're delusional, you know that?" he managed at last.
"Yes, Ray," Fraser said, nodding, still smiling at him. "Yes, I know."
Crazy by Icehouse
I've got a pocket full of holes.
Head in the clouds, the king of fools.
You've got a ribbon of rainbows,
the sun in your eyes burning through.
Could be I'm happy and sad,
could be I'm losing my head over you.
Well, you've gotta be crazy, baby, to want a guy like me.
Yeah, you've gotta be out of your mind - crazy.
So if I'm dreaming don't wake me tonight.
If this is all wrong, I don't want it right.
'Cause you're the one sure thing
when I get lost in the game once again.
Hey, I'm a lucky guy without a reason and I don't understand.