Thanks: A million thanks to Miriam for fabulous, insightful, relentless beta, without which this would be nothing and have no plot, as is explained at length in this DVD commentary.
For three weeks I was like a kid pulling the petals off of a daisy: I tell him, I tell him not.... trying to decide whether to tell Fraser I love him. But then there was this one moment when we were standing by the side of the road next to Fibonnacci's and I'd just said "Pizza or Chinese?" meaning I would pay good money to see you naked, which is not the kind of conversation starter you throw at your partner, traditionally speaking. So I said "Pizza or Chinese?" instead, but Dief looked at me funny anyway, and then looked at Fraser and made this strange little whuffling noise.
Fraser whipped his head round and looked at me, and turned back to the wolf and said, "No, I don't think so." And then he frowned across the pavement at nothing for just a moment and said "No" in his firm too-polite-to-be-impatient voice.
And then I knew, somehow I knew it would be okay to say it. I just didn't know how.
A couple of days later, I'm standing in the break room staring blankly at the vending machine, thinking about Fraser, when he sticks his head round the door and says "Ah, Ray!" which makes me jump like a mile in the air.
"Don't do that!" I say, rubbing my neck and trying not to grin at the sight of him.
"Sorry," he says, clearly not meaning it at all.
And I think Now! but before I can open my mouth, he opens his mouth and says, "I believe Francesca's looking for you."
About a second after that, Frannie comes in, all low-cut blouse and getting in Fraser's face. She's holding a piece of paper and I catch a glimpse of my name printed at the top of it, but does she give it to me? No.
She says, "Fraser, I need your advice. My neighbour's cousin is thinking of buying a pony for her daughter, and since you know all about horses, I thought you and me could have dinner and—" Which pisses me off, because how come it's so easy for her?
I sort of shove myself between the two of them, which is not as easy as it sounds because they're only half an inch apart, and I say to Frannie, "There's a library two blocks that way." I swing my arms in the direction of Chicago Public. "You got a message for me?"
Frannie scowls at me, but I'm too busy thinking about Fraser behind me to care. I'm guessing he's making his helpless apologetic face at her, which she doesn't ever seem to notice is the same as his relieved face. She says, in a huff, "Fraser and I were talking" and jeez, she sounds like my mom.
"Yeah, and I'm working, which is what we get paid for." I snatch the piece of paper from her hand. "Come on, Fraser." And I leave the room.
Behind me, I hear Fraser say, "Ah, sorry, Francesca. Perhaps later." And then there's hurried footsteps, and then there's Fraser at my side.
The message is a lead on the Capesi case and an hour later we're driving through the countryside looking for an ex-florist who's growing opium poppies to sell wholesale. I have only vague memories of The Wizard of Oz but I remember there's a scene with a poppy field, and if this is that, I figure myself for the scarecrow and Fraser for the tin man. Toto is back at the station having an altercation with some leftover takeaways.
So while I'm driving I'm still picking away at the How To Say It problem. Do I send flowers? I don't think so. I give Fraser flowers, all he's gonna notice is the genus and whether they're out of season for the time of year. And then he's gonna say, "Thank you kindly, Ray," and that'll be the end of it. I'm telling you, I been thinking this through.
So I figure I'll just blurt it out when the time is right. But then the Goat starts coughing and acting up, and I pull over to the side of the highway and take a look under the hood, knowing that this is it. And it is fucking scary.
I mean, sure, I told people I love them before – one or two people, I told. Stella, of course, and my mom – Anyway, it's not like the words are unsaid by me, or anything, but this is Fraser. He's all intense and serious and buttoned up about that stuff, all matter-of-fact and No Ray, that buddy breathing lip thing didn't mean anything, even though it did. It changed everything.
Fraser's looking around at the sky and nature and stuff, so he doesn't notice that the problem with the car is a loose coil connection, which is giving the Goat hiccups. Okay, it takes me a while to figure it too. I check all the leads till I find it, and then I strip the wire back and reconnect it. And then I slam the hood down quickly.
"Yo, Fraser. Get in the car," I say, trying to sound calm. "It's no good."
"Are you sure there's nothing we can do? Perhaps I could take a look," says Fraser, walking towards me.
"No," I snap, and it comes out sorta grouchy because I'm so nervous. "We're not going anywhere. Trust me."
He blinks. "All right," he agrees mildly, "although I do have a fair amount of experience with snow mobiles."
I ignore that, and he stands there a moment, and then he gets into the car.
So here's the scene: we are sitting in the Goat on a long straight stretch of road. There's a high hedge on one side, and on the other are these huge hayfields that go forever. The sun is setting in a blaze of like a billion colors, and it's real quiet except for the crickets and the wind rustling the hay. We are totally alone for miles in every direction.
Fraser says, "Perhaps if we call—"
"Cellphone's dead too," I lie. "No reception."
"Ah," says Fraser, and he is about to turn into a boyscout, I can see him turning into a boyscout as I watch, and any second now he is gonna suggest we hike our way 35 miles to the nearest phone or some such. Or start sending smoke signals. And I gotta, you know, pre-empt that, before we start arguing like we do, so I say, as casual as I can but feeling like I'm going blind, like I'm losing all feeling in my legs, and my fingers have gone numb, I just say it anyway. "Hey Fraser," I say. "Something I gotta tell you."
"Yes, Ray?" Yeah, he's all ears now.
And maybe it's unfair to drag the poor guy out here to the middle of nowhere and spring this on him. All of a sudden, I'm thinking it's not fair, so I blow it off. I say, "Nothing, never mind, forget it," and a second later my pulse slips down below 150 and I start breathing again. Thank Jesus.
But Fraser says, "Forget what, Ray?" and I realise that now he's got the scent of something waiting to be said, he's gonna worry it out of me.
Not my fault, officer. Nothing I could do. He made me.
I'm chickenshit, sure, but I'm not that much of an asshole. Not yet. So I say, "It's like this" and I'm gripping the steering wheel with both hands, and Fraser's sitting beside me, hat on his knee, and he's watching me all interested. Waiting.
All of a sudden flowers are not sounding like such a stupid idea. So I mutter, under my breath, and really I'm talking to myself now when I say, "I should've sent roses."
That gets his attention for sure. That gets his full on scorching 1000 watt attention. He swivels sideways in his seat and stares at me, and I can't believe it, because what he says is "To whom?" And there's something in his face I never seen there before, and I'm thinking – I'm not quite sure, but I'm thinking that it's hope.
So I bite the bullet. I say, "To you, Fraser. I should've sent you flowers instead of getting us stuck out here in the middle of nowhere." I hurry on before he can start with the hiking talk. I hold up my hands to stop him, in fact, and now I've taken my hands off the wheel I feel all at sea, like I could say anything, like I could do anything, and there is nothing to stop me from drowning except Fraser sitting there looking at me.
I say, "It's like this, okay? You would think—" I swallow, and put my hands safely back on the wheel, and I look at all that hay, turning darker and richer as the sun sets. "You would think that I would know better than to fall for—"
I nearly say someone. But I don't. I say it.
"—for you, because, well, just because. But it turns out I am not that smart. My heart is not smart. Or," I correct myself, aware that I am maybe saying this all wrong, I say, "or maybe it's the smartest bit of me there is, because to be honest with you, Fraser, you are the nicest person I have ever met. And," I tell the hayfield, my vision blurring, "I love you. Okay, so—" And I trail off, and I wait.
After a minute I add, kinda lamely, "I just thought you should know."
Fraser says, "Ray," and I think he's gonna blow me off. He's gonna say Let's be friends and he's gonna do it so nice it doesn't even hurt, but I know it's gonna hurt like hell. It's already hurting.
"Ray," says Fraser again, and this time I look at him. He is looking very serious. My heart sinks even further.
And then Fraser says the last thing I expect. He says, "Did Diefenbaker put you up to this?" And jeez, he even sounds wounded at the thought.
"What?" I say, so loud it echoes around the car. "Did what?!"
"Did Diefen—" Fraser starts to repeat in that patient way he has.
And I gotta soothe that look off of his face. I am not gonna be the cause of that look. I say, "No, Fraser. Nobody put me up to this. I put me up to this. This is me, saying to you that I love you." It's easier the second time. "This is not some kind of a stunt."
Fraser still looks doubtful. "It's just that he's been insisting that for months now, and you've never—"
I take a second to register that and, when I do, I vow to myself to buy Dief a dozen donuts when we get back to the city. Maybe two dozen.
"Fraser, you have to face the truth," I say earnestly, and I turn sideways and take his shoulders in my hands. "The wolf," I say, "is smarter than the both of us. Possibly combined." And I lean forward real slow, to give him time to back away if he wants, which he does not seem to want to do, and I press my lips against his mouth and stay with that for a moment.
It's a good moment. Oh yeah, it's sweet. His lips are warm and full, and he smells like Fraser, which is exactly the right smell for a person. Just exactly fucking right. My whole body begins to shake, but I try and stop it. I try and keep still and calm.
I am so fucking not calm.
We stay like that until I have to see his face, to make sure he's okay with this, and then I pull back and Fraser is frowning. Uh-oh. There is a frown on Fraser's face. He says, "You're lonely."
"Not anymore, Fraser," I say hopefully, but to be honest things aren't looking too good right now, despite the kiss, and maybe I'll get transferred out of state where I can get over this in private.
It's like Fraser doesn't even hear me. "You're lonely, and someone pays you attention – the only one to listen – but it doesn't mean it's love. It doesn't mean it has to be that kind of love."
And I don't know what to say to that, but I'm still hanging onto his shoulders so I give him a little shake to get him to snap out of it. "It's that kind of love, Fraser," I say. "I can't help it."
"I, I'm afraid I'm in the same boat, Ray," he says, like that's a problem, like I wouldn't want to hear it. "I've tried to rationalise it, but it's remarkably insistent."
And that's when I click that the stuff about lonely was not about me. That's what he's been telling himself. Telling—
"How long, Fraser?" I ask. I need to know this. "How long have you known?"
"Always," he says, and now he's looking dazed and I think he's finally catching up with this conversation. "Ever since we met, I've wanted—"
"Fraser, I love you." This time it feels good. I am gonna keep saying it because it just keeps getting better.
He reaches up his hand and touches his lips with his fingers, like he's finally feeling the kiss now. "Understood," he says.
And I stop staring at his mouth then, even though it's hypnotic. I drag my gaze away up to meet his eyes, because you know, mostly when Fraser says understood like that, he's swallowing something else.
I look at him and he's got this glint, like he gets it, but he's also raising his eyebrows at me like he doesn't know what to do about it either.
I snort. "Understood." And his hat slips to the floor as I gather him into my arms and give him the biggest hug I got.
Which of course is when the shooting starts.
"Down!" I yell, tugging at him. "Get down." But he's already launched himself on top of me, yeah, his weight against me, his soft hair in my face though there's no time to appreciate it. I shove him sideways and grab my gun, flicking off the safety.
Who the hell is out there?
The back window of the car explodes with a crash and there's a dull thud and something twangs in the back of my seat. Shit! I check the wing mirror. In the fading light I can just make out the short skinny figure of ex-florist Ted Hayes running towards me, clumsily reloading a shotgun. For some reason it makes me really mad.
We're not in a strong position here. He's too close. Any movement and he's gonna blow us away. I figure our best chance is if we drive off a few hundred feet, spin round and come back for him.
But, see, Fraser thinks the car is broken down. Fraser's improvising a plan B. So while I'm fumbling the key into the ignition as quiet as I can, I hear a tiny snick to my right, and I feel a cool breeze on my cheek, and I turn and he's gone.
He's fucking gone.
I abandon plan A, the plan that's gonna keep us both in our respective one pieces. I whack my glasses on my face and twist round to kneel on the seat and I start blasting away at Hayes through what used to be the back windshield, the discharge making my ears ring in the closed in space.
Only problem is I can hardly see a goddamned thing through the shattered window. It's still hanging there like Christmas frosting, with a hole the size of a dinner plate smack dab in the middle. Hayes is off to the left, but I can't tell where.
I have time to take out Mario Capesi, though, who's lounging like an idiot against the black Ford Sierra, aiming his .35 at my gas tank. I shoot him in the shoulder and then, before Hayes has time to return fire, I flatten myself down, smacking my hand against the dash in frustration.
I have no idea where Fraser is. I'm assessing the situation, and I can't assess the situation because I don't know where the fuck my partner is. And, as usual, reminding myself that he can take care of himself doesn't help at all. But I try to be Zen, and focus on distracting the florist to give Fraser a chance to make his move.
I seize the top of the wounded seatback and pull myself round again to see what's going on. Before I get that far, though, a shotgun barrel punches through the open window and slams – yeouch! – into my chest.
There's still enough light that I can tell Hayes is covered in these dark smears of dirt across his shirt and his face, as though he's been digging. Also, he's shaking like a drunk with DTs and he looks totally pissed. "You put me outta business once," he hisses at me, "and now you're after my ass again? No way, man. That's freakin' harassment." He thrusts the gun even further into my chest, forcing me back against the car seat. "I got investors. I got a loan."
Yeah, and I know who those investors are too, but I try placating him, saying, "I know, I know, it's okay. Calm the fuck down, okay?" All the time I'm thinking, Hurry up, Fraser!
But Hayes is losing it. He bites his lips together so they disappear into his face, and his pale crazy eyes go blurry with tears, which in my experience is bad news, especially when I'm close enough to tell. I see the grimy nail on his trigger finger twitch. And then, in my peripheral vision, I see red.
Fraser steps in, his hand held out like he expects Hayes to just give him the gun. "Previously you specialised in selling endangered plants," he points out, severely. "Your business could have wiped out whole species. The dicerandra immaculata alone is under imminent threat of extinction. Your current operation is illegal. Also, I'm afraid Mr Capesi has been deceiving you, and he's not a sales representative for the Society of American Florists after all."
Hayes turns his head to argue, pulls back just a little, and I take my chances and slam the door into him, jerking the gun into the air with my elbow as I do so. It fires, deafening me and wrenching my arm down and sideways, and the passenger window crashes into a thousand tiny pieces.
Hayes is sprawled on the ground, winded from the impact with the door. Some tough guy. I yank the gun out of his hands and put it behind me in the car.
"Are you all right?" Fraser asks, helping me up so I can cuff Hayes and Capesi.
"Yeah, I'm fine." I look at him, check he's okay. He has a scratch across his nose, and bits of hedge caught in the straps of his uniform, but aside from that he looks fine. He looks great.
"I'm very glad to hear it," he says, all serious and sincere.
I nod, enjoying his closeness and that we're both still breathing. "Yeah, and you know what? I'm going to send you flowers. We get back to town, I am gonna—"
He puts a finger against my lips. I guess he's just trying to shut me up, but I close my eyes and breathe in the smell of dirt, and something else. Something sweet. I push my lips against his finger in a kiss, and even that, even just his rough warm solid finger makes me dizzy.
"Ray," he says, and there's a quiver in his voice.
"Mmm?" I open my eyes.
He doesn't take his finger away. What he does do is to show me his other hand, where he's clasping a big clump of brilliant red opium poppies. They're all raggledy and some of them are trailing roots and tiny clods of dirt like he just grabbed them and tugged them out of the ground. But they're beautiful, too.
"Perfect," I grin. "Those are perfect."
He smiles back at me. "They do seem metaphorically apt."
"Yeah." I glance at the ground where the bad guy is starting to move, starting to groan about his lawyer. "You got the right to remain silent," I say distractedly, and then I say to Fraser, "You know what? I gotta call for backup."
"Of course, Ray." He frowns. "Ah. The cellphone—"
I clear my throat, and even blush a little. "I, uh, I may have overstated the problem with the phone," I admit. "And also maybe with the car."
His frown clears, and he's looking at me with his incredible eyes, full of warmth. "That's—a relief," he says, and I heave a silent phew that he doesn't seem to mind that I wasn't completely above board with that.
Hayes grasps my ankle, and I slap the cuffs on him, but I'm still tuned into Fraser. "Yeah," I say. "Big relief."
"Perhaps later—" He looks out into the middle distance for a moment, towards the field of poppies which is disappearing into the night, and it's like he's making a decision, and then he turns back to me. "I wanted to ask your advice, actually. You see, Constable Turnbull's brother's hairdresser's daughter is planning to take up boxing, and I was wondering whether you and I could perhaps have dinner—"
And I feel this huge smile spreading across my face. "My vast and detailed experience is yours for the taking, Frase," I say generously. "Anything you want. All of it."
He nods, looking pleased, smiling ear to ear, and that makes me so happy, so fucking happy I can't stand it.