Hearts and Flowers - DVD Commentary

by china_shop and Miriam

Hearts and Flowers - just the fic

CHINA_SHOP: Wow. Okay. I wrote this so long ago, and it harks back to a kinder gentler time. I re-read it yesterday, and thought, "What's happened to me?! Back then it was all hesitant sweet declarations of love and now it's fucking and fighting and heartbreak! Oh dear."

Anyway, this was my second Due South story (third slashfic, if you don't count the wombles, which I don't). I tend to write my first drafts without thinking very much, so this'll mostly be about the beta/re-writing process and choices. (Plus this is the bit I'm most interested in – the place where the story gets good.)

This was one of those "think of the first line (at the gym, as it happens), and then follow it around to see where it goes" stories. The Elevator Diaries was from Fraser's POV, so I wanted to try Ray's, but I wasn't very confident about it because the first draft the TED really sucked and I didn't notice. My beta, Miriam, had to point out the problems to me. So I had no way of knowing whether the first draft of Hearts and Flowers worked or not. I sent it to Miriam and said, "I dunno if it's worth finishing and I've written all the easy bit, I'm stuck now, so I'm not gonna persevere unless someone says yes, go, do."

She did.

Oh, one more thing before I start. My influences at this stage were primarily canon, and Speranza's and Resonant's Due South fic. I hadn't read widely in the fandom (or in any fandom, particularly). This meant that my first draft was brimming with fandom clichιs. I think I was much more disciplined then, under Miriam's firm eye, at weeding them out.

MIRIAM: Hi. Miriam here. I wanted to make the occasional comment here. Mainly, this is because I thought it was really cool when Julad did it on Speranza's commentary track for Kowalski Is Bleeding, but also because otherwise you're all going to think of me as a plot-obsessed disciplinarian with issues about sex. And I prefer it if people have known me for a while before working that out.

Anyway. My approach to critiquing is kind of top-down, big picture stuff; what I'm most concerned with when critiquing any piece is whether or not it works as a story. And, if it doesn't, suggesting how to fix it. With most slash the ultimate goal of the story is usually obvious, so I'm more focused on how the story gets there rather than why we're bothering with it at all (unless china_shop informs me that she's writing RPS again or something else that I will not beta in the hope of preserving some illusions about myself). Which means, usually, structure, plot and pacing, with the occasional argument over canon, symbolism, or weird American versions of things.

I also do almost all of my critiquing by phone. This makes it much easier to judge the impact of what you're saying (when I do a written critique I spend a lot of time agonizing over whether I've been too harsh or too insulting; not usually a problem with china_shop, who reacts remarkably well to me saying things like, "actually, I think your supposedly sympathetic protagonist is a murdering heartless psychopath") but does make it slightly embarrassing if you're trying to critique sex scenes while your flatmates are within earshot. I can critique in person, but I never seem to be within a couple of hundred kilometers of the people I'm critiquing for.

CHINA_SHOP: My other starting place for Ray's voice was Damon Runyan. Yes, I'm aware that 1920s New York is not 1990s Chicago, but when you're from the other side of the world, they don't sound that different.


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.

CHINA_SHOP: This is supposed to be Fraser talking to Bob. I'm never sure how obvious that is.

MIRIAM: Given that until I read this I assumed it was all to Diefenbaker, possibly not that obvious.

And then I knew, somehow I knew it would be okay to say it. I just didn't know how.

CHINA_SHOP: This segment was originally about a page long and full of "If you get yourself killed, I will kill you" and lip licking and uniform fetish and excessive coffee. I think Miriam said I had too many starting paragraphs, and I kept paring at it till it only said what it needed to say.

MIRIAM: As I remember, you had four paragraphs that all felt like openings; all good, but the overall effect was too choppy for the reader to settle into. I'm pretty sure I couldn't decide which one I liked best and pushed that decision back to you. I think this has elements of two of them.

One of the things I like about fan fic openings is they can be like this – fast, punchy – and your readers won't be going, "hey, who are these people?" They're with you already. Especially when you've got the voices and the feel right, which I think this does.

CHINA_SHOP: Conversely, this next segment was general and vague and very short. It read:

So anyway, I'm waiting for the right moment, and there are a couple of near misses – by the vending machine in the breakroom, for instance, but then Frannie comes in all low cut blouse and getting in Fraser's face, and I start thinking we gotta be completely alone for this.

Miriam said make it specific, make it a scene (or, at least, I presume she did, because that's what I did, and I always do what I'm told). I hadn't written any of the supporting characters at this stage, so I was very nervous about attempting Frannie, but it was fun and funny, and it brought the beginning of the story to life, so yay. (I almost always find that, when betas tell me to do something impossible.)

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.

MIRIAM: China_shop had all these issues about writing the supporting cast which were obviously completely unjustified. I help her deal with these in a supportive and sympathetic fashion by suggesting more supporting characters with every story ("You know, the only way I can think of to solve this plot element is to have Welsh talk to them").

'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.

CHINA_SHOP: The plot was added last. More about that later.

MIRIAM: Most (all?) of the policework plot lines get added last with china_shop's stories. This is fine if there's enough narrative space to fit them in, which was the case here, but retro-fitting a plot into The Sweet Hereafter was a nightmare, because by that stage there were so many things it either had to do or couldn't do. I think china_shop has some deleted scenes somewhere that illustrate some of the loose threads that just had to be snipped off when we couldn't tuck them in anywhere (I made her cut the past life dream sequence, for example, and I think you should all be grateful). Conversely, with the emotional plot lines, everything's usually there, and occasional tweaking is usually all that's required. Making sure people react to things that they should react to (more on this later), mostly; making sure Fraser doesn't just stand there suffering silently, or stopping Ray from wallowing in angst for *pages*, because he tends to drink too much and start drooling in the margins.

China_shop and I have quite different approaches to writing – I'm fussier about plot, she's fussier on a technical level – and I think it works well for critiquing. I get to come up with outlandish plot twists that I don't have to write, and she gets to point out tactfully that I'm using semi-colons completely wrongly, again.

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.

CHINA_SHOP: I always mean to do more with the Wizard of Oz comparison. There's a lot there, I think. Fraser, the tin man in search of a heart, in particular.

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.

CHINA_SHOP: I had a bunch of rhetorical questions here:

So what? you're saying. Go for it, you're saying. Whaddaya need warning for? You been planning this for a week. And yeah, you could say that, but no way did I realise how fucking scary this would be.

Miriam and I discussed whether they were in character, and she thought, given Ray's monologue in Eclipse I could get away with it, but they snagged me every time I read it, so in the end I took them out.

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.

CHINA_SHOP: "and my mom" was "this guy from cop school", but Miriam had canonical issues with that and, in the end, "mom" is funnier.

MIRIAM: I can be talked into a lot of different interpretations of Ray, from the swinging bisexual to the deeply closeted – even straight! – but, apart from the canon issues, having "this guy" here pulls you out of this story and into another one (What guy? What about Stella? What happened?), which is distracting.

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.

CHINA_SHOP: I asked the guy at my garage for an appropriate car ailment (having looked on the 'net and failed to find anything). I think it's the most non-google research I've ever done for a story.

'Yo, Fraser. Get in the car,' I say, trying to sound calm. 'It's no good.'

CHINA_SHOP: I often have a problem with making Fraser too passive. Like, at this stage, I had him silently do what Ray told him to. Miriam called me on it, and also said he should talk more (she always says that), so I had him argue a little.

MIRIAM: Fraser in china_shop's first drafts tends to be the silent type. I think Ray's pov is a lot more tempting to write in, and he can be this steamroller of a narrator that leaves Fraser somewhat flattened by contrast. So I try and make sure Fraser's there, reacting, and not just rubbing the occasional eyebrow or cracking the occasional neck.

The Elevator Diaries had a Fraser point of view, but in the original draft he still wasn't reacting to Ray (particularly when Ray was distressed), and he came across as passive-aggressive and kind of mean. This is all fixed now and if you haven't read the story you really should.

'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.

MIRIAM: I still feel here that Fraser's being a little too compliant. However, I know that I tend to over-complicate things, and in the end they're both going to have to get in the car anyway.

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.

CHINA_SHOP: I really like this bit of scene-setting. TV without pictures.

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.


CHINA_SHOP: So I was scribbling away, and this is where I first got stuck. I was like, "Okay, so what does Fraser say? Shit. I have no idea." So I got up to do my dishes, and somewhere between the cutlery and the plates I thought, "Diefenbaker!" and sat down and kept writing. This line still makes me happy.

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 sooth 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.'

MIRIAM: Now I notice that "sooth" should be "soothe". Some beta.

CHINA_SHOP: Gah! That's been there all this time!? *facepalms*

MIRIAM: I love the Diefenbaker line, too – it still makes me grin – and I also like Ray's speech, where he says "My heart is not smart", which has a nice sound to it, the sort of thing you say for the meaning before you realize you've ended up rhyming. But I didn't want to put all that in the middle of the scene and distract you all.

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.

CHINA_SHOP: This beat here was added specifically at Miriam's suggestion. I had Ray pretty much ignoring the "Dief knows" revelation, but she said he had to react to it, so I added this paragraph. In general, in first drafts, I often don't have characters reacting enough to what's going on around them, because I'm too busy trying to get where I'm going, you know?

MIRIAM: Lack of anticipated reactions and the boring plot bits (i.e., not directly slash-related) are often what a lot of my comments boil down to on your first drafts. Part of that is trying to figure out what the reader needs as well as the character – here, for example, I think this reaction is just as much for the reader (a "yay, Dief" moment) as it is for Ray.

My favourite lack of reaction scene is not from this fic, but I'll mention it anyway – in The Sweet Hereafter, there's a scene where Ray goes snooping through Fraser's criminal record. In an early draft, you had him note an arrest for murder (Jolly's) without any apparent concern or commentary at all, and then it's all "Whoa, Fraser stole Milk Duds?" for half a paragraph. I think this can be a problem in fan fic, where the readers already know what really happened - but that doesn't mean your characters do.

'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.'

CHINA_SHOP: I think this line shows how recently I'd begun reading slash: I didn't take it for granted then that love = eros, so it was really important to me to have one of them acknowledge that they could care about each other and it could be not all about sex. Or that it was, but they were resisting it. Fraser, in particular, with his literary background and high-falutin' ideals, seems like someone who would totally be into intense platonic love as an ideal. (Not that I have any interest in writing that. ;-)

MIRIAM: On the other hand, if anyone has any story recs involving this, they should let me know. Maintaining my image.

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—'

CHINA_SHOP: Looking at the first draft, I see that Fraser initially said, "Four weeks and three days." I have no idea why.

So this was where the first draft ended, and I sent it to Miriam and asked whether I should keep going. I figured that this was the andthentheyhadsex point, and I didn't want to go to the trouble of writing a sex scene if it was no good. She came back to me and said that it didn't need a sex scene, it needed a plot. And action. So I tried that instead.

She also encouraged me to make it quirky. I'm pretty sure the poppies were her idea, and the ex-florist definitely came from her. Okay, yes, she gave me the plot. I am very grateful.

MIRIAM: So. Justifying this decision – as I said, it depends on the story. In the early draft, this was a sweet little piece – Ray has feelings, Ray confesses them to Fraser, Fraser admits he shares them and they get together. What I thought it needed was not more sweetness (and really, with this story, you couldn't suddenly go into a rough explicit sex scene without giving your readers whiplash, which is a phrase that sounds much more dodgy than I intended), but something to counterpoint the sweetness and build a little tension. And action, especially the due South brand of comic action, always works well.

What happens when I say things like that is that china_shop says, "but *what* action?" in a firm, confident and non-whiny manner, and I say something supportive like "I don't know, you're the writer". Once we get through this stage, I toss ideas out at random and see what sticks (this definitely needs to be done on the phone or in person, because it works best when I just kind of babble and someone else writes things down). The story needed a reason for them to be out in the middle of nowhere, on a farm, which is probably where the florist came from. Actually, I think there were flowers already, so the florist seemed like a logical extrapolation.

Of course, you can have emotional sweetness, quirky action and a sex scene, but these things only occur to me afterwards.

'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.

CHINA_SHOP: My first attempt at this bit was kind of flat and vague, as is often the case for me. I tend to zone out during action scenes in movies and on TV, waiting for the character/dialogue to pick up again, so I have to be careful to get a tight enough POV and use lots of good actiony words and onomatopoeia. Miriam prodded me until I made this work (or until she got bored prodding me – I actually don't know which).

MIRIAM: I have trouble blocking action scenes in my own stuff - a writing friend of mine who does martial arts once spent an afternoon talking me through a group fight scene with the aid of a bunch of small plastic soldiers, many of whom went on to make the ultimate sacrifice. Because I think action is one of china_shop's weak spots, too, and yet it's important in canon, I nag her about it and often tend to end up suggesting actiony type scenes to break up all the emotional drama she's already got there. I've never yet had to suggest inserting a scene where Ray gets drunk and thinks moodily about relationships.

'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.

CHINA_SHOP: I only think Fraser's hair is soft because everyone else seems to. Is this canonical? Maybe it's really wiry. Maybe all the hairspray makes it weirdly crunchy.

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.

CHINA_SHOP: I like this bit – Fraser not knowing the plan. Ray's deception coming back to haunt him. This was a lucky accident, but it makes narrative sense to me, so I rejoice.

Incidentally, Miriam tried to make me take out some of the swearing (because Ray doesn't swear in the show). First the sex scene, then the swearing. Honestly, it was like having Bowdler for a beta. (I was totally shocked when she made me put a sex scene at the end of The Vecchio Problem! It undermined my whole worldview!)

MIRIAM: Man. Defenders of public morals just don't get any respect. Actually, as well as canon issues, the problem I had with this bit originally was that suddenly Ray was swearing *a lot* - I think I counted four fucks, or variants thereof, in two paragraphs. It was like flipping between a family cop show and one of those "caution, contains language" ones where everyone's terribly corrupt and morally ambivalent, and has bad hair.

And it's jumping out of this story again – but, if you look at the start of The Vecchio Problem, the dynamic set up at the beginning is clearly one of sexual tension (they're kissing in a morgue, for starters), and so that's what needed to be resolved there. This story starts with Ray wanting to tell Fraser he loves him. It's a different sort of tension. I'm starting to sound overly defensive, aren't I?

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.'

CHINA_SHOP: Hey, look! Detail. Dialogue. Yay, beta!

MIRIAM: You'll also notice how china_shop also associates betas with scary people with weapons and nervous twitches. Possibly this is why I mainly critique by phone.

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.'

CHINA_SHOP: So originally I had Fraser clonking the guy on the head with a rock, but not only was that too violent for Fraser, it missed the chance for some funny. In case I haven't hammered this point home sufficiently yet, Miriam always tells me to a) make Fraser less passive, b) add the funny, c) make Fraser talk more, and I always think it's impossible, I can't, but I manage it somehow and it always makes it better.

MIRIAM: china_shop does great humour. I might suggest making something funnier, but she always comes up with the actual lines like the diceranda immaculata one above.

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.

CHINA_SHOP: See? Fraser brings Ray flowers. Awwww! (Okay, that was obvious, huh? I didn't need to say that.)

'Perfect,' I grin. 'Those are perfect.'

He smiles back at me. 'They do seem metaphorically apt.'

MIRIAM: And all I do with these bits is read them and grin.

'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—'

CHINA_SHOP: Obviously harking back to Frannie's line earlier.

Wow, I'd forgotten this, but re-reading the previous drafts, I see that originally Ray asks Fraser for advice about horses here. I like this much better (it was probably M's idea), because it makes Fraser actively engaged in the relationships. Yay. Plus it's funny, and I like Ray's reply underneath.

MIRIAM: I think the details were your idea, actually, but I'm happy to assume the credit. I don't ever do much with your endings, once the police plots are tidied away, and it should hopefully be obvious that I don't need to. I even let you get away with swearing, here in the last line, because it's all internal dialogue and therefore entirely canonical.

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.


CHINA_SHOP: Ending with hyperbole, as is my wont. :-)

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