Rating: PG
Pairing: Fraser/Vecchio, references to other pairings
Thanks: Thanks to sage and mergatrude for beta
Notes: For the Apology challenge on ds_flashfiction, and for aerye

Gloria (don't believe it's coming back soon)

by china_shop

They'd forgotten to draw the curtains. Ray usually closed them as he got ready for bed, but last night had been Gloria, and she and Fraser had both had other things on their minds.

In the punishing sunlight of early morning, though, the person sleeping next to Fraser was unequivocally Ray. Ray with glitter in his eyebrows and traces of make-up, smudged and faintly ridiculous, around his eyes. Ray with stubble darkening his jaw, hair close cropped.

Ray couldn't sleep in the wig. It gave him a headache.

Fraser touched his cheek lightly, the hollows accentuated by the trials of the last year — Frannie, and Ray leaving, and Fraser's own ongoing delays with securing a permanent transfer to Chicago. Ray was worn down.

By contrast, Gloria had "found her fight," as Dee would say. She was busier, more daring, more passionate than ever. Her performances had a conviction that sometimes took Fraser's breath away.

"Hey." Ray caught Fraser's hovering fingers and guided them under the sheets to press against Ray's chest. "How you doing?"

Fraser met his eyes, hiding nothing.

Ray's mouth widened. "Oh, the big day. You sign and seal your transfer papers, I debut my — Gloria's new routine. We should go out tomorrow night and celebrate, huh? Just you and me."

Fraser kissed him and sat up. "I'd like that." He took a drink of water from the glass on the nightstand.

"Hey," said Ray again, softly, slinging an arm over Fraser's lap. "Is it weird for you? You know, going to bed with Gloria, waking up with me. That bother you?"

Fraser smiled at him. This was a conversation they'd had half a dozen times over the years. "Not at all," he said, honestly, as his always did. "The facts of our lives may not be normal by most other people's standards, but — well, they're normal for me, Ray." He brushed a few grains of glitter from Ray's cheek, kissed him again and got up.

"Me too, Benny," said Ray, sounding as though he might fall asleep again.

"Don't you have a meeting with the FBI this morning?"

The only reply was a muffled grunt, but by the time Fraser was spreading marmalade on his toasted bagel and Dief was tucking into his kibble, the shower was running. Ray's off-key singing brought another, involuntary smile to Fraser's lips.

Inspector Hobson sat behind his polished desk and eyed Fraser. "I have them right here."

"Thank you, sir," said Fraser. It took every ounce of willpower he possessed not to lunge across the gleaming wooden surface and snatch up the transfer papers that lay on the blotter.

"You know, this wouldn't have taken all these months if you'd applied as soon as you arrived in Chicago — or even before — instead of waiting nearly seven months. It's all quite irregular."

"Yes, sir."

"Head Office wanted to be sure that your resolve would hold."

Fraser looked at him levelly. "Head Office, sir?"

Hobson's pale blue gaze wavered. "Fraser, when an officer such as yourself, who showed great promise, who should by rights be in the prime of his career, whose record is littered with letters of gratitude and regard from a wide range of civilians and officials alike. When a man such as yourself requests a transfer for a position well beneath his capabilities and at marked odds with his known interests, approval of such a request requires careful and thorough consideration." Hobson picked up the papers and tapped their already neat edge against the blotter as if to straighten them further. "We can't have officers ping-ponging around the continent with reckless disregard for continuity and order, Constable."

"Yes, sir." Fraser dragged his gaze from the precious papers to his soon-to-be-commanding officer's frown. "I mean, no, sir."

"And such a request is highly irregular, besides," Hobson continued. "Diplomatic postings are awarded, Constable. They are no one's as of right." Hobson looked severely at Dief, who'd apparently grown tired of waiting and was nosing his way past the mostly shut door and into the inner sanctum. "However, it would appear that somebody up there likes you—"

"Up where, sir?" Fraser wondered for a fleeting moment if the transfer request had actually required divine intervention (though surely God would have acted with greater speed). He signaled to Dief to be patient and Dief flopped to the floor with an incredulous sigh.

"Ottawa," said Hobson, reverently, and continued to lecture him for another ten minutes about the history, purpose and solemnity of the RCMP, both in Canada and abroad, until Fraser was seriously reconsidering his decision to work for the man. But it was too late for second thoughts, and Ray would be justifiably outraged if there were yet another hold-up.

"—however, Meg Thatcher's references were positively glowing, and old Buck Frobisher put in a word for you. Well." Hobson stopped and blinked at the papers still in his hands. "I suppose you'll be wanting these."

"If that's acceptable, sir, yes."

Hobson nodded, as though his worst fears were coming true, and Fraser felt compelled to reassure him. "I'll do my best to fit in, sir."

"Your best," repeated Hobson. "I expect nothing less." He opened his mouth as if to continue, but seemed to think better of it and instead finally relinquished the documents.

"Of course, sir." Fraser grabbed them with unseemly desperation. "Thank you."

"Signed?" said Ray around a mouthful of hamburger. "I don't believe it!"

"Signed and lodged." Fraser glanced around the diner, crowded and noisy, as if it represented the entire city of Chicago. There were three men and a woman, all in navy suits, arguing loudly about politics at one table, a mother and three young children having lunch at another. A couple held hands in the corner booth, and three elderly women sat at the counter and planned a silver wedding anniversary.

He turned back to his own meal and found Ray watching him. Fraser tilted his head in query.

Ray chewed and swallowed his mouthful. "Thanks, Benny."

The last of Fraser's lingering reservations dissolved. "Anything."

"Yeah, me too. You know, if it weren't for Frannie, I'd've moved up north with you months ago. You know that, right?"

Fraser shook his head and dipped a French fry in the pool of ketchup on his plate. "What about Gloria?"

"You telling me they don't have drag bars in Freeze-your-butt-off?" Ray grinned.

"That's exactly what I'm saying," Fraser told him. "The Arctic isn't particularly suited to high heels, and local custom favors snowflakes over glitter."

"She'd like that, though," said Ray. "Less competition. A small fish in a small pond is a lot like being a big fish."

"You wouldn't last a month before she needed to go shopping or you needed to see your family," Fraser teased. "Besides, we couldn't have left Chicago any sooner—" He broke off too late.

Ray's face clouded and the light-hearted atmosphere turned brittle. "He's not coming back," said Ray, as if he were talking about a stranger. "If he was coming back, he'd be here by now." He crumpled his paper napkin and pushed his plate away. "Either he's dead or he's moved on, and either way, I don't give a shit anymore."

"You don't mean that."

Ray's chin jutted out, an echo of Gloria's proud attitude, and then he dropped his head and swiped the condensation from the side of his water glass. "It doesn't matter what I mean."

Fraser resisted the temptation to reach for his hand and instead gave him a rueful half-smile, acknowledging their helplessness. Shortly after he'd returned to Chicago, back when Frannie's recovery was still the prime focus of Ray's attention, Fraser had taken Ray aside. "Do you want me to go after him?" "I need you here," Ray had answered, taking Fraser's arm in a death grip. They hadn't discussed it since.

Fraser cleared his throat, breaking the silence between them now. "Regardless," he said, "my position's finally secure and we can move forward."

"Yeah," said Ray, hunching forward and giving him a look that made Fraser impatient for nightfall and privacy. "Yeah, we can."

Fraser ran some errands and then took Dief to the park. They arrived back at the apartment shortly after dark, with Fraser intending to shower and meet Gloria at the club before her show. He jogged up the steps of their building, but Dief stopped at the door, turned and woofed, and a voice called, "Fraser!"

Fraser took a sharp breath. "Ray?"

The lean figure approaching from the driver's side of a nondescript sedan was unshaven and his face was lined and tired. He walked with a slight limp and as he neared, it became obvious his clothes smelled of tobacco smoke and gasoline. Dief tore over to him and jumped up. "Hey, furface!"

"Ray!" Fraser went forward gladly. On the surface, Ray was barely recognizable.

He pushed Dief aside and came forward. "Fraser. Christ, it's—" Even his voice was hoarse and unfamiliar, but the clasp of his arms around Fraser's shoulders was pure Ray Kowalski.

Fraser hugged him back, trying not to hold on too long. "You're alive," he said stupidly.

"Yeah." Ray pulled back, grimacing. "More or less. Sorry."

"Don't be foolish," said Fraser, and shepherded him inside and up the stairs. "I'm— We haven't heard from you. It was impossible not to speculate."

"I know, I know." Ray stopped halfway up the second flight of stairs and shook his head. "Ignore me, okay? Re-entry's always a little bumpy."

Fraser had no idea what he meant so he just nodded and nudged him to keep going. "I'm very glad you're okay, Ray."

"Okay's still up for debate," Ray muttered, but Fraser was too busy bundling them all into the apartment to reply. He switched on the light, and Ray looked around. "It's different."

"It's been a year." Fraser followed his gaze — the odd wood carving here and there, photos of Frannie and Alexandra, the hat press next to the terrarium, Dief's rug on the floor by the radiator. "Ray, I—"

But Ray was already circling the room. He picked up a photo of Alex, studied it a moment and put it down again, then stopped by the hat press and fiddled with the clasps. "I know. Frannie told me you were back."

"I'm sorry."

Ray shrugged without looking at him. "Time don't stand still. I know that." His fingers brushed the brim of the Stetson. "You did what I couldn't. I should be thanking you, right?"

Fraser went over to him. "I missed you, Ray."

"What about Vecchio?"

It was an ambiguous question. Fraser chose the safer interpretation. "He's still angry, I think."

Ray smiled grimly. "Yeah, it must've killed him, knowing I was out there where he couldn't take care of me. But I had to, Fraser. I had to do it right."

"I know." Despite the stench of Ray's clothes, it was an effort not to touch him again, if only to reassure himself this wasn't a delusion, a ghostly visitation. Fraser retreated to familiar ground. "Did I ever tell you the Dene story about the man who flew across the ocean? He was—"

"Fraser," Ray interrupted. "It's okay. You don't have to talk me down off a caribou ledge." He drifted away, and crouched down beside Dief to scrub the fur behind his ears. Dief nosed him affectionately, but didn't make a fuss. After a few minutes, Ray sat back on his heels. "So where is he?"

"He's— Gloria's performing tonight. She'll be at the Pink Ladies' Club by now, getting ready."

Ray looked up, surprised. "He's still doing that, huh?"

"Very much so." Fraser tilted his head, considered briefly and threw Fate to the winds. "You should go."

"Uh. I was never— it's not really my scene, you know?"

"All the more reason." Fraser went to put the kettle on, ignoring his own conflicted emotions. Whatever was best for Ray Vecchio — for Gloria— And only she could say what that was.

"You gonna come with me, then?" Ray leaned in the kitchen doorway, his thin shoulder hunched — whether against the past year or the complexity of the present, Fraser couldn't tell.

"No." Fraser got out two mugs and made tea. "How did you hurt your leg?"

"Twisted my ankle jumping out a window a couple of weeks ago. On the run from the local cops." Genuine amusement lit his face. "Should've taken landing lessons from you, back in the day."

"I could prepare a poultice." Fraser remembered too late how they'd tended each other in the past — the intimacy and tension, hands gentle on skin — and wished he could retract the offer.

But Ray shook his head anyway, perhaps answering the larger, unspoken question. "I should—" He jerked his head towards the door. "What time's he on?"

"Nine-thirty, maybe ten." Fraser held out the second mug of tea, but Ray raised his hand in refusal and stepped back.

"Maybe some other time." He shoved his balled hands into his pockets. "You're right. I've got to talk to Vecchio before I do anything else."

Fraser looked at him. "It's just tea, Ray."

"I know."

But the room was subtly charged, Ray at once too close and too distant. I've confirmed my transfer, Fraser wanted to tell him, but now wasn't the time for that conversation, and he could already anticipate the response — that he'd done for Ray Vecchio what he'd refused to do for this Ray. It was only partly true — the Vecchio family as a whole needed him here — but it was true enough.

Ray broke the silence stretching between them. "I'm back now. It's done. We got all the time in the world to work this out." He rubbed his temple tiredly. "I'll, uh, I'll see you soon, okay?"

"Okay, Ray." Fraser set both mugs back on the counter and followed him to the door. "Soon."

Ray ducked his head in assent and started down the hall.

"Ray," Fraser called after him.

He stopped and half-turned, almost silhouetted by the light at the top of the stairwell, his posture achingly familiar. The years rolled back.

"I'm glad you didn't end up dead," said Fraser, just loud enough for the words to reach him.

Ray let out a bark of laughter. "Yeah, me too, Fraser." And he left, but not before Fraser glimpsed the fond, complicated smile on his face, and felt an answering one on his own.

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