Thanks: Huge big thank yous to sageness and brynnmck for beta! Yay for both of you! Special thanks to omphale23 for putting words in the taxi driver’s mouth.
Notes: For the Shopping List challenge on ds_flashfiction. This is a sequel to Gloria (you're always on the run, now).
By the time the taxi pulled up outside Fraser's apartment building, the taxi driver was fifteen minutes into a diatribe about the construction work that was "spreading across the city like a rash, especially that godawful mess down on Wacker." Fraser gave him a handful of small-denomination American money and tipped his hat. "Thank you kindly."
It was late enough that Jerome and Hank on the corner were asleep under their matted blankets. Ray was sitting motionless in his car at the curb. Eyes open.
Fraser waited while the taxi drove off in a cloud of exhaust and then raised a hand to Ray in salute and went upstairs to change and collect Diefenbaker. Dief was restless, and glad to see him. A breeze through the open window stirred the curtains and Fraser closed the window firmly. His hackles were still bristling, every sense alert.
He transferred Gaborone's address to his jeans pocket and left his hat on the kitchen table.
Dief loped downstairs ahead of him to the waiting Riv, and Fraser called after him to exhibit some restraint this evening, that they were in no mood for lupine hijinks. His warning fell on deaf ears, of course, but one could always hope.
Ray was leaning back in the driver's seat, his eyes shut now, his skin sallow in the sodium streetlight. His eyelid twitched and his legs tensed when Fraser held the seat forward for Dief and then slid into the car himself, but other than that he remained still.
"Lieutenant Welsh cooperated," Fraser told him without preamble, "and I have Gaborone's address."
Ray let out a long slow breath. "Welsh didn't suspect anything?"
"No." Fraser extracted the folded address from his pocket and handed it to Ray.
Ray opened his eyes but didn't look at the paper. "You're sure."
"Yes, Ray." Fraser let his fingers brush Ray's arm, getting only the faintest hint of body heat through Ray's coat and jacket, then dropped his hand to his own lap. "There's no cause for concern."
Ray threw him an incredulous look, and Fraser bowed his head in acknowledgement. It had been far too close for comfort. To have averted disaster primarily through eavesdropping and luck was unthinkable—and certainly not a viable long-term strategy. And yet, what other choice did they have?
"Okay," said Ray, shrugging it off and getting down to business. He glanced at the address in his hand and started the car.
The streets were relatively quiet—for Chicago, anyway—and shiny with rain. Fraser didn't comment the first time Ray ran a yellow light. The second time, he spoke. "We can't arrest Burbank tonight."
As long as Jerry and Bob were being detained, they couldn't go back to the station without putting Ray's secret in jeopardy.
Ray took a corner too wide and the car fishtailed. "You think I don't know that? But we can find him, we can keep an eye on him, and we can stop him from pulling any stupid stunts and hurting those girls. What we can't do is leave him running around out there."
"Understood." Fraser watched Ray as the streetlights flicked past too fast, observed his reckless driving and pinched face. He wanted to say something supportive, reaffirm their connection, but the words stuck in his throat. They were on duty.
He licked his lower lip and told himself to be patient.
"Chicago PD! Open up!" Ray pounded on Gaborone's front door for a second time and a light finally came on in the hallway, illuminating the yellow-patterned glass around and above the door.
A gaunt woman in a navy terrycloth robe answered the door. She was clutching a baseball bat in her hand. "What do you want?"
"Marianna Gaborone? Ray Vecchio, Chicago PD. We need to talk to your scum-sucking brother."
She adjusted her grip on the weapon and glared blearily at them. "You don't look like cops. Where's your ID?"
Ray flashed his badge. "Detective Ray Vecchio. Is your husband home?"
"No, he's working nightshift. Jesus, it's past midnight! You couldn't have waited till morning? I have to be up by six-thirty."
"How 'bout your brother? Where's he?" Ray asked belligerently.
It was clear she was in no mood to talk. "Sorry to wake you, ma'am," Fraser intervened. "We're looking for Mr. James Burbank. His employer hasn't seen him since Friday and his apartment is deserted. Do you know where we could find him?"
Her tired eyes flickered and the corner of her mouth tightened. "I don't know anything—I haven't seen him."
"It's very important we locate him." Fraser held her gaze. "Innocent lives may be at stake."
Her lips twisted into a faint sneer and she bent her head so her long bangs swung across her face. "It's the middle of the night. I have no idea where Jimmy is. Probably in Arizona by now, if he knows the cops are on his tail."
Fraser nodded. "Thank you, ma'am. Sorry to have woken you."
"If you hear from Burbank, tell him Detective Vecchio says hello," Ray added, but she was already turning away. The door banged shut and a few seconds later the light went out.
"He's in there," said Ray, shoving his fists into his coat pockets.
Fraser nodded again. "Yes."
The Gaborones' trashcan contained a handful of floral birthday cards, the remains of a roast chicken, a broken antique-style lamp, a faded rubber duck, a few bills and credit card receipts, and a crumpled grocery list. When Fraser peeled a limp lettuce leaf off the shopping list, unballed the wrinkled paper and turned it over, there was a misspelled half-finished letter in which the writer threatened to sever the recipient's hands from her body—apparently the first draft of a new communiqué from Burbank.
Fraser examined the ink. He smelled and then tasted the lettuce leaf to determine its freshness, ignoring Ray's customary groan of disgust. The letter was recent. "He's been here in the last four hours."
Ray nodded, unsurprised. "He's in there."
Fraser met his eye. Under normal circumstances, they'd radio for a search warrant.
Ray looked grim. "So we'd better keep an eye on him."
"And if he tries anything?"
"If we have to pick him up, I'll call Simon O'Connell at the twenty-third. He can take the collar."
Fraser considered this. It was a reasonable solution. "He won't ask any questions?"
"Nah, he owes me." The taut set of Ray's shoulders belied his casual tone, but there was nothing Fraser could do to alleviate the situation. They would have to make do.
He nodded and followed Ray to the car.
The stakeout was a test of Fraser's endurance and control. His body was primed for action, but there was nothing to do except wait and remain vigilant. Ray seemed lost in thought and responded monosyllabically when Fraser tried to engage him in conversation to pass the time. And when Fraser began to tell a story about his father on patrol with Buck Frobisher, Ray shook his head. "Not now, Benny."
"All right." Fraser fixed his eyes on the Gaborone house, sweeping his gaze across the outline of the house and the yard, checking for movement. He tried to force himself into a watchful meditative state but found himself repeatedly distracted by Ray's presence—and, perversely, longing for Gloria. Her perfume was faint in the car but unmistakable, her profile almost identical to Ray's. Fraser wanted to see her, to hold her and wrap his arms around her, warding off the fears he could see written on the body next to him. Gloria's body. Ray's body.
Gloria wouldn't shut him out like this—not anymore. She'd let him comfort her.
Ray shifted restlessly in his seat and turned the radio on low, spilling a Bonnie Raitt song into the air between them, and Fraser felt a tremor of unease. It should be enough to be with Ray, to keep watch over him. But it wasn't, and Fraser's hands itched for the heavy slide of black nylon hair trailing through his fingers, the scrape of press-on nails across his shoulders, her softness. He wet his lips, imagining, and the dark house in front of him fell out of focus. The conversation from the stationhouse echoed in his mind, Ray saying you love her more than me.
It shouldn't be true. It wasn't fair and, more than that, it didn't make any logical sense. They were one and the same. And yet—Fraser swallowed guiltily and reached for Ray's hand, stroked his thumb across the knuckles. "I do love you, Ray."
"What?" Ray was miles away. He blinked at him owlishly. "Yeah, me too." He squeezed Fraser's hand and gave it back to him, the message clear: not here, not now.
The stricture chafed despite the obvious wisdom of it. They had a job to do. Fraser rested his hand along the window frame, memorizing the imprint of that little squeeze and trying to be content. Ray was his partner, his friend and his lover. He was generous with his time, his money and his affection. It was greedy to want more—to want everything.
But then Fraser had always, secretly, been greedy. His grandmother recognized the impulse early on—Fraser's unwillingness to let his father leave for patrol, his demands of just one more twilight trip to see to the dogs, just one more anecdote. Martha Fraser had tried with reasonable success to channel Fraser's hunger from a specific self-serving desire into a need for universal justice. It had taken many years for Fraser to understand that that was what she was doing, and by the time he did, he thought she'd largely succeeded. Still, there were moments he struggled to subdue the impulse—wanting more than he could have and relying heavily on the memory of her brisk no-nonsense advice to control his actions. He wondered now what Martha would think of all this, of Gloria.
And was it even fair to Ray to think of Gloria as divisible, an independent being? Certainly Ray had spoken of her so, but to compare them, to feel differently for each—
Fraser clamped down on his conflicted thoughts and brought his attention back to the surveillance. A stray dog trotted along the sidewalk with its nose in the air, sniffing the cool March breeze. Several blocks away, a car alarm sounded.
Ray sighed but didn't speak.
Fraser silently counted to a hundred in Chinese and then studied the shadowy house again, searching for anything out of the ordinary. They weren't making any effort to disguise their presence, hoping it would act as a deterrent, delaying Burbank's next move until they were free to apprehend him.
Ray switched off the radio again. "Battery," he explained.
Fraser nodded and tuned into the subtle rustlings of Ray, sitting restless beside him, instead.
Just before dawn, Fraser heard the telltale bang of a door closing at the back of the house. He rolled down the car window and cocked his head, curving his hand around his ear to compensate for the lack of his Stetson. The street was silent and still, but—there—the distant click of a deadbolt sliding into place. The rasp of soft-soled footsteps on a garden path.
He grasped Ray's arm and shook him gently. "Ray."
Ray's eyes snapped open. It took him a few quick blinks to focus, and then he smothered a yawn. "What's up?"
Fraser pointed toward a stand of lilacs, where Burbank was rounding the side of the house.
"Son of a bitch," said Ray, and grabbed his cell phone from the dash.
The movement caught Burbank's eye. He froze in the soft gray light and stared at them, and anger and recognition twisted his face. A second or two later, he spun into action, vaulting clumsily over the low picket fence with his leather satchel clutched under his arm. He scrambled for his footing—one hand on the ground and the satchel nearly slipping out of his grasp—and took off toward the railway tracks at the end of the street, his legs pistoning wildly.
Fraser flung the car door open and himself into action, ignoring the protests of his tired, stiff muscles. The languor of the all-night vigil dissolved after only a few steps, along with any thought of his confused affections. Both were irrelevant now—there was only the pursuit, his boots scuffling on this suburban pavement, his heart rate accelerating, and the desperate slap of Burbank's footsteps ahead of him.
Fraser forced himself to run faster, knew he could overtake the man, but was still relieved when a white streak blurred past him and Dief cut Burbank off. A neat, efficient operation.
Burbank halted so suddenly that he overbalanced and rolled to the ground, tearing his jacket and skinning his elbow in the process. His bloody arm came up to protect him from Dief, who was growling fiercely.
"Stand down," Fraser told Dief, and said to Burbank, "He won't hurt you unless you try to run."
Burbank eyed Dief's bared teeth. "What is that thing? It ain't no dog!"
"He's a wolf. I'd advise you to show some respect."
An unmarked tan sedan turned into the far end of the street, its tires squealing—it was traveling well above the legal speed limit—and nearer by, Ray walked toward Fraser, with the rising sun glimmering over the edge of the skyline behind him.
Detective O'Connell was a corpulent middle-aged man sporting a silver belt buckle and snakeskin boots. Ray handed Burbank over to him with a quiet aside about Burbank's outstanding warrants and keeping their involvement off the record. O'Connell eyed Ray narrowly and then nodded and took Burbank in.
"You think we can count on him?" Ray asked as they stood side-by-side watching the sedan drive off again.
"O'Connell?" Fraser's eyebrow twitched and he scratched it absently. "He seemed genuine enough."
Diefenbaker whuffed agreement.
"Good. That's what I think, too." Ray led the way back to the car. "Come on, I'll buy you breakfast."
"Shouldn't you try to get some sleep?" Fraser let Dief into the backseat. "It's almost seven-thirty."
Ray shrugged and did up his seatbelt. "I can't go in to work this morning anyway, and I'll bet you dollars to donuts Welsh is going to call me in an hour to give me an update on Burbank."
Dief pricked up his ears and rested his muzzle on Ray's shoulder.
"Those were metaphorical donuts," Ray told him affectionately. "Would you watch the upholstery? I just had it cleaned." He looked across at Fraser, his face lined and faded. "So—pancakes?"
"As you wish." Fraser's throat hurt and he had to clench his hand into a fist to stop himself from reaching over and rubbing a thumb along Ray's jaw. He let a small smile escape. "And then sleep."
"Looking after me, Benny?" Ray said it lightly as he started the car, his eyes already on the road ahead.
Fraser swallowed. "Always." He looked out the window at the houses they were passing, small bathroom windows illuminated in the morning dusk, rolled up newspapers in the neat yards. "If you'll let me."
There was a sharp inhalation, as though Ray were about to reply, but when Fraser looked at him, he was frowning and his lips were pressed together.
Fraser tilted his head. "What is it?"
"Good to know you've got my back," Ray said gruffly, pulling onto the expressway.
"I'd like to." Fraser hesitated, unsure whether repeating himself from the station would help or hinder his cause. "Ray, if it happens to you—to Gloria—" His voice deepened involuntarily.
Ray held up a hand to stop him, then ran his fingers through his hair. "Yeah." He took a deep breath and blew it out. "If the shit hits the fan, I'm all yours, Benny. Gloria—we both are." The words were unexpectedly bitter, and indeed, there was no indication from Ray's demeanor than Fraser's offer of protection had lightened his load at all. His next words confirmed it. "A trouble shared is a trouble two people have."
Fraser couldn't help but correct him. "A trouble halved, Ray."
"No." Ray shook his head. "Don't do that. Jesus, stop trying to make this some kind of big happy ending, Fraser! I'm telling you, I had to run from away my own place of work last night. I couldn't do my job. I couldn't face up and protect myself. What makes you think you can save the day any better?" He overtook a large white van and swerved abruptly onto an exit ramp.
Fraser gripped the top of the window frame to steady himself against the erratic movement of the car. "Not a single thing," he said evenly. "But between us, we will be all right, I assure you."
"I wish I could believe that, Benny," Ray said tiredly. "Right now I just need pancakes and coffee."
Fraser watched the streets unfold around him and weighed up whether to accept the blocking tactic. Ray looked hunched and unhappy, but perhaps it was futile to pursue the conversation until they were somewhere private and stationary. And the consumption of caffeine and sugar couldn't help but improve their outlook.
"Okay, Ray." Fraser contented himself with saying. He leaned closer to make his solemn promise. "Whatever happens, I won't let you down."
Ray's phone rang when they'd nearly finished their breakfast. The cloying scent of fake maple syrup hung in the air, and Fraser was polishing off some excellent blueberry pancakes while Dief nosed an apple Danish under the table.
Ray put down his coffee cup—now on its second refill—and answered. "Vecchio. Yes, sir. What? Burbank—we've been looking for that rat all night. We're closing in, I know it. Have you heard someth—? Aw, man, the twenty-third? No! That was my collar, Lieu. We had him cornered—"
Ray's performance was convincing, the chagrin making his voice particularly nasal. Fraser found it unexpectedly endearing.
"Yes, sir. Safer streets, just like you said—Oh, about twenty-four hours, give or take. Yeah, all night. Yeah— Thank you, sir. Okay, I'll tell him. See you tomorrow. You can count on it." Ray hung up the call and slipped his phone into his pocket.
He seemed instantly calmer now that the call had been made and their cover story was secure. The prickly defenses of the night began to soften and melt. He met Fraser's gaze head-on, his expression tinged with a heat that set Fraser's pulse thrumming.
If Fraser unfocused his eyes, he could see Gloria in the angle of Ray's head, the tilt of his chin, but Fraser resolutely kept Ray sharp and clear, meeting his look openly and letting his desire show.
Ray got the message. He stared at Fraser's mouth and licked his own lips. "So, Benny," he said lazily, "I'm under strict orders to take it easy and catch some shuteye."
"Come home with me," Fraser said softly.
Ray leaned forward, his hands splayed on the table. "What about the Consulate? Don't Canada need you?"
"I'll switch shifts." Fraser mirrored him, so their noses were only a few inches apart. "It's not important."
Ray raised his eyebrows and Fraser could almost see the teasing digs form behind his eyes. Fraser's spirits lifted—this was his Ray, with all his insecurities and grace and humor. His Ray. Greed rose up in Fraser, and he wondered in a flash how he could have been so dazzled by Gloria that he'd taken Ray for granted. Well, no longer!
But then Ray scratched his neck and shifted, and it was as though a shadow passed between them. Ray sat up again, pulled away, leaving Fraser off-balance.
"Let's get out of here," Ray said, and called for the check.
Fraser frowned, and his words seemed to echo in the space between them. "Ray, is everything all right?"
"Sure." He dropped a couple of bills on the table and added drily, "Everything's dandy. Why wouldn't it be?"
Diefenbaker was first through the door, of course, grumbling as though he hadn't spent the better part of the night asleep on the backseat of the Riviera. "Yes, we're extremely grateful for your intervention," Fraser told him, exasperatedly, "but that's no call to be rude. A little courtesy—"
But by the time he'd refreshed Dief's water bowl and turned to continue the conversation, Dief was already curled up by the window, asleep, and Ray was grinning lopsidedly.
"—only takes an extra minute," he finished for Fraser. His smile faded. He unthreaded his tie. "This is just me, okay, Benny? I'm not up for anything more today."
Fraser went to him and took him by the shoulders. Licked his own lip as he searched for the right words. In the end, all he could find were the simple ones. "I want you, Ray. I want you."
And yes, there—it was as though Ray was letting himself really look at Fraser for the first time since he'd left the station house last night.
The wistful note in that one word almost undid Fraser. "You." He cupped Ray's unshaven jaw and kissed him, softly at first, teasing his lips apart, and then harder, deeper, as their arms slid around each other, pulling each other close.
Without breaking the kiss, Ray tugged at Fraser's jacket, trying to get it off his shoulders, and Fraser somehow managed to let Ray go long enough to shed it, letting it fall to the floor. Then they could get closer, their bodies pressing together hungrily. Fraser ran his hands over Ray's chest and shoulders, reveling in him and enjoying how his thin cotton shirt moved on his skin. He brushed the nape of Ray's neck and the warm back of his head. Meanwhile, Ray was burrowing into Fraser's clothing, seeking out the soft vulnerable places at Fraser's sides and lower back, as though he were staking his claim.
They stumbled to the bed, locked in their embrace, and Ray pushed Fraser down onto his back and then stripped off his own shirt, kicked off his shoes, and lay down next to him, raised up on one elbow so he could kiss Fraser's face and neck. Fraser's heart swelled with love until he couldn't keep it in. "I love you," he said, pressing his hand to the crisp hairs on Ray's chest. "You, Ray."
Ray shook his head. "It's okay, Benny. I can take second place to Gloria—I am her, after all. She's me."
Fraser caught Ray's face and forced him to meet his eye, saw his own love and need reflected there. "You're not second anything." And as though saying the words made them true, Ray's face lit up and Fraser was overwhelmed with his beauty. "I want you both. Just as much."
He ran his thumb over Ray's full lower lip, and took Ray's free hand and brought it to his own groin, shaped it to his arousal.
"Aw, Benny. I love you, too." Ray smiled, his cheeks pink in the morning light. He tugged Fraser's belt undone, sending shivers of excitement through Fraser's belly, arousing him further. "So are you gonna show a girl a good time, or what? Because I'm three-eighths asleep here, but I could use some attention before I—"
He broke off with a gasp as Fraser swiftly released his erection from his pants and stroked him, deliberately holding him a little too tight.
"Girl, Ray?" Fraser raised his eyebrows.
Ray laughed breathlessly. "Parts of me, maybe. Not that part, but if you want me, I'm a package deal."
Fraser rolled him onto his back and leaned over him. "How many times are you going to make me say it?" he asked mildly, deliberately mismatching his tone to his actions—fingers making themselves familiar with Ray's balls, touching him.
Ray's hips hitched up to meet him and he groaned, and Fraser couldn't help but take his mouth again, before tracing a path down his body, licking and nipping, and always, always aware of Ray's heady responses and his hands fisting the blankets.
"Don't ever stop, Benny," Ray murmured above him, and Fraser silently vowed not to. They belonged together: Ray and Gloria and Fraser, in all their complexity and combinations. This was one partnership that Fraser couldn't do without.