Thanks: Immeasurable thanks and feather boas to aerye and sageness for insight and encouragement, and not letting me be vague.
Notes: For the Secrets challenge on ds_flashfiction. This story follows on from Gloria (the alias that you've been living under).
Ray was halfway down the hall with a fresh cup of over-brewed coffee before he realized he'd left Jimmy Burbank's rap sheet in the break room. He side-stepped the evening cleaning lady and doubled-back. Steve Ellis and Max Mallory on the night shift were still comparing high school sporting injuries but Ray ignored them, snatched the printout from the stained counter and shook off the few drops of water that had wrinkled Burbank's warrant information. He headed toward the squadroom, all his focus on puzzling out Burbank's plan. The threats were escalating. They had to close this one before somebody got hurt. Maybe if they found Burbank's brother-in-law, Gaborone—
He ran into Fraser outside Interview 2 and took in his bland expression, the tension in his shoulders. "You got something? Because if not, I'm gonna get Elaine to—"
"Ah, Ray. If I could have a quick word—" Fraser's voice was over-loud. His shirtsleeves were rolled up to the elbows and he had his hat in one hand, held out at an angle to shepherd Ray into Interview 2's observation room. He shut the door behind them. "What?" Ray reached past him for the doorknob. "Come on, Fraser, we got work to do. If we don't figure out how to stop this creep—"
"Ray, you can't go out there." Fraser braced a firm hand on the door to keep it closed and his low urgency cut through Ray's distraction. "Alicia and Suzette are in the building. They're on their way up."
"Alicia?" For a split second the name didn't mean a thing. Then understanding billowed through him like a shockwave, crumpling all his years of painstaking precautions, leaving him naked and trapped. His heart banged into overdrive. "Alicia. Oh, Jesus." The styrofoam cup tilted in his grasp and coffee splashed on the floor and his pant leg.
A second later Fraser was pushing him against the door, holding him up, his hands tight on Ray's arms. "Ray, listen to me. We have to make sure they don't—"
"They're here? They found me?" Ray shivered, chilled by the fear in Fraser's eyes. Ray'd known Alicia was trouble, but Dee had stood up for her, convinced him she was the real deal and her cattiness was just for show, and of course Fraser had been full of Canadian metaphors about the milk of human kindness and compassion and shit. That was the problem with both of them—Dee and Fraser—too kind-hearted, too gullible. Willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt, no matter what it cost them—or those around them. And now Alicia was here to, what, blackmail Ray? He was fucked. "What do they want?"
Fraser shook his head and spoke quickly. "They don't know you're here. Detectives Huey and Gardino were investigating Roy Millerson's business dealings in relation to suspected extortion when they found Alicia and Suzette in possession of 3.5 grams of cocaine."
Ray swallowed and pulled himself together. It wasn't as bad as he'd thought. "So they brought them in," Ray finished. "Alicia and Suzette, not Jerry and Bob?"
Fraser nodded, his face pale.
Christ. Alicia and Suzette, here in the precinct. They weren't lifestylers: Jack and Louis must've picked them up at the club. "Where are they? Did they see you?"
"I don't believe so. Detective Gardino was bringing them up for questioning. I happened to overhear Elaine receive the information from the front desk and went to investigate."
So it was already gossip. Two drag queens in the station house and tongues were already wagging. Ray slumped back against the door. "Christ. Those morons."
Fraser frowned as if he couldn't decide whether Ray meant the duck boys or the girls, then he cupped his ear and scrunched up his face, listening to faint noises from the hallway.
"We have to do something," Ray said. "I have to get them out of here." Which was stupid—they got caught with coke. They had to answer for it just like any other perp. He knew that and goddammit, he agreed with it. But Dee would give him hell, all the same, if she ever found out he didn't raise a finger when he could've. Dee thought everyone at the club was family, no matter how crooked or far out they were. Sometimes Dee reminded Ray of his real family more than he cared to admit.
"Ray, you're an officer of the law—" Fraser started.
Ray shoved him away with both hands, his fear burning like anger. "Yeah, I am, Fraser, but you know as well as I do that the law isn't fair. If they were white-collar businessmen caught with an eighth of an ounce they'd get off with a slap on the wrist. We're talking personal use, here. Christ, if they were politicians, the mayor would make a call. But they're not—they're guys who dress up like girls and parade around on stage, and that makes them fair game. You tell me why that's okay!"
"It's not. Of course it isn't." Fraser kept his voice down, trying to calm Ray so Fraser could manage them out of this mess. Ray gritted his teeth to keep from lashing out—none of this was Fraser's fault. "But that's not the point, Ray. If Alicia and Suzette are using illegal drugs, they have to accept the consequences."
Ray shook his head like he hadn't just thought exactly the same thing. He turned against the door so that he was staring through the one-way mirror at the empty interview room next door. "It's not the drugs they're answering for."
"Ray." Fraser was in his space again, his hand on the back of Ray's neck, ready to maneuver Ray to safety.
"It could be me, Benny." His voice was dull even to his own ears. "Last night, next Tuesday—they bust the club and I get caught with someone else's purse. Or someone spreads rumors and Gloria goes down on suspicion." He rubbed his eyes with shaking hands. "No protection, no lawyer, no one I could call—"
Fraser made a choked sound of protest and then was right up against his side, solid and righteous. "No. Gloria—we're in this together."
Ray swallowed bitterness. "Yeah, and what good could you do? Christ, I'd just take you down with me."
"Ray." Fraser sounded furious, now. "Promise me you'll call. If it comes to this—" His hand tightened on the back of Ray's neck. "Promise me!"
Ray pulled him close and wrapped his arms around him, holding him tight and ignoring his stiff resistance. "I don't know what I'd do, Benny," he whispered in Fraser's ear. "I don't even know what's the right thing to do now."
"Ray." There was more than determination in Fraser's voice. He might believe his world turned on justice and the law, but Fraser was loyal to the bone. Ray knew it, recognized it deeper than words. Fraser would go down fighting for Gloria without a second thought for his own skin.
Ray couldn't let that happen. "There'd be nothing you could do." The words tasted like bile. "If it gets out I swan around in dresses and high heels with a boa 'round my neck, I'm finished. I've always known that. I live with that every day. And you know why I keep doing it, why I put on the damned padding and the wig and the nails? Why I keep going back to the club and singing the same damned tunes week after week?"
He pushed Fraser far enough away that he could see his face.
"I do it for her, for Gloria. I do it because I have to. She was a part of me for years before you turned up, so don't start acting like it's some kind of sacrifice I make to keep you happy. I know you love her—maybe even more than you care about me. But she's a part of me, okay? You—you give her a place to live, a chance to be seen, but she's not your responsibility. I take the risk. She's my problem."
Fraser opened his mouth to interrupt but Ray was in no mood to listen to a damned thing he had to say, so he grabbed Fraser's head and kissed him hard, a declaration, saying it again without words. It wasn't safe or right to do this here. But he had to get through to Fraser, make him understand what Ray felt, what Gloria felt, and that was everything: gratitude and fear and love, so much love.
Fraser tore his mouth away. "I'll protect you," he said raggedly. "Both of you. I'll stand by you, no matter what."
Ray pulled his head forward so they were forehead to forehead. "No, Benny. You can't. Don't even—"
On the other side of the window, the door of the interview room banged open, and Gardino swaggered in with a clipboard under his arm and a smirk on his face. The girls followed, Alicia with her makeup smeared but her blonde head held high and Suzette in her six-inch heels, fighting the cuffs and swearing, towering over Gardino. She was trying to look tough but Ray could tell when a perp was freaking out. Huey closed the door and waved them over to the table.
"Ladies," sneered Gardino, pretending to be chivalrous.
Ray went over to study the scene, the side of the window frame biting into his palm. Alicia was friends with Dee, but she only performed Mondays so Ray'd only seen her act once or twice. From what little Ray knew, Jerry ran a small electronics store over on North Oketo Avenue and Bob was some kind of small business accountant. Neither of them was doing well enough to afford a good lawyer, and Jerry for one had a wife and family who probably didn't know how he spent his Monday nights. Ray clenched his jaw.
Huey threw an evidence bag onto the table. "Is this yours?" he asked Alicia.
"No," she shot back evenly. "I never seen it before."
"Ray," Fraser spoke in Ray's ear. "We need to leave—"
But Ray couldn't tear his eyes away. Gardino was a cocky piece of shit. Huey was playing good cop but Ray could see the steel trap closing. It was so easy to picture Gloria on the other side of this flimsy one-way glass. "I have to—Benny, I—" He met Fraser's gaze head-on, knowing his distress was obvious.
Fraser led him away from the glass. "Let me."
Ray tried to pull himself together. "No, I have to—Christ, what do we do?"
"Detective Gardino will want to put them in a holding cell overnight. The cells are already crowded—" Fraser pressed his lips together. Ray could see him thinking.
"They won't last a night in the cells." He knew the score.
Fraser nodded agreement, and Ray could see what it cost him to admit the system wasn't safe. "I'll talk to Lieutenant Welsh. Perhaps he'll permit Suzette and Alicia a change of clothes."
"Yeah, yeah, get them out of drag." Ray took a deep breath. "Good plan. But it can't be you. The Lieu—"
"It has to be me," Fraser interrupted. "I'm well known for championing those who face injustice. No one will question it for a second."
"Yeah, you're right. They'll think it's a Canadian thing." Ray managed a small smile and let his breath escape. "So you can do that. You'll do that?"
"Of course." Fraser glanced at the interrogation in the next room where voices and tempers were rising. "The sooner, the better, I think. In the meantime, it's imperative you leave the station."
Ray squared his shoulders. "Yeah. Yeah, okay. Tell Elaine we're looking for Gaborone—see if she can get us a last known address and associates. I'll meet you downstairs."
"At my apartment," Fraser corrected him.
Ray glared at him for a moment, mad that it was okay for Fraser to save Ray's ass but Ray couldn't stick around and make sure everything turned out okay. But Fraser was as stubborn as a mule, and Ray could grudgingly admit that maybe he was right about this. "Okay."
"It's safer." Fraser touched his jaw with the tips of two fingers. "Trust me, Ray. I'll do everything I can."
"You, I trust," said Ray, and mirrored the gesture. Fraser's stubble was starting to come through. It'd been a helluva long day. Ray darted a look at the duck boys, the ones he didn't trust at all. He wished briefly he had his Nonna's evil eye, but it was too late for wishes. "Make sure they don't see you. And don't mention the girls by name—either name. Just give Welsh your inspirational Protect the Underdog Concern for All Citizens speech. And call me if they—"
Fraser kissed him, quick and hard, cutting him off. "Go."
Ray squashed down his frustration and went. The hallway was mostly deserted—just the cleaning lady still mopping the floors and a uniform escorting a punk girl in cut-offs and a torn t-shirt into the squadroom. The double doors swung closed behind them, doors that led to his workplace, his desk and the seventeen unsolved cases piled in his in-tray. Ray dragged his gaze away and gathered his wits. He'd been living a double life for nearly five years. He could do this. He walked calmly and confidently through Processing, calling a cheerful goodnight to Jeannie Mahler at the desk on his way out the door.
He kept going on autopilot until he found his car and slid behind the wheel and then, with the door safely shut, in the privacy of the night and his familiar-smelling upholstery with its smattering of wolf fur, he started shaking in earnest. The keys dropped into his lap and Ray covered his face and struggled to breathe, picturing Alicia and Suzette in the interview room, imagining Fraser knocking on Welsh's door, his polite enquiry.
It had been too fucking close. Ray shook his head clear of the images and the cloud of apprehension that came with them. He had to be long gone if either of the girls called someone else Ray knew. Or someone who knew him.
Meanwhile Fraser was on his own and Ray was no use to him whatsoever. He fumbled to get the keys in the ignition and brought the car to life, and then he hesitated. Fraser would take care of it. Beneath the ebbing adrenalin and the panic, Ray knew he could count on Fraser, whatever happened.
Fraser loved him.
And if it had been Gloria in trouble—how would Fraser feel then, if he didn't find out in time? Gloria wasn't just Ray's responsibility anymore—if he was going to let Fraser love her, they were all in this together. That was how Fraser wanted it, and maybe that was how Ray wanted it too. To push past his own self-protection—the real reason he hadn't had a partner in years—and his own fears. It might be worth it.
"I promise, Benny," he said into the empty night, to see how the words felt in his mouth. The sound of them eased some of the tightness in his chest. "Yeah, okay. I promise."