Thanks: Many thanks to mergatrude and woolly socks for beta
Notes: For the Self-Insertion challenge on ds_flashfiction
I sat down at the scarred wooden table and clasped my hands together, determined not to freak out. The room smelled unpleasantly of chemicals, and I sat up straighter and eyed the blank wall to my left. "Is this Interview One?"
Fraser raised his eyebrows. I s'pose it was kind of a weird question. But he nodded and said, "Yes, ma'am."
I glanced at the wall again. Guy Rankin might be in there. That might be what the stink was. Should I tell them, or let them find out later? I hedged instead. "What's that smell?"
"Pest Control came this morning." Ray came in, in time to catch my question. He had a sandwich hanging out of his mouth, two cans of lemonade trapped between his forearm and his faded Bulls t-shirt, and he was carrying a styrofoam cup of tea and a brown file folder. "It's not poisonous, just stinky." He smiled at me, reassuringly.
I shifted nervously in my seat. "I want a lawyer," I said. "One will be appointed to me, right? Even though I'm not a U.S. citizen? I want one, please."
"You're not under arrest." Ray handed the tea to Fraser, passed me one of the cans and dropped the folder on the table. "You're a witness." There was a dark blotch on his shirt where the cans had rested, and the damp fabric clung to his skin.
"So?" I tried to sound sure of myself, but my voice wobbled. This was not what I'd had planned for my last day in Chicago. I was supposed to be on a plane to LA in five hours, and then heading home to New Zealand. And while running into Ray and Fraser in the park was one of the most exciting (and improbable) things that'd ever happened to me, I didn't want to miss my flight.
I wished Dief was here to counteract Ray's impatience. I mean, they let him sit in on Bruce Spender's interview — why not mine? But I couldn't ask for him because then I'd have to explain how I knew he existed, and I was pretty sure that would get awkward. I ran my thumb through the condensation on the lemonade, but didn't open it.
Ray sat down opposite me, opened his can with a psssst and flipped open the case file. There were photos inside, closely typed reports and carbon copies of things.
"You don't need a lawyer, ma'am," said Fraser, coming to stand at Ray's shoulder. "Just tell us what you saw."
I glanced up at his uniform with the brass buttons and the lanyard and the perfectly polished leather, and I blushed.
Ray stuffed the rest of his sandwich into his mouth and took a swig of lemonade, then leaned forward and waved his hand in front of my face to make sure I was paying attention. "What did you see?" His bracelet slid up his wrist.
"I wasn't really watching what happened in the park," I admit. "I was distracted."
Fraser rested his hand on the back of Ray's chair. "By what? Anything you can tell us may help us find and detain the miscreant."
"I doubt it," I muttered, and then tried to look innocent. "I only— I've never seen a Mountie before, and—"
"You were watching Fraser." Ray sounded resigned. "Big surprise."
"Well, and—" I cleared my throat and crossed my arms, leaning my elbows on the table. "You seem to be Very Good Friends. I was just, um, admiring—"
"Yeah, we're buddies," said Ray, leafing through the photos in the file. "What of it?"
Fraser had caught on, though. He started turning the colour of his uniform. Maybe it was some kind of protective camouflage. "I don't think that's exactly what Ms. Shop is saying, Ray."
Ray glanced up. "So what, then?"
"Did you see anything of the crime, ma'am?" Fraser asked, hastily. "Did you hear anything? Any booms or bangs?"
"Oh, um," I answered, as eager to change the subject as he was. "I heard the gazebo explode and I saw all the ducks fly off. That was pretty exci— terrible. But no one was hurt, right? You said no one was hurt."
Fraser nodded, his blush subsiding a bit. "We were extraordinarily lucky, but you must realise we can't have people setting off explosive devices in the park."
"Oh sure," I said. "Of course."
Ray sighed and slid a photo of a really ugly guy across the table towards me. "Did you see this guy at the scene? What did you see? Cut to the chase, lady."
"Okay." I took a deep breath and looked him right in the eye, ignoring how that made me feel kind of dizzy. "You were dripping mustard from your hotdog onto your wrist and the Mountie was looking at you like he wanted to lick it off, and it was—"
"Stop right there," said Ray, holding up both hands like a stop sign.
"You asked me what I saw," I said, quailing. Oops. Candour has always been one of my failings.
"Of the crime." Ray took another slurp of lemonade. "Did you see anything suspicious?"
"I got kind of distracted," I told him, trying not to sound like I was quoting Ani DiFranco from her live album, even though I always think of her when I say that.
Fraser seemed to be carefully not looking at me or Ray. He actually rubbed his eyebrow. Even as I hid a grin at the cliché, I felt kind of guilty. Maybe it was mean of me to put him on the spot like this.
"Why did you say you saw something, then?" Ray got to his feet and started pacing, twitching with restless energy. "When we were asking for witnesses, why did you put your hand up? This ain't a game, lady. This is serious — we got a whackjob out there with at least three more stolen detonators and you are wasting our time talking about my sloppy eating habits." He came to a stop right in front of me, braced his hands on the table and pinned me with a very attractive steely glare. "Do you know anything or do I have to arrest you for wasting our time?"
I licked my lips and struggled to think of something to say.
But Fraser came to my rescue, thank god. He pulled Ray aside and said so quietly I almost couldn't hear him, "Ray, I believe Ms. Shop is only trying to help."
"Fraser, she don't know anything." They were standing only a few inches apart, and Ray angled his head so he was practically talking into Fraser ear. "She didn't see the bomber, she was too busy watching you drool over my mustard."
"Well, yes, I don't think her interest lies with the case." Fraser's gaze flicked to me.
I pushed my hair out of my face and pretended I wasn't eavesdropping.
"What else is there?" asked Ray, taking a step back and staring blankly at Fraser.
Fraser tilted his head a fraction, holding his gaze, and then stepped back, too. "Apparently nothing. I was mistaken." He turned to me. "Thank you kindly for your time, ma'am." He gestured towards the door, and I leaned down to get my rucksack, half-relieved, half-disappointed.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," said Ray, doing the stop sign again.
I sat up and surreptitiously checked the time. Three hours and twenty minutes till my check-in, and I still had to pick up my bags from the hostel. But if there was any chance I could help...
Ray pointed at Fraser. "You, keep it zipped. You—" He turned and pointed at me. "—what the hell are you trying to say. Spit it out. I'm too tired for hieroglyphics. Just—" He waved his hands expressively.
I blushed again. "It's nothing. I was just sitting in the park reading my Lonely Planet Guide, and I looked up and you guys were there. And you're both, you know, very, um. You draw the eye. And I thought you looked good together."
"You thought we looked good together," repeated Ray, blankly. "What, like some kind of ascetic, uh, art thing?"
"Sort of. You seemed, um, close and—" I took my glasses off, cleaned them on my t-shirt, and put them back on. My face was burning. But I shot an apologetic glance at Fraser, and finished honestly, "—I wondered how close. You, uh, were. And then the gazebo went boom," I finished in a rush.
Ray blinked. "Jesus Christ. Where are you from, Australia?"
"New Zealand," said Fraser.
"Whatever. Out of town," said Ray. "Here's a survival tip for you, lady. Do not go around America with your guide book, telling people they look queer. Okay? We'll be fishing your body out of an alley in about six hours."
"Ray, that's hardly—" Fraser squared his shoulders, and got a stubborn tilt to his chin. "After all, she was half right. She was correct about one of us."
Ray did a double take. He blinked at Fraser, narrowed his eyes, and then yanked him aside again, and jabbed him in the chest with two fingers. "You know? All this time you knew about me and you never said? Jesus, Fraser!"
"I didn't mean you," said Fraser, in a startled undertone. "I was referring to—"
"You," said Ray, catching on. He swallowed. "Oh. Huh. I did not know that. Okay." His hand came up to scratch the back of his neck, and then just sort of hung there like he'd forgotten about it. "Well, forget it, then. Never mind. We got a case to solve."
"Ray." Fraser put his hand on Ray's other arm. "Is there any chance that Ms. Shop is correct about — her other suspicion?" He was still red-faced, but he looked hopeful now, too.
Ray stared at him for a long moment and I held my breath. Then he blinked and looked away. "Can we talk about this later?"
"Of course, although—" Fraser visibly tightened his grip on Ray's arm, as if he was determined not to let him get away this time. "Actually, I'd prefer we talked about it now."
"With a witness in the room?" Ray's voice rose in incredulity.
I froze, hoping they'd forget I was there. My heart was thumping probably as hard as Ray's and Fraser's combined.
"You felt no qualms asking me about my attraction to you in front of a motley assortment of people when we barely knew each other," Fraser pointed out.
Ray hunched his shoulders. "That was hypothetical."
"No. It wasn't," said Fraser. He cleared his throat and added out loud, "Ray, do you find me attractive?"
"Fraser, we are interviewing a witness to a crime," Ray told him, sounding irascible. "Can we—"
"I think that's a yes," I said, before I could stop myself.
Ray scowled at me. "You stay out of it." He turned back to Fraser and stared at him a moment, then shoved his hands into his pockets and started pacing. "Fine. Are you attractive? Are you nuts? You're an oil painting. You're gorgeous. You ever doubt it, just check the shiny reflective wall behind you. No question." He stopped by the window and kicked the skirting board with the toe of his boot.
Fraser watched him steadily. "Thanks Ray, but that wasn't the question."
Ray stopped kicking and stared out the window. "What?"
"The question wasn't 'Am I attractive?' That's not what I asked you." Fraser moved towards him, stood a few feet away and his voice went deep. "I said, 'Do you find me attractive?' You, Ray."
"Why?" asked Ray, still gazing out the window, although I would've bet he wasn't seeing anything out there. "Why now?"
Fraser sighed. "Ray, it's not a trick question. By your own admission, you're not immune to the allure of other men, and I— well, I'm not immune to — you."
Ray spun on his heel. "You're not—" He broke off.
"Immune," Fraser prompted him.
"Immune. To me." He closed his eyes. "Fraser, we have to work together."
"I'm well aware of that."
Ray dropped his head, eyes still closed. "I've got a terrible track record. You've seen my track record. I suck. Just ask—"
"On the contrary," Fraser interrupted, "you're loyal, passionate, committed."
It was a hoarse plea, and for the first time I felt like I was intruding. This wasn't fanfic, this was real, and they should have some privacy for this of all moments. But at this stage it would be more disruptive for me to leave than to stay where I was and keep quiet. I didn't want to screw things up for them. I held my breath.
Ray blinked his eyes open and looked at me. "Cover your eyes."
"But—" I said, not sure if I was complaining I wouldn't get to watch, or if I was going to offer to leave.
"This is none of your damned business," said Ray. "Cover your eyes."
I did what I was told.
"I didn't think you—" Ray sounded quiet and shaky. "You're a Mountie."
"Mounties come in all colours, shapes and sized, Ray, and all persuasions." I could hear the wry smile in Fraser's voice.
"Persuasions," echoed Ray.
"I'm open to persuasion," said Fraser sounding like smoke and coffee. "Do you— do you wish to persuade me?"
"Are you kidding?" Ray still sounded like someone had punched him in the gut.
"I never joke about—" Fraser's words were cut off, and the air thickened with the soft sounds of rustling clothes and the faint wet slide of lips on lips. Someone moaned verrrry quietly — I think it was Fraser — and then Ray murmured something too low for me to hear.
It went on for a long time. I mean, it might've only been two or three minutes, but it felt like about three hours. I was torn between being thrilled (and *koff* somewhat turned on) and worrying I'd miss my flight.
Finally Ray said, "Okay, you can uncover your peepers now." His was obviously trying to be tough, but he was too well-kissed to pull it off.
When I lowered my hand and looked at them, they were both red-faced and slightly dishevelled and Ray's lips, in particular, were swollen. They were standing very close, but avoiding each other's gaze, and I think Fraser was breathing kind of hard.
I gulped and looked away, completely forgetting about my flight. I bit my lips together to keep from smiling or looking smug or anything.
"We have your contact details," said Fraser, slightly unsteadily. "And you have ours. Please contact us if you should happen to remember anything of relevance to the case."
"I will," I said, nodding fervently. "And, uh, congratulations. I mean, yay!" I caught Ray's eye. "I mean, uh, nothing. Have a nice day."
"Get outta here," said Ray, half fierce and half amused.
I grabbed my bag and the unopened can of lemonade without thinking, and Fraser held the door for me. "Thank you kindly," he said with a smile, and I knew he'd have tipped his hat if he'd been wearing it. "Enjoy your time in Chicago."
"You too," I said, unable to resist patting his forearm. "Bye, Fraser. Be happy." And I left.
P.S. Through an unfortunate sequence of events, I did miss my flight, but the airline managed to get me to LA in time to catch my plane to NZ, so it all turned out okay, and I was so bouncy about Fraser and Kowalski that I spent the entire flight with a big sappy grin on my face. I think it scared the kid sitting next to me. Heh.