Thanks: Many many thanks and grateful sparkles to Miriam and Serial Karma for both being so brilliant with their beta-ing. Beautiful cover by dar_jeeling! \o/
Ray's undercover as a happily married guy for a long time. He thinks he can fake it, seeing as how he has the background for it. He's deep undercover, but Stella's smart. She's not buying.
She leaves, breaking Ray's cover wide open. Now he's exposed, he feels stupid, and it hurts like hell. Plus, after all that, he doesn't even know who he is anymore. He questions everything. He starts to think about guys.
Ray's been married his whole life, it seems like, so he's never really given a lot of thought to gay sex until now. He's not opposed to it on principle, or anything. It's just that the opportunity has never really come up.
Slouching in his bare post-Stella apartment, he thinks Girls, guys. It's just bodies, right? Just people. He thinks Yeah, sure. I could love a guy. Just haven't met the right one yet.
And then he takes this new undercover job, the Vecchio job, and Boom! That's the one, standing right in front of him with a confused look on his face and a stupid uniform.
A part of Ray pushes that knowledge down, deep inside, because you don't screw the crew, and because jumping his partner was not in the brief, and because how do you even go there. The other part of him's sneering and thinking Is this guy for real?
Turns out there's no simple answer to that question. Working with Fraser is like working in a cartoon. Ray finds himself in conversations like this:
FRASER: We need to find the earmuffs.
RAY: To find the dog.
FRASER: Yes, Ray. It's my belief that Mrs Calhoun took the earmuffs from the body and put them on the dog.
RAY: Okay, so— [pause] What did the dog do?
FRASER: The usual dog-like things, I imagine.
RAY: Right. [pause] So, we find the dog, we find the murderer.
FRASER: If we find the earmuffs. I believe so, yes.
RAY: Oh jeez, don't lick that!
In Ray's previous experience, this is not a normal conversation to have in the course of duty. This is like they're reading some freakish script, and half the time Ray doesn't even know what it means.
Plus, sometimes when the gunshots start, he can almost hear the plinky Mickey Mouse music that proves it's all a joke, a game.
It's a relief to be working with a bunch of freaks like this. It saves him from feeling all the time. But there are some days it winds him so tight he could die. Some days he just needs to take stock, get back to basics, figure out what's real.
His apartment is real. It's real and sad and brimful packed with reminders of back in the day. And so is Ray's body, with its scars and aches.
Ray's not sure about the rest of himself, though. The parts of him that aren't skin and bone. The feelings. He puts that thought aside.
And there's Fraser. Ray can't figure out whether Fraser's real or not:
Exhibit A: Half the time he's licking garbage and jumping off buildings and having philosophical discussions with his wolf, and that can't be real. It can't be. Because you jump off a building, common sense says you're gonna die. But Fraser doesn't die. He bounces.
Exhibit B: The other half the time, he's serious and sincere, helping old ladies find their yappy little dogs and listening all kind and respectful while people say the hard stuff, like he was hurting me or I think about her all the time.
Exhibit C: Sometimes he gets sad.
So Ray isn't sure if Fraser's a real guy who's undercover as a superhero, or if he's a cartoon superhero guy who sometimes fakes being real. Either way, he's pretty much a freak.
One night, Ray's home alone in his apartment. He's flicked through Ring World, and there are two empty beer bottles on his coffee table and a full one in his hand, and the TV's on but there's nothing worth watching so he's switched the sound off. He's staring into space thinking about nothing.
Out of nowhere, he realises he never has people over. That his apartment isn't just "real" (whatever that means), it's fucking dead. And then he realises it's because he doesn't have people, he just has Fraser. And then he thinks that he never has Fraser over. And then the phone's in his hand and he's dialling.
FRASER: Canadian Consulate. Constable Benton—
RAY: Hey, Fraser. It's me.
FRASER: Ray! How can I help?
RAY: I don't need anything. I was just— What're you doing?
FRASER: [hesitates] I'm, ah, in the process of tidying the Consulate kitchen.
RAY: Please tell me you mean you're washing the dishes or, I dunno, wiping down the counter.
FRASER: Actually I'm alphabe— It's not important. Why are you calling?
RAY: I dunno. Just wondered if you maybe wanna come over and watch a movie or something.
FRASER: Why, yes, Ray. I'd be delighted. I'll just put away—
RAY: You want me to come get you?
FRASER: Yes. Thank you kindly.
On the way over to the Consulate, Ray panics. What if there's a reason he doesn't have Fraser over, and he just can't think of it?
By the time he's knocking on the Consulate's big wooden door, his mouth is dry and his palms are sweaty. The sight of Fraser is not reassuring, even though Fraser's dressed mostly normal: jeans, dark blue cotton sweater, brown leather jacket. Maybe it's the hat that makes Ray think this guy is the cartoon guy. Ray's starting to hate that hat.
Fraser's just standing in the doorway, looking at him like he's waiting. "C'mon," says Ray, beckoning, leading the way down the steps to the car.
They stop at Blockbuster to pick up a movie. Ray's thinking they'll get something loud and dumb with explosions, but Fraser heads straight for the International section and, since Ray doesn't really care and Fraser's looking hopeful, they get a Canadian film about mermaids.
Which turns out to be awful. Or maybe Ray's too wound up to judge. Fraser's perched next to him, back straight, gazing intently at the screen. He's still even holding his hat, for crissakes. And Ray's going out of his mind.
First off, there's his apartment. It's a mess. It's a dive. It gives away too much that he doesn't want anyone to know. There are unopened letters stacked on the counter, and what does that say about a person, if they don't even open their mail? Ray's itching to race around with a garbage bag or something, and clean away all the junk.
Secondly, this isn't even working. Fraser's in total cartoon mode. He's not relaxed. He's not some guy Ray invited over for beer and a movie. He's Fraser. He's earnest and formal, and Ray gets this horrible feeling that the walls are turning spotty, like the backgrounds in comics if you look real close. Fraser's turning Ray's whole life into a story. It's like an infectious disease, or something.
Thirdly, there's Ray's body. Ray's body doesn't seem to know that this is not a date. It hasn't even noticed that Fraser's a big cartoon freak. Ray's body just keeps coming back to all those questions Ray has about gay sex. It keeps reminding Ray how long it's been since he had any kind of sex. It tells him, firmly, that it isn't happy about that.
And see, this combination: Ray's apartment proving what a fucking mess Ray's life is, and Fraser being a superhero whose main superpower is figuring stuff out, and Ray's body letting on how turned on he is. This combination fills Ray with a deep awful dread, so that he knows, he just knows things can not go well here.
He can barely hear the TV. He sure as hell doesn't give a shit about the mermaids.
He gets up and goes to the can, and when he comes back, he just stands in the doorway looking at Fraser looking at the TV. He wonders how long before he can take Fraser back to the Consulate. For a while, Fraser doesn't seem to notice Ray's moved, but then something happens onscreen and he looks around, maybe to check out Ray's reaction, and then he scans the room, 360, real quick, and catches Ray looking at him.
He gets up and comes over, frowning.
FRASER: Ray? Is something wrong?
RAY: No, I—
FRASER: Are you sure? You look— Oh.
Way to go with the undercover, Kowalski, thinks Ray bitterly. He doesn't move and he can't look away. Fraser's closer, examining him like he's a tire track or maybe some gum on the sidewalk. Fraser puts his hat down. It doesn't help.
Fraser leans forward like he's gonna kiss Ray, but he doesn't. He takes a big sniff of air, collecting evidence.
RAY: (breathless) Just—drop it, okay. Just forget—
Then Fraser kisses him.
Fraser kisses him, but it's not a real kiss or, at least, it's not completely real. Sure, there are lips and tongues, and the slow unwind of secret lust. Ray finds himself clinging to Fraser, winding his arms around Fraser's shoulders, desperate to hide. Trying to get so close that maybe he can stay blurry. So Fraser won't be able to focus on him, won't see him.
But it's not real. It's not here are two bodies, two people who want each other. It's more like here are two cops investigating kissing.
Ray's body doesn't care. The kissing keeps going, and Ray's body is getting hotter and hotter, and everywhere Fraser puts his cool exploratory fingers, Ray burns. He thinks maybe tomorrow he'll be covered in trails of scorch marks.
After what seems like hours of this, the room goes quiet except for the loud harsh sound of the both of them breathing. Ray figures the movie's ended. Ray figures it's probably pretty late.
RAY: Fraser, I—
RAY: Yeah— I—
FRASER: Would you—?
They go into the bedroom, and Fraser gets them both off as efficiently and impersonally as if he was defusing a bomb. He cuts the red wire, the blue wire, and the clock stops at 00:01. In theory, this means that no one gets hurt and, okay, maybe Ray's not on the verge of exploding anymore, but now it's like he's this bundle of fucking dynamite, just waiting for another fuse.
Fraser doesn't seem happy or sad. He stares at Ray for a good long while, then offers to take the tape back to the video store. Ray offers to drive him. Fraser politely declines. Fraser leaves.
Ray lies on the bed and considers the various options for killing himself. In the end, he falls asleep instead.
The next day at work is weirdly normal. Or, at least, weirdly what Ray's coming to accept as normal. Fraser shows up in the afternoon and he doesn't act any different, except for watching Ray like he thinks he defused this bomb but it's best to be on the safe side. Ray wants to hit something, but he swallows it down because it's not Fraser's fault.
RAY: Wait a minute. This suspect's Canadian. You even got phony motivational speakers in Canada, Fraser?
FRASER: I think, if you investigate, Ray, you'll find we have a number of things north of the 49th parallel, not all of them savoury.
RAY: I am investigating. I'm asking you.
Yeah, he swallows it down, and he keeps swallowing it down until it's about to explode out his ears or something, like he's humming with anger, when Stella walks in.
Which is when Ray comes crashing back to earth. Literally. One minute he's leaning back in his chair, savagely chewing a toothpick to pieces, and the next minute his ex-wife's in the doorway, Ray's on the floor, and Fraser's bending over, all concerned.
FRASER: Are you all right?
RAY: I'm fine. Go away.
No, he doesn't say that. He wants to, though. He wants Fraser to back the fuck off, so Stella doesn't see— So Stella won't know—
Shit. Stella comes over and looks at the two of them like they're losers and worse, and for the first time Ray really notices how much Stella despises Fraser. It's not that she doesn't like him, exactly. She just dismisses him, like he's a joke. Like she knows he isn't real.
Stella has always wanted the real things: the diamonds, the fancy job, the house one day. Yeah, Stella and reality are the best of buddies. That's why Stella wanted Ray in the first place, because he was real. And that's why Stella left Ray in the end, because he was faking what he thought she wanted. Ray would've gone on pretending forever and not even noticed. But not Stella. She's got her feet planted firmly on the ground.
Fraser helps Ray to his feet, and Ray watches Stella watching this maneuver. Really watches, for maybe the first time, Stella's face when she's looking at Fraser. What he sees is that she can't see past Fraser's cartoon uniform and his bland good manners. She thinks he's a clown. And, oh God, it just about kills him because, yeah, her expression is how that closed-off sneering part of Ray feels.
Ray has to get out of there. He slams out of the bullpen. Can't go to the men's room: Fraser would find him. Can't go home. He goes to his car and he drives and drives, barely seeing the road or the other traffic, his body on autopilot. His hands are numb on the steering wheel. And the whole time he's driving, he's wondering exactly when it was that Stella got implanted in his head like a bad smell. When did Ray start mistaking her opinions for his own?
Ray drives until he runs out of gas. He walks three miles to a gas station and gets a lift back to his car. Then he goes home.
Ten minutes after he walks in the door, there's a knock and Ray knows it's Fraser. Ray's gut twists, because he knows he's fucked it up and, better than most, he knows there's no easy way to make it right. He answers the door.
Fraser stands there, out of uniform again. He's holding a video cassette. Fraser's face tells a story, and the story is that Fraser's been standing across the street—maybe for hours—waiting for Ray to get home. Ray understands this. He understands the ten minutes' grace, too.
RAY: Come in.
FRASER: [not moving] I want to apologise. Last night wasn't—
There's a pause. Fraser sighs, maybe frustrated at himself and the things he can't say. Ray grabs Fraser's shoulder and drags him inside, and shuts the door. Ray is seeing clearer after his drive. Now he's thinking maybe he was wrong all along.
"Wasn't what?" he says, carefully. He still has his hand on Fraser's shoulder. Through the leather jacket and however many layers of clothing, he can feel solid muscle in there. Down below the muscle, if he pays real careful attention, he can feel a heartbeat.
"It wasn't what you wanted," says Fraser, staring into Ray's eyes. Fraser looks serious and sorry, and Ray can't hold the gaze. He looks at Fraser's cheek, instead. The faint smudge of stubble starting to show in front of Fraser's ear.
"Yeah—No—I—" Ray doesn't know what to say. He tries a bunch of things, but none of them make sentences.
Fraser passes him the videotape. "I thought—I was hoping we could start over," he said, his eyes pleading with Ray to forgive, to accept.
Ray's fingers close around the rough edges of the plastic case and he looks down. Lethal Weapon 3. Fraser's trying to rewrite last night, to make it just a couple of guys hanging out. Fraser's even prepared to try being a normal guy, just to make this work. Fraser's made the same mistake Stella has, confusing normal with real. The same mistake Ray's been making, too.
Fuck that. Ray throws the tape onto the couch, and puts his other hand on Fraser's arm. "Fraser—" he starts.
"Ray," Fraser interrupts. "Please." Please go back. Please rewind, erase, start again. Ray understands how much Fraser has to lose here, because they are in the same boat. They're in the exact same fucking boat.
Ray shakes his head, and for a moment he sees despair in Fraser's eyes. Ray says "Don't" which doesn't make any sense, so he tries again. I am so fucking sorry, he tries to say, but he can't get past "I am so".
But maybe his voice explains better than words could, because Fraser looks at him, big-eyed and startled, and waits to see what comes next.
What comes next is that Ray's hands slip up from Fraser's arm and Fraser's shoulder, and they meet behind Fraser's neck, lacing together and feeling the warmth and pulse, and the way the muscles shift when Fraser swallows, which he does, twice.
Ray steps in and pulls Fraser's head forward until their foreheads are resting together. Connected. "I didn't see you," Ray says. "I did not see you. I didn't know."
"Ray." Fraser's voice is husky, his hand comes up to cup the back of Ray's neck. "It's all right. The uniform is—"
"It wasn't the uniform," says Ray, confessing. He lets his fingers thread into Fraser's soft shiny hair, and find the warm scalp underneath. "I thought it was, but it was me. It was Stella. I had her in my head, and I couldn't—"
"Shhhh." Fraser puts his other hand along Ray's jaw and tilts his face forward, so their lips are very nearly touching.
Ray shuts his eyes. "I see you now," he says, and when they kiss it's so physical and factual and good that he knows he can't deny it. This is not hypothetical, this is not a cartoon storybook. There's no script for this, nothing to hide.
Ray pays attention to everything. He hears the sound, between a thud and a crumple, of Fraser's jacket falling to the floor. He tastes Fraser's skin. "What is this? Chinese food?" he murmurs, licking the sweet-salty corner of Fraser's mouth.
Fraser seems to have difficulty speaking. "It's, ah, soy sauce— brown shhh—" His hands spread and smooth down Ray's back, tugging at Ray's t-shirt, covering Ray's skin like they belong there.
Ray gasps. "Yeah, never mind." He shoves a hand down the neck of Fraser's shirt and palms the curves of Fraser's shoulder. He leans in and inhales the plain soap and clean cotton smell and, rising up faintly, the spicy musk of Fraser's body wanting Ray.
Fraser pulls them tight together. One of Fraser's hands is on Ray's ass, is holding him close, pressing their hips together.
There's no bomb this time, no emergency. Just the push and slide of live bodies against each other, mutual and hungry, making Ray tremble and sweat. He grabs onto Fraser with one arm, and with his other hand he unbuttons Fraser's shirt.
Fraser's list of ingredients trails off completely. "I'll give you the recipe," he breathes into the sweet spot beneath Ray's ear.
"Later," Ray moans, as Fraser pushes him against the wall and starts rubbing against him. "Don't stop."
Later Ray says, half ashamed of himself, "I thought you were too good to be true."
Fraser props himself up on one elbow and leans over Ray, his warm fingers brushing the stubble on Ray's jaw. "And am I?" he asks, like he knows that this wasn't a stupid compliment. That this was, in fact, a problem for Ray.
Ray trails his hand along Fraser's side to his hip, and looks up at him and says, "You're a whole fucking world of true, Fraser." And that moment, right then, is the start of something big, the start of something magical he can believe in.