Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski
Thanks: Miriam for generous, astute, sagacious and occasionally harsh beta. Thanks also to silverakira for US-ification.
Notes: For my bad influences: I [heart] you all. :)

The Vecchio Problem

by china_shop


Monday

Four weeks into the Vecchio gig, something clicked and it all fell into place. Kowalski knew he'd screwed up at first—he'd had his own ghosts to lay to rest, and, okay, the Riv was drowned toast and he still couldn't get his head around the clothing—but he was on board now, he was trying to do this right. He was Vecchio. When Welsh yelled, he jumped. Frannie got on his nerves like only a blood relative could. And he felt like he'd known the Mountie forever. They were a duet. Set 'em up, knock 'em down. It was all good.

But then, only a couple of days into this state of grace, in the normal course of duty, Fraser turned his head and Ray was accidentally too close, and they froze and stared at each other like they were sending secret messages with their eyes, only Ray didn't know the code, and then something else clicked. If a tornado could be said to click. And then they were kissing.

Fraser tasted salty, slightly bitter and electric. Through a sudden rush of lust, Ray wondered briefly if this even was Fraser, because this Mountie did not fit the description. No, this Mountie was hot and urgent and addictive. Ray couldn't get enough. His arms wrapped around Fraser's neck, and their bodies folded together, their hips hard up against each other.

And Ray's body sang, his heart thumped like it was playing a drum solo. He fell back against the door, gasping, "No no no no no." But his hands refused to unclench their hold on Fraser's jacket, and his eyes wouldn't stop staring at Fraser's kiss-swollen lips.

"I'm sorry," said Fraser, closing his fingers over Ray's fists. But he moved forward anyway, apparently helpless to resist.

Ray deliberated whether to duck sideways out of the way, because this was too much, too sudden, too complicated and, hell, he'd only been in this job less than a month, but oh god, it'd been how long since he'd been kissed like this? (He tried to ignore the voice in his head that said he'd never been kissed like this.) Despite his best intentions, he groaned against Fraser's mouth, into his mouth, pressing against him eagerly.

It felt like hours before Ray's thought processes kicked in again and he broke away. "Is this—did you and Vecchio? Is this who I am now?"

Fraser shook his head, breathing heavily. "No! It's not—Ray and I were—are—friends. Remarkably close—in fact, there was one instance where we seemed almost psychically attuned."

"But you didn't—"

Fraser gazed earnestly at Ray, his cheeks pink. "There was never anything physical between us."

The word physical vibrated through Ray like a power chord. "So how did this happen?" He shook his head dazedly. "Are we insane?"

"The effect of high levels of hormones could, under certain circumstances, be considered insanity, technically speaking," said Fraser. He raised his eyes from Ray's neck with obvious effort, head moving first, eyes following, and scanned the room. "The morgue?" he said.

"Bradbury," said Ray, clicking his fingers as his memory returned. "We're here to identify a body."

They exchanged heated yet embarrassed looks.

Ray broke the taut silence. "You jumped me before I could even see the guy!"

"Yes, I'm sorry." Fraser reached out a finger and lightly touched Ray's jaw.

Ray pushed his hand away, took a restless step to the left. "Okay." It had been like a law of physics had suddenly kicked in; it wasn't fair to blame Fraser. "This is a terrible idea." Ray stared fixedly at Fraser's shoulder, knowing that if he looked at his face he was just gonna go for it.

In the corner of his eye, he saw Fraser pale, hesitate for a moment, and then nod agreement. Ray tried to ignore his body's raging denial.

This was bad. Bad bad bad bad bad. Ray was Vecchio now, and Vecchio was by all accounts a straight guy, and it didn't matter what Kowalski would or wouldn't have done—which, Ray suspected, was he would've run away—because there was no Kowalski. Kowalski was on hiatus, due back some unspecified time, if ever.

"I mean," continued Ray, pulling away further, and feeling both proud of himself for exhibiting such Olympic level self-control and, at the same time, horribly frustrated. "I mean," he collected his thoughts, "I'm undercover here, you know? For that to work, I gotta believe it."

"Of course, Ray," said Fraser slowly. "If you think that—this—would compromise your position."

"It's not that I wouldn't," Ray added quickly. "I mean, you're a great guy. Different circumstances, compatible nationalities, certified mental health guarantees, and I'd be in like Flynn." He ran his hand through his hair, and refused to meet the Mountie's gaze.

"Who?" Fraser's eyebrows signalled confusion and, hell, he even looked hot when he was frowning.

"Doesn't matter," said Ray. "This is March madness. Like the clothing sales. It'll pass."

"Ray," said Fraser gently, taking his hand. "It's October."

Ray snatched his hand away, hating himself as he did it. "I know, I know. That's—Jeez, Fraser, help me out here."

Fraser's flush had entirely subsided, leaving him almost gray. Maybe he was in shock, too. It's not like either of them had expected this, right?

But then Fraser took a deep breath and let it out slowly, and his eyes unblurred and his mouth firmed up, and then he scratched his neck and resumed his official Mountie posture. "You're right, of course," he said expressionlessly. "As you say, any overt—connection—between us could be disastrous for Ray. The other Ray. You're undercover and we must respect that. I apologize profusely. It's imperative that we—"

"We gotta take a break, you know? Stop being partners for a couple of weeks. It's the heat, the heat and the, y'know, being together all the time."

"Proximity," supplied Fraser quietly, shoving his hands deep into his pockets.

"Yeah," said Ray, ignoring the fact that he'd been at least this proximous with maybe half a dozen guys over the course of his career, and he'd never been tempted to swap spit in, god help him, a morgue with any of them. Never been tempted to—he stopped before his imagination got out of hand. "A breather," he said.

"Yes," said Fraser. His mouth twisted ironically, but the rest of his face was blank and tired. "A fortnight apart, then, if you think that will be a sufficient length of time to restore your, ah, equilibrium. I do hope that we will subsequently be able to continue to work together."

"A fortnight?" Ray asked suspiciously. "What's that?"

"Two weeks, Ray." Fraser stepped away.


Wednesday

"Vecchio," yelled Welsh from his office. "Get in here."

"Whassup?" Ray leaned in the doorway, toting a week's worth of paperwork.

Welsh, a slice of cheese in one hand, pastrami in the other, halted his seriously complicated sandwich construction and looked past Ray, out into the bullpen. "Where's the Mountie?"

Ray shrugged as casually as he could. "He's not here."

"Call him." Welsh picked up a slice of pickle and added it to his lunch. "I want you on the Norris case."

"Fraser's, uh, he's busy with Canadian stuff." Ray came further into the room. "I can go alone."

Welsh dismissed the suggestion with a frown. "I'll talk to Inspector Thatcher and see if we can't get some bipartisan cooperation."

Ray opened his mouth to argue and then stopped. The last two days had felt like years.


Ray gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles went white, and tried to distract himself by reading the graffiti on the boarded-up shops in front of them. It didn't work. "No one mentioned a stakeout, okay? This was supposed to be detective work and interviewing witnesses, and finding the dealer. No one said anything about the two of us sitting alone together in a car all night."

"It is—awkward," Fraser agreed. He was sitting stiffly, his hands wedged under his thighs and his hat balanced on his lap. "My father once said that a long period of waiting showed the measure of a man, although I believe he was referring to time spent anticipating dental surgery." Fraser glanced at Ray, and picked up his hat. "We aren't even certain who it is we're looking for. Perhaps we should leave this until we have more information."

"No! No, I told you. I'll know him when I see him. We just gotta wait till—"

"Yes, but if we—"

"Fraser!" Ray bounced in his seat with frustration. The days apart hadn't made this any easier. Hell, he was so wound up that if he launched himself at Fraser now, he'd knock them both through the passenger door and onto the pavement in a jumble of clothes and muscle. Ray gritted his teeth. "Just watch the shop."

Fraser flicked another glance at him in the dim light and put down his hat again, his face a mask. "Understood."

And that was good. Good that Fraser was so aloof right now. It didn't bother Ray one little bit. Okay, sure, the blank look was a bit disconcerting. You could even say it was rude, kind of, in this casual social setting, with Ray sitting right here. But when it came down to it, Fraser was just giving Ray space to get over him, so Fraser's friend Vecchio wouldn't get into hot water, which was exactly what Ray had asked him to do.

No one could give space like Fraser. He had it down to an art form.

"This is stupid," said Ray, two minutes later. "Let's go in."

Fraser picked the lock of the shop—Chan's Fruit and Vegetables read the dusty sign—and they proceeded with caution, using all their sneak and stealth skills. It smelt of the ghosts of cabbages past and a thousand years of dust. And it was dark. A low murmur of voices came from the back room. Ray, gun raised, glasses shoved hastily onto his nose, led the way through to a storeroom where a standing lamp was casting a small glow.

Two kids were sitting at a table, with a chemistry set and a bunch of beaker tube things, and water boiling on a camp stove. A third kid was slumped in a chair in the corner, listening to her walkman and reading a Spiderman comic by torchlight. They all looked up, shocked, when Ray slammed the door open. "Chicago PD!"

"Shit!" said the tallest kid at the table.

"Oh man, you're in so much trouble!" said the boy next to her, who was similar-looking enough they were probably brother and sister.

"Shut up, stupid," said the tall girl.

The kid with the walkman leaned back in her chair and looked Ray over curiously.

"Where's the guy?" asked Ray, looking round wildly. The storeroom had no other doors. "Fraser, where's the guy?"

"What guy?" asked the boy.

"I don't think there is a guy," said Fraser. "I suspect these children are the ones we're looking for."

"Nope, nuh-huh." The tall kid shook her head. "You ain't looking for us. The guy? He went thataway."

"Yeah, right," said Ray, disbelievingly. He holstered his gun and looked around, which gave him flashbacks to high school science class. This place was a lab.

The boy checked his watch. "It's twenty minutes," he told his sister.

She threw him a scornful look, and switched off the camp stove.

The boy jumped to his feet suddenly and tried to make a run for it, but the doorway was full of Ray and Fraser, and there was nowhere for him to go. Fraser caught him by the arm and bent down to talk to him. "We're not going to hurt you."

"Uh-huh," said the kid with the comic, taking off her walkman. "What happens now?"

"Now you tell us why you're making lysergic acid diethylamide," said Fraser gently.

Ray butted in. This was just embarrassing. He'd interrupted Fraser's time out to make him stake out a bunch of geeky junior high school students? God, how stupid. But all he said was, "Why don't you look around for clues or something. I'll talk to the kids."

Fraser opened his mouth, like he was going to argue, then closed it again. He studied Ray for a moment, then went over to the table and Ray could hear what he was saying, even though he was talking real quiet. He said, "I recommend you don't give Detective Vecchio any trouble. He's a little—on edge this evening."

And then Fraser left the room without looking back, and Ray slammed his body down in the one free chair and loosely clasped his hands on the table. "So, you're making what? Hallucinogenic jello?" He resisted the temptation to ask for a shot.

The tall one, who he later found out was Charlene, seemed to be leader of the group. She wrinkled her brow and cleaned her glasses, and tried to look innocent. "No, we're doing a science project for extra credit."

Ray looked at her until she cracked.

"What happened to our rights and anything we say can be taken down and used against us?" she demanded.

"How old are you?"

"Twelve."

Ray shook his head. "At twelve, you got no rights."

Charlene kinda grinned at that. Brat. Ray liked her already. The others, who looked younger, fidgeted and squirmed. Better get on with this before he had to baby them.

"Jello?" Ray prompted Charlene.

She shrugged and tugged at her bangs. "Yeah," she said matter-of-factly. "I got no impulse control."

Ray shot a glance at the doorway where Fraser had vanished. "Yeah, well, me neither, and I'm not making drugs."

"You're a cop. You're not allowed," blurted Charlene's brother, as though this was self-evident.

"You're not allowed either, stupid. Come on, I'm taking you in." Ray got to his feet and held out his hand.

"You know, we studied this at school," said Charlene, pulling her bag onto her shoulder and dragging her brother out into the street. "You try and bring in prohibition, you're gonna get a black market. It's unavoidable. Don't know why you bother tryin' to stop it."

Ray opened the car door for them and they piled in. "You're a smart kid. I'm sure you'll figure it out."

The walkman kid, Becky, piped up. "If you decriminalized it, you could regulate. And you could tax it."

"Nah, we'd have to legalize to regulate," said Ray. "You been skipping Civics?"

Becky shrugged. "But—"

Ray groaned, and slammed the door shut. "I'm not gonna have this conversation with you, okay?" he told them through the open window. "It's past midnight. I'm doing my job." Charlene snorted. "Shut up, okay, or I'll arrest you."


Thursday

"So get this," Ray told Welsh. "Turns out there wasn't a guy, at least to start with. Charlene and Becky have been making psychoactive jello themselves and selling it to the entire school, but Charlene told everyone there was a guy to cover their tracks. She's not real popular, so she didn't think anyone would buy if they knew she was cooking it up herself. But then Norris starts acting as their distributor to other schools, so now there is a guy."

"It's a tangled web we weave," said Welsh cryptically. "Twelve is a difficult age."

Ray stood up, ready to leave the room. "Yeah, so I'm going to bring Norris in, but he's pretty small time. I can deal with the rest of this by myself."

Welsh raised his eyebrows. "Constable Fraser deserted you again, detective?"

Ray waved his hand expressively. "He's got those official type duties, you know?"

"Whatever you say." Welsh picked up the phone and paused before dialing. "Oh, and Vecchio?" He waited until he had Ray's full attention. "Be careful out there. If there's any chance at all of untoward behavior, I want you covered."


Ray stood in the doorway of Salberg's Diner and stared at the back of Fraser's head. What was the Mountie even doing here? This was Ray's place. Fraser knew this was Ray's favorite place—and sure, he could go over and sit down and play nice. Order some fries to share, maybe, but being with Fraser meant being Vecchio, and tonight, just for tonight, Ray wanted to be Kowalski.

Besides, Fraser, ever the freak, seemed to be lost in earnest conversation with his chicken salad, and far be it from Ray to interrupt a man talking to his food.


Friday

Stella eyed him suspiciously. "What do you want, Ray?"

"What? A guy can't drop in on his ex-wife and say hi?" Ray dumped the bunch of flowers on her desk and leaned against the filing cabinet, crossing his arms and trying to look casual.

"Some guys, sure." Stella stayed seated, but at least she pushed her chair back, angled her head up at him. "What's going on? You look primed."

Primed was their shorthand for on the point of nuclear style explosion. Stella knew him way too well. Ray's nerve faltered. Stupid idea. No way could he talk to her about this.

"Yeah, well, things have been sorta—" Ray searched for a word "—intense lately. I'm a little wired." It was safe to admit that, surely.

Stella picked up the flowers and looked at them doubtfully. "Maybe you should take a vacation? Leave town for a few days. Take Constable Fraser and show him the sights."

Ray pushed upright and felt his cheeks get warm. Dammit. Here he was trying to back off, trying to sort his head out, be professional, and everyone just assumed. Stella was as bad as the rest of them. "Vacation?" he said, as a diversion. "Who has time for a vacation? Anyway, I'll go alone. Jeez, I need some space."

Stella pursed her lips and examined him from head to foot. "I'm not convinced solitude's the answer for you right now, Ray."

Ray shrugged angrily. "Yeah, well it's all I got."


Saturday/Sunday

In the end, Ray did go away for the weekend. Get some air, he thought. Then I can pull myself together. He rented a cabin on the lakefront and drove fast for a couple of soothing hours to get there, listening to The Ramones loud enough to cover his heartbeat. He tried not to feel bad about leaving Fraser alone in the city with Turnbull and Thatcher. At least he had the wolf for company.

The next morning Ray lay in bed with the window open, a cool breeze goosebumping his chest, and his glasses on so he could watch squirrels running around, and some grey birds with long beaks arguing in the trees. He wondered vaguely what kind of birds they were.

And then he lay back on the pillow and asked himself what Fraser would say if he was here. Some story about the migration patterns of beavers or moose, probably. A wildly incredibly boring story that would make Ray's toes curl in frustration, or something more urgent than frustration, more urgent and a helluva lot deeper.

He imagined Fraser lying beside him. Imagined his smile creasing and lighting his face. Imagined them discussing breakfast and planning their day and, yeah, Fraser would want to go hiking, or probably, jesus, set traps and catch dinner. And Ray would argue and want to laze around, would distract Fraser with a hot slow kiss that would win the argument hands down, would melt every bone in both their bodies, and they'd spend the day together in bed. Yeah, because that kind of nature experience Ray could handle.

Ray pulled the pillow over his face and groaned deep down in his belly. This was recovery. This was detox. God, he needed Fraser Anonymous, some kind of twelve-step program. He hadn't even known the guy that long—okay, five and a half weeks—and he couldn't lie in bed in the morning without thinking about him. Jeez.

And, as a result of Ray's stupid obsession, Fraser was all by himself, too, and probably missing Ray like crazy, because Fraser had already lost one friend with no warning at all, and now his new replacement friend was spazzing out on him. I hope we'll be able to continue to work together, Fraser had said, and Ray could read between the lines.

Ray knew Fraser would have gone along with it—with it—if Ray hadn't put the brakes on, but he didn't think—See, it was hard to imagine Fraser wanting him. That is, it wasn't hard to imagine the Fraser in Ray's imagination wanting him, but that was the point. Imaginary Fraser wasn't real Fraser, and real Fraser, who recited Inuit parables at the drop of a hat and kept every square inch of his boots shined to a high gloss—no, he didn't seem like someone whose type was Ray.

And he'd been so controlled during the stake out. Distant. Which, yeah, maybe could be because he was locking it all inside, because he was like that. Repressed. But then again, maybe there was nothing to lock. Maybe Fraser didn't want Ray. Maybe he was strictly straight. Maybe the morgue had been a, you know, aberration.

Ray couldn't figure it out for sure, but he spent a long time trying.

On the way back from the lake on Sunday night, after two long empty days, he was brutally struck by the fact that, pre-Fraser—in those restless lonely aimless months before the transfer and the undercover and the Mountie, those months which were completely different from the restless lonely nights he was having now—back then a weekend by the lake wouldn't have fucking occurred to him. Ray smiled bitterly.

Sure, the weekend had given him a chance to relax and be himself for a while, but what the hell use was that when he couldn't even figure out who he was anymore?

When he got back to Chicago, he stopped off at Jerry's All-Night Liquor Barn on East 75th on his way home.


Monday

The next morning, Ray hunched over his desk and tried to stop his head swirling. It was like psychedelia. It was like the fucking seventies plus nausea and self-loathing. That is, it was exactly like the seventies. And it would be three hundred thousand times better if Frannie would stop hassling him.

"You can't just write suspected, apprehended, booked on your report," she scolded. "Because then when the files get to the DA's office they ring me up, and they yell at me, and I am sick of getting yelled at because you—"

He groaned. "I know. I'm sorry."

She stopped short and peered at him. "You are?"

"Yeah." Ray would've nodded, but his eyeballs were threatening to fall out and roll like dry little marbles into the dusty space between his desk and the wall.

"Well," said Frannie, apparently thrown off her stride by his apology. "Well, why are you wasting my time? I have important places to be, you know. My lunchtime yoga class starts in ten minutes and I have to have these filed by—"

"Frannie," Ray interrupted, because he couldn't cope with this anymore. "You got admirable persistence." It didn't quite fit. Fraser had said it last week, before their break: Francesca's persistence is admirable. But really, it was just something to say.

"Oh no," she said, wagging her finger at him. "Flattery will not get me doing your paperwork, Mister. Nuh-huh." She dumped the file on his desk and walked off.

And see, even just by being herself, Frannie made Ray miss Fraser more than he could stand. It didn't make any sense, but Ray had given up trying to make it make sense, because Ray missed Fraser with the nagging pain of a toothache or a hangover, and those things weren't logical or sane. Which neither was he anymore either.

And the hangover in his head was in no way drowning out the hangover in his heart.


Ray leaned hard into the brick wall and peered cautiously round the corner. Yeah, that was the guy, and, oh shit. That just sucked.

He was gonna have to call for backup, because he couldn't arrest that guy. He knew that guy. His name was Aardman. Worse, that guy knew him, Ray Kowalski. Had known him since fifth grade.

Ray holstered his gun in defeat, and went silently back to the car to make the call, all the way hating his stupid life.


Tuesday

Ray took a swig of beer and muted the TV before he answered the phone. "What?"

"Ray?"

Oh god, it was Fraser. Ray leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, and then he could see him, could see this amazingly clear picture of Fraser's face, his serious expression, the furrowed brow. He'd said one fucking word and Ray felt weak. Ray let his head fall forward, and gripped the receiver.

"Ray?"

"Yeah, Fraser. I'm here. What's up?" Ray kept his eyes closed, and thought, Say something. Anything. Just say something.

There was a long pause.

Ray took a deep silent breath and pulled himself together. He was a grown-up. He could handle this. "Fraser? You okay?"

Cough. "Yes, of course. I simply wanted to—ah—make sure that everything is proceeding without incident. In my, in my absence. At the station." Fraser sounded kind of uncomfortable, which was all wrong. Ray felt a pang of sympathy and guilt. This whole situation was all wrong. They were supposed to be partners.

"Yeah, sure. It's—actually, no. I gotta rewrite the stupid Menakis report and I don't remember. I mean, it was weeks ago."

"Eleven days," said Fraser.

"Yeah, exactly. I mean, I know what happened, more or less, but they want details, Fraser, and I'm more of a big picture kind of guy." Ray took another swig of beer, and went and sat back on the couch. There was beach volleyball on TV. He switched it off.

"I could help you reconstruct the salient information, if that would help, Ray." Fraser sounded better now, more like himself.

"That would help heaps." Ray dug around for a pen. "Like, how did we even find the guy? He was in that underground bunker, right, with all the chickens and the smelly fertilizer stuff? But how did we know that?"

"Well, Ray, to start with, Menakis' brother's shoe was unevenly worn on the left side, which led us to deduce—" And they were off.

Fraser basically dictated the report, Ray realized later. He did it from memory, too. He remembered weapon calibers and bits of fiber, and the way the brother's footprints had obviously shown that he was walking backwards to disguise his hideout (well, obviously if you were like a professional Inuit caribou tracker). Ray, writing furiously, filled up both sides of his power bill and both sides of the envelope, and then his hand got cramp, and he said, "Stop, stop. Fraser, that's enough. I don't think the DA will care about his choice of hair care products, y'know?"

"But, Ray, the shampoo was of German origin, which clearly indicated—"

"No, Fraser. Really. You can stop now. My pen's run out."

"Oh dear," said Fraser. "You know, primitive tribes often wrote with charcoal, made by—"

"Fraser." Miraculously, Fraser stopped telling him how to burn sticks. They both went quiet. Ray knew he should wrap it up, hang up, go to bed and at least pretend to sleep, but he couldn't bring himself to break the connection. God, it was so good to hear Fraser's voice. Ray scratched his neck absently, reached over and switched off the lamp. The bedroom light was on, sure, but the apartment was mostly dark now. He looked out the window at the streetlights and the night sky. "Say something Canadian." He didn't know why he said that. It just fell out of his mouth.

"I beg your pardon?" Fraser sounded confused.

Ray felt like an idiot, so his voice went sort of stubborn. "Just, you know, say something, Fraser. Anything."

"Ah." There was another long pause, a wolf whine in the background. "I'm not sure what to say, Ray."

Ray refused to back down now. "Anything, Frase. Read something."

"All right." There were footsteps, rustling, the faint creaking of Fraser's bunk as he sat down. "Although I'm not sure I understand why—" He trailed off, and Ray waited. After a minute, Fraser began to read. "May 16. I chased Carlyle over the tundra for five days. This is my father's diary, Ray."

"Okay." Ray nodded in the dark. "Go on."

"All right. Five days, sleeping only in the dark hours. On the sixth day, his tracks were obscured by those of a herd of moose, and I was unable to pick up the trail. Fortunately, I happened to meet up with a local hunter, John Cage, who was pleased to inform me that Carlyle was staying with him at his hut. At Cage's request, I waited until the next morning to apprehend the criminal. The arrest proceeded without incident, and we headed south at first light, accompanied by Cage who, driven hog-headed by the long days and prolonged solitude of the far north, had decided to move to Newfoundland and live with his great-aunt. Shall I continue?"

"Nah. That's okay." Miracle of miracles, Ray was sleepy, for the first time in a week.

"Goodnight, Ray." Fraser's voice was warm in Ray's ear.

"Yeah, goodnight, Fraser. I'll see you."

Ray hung up, and sat for a while in the dark, watching shadows. He drank the rest of his beer and let echoes of Fraser's voice hum around his body, until it occurred to him that Fraser had probably said Goodnight Ray exactly like that a hundred times before—to the other Ray. Had maybe even forgotten which Ray he was talking to tonight, Ray thought bitterly. He switched on the light, abruptly, and went to brush his teeth.


Wednesday

The next night was the longest night ever. Ray was sure of it. If you looked through the Guinness Book of World Records, October 29th 1997 was making history, even including the night Stella had left, when Ray had been able to count to fifty between each tick of the second hand on his old wind-up bedside clock.

This was worse. He thought—he was sure that if he could just talk it out with someone, get it all off his chest, he'd be able to get his head straight, but the phone stayed brutally silent all evening, and there was no one else to talk to and, anyway, the only shoulder he wanted to lean on was broad and Canadian and completely out of bounds.

Jerking off helped hardly at all, not when his head was full of detailed memories of their bodies pressed together at the morgue, of the concentrated exploration Fraser had made of Ray's mouth with his tongue, and the sweet shape Fraser's lips formed when he smiled. Fuck.


Thursday

Ray slapped a Snickers on the counter and leaned into the tobacconist's lined grey face. "I heard you got something for me?"

"Yeah?" Reiner squinted back at him curiously. "Who the hell're you?"

"Vecchio, Chicago PD." Ray kept his voice low and confident, his eyes steady. This part was always touch and go. "What you got?"

But Reiner was taking his coins and dropping them into the till, and maybe that squint was permanent, a birth defect or something, because it was still there. He handed Ray a dime. "Vecchio, huh? Vecch-ee-oh. I heard about you. Don't you work with a Mountie?"

Ray ripped open the candy bar wrapper. "Yeah," he nodded tersely. "Sometimes."

"All times," said Reiner, positively. "I heard the two of you are like that." He twisted two fingers together in a gesture that looked almost pornographic.

Ray gritted his teeth. "Yeah, well, not today." He took a huge bite of chocolate and peanuts, then dropped a twenty on the counter. "Tell me." But he was only half listening when Reiner came back with the names. The other half of his attention was thinking that advertising was such a load of shit: this was his third Snickers this morning, and he sure as hell wasn't satisfied. He was like Mick fucking Jagger.


The Consulate door swung open grandly, and Fraser stood there staring blankly at him. At least, first of all there was a flash of relief and welcome and oh thank god on Fraser's face, but that was quickly replaced by his absolute blandest expression and, "What are you doing here, Ray?"

Ray had no words. Fraser was wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and he looked sweaty and manly and downright edible, and Ray had to take a minute or two to wrestle with his self-control before he could say hi.

"Ray?" said Fraser again, and that snapped him out of it.

"Hi. Yeah, uh, I gotta chase up a guy this afternoon. I need backup." And then, before he could stop himself, "What are you doing?"

"Inspector Thatcher has had her Steinway shipped down from Toronto, and—"

Speak of the devil, Thatcher poked her head around the door at that exact moment. "Detective Vecchio," she said briskly. "We've missed you lately."

"Yeah?" Ray looked at her doubtfully, but she seemed sincere enough.

"Certainly, Detective. Won't you come in? Perhaps you could lend us a hand."

Ray shrugged. "Okay." He followed her inside, aware that Fraser was right behind him.

The Ice Queen gestured towards an enormous gleaming piano that was stranded halfway up a short staircase. Turnbull waved from the landing. "Good morning, Detective Vecchio! We haven't seen you for quite some time. You're looking particularly healthy today, sir. As I always say, a person's complexion is the primary indicator of their—"

"There's been a slight hitch," said Thatcher, cutting through the niceties. "We need to maneuver the Steinway up to the second storey." Ray mentally translated the we as you. "But Constables Fraser and Turnbull are having difficulty with the task."

Ray looked at the hulking piano, and back at Fraser and Turnbull. Difficulty, no kidding. The Ice Queen really did expect these guys to be superman. No wonder she made them wear red.

So, yeah, Ray shucked off his jacket and hung it on the banister post, and then he spent the next hour and a half struggling to help two Mounties force a seventy ton Canadian piano up three flights of stairs. It was like a bad joke, but it was also a chance to spend time with Fraser and, since a moment's lost concentration could land them all in hospital, Ray kept himself mostly fixed on the matter at hand and only, say, three or four percent noticing how Fraser's biceps looked when he flexed them, and the damp patches of sweat in his armpits, and his absolute certainty and braininess when it came to working out the logistics of tilting and rotating the piano.

"Ideally we'd use a crane," he said at one stage, and Ray couldn't agree more, except that a crane wouldn't have meant the two of them squashed together on a corner of the stairs, with the foot pedals crushing Ray's toes and him not even caring because he could feel Fraser's arm digging into his side.

When all that was finally done and the piano, amazingly unscathed, had been properly placed, they sat down for a quick cup of tea, though what Ray wanted was a beer or several. Turnbull opened a packet of water crackers and produced a large sticky lump of cheese from the fridge. "Brie, Detective Vecchio? No?" Turnbull cut a slice and plastered it onto a cracker for himself. "We've missed your visits, I must say. Only yesterday, I was asking Constable Fraser when you'd be dropping by. Though we were delighted to meet your sister, Miss Vecchio, when she visited us last weekend."

Ray shot a glance at Fraser, but he was busy pouring milk into the cups, so Ray just said, "Yeah?"

"Yes, indeed," said Turnbull enthusiastically. "She called in unexpectedly to see Constable Fraser, and we were so pleased when she agreed to stay for luncheon." Turnbull looked puzzled for a moment. "There's not a lot of family resemblance between the two of you, is there, sir? I suppose, now I come to think of it, that that would be the result of you having different parents."

Ray mentally rolled his eyes, and looked at Fraser, who was standing in the far corner now, remote as an iceberg. Ray jerked his head towards the door and said, "Shall we?"

"Yes. Of course." Fraser rinsed out his tea cup and paused. "I'll get Diefenbaker."

When they piled into the car, he climbed into the back seat and Dief jumped up next to Ray.

Ray twisted round and said over his shoulder, "What is this? Why are you in the back?"

Fraser coughed. "Diefenbaker has offered to act as chaperone."

"We need a chaperone?" Ray asked, turning forward again and sitting heavily in his seat, feeling like the world was spinning way too fast.

In the rear view mirror, he saw Fraser nod gravely. "I think I—yes."

So, fine. Fraser didn't trust Ray to keep his hands to himself. All in all, Ray figured that was probably a fair call. Then the wolf stuck his nose in Ray's face and slobbered in his ear. "Gah!" Ray grabbed his muzzle and shoved him away. "Okay, fine, but who's gonna chaperone me from the chaperone?"


An afternoon of working together, with Dief keeping a watchful eye on the two of them to make sure they stayed strictly professional, and everything fell into place like magic. Leads, hints, some distinctive mud in a puddle that Fraser happened to lick and recognize the ingredients of, and they were off to the East Side. And yeah, it was such a huge relief to be back together, even just talking, that Ray almost forgot his other problems.

He hummed with satisfaction the whole way he was driving, until Dief whined a complaint, and then he put on The Dead Kennedys, loud and cheerful, until Fraser tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Ray, do you mind?" and then he drummed his fingers on the wheels to his own internal soundtrack, and then they were there.

It was a rundown bungalow, with cracked windows and a creaky porch. Fraser snuck round the back to block the exits and, after a minute to give him time, Ray hammered on the door, shouting, "Open up! Chicago PD!"

There was a loud klunk! like furniture falling over, and then Dief jumped up on a barrel and in through the open window at the side and Ray could hear barking and yelling and growling. The growling sounded kinda off, so Ray tried the door, found it locked, and then blew away the handle with a couple of shots. He made his way carefully into the back room of the house, where Dief had his jaws clamped around the leg of a thirty-four year old teenager with long lanky hair, and was tugging and growling deep in his throat. The guy had pulled a box-cutter knife and was pressing it against Dief's throat. He was yelling blue murder.

The table and a couple of chairs had been knocked over, and there were driver's licenses and tiny portrait photos and scraps of paper sliding all over the floor, getting crushed and trampled by the two of them. In the corner, a laminating machine beeped quietly to itself.

The wolf and the guy shuffled around, pushing and pulling like a cross between wrestling and dancing. There was blood running down the guy's leg, and blood on Dief's fur. The sight made Ray cold.

"Drop the fucking knife," he said, so quiet he was surprised the loser even heard him over Dief's bare-teethed threats. He braced his gun with both arms, ready to fire, and stepped closer, preparatory to shoving the barrel into the guy's neck.

"Or what?" the loser shrieked, pressing the knife in harder. "The dog's gonna kill me."

A trapdoor opened in the floor, and Fraser climbed out—which was just plain weird, because who the hell had a trapdoor, but this was Fraser, and if there was a trapdoor, he'd be the one to find it—and he was right behind the guy.

He leaned round and snatched the knife out of the guy's hand, saying "He's a wolf, and I doubt that very much" while Ray was still saying, "I gotta gun, you jerk. Leave the damned wolf alone."

Without his box-cutter, the guy tried to shake Dief off, which made the guy yell louder because, duh!, Dief had his wolf teeth buried in the guy's skin. The guy lost his balance, and swung out wildly, hand fisted and trying to punch Fraser in the face probably just for the hell of it by this stage. Ray stepped in and grabbed his stupid arm before he could connect, and that was that. Game over.

Ray cuffed and Mirandized the guy, while Fraser collected up the evidence and called for backup. The cut on Dief's neck was only a scratch, thank god, and once Fraser had dressed the wound and promised him donuts, the wolf stopped being long-suffering and hopped in the car without further comment.

They took the guy down to the station and booked him, with Fraser giving him a long lecture about enabling fraud and undermining the sovereignty of the State, and respecting the rights of wild animals. And then Ray was standing at his desk wondering what next and knowing he should take Fraser back to the Consulate now, but searching for an excuse, a reason not to let him go yet. And then Dief, who'd forgotten the whole incident, it seemed, sniffed the air, and whuffed, and upped and trotted out of the room without a single glance back, apparently scenting takeaways or pastries down the hall.

The bullpen was real quiet. Huey was at his desk, poring over his notes on the Vitelli case, and Fraser was standing in front of Ray, staring off into space.

"We should, you know, do the paperwork. Get it done. Keep Frannie off my case," said Ray, wanting nothing more than to take Fraser in his arms and squeeze him tight. He looked so alone, his face tight and empty, and Ray—Ray could make it better. Well, Ray Kowalski could have made it better, could have corrupted Fraser and kissed him and made him be happy. Ray Vecchio, on the other hand, did not do that kind of thing.

Undercover sucked more than he could have imagined.

Fraser cleared his throat. "Normally you know I'd be most happy to help, Ray, but under the circumstances perhaps I should get back to the—piano," he said with a wry quirk of his lips.

"Yeah." Neither of them moved, held there facing each other. Ray's pulse thudded in his ears. It was a game of chicken, and Fraser might not know it, but polite restrained Mountie or not, he was a thirty ton logging truck about to flatten Ray into paste.

"It's, ah, did I ever tell you about the infestation of screeching tree frogs that invaded Tuktoyaktuk in the summer of eighty-five, when the school's regional picnic were organizing their annual talent contest?" Fraser looked slightly desperate, and seemed to be talking at random. A logging truck with an educational commentary.

There were footsteps. "Hey Ray!" Those were Dewey's dulcet tones. Fraser stopped mid-sentence. "You guys coming for a beer?"

"Uh, sure." He blinked and questioned Fraser silently: you want a lift home or what? "Yeah?"

Fraser shook his head a little, stretched his neck out. "Yes," he said. "Why not?" But a tiny crease had formed between his eyebrows.

"Yeah," said Ray. "Why the hell not?" He clapped Fraser's shoulder, channeling Vecchio now, all friendly and manly, and drawing Fraser off with the others, insulting Dewey as a matter of course. The whole time, he was acutely aware of Fraser's big quiet stillness coming off him in waves, like panic.


Fraser and Huey sat across from Dewey and Ray at a booth in the loud smoky bar. Huey and Dewey were shouting about something or other. Ray wasn't paying attention, just kept looking at Fraser, and shouting Yeah! and No way! pretty much at random at the others, keeping the conversational ball rolling.

After a couple of minutes, Ray realized Fraser was slouching back in his seat a tiny bit, his posture off-centre like he was trying to make himself smaller. Ray got a horrible feeling, like missing a stair or saying exactly the wrong thing into a sudden silence in a crowd of relatives. "Next round," he said, and went to the bar, coming back with four dark wet bottles of beer.

He slid them around the table, and yeah, Fraser caught his, toyed with it a moment, and then lifted it to his lips, as though curious.

Huey and Dewey were telling a long involved story about a Christmas party and—Ray couldn't hear, but it sounded like a live trout. They kept talking all over each other, and laughing like idiots, but that was background noise because Fraser was drinking. The mouth of the bottle dented his lips and Ray couldn't take his eyes off of him, could hardly breathe. It was like being kicked in the gut.

He watched Fraser's throat move as the beer went down. He took a gulp of his own beer and thought This is what Fraser's mouth tastes like right now, right this minute, and then he caught Fraser's eye.

Holy shit.

"And Santa kept falling down because his trousers were too long," said Dewey. "You remember that, Vecchio?"

"What?" Ray tried to drag his attention away.

"And then Francesca said not on your nelly to Welsh," said Huey, laughing and leaning forward. "Don't you remember that?"

"No, I don't—What? No, I wasn't there."

"Sure you do, Vecchio." Huey winked. "You were there. We got the photo."

Ray slumped. "Yeah, okay." He glanced at Fraser, who'd clunked his beer down and was staring at the table like there was some great wisdom written there. "Yeah, I was there. I remember. Sure." He sounded harsh. Jeez, he felt harsh.

He stumbled to his feet. "I gotta—I just remembered, I gotta—go," he said. Lamest thing ever, but he had to get out of here.

He hurtled out of the bar, his personal demons prodding him with pitchforks, and not a damned thing he could do about it.


Monday

The next few days, Ray kept his head down, did paperwork, and avoided any actual cases.

Whenever Welsh came into the room, Ray headed to the vending machine, or skipped out for lunch, knowing it was increasingly obvious he wasn't doing any work, knowing he was flaking out. "Why not try something different? Say, maybe solve a case?" That's what Welsh would say. Ray didn't want to hear it. Only six weeks into the job, and he'd already painted himself into a corner.

"Gimme a report to write," he mumbled to Frannie, when she came round with the mail. "I could write up Houseman."

Frannie stared at him wide-eyed. "Are you feeling okay? I got a barometer in my bag. Maybe I should take your temperature."

"Ha ha, very funny," said Ray, "I was just asking."

"Last I heard, you were supposed to be the magic crime-fighting duo." She looked round. "Where's Fraser?"

Ray suppressed a groan and evaded the question, and knew he was going to have to get back in the saddle before more people started asking. He looked at the growing pile of cases on his desk.

But getting out there would mean tracking down Fraser as backup, and though he tried again and again to convince himself that he was cured, over it, all clear, deep down he knew he wasn't ready.

He counted down the hours until their two weeks apart were over, and they could go back to being partners, real partners, who actually saw each other.


"Vecchio!" Welsh spoke like a foghorn.

Ray winced, grabbed a file and headed for the door.

"Vecchio!" The voice was clearer, now, ringing out behind him. "A moment of your time."

Ray turned reluctantly. Welsh was standing in the door of his office, frowning at him. "Yeah," said Ray, "I gotta get this down to dispatch before four-thirty."

"This won't take long." Okay, there was no getting out of it. Ray was going to have to admit everything.

He shuffled into Welsh's office feeling like he was back in grade school, called in to see Mr. Cravello. Welsh shut the door, and sat on the edge of his desk with his arms folded, keeping his eye intently on Ray as though he expected him to bolt. "Something is amiss, Detective," he said. "I'd appreciate it if you'd fill me in."

Ray started pacing nervously. "Yeah, I know. I can't—" He reached the corner of the room and spun around, waving the file wildly, sending sheets of paper flying through the air. Then he ground to a halt, staring at the empty brown folder in his hand. "I can't do it. I'm sorry."

Welsh looked at him inquiringly. "Perhaps you could be more specific. What is it exactly that you find yourself unable to do?"

"I can't be Vecchio." Ray struggled to keep his voice calm, to stay cool. "I mean, I can be him for an afternoon, no problem. I just—I can't live his life. I try to be him, but my me keeps getting in the way. My me is driving me crazy."

"I see." Welsh nodded.

But Ray was off now, words spilling out. "No, you don't see. You don't see. I go out, and all these people, they expect me to be him. Not just look like him, or act like him, but to remember what he remembered and to feel like he felt, and I gotta do it that way, I gotta be what they expect because that's who I am now, but—"

"Detective."

Ray stopped and took a deep breath, feeling lighter just from having said what he'd been thinking, but despairing too. "I know that's what undercover is, I know that. But it's too hard. I can't do it when all I can think about is—"

"Detective!"

"What?"

"Sit down." Welsh sat down in his desk and waited until Ray flopped down into one of the visitors' chairs. The silence stretched for a long minute. Ray figured Welsh was trying to work out how to fire him, who they were going to get to play Vecchio next. It sucked that it hadn't gelled, but sometimes that's what happened, right? You had to move on.

"Detective," said Welsh for the third time. "Let me put it like this. Every Christmas this town sees a large number of its male population dressing up in red suits and playing a part. In a sense, those men are going undercover. It doesn't matter if they're all different heights and girths, if their voices have different tones. They play a part, the kids think it's Santa, and everyone's happy."

"Yeah, but—"

Welsh held up a hand to stop him. "Detective, I'm telling you to take the role and make it your own. Interpret it as you will. You are Vecchio. You've already proven that. Forget what everyone else thinks they know. Memories are, after all, notoriously unreliable."

"I know, but—"

Again with the hand. "From the point of view of a six year old girl, the recollection of Santas past is dramatically less important than the reality of the Santa who's holding her on his knee and promising her a pony for Christmas. You get my point."

Ray thought for a moment. "I think so, but—"

"What's important here? The ho ho ho, obviously, the beard, the red suit. These are the distinctive characteristics. These are what make a Santa."

"Right." Ray frowned. "So you're saying—"

"Exactly. What's important for you is that you carry a badge that says Vecchio and you work with Constable Fraser. Constable Fraser is your red suit." And, okay, Welsh didn't exactly smile then, but he did look not-grumpy for a moment or two. Ray figured that was enough.


Tuesday

On Tuesday, Fraser came back to the precinct to help out. This turned out to be a mixed blessing. It was great to have him around, sure, but by the end of the day, Ray was exhausted and restless with the effort of keeping himself in check, and trying to ignore the fact that he got semi-turned on every time his gaze lighted on Fraser's hands or face or uniform.

There'd been a shootout down by the docks, and Welsh and all the other cops were down there, or taking guys to the holding cells, or had called it a day. The bullpen was empty except for the two of them, who were working on cracking a counterfeiting operation. "So, what? We go talk to this Olver guy and see if he knows anything about the scam?" This was a good plan. Ray needed to get moving.

Fraser shifted uncomfortably in his seat and agreed. "That seems like the best approach."

He was sitting so far back from the desk, Ray practically had to shout to get through to him. And no, it wasn't the physical distance, because after all Fraser had ears that could ID a single tire squeal in downtown Chicago. No, Fraser was being distant. It sucked, but there was nothing Ray could do about it, so he just said, "Okay then."

Ray got up and grabbed his jacket, and checked his badge and wallet and gun, and Fraser got up, keeping a safe distance, probably so they didn't go boom! and suddenly accidentally find themselves having sex on Ray's desk, and then Frannie came up, a shiny new pair of handcuffs dangling from her fingers.

"Hey, Fraser," she said cheerfully. "Where are you going? You want to buy a ticket for the police ball? It's fancy dress."

"Not now, Frannie," snapped Ray, trying to get past.

"It'll be very romantic," Frannie said, ignoring Ray entirely. "I'm going as a stripper."

"Thank you kindly, Francesca," said Fraser politely. "I don't have any money on me at this time. Perhaps—"

And then Frannie stopped dangling the cuffs and, for reasons that escaped Ray, for reasons that would escape a psychic, she slapped a link onto Fraser's wrist.

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry," she cried, but Ray saw a gleam in her eye and for one second maybe he was psychic, because he saw her fingers twitch and he had a sudden inkling of what she was about to do. He reached out his arm to stop her, to save Fraser from getting caught up in bondage games with his own alleged sister, and then there were arms everywhere, and Fraser saying "Oh dear". Frannie pushed Ray's arm away, but it was too late because by then Ray and Fraser were already handcuffed. Together.

"Oh my God!" said Frannie again, and this time there was real apology in her voice. "I'll go get the key. I left it—" She backed away, holding her hands up to ward off Ray's building fury, and then turned and fled.

"I don't believe this!" exploded Ray. "She cuffed us."

"It does seem rather, ah, inconvenient," said Fraser softly. "Although, the way things have been going, perhaps I should have expected it."

"What?" Ray turned and found himself suddenly standing right up against Fraser, both of them hot and radiating, Fraser's warm breath on his cheek. Ray felt his stomach turn over.

"Nothing," said Fraser. They were so close that Ray heard rather than saw him swallow, and Fraser's voice was a low hum in Ray's ear. "I'm sorry, Ray. I can't do this."

Ray blinked rapidly. It would be downright stupid to cry now. There was nowhere to hide. His voice cracked as he said, "You don't have to do anything."

Soft hair brushed Ray's ear as Fraser shook his head. He sounded desperate. "No, I—I can't not do this."

And then Fraser was kissing him, his lips pressing along Ray's jaw, and for a tiny moment, Ray didn't believe it, thought he'd misunderstood, that there was some kind of mistake, because Fraser had been coping with the separation just fine. Fraser had been cool and stand-offish, had brought a chaperone, for crying out loud. But Ray had completely misunderstood, because now Fraser was kissing him hungrily, had found his lips, and Ray let it all out, let it go, and kissed him back so hard, so thoroughly, that they both instinctively put their arms around each other to stop from toppling over, though they got snared by the cuffs, and ended up tangling their fingers on that side and clasping each other on the other.

It was so good, and such a goddamned relief, that Ray couldn't help himself from rubbing against Fraser, not wanting to freak him out or anything but he couldn't help it, his hips moving of their own accord, and then Fraser was moving too, and this was so not the place to do this, in the pen and with Frannie due back any second with the cuff keys, and hey, why the hell hadn't Fraser picked the lock, anyway?

Ray tore his mouth free. "Oh god!" he moaned. "We have to stop!"

Fraser followed him, kissed him again. "No," he said against Ray's lips, and that was it, the oh of his open mouth an invitation, and Ray dove in again, went under for the third time, like a drowning man.

A few minutes later, "No, really! Fraser!"

"Mmmm?" The query was stubborn and rebellious, and Ray knew that was because Fraser was perfectly aware of what he was going to say.

"Gotta. Uh. Stop." Oh. That felt too good, and if they didn't stop now it would be too late, and then Frannie was going to get the shock of a lifetime and Fraser was going to be really embarrassed when he came to his senses, and Ray was going to need clean pants. "Gotta be careful. Go somewhere private."

"Can't stop," murmured Fraser. "I tried. I can't stop thinking about you, about this."

Ray's knees went weak. "I know. Me neither." He kissed Fraser sloppily, then broke off again. "But we gotta be discreet, you know? Not here."

Ray watched closely as Fraser battled for self-control. He actually felt kinda proud that he was tipping Fraser over the edge like that. Fraser, king of repression, wanted him, Raymond Kowalski, that much. But he meant what he said: they had to get a room.

A deep sigh from round about knee level made Ray jump out of his skin, and he looked down to find Dief staring reproachfully at the two of them. "What?" said Ray. "You gotta problem?"

Dief barked, and cocked his head to one side.

"Thank you for that brilliant observation," said Fraser to the wolf. "Your services are no longer required." He moved back an inch though, maybe two, which was good, because at that exact moment Frannie came bustling back in, pink-cheeked, with the cuff key in her hand.

"I'm so sorry," she said again, and she held out the key, expecting them to let her unlock them, but Fraser took it off her.

"Thank you kindly, Francesca," he said, and then he dragged Ray by the wrist out of the office, along the crowded hallway and down the stairs, and out into the parking lot where Ray wanted to back him up against the car, but instead he made Fraser set them loose "Because no way am I driving with you dangling from my wrist, you crazy Mountie", and they got in the car.

"My place," said Ray, his stomach clenching at the thought.

"Yes," said Fraser.

Ray tried to pull himself together. Clutch Brake Gas, he told himself. He hadn't had to recite that since he was fifteen.

"Now, Ray!" Fraser was going to jump him any second. Ray could sense it. He tried to move, to turn the ignition key, to back the car out of its park, but his arms felt heavy with want, his feet leaden with desire. It felt suicidal to put himself out there on the road in this condition.

Fraser grasped his shoulder, and shook him. "Ray," he said, and now he was grinning like a maniac. Maybe Ray had been right all along: they were insane, the both of them. Ray catatonic; Fraser hysterical.

"Yeah?" He covered the hand on his shoulder with his own, the warm rough skin making him shudder.

"While we're young?" said Fraser in a weird parody of a Chicago accent, and Ray heard the teasing. Fraser was teasing him. And all of a sudden he was moving, in action, starting the car, zooming out of the lot and into traffic, counting down the fifteen minutes it would take to get to his apartment.

"Who are you and what have you done with Fraser?" he said, smiling sideways, and glancing out of the corner of his eye, but careful to keeping himself in check so he didn't freeze up again in the middle of rush hour. "I'm starting to think I don't even know you."

"You don't, Ray," said Fraser, smiling back. "Not nearly as well as you should."


They had to stop at five sets of traffic lights in the first seven blocks. "Jeez!" breathed Ray in frustration, as the sixth set turned orange and he had to pull up. "Hurry up already."

Fraser, who'd been sitting quietly, gripping his hands together, turned to him. "Ray, are you sure about this?"

Ray whipped his head round. "About this, about us? God, yeah. One hundred and fifty percent."

"What about your reservations? The difficulty of being undercover—"

Ray snorted, and held up his crossed fingers. "Turns out everyone already thinks we're like this, anyway."

Fraser's eyes went dark and intense, and Ray didn't know if it was the gesture or if Fraser just liked looking at his hands. Either way was fine.

"How 'bout you? You okay?"

Fraser looked through the windscreen and licked his bottom lip. "I will be. The, ah, light is green."

From then on, they had a run of greens, and screeched to a halt outside Ray's building five minutes later.


Fifteen minutes in the car had slowed things down. They were still in this super-charged space, but it was like the calm before the storm, like walking around at the foot of the Hoover dam, listening to it crumble, watching cracks spread, waiting to be swept away. Ray felt tingly, overheated, and turned on, but he didn't touch Fraser yet. He shut the door. "You want a drink?"

Fraser cleared his throat. "A glass of water, please. Thank you kindly."

Ray got two glasses of water, and brought them through to the lounge, where Fraser was putting his hat on the table and loosening his collar. He still had the handcuffs, was turning them over and over.

"You got plans for those?" Ray put the water glasses next to Fraser's hat and walked right up to him.

Fraser shook his head, smiling. "In my experience, it's more satisfying to have one's hands free."

"Yeah, me too. I want to touch you, Fraser." It sounded stupid and saying it made his head swim, but it was god's honest truth. Then he did a double take. "In your—You done this before? I never done this before."

"A few times, many years ago." Fraser watched his reaction. "A long time ago."

Ray nodded. An image of Fraser naked and sweaty with some other guy flashed through his mind and, whoa, it was hot. It made him ache to be that guy. "Okay," he breathed, and Fraser's mouth was on his, sweet and soft for a few moments, and then the dam broke, and they were back in each other's arms, kissing wet and deep and hungry.

Ray ran his hands up Fraser's back, frustrated at the thick serge. He tugged at the shoulders, the collar, trying to get through, to climb inside, to get Fraser out. He twisted his head sideways, and while Fraser was burying his face in the crook of Ray's neck, licking and breathing deep, Ray said, "Come out and play, Fraser."

"Yes," said Fraser, against Ray's neck. "Yes." But he was burrowing into Ray, holding him tight, and Ray had to push him away.

Ray knocked on Fraser's chest like it was a door. "I just. You're in there." He ran his fingers over the stiff fabric, and began unbuckling the belts and straps. "I wanna feel you."

Fraser flushed, and interrupted Ray's efforts with another rib-crushing hug, until all Ray could feel was Fraser's mouth, the pressure of his hands on his back and neck, and the half-undone uniform, buckles and buttons digging into him as he pressed closer. "Fraser, I." He plucked at the lanyard. "Please."

And Fraser must have heard the need in his voice—he was practically begging, after all—because Fraser closed his eyes a long second and then opened them, steadied and focused on Ray, and he began swiftly unbuttoning and climbing out of his uniform. He cast off the tunic and sat down to unlace his boots, and he was amazingly unself-conscious about it, like he really was in there, like he was dying to get out. And the whole time he was talking, under his breath, babbling. "Two weeks. It's been—no one seemed to understand why we couldn't be together, Ray. My father, Diefenbaker, Turnbull, even Inspector Thatcher—they kept asking after you: had we had a row? Did we need couples counseling? Why didn't I simply pick up the phone and call you? But you didn't want this. You said you didn't. So I tried to keep my distance, to give you space, but Ray, I didn't understand either."

He was in his boxers and stocking feet now, with the long-sleeved white undershirt soft against his body, and Ray hurled himself into his arms. "Me neither, Frase. I just—I got scared."

"Scared?" Fraser sounded confused, and maybe something else, like he thought Ray could be scared of him, and that that would even not be completely crazy. Ray hugged Fraser like he was holding him together, feeling his warmth through the thin cotton, feeling the hard muscle and curved length of Fraser's body, and said, "Of me. Of being me. You know? Scared I'd fuck it up."

And maybe Fraser had an answer to that, but Ray was too busy yanking the undershirt over Fraser's head, and pushing off his own clothes, and then they were nearly naked, their skin colliding like magnets, like clasped hands or crossed fingers, and Ray kissed Fraser honestly, specifically, while layers of himself fell away until he was only Ray Kowalski, and Fraser was only Fraser, and they were lying on the floor in a tangle of discarded clothes, shaking and hard and naked and wanting each other.

"Oh. Just. Fuck!" Fraser touched him, stroked him, had curled his big hot hand around Ray's cock and was drawing him further and further into this wild helpless maze, where he knew exactly who he was and what he wanted, and all of it was right here. "I. Fraser, can you. Yeah! Oh god. Fuck."

"Ray, I—" Fraser was watching, his eyes huge and intent, devouring Ray. Seeing him. "Ray."

Ray shook his head. "Oh god, Fraser," he moaned. "Oh. Yeah. Just. You. Kowalski."

Fraser bit his jaw, kissed his mouth, his tongue pushing in possessively. "I know who you are."

"I know. I." Ray was panting. He stretched his head back, arching into Fraser's hand. He was so close. He was. His vision blurred around the edges. "I just."

"It's you I want. I never wanted this with him." Fraser was close and insistent, was here, was holding him and loving him, and Fraser's cock was pressed into Ray's thigh.

Ray clutched Fraser's shoulder. "It's. Oh. Fuck. I need to. Know." Ray shuddered, and came in a whirl of sparks and electricity and come, which left Fraser's hand slippery and suddenly gentle. Ray sagged against Fraser's chest. "I know you know," he said hazily. "But I need to know it's me. My life. My happiness." He ran his hand deliberately down Fraser's side to his hip. "My Mountie. You got that?"

Fraser quivered as Ray's hand curved around his balls, and then traveled up to hold his cock. "I—Yes, Ray. Kowalski."

"Exactly," said Ray, and followed the path his hand had taken, this time with kisses, hesitating when he reached Fraser's hip, because this was new and, yeah, maybe a little weird, like he'd been swept along with the current and ended up here, naked with his partner, and now the urgency was passing, his brain was starting to kick in. But still, this was Fraser, and Ray had been waiting for this every minute for a whole fortnight, or whatever, and that was a hell of a long time to wait.

He grasped Fraser's cock and licked the head gently, tasting the bitterness and, yeah, it was good. And then, what the hell, he sucked it into his mouth, reveling in Fraser's gasp and the moans that followed. It was sort of like dancing, with the leading and following, and the rhythm and the beat of Fraser's pulse thrumming against Ray's fingers, and Ray's own heartbeat throbbing in his throat. And, yeah, it was sex, too, with skin and bodies, and this was Fraser, and Ray's heart felt like it was going to burst.

Ray could feel Fraser's orgasm building, his body stiffening, his hands tangled in Ray's hair and gripping his shoulder. Fraser groaned like he was breaking open. And when his hips bucked against Ray's hand, Ray rode it out, and when Fraser came, Ray took it all in, let Fraser spurt into his mouth and held it there, and then swallowed. It felt like a gift.

Fraser wriggled down till their heads were level, and kissed him thoroughly, and then rolled onto his back and started laughing. "What?" said Ray, but then he started laughing too, because, god, this was his life now, and it was fucking amazing, and nothing at all like what he'd expected. The whole Vecchio problem was stupid anyway, because no one cared so long as he was with Fraser. And Ray was pretty sure he could work with that.


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