Rating: G
Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski

Puzzle

by china_shop


Wednesday afternoon at the 27th Precinct bears an uncanny resemblance to the Great Bear Lake Opera Appreciation Society's production of 'My Fair Lady'. People are shouting at the top of their lungs. There are half a dozen castanet-wielding foot-stomping flamenco dancers who are having an altercation amongst themselves, two street sweepers, one of whom is crying on the other's shoulder, and a man with an accordion. There is also, for reasons that Fraser decides not to explore at this juncture, a llama tethered to the photocopier. It appears to be a relatively small specimen, at least, and is tightly enough tethered that it can't eat the incoming faxes.

Fraser reminds himself that Mrs. Lachlan-Pepperell, the director of the aforementioned colorful performance, was an ardent devotee of Fellini and never particularly keen on Lerner and Lowe.

He weaves his way through the chaos, enjoying the fact that for once he's neither the most colorful nor the most strangely-dressed person in the room. (The llama is wearing a Carmen Miranda fruit hat.)

"Ray!" he calls, when he gets close to his partner's desk. As usual, Ray doesn't hear him. He's slouched back in his chair, which is balanced precariously. His head is back, his eyes closed, and his long legs are stretched out before him. There's a crease between his eyebrows, and he's flexing a biro in his hands, apparently testing its tensile strength.

"Ray, Ray, RAY!" says Fraser, and Ray starts. His chair wobbles as the laws of physics finally come into play, and Fraser winces, certain that Ray's about to crash painfully to the floor. But Ray leans forward at the last second and smoothly grabs the edge of his desk, pulling himself upright by the skin of his teeth.

He grins up at Fraser, and motions for him to sit down. "Listen," he says.

Fraser does. The flamenco dancers aren't speaking Spanish, as he'd first assumed, but actually Portuguese. The Lieutenant is on the phone to someone from the IRS. And the llama appears to have a mild digestive complaint. Fraser meets Ray's expectant gaze. "What precisely am I listening for?" he says, presuming none of these are of any particular interest to his partner. He places his hat carefully on the desk.

Ray looks faintly frustrated — he seems to believe that the absence of telepathy in their partnership is a constant failing on Fraser's part; Fraser, equally exasperated, thinks Ray's expectations are decidedly unrealistic — and points surreptitiously in Detective Huey's direction. "They got a case," Ray mouths, as though that explains everything.

"Ah," says Fraser as though he understands entirely. He waits a moment, but no further explanation is forthcoming, and Ray's logic remains stubbornly impenetrable. Fraser leans forward, and murmurs, "Isn't that normal?"

Ray waves that away. "Listen," he says again.

Fraser tilts his head and tunes into Detective Huey's deep voice. He and Detective Dewey are discussing a jewelry heist: suspects, possible motives, forensic reports. Detective Dewey chimes in with information from the witnesses' statements. A mattress salesman, a pastry chef, a floristů After a minute or so, the pieces fall neatly into place. Ah. Fraser glances back at Ray, whose eyes are dancing. You get it? Ray's expression says, and Fraser smiles and nods.

"It's a set up," says Ray, his voice returning to normal levels.

"It seems most likely." It's the simplest explanation for the evidence they've overheard. Fraser wonders whether they should point this out to the other two detectives.

"Yeah. Jeez, why is it so much easier to solve other people's cases? It's like crossword puzzles, you know?"

"Crosswords?" repeats Fraser. He's aware of the practice, of course, but he's never had much time for games.

"Yeah, you know. You stare at your crossword for hours and it's just a jumble of nothing makes sense, and then you give up. 'Fine!' you say. 'I can't do this! Stupid crossword.' And then Stell— then someone else takes over. And you get up to walk away, you glance down and Bam! Capuchin! Staring you right in the face."

"A monkey." Fraser's out of his depth again.

"Yeah, no. A clue. A word. It's like things are easier to solve when you don't have to."

"Well, Ray, our brain chemistry does alter under pressure. Many people, as I'm sure you've observed, freeze up in difficult situations." Fraser stops abruptly. This is hardly the time for a lecture.

Ray's looking at him with an odd twisted smile. "You make me crazy, you know that?"

"Understood." Given Ray's expression, his tone of voice, Fraser decides not to take this as criticism. In fact, with sufficient rationalization, it could almost be a compliment.

"C'mon," says Ray, standing. He swipes Fraser's hat off the desk and twirls it carelessly. "I'll buy you a coffee. And then we gotta get some llama food."

"Ah, yes. About the llama—" Fraser follows Ray through the crowded station. Ray. His crossword puzzle, his baffling collection of clues and evidence. Fraser's still figuring him out. He's not nearly ready to concede defeat.


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