Rating: G
Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski
Thanks: Many thanks to pearl_o for beta

Where There's Smoke

by china_shop

The traffic light turns red and Ray jerks the car to a halt, throwing Fraser forward against the seatbelt. The engine rumbles angrily.

In the interest of keeping the peace, Fraser chooses not to comment on this rough treatment, but then he hears the rasp of the lighter, and can't help pursing his lips. "Ray—"

He knows a remonstration will likely only serve to infuriate Ray, but he can't keep silent. After all, there are health considerations, and not only for the active smoker. The statistics on secondhand smoke, too, are alarming.

"Don't start with me," Ray growls. He's tense and highly strung, and everything Fraser has said today has inched him closer and closer to revolt. It's ridiculous, really. As though Fraser were some authority figure against whom Ray need rebel. As though Fraser had any standing at all, official or otherwise.

White smoke curls and trickles through the air, scratching at Fraser's nostrils, and his temper flares. Why should he be subjected to this—this health hazard? Why should he watch his friend poison himself? He reaches for the door handle. "I'll walk."

"Fraser, we're on the other side of town. It's freezing out. Stay in the fucking car." Ray sounds cold and tired, but he's also speaking the truth. Fraser hesitates.

The light changes, and Ray screeches the GTO into motion, making the decision moot.

"I don't understand why you—" Fraser begins, then bites off the thought. This is not the time to discuss this. It's a delicate subject—the ethics of free will and responsibility to one's self. Ray is clearly not in the mood.

But Ray asks, flatly, "Why I what?" He takes a long pull on the cigarette, rolls down the window, and blows a plume of smoke out of the corner of his mouth, into the night. At least, that's clearly the intention. At the speed they're going, most of the smoke is blown straight back into the car.

"Smoke, Ray. I don't understand why you smoke." Fraser tries to keep his voice neutral.

Ray shoots him a narrow glance out of the corner of his eye. "No, I guess you don't."

He takes another drag, and then throws the butt out the window, to Fraser's profound irritation. They drive in silence for several minutes.

"It's just—" Ray says into the silence, as they pass the park.

Fraser waits a moment, then prompts him. "Yes?"

"Nothing." Ray runs his fingers through his hair, and scratches the back of his neck.

Fraser decides not to pursue the matter. In ten minutes they'll be at the Consulate, and this long, wearying day will be over. He can indulge in a hot cup of tea—how blissful that sounds—and an early night. He hopes that Turnbull has been kind enough to take Dief out already this evening.

Ray twitches, his driving becoming, if possible, even less graceful. He sends Fraser an irritated look.

"What?" snaps Fraser, before he can stop himself.

"You just gonna drop it?"

"Apparently so, yes. If you don't wish to tell me, that's up to you, Ray. You're old enough to—"

"Bullshit. You've got opinions coming out your earholes. I know you."

"It's been a very long day." Fraser retreats into the dark, tries to blend with the shadows and wait out the rest of the journey. He visualizes the teapot, his favorite mug.

Ray takes a deep breath. It seems that being left to make his own decisions, without reproach, is not what he wants after all. "It's just, y'know, I know you. I seen you do autopsies—sniff the dead guy, find out what he had for dinner and how long since he washed behind his ears."

"And?" Fraser's bewildered. What do autopsies have to do with Ray's decision to smoke? Well, there is an obvious connection, but he chooses not to consider it.

"So you smell good. I mean, you smell everything. You—It's creepy."

"I'm sorry that my olfactory sensitivity discomforts you, Ray," says Fraser, stiffly, goaded to formality. "I'll endeavor to blunt it. Perhaps if I spend more time at the bus depot, inhaling diesel fumes."

"Shut up." Ray leans across and gropes in the glove compartment for another cigarette. Unable to help himself, Fraser snatches the packet from his hand, and throws it into the dark backseat. Ray shouts, "Hey!" and bristles with indignation.

He swerves to the side of the empty road, and slams the car into park. Then he turns to face Fraser.

Fraser stares ahead, and waits for the car to resume motion. Waits desperately for the day to end. He's not equipped to deal with this. He's not prepared.

But Ray's voice is almost apologetic, the words tripping over each other in their hurry to explain. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I know you hate it. I just—I need some privacy, Fraser. I need there to be some things about me that you don't know."

"I fail to see—"

"It's a mask, okay? It's like a costume. I smoke, you can't smell me. You can't smell the me underneath. You can't—"

"Ray." Fraser is stunned. He reaches out and grasps Ray's arm, and it hurts more than he could have imagined when Ray shakes him off.

"No, no," Ray insists. "That's the thing. I need—"

"You need to hide from me," says Fraser, bluntly. "I thought we were friends, Ray."

"Yeah. Friends, partners, something. That doesn't mean—" Ray trails off. "You don't need to know everything, Frase."

"Actually, I think I—"

"You don't want to know everything. Trust me."

Fraser looks at him steadily, feeling unutterably disappointed. "Why should I? A second ago you informed me that you've been deliberately misleading me."

"No! No, I'm just—" Ray waves his hands through the air, trying to explain something that he seems to have no words for. "You don't—"

"That's entirely up to you, Ray. Please take me home."

"Fraser." Ray sounds fraught, as though they're about to take some irrevocable step.

"Ray." Fraser feels like he's turning to stone. His hands are cold. Chicago is suddenly foreign and unwelcoming, again. He's a stranger here. He's never belonged. How foolish of him to forget that.

Ray moves closer, but Fraser can't look at him. "I can't help it," Ray says, breathless and uneven. "It's like a craving and there's nothing I can do to—"

Fraser snorts. "Nicotine is highly addictive, Ray. That's not exactly a state secret. But if you—"

"Christ! Not that! That's not what I'm talking about." And Ray's fumbling for the door handle, letting himself out into the night.

Not that. "Then—?" Fraser watches him stride away, and tries to make sense of this. Craving. Hiding. Fear of Fraser scenting him. A deep suspicion that Fraser has barely acknowledged until now surfaces, and he feels a jolt like an electric shock sweep through him from the top of his scalp to his toes. He gets out of the car.

The ground is wet, and lights jostle in his peripheral vision as he strides after his friend. "Ray. Ray, Ray, RAY!"

Ray stops, slumps, his head hanging down. Fraser can see fear and frustration written in every line of him, and the suspicion solidifies into certainty, stealing his breath. He catches up with him and says softly, to the back of his head, "What do you want, Ray?"

Ray turns slowly, ducking his head, refusing to meet Fraser's gaze. "It's not me," he mumbles. "It's my stupid body. It's just—" And then he glances up and their eyes lock, his face clearly contradicting his words. Time draws to a halt.

A tremor runs through Fraser, and his tiredness evaporates. He licks his lip instinctively, and wonders how on earth he came to be here: an RCMP officer from the Northern Territories here on this dark, empty American street, accompanied by this strange wiry man who has attained so much importance in his life, both of them held captive in the supercharged space that surrounds them. Hazy memory-words bloom in his mind: I took this bus, I drove this car, I walked down this street, I turned this corner.

He touches two gentle fingers to the soft skin below Ray's ear. A gesture, an opening. He hopes it isn't too much.

Ray starts, but he doesn't move away.

"You don't need to hide," says Fraser. "It's all right."

Ray shakes his head, seemingly in protest. He opens his mouth but no sound escapes. His eyes are dark and eloquent, and Fraser settles his hand on Ray's upper arm. The next thing Fraser knows, Ray's body has slammed into him, Ray's arms are twined around his shoulders, Ray's face is buried in his neck. Still hiding, he thinks. But the acrid smoke that clings to him starts to disperse into the chill night air, and perhaps now they can begin the long mysterious journey toward revelation.

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