Thanks: Showers of sparkly thanks to Lyra Sena for beta
Notes: For the Something Gets It challenge on ds_flashfiction
The man in the sombrero reminds Fraser of his English teacher in Inuvik, Miss Hartford. Possibly it's his haughty bearing, so at odds with his short stature, or perhaps it's his gold tooth. Fraser really can't say, but he is fairly certain that Miss Hartford never attempted to hold her own associates hostage. Though, to be fair, Miss Hartford's associates were usually Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Eliot, all deceased.
"Hold eet," the man growls, shoving the muzzle of his dirty gun against the neck of his mule, "or I keell her dead." The mule blinks long oblivious eyelashes and chews slowly on an unidentified substance.
"I don't think you've fully thought this through." Fraser keeps his gaze steady on the man, as he tracks Ray's stealthy progress around the room. "If you shoot her, you'll have no hostage and no mule." He spreads his hands to distract the man's attention. "She's in excellent condition, and only two or three years old, if I judge correctly. She deserves better than to be used as a pawn in your Machiavellian scheme."
"She a worthless piece of—shit!"
Ray grabs the man's arm and seizes the gun, jerking the man's wrist up and sideways in one sharp movement, and cuffing him neatly. "I only wanted a taco, you moron," Ray says, gesturing toward the kitchen area, but he reads the man his rights before he goes to peruse the menu.
* * *
Diefenbaker keeps an eye on the man and the mule while Ray places their lunch order. "To go," he adds to the young woman behind the counter. "Make it snappy, like an alligator sandwich."
Fraser pulls him aside, feeling oddly light-hearted. "Ray, we'll have to take the mule back to the station, too."
Ray glances at him, then goes back to reading the menu on the wall. "Why? She an accomplice, or you just wanna take down her statement? Because you could do that here, you know. Or have you got a thing for hoofed mammals now, that I don't know about?"
"She's bearing forensic evidence. There's a smudge from the gun on her neck. Besides, we can't leave her here: she's violating half a dozen health regulations." Fraser rolls his shoulders back. "It's a fine day. I can walk her."
Without looking, Ray flings his arm out and bars the way. He seems agitated. "It's a hundred degrees out there, Fraser. I'll call for backup. They can figure out how to cram her in a squad car." He turns back to the counter to collect their order. "Jeez, what kind of guy lets his gun get so dirty it leaves a smudge? Don't you look after your gun?" he asks the young woman serving him.
"I keep mine in the bathroom cabinet," she says. "Next to the mouthwash." She hands him two sodas in paper cups.
* * *
There's something different about Ray. Something about the quality of his silences, the glances he's darting at Fraser. Perhaps it's the turn of the seasons, Fraser muses, or his recent shortage in sleep. Or maybe the encounter with Denny Scarpa two days ago made more of an impression than Fraser thought.
Ray wears his sunglasses more than is strictly necessary.
"What you looking at, Fraser?"
"Yeah, well, stop looking at nothing or I'll give your taco to Dief."
Dief whines hopefully.
"You know salsa makes you molt," Fraser tells him firmly, but there's no reasoning with a hungry wolf.
They leave the mule and the stupid sombrero guy with the Black and Whites, and promptly forget about both of them. It's that kind of day. The station's more crowded than the stadium on pennant night. When they walk into the bullpen, the noise and heat are stifling, and Ray wants to crawl into the cool dark space under his desk and not come out until sundown. Going out and shooting something doesn't seem too bad an idea, either. Or maybe he just wants to grab Fraser by the head and tell him, "Do not kiss the criminals, Fraser. Just do not do that."
Because Jesus, how can he not have figured it out by now? Was Ray's tangle with Louanne not enough of an example for him? That stuff never ends well, and okay, maybe they had a lucky escape with Lady Shoes. Nothing too murky happened. But it could've, and Fraser should never have kissed her.
Fuck. If Fraser's gonna kiss anyone, it ought to be one of the good guys.
It oughta be Ray.
Ray dumps some files from Meena in Booking onto the stack in his In-tray, and looks around. Joey Pinksmith, the new detective, is trying to convince an old lady with a feathered hat and a moth-eaten fur coat to explain why she's in possession of a dead guy's passport, and Fraser's gotten distracted talking foreign to her. She sounds like she's from Transylvania.
Dewey's herding a bunch of yachtsmen toward the photocopy machine. They keep breaking out into a sailor's hornpipe. One of them's got a tape deck hidden somewhere on his person. Ray wants to kick the lot of them.
Welsh is standing in his doorway holding a bunch of papers and looking grim. Frannie's ducking and weaving around, dropping memos on people's desks. She shoves one in Ray's face. "Please submit all requests for Christmas Vacation Days by 13 June" it says in bold type across the top.
Ray snorts. Christmas is years away. He can't think about that right now.
"Freeze!" Huey's deep voice booms out across the room. He jumps up onto his chair, and holds his hands out like a preacher. His head brushes the ceiling. "Nobody move!"
Everyone goes quiet, except for the old vampire lady talking to Fraser. She cackles and nods, patting his hand.
Fraser smiles politely at her.
Ray feels a growl building in his stomach, despite the tacos.
"What is it, Detective?" Welsh sounds pissed.
Everyone's eyes swing to Huey.
"Nobody move," Huey repeats. "I lost a contact lens."
Everyone in the room except for Welsh, Ray and the old lady instantly drops to their knees and starts scanning the lino. "If anyone sees a genuine diamante earring while they're down there, it's mine," says Frannie. "I lost it three weeks ago."
Diefenbaker finds the contact lens, and Detective Huey disappears into the bathroom with it and a bottle of saline solution. Fraser unearths Francesca's earring behind a potted poinsettia, but decides not to mention that fact. He slips it into her handbag when no one is looking.
Through a valiant effort on the part of the detectives, with strong leadership from Lieutenant Welsh, the squadroom is finally cleared of suspects.
Now Francesca Vecchio is holding forth in the break room, all the staff gathered around to hear her speak. "Is everyone here?" she says. "This is real important, and I'm not starting until you're all paying attention."
"What is it, Frannie? Come on, come on, we ain't got all day." Ray is leaning with one shoulder against the wall, radiating impatience while standing perfectly still. His t-shirt has suffered various ill-effects from the day so far: a few drips of chili sauce from the taco at lunch, sweat stains and grime from the soupy Chicago atmosphere. Fraser feels an odd urge to clean him. He imagines taking a damp cloth and wiping a slow deliberate line down Ray's neck, along the inside of his forearm.
Fraser clears his throat, and tunes into Francesca's announcement. "—will be selling tickets to the Police Ball next month," she says, "and I want everyone to be there with rings on."
A ripple of disinterest spreads through the ranks. About half of the assembled people turn toward the door.
Francesca, undeterred, raises her voice. "Nobody leave the room or I'm pulling the plug on the cappuccino machine," she threatens. "No more coffee, no more lattes, no more half-caf moccachinos." She waves a hand at Detective Hatherway. "No more soy hot chocolates."
Fraser opens his mouth to point out that not only does he, himself, not drink coffee, but that the cappuccino machine was Francesca's idea in the first place. Twenty-six angry pairs of eyes turn on him. He snaps his mouth shut.
Welsh, the twenty-eighth occupant of the room, turns on his heel, and slams the door behind him on the way out.
"Touchy," says Detective Dewey.
"Shut up," says Francesca. "Okay, now you all have to sign up for ballroom dancing lessons, starting Wednesday."
A babble of protest breaks out. Fraser edges toward the door. Ray follows him.
It's nearly time to go home, thank Christ, when Ray finally puts the pieces together on the Chicago Capoeira Club case, with Fraser's help. Frannie looks up the address of the balloon manufacturer, and Fraser picks up his hat from the top of the filing cabinet, and Ray and Fraser're about to walk out of there like Bonnie and Clyde, sayonara, won't be back till tomorrow, when Dewey frog-marches a clown through the swing doors like he's a wild west sheriff and the clown's a gun-toting varmint.
The clown's spewing curses so angry and inventive that Fraser's hands actually twitch. Ray grins to himself and wonders whether Fraser wants to cover his own ears, or to protect Frannie's supposed virtue.
Dewey shoves the clown into a seat, but he bounces right out again, tossing his rainbow-colored hair and stomping his bulbous rubber shoes. "You can't prove a thing," he shrieks. "I have a license for that car."
"Yeah, well, your license don't say you can drive it on the sidewalk, and steal fruit from the fruit vendor," Dewey snaps back. Looks like he's on the edge of his temper, and it's been so hot today, Ray can smell him from here. Yuck.
"I only borrowed it. I was going to give it back when I'd finished my act." The clown circles his hands in the air like all the cops who've turned to watch are six-year-old kids. "You guys wanna see a show, right?"
He's wearing huge baggy clown pants, which put Fraser's pumpkin pants to shame. He sneaks his white-gloved hand into his pocket.
"He's got a gun!" screams Frannie, flinging herself at Fraser.
"Put your hands in the air!" says Huey, and draws his own gun. "Hands where we can see them."
"Owww!" says Dewey. The clown's got Dewey's hair wrapped around his fingers, and is tugging hard. He's brandishing a custard pie.
"I won't go to prison," yells the clown. "I can't. Do you know what they'd do to me? I'd be telling bad puns and fart jokes for the rest of my life!" His voice squeaks in desperation. "Nobody move—"
"—or the pie gets it," Ray interrupts, thinking that being smeared all over Dewey's face would be a sad waste of a tasty looking dessert.
Fraser somehow de-clings Frannie and stretches over Huey's desk to nab the pie from the clown, just as the clown's wrist jerks up.
"Fuck," says the clown, disarmed, defeated and subdued.
Welsh leans out of his office and surveys the scene. "For the love of God," he says, tiredly. "Do what you have to do and get out of here, all of you. I can't take any more of this today."
Ray and Fraser exchange glances. Fraser hands off the pie to Ray so he can settle his Stetson on his head with both hands, and then they're out of there, home free, hallelujah.
"Nice move in there, with the pie," says Ray settling into the driver's seat of his car, and handing the confiscated sweet back to Fraser. "Pre-emptive disarmament, huh? Before things went all Bugsy Malone."
"Indeed." The corner of Fraser's mouth curves up, and Ray forgets all about food.
"We gotta talk," he says, before he can think better of it. "Come back to my place."
Fraser looks at the pie for a moment, where it's resting on his lap. "Okay, Ray."
They walk up the stairs to Ray's apartment, as they've done a hundred times before. This time is different though. Aside from anything else, this time Fraser is carrying a custard pie. He is also feeling unusually short of breath.
Ray lets them into the apartment, and locks the door behind them (an American custom that Fraser doesn't question, but has yet to understand). He takes the pie from Fraser and disappears into the kitchen without a word. Fraser hangs his hat on the back of a chair, and moves into the living room.
He fidgets with his lanyard, nervous but not knowing why. He turns abruptly when Ray enters the room.
"Is this—" Fraser clears his throat, and tries again. "Is this about the air?"
"What air? Oh, the IOU? Nah, forget that." Ray stands in front of the couch and looks at Fraser across the cluttered expanse of coffee table. "Listen," he says, and stops.
Ray closes his eyes. He flushes. Fraser finds himself fascinated with the tide of heat sweeping across Ray's face. He takes a step forward. "Ray—"
Ray blinks his eyes open, and sits down abruptly on the couch.
Fraser hears the faint but unmistakable sound of a cloth binding being torn asunder. "Don't move," he says in warning. "Don't move or—"
"Why am I starting to get déjà voodoo, here? Who's gonna bite it this time?" says Ray, but he does as he's told.
Fraser skirts the coffee table and leans forward to peer over Ray's shoulder. Sure enough, the edge of an old hard-covered book protrudes from underneath his friend, wedged between the pillows of the couch. Fraser can only see a dozen words of text, a triangle of page that sticks out from under the shapely seat of Ray's jeans, but it's enough to identify the volume. He pulls back a fraction, so he and Ray are eye to eye.
"Walden?" Fraser asks in a low voice. His heart swells at his discovery, at this proof of Ray's interest in living life to the full.
"Yeah." Ray's blush deepens, but his grin is full of bravado and warmth. "I heard it has instructions for sucking the marrow out of—something."
Fraser's heart starts hammering. "Ray. I. Yes."
"Glad to hear it." Ray winks, then leans sideways and extracts the book. The front cover is half torn off. "Ooops. I'm gonna have to pay for that."
"And pay and pay and pay," Fraser murmurs, and leans forward. He intends, after all this time, to press his mouth to Ray's. He smells Chicago on Ray's skin: brick and blowback and car exhaust, and the faint sweet scent of Mexican food, and the rich tang of Ray's sweat underneath it all.
But Ray holds him off with a firm hand on one shoulder. "I'm telling you now, fair warning: if this all turns out to be a 'terrible misunderstanding, I'm so sorry, please excuse my polite Mountie mistake'," he says fiercely, "I swear to god, Fraser, I'm gonna kill you with my bare hands."
Fraser smiles. "Understood."
"And whatever you think about this, if you describe this to anyone—to anyone as 'delightful', I'm gonna put itching powder in your shorts, and ants in your pants."
"So," says Ray, a few moments later, when neither of them have moved. "What're you waiting for? Christmas? Mistletoe?" He licks his lips. "Permission?"
Courage, Fraser thinks. He feels his smile fade, feels the moment grow heavy with significance. A small sigh escapes him, and he is just about to succumb to gravity, is slipping forward past fear and into desire to kiss Ray's mouth, when Ray adds,
"Jesus, Fraser, I'm gonna die right here, right now, and you're gonna have to tell everyone why. Jesus!" And with that, Ray's hand snakes out to curve around Fraser's neck and pull him into a kiss.