Rating: G
Pairing: Fraser/Vecchio
Thanks: Thanks to Sage for beta
Notes: For the Hat challenge on ds_flashfiction

Three and a Half Stetsons

by china_shop


1.

Fraser: I once spent 13 hours hanging like this underneath a suspension bridge with a mountain cat swiping at me from above. He tore my lanyard, ripped my epaulette.
Kowalski: And what happened?
Fraser: Well, fortunately the nuns at Fort McLeod practiced invisible mending.
— Asylum

After approximately four hours, it started snowing. Fraser's coat was hanging open, his tunic tattered. And the mountain cat—possibly suffering from mental retardation due to insufficient protein intake—refused to abandon its post and find shelter. Instead, it growled low in its throat and tore at his boots with its claws.

Fraser contemplated trying to kick it through the wooden slats of the bridge or harm it in some way, but that might merely antagonize it. He'd wait another hour and see if his situation improved. It wasn't as though his fingers could get any colder.

The cat prowled the length of his body and back, and then up to his head again. It paused and met his gaze, its golden eyes large with distrust. And then, suddenly, it lunged, knocking his hat from his head.

He let his head hang and watched the Stetson get smaller and smaller, until it vanished among the rocks beneath. "Oh hell."

Two days later, after the nuns had done what they could for his uniform, and circulation had returned to his hands and legs, Fraser began making his way to the bottom of the ravine. It took over a week, and when he got there, he found his hat was being used as a nest by a family of arctic terns. He decided not to disturb them.

 

½

Fraser: She shot my hat, Ray.
Vecchio: She shot you in the hat?
Fraser: I can feel air coming in through the hole.
— Free Willie

Afterwards, while Fraser tried in vain to patch the crown of his hat, Ray sat at the table in Fraser's apartment, interlocking and deconstructing Fraser's camping cutlery set over and over and watching while Willie played with Dief.

"Any luck?" asked Ray.

"Sadly, no. As a matter of fact, the crown is the most difficult part of a hat to repair." Fraser sighed, defeated, and placed it on the table with the spare felt, then went to boil the kettle. "Tea?"

"Haven't you got anything American to drink?" asked Ray. "I mean, it's important to adapt to local customs, Benny. And you say I'm your best friend. You'd think you could stock up on something I—"

Fraser reached into the cupboard to the left of the oven and produced a packet of coffee grounds and an antique-looking percolator. He raised his eyebrows and somehow managed to keep a straight face. "Coffee, then?"

"Uh," said Ray. "Yeah. Thanks."

While the water was heating, Fraser got his hunting knife from his chest and removed the brim of the wounded Stetson. "At least this is salvageable," he said, and threw the rest into the trash.

 

2.

They conducted the stakeout from the shadows just inside the perimeter of the fence. Ray had made it very clear that he'd prefer to sit in the comfort and safety of the Riviera, but as Fraser had explained, that would put them out of line of sight of the back entrance to the goat cheese factory, not to mention calling attention to them and making it harder for them to respond swiftly, should the need arise.

"I can't believe you got me out here on a Sunday night," Ray grumbled. "Hey, do I even have jurisdiction out here?"

Fraser glanced at him. "Yes, Ray. Shhhh."

"On the off-chance that someone was going to steal some goats." Ray lowered his voice, but his irritation was still obvious. "I mean, what do I care if—" He broke off.

"If?" Fraser kept his eyes fixed on the building in front of them.

"Uh, Fraser?"

"Yeah?"

"What do goats eat?" Ray's voice was oddly strangled.

Fraser looked at him. His eyes were big in the moonlight and the light pollution from the city, and he was gazing at Fraser as though he'd just had an epiphany. Fraser's pulse picked up, but he tried to answer evenly. It was unlikely Ray was excited at anything other than the thought of going home and getting warm. "Goats are pretty much omnivorous, Ray. They'll eat nearly anything. In fact, it's rather a funny story. There was a herd of angora goats in the outskirts of Moose Jaw, farmed by a man name Cannonball Kyle, who once demolished an entire field's worth of—"

Something tugged at Fraser's head, and there was a loud chomping noise near his right ear. Now he came to think of it, there was a strong odor of—well, goat. "Oh dear."

 

3.

Fraser charged out of the alley onto North Burling as the green Ford sedan he was pursuing screeched around the corner, fishtailed and then got traction, and zoomed directly towards him. Despite the blazing sunlight reflecting off the hood, he could see Shaw's eyes, narrowed and malicious. The engine whined in protest as the vehicle accelerated, and Fraser smelled burning rubber.

He dove back a second too late: the sedan clipped his leg, throwing him to the ground. He rolled, managing not to hit his head, and turned quickly to get the plate.

Around him, car horns honked in a variety of tones, all deafening, and Fraser was about to climb to his feet and see where Ray had got to—the pursuit had spanned several city blocks, so it wasn't surprising Ray hadn't completely kept up—when a taxi burst out of nowhere and knocked Fraser down again.

This time he saw stars. He crawled out of the street and sat on the curb with his feet in the gutter, and felt his head carefully. His hair was sticky with blood, but given his clarity of thought, he was fairly sure it was just a graze.

A minute later, Ray arrived on the scene, panting. He looked around, dashed out into traffic and scooped something off the street, and then came over, red-faced and serious. "Are you okay? Is that blood on your hands? Benny, what have I told you about playing in traffic?"

Fraser tried to smile. "I got the plate."

Ray crouched in front of him and put his hand on Fraser's knee. "Screw the plate. Where are you hurt?"

"I'm fine." Fraser met Ray's concerned gaze, and something clicked—almost audibly.

Ray's grip tightened on Fraser's knee. "I'm calling an ambulance," he said, but he didn't reach for his phone. Instead he brought up his other hand, clutching Fraser's Stetson, which was squashed completely flat and covered with tire tracks and motor oil. "Did Shaw do this? I'm gonna book him so hard he'll get overdue fines."

"I think it was the taxi cab," said Fraser, taking it from him and turning it over, cataloging the damage. What had once been a proud emblem of the RCMP, of truth and honor and steadfastness, was now nothing, brought low in a matter of seconds. The embodiment of ideals was as ephemeral as everything else—as life, as hope. In the end, a hat was simply a hat, and unlike people, unlike opportunities, it could be replaced. Fraser extracted a few Canadian bills and his key to the Consulate from the inside hatband and tucked them into his pocket. "It's not important."

"What taxi cab? Jesus, Fraser, it's your hat. It's the uniform! Since when is that not important? Next you'll be saying justice is optional, the law is just a set of guidelines, that Canada didn't invent every known sport in the universe." Ray was exhibiting every sign of babbling. "That settles it. You need medical treatment. Where's my phone?"

Fraser covered Ray's hand on his knee and stroked his thumb over Ray's warm skin. "Ray," he said, enunciating clearly so his friend would hear him over his obviously turbulent thoughts and reactions. "I'm fine. My hat is ruined beyond repair. It doesn't matter."

Ray's gaze dropped to their hands, Fraser's on Ray's resting on Fraser's knee. "Oh. Okay, so we should probably take you home to get your spare one, yeah?"

"Yeah," said Fraser. He met Ray's gaze again, and this time made sure to let his intent show.

Ray's cheeks went pink. The corner of his mouth curved up slowly. "You're sure you're fine? You're not suffering any kind of personality disruption or amnesia or uncharacteristic food cravings?"

"I'm sound in mind and body," Fraser assured him. His own small smile was growing to match Ray's.

Ray glanced around, then back at Fraser. "Your apartment?"

"Yeah." Fraser got to his feet. His knee hurt and he had a graze on his upper arm, but it was nothing serious. He offered Ray a hand and pulled him upright, and then didn't let go. "The sooner the better, I'd say."

"I'd say about time," said Ray, and then stopped and frowned. "Why now, Benny, after all these months?"

Fraser looked down at his ruined hat. "I suppose I've finally sorted out my priorities," he said slowly. "There are more important things than respectability and duty and molded felt, as it turns out." He walked a few meters to the corner, folded his hat in two and dropped it into the trash can there. "Much more important."


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