Thanks: Thanks to mergatrude for beta
Notes: For bibliokat
Frannie was reading her psychology text when Ray stopped by her desk. "Hey, Frannie. You know anywhere that sells maple candy in Chicago?"
"What do I look like, the home shopping network?" Frannie peered at him over her glasses. "Why would I know that?"
"No reason," said Ray. "Just asking. I thought you might—" He wiggled his fingers in the air like he was typing.
Frannie sighed and switched on her computer, asking herself how it was possible that men could be so hopeless and still run the world. A minute or two later, she'd found the answer. "There's a deli on Belmont that sells it." She wrote down the address and waved it in front of him like a flag to a bull. "You happy now?"
Ray snatched it out of her hand. "Yeah. Uh, thanks." He stuffed the address in his jeans pocket. "Hey, could you not let this slip to Fraser? He'd just bug me about eating properly."
Frannie rolled her eyes. "Benton and I have far more interesting things to converse about than your sweet tooth, Ray. Jeez." She turned back to her textbook.
Fraser came over to Frannie's desk, and stood there, holding his hat in front of his pants. "Ah, Francesca," he said, looking flushed and awkward. "I was wondering if I could beg a favour."
"Sure, Frase. Anything." She leaned forward to show off her cleavage and looked up at him through her eyelashes. Even though the air conditioning in the station was broken and everything was unseasonably hot and steamy, and Fraser in his red wool looked sweaty and awkward, he was still handsome enough to make her mouth water. "What can I do for you?"
Fraser cleared his throat. "Diefenbaker was hoping to catch tonight's episode of E.R., and since the Consulate television is out of order, I was wondering whether you could possibly accommodate him."
"Sure, sure. You guys can come over." Frannie waved her hands as casually as she could, suppressing a bubble of excitement. "Ma has her book group tonight but that's no reason we shouldn't—"
"Ah." Fraser shifted his weight. "Actually, I have other plans, so I'm really only asking on Diefenbaker's behalf."
Ray went by, his nose buried in a case file as he walked. He paused, put his hand on Fraser's arm and said, "I'll pick you up at eight, okay?"
Fraser's face went even pinker, and he nodded. "Right you are." He turned back to Frannie. "Would that be okay?"
Frannie met his eye and she was pretty sure he was trying to send her a message, but before she could figure it out, the Lieu was yelling for her to come and explain how the filing had ended up all over the floor again. "Sure, why not," Frannie told Fraser. "Dief can help me figure out what to wear to the police dance on Saturday. You are going to the dance, aren't you, Benton?"
Fraser raised his eyebrows and tugged at his collar. "I really couldn't say." He turned on his heel and disappeared into the muddle of people before she could make him promise he'd go.
"Miss Vecchio!" The Lieu sounded like someone had jabbed him in the stomach with a hot poker.
Frannie threw her shoulders back and marched into his office. "You don't have to yell, you know," she said. "It's not like I was in outer Mongolia."
He ignored her. "Is this what I think it is?"
She glanced at the book on his desk and blanched, but decided the only thing to do was to brazen it out. "I don't know. What do you think it is?"
"Are you keeping a book on our detectives, Miss Vecchio?" Welsh flipped open the notepad to the page headed Benton & Ray. Under their names was a familiar column of names and complex system of bets. He turned to the next page: Suzanne & Dennis. His eyebrows flew up his face. "What exactly are people gambling on here? Is this a kissing book?"
"What? No!" Frannie tucked her hair behind her ear and leaned her hip against the Lieu's desk. "It's a punching book. How long before one of them slugs the other one for being a, you know, horse's rear end. I'm running a sweepstake. Why, do you want to play?"
"I see." Welsh slapped the notepad shut and leaned back in his chair. He clasped his hands over his belly. "You seem to have quite a talent for this line of work, Miss Vecchio."
Frannie smiled. "Yeah, well, I guess I learned a trade from Pop after all," she said modestly.
Welsh picked up the notepad. "The problem being that this is a police station and book-keeping is illegal."
"Really?" Frannie blinked. Pop had placed bets every day of his life. "I thought that was in Canada."
"And in the state of Illinois." Welsh dropped her book into the waste paper basket. "There'll be no more betting in this station, is that understood?"
There was something weird about the way Fraser and Ray were hunched over Ray's desk. Frannie kept glancing up and catching them moving away from each other, like cars that'd drifted into the wrong lane on the freeway and had to correct before they crashed. It itched at her subconscience and the fourth time she looked up, Fraser was talking quietly, and Ray nodded without looking at him and his ears turned red.
"That's it," said Frannie, suddenly fed up with the confusing undercurrents and lack of respect she got around this place. "That's it!" She launched herself out of her chair, grabbed Fraser's arm and hauled him down the corridor to the supply closet. "Ladies first," she said, and shunted him inside before he could say anything but Francesca?
He pulled on the light cord and stared at her, confused, and she folded her arms and tried to collect her thoughts. "Benton," she said, firmly.
"Yes?" He tried to take a step back, but there were shelves in the way, and an old push mower from the incident with the voodoo curse.
Frannie took a deep breath. "Is it possible that you are, by any chance, seeing someone else?"
Fraser ran his finger around the inside of his collar and blinked a couple of times. Then he nodded. "In what way?"
"In the way where that someone would under ordinary circumstances be a woman and you'd be dating her, but in this case might not be," said Frannie carefully.
"Might not be—?" Fraser seemed confused.
Frannie's patience snapped. "A woman, Benton. In this case, might not be a woman. Are you— are you a friend of Deborah, is what I'm asking? Because I want you to know that I'll understand if you don't want to pursue the thing between us if you have intimations that lead you in a different direction, but I'd really just for once in my life like it if someone would slap me in the face with their secret instead of sneaking about the shrub, you know?"
Fraser looked at her expectantly.
"I'm done," she said. "Your turn."
"Thank you." Fraser ducked his head and rubbed his eyebrow, and did all his usual flirting things, and then he looked up and met her eye. "Yeah."
"Yeah what?" said Frannie, wondering whether he'd make more sense if she grabbed a sledgehammer and battened down the serge.
Fraser took a deep breath and when he let it out, it was like a magic trick. His shoulders softened and he looked weirdly American all of a sudden. Or maybe human. Yeah, that was it.
"I'm sorry, Francesca," he said quietly. "I've never been particularly adept at subterfuge and perhaps I should have confided in you sooner, but — yes. I am seeing someone." He cracked his neck. "In that way."
He watched her anxiously for a moment.
"And?" she prompted.
"And you're right." Fraser glanced at the door and then back at her. "He's not a woman."
The earth tilted on its axel, but once she'd steadied herself, Frannie felt suddenly lighter. "All right," she said. "That's all I wanted to know." She put her hand on his chest. "You know, you really should stop pussyfooting around and just say these things."
Fraser nodded. "I'm sorry."
"Hey, no beef off my nose, buster." Frannie tossed her hair, but she smiled at him. He really was the most clueless man on earth. It was almost a relief she didn't have to spend the rest of her life teaching him how to interrelate like a person. "I'm glad you're happy," she said, softly, "and I know Ray would be, too."
Fraser smiled at her like a movie star, and she closed her eyes and reminded herself that all the good-looking guys were gay. Maria had told her that when Frannie was fourteen. When she opened her eyes again, she was alone in the closet, staring at the lawn mower.
"Huh," she said to herself, not sure whether to be pissed or glad their little talk was over, and then she realized it didn't matter. And on the bright side, there might not be the kinds of fireworks she'd been hoping for, but at least there would be fireworks tonight.
She pushed the door open and took herself to the Clairemont for lunch, where she ordered the most expensive items on the menu. Because it was the fourth of July, and what better day to celebrate her independence.