Disclaimer: Characters not mine, more's the pity.
Warning: This story contains graphic depictions of sex between two men. It also contains adult language. If you are bothered by such things, stop reading now.
Notes: This story takes place sometime after "Asylum" but before "Mountie on the Bounty." Contains spoilers for numerous episodes, including "Burning Down the House," "Asylum," and "Some Like it Red."
My grateful thanks to a bevy of generous beta-readers: WP, Genie, Mirna, Dara, and Lee. This story owes much to their insightful comments on everything from grammar to character motivation.
An accompanying graphic is currently available at http://www.freez.com/crys/double.html
Paperwork. He hated paperwork. Ray Kowalski set his ballpoint down and rubbed his temples. He'd been at it for fifteen minutes, and his head hurt already.
There was an art to avoiding reports, and ordinarily he was master of it. But today Welsh had cornered him, and he hadn't had Fraser around, or the excuse of a case so urgent he had to be on it, like, now. So he was stuck filling out forms. Boring, stupid, picky forms that asked for arrival times to the minute and how to spell the name of the witness's brother-in-law's best friend's dog. The kind of thing Fraser would probably enjoy.
Damn it. He should make Fraser fill out the forms. Fraser had been there with him, and Fraser was the one with the memory like an elephant. Fraser remembered smells, for Pete's sake. And Fraser knew computers and typed a hundred words a second. Ray reached for the phone and punched in the number for the Consulate.
"Canadian Consulate, Constable Benton Fraser speaking. How may I help you?"
"Uh, hi, it's me."
"Yes, Ray. What can I do for you? Has something come up?" Ha. That was a good one. Fraser almost sounded hopeful.
"I wish." With all his heart. Anything to get him out of here. "Look, are you still doing paperwork, too?"
"I'm afraid so. In addition to the usual 10989B, Inspector Thatcher has requested that I file a 347 oblique stroke 86Zed."
"So, uh, I guess it looks like you're going to be there a while."
"It would appear so, yes."
"Great." Trapped. He was trapped. "Guess I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"That seems quite likely."
"And not before then."
"I'm afraid not."
"Yeah, okay, thanks."
Ray set the phone back in its cradle. He shouldn't have called. Not without a good reason, or at least some kind of excuse. If he didn't watch it, Fraser was going to start thinking . . .
What? That his partner had some kind of ulterior motive? Well, he did. He wanted to get out of doing this paperwork. He wanted to be out on the street doing something, chasing down criminals or figuring out puzzles. He wanted action and a case to solve. He wanted to be with Fraser.
Damn. Ray picked up his pen and twiddled with it, tapping it against the desk. He did not want to be thinking that. Not today, when Fraser wasn't anywhere near the 27th District. It was bad enough being with him. They'd be sitting on a stakeout, like last night when they finally broke this case. And Ray's mind would go wandering off where it had no business being. He should have been thinking about Gallagher, and where he could have stashed those explosives, but instead he found himself staring at Fraser's earlobe, and wondering whether anyone had ever . . .
There was a crunching noise, and Ray looked down. His right hand was blue. Oh, great. He'd just destroyed the pen, and there was ink all over everything, including the desk, his t-shirt, and his half-filled-out report.
Oh well, it was an excuse to get up. He chucked the broken pen in the nearest wastebasket and went to the can to get cleaned up. On the way back he ran into Welsh.
"You got that report for me, Detective?"
"I'm working on it."
"Well, work faster. The State's Attorney wants this one by the book, and she wants it done yesterday."
Ray felt his heart squeeze in that old familiar feeling: guilt and screwed-up chances. "Stella?"
For a moment Welsh looked almost sympathetic. "No, this one's being handled by the big guns. They got Ms. Dubois herself on it."
"Oh." It was relief he was feeling. Relief and -- admit it -- disappointment. As rotten as he usually felt around Stella, at least she was a distraction. And if it was as hopeless with her as it was with Fraser, well, he was used to that kind of hopeless. "Uh, yeah, I'll get that to you soon. Very soon."
He made his way back to his desk -- to Ray Vecchio's desk. Borrowed, like the rest of his life. He sat down in Ray Vecchio's chair and opened Ray Vecchio's drawer. About the only thing here that really belonged to him was the ruined report on the desk. And his files, including the secret ones at the bottom of the file drawer. It wasn't much to call one's own.
But right now what he needed was a pen. He fumbled in the desk drawer, digging through the broken stubs of pencils and the dried-up whiteout bottles. There had to be another pen in here, somewhere. And then -- no warning, nothing -- something bit him.
Ray yanked his hand back. A thin line across his finger was already oozing blood: paper cut. Like he needed a little pain to remind him what a lousy day it was. The finger was still tinged blue from the earlier ink spill, but he stuck it in his mouth anyway. If he'd been Fraser, he probably could have tasted the ink and known its exact ingredients and country of origin, but mostly he just wanted the pain to go away. Which it did, or at least enough to make him curious.
He pulled the drawer out as far as it would go and poked around carefully with his left hand. There was no point in getting bitten twice. Wait, there it was. A sharp corner of something, sticking out from under the pencil tray.
Ray tugged on the corner, but it wouldn't budge. He took his finger out of his mouth and tried both hands, still no luck. It was probably just an old notecard or something -- stupid to want to look at it -- but Ray couldn't help himself. He had to see it.
Time out. Look at the desk. What would Fraser do? The pencil tray was metal, fastened to the drawer at either end, but not, apparently, on the bottom. Leverage, that was it. Ray pulled up on the pencil tray with his left hand and grabbed the paper with his right, and it slid out easily like it had never been caught.
It was a photograph, one of those small, cheap prints, a picture of a woman in a blue dress with a long scarf tied loosely around her neck. She had long, dark-auburn hair and her head was tipped to one side, and she was pretty. No, not just pretty. Beautiful. She had softly curving lips, high cheekbones, and deep, sweet eyes. The kind of eyes that made a guy want to do crazy, stupid things like . . . like write poetry or something.
She was on the phone, a phone that looked strangely familiar. Ray squinted at it, then noticed the background. The picture had been taken here, in the squad room.
The cop brain kicked into gear. She'd been in the squad room; her picture was in Vecchio's desk. She looked at ease in the photo, like maybe she was about to smile, and she wasn't wearing handcuffs or anything. So she wasn't a perp. She was someone who knew Vecchio. Had come to visit him. Maybe dated him.
Ray closed his eyes. It was stupid. He was not going to be jealous of Vecchio over some woman in a photograph. But he opened his eyes again, and she was still beautiful. Beautiful and strangely familiar.
He couldn't quite pin it down, except maybe it was the eyes. He'd swear he'd seen that look before. He just couldn't think where.
Paperwork could wait; this was important. Ray took the photo with him and went over to the civilian aide desk. "Hey, Frannie, you know who this is?" Casual-like.
"What's the matter, she stand you up for a date?" Frannie tipped her chin up and looked at him sideways, like she thought she was being clever.
"No, it's uh . . . it's something to do with a case."
Frannie gave him a look like she wasn't buying that, but she did take the picture and look at it closely. "You know, she looks kinda familiar," she said finally, "but I can't place her. Sorry, Ray."
"Yeah, well, thanks anyway." Ray took the picture back.
"I thought you and the Mountie wrapped up that case." Ray turned to find Jack Huey looking over his shoulder.
"This is, um, a different case." And since Huey was already looking, Ray handed him the picture. "You know this girl?"
Huey gave the picture a good look. "Oh, yes. I remember her. She came into the station once, a couple of years ago. Came to see Vecchio -- I mean, you. She came to see you."
Right. To see him. Only he wasn't really Vecchio. "She only came in once, and you remember her?" There had to be several dozen strangers wandering through the squad room on any given day, and Huey was talking about something that happened two years ago.
"Trust me, she was a memorable lady. Real tall. Nice legs."
"You know her name?"
But Huey just shook his head. "Vecchio would. That is, you would. I mean, well, you know."
"Uh, yeah. Thanks." Ray took the picture back and made his way back to his desk. Vecchio's desk. Whatever. There had to be somebody who knew who she was. Somebody close to Vecchio. Closer than Frannie, which meant the only possibility was . . .
Duty bellowed. "Sir, I'll have that report --"
"Five minutes, Detective."
"Okay, okay, I'm on it." Ray pulled his wallet out and stuck the picture in it. Then he sat down to see what he could salvage of the ink-splattered mess on his desk.
Ray was acting, well, odder than normal. Distracted and distant. Well, distracted wasn't all that unusual, but distant was. And he'd been that way for three days, ever since they'd wrapped the Gallagher case.
Fraser reached across Ray's desk to pick up his hat, and Ray didn't even look up. Granted, it had been a long day, and a fruitless one, as well. They'd followed a trail involving toy ducks and taxidermy wolverines, only to end up empty-handed. After that, they'd made it back to the station only to discover that there were no usable fingerprints on the murder weapon.
Still, it was unusual for Ray to be so tired that he wouldn't look up. It was worrisome. "Ray," Fraser said. "Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray."
The spiky blond head finally lifted. "What?"
Oh, dear. Now Ray was annoyed. Fraser kept his face schooled in a pleasant expression. "Would you like to get something to eat?"
"Oh." Ray rubbed a tired hand over his eyes. "Uh, yeah. Sure." He looked down. "Dief coming, too?"
"Well, I thought perhaps we could go to that delicatessen. They didn't seem to mind the last time."
"Fraser, that girl would have let you bring an elephant in there."
"Well, I'm not sure an elephant would actually fit through the --"
"Yeah, but if it would, she'd've let you." Ray got to his feet and grabbed his jacket. "Come on, let's go."
That was more like the normal Ray. Fraser walked out with him, along the corridor and up the stairs. Perhaps he'd just been imagining Ray's distraction.
But over sandwiches in the delicatessen, Ray went quiet again and started playing with his food, rearranging potato chips on his plate without eating them. It was enough to make Fraser wonder if it was something about the case, something personal Ray hadn't mentioned. But as he was formulating a suitable query, Ray looked up at him.
"Fraser, do you believe in love at first sight?"
It was the last thing he'd been expecting. Ray had been distracted, certainly. But he wouldn't have thought . . . "I believe it happens, yes."
"Even if you've never met the person? Like, you see them across the room or in a . . . in a photograph, and wham! you're hooked?"
Fraser took another bite of his sandwich, buying time, because even Ray wouldn't expect him to speak with his mouth full. This clearly wasn't an idle question. It was something Ray was worried about, something he was struggling with. And if Ray had fallen in love with someone at first sight . . . No. They were partners and friends. Ray would never hurt him -- at least, not knowingly. "Well, strictly speaking, I can't say I know from personal experience, but I imagine a photograph should work as well as any other means of first sight."
Ray looked down and toyed with his food some more. "You ever been in love?"
The conversation had turned suddenly personal. Painfully personal. "Yes," Fraser said, and set his own sandwich down. From under the table, Dief whined.
"Here," Ray said, and passed a handful of potato chips down to Dief. Fraser winced, but the deed was already done. He could hear Dief crunching away happily. Ray glanced back up at him. "Was it that Victoria Metger woman?"
Fraser found himself staring at his plate. Victoria. Her name still hurt, in a dull ache at the bottom of his heart. An ache that compounded the fresher aches on top of it. "Metcalf," he said. "Her name was Metcalf."
"You took a bullet for her." Flat statement. Like it was something Ray knew well, even if he didn't remember the name. But then, Ray had had to study Ray Vecchio's case files, back when Ray Vecchio went undercover. Of course he would know.
"In a manner of speaking, yes. I . . . I hadn't realized Ray was going to shoot, but if I had, it would have changed nothing."
Fraser glanced up. Ray looked as uncomfortable as he felt, his forehead rumpled, one hand scratching at the back of his neck. "Yeah, that's what I thought," Ray said. He still had half a sandwich on his plate, plus most of his chips and the pickle.
"I am not particularly wise in matters of the heart," Fraser confessed.
"Yeah," Ray said, still not looking him in the eye. "Me, neither." He picked up a couple of potato chips and actually ate them. "Say, Fraser?"
"You know those times I called you a freak?"
He did. All too well. "Well, I don't recall you actually . . ."
"I didn't mean it," Ray said. "I mean, not in a bad way."
"Thank you," Fraser said, and felt the strange, leaden feeling in his stomach ease, just a little.
It was foolish, of course, and selfish, to boot. If Ray had fallen in love, he ought to be pleased for him. Of all people, Ray deserved to be happy. Still, some small part of him couldn't help feeling . . . abandoned. It wasn't as though he'd ever really thought Ray belonged to him. He was just accustomed to seeing him every day, on duty and off. Accustomed to getting phone calls that occasionally seemed to have no purpose whatsoever. Accustomed to sharing cases, thoughts, meals . . .
He knew, of course, that Ray still had feelings for Stella. It didn't bother him, not in the least. Or, rather, what bothered him was the way she spoke to Ray, the way Ray cringed and didn't protest when she put him down. But that was just hurting for Ray, and wishing Stella didn't make him so unhappy. That was feelings of friendship . . . not jealousy.
It wasn't all that different, really, than his friendship with Ray Vecchio. They'd spent time together off-duty, too. But somehow, with Ray Vecchio, things hadn't seemed so complicated. He'd never worried about what Ray Vecchio thought of him; he knew. Ray was his best friend and he was Ray's, and even though he knew he annoyed Ray sometimes, he trusted that Ray would always be his friend. So he'd missed Ray when he went undercover, but he'd understood.
And now with this Ray, the second Ray, Ray Kowalski . . . no, it was different. At first their friendship had simply eased his loneliness, and he'd been grateful. But then, imperceptibly, something had changed. He didn't even know why, except that this Ray seemed to need him, in ways he was completely unprepared for. Sometimes he thought Ray Kowalski was as lonely as he was.
People were not interchangeable like snowmobile parts -- he'd said that the first day they'd met, and he'd meant it. But he hadn't understood the full implications then. Ray Kowalski was nothing like Ray Vecchio. The same sorts of things -- a hand on the shoulder, a smile, an invitation out to eat -- made Fraser start to think entirely new thoughts. And he didn't know what to do about it.
Well, not that he was actually contemplating doing anything. Certainly not . . . not anything like that. He just wished he didn't feel so awkward sometimes, and that he could be happy for Ray, happy about whatever made Ray happy. Even if it was being with someone else.
He was used to being lonely. He could stand being lonely again. Fraser picked up his abandoned sandwich and forced himself to take another bite.
He hadn't got up the nerve. Ray kicked himself silently as he drove toward the Consulate, but it didn't change anything. The picture was in his wallet, where he'd been carrying it for three days now, and he still hadn't had the guts to ask Fraser who she was.
The thing was, every time he thought about it, he got this weird feeling in his chest. Fraser would know her, he was sure of it. But what if Fraser did know her, and knew she'd had a something going with Vecchio? Or worse, what if Fraser had had something going with her, himself?
It was nuts to have a thing for a photograph. He knew that. But it was nuts to have a thing for Fraser, too. Fraser was never going to love him, at least, not that way. Fraser was real big on the partnership thing, and on the friendship thing. Oh, yeah. But that was as far as it went. Best he knew, Fraser was into women, and not very many of those, either.
And anyway, even if Fraser hadn't been so square, what would someone that gorgeous and brilliant and Canadian ever see in him? Fraser had seen him with Stella. Fraser knew what kind of a loser he was.
So the girl in the photograph was his last hope. His only distraction. The only person he'd been seriously interested in since . . . since meeting Fraser.
He didn't even know how it had started. Of course, he'd noticed Fraser from the start, who wouldn't? But that was just normal stuff, like checking out a pretty girl when she walked by. It didn't mean you actually wanted to . . . except now he did.
He'd done it with guys before -- teenage fumbling stuff, when he'd been crazy about Stella but too scared to touch her. And later, after the divorce, a couple of times. But then he'd met Fraser, and things had got complicated.
Because Fraser wasn't like a normal guy. Oh, he was male, very male, no question about that. It was just he didn't jump the right way when you pushed his buttons. Most guys -- American guys, anyway -- let you know when you were in their space. And they didn't invade yours, unless it was a come-on. But just hours after they'd first met, he'd felt Fraser poking around his legs -- while he was driving, no less. Of course, Fraser had been looking for a bomb, but any other guy would've been more careful where he put his hands. Any other guy would have been worried about a reaction. But no, not Fraser.
And Fraser did lots of other odd stuff: asking him out to eat, pouring him coffee, giving him crazy presents he'd made himself. Something called a dreamcatcher, which was supposed to be all symbolic or something.
Part of him wanted to believe it meant something. That Fraser maybe thought of him that way, too. But he knew better. He hadn't really needed to ask about that Victoria woman -- he'd read the file. Real carefully. And the very fact that it was sketchy, that Vecchio had left out most of what he would have considered the important details, said a lot.
So Fraser had a past. A past with a bank robber. And from the way he talked about it, he was still carrying a torch for her, even after everything she did to him.
It was nuts, of course, but this was Fraser he was talking about. Fraser, who claimed to be logical but sometimes . . . made no sense at all.
"I believe we're here, Ray."
"What?" He glanced over and saw that they were, indeed, right in front of the Consulate. "Oh, sorry." He pulled in to the curb and came to a full stop, but Fraser didn't get out.
Instead, Fraser turned sideways in his seat and got that concerned expression, the one where his eyes went all soft and shiny. "Are you all right, Ray?"
"Me? Oh, yeah. Sure. I'm great."
"Well, you seem a little distracted. I don't mean to criticize, but you know, if there's something bothering you --"
Ray didn't let him finish. There was no point. "Look, I just got some things on my mind, okay?"
"I understand." But Fraser was still sitting there, not making any move to open the car door. "I'd like to meet her sometime. That is, if you wouldn't mind."
Ray froze. He could feel the blood draining out of his head, pooling somewhere in the vicinity of his gall bladder. "Look, I, uh . . . that, that wouldn't be possible."
Fraser just looked at him, but he was suddenly certain that Fraser was hurt. "I see."
"Fraser, I can't. I mean, I really can't."
Fraser reached for the door handle. "I understand."
It was suddenly too much. Fraser was assuming things again, and he hated that. "No, you do not understand. You got no idea what you're talking about. You're clueless, okay? And when you're clueless, you should just shut up."
In the back seat, Dief whined. Fraser looked down, his hand still on the door handle. "I'm sorry, Ray. I didn't mean to intrude."
Somehow Fraser had a way of making you feel bad, even when he was the one in the wrong. Ray sighed. "Look, I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
Fraser gave him one of those wide-eyed, hurt looks, and Ray felt even worse. "Yes, of course," Fraser said, and got out of the car, then opened the rear door for Dief.
Ray sat there, watching them mount the steps. Fraser never turned around. The door closed on his broad, red back, and Ray was left sitting there, all alone.
He leaned forward until his forehead touched the steering wheel. He'd hurt Fraser. He hadn't meant to, but he had. Over a stupid photograph of a girl he was never going to meet because he didn't have the guts to ask Fraser who she was.
He wanted to race after him, to run up the steps and pound on the door, to take Fraser into his arms and just hold him. He wanted to kiss him and apologize and promise he'd never say dumb stuff like that again.
But he couldn't do anything, because if he did . . . he might lose Fraser's friendship forever, and he couldn't bear that.
Ray lifted his head and brought it slowly back down against the steering wheel. Everything he wanted hurt. He'd screwed up with Stella, and now he was screwing up worse with Fraser. There was no point in meeting the girl in the picture, because he'd just screw it up with her, too.
He wanted to punch something, or somebody, only he couldn't figure out who he wanted to hit . . . unless it was himself.
Fraser made his way back through the darkened Consulate hallways until he reached his narrow cubbyhole of an office. He wished he knew what was wrong with Ray. He only knew he'd handled it wrong, and that it was his own fault he was still reeling from Ray's announcement.
Ray had a right to fall in love; surely he knew that. And if Ray wasn't comfortable introducing him yet, well, he ought to just accept that, too. A good friend would. A good friend understood boundaries, and wouldn't try to push past them.
So why did he want to?
He flipped on the light in his office and went to get out bedding for himself and Diefenbaker. He was shaking out his blanket when he heard it, the all-too-familiar voice of his father.
"You could do worse than the Yank."
Fraser jerked upright. His dad was standing by the coat closet, the one that led to his "office." "Excuse me?"
"Oh, there's no point in playing innocent with me, Son. Do you think I don't know what happens when two men share a bed roll? Out in the middle of nowhere, nothing but stars and the Northern Lights above you, the scent on the wind saying you're more than likely to see another foot of snow by sunrise . . ."
Fraser closed his eyes. The worst part about having a apparition for a father was that he seemed to be able to read minds with painful clarity. Not that he had ever actually experienced that particular scenario, but . . . "Dad, please."
"There's no need to get huffy, Son. Just because I'm dead, it doesn't mean I'm blind, too."
The other thing about his dead father was that he seemed to have no consistency whatsoever. "I thought you wanted grandchildren."
"Well, it's not like you're doing much of anything to produce them, now, is it?"
It was true enough, but still not to the point. "Dad, he's not interested in me."
"You don't know that until you ask."
"As a matter of fact, I do. He told me, tonight. He's in love with someone else."
"You know, Son, ignorance is a funny thing. Sometimes it's not what you don't know that trips you up. It's what you do know that isn't true."
"Oh, thanks for the advice, Dad. That's really helpful."
"He's a good man, Son. A fine partner."
"I know, Dad."
"He's risked his life for you more than once."
"Do you mind? This isn't exactly what I need to hear right now."
"Well, when you do, you know where to find me."
Fraser looked around, but there was no one in his office but himself and Diefenbaker. Dief caught his eye, cocked his head, and whined.
Fraser suppressed a groan. "Oh, not you, too."
Dief settled onto his haunches and just looked at him.
"Well, now, that's the trouble with eating potato chips, isn't it? You taste a few, and you end up wanting more. If you had managed to retain a modicum of the good sense you had back in the Yukon, you wouldn't have this problem, you know."
Dief whined and rubbed the side of his muzzle with one paw.
"No. You're certainly not getting any more from me. And I don't appreciate the comparison. It's not the same thing at all."
But as he unbuckled his Sam Browne and removed his tunic, he couldn't help wondering if maybe Diefenbaker was right. Perhaps he'd had one potato chip too many, himself.
It was another frustrating day on the case that wouldn't solve itself. They got a warrant for the taxidermy shop, and then he and Fraser got into an argument over whether an enormous stuffed wolverine constituted evidence. An argument which Fraser won, resulting in them lugging said wolverine back to the station where it could be properly bagged and tagged.
"It's gotta be a front," Ray said, leaning against the back of Fraser's chair so he could see the computer screen over Fraser's shoulder. Fraser's fingers were going a mile a minute, looking for anything in the database related to ducks or wolverines. "Money-laundering or gun-running or something."
"Hmm," Fraser said, which ordinarily drove him nuts, but today he was willing to grasp at any straws, even ones that involved Fraser having ideas he wasn't sharing.
It had been awkward this morning. Neither of them had said anything about last night, but Ray could feel it in the air. Even when they were searching the shop and lugging wolverines around.
"You don't go murdering someone over a bunch of stuffed dead things," Ray babbled. "There has to be a reason."
"It's not just 'stuffed dead things,' Ray," Fraser said. "In the proper hands, taxidermy can be an art. The recreation of life-like --"
"Does that thing look like art to you?" Ray interrupted, gesturing at the wolverine still on his desk.
Fraser frowned and his fingers stopped moving on the keyboard. "Actually, it appears to be rather shoddy workmanship. I'm a bit surprised the shop can stay in business if that's any example of their product. Of course, in Chicago the clientele may not be quite as selective as it is in the north, but nevertheless, . . ."
"It's gotta be a front."
Fraser looked up at him. "I'm inclined to agree with you."
But they weren't any closer to their goal, and for some reason Ray was having a hard time keeping to his own space today. Like now. He had one hand on the chair, right next to Fraser's shoulder, and he didn't want to move it. Or rather, he did want to move it, but he didn't want to move it away.
Ray closed his eyes for a brief moment and willed himself to think about the girl in the photograph. Who he was never going to meet. Who probably . . .
He opened his eyes. Fraser had turned around in his chair and was looking at him with something that appeared to be concern. "Okay, so what do we do next?"
"Perhaps we should pay the shop another visit."
Ray was leaning against the computer desk, waiting for Fraser to go collect his hat, when Jack Huey sauntered up.
"So, did you find her?"
Ray knew exactly what he was talking about, but Fraser was coming back with his hat. "Find who?"
"The lady. You know, the one in the photograph."
Trapped. He was trapped. "Oh, her. Uh, no. No, I didn't."
"Too bad," Huey said.
Ray took his chance and escaped, with Fraser trailing after him up the stairs.
"The photograph?" Fraser asked, with what sounded like even more than his usual curiosity.
"Yeah, uh, it was . . . it was one of those leads that didn't pan out. About the ducks."
"I see," Fraser said, and didn't push it any further. So maybe he hadn't caught on. Maybe he hadn't heard all of what Huey had said. Maybe pigs would fly.
Dinner was pizza, Ray's choice, with pineapple, also Ray's choice. It was an unusual combination, sweet and savory, but Fraser rather liked it. It reminded him of Ray himself, all contradictory impulses that somehow added up to one person who was more than the sum of his parts, one person who was confusing and charming, sarcastic and vulnerable, honest and . . . oh, dear.
He wasn't supposed to be thinking like that. He'd sworn he wouldn't think like that again. Because thinking like that brought him back to too many things that hurt. Like the fact that Ray had lied to him.
It was silly to be upset about it. Ray wasn't even a good liar; his essential honesty shone through, even when he was trying to hide it. But Jack Huey had been talking about a photograph. A photograph of a woman. And just last night Ray had been talking about falling in love with someone he'd seen in a photograph.
He shouldn't feel hurt. It had nothing to do with him, his father's lunatic assumptions notwithstanding. He'd managed keep his control for most of a day, but somehow, over food, he felt his defenses dropping again. Ray had taken off his sunglasses now that they were inside the restaurant, so perhaps that was the problem. Ray had the most beautiful blue-gray-green eyes . . .
"Fraser, are you listening to me?"
Eyes that this very moment were staring at him with a less-than- pleased expression. "I'm sorry, Ray. I'm afraid I was distracted."
"By what?" But before Fraser could even attempt an answer, Ray went on. "No, don't tell me. You've got the whole thing figured out, and I'm just spinning my wheels, here."
"No," Fraser said. The truth was, he hadn't spent nearly enough time thinking about the case. He was letting Ray down, and he never wanted to do that. "No, I believe we're missing some essential clue."
"Okay, well you tell me what funny-tasting wolverine hair has to do with an obscure anesthetic drug."
"It wasn't wolverine hair," Fraser said automatically. "It tasted . . ."
"What?" Ray prompted.
"Salty. Great. Maybe it ate too many french fries or something."
"That's just . . ." But no, it wasn't silly. Salty hair meant a salty diet or a salty environment, which meant . . . but the hairs had been too long for seal fur, too dark for polar bear. Long, thick, salty . . . "It was a sea otter."
"Do they eat french fries?"
"No, they eat sea urchins. But it's a similar mechanism."
"Okay, so it's a sea otter. That still doesn't explain why the guy was killed with turbo-whatsis."
"Well, perhaps it does. Turbocurarine is an alkaloid compound derived from various tropical plants, notably Strychnos toxifera and Chondrodendron tomentosum. In its traditional form, it's called curare and is used as an arrow poison by certain peoples of the Amazon basin."
"So you're saying this guy was killed by a Brazilian?"
"Perhaps. Or perhaps by someone who traffics in rare and illegal substances. Like sea otter pelts."
"Sea otters are illegal?"
"They're an endangered species, Ray."
"Oh." Ray sat back in his chair, the pale eyes intent as he worked the hypothesis through in his head. "Told you it was a front."
"That you did."
"So how do we prove it? Nothing personal, but I don't think your taste buds are gonna carry much weight in court."
He was unfortunately quite correct. "Well, if they had sea otter pelts in that shop, they must have moved them. So either they shipped them elsewhere, or --"
"Or they made them into fur coats."
"Exactly. I believe a shopping expedition is in order."
"Stores aren't open this late."
"Then we'll have to do it tomorrow."
They drove back to the Consulate to the sound of a wolf eating leftover pizza in the back seat. It was Ray's doing, and Fraser hadn't had the heart to stop him, despite the fact that he knew what it would do to Dief's attitude. It was probably too late to be worried about that, anyway.
"Here you go, home sweet Consulate," Ray said as they pulled up.
It was time to get out of the car. Fraser knew that, but for some strange reason, he didn't want to. He just wanted to sit here, talking to Ray. Talking about the case or anything else, he didn't care what. And then maybe Ray would lean over and kiss him, and . . .
Fraser reached for the door handle and pulled on it, but it didn't open. He pulled again, and nothing happened.
"Uh, Fraser, you have to pull up, not down."
He didn't dare look at Ray's face. He could feel the heat rising in his own. How many times had he gotten out of Ray's car before? Fraser pulled up and the door opened easily. "I'll see you tomorrow morning," he managed.
"You want me to stop by here?"
"Yes, that would be convenient. Thank you kindly."
He let Dief out and mounted the steps to the Consulate door, painfully aware that Ray's car was still at the curb. The door shut behind him before he heard the sound of the car pulling away.
"Fraser!" Ray hissed. "Down!" But it was too late. The warehouse door opened, and a man entered. He was burly and balding and he spotted Fraser immediately.
"What do you think you're doing here?" Naturally, he'd spotted Fraser. Fraser was, for no conceivable reason, wearing that damn red uniform.
"I'm examining your merchandise," Fraser said; curse his hide for being so honest. "You have some fine pelts here. Take this one for example."
The guy's attention was on Fraser, completely, and Fraser was obviously doing his best to keep it that way. Careful to stay low, Ray drew his gun and crept around a pile of furs, trying to get an angle on the guy.
"If I'm not mistaken, this is a fine example of Enhydra lutris nereis," Fraser was saying. Keep talking, Ray wished him silently. "That would be the Southern sea otter, not the Alaskan or Asian species."
There. He had a line of sight between two stacks of hides. Ray started to straighten . . . and the guy moved again. Damn it.
"Who the hell are you?" the man growled.
"Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police," Fraser said. Ray scuttled around another bale. "I first came to Chicago . . . ah, but that's not important right now. What is important is that you have a warehouse full of illegal merchandise."
"No," the chilling voice came. "What is important is that I have a knife in my hands. A knife that happens to be coated in curare."
Curare. The stuff that had killed the stiff in the morgue. And the guy was pointing it at Fraser, who was completely defenseless. Ray found an opening between stacks of crates and dove through it. No way that guy was going to poison Fraser. Not while he was there.
The bald guy spun, knife now aimed at him, but Ray kept his gun level. "Drop the weapon. Drop it!"
The guy's grip shifted on the knife, and Ray's finger twitched on the trigger, but the next moment there was a blur of red, and the guy and the knife were both on the floor.
"Nice work, Ray," Fraser said. He knelt beside their attacker, turning him over, and Ray crouched to provide the handcuffs.
"I, uh, think that's my line."
Fraser looked at him with a moment's pure, unguarded smile. "Nice teamwork, then."
For a moment, Ray couldn't breathe. That smile cut all the way to his core, cut through all the layers of idiocy and self-deception. He didn't want some stupid girl in a photograph. He wanted Fraser. Fraser, who was willing to risk his life for him.
"C'mon, move it," Ray said, jerking their captive to his feet with more force than was strictly necessary. Of course, Fraser was also willing to risk his life for a bunch of dead sea otters. Damn it all.
"Ray," Fraser said. "Ray."
"What?" Ray looked down and realized he was twisting the prisoner's arms behind his back at an unnatural angle. "Oh. Sorry."
The guy made mutterings of police brutality, but they made it into the car and back to the station without further incident.
Ray had gone quiet again. Fraser didn't understand it. They'd solved the case, and while the waste of life -- sea otter life, that was -- was truly appalling, he wouldn't have thought it would affect Ray quite so strongly. But later that evening, as Ray was driving him back to the Consulate, he was sure he wasn't imagining it. Ray was on edge. He was making nervous little motions, tapping on the steering wheel, and he kept darting glances in Fraser's direction, then just as quickly looking away.
"You know, Ray, among the Inuit, when two people are . . ."
It was one little word, but so full of pain that Fraser forgot what he had been about to say. "I'm sorry, Ray."
"Why? You got nothing to be sorry for. It's my problem, not yours."
It wasn't much, but at least Ray was talking. "Well, I understand if you don't want to discuss it, but if there's anything I can do to help . . ."
They were stopped at a traffic light, but Ray was still staring straight ahead. The muscles in his jaw all tightened. And then he turned and hit Fraser with the force of that haunted blue gaze. "He could've killed you, Fraser. He had that poison stuff on his knife."
Ray was worried about him? For a moment it made no sense. How many times had they faced danger together? How many times had Ray saved him, or he saved Ray? Surely Ray ought to be used to it by now. "Oh, well, curare is merely a paralytic, Ray. If I had been affected, you would simply have needed to apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until proper medical help arrived."
"Mouth to mouth?" Ray said faintly. Behind them, horns began honking, and only then did Ray seem to notice that the light had turned green. The car moved forward with a lurch.
"Yes, I assumed you were trained in it. I believe it's standard procedure for police officers to know basic first aid."
Ray made a face. "Yeah, I got trained in it. On a mannequin."
"Well, then, I'm sure it wouldn't have been all that different."
"Trust me, Fraser. It would have been different."
"I see," Fraser said, although he didn't see it at all. But then, Ray was squeamish about the oddest things. Perhaps he found something . . . distasteful . . . about the thought of covering his friend's mouth with his own.
Something squeezed tight in Fraser's chest and wouldn't let go. Somehow it was almost worse than knowing Ray was in love with someone else. Even if it were hopeless either way. Because if Ray was so repulsed by him that he couldn't imagine touching him even to save his life . . .
He looked up. They were parked in front of the Consulate, and he hadn't even felt the car stop. "Oh. I'm sorry, I didn't realize . . ." He reached for the door handle.
"No, wait, hang on a sec." Ray's expression had gone strangely wild. "Look, I -- I gotta ask you something, and you can't ask me why I want to know, or talk about it again, or anything."
It was bad, then. Fraser braced himself for the worst. "All right."
Ray shot him a quick, surprised glance, like he'd been expecting an argument, but he didn't comment. Instead he reached into his pocket for his wallet. "I, uh, I need you to look at this picture," he said, handing over a wallet-sized snapshot. "I found it in Ray Vecchio's desk."
Fraser reached up and turned on the dome light so he could actually see it. He was unprepared for the rush of memories: the St. Fortunata school, Sister Anne, and Melissa, who'd been so helpful, and so brave. "Ah," he said softly. "I didn't realize anyone had taken a photograph."
"You know her?"
Everything suddenly snapped into place with painful clarity. Ray had been talking about a photograph. A photograph of a woman. Only the person he thought was a woman . . . wasn't. "In a manner of speaking, yes," Fraser said, his heart sinking. He didn't know how to tell Ray the truth. It would hurt no matter how he phrased it. After all, if Ray was disgusted by the thought of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, this would be ten times worse. "That is, it would be difficult not to know her, epistemologically speaking."
"Fraser, come on. Who is she?"
For a moment he indulged himself in wildly improbable speculation about cases of mistaken identity. "Did she commit some crime?"
"No, she did not commit a crime. She just . . . I gotta know who she is."
No, he had to say it. Somehow, anyhow, he had to. "It was for a case," he said, as gently as he could. "Ray -- that is, Ray Vecchio -- needed someone who could go undercover as a teacher in a Catholic girls' school, and he was unable to find a volunteer among the women of his acquaintance. Although I admit I found the experience quite enlightening. Did you know that panty hose pinch in the most inappropriate places?"
Ray was staring at him. "Uh, Fraser, you're kidding me, right?"
"I'm sorry, Ray," he said for what felt like the hundredth time in the past three days. "Please believe me that there was no intention to deceive. Or rather, there was, in the sense that I was undercover, but I certainly didn't mean the deception to go any further. I had no idea anyone had taken a photograph."
Ray turned away from him, both hands gripping the wheel. "Don't lie to me, Fraser."
That hurt. "I'm not lying."
"Look, I memorized those case files. This wasn't in them. I know it wasn't, because trust me, I would not have forgotten a case where you dressed up in panty hose."
"Oh, well, I believe the case was almost entirely off the record, as a favor to Sister Anne. I suppose Ray might have had to report something about the vault in the St. Fortunata basement in order to explain the arrests; however, I imagine he . . . "
"Oh, geez." Ray had leaned forward so that he was hunched over the steering wheel and Fraser couldn't see his face. "It's the Untouchables thing. The vault in the basement with all the stuff, and the dirtballs who were going to kill those kids to get it?"
"Yes," Fraser said. "Ray, if you'll recall, I've mentioned this to you before. In the crypt, the day that you staked out Marcus Ellery."
"You told me? You told me you dressed up as a woman?"
"Yes. As I recall, you were asking me whether I found you attractive. Or rather, whether I would have found you attractive if I were a woman."
"Oh, God." Ray scrubbed his face with his hands, but he still didn't look up. "You're right. I said that. I remember saying that."
"I'm sorry, Ray."
Ray didn't say anything to that. He was still bent over the steering wheel, and Fraser suddenly had a powerful urge to touch him. But it was too raw, too painful. Ray might take it entirely the wrong way. "Would you like me to go now?" he asked, hoping against hope that Ray would say no.
But Ray didn't even lift his head. "Yeah."
There was nothing more to be said. Nothing he could do that would change the pain he'd inadvertently caused. If he stayed, he'd only cause more.
Fraser got out of the car and closed the door quietly behind him. This time Ray pulled away almost immediately.
He was in love with one person, not two. Ray kept the picture in one hand as he drove back to his apartment, glancing at it every time he came to a stoplight. It was so obviously, painfully Fraser, he couldn't believe he hadn't figured it out before. That he hadn't remembered Fraser telling him, that day in the crypt.
Something was twisted tight and hard in his gut. He'd lost his last chance. The one girl who was going to save him from this hopeless infatuation . . . couldn't. Because she didn't exist.
Still, it was no surprise that Fraser was beautiful as a woman. Fraser was beautiful as a man. Fraser was beautiful, period. Beautiful and utterly clueless. Talking about mouth-to-mouth resuscitation like it was something he did every day.
It made crazy ideas go through Ray's head. Like maybe he could tell Fraser he needed to brush up on those first aid techniques, like maybe it might help to practice on a live person instead of a mannequin.
Not that he could ever actually do that. He'd have to be nuts. Fraser was so square, so pure.
But Fraser had been willing to dress up like a woman. He'd been good at it, good enough to fool Huey. Good enough to pass in an all-girl's school.
Of course, it was for a case. Ray knew that. Like he also knew that cross-dressing didn't make a person gay. Hey, obviously. But still . . . it was a side to Fraser he'd never seen, never guessed at. He always thought of Fraser as being so stiff, so out of it. But maybe he wasn't giving Fraser credit. Maybe Fraser had lots of sides he hadn't seen.
By the time he got to his apartment, Ray was more confused than ever, but he was absolutely, positively sure of one thing: somehow in the space of that conversation about the photograph, he'd crossed the line. He was utterly and painfully in love with Benton Fraser, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Even if Benton Fraser was never going to be in love with him.
He'd hurt Ray. Fraser tossed in his narrow cot, trying to come up with some way to stop thinking about it. Ray had been shocked. No, worse: horrified. And Fraser didn't know if Ray would ever want to see him again. He played the scene over and over in his head, trying to come up with something he could have done differently. But there was nothing. He couldn't possibly have lied, and every other scenario ended exactly the same way, with Ray not looking at him and asking him to get out of the car.
Because the problem hadn't been him, or anything he'd said. The problem was that Ray had been attracted to him. Ray had been carrying around his picture, talking about love at first sight. And even as he regretted and worried and hoped Ray would be able to forgive him, there was a funny feeling in his stomach, a strange fluttery feeling that shivered up and down his spine.
It wasn't what he wanted; he was well aware of that. Even before his reaction to the truth about the picture, Ray had been appalled at the thought of giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. So the fluttery feeling was utterly inappropriate, and foolish, besides. But he couldn't make it go away, anymore than he could stop thinking of the shocked expression in Ray's eyes.
He was still trying to find a way to sleep at half past four, when he heard Dief whine. He was instantly alert and upright in bed. "What is it?" he whispered.
Dief whined again, and a moment later he heard a crashing noise, like breaking glass. For a moment he thought it might be Turnbull being clumsy again, but then he knew it couldn't be. If had been either Turnbull or the Inspector, Dief wouldn't have been concerned.
Fraser got up and eased the door open. Dief was in hunting mode, utterly silent. Fraser followed him down the hall. The sounds were coming from the front of the building, from -- yes, he was certain of it -- Inspector Thatcher's office.
He froze beside the office door, but he couldn't hear anything inside. But Dief's attention was fixated on the door -- whatever he sensed, it was still inside. Fraser took the chance and turned the handle.
The office was lit by the street light outside, and it was cold, thanks to a broken window. Shattered glass made a thousand sparkling jewels on the floor.
A moment's silence was broken by Dief's growl behind him. Fraser spun in time to see motion, a man's form, the heavy object swinging toward him.
And then everything went black.
Fraser was late. Okay, not really late, because he often had paperwork or duties at the Consulate in the mornings, especially mornings when they didn't have an active case pending. So there was no need for panic. Fraser wasn't blowing him off. Another hour, maybe, and then it would be a blow-off. Ray made his way back through the squad room. There were plenty of things to do, cases on his desk that he hadn't got to yet. He didn't need Fraser around to start on that.
Welsh turned toward him, finally spotting him among the desks. "You better get over to the Consulate. Seems they had a break- in."
A break-in. At the Consulate. Well, at least that meant Fraser wasn't blowing him off. "You talk to Fraser?"
"No, Inspector Thatcher. It looks like Fraser was involved in the incident. I'm not exactly sure how. All she said was that he was incapacitated."
Oh, God. Fraser was hurt. Fraser had done some idiotic thing like trying to stop a B & E without calling for back-up. "I'm on it," Ray said, already on his way out the door. He took the stairs two at a time and sprinted outside for his car. Fraser would be okay, he told himself, like thinking it could make it true. Fraser was always okay.
He made it across town in record time. There was a blue-and-white already parked outside the Consulate, so at least someone was on it. There were people milling about in the Ice Queen's office -- a couple of uniformed officers, Thatcher, Turnbull, and several other people he didn't recognize. Ray skidded to a halt.
"Where's Fraser?" Fraser had to be okay. They couldn't leave things the way they'd been last night.
One of the uniforms stepped forward to block his way. "I'm sorry, sir, but this is a crime scene. Authorized personnel only."
Right. Ray reached for his badge. "Detective Ray Vecchio, 27th District. Where's Fraser?"
The uniform frowned. "I'm not sure I know . . ."
What little patience Ray had was suddenly out the window. "Look, he was here last night. My lieutenant said he was involved. So you better tell me, and you better tell me right now, before I pop you in the head."
Thatcher chose that moment to notice he was alive. "There's no need for violence, Detective. Constable Fraser is indisposed at the moment."
Indisposed? What the hell did that mean? For the first time, Ray noticed a suspicious dark spot in the carpet. Damn it, that looked like blood. "Where?"
Thatcher blinked at him. Probably wasn't used to be yelled at in her own office. "He's in the bathroom," she said.
In the bathroom. It sounded . . . almost normal. "Uh, thanks," Ray muttered. He knew where the bathroom was, because he'd had the pleasure of staying overnight here once, the time he'd been a suspect in the Volpe shooting. It was just off the second conference room.
"Fraser, you in there?" Ray asked, tapping on the door. He thought he heard water running. That was a good sign, wasn't it? But for a long moment there was no answer. Ray tapped again, harder. "Fraser?"
"Yes, Ray." Fraser's voice. Sounding perfectly normal. Ray felt his knees go rubbery. Fraser was okay, and he was an idiot for worrying. "I'll be out shortly."
Ray leaned against the wall next to the bathroom door. This was what it felt like to be in love. This awful, panicked, mixed-up feeling. He recognized it well from the years with Stella. Only this was different, too. It was newer, rawer, more desperate. And here he hadn't thought he could get any more desperate.
"Fraser, if you don't get out here in one minute, I'm coming in after you." That ought to motivate him.
"I'm sorry, Ray." The door opened, and Fraser came out, dressed in those funny red long johns. Bare feet, damp hair, and . . . damn. He had a lump on his forehead the size of a goose egg.
"Oh, geez. You okay?"
"I believe I'm fine, Ray."
He sounded fine. Looked fine, apart from the lump and the thin red line of a cut across it. "You couldn't have called me? You couldn't have said, 'Hey, Ray, no need to worry, they bashed me over the head, but I'm okay'?"
Fraser's eyes went wide with surprise. "I'm sorry, Ray. I thought the Inspector had told you."
Oh, right. Sure. But the worst of it was, Fraser probably really had thought that. "You seen a doctor?"
"I don't think there's any need. I've been told I have a rather thick skull."
Yeah, well, he did have a point there. "You want me to put some of that stinky stuff on it?"
"No, thank you. I just did that, myself."
Ray sniffed, caught a whiff, and stepped back. The stuff was as good as a cold shower. Well, almost. "Okay, but you better tell me if you start seeing double or something."
"Certainly," Fraser agreed. He looked around. "Dief!"
"Fraser, he can't . . ." But before Ray could complete the sentence, Dief came trotting into the conference room. Well, limping, actually. He had a bandage around one paw. "Oh, I get it. You took care of him before you did anything for yourself."
"Well, he was lacerated by broken glass, Ray. My own injury was merely from a blunt object."
Merely a blunt object? Oh, this had better be good. "Okay, you better tell me what happened."
"Of course." But instead of standing there and giving a report like any normal human, Fraser went to the door of the conference room and looked out into the hallway. Then he turned toward the front door.
"Where are you going?"
"There may very well be tracks outside the window. I think we should take a look at them."
He was still in the red long johns. Maybe that bump on the head was worse than either of them thought. "Hey, look, that's a real stylish get-up, but don't you think it's a bit cool for outside?"
Fraser looked down at himself. "Oh, dear."
Ray took a chance and put a hand on Fraser's elbow, steering him back toward his office. "Come on, hup two. And while you're getting dressed, you can tell me what happened."
He was half-expecting an argument, but Fraser let himself be steered. "Well, I was having some difficulty sleeping last night --"
Ray winced. He didn't have to ask what that was about.
"-- when Dief sensed an intruder. I heard the sound of breaking glass and followed it to the Inspector's office. Unfortunately, the intruder discovered my presence before I discovered his. I was able to ascertain only the most basic of details, that he was approximately five foot eight with dark hair and a slender build, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt." They had reached Fraser's office, narrow as a railroad car and piled high with filing boxes. Crazy that anybody would live in a place like this. "Oh, Ray," Fraser said, like it was something perfectly normal to say, "would you kindly shut the door behind you?" And Fraser reached to undo his top button.
Fraser was going to undress, right here in front of him. And Ray would bet dollars to doughnuts he wasn't wearing anything under those long johns. He wanted to stay. He wanted to stay so badly he knew he couldn't. "Uh, I should, that is, I'll just . . ." he babbled, backing toward the door. "I'll be outside." He tripped over something on the floor -- a box -- and barely caught himself.
Fraser's face went a sudden, startling shade of red. "Oh. Yes, of course, ah . . . right. I'll only be a minute."
Ray straightened and forced himself to look away. "Dief, keep an eye on him. If he falls over, bark."
Dief gave a single woof -- almost like he understood. Which could only mean Ray had been spending far too much time with Fraser, because there was no way a deaf wolf, or any wolf, for that matter, could understand that much English. Ray shut the door behind him and waited, doing his best not to imagine what was going on inside the office.
It wasn't working. He'd seen too much already. Heck, those long johns didn't leave that much to the imagination. And he wanted . . . he wanted to do a lot more than look.
Ray closed his eyes and swallowed hard. He wanted to be the one taking those long johns off, slipping each button, one at a time. Sliding his hands inside, feeling the warmth of that broad chest, finding the places Fraser liked to be touched. Releasing more buttons, pushing the fabric down off his shoulders, pushing and tugging it down until it made a red puddle at Fraser's feet. Leaving it there, caught around his ankles, so that when Ray moved his hands back up, Fraser wouldn't be able to run.
Damn. This was not smart. This was making a bulge in his pants big enough that even Fraser would notice. He had to think about something else. Like maybe the fact that Fraser had a bump on his head, that someone had broken into the Consulate last night, and for all they knew it could be anything from a common burglar to some whacko out to get Fraser for an imagined wrong. Someone with a personal agenda, like that performance arsonist nutcase.
Oh, great. Now he was both hot and worried. And Fraser was taking his own sweet time in there. Ray wanted to be out on the streets, working on this case. He wanted it solved already, and the creep that had done it behind bars where he couldn't hurt Fraser again.
He opened his eyes. Fraser was ready, dressed in the red uniform again, and looking, well, almost normal. Better, certainly. Getting dressed had mussed his hair slightly, and it was shadowing the lump on his forehead so that it wasn't quite as obvious. His color was good, not the bright red he'd been a few minutes ago, but no longer so pale, either. "You want to look for tracks?"
Fraser nodded. "It would seem an appropriate place to start."
"Okay, let's go."
At least Ray was talking to him. Fraser led the way outside, almost grateful for the contusion on his forehead that had made Ray so solicitous. If nothing else, it was distracting Ray from their conversation last night.
Except, that was, for the fact that Ray hadn't wanted to be in his office while he dressed. Maybe the problem was his aching head, but for some reason it had caught him completely by surprise. He would have thought they knew each other well enough by now that it wouldn't be anything to remark on. He'd certainly seen Ray change clothes before -- after that sparring match, for example. Of course, he remembered it all too clearly; remembered how Ray had refused his help. But surely Ray wouldn't have that same problem.
Unless . . . They found the spot under the Inspector's window and Fraser looked around for tracks, but his mind was still working the other problem. Perhaps something had changed for Ray when he'd discovered that the woman in the picture was not, in fact, a woman, but his own best friend. Perhaps Ray was looking at him with double vision now, seeing the woman as well as the man.
It felt . . . odd. Not entirely comfortable. Because he wasn't a woman, in any definition of the word. Still, it would certainly explain Ray's reluctance to watch him change: if Ray was seeing him as a woman, he'd hardly want to be reminded that he was a man.
"So, you see anything?"
Oh, right, the tracks. Fraser scanned the ground, trying to pay attention this time. "Well, fortunately it rained yesterday; however, while there is certainly evidence that the grass has been disturbed here, and here, I can't make out any clear --"
To the left, Dief whined.
"Ah, here we are." There were two firm impressions in a patch of damp mud. "It appears that the intruder landed here when he jumped from the window above."
"Okay, so do that voodoo thing and tell me who he is."
"Someone who wears size nine Reebok running shoes, I believe."
"That's it? That's all you can see?" Ray looked skeptical. Like he expected his best buddy to be able work more of a miracle than that.
"We'll see," Fraser said. "Dief?"
Diefenbaker picked up the scent and followed it across the Consulate grounds and down the sidewalk. Fraser loped after him, with Ray close behind. Halfway down the block, Dief doubled back on his tracks. Fraser caught up to him as he sniffed the damp concrete and then whined.
"This is it, huh?" Fraser crouched on the sidewalk. There was no scent he could pick up, no visible trace.
"Fraser, he lost the trail. This is an empty sidewalk."
Fraser glanced up. "Oh, I don't think so, Ray. I believe this is where our burglar escaped."
Ray looked around wildly. "What, he got into a car?"
Fraser got to his feet, and saw the obvious. "He stole a car."
"What -- what, how do you know that?"
"Broken glass," Fraser said, pointing. "It's clean, which means it was broken after the rain."
Ray surveyed the scene. "That's not much of a modus operandi. Breaking windows."
"It would seem our suspect is a bit desperate."
Ray turned away, so that when he spoke, Fraser wasn't quite sure he heard it right. But it sounded like: "Yeah, he's not the only one."
Ray looked back at him. "Uh, nothing. Did you figure out what he stole?"
"Yes, we did a complete inventory of the office this morning."
"As far as we could tell, there is only one item missing. Inspector Thatcher's brooch."
It was not the most satisfying of days. They'd managed to identify the stolen car -- purely through leg work, since the owner hadn't reported it. They'd also found fingerprints on the fragments of the assault weapon, which turned out to be a flower vase. They had four distinct prints, but the lab was unable to come up with a match to any known criminal. A brief conversation -- was anything involving Fraser ever brief? -- with the car's owner had turned up no immediate leads, and an APB on the license plate had come to exactly nothing.
Over Chinese food at this weird little place where Fraser knew the owners and even ordered in the lingo, they hashed through the possibilities. But by the end of it, Ray wasn't sure they were any closer to a working hypothesis.
"Okay, I still don't get it," Ray said, for what felt like the umpteenth time. "Why does a guy go to the trouble of breaking into the Consulate, and all he takes is one lousy pin?"
"Well, it's a rather nice pin, Ray. The stones are demantoids, also called green garnets, which, in addition to being lovely, are quite rare."
"Yeah, it's not the Hope Diamond."
"But undoubtedly easier to fence."
"Point," Ray said. He set down his chopsticks, which weren't doing him much good, anyway -- he was dropping almost as much rice as he was shoveling in. "So why doesn't he take anything else? There's got to be something worth money in that building. And once he has you out cold, what's to keep him from taking his own sweet time? It just doesn't look like a burglary to me. I think this guy was after you."
"Hmm," Fraser said.
Fraser was doing the hmm thing again, which was enough to drive anybody nuts. "What, you know who it is?"
"Come on, Fraser, out with it. What do you know that I don't?"
"Nothing, Ray. I -- well, forgive me for saying this, but it seems as though you're being a bit paranoid. There's no compelling reason to believe that I was the target of the break- in."
Paranoid? Yeah, he probably was. But, damn it, Fraser was the one with the lump on his head. "Look, I just . . . I can't stand the thought of you getting hurt. It messes me up inside."
Fraser's chin came up slowly, his eyes fixed on Ray's, and Ray suddenly realized what he'd said. He'd given it all away, in one little sentence. But the funny thing was, Fraser didn't seem that upset. "Thank you, Ray," Fraser said softly, and Ray didn't even know what he was being thanked for. "I -- thank you."
"Look, are we ready for the check or something?"
He was totally on edge, but Fraser didn't seem to think he'd said anything wrong. They paid the check and Fraser said something to the owner in Chinese, and then they went out to the car.
Fraser got that look again while he was buckling his seat belt, that weird, intense look where his face went perfectly still but his eyes looked like they were showing his soul. "Ray, I want you to know that I am grateful that you're not angry."
Yeah, well, angry might be a heck of a lot easier than this. "Angry about what?"
"About my having deceived you, however inadvertently."
"Oh, that. Hey, look, it's no big deal." The weirdest thing was, that was true. It wasn't the deception that was the problem. His feelings, okay, they were a problem. But that wasn't Fraser's fault.
"Oh." Fraser looked confused. "I see."
That was just Fraser pretending he understood again when he didn't, but for some reason even that wasn't annoying tonight. Ray turned the car toward the Consulate. He almost wished he could take the long route, but then, he was sure Fraser would notice. Fraser's Chicago geography was pretty good for someone who didn't drive much.
"So how'd you learn to speak Chinese?" he asked, mostly just to get Fraser talking.
"It's Cantonese, actually, technically speaking," Fraser said. "There are over four hundred dialects spoken in mainland China alone, many of them so different as to be entirely unintelligible to . . ."
Ray let him go on, letting the words wash over him without really listening to what they meant. Fraser had such a nice voice. Some days he thought he could listen to Fraser read the phone book and not get bored. Not that he'd ever actually admit that.
All too soon, they pulled up in front of the Consulate. Fraser had finished his explanation of Chinese dialects and his grandmother's traveling library, and he fell silent as the car stopped moving.
"Fraser --" Ray said, and at almost the same moment, Fraser said, "Ray."
"You first," Ray said.
"No," Fraser said, politer-than-thou. "No, you go ahead."
He didn't even know what he'd been going to say. "You want me to swing by in the morning?"
"Oh. Yes, thank you. Thank you kindly."
"What were you gonna say?"
"It's not important."
Yes, it was important. Very important. Especially since Fraser was looking over at him with that intense look again. Fraser's eyes were so dark in this light. And the way they were staring into his, it almost made Ray think . . .
He took a deep breath. "Can I . . . can I ask you something?"
"I was just . . . I was just wondering --" He hadn't meant to say anything like it, but once the words started, he couldn't stop them. "-- I mean, hypothetically speaking, if you were, uh, dressed as a woman . . ."
"Would you let me kiss you?"
Fraser jerked upright in his seat, facing straight forward. Oh, no. He'd blown it for good this time.
"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean . . ."
But then Fraser spoke, in a voice that sounded half-strangled: "Yes."
Ray felt his heart leap into his throat. Fraser couldn't have said that. Couldn't have meant it. He had to be hallucinating or something. "And if you were . . . if you were dressed normal, I mean, like a man?"
Fraser swallowed visibly, still staring straight ahead. "Yes."
He didn't exactly look like someone who wanted to be kissed. But he'd said yes, and Fraser wouldn't lie. Slowly, so that Fraser could protest if he wanted, Ray undid his seat belt and leaned across to the other seat. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and his head felt like he'd had six beers, even though all he'd had to drink tonight was black Chinese tea.
Ray cupped his hand against Fraser's cheek, turning Fraser's head to face him. Fraser looked . . . scared. But he wasn't protesting. Ray let out a breath and closed the gap between them, pressing his lips to Fraser's.
He tasted good. Like soy sauce and ginger and something else that was probably just Fraser. His lips were soft and accommodating, and somehow Ray found the strength not to push it, just to feel those warm lips against his and not ask for anything else. He could feel Fraser's warm breath, could feel every tiny motion of those lips as he moved, and they moved with him. He was kissing Fraser . . . and it felt almost like Fraser was kissing him back.
It went on forever, and not nearly long enough. But he didn't dare mess it up now. Ray pulled back slowly and opened his eyes, and for the longest moment Fraser stared back at him. But then he turned to face forward again, and Ray slid back into his own seat.
"I, ah . . ." Fraser tilted his head first to one side, and then to the other, and his neck made a cracking noise. "I imagine I should be going inside."
You don't have to, Ray wanted to say. But Fraser had gone stiff again, and he didn't know how to get past that. He didn't even know if Fraser wanted him to. Didn't know why Fraser had let him kiss him. Didn't know anything right now; his head was spinning too fast.
"I'll um, I'll pick you up tomorrow morning."
"Thank you, Ray," Fraser said, and he was gone.
Ray sat there in the car, still feeling the imprint of Fraser's lips on his. He couldn't believe he'd done that, didn't know where he'd got the guts. Except that there had been something about the way Fraser was looking at him . . .
He didn't make any kind of decision, but suddenly he was out of the car. He didn't care what happened, if they kissed again or not, but he had to be with Fraser. He couldn't bear the thought of driving home alone.
Ray took the steps two steps at a time and pounded on the Consulate door.
Ray had kissed him. Fraser leaned against the inside of the Consulate's front door, his heart thumping in his chest. Ray hadn't been repulsed. Of course, Ray had closed his eyes, too, which meant he might very well have been imagining another person -- or, face it, another gender -- but still, Ray had pressed warm lips against his.
He'd been so scared he would do something to make Ray regret it, he'd barely been able to breathe. But Ray had taken his time with it, had pulled away only slowly. Ray hadn't, in his terms, freaked out -- at least, not that Fraser could tell.
It was more than he'd ever dreamed of. More that he could have asked for. So why was his aching body telling him it wasn't enough?
A sharp rap sounded, reverberating all the way through him. Then a second. Oh. Someone was knocking on the door. Fraser straightened -- more grateful than he'd ever been for the bagginess of his jodhpurs -- and opened the door.
"Oh, hi." Ray couldn't possibly be surprised to see him. But perhaps surprised that he'd opened the door so quickly. "Look, I, uh, I was wondering . . ."
Fraser felt his pulse jump.
"Do you want to come back to my place for some tea or something? I don't have any of that bark stuff, but I did get some chamie -- chamuh --"
"Yeah, some of that."
It wasn't an offer of another kiss, but that was irrelevant. "Yes."
Ray was a bundle of nerves, fidgeting on the Consulate steps. "Okay, good, great. Let's um, let's go."
Fraser followed him down the steps and to his car. It felt unreal, like he was dreaming this, and he had no idea what was supposed to happen next. But Ray had kissed him. Right now that was the only thing that mattered.
Fraser didn't even complain when Ray broke several traffic laws and nearly every speed limit on the way to his apartment. They made it up the stairs and into the apartment, and Fraser thought maybe if Ray was going to kiss him again, he'd do it there. But Ray went over into his little kitchen and got out a kettle and started filling it with water from the tap.
Oh. Right. Tea. That was what they were here for, after all.
"Okay, water, gas -- come on, light already -- mugs, tea. Where's the tea?" Ray was apparently talking to himself, so Fraser leaned against the opposite counter, doing his best not to be in the way.
"Perhaps it's in the other cupboard, Ray."
"Oh, right, the other cupboard." Ray opened another cabinet door, pulled on something, and was rewarded with a shower of boxes of crackers and cookies.
"Oh, dear." Fraser got down on his hands and knees to help clean up the mess. Ray crouched down next to him, scooping up boxes and loose crackers from the somewhat-less-than-spotless floor.
"Fraser, you don't have to . . ."
Fraser reached for a cookie box at the same time Ray did, and their hands brushed. It was just a momentary touch, but it sent a jolt up Fraser's arm. He straightened and set the boxes on the counter, and for a moment he forgot to breathe. He wanted . . . no, he needed to kiss Ray again.
"Oh, look. Tea." Ray got the package open, took two tea bags out, put them in the mugs. Then he went to check on the kettle. It wasn't ready. Ray glanced over at Fraser with a smile that seemed suddenly shy. "I guess a, uh, a watched kettle doesn't boil."
"Perhaps we should do something else, then," Fraser dared.
"What -- whattaya want to do?"
Fraser swallowed, hard. Ray was nervous, too, and it felt as if they were standing on the brink of a precipice. He knew all too well what he wanted to do: he wanted to jump. But he wasn't at all sure Ray wanted to jump with him. "I, ah, that is, I . . ." He wet his lips, trying to come up with the words.
Ray's voice was low and hesitant. "You want me to kiss you again?"
Fraser closed his eyes. Ray knew. Ray knew, and he . . . "Yes."
He felt the warmth of Ray's body, close now, and then Ray's mouth touched his. It was like the jolt he'd felt earlier, only ten times stronger. Ray's lips were strong and hot, and it was like the first kiss . . . only it wasn't. Ray's mouth moved against his, seeking, opening, and Fraser felt the tiny shock of Ray's tongue against his lips.
The kiss in the car had been soft and achingly sweet. This was fire. Fraser opened his mouth to Ray's and felt an instantaneous response. Ray pressed up against him, driving Fraser's backside into the counter behind him, but Fraser didn't care. He could feel Ray's arousal growing hard against him. Ray wanted this. Wanted . . . him. Fraser didn't understand it, but he couldn't find the will to fight it. He wrapped his arms around Ray to pull him even closer, and felt Ray's gun dig into his chest.
"Oops." Ray pulled back for a moment and Fraser felt an instantaneous loss, but Ray just unclipped his shoulder holster and set it on the counter. He was half-smiling when he turned back to Fraser. "Uh, maybe we could . . ." and his hands went to Fraser's Sam Browne.
An RCMP full dress uniform was not exactly the most comfortable outfit to be kissing someone in. Fraser helped Ray undo his belt and set it on the counter beside Ray's holster. As he turned back, Ray's hands went to his tunic, undoing buttons. Fraser took off his lanyard and undid his collar, then took the tunic off and set it beside his belt.
"Much better," Ray said, sliding his hands over Fraser's Henley undershirt. Fraser shivered. Ray's hands felt amazing now that there was only a thin layer of fabric separating them from his bare skin. He tilted his head and found Ray's lips again with his own.
Time stood still. There was nothing in the universe but Ray's hands and mouth and Ray's body, pressed tight against Fraser's. They were almost exactly the same height, give or take a few centimeters of spiky hair, and it felt like Ray's body had been custom made to fit his.
He was lost. Completely gone. His heart was racing, he felt hot everywhere, and there was a whistling noise in his ears. Wait, no. The whistling was real. The tea kettle was boiling.
"Ray," he said against those warm lips. "Ray, Ray, Ray."
Ray disengaged, looking at him with a dazed confusion that said Ray had been lost, too.
"The kettle," Fraser said.
Ray came back to himself, then. "Oh, yeah. Tea." He slid his arm back down Fraser's undershirt and patted Fraser's side, once, before turning to the stove. He switched the burner off and reached for the kettle.
"Ow. Damn." Ray jerked his hand back.
He'd burned himself. Fraser felt a peculiar pain that was worse than being hurt himself. "Perhaps you should . . ."
"I got it," Ray said, reaching for a hot pad. That wasn't what Fraser had meant. He watched, bemused, as Ray poured water into the mugs and spilled some on the counter in the process. Tea. They were actually going to have tea.
"Here," Ray said, with a little frown. He pressed a mug into Fraser's hands. "You should, uh . . ." He had one hand to his temple, like his head was hurting rather than his hand. "You should go sit on the couch or something."
There was something wrong. That much was obvious. Ray might have wanted to kiss him -- might have in fact been carried away by the kiss -- but now he was having regrets. As if, perhaps, he'd opened his eyes and realized just who he was kissing.
Fraser made his way around the breakfast bar and into the living room with his heart sinking into his boots. He should never have asked for the second kiss -- and he had, even if he hadn't said the words. He should have talked to Ray first, because he needed to know what Ray wanted. Needed to know how Ray saw him, and what Ray was feeling.
But he hadn't said anything. He'd just taken Ray's hand and jumped, because terrifying as jumping was, talking was a hundred times worse. He'd panicked, plain and simple. And now he was going to pay for that.
Fraser sat on one end of the couch -- the very short couch, more of a love seat, really. He cupped the mug of tea in his hands. It hadn't steeped properly, yet, so he didn't try to take a sip. He just sat and waited to see what Ray might do. Whatever Ray might do.
Oh, geez. What was he doing? Ray mopped up the water he'd spilled with hands that were shaking and a heart that was racing a mile a minute. If the tea kettle hadn't boiled . . . if the kettle hadn't boiled, he would have been dragging Fraser off to the bedroom in another minute, and he still didn't know if that was what Fraser wanted.
Okay, Fraser was turned on. That much was obvious. Fraser had been enjoying that kiss as much as he had, he'd bet his life on it. But Fraser was, face it, basically a monk. He was carrying a torch for that Victoria woman, and Ray was starting to wonder if he'd had sex with anybody in the intervening years. Okay, maybe with that Janet Morse, the bounty hunter. But he wasn't even sure of that. And anyway, those were all women.
He had to know if Fraser knew what he was doing. If Fraser really wanted him, or if Fraser was just lonely and Ray had caught him with his defenses down. Because if he dragged Fraser off into the bedroom and Fraser later regretted it, Ray knew he would never be able to live with himself.
He was desperate, but he wasn't that desperate.
Ray picked up his mug of tea and went out into the living room. His hand stung where he'd burned it on the kettle, but he didn't really mind the distraction. Right now he needed to think, and he wasn't doing a very good job of that. The kiss had turned his brain to mush.
Fraser was sitting at one end of the couch, stiff and straight even without the red tunic, his mug of tea cradled between his hands. Ray went to sit at the other end, careful to keep his distance. If he got any closer, he'd lose it for good.
"C'mon, drink your tea," he said. He needed time, time to get his head on straight, time to figure out what was going on. "The whole thing. You gotta drink the whole thing."
Fraser gave him an inscrutable look and raised the steaming mug to his lips.
"And don't burn your mouth," Ray said. "You might need to use it, later."
Fraser twitched and nearly spilled tea on his lap. His face was looking kind of pink, Ray was sure of it. Embarrassment or desire? Yeah, that was the question.
Ray blew on his own tea and then took a sip. He almost spat it back out. "You like this stuff? It tastes like straw."
Fraser looked up across the rim of his mug. "Oh, no, not like straw, Ray. There are far more complex floral essences that . . ."
Ray took another sip, just to have something to do. It still tasted like straw. "Look, I uh . . . we gotta talk about this."
Fraser leaned forward and set his mug on the coffee table. "I know."
Well, that was something, anyway. "Fraser, you want to . . . you sure you want to be doing this?"
Fraser glanced over at him, his face now clearly pink. "Yes."
Deep breath. "Okay, okay. Have you done this before?"
"Kissing? Of course, Ray."
He was right. Fraser was the most annoying person on the planet. "Fraser, we're not talking about just kissing here."
Fraser went a shade pinker and reached for his mug to take a gulp of tea. "Oh. Oh, I see."
Scratch that. Make it the most annoying person in the universe. "No, you don't see. I want to know if you've done this before, you know, the whole nine yards: getting down, doing the nasty, making . . ."
Ray's heart skipped a beat. Love. Yeah, that was the core of it. "Yeah, okay, making love. I gotta know if you've ever made love with . . ."
Fraser met his eyes over the rim of his mug. "Yes, Ray."
"No, I don't mean generically. I mean with a guy."
"Ah." Another pause. Another gulp of tea. "Strictly speaking?"
"We're speaking very strictly, here."
Ray leaned back against the couch cushions. He should have known that. No, he had known. It was obvious, from everything he knew of Fraser's past. The only thing that made no sense was why Fraser was here tonight. "You want this? I mean, you really want this?"
Fraser met his eyes and nodded.
"Say it. Say it out loud."
"I want this."
Ray's heart was pounding in his chest. "Okay, okay. You gotta follow my lead here. You gotta trust me."
"I trust you, Ray."
There was something so innocent about that. So Fraser. It was like Fraser telling him he would be proud to call him friend after they'd only known each other a week. Like Fraser insisting he couldn't possibly have killed Volpe, even when Ray himself hadn't been sure. "You done with your tea?"
Fraser looked down into his mug and shifted in his seat. For a moment Ray was sure he was going to say something, something important. But then Fraser simply raised his mug to his lips and drained it. "Yes."
This was it. Make-it-or-break-it time. Ray set his own mostly full mug on the coffee table and eased over until he was next to Fraser.
This close he had a good view of the lump on Fraser's forehead. It was turning purple, now, but it didn't look quite as swollen. That made him feel a little better. Ray reached to touch the side of Fraser's face, rubbing his thumb against Fraser's temple just below the bruise. "This hurt?"
"No." Fraser said.
Ray leaned forward and kissed the bruise, very gently. "Really?"
"Well, not that I'd noticed."
Ray smiled and kissed Fraser's eyebrow. That was Fraser's scrupulous honesty talking. But then, scrupulous honesty might come in handy for certain things. He tipped his head and kissed Fraser's cheek, then moved a little further to kiss the end of his nose.
"Ray . . ."
The tease was working. Most definitely working. "Yeah?"
"You want this, too? You want . . . me?"
Ray's heart skipped a beat. He couldn't believe Fraser was worried about that. "Did you really think I'd've dragged you all the way over here so I could drink tea that tastes like straw?"
Fraser didn't answer with words. His arms came around Ray and pulled him close; his breath was almost a moan. Then Fraser's mouth touched Ray's, and the world fell away.
This was honesty of a different kind. This was raw and pure and real. There was no stiffness anymore, no holding back. Ray slid one arm down Fraser's stomach and tugged at Fraser's undershirt. It took several pulls, but he got one side free of the Mountie pants, got a hand underneath onto hot, bare skin.
Fraser sighed against his lips and shifted sideways on the couch. Not pulling away. Stretching out to give him a better angle. Ray moved his hand upward, tracing muscles through the skin. Even his fingertips thought Fraser was beautiful.
He ran his hand over that broad chest and found the nub of a nipple, brushed a thumb across it and felt Fraser's gasp. Fraser was so amazingly responsive. It was almost shocking, that someone ordinarily so in control could lose it so completely. But it was real. Ray could feel every twitch and moan.
He lifted himself up and tugged at Fraser's shirt again. He wanted more skin, wanted to see it as well as feel it. But he couldn't seem to get the shirt free.
"Here." Fraser shifted under him and reached down to undo his braces. That helped. They pulled together and got the undershirt off over Fraser's head, and Ray had to take a moment just to stare at him. So beautiful, the broad shoulders, the smooth, pale chest tapering downward to his waist.
"Ray," Fraser whispered. "I'm sorry I'm not . . ."
Ray cut the words off with a kiss. He didn't want to hear it. There were certain kinds of scrupulous honesty he could do without, and the last thing he wanted to hear was a list of Fraser's imagined imperfections. It would only make him feel self-conscious, too.
Fraser's arms came around him, again, but this time Fraser was tugging at his t-shirt. Like fair was fair. But the truth was, Ray wanted to feel skin against skin, and if Fraser thought he was too skinny . . . well, Fraser had seen him without a shirt before. He ought to know what he was getting into.
Ray reached up to the back of his collar and pulled his t-shirt over his head with a single yank. He lowered himself back down so that he was lying almost on top of Fraser and was rewarded with a warm hand on his bare shoulder. Then Fraser lifted his head and kissed the base of Ray's throat.
It didn't feel much like a complaint. Ray arched up over him and Fraser took advantage of that, kissing his collarbone, and then lower. A tingle shot through him as Fraser's tongue found a sensitive spot and lingered. He could feel it everywhere, in his head, in his stomach, in his groin. Yeah. Definitely down there, too.
Ray buried his hands in Fraser's hair and rocked against him. He could feel Fraser's cock through two layers of pants and two sets of underwear. It wasn't enough. Not enough skin, not enough anything.
"Fraser . . . " He rolled sideways so that he was wedged between Fraser and the couch pillows and reached for Fraser's waistband. Fraser's hands came down to help, but he pushed them away. He wanted to do this himself.
It took both hands, but he got the fly undone. He pushed it open, slipped a hand inside, and felt smooth, crisp cotton. Crisp? He took a second look.
"You iron your underwear?"
Fraser lifted his head to look, then let it drop back among the couch cushions. "Mmm hmm."
It was so nuts, it could only be Fraser. Ray slid up to look into Fraser's face. "You're a freak," he said gently.
Fraser looked up at him with those fathomless blue-gray eyes. "Understood."
Ray bent and kissed him, long and slow and sweet. But the urgency built again, even when he wasn't trying. "Fraser?"
"Want to head for the bedroom?"
Ray levered himself up off the couch and held a hand out. Fraser took it, stood, and grabbed for his pants as they slid toward his ankles.
"Sorry," Ray said, with half a laugh. "Wasn't trying to trip you."
Fraser flashed him a smile. "I realize that."
For a moment Ray just stared at him. That mesmerizing, all-too-rare smile. But Fraser didn't know, couldn't possibly know how much Ray loved it. How badly Ray was hooked.
And he wasn't going to tell him. He didn't dare, not tonight. Tonight he was taking this as an unexpected gift . . . a gift like a dreamcatcher. Tonight it would take his troubles away, and he would face the consequences in the morning.
"Um, right. Bedroom." He led the way, not that Fraser didn't know his apartment inside and out already. But he wanted to check . . . right. The bed wasn't made -- like when did he ever make it? About as often as he dusted. He shoved the blankets onto the floor and pushed the top sheet back, too.
Fraser was right behind him, close, standing there with no shirt and his pants bunched together in his fist, holding them up. Looking wonderful.
"Okay," Ray said, "the boots gotta go." No way he was going to take on that task -- he'd probably break the laces or something.
Fraser looked down. "Oh, of course." Like he'd forgotten he was wearing them.
Ray kicked off his own shoes, yanked off his socks, and sat on the edge of the bed waiting for Fraser. Mountie boots were not exactly quick-release. More of a slow strip tease. But watching the play of muscles in Fraser's back as he bent forward to his task was something of a compensation.
Ray leaned and kissed the back of his shoulder, and Fraser grunted. Nice. Ray tried higher up, at the base of his neck, and Fraser twitched. One more kiss, up near the jaw line.
"Hmm?" Hey, two could play innocent.
"You're going to make me break my laces."
Ray chuckled against Fraser's warm skin. One way or another . . .
"There," Fraser said, at long last, and set the second boot on the floor.
Ray turned him in his arms and pushed him back onto the bed. "Mmm, yeah," he said, and brought up his hands to pull those Mountie pants off. The boxers underneath were not entirely crisp -- there were creases in tempting places and a single damp spot, lower down. Right at the point where the tip of Fraser's cock was making a tent of the smooth fabric.
Ray hooked his thumbs in Fraser's waistband and heard a quick intake of breath. He glanced up to see Fraser's face gone still. "You don't want me to take them off?"
Fraser closed his eyes. "Do you want to?"
That didn't make any sense. Did Fraser honestly think he'd go this far and then back out? "Oh, yeah."
The eyes opened. "Then, please . . ."
The boxers joined the pants and boots on the floor, and Ray snuggled up to the long naked body stretched across his bed. He ran a hand down Fraser's side and rested it on his bare hip for a moment, then slid it down to tease the dark, curling hair. Fraser was as beautiful there as everywhere else; no surprise, really. He ought to be used to it by now.
Fraser shifted against him, pressing tight against his jeans, and Fraser's mouth found his. It felt like a homecoming, like he belonged here in Fraser's arms and nowhere else. And then Fraser's hand came down to his waistband.
"Would you mind if I . . . ?"
Would he mind? Would he mind? "Fraser, you got a screw loose somewhere?"
"Not that I'm aware of."
Ray reached down to undo his fly, but Fraser's hands took over. Ray lifted his hips off the mattress so Fraser could slide his jeans off. Jeans first, then his jockeys. Fraser got them off over his ankles and then came back up to look at him.
Look? No, stare was more like it. "What's the matter? You never seen a guy naked before?"
"I've never seen anyone like you."
What was that supposed to mean? For a moment Ray was almost ready to pop him a good one. But then Fraser leaned forward and kissed the base of his neck again, and he forgot to be mad. Fraser's mouth was hot and wet and it didn't stay put. It migrated up to his shoulder -- explored his tattoo -- then made its way down again to find his chest, to find . . .
Sensation shot through him as Fraser's tongue grazed a nipple. How was it that he could make it to thirty-whatever and not know his nipples were so sensitive? But Fraser knew. Fraser made a little satisfied sound and directed his attention to the other one until even the bottoms of Ray's feet were tingling. When Fraser finally released him, he felt completely boneless. He didn't resist when Fraser pushed him down against the mattress and bent to kiss his stomach.
He remembered, vaguely, that he was the one supposed to be taking the initiative. That he was the one who knew what he was doing. But Fraser's mouth felt so good on his skin, licking, sucking, tasting . . .
Fraser drifted lower, and all of Ray's nerves began to sing. One thing he could be certain of: Fraser wouldn't be squeamish of putting his mouth . . . there.
Heat and sensation flooded through him as Fraser's tongue explored his cock. He was close, so close, he was going to . . . but then Fraser's tongue moved downward, trading the electric hum for another sensation, also pleasant but less intense. Fraser was checking out his balls, and those were . . . those were teeth, but not hard, just enough to . . . oh God, he was so close to the edge. But Fraser kept moving, the tongue went lower still, to the base of his balls, and Ray shifted, spreading his thighs, wanting . . .
Oh, geez. What was he doing? "Fraser!"
Fraser's mouth left him, and he felt . . . bereft. But he couldn't . . . he couldn't let Fraser do that. Not yet. They hadn't even . . .
"I'm terribly sorry. Did I do something wrong?"
"Yes . . . no . . ." He couldn't think straight. "Look, you're going too fast. You gotta slow down."
"I'm sorry. I was only . . ."
Fraser ducked his head, looking suddenly shy. "You taste good."
Ray felt suddenly hot all over. He couldn't believe Fraser had said that. But Fraser, Mr. Logical, himself, was going on his gut here. And that was what his gut had told him to do.
In other words, the man was a natural.
Fraser was still looking down at the bedsheets, so Ray took what was offered: he slid forward and nibbled on that smoothly muscled shoulder. Fraser's head came up and his whole body quivered. Oh, yeah. He liked the teeth. Ray pushed him gently back against the bed and set about teasing him, taking his own time, trying out his teeth on other spots, like that expanse of chest muscle, like -- carefully, of course -- the smooth brown nubs of Fraser's nipples. Fraser was making funny noises, something between a moan and a whimper. Ray took pity on him and moved downward.
Fraser's cock was so rigid it wasn't quite touching his stomach, and there was a bead of moisture at the tip. Ray bent to run the tip of his tongue up the length of it and felt it pulse against him. So Fraser liked that, too. Ray smiled and took it into his mouth.
"Oh . . ." Fraser shuddered against him. "Oh."
Fraser was bigger than the only other guy Ray had ever done this to, but Ray did his best. Fraser didn't seem to be complaining. Ray found a rhythm that matched Fraser's shudders and set to work with lips and mouth and tongue. No teeth -- he didn't want to wear out his welcome -- but, damn, he was suddenly understanding what Fraser had meant. About tasting good. About wanting to taste more.
And here he'd thought Fraser was the freak.
Fraser was close, so close. He could taste that, too. But suddenly Ray knew he wanted something else: he wanted to see Fraser's face when he came.
They were both so close, he thought maybe . . . well, it wasn't something he'd ever done before with a guy, but it was what he wanted, and if Fraser could go on his gut, so could he. Ray let go of Fraser's cock and stretched out on top of him, chest to chest, groin to groin.
Fraser's eyes opened in surprise, but then Ray started to move, and Fraser let out a long sigh. "Yes."
It felt good. Better than good. They were both sweaty and sticky and slippery down there, and the sensation built quickly. Fraser kept his eyes open, this time, and Ray leaned in for a kiss.
Heat flared everywhere, in his mouth, in his heart, in his cock. Fraser's arms came up around him, matching his rhythm with shoves and squeezes. Fraser's tongue demanded more, demanded everything, and Ray gave it: his body, his heart, his soul. He was being branded and he didn't care, didn't care if he was ruined for anybody else, ever.
Ray's heart squeezed tight, and the inevitable was suddenly on him. He thrust hard against Fraser's body and felt a moment of pure nothingness, like the universe was standing still. And then the sweet, hard rush filled him and Fraser was rising to meet him, rising with two quick thrusts and then a long, shaking tight clasp as the space between them went doubly hot and wet and sticky.
Sensation ebbed slowly. Fraser's face was beautiful, trembling and covered with sweat. Ray kissed his eyelids, kissed his nose, kissed his swollen lips. Then he eased himself off of Fraser's body and snuggled up beside him, his arm across Fraser's chest, his head tucked into the corner made by Fraser's shoulder and neck.
"You okay?" he whispered.
"Yes, Ray." And Fraser's arm wrapped around his shoulder, holding him close.
It felt so wonderful. So perfect. So right. Fraser was his dreamcatcher . . . at least until the morning.
It was good to lie there, wrapped around Ray's body. Fraser didn't want to move. He wanted to soak in Ray's warmth, his honesty and fierceness and intensity, his ability to live life in the moment, which for one night Fraser had shared. But it was morning now. It was a quarter to five, and he had responsibilities.
He shifted and managed to pull his arm out from under Ray. Ray rolled away from him with a sleepy mutter, but didn't seem to wake. It was tempting, so tempting, to lean forward and kiss that bare shoulder, to wake Ray and feel again some of the wonder that had been last night. But there was Dief to think about, and the fact that he had a report to file at nine. A report he should have been working on last evening.
Fraser got out of bed and searched in the darkness for his clothes. Ray had left them on the floor somewhere. Ah. There they were. Boots, socks, jodhpurs, boxer shorts. He collected everything and made his way in the dark to Ray's bathroom.
The bathroom light made his eyes water, and he had to blink to clear them. He felt strange this morning, light-headed and disoriented, and it wasn't from the bump on his head. No, he knew this feeling, because he'd felt it exactly once before in his life. For Victoria.
Fraser leaned over the sink and rested his forehead against the cool surface of the mirror. It wasn't the same, wasn't going to be the same, because Ray wasn't Victoria. Ray wasn't anything like Victoria. He had none of her darkness. When Ray was angry, he burned bright and hot and quick, not long and slow and cruel. So this feeling he was having, this unsettled, confused feeling, was senseless. Ray would never want to hurt him.
The shower was tempting, but it might wake Ray, and Fraser didn't want to do that until he had to. He settled for scrubbing up over the sink, washing away the traces of last night's lovemaking.
Love. That was what it was. He had been in love with Ray Kowalski for some months, now, even if he hadn't been able to admit as much to his father, or to himself. It had been easier, not admitting it. Easier not to feel this raw, this vulnerable.
Ray was nothing like Victoria. He repeated the line in his head like a mantra, but it didn't help. Because even if Ray wasn't like Victoria, he wasn't sure this love was any wiser than his first. Ray could hurt him. Whether he wanted to or not, there were countless little ways he could do it without even knowing.
Fraser dried himself with Ray's hand towel and started to dress. He was afraid, now, and telling himself to be rational didn't seem to help. He feared that Ray had been seeing him with double vision, seeing the woman in the picture instead of his partner and friend. He couldn't be certain, but there were clues: the way Ray closed his eyes when they kissed, the fact that he hadn't wanted Fraser to lick him . . . there.
Of course, he knew Ray wasn't blind. Ray had seen him, all of him, had touched and kissed and . . . bitten . . . him pretty much everywhere. So Ray had to be well aware that he was male. But the spark of Ray's interest, the original cause, had been that picture.
And the truth was, as much as it hurt to think about it, Ray needed a woman. Ray had been deeply in love with Stella, and Ray had wanted children. Desperately. So desperately that it had caused their break-up, so desperately that he had been willing to lose Stella if he couldn't have children, too.
And children were the one thing Fraser could never give him.
In thirty-seven years, he had never had cause to regret his gender. Dressing as a woman had been a learning experience, but not something he'd found particularly enjoyable. He'd always taken his sex for granted, taken the roles it conferred as a given. But now, some small part of him fiercely wished to be female. To be a woman, someone that Ray could love.
Fraser finished lacing up his boots and made his way out into the living room. It was foolish to wish for what he couldn't have, to want to be what he could never be. He had had one night with Ray, which was more than he could ever have hoped for, and Ray had been more than generous. Ray had made him feel loved, truly loved, for the space of one night.
He just couldn't let himself start thinking that it had meant any more than that. That Ray would be interested in a long-term relationship. If he started to think that way, he would end up hurt, and he might hurt Ray as well. He never wanted to do that.
Fraser found his shirt and tunic and finished dressing. He buckled his belt in place and squared his shoulders. It was time to say good-bye.
The bedroom was dark and stuffy, and he could hear Ray's quiet snores. He bent over the bed and -- granting himself one indulgence -- kissed the closest thing he could reach, which was the top of Ray's tousled head.
Ray grunted in his sleep and rolled toward him.
"Ray," Fraser whispered. "Ray, wake up."
"I have to go now," Fraser said. "I have some duties to attend to at the Consulate. But I'll see you later, all right?"
Ray reached up for him and caught hold of his lanyard. "Frase . . ." He pulled. "C'me back to bed."
Fraser reached up and gently peeled Ray's fingers off of his uniform. "I want to," he said, meaning it will all his heart, "but I have to go. I have responsibilities I cannot avoid."
"Umph," Ray said, and pulled the covers over his head.
It wasn't much of a farewell, but it seemed to be all he was going to get. Fraser slipped out of the apartment, making sure Ray's door locked behind him, and set out on foot for the Consulate.
"Fraser?" Ray rolled over and felt the mattress beside him. He couldn't have dreamed it. His subconscious wasn't that coherent. But his hand encountered an empty pillow.
"Fraser?" He sat up, but the bed was empty. The clock on his nightstand said seven-fifteen -- not all that late, considering he'd forgotten to set an alarm. He eased his feet over the edge of the bed. His jeans were still there on the floor where he'd left them last night, but Fraser's clothes were gone.
Damn. He got up, not bothering to put anything on, and stumbled into the living room. No Fraser. But there were two mugs on the coffee table, one empty, one almost full. He took a sip from the full one -- it was cold, but it still tasted like straw. So he hadn't dreamed last night, for sure.
Fraser would have left a note. He was sure of it. But there was nothing on the breakfast bar, nothing tacked to the fridge, nothing anywhere. No message on his answering machine.
Ray sat down heavily on one of his bar stools. Fraser had walked out on him, without so much as a word. After everything they'd shared last night, he'd just left.
It hurt. It hurt worse than he'd ever thought it could. He'd blown it, screwed up big time. In the cold light of morning, he couldn't believe what he'd done. Couldn't believe that it had seemed like a good idea at the time. But he'd no doubt been thinking with his dick, like Stella had occasionally accused him of doing. What other excuse could he have for taking advantage of Fraser like that when Fraser had had his skull good and rattled?
There was a case in Vecchio's files where Fraser had got hit on the head. Fell off a van or something, and spent a day not acting like himself. Vecchio's notes hadn't exactly been detailed, but Ray remembered one line: "He said the word 'hell.' Twice." He'd thought it was funny, back when he'd been studying Vecchio's files. But that was before he'd met Fraser.
And now it was coming back to haunt him, because he should have realized Fraser was susceptible to cracks on the head. And he should have known it was worse than Fraser was saying. After all, even if Fraser hadn't gone as far as using four-letter words, he'd almost gone tracking in his underwear. That should have been a clue-in right there.
Ray sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. He was an idiot, ten times over. A con job, an opportunist, and a rotten excuse for a partner.
But, damn it all, Fraser could have left a note.
Ray was late. Oh, they hadn't agreed on a specific time, but it was half past nine already, and the day was wasting. Fraser had finished and filed his report on the break-in. He'd fed Dief and checked his paw, which appeared to be healing cleanly. He'd straightened up his desk, which hadn't needed straightening. And now he was contemplating the phone.
For some reason, he didn't feel right calling Ray. For some reason . . . no, he knew why. He'd been aching inside all morning, a part of him desperately wanting to see Ray, a part of him dreading it. He had no idea what Ray would say about last night, how he would feel about it. And even though Fraser fully understood that he wasn't what Ray needed, he wasn't sure he could bear to hear Ray say it.
From under his desk, Dief whined.
"Yes, I know," Fraser told him. "And I'm going to face him. Really, I am. I just . . ."
No, Dief was right. Sitting around moping was doing him absolutely no good. Fraser pushed his chair back and got to his feet. He could walk over to the police station -- the fresh air might do him some good.
"Care to join me?" he asked Dief, and Dief, bandaged paw and all, came eagerly out from under the desk. Fraser picked up his hat and opened his office door.
There was a sound coming down the corridor: footsteps, a gait he recognized instantly.
Ray came around the corner and jerked to a halt. For a moment they just stared at each other. Ray looked like he always did: hair up, body on edge. But it felt different, seeing him now. Everything felt different.
Ray shifted on his feet, like he'd noticed Fraser staring. "Uh, hi."
Oh, dear. Ray was as uncomfortable as he was. It was enough to tell Fraser all he needed to know. Ray was having regrets about last night. About him. "Hi."
"You gonna stand there all day, or you want to get cracking?"
The impatience . . . helped. It felt almost normal, even when Fraser knew nothing between them would ever be normal again. But if Ray kept talking to him like that, maybe he'd be able to forget this need to kiss him, to touch him, to taste him all over again.
Right. "Dief?" Fraser called, and Dief trotted out of his office. He was barely limping today. Apparently he'd decided not to milk his injuries for once.
"C'mon, Fraser. Get a move on, pitter patter."
"Right with you, Ray."
Ray was already walking down the corridor, away from him. "You'd better be."
Fraser caught up to him with three strides. "Thank you for coming."
"Said I would," Ray said, but he still sounded grumpy. "Look, you got an idea of what we should do next? And don't tell me you want to go to all the shoe stores in Chicago asking who bought size nine Reeboks."
"Well, that is a thought," Fraser said. It was reassuring that Ray had his mind on the case. He should follow that example, himself. "However, I'm afraid it would take more resources than we currently have available. I would suggest that a more in-depth canvas of the neighborhood is in order."
That at least got a look from Ray. "Looking for what?"
"A 1982 Honda Civic with a broken passenger-side window."
"Fraser, that guy is long gone by now."
He couldn't be certain, of course, but the more he thought of it, now that he was actually thinking about it, the more he thought otherwise. "Perhaps," he said, and opened the Consulate's front door for Dief and Ray.
"What makes you think he's not?"
"Nothing in particular, Ray."
They were halfway down the Consulate steps, and Ray stopped in his tracks. "Nothing? You want us to turn the neighborhood upside down because of nothing?"
Oh, dear. He wasn't handling this situation at all well. "Call it a working hypothesis, then."
Ray made a face, but he took off down the steps again. "You're going on your gut. Admit it, you're going on your gut."
The last thing Fraser wanted was an argument. "All right. I'm going on my gut."
"Okay, good," Ray said, but he didn't sound particularly happy about it.
Fraser found the car. Ray couldn't believe it, but there it was, parked three streets over from the Consulate: a green 1982 Honda Civic with plastic taped over the missing passenger-side window and no license plates. Which meant that there was no way they'd have found the car any other way.
Leave it to Fraser to be brilliant while Ray was dying inside. Because Fraser was acting like nothing was different. Like he hadn't walked out. Like there was nothing to explain.
Fraser was acting like last night hadn't meant a thing to him. He was thinking about the case, which Ray was having a damn hard time doing. It was unfair. Completely inhuman. It made Ray want to kick him in the head.
"We gonna talk to the owner again?" he asked, as Fraser finished up his examination of the car.
"That would seem prudent," Fraser agreed. Still keeping his hypothesis -- whatever it was -- under his hat.
They headed two streets over, to the car owner's house, which they had visited yesterday. Fraser was striding along beside Dief like he had absolutely nothing on his mind. Suddenly Ray couldn't take it any more.
"Y'know, you could've left a note."
Fraser looked over at him with that utterly innocent expression. The one that made Ray want to hit him . . . or kiss him. "Excuse me?"
"Hey, look, you're the one who's supposed to be polite. You could've said, 'Hey, Ray, it's been real, but I gotta skidaddle.' Or maybe, 'Sorry, buddy, your bed's too soft. I gotta go stretch out on my own bed of nails.'"
Fraser frowned, still looking confused. "Well, since I spoke to you, I didn't think a note was necessary."
Say what? "You didn't speak to me, Fraser."
"I most certainly did. I told you I had duties to attend to at the Consulate."
It wasn't possible. He would have remembered that. "You should've woken me up first. You ever think of that?"
"You were awake, Ray. You spoke to me."
Oh, geez. It was possible. It was definitely possible. "Doesn't mean I was awake. Hey, I talk sometimes in my sleep. Carry on conversations. It used to drive Stella nuts."
Fraser looked duly chastised. Like he'd been telling the truth the whole time. Of course, he was Fraser. Ray was crazy for thinking he'd lie. "I'm sorry, Ray. I wasn't aware of that."
"Yeah, okay, apology accepted." But the worst part is, it didn't make him feel any better. Fraser was still acting weird -- no, worse, acting normal. "So I guess you're having regrets about last night." It was out before he could stop it. And then he had to listen to Fraser's response.
"Well, not so much regrets, Ray, as . . ."
He didn't need to hear any more. He couldn't stand to hear any more. "Save it, Fraser."
The questioning of the car's owner went nowhere fast. She was surprised the car had been found. She had no idea what could have happened to the license plates. She agreed to go take a look at it. They were on their way out again when Fraser stopped, ever so casually, by the door and said, "I assume your son is at school."
Ray looked around wildly. How the hell did Fraser know she had a son? And then he saw the running shoes sitting by the door. Not real big -- could be size nine. And they were Reeboks.
"Well, he's certainly supposed to be," the woman said tartly. And then they all heard it, a crashing noise from the back part of the house.
"May I?" Fraser asked. Ray didn't stop to wait for an answer. He made it through the kitchen to the back hall in time to see the back door swing shut.
"Chicago PD!" he yelled, and took off down the back steps with Fraser right behind him.
It was a kid, all right. A kid with dark hair in a sweatshirt and jeans. The kid vaulted the back fence into the alley and Ray followed, knowing Fraser would, too. The kid was pelting down the alley. Ray followed suit, drawing his gun.
"Chicago PD," he yelled again, but the kid didn't stop. The kid was fast, no way they were going to catch him. Except Fraser wasn't right behind him, as he'd thought. Fraser was at the end of the alley, in front of the kid.
"Fraser, how did you . . . ?"
"I took a short-cut, Ray."
Right. That could mean anything, and knowing Fraser, the most bizarre explanation was the one that was probably true. Ray shook it off and turned to the kid, who was staring at Fraser. Recognizing him, it looked like. Oh, yeah, this was the right kid.
Ray pulled out his handcuffs. "You have the right to remain silent," he began the necessary chant. "Anything you say can and will be used against you in court. You have the right to a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer . . ."
The suspect was only seventeen, but Ray was grilling him hard. "You broke in, you stole stuff, and you whacked my friend over the head. Oh, yeah. You recognize him, don't you?" Ray was shouting at him, right up in the boy's face. "Recognize that lump on his head? The place where you hit him? That's assault, kid. Maybe attempted murder. You know what you get for that?"
The boy was looking quite frightened already. "Ray," Fraser said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "He didn't hit me that hard."
Ray shrugged his hand off and Fraser felt a peculiar pain in the vicinity of his heart. "He knocked you out cold, Fraser. Rattled your brains pretty good."
Fraser fingered the bruise on his forehead, which hardly hurt at all today. "I'm sure he didn't mean to kill me." He leaned forward to see the boy's face clearly. "You know, it would make things much simpler if you would tell us what happened to Inspector Thatcher's brooch."
The boy screwed up his face. "I don't know. I'm telling you, I didn't take anything!"
"But you were there," Fraser said. He was sure of it now. There was something very familiar in the size and shape of the boy, in the way he moved.
The boy dropped his head into his hands. "I didn't mean to hit you," he whispered. "I didn't know there was anyone in there."
"Oh, is that a confession?" Ray said. "That sounds like a confession."
"Ray," Fraser said.
"C'mon, Fraser, the guy cracked you on the head! He could've killed you."
"That is immaterial, Ray. What matters is locating the Inspector's brooch."
The boy's face was still buried in his hands. "Please don't tell my mom."
Ray looked from Fraser to the boy and back again. "Fraser, can I have a word with you?"
"Of course," Fraser said. And to the boy: "If you'll excuse us."
Ray herded him out of the interrogation room and out into the corridor. "Fraser, do not do this to me, okay? You're undermix -- undermoor --"
"Yeah. Undermining my authority, here."
"I'm sorry, Ray. It's just . . ."
"Well, I don't see the point in pressing the assault charges when what we really want is the brooch. The boy might be more cooperative if he knew he could get off lightly in return for information."
Ray stared at him. "What do you mean, 'what we really want is the brooch'? This guy --"
"It's a lovely piece of jewelry, Ray, and the Inspector has a strong sentimental attachment to it."
"I don't care if it's the Crown Jewels, Fraser. He hit you."
As misguided as that was, Fraser couldn't help feeling a warmth inside. Ray might regret last night, but at least he still cared. "He didn't do any lasting damage, Ray."
"What do you mean, 'no lasting damage'? He ruined my life."
For the first time, Fraser noticed that Ray's eyes were looking suspiciously shiny. And while he didn't quite understand how a blow to his head could ruin Ray's life, he knew they needed to talk about it, and the corridor of the 27th District police station was not the right place. "Excuse me," he said to a uniformed officer who just happened to be standing in the corridor. "Would you mind guarding this door for a few minutes?"
The officer complied, and Fraser took Ray by the elbow.
That quieted him long enough to steer him down the corridor. They needed someplace private, and the men's room wouldn't do -- too much traffic. No, it had to be the supply closet.
Ray gave him a funny look, but he let himself be steered inside. Fraser shut the door behind them and turned to face Ray in the ensuing blackness. "I believe there's a vital piece of information I'm missing here," he began. "So if you would kindly . . . "
He never got any further. His words were cut off by Ray's mouth, hard and hot against his. For a moment he couldn't do anything. He knew he shouldn't be kissing Ray, knew he was wrong for Ray, whatever other ideas Ray seemed to have about it. But he couldn't help himself. Ray's mouth was demanding and somehow bittersweet, like he'd been frustrated all morning, too. Like he'd been missing this as much as Fraser had.
Fraser groaned and pulled him close, and for an timeless moment it was bliss. Ray's arms came up around him, Ray's tongue tangled with his. And then Ray pushed him away.
"Damn it. Damn it all, Fraser. How could you?"
He didn't understand at all, and he desperately needed to. "How could I what, Ray?"
"Look, you're the one who's supposed to be having regrets, here."
"I don't believe I said I was having regrets. I merely . . ."
"You want to repeat last night?"
"It's not a question of what I want," Fraser said, gently as he could. "It wouldn't be right."
"Oh, great. Now you're talking right and wrong. You couldn't have brought that up last night? Like before we jumped in the sack? Oh, no, of course you couldn't. That kid ruined my life."
There was still a connection he wasn't making. "Ray, I'm not sure what the suspect has to do with --" But before he could finish the thought, the closet door opened, flooding light into the narrow space.
"Frannie, what do you think you're doing?" Ray was immediately on the defensive -- understandably so.
Francesca Vecchio looked from Ray to Fraser and then back to Ray again. "I'm looking for fax paper. What are you doing? Hi, Frayzh."
Fraser clasped his hands behind his back and did his best to look nonchalant. "Francesca."
"We're . . . we're talking about a case," Ray said. It was actually reasonably close to the truth.
"In the closet?"
"Yeah, in the closet." Ray turned and picked something off a shelf. "Here's your fax paper. Now, am-scray."
"Aren't we touchy today?" Francesca said. And then with a smile in his direction, "Bye, Frayzh."
Fraser had to say something, so he settled for his usual, "Francesca."
She closed the door and it was black again.
"Fraser," Ray started, and then stopped again. "Look, this is not a good place for a private conversation."
"I'm sorry, Ray. It was the best I could do."
"I know," Ray said. "Can we . . . can we go someplace and talk? I mean, not now. Later. Like tonight or something."
Fraser felt something inside him unclench, just a little. Maybe they would be able to work this out. Maybe they would . . . no. He couldn't ask for that. Couldn't let himself give in and hurt Ray all the more. "Of course," he said. "I'm afraid that right now we should return to questioning our suspect."
"Right," Ray said. Even in the dark, Fraser could tell he was fidgeting again. "Look, you want to have a crack at him, go ahead. Just don't . . ."
"Don't what, Ray?"
It seemed it was to the point where they were having trouble saying anything to each other, but at least Ray was willing to trust him with the suspect. It wasn't much, but it was something. Fraser reached out and opened the closet door.
"So you believe him when he says he didn't take anything." They were on their way back to the Consulate for reasons apparent only to Fraser.
"At this point I would consider belief premature; however I think it is sensible to attempt to check his version of the events."
"Yeah, okay, I'm with you on that." Ray followed Fraser up the steps to the Consulate. He wasn't sure if things were better or worse, now, since the thing in the closet. They were going to hash it out sometime tonight. He didn't know whether to be nervous or terrified . . . but Fraser had kissed him back. It was a tiny shred of hope, but he was clinging to it as hard as he could.
Fraser strode into the Consulate and went straight to the Ice Queen's office. He raised a hand and -- hey, even Fraser was human -- hesitated a moment before knocking.
"Come in," Thatcher's voice called.
Fraser entered and Ray followed right behind him. "Ah, sir," Fraser said. "If it's not terribly inconvenient, I was hoping we could search your office."
Thatcher did not look pleased. "This office was fully inventoried yesterday, Constable. There's nothing left to find."
Fraser pulled on one ear. Nervous as a kid in the principal's office. It made Ray want to protect him in all sorts of weird ways. "We, uh, we got reason to believe there might be." Not that he'd really figured out what that reason was, but if Fraser thought it, that was good enough for him.
Thatcher turned her glare to him. "If you were interested in the contents of this office, Detective, you should have joined the search crew yesterday."
Right. Yesterday. When he'd been sick with worry that Fraser had been hurt.
"Please, sir," Fraser said. "It will only take a few minutes. And it might be of great assistance in finding your brooch."
Thatcher got to her feet, clearly still not pleased, but she said, "All right, Constable. If you must."
Fraser got down on his hands and knees, searching the floor. Ray wasn't quite sure what he was looking for, but he got down to help. It was better than standing around staring at the Ice Queen, anyway.
"Sir, you said you last saw the brooch here? At your desk?" Fraser was poking around beneath the desk drawers.
"It was right here," Thatcher said. "I came back to the Consulate after a -- after a dinner engagement. I left it in my top desk drawer."
"Ah." Fraser was now half under the desk, peering upwards. "Ray, would you be so kind as to look?"
Ray got to his feet and opened the drawer under Thatcher's skeptical gaze.
"The drawer has been searched," she said.
If it was her word against Fraser's, Ray knew who he was betting on. He searched through the contents, mostly binder clips, staplers, pens, and rubber bands. "Nothing but desk stuff, Fraser."
"Try closing it."
He slid it shut, but it didn't go quite all the way. "Huh. That's funny." He opened it again and stuck his hand to the back of the drawer. There was something obstructing it. Something . . . "Ouch." He yanked his hand back and sucked on his finger. Damn. Bitten again.
"I suspected as much," Fraser said, still under the desk. He reached up and the drawer rattled. And then moments later he was on his feet, a sparkly little something in his hand. He turned and gave it to Thatcher. "I believe you were missing this?"
"I trust it is unharmed."
Thatcher turned the pin over in her hands. "Perfectly intact." Then she looked up at Fraser with an expression of utter confusion. "How did you know it was here?"
It was a question Ray wouldn't mind having answered, himself. Fraser cleared his throat. "The young man said he had not had time to take anything before I interrupted him, and that he had been so frightened, he had left immediately. If that were the case, the brooch must have been lost in some other manner, say, during a vigorous search of the crime scene. While I could not be certain that he was telling the truth, his demeanor as well as what Ray would call his 'modus operandi' suggested that he was not an experienced thief."
Ray just looked at him. Fraser was giving him credit for vocabulary when they were Fraser-words. He'd looked them up recently because he'd read them somewhere and figured Fraser would know what they meant. Which Fraser obviously did. But Fraser was acting like they were words Ray used all the time.
Making him look good in front of the Inspector. Not that Ray cared what she thought . . . but he did care about Fraser. What Fraser thought meant the world.
"So you knew all along?" he asked as they left Thatcher's office. "When I was going on about conspiracies and guys out to get you, you knew it was just some kid making a dumb mistake?"
"Not at all," Fraser said. "I merely thought . . ."
"That sometimes things appear more complicated than they actually are."
They picked up a pizza on the way to Ray's apartment, but by the time they got there, Fraser wasn't feeling particularly hungry. There was a cold lump of trepidation in his stomach, and he couldn't seem to make it go away no matter how many times he told himself he had to do what was right. Right for Ray, and therefore for himself.
"You, uh, you want to eat now?"
"If you're hungry."
But Ray made a face that looked like he was feeling queasy, as well. "Not really. We can have it later." And he shoved the pizza box into the fridge. "You want some tea?"
"No, thank you."
Ray turned back to him with a nervous motion of hands. "Yeah, okay, let's go sit down."
Fraser had changed out of his uniform into jeans and a flannel shirt, but it wasn't making him feel any more comfortable. He sat in the brown easy chair and let Ray have the couch. It was easier that way, less tempting, but it didn't stop the ache in his heart.
Ray leaned forward, his elbows balanced on his knees, his eyes staring blankly ahead.
"I'm terribly sorry, Ray," Fraser said, and heard his own voice break. "I never wanted to hurt you."
"Yeah." Ray scrubbed his face with his hands. "Me, too. It was, uh, it was my fault, for taking advantage. I knew it was dumb and I did it anyway."
Taking advantage? "You didn't take advantage of me, Ray."
That earned him a haunted look. "Sure I did. Look, I knew your brain was rattled, and I kissed you anyway."
His brain? Was that what Ray was worried about? "I can assure you that I was in full possession of my faculties last night," Fraser said softly. "I knew what I was doing."
Ray looked over again, his forehead creased. "You're sure of that?"
"Yes," Fraser said. "I've suffered head injuries before. As a matter of fact, there was one time when I actually forgot my own name. Ray -- Ray Vecchio, that is -- had to tell me who I was. And even then I couldn't figure out how to put on my uniform correctly."
"I know," Ray said. "It was in the case files. I guess I just, well, I thought this was similar."
Ah. That began to explain his concern, not to mention his anger at the would-be thief. Fraser swallowed hard. But he had to tell Ray something of the truth, even if it added to his pain. He owed Ray that much. "Ray, I . . . what I felt for you last night was not entirely new. I had been wanting . . . that . . . for quite some time."
Ray's chin jerked up and Fraser could hear his intake of breath. "You wanted me," he breathed.
"Before. I mean, before last night."
Ray turned his head, his eyes boring into Fraser's. "D'you want me now?"
It was the question he was dreading, because the only honest answer was a yes. "I, ah . . . I'd rather not say."
"You'd rather not say. Wh -- what kind of an answer is that, Fraser?" Ray jumped to his feet and paced over to the opposite side of the room, where his bicycle was hanging on its stand. "C'mon. That's not fair. I thought we were supposed to be talking."
Fraser hung his head. Ray was right. But he couldn't say it; he didn't dare, because if he said it, he was too afraid Ray would kiss him and he would lose his head again. "I'm sorry," he said. "I just . . . well, I know I'm not right for you. I'm not what you need."
Ray turned to face him, but didn't come any closer. "How do you know what I need?"
"I know you," he explained. "I know what's important to you. And I . . . I can't give you that."
"You can't love me."
It hurt. It hurt like a knife through him, that Ray could think that. Love. Oh, yes, he could love. But he couldn't love the way Ray needed him to love. "Ray, I . . . I'm not a woman."
"You think I don't know that?"
"No, well, of course not. It's just . . ."
"Oh, I get it. That's just great. You're into the horizontal mambo, but you can't actually have feelings for a guy. That would be against some kind of Mountie code or something."
"No," Fraser said. His heart was breaking with every word. "No, Ray, I . . . I love you."
"Oh, yeah? Like a brother or something, right? Like a best buddy?"
He'd lost all rational thought. "No."
Somehow Ray was right there in front of him, arms crossed over his chest, looking down into Fraser's face. "Fraser, you better explain yourself, 'cause I think I'm either gonna kiss you or pop you in the head."
For once the latter option seemed almost rational. "I can't bear children, Ray."
Ray made an impatient gesture, crossing and uncrossing his arms. "There you go with the obvious again."
"I know how much having children means to you." Once he'd started to say it, it was easier to go on. "I know that was . . . an issue with you and Stella. I can't . . . I don't want to be responsible for hurting you that way again."
Ray frowned and shifted on his feet. "Let me get this straight. You think I'm gonna break up with you because you can't have kids."
"Fraser, anybody ever tell you you're unhinged?"
"I believe you have. Quite frequently, in fact."
Ray shook his head and then, without any warning, bent forward and pressed his mouth to Fraser's. It was hot and sweet and Fraser was too confused to resist. He hooked his fingers in Ray's shoulder holster -- convenient handle, that -- and pulled him down into his lap.
Ray moaned and slid an arm around his neck. Their mouths fused, and Fraser stopped thinking. He wanted to feel every inch of Ray pressed up against him. He needed . . . this.
"Fraser," Ray whispered and let go his mouth to kiss his neck. "You're an idiot." Somehow from Ray's lips that was a term of endearment.
"Are you saying . . ." He was having trouble stringing words together, much less thoughts. "Are you saying you don't want children?"
Ray lifted his head. "No, I do. I mean, I like kids. But with me and Stella it got to be this thing . . . I don't know. It was like I thought that if she wanted to have kids it'd be proof she really loved me."
"Ah." That almost made sense, even to Fraser's desire-fogged brain. "But you could still miss being able to have a family."
Ray started fiddling with the buttons of his shirt, and Fraser was suddenly very glad he wasn't wearing his uniform. "If I . . . if I had you, that would be having family. I wouldn't need anything else."
Fraser's heart turned over. Ray was serious. And serious about this relationship. As was he, but he just hadn't thought . . . "Perhaps my concerns are a bit premature at this juncture."
"Yeah, you could say that." Ray had a hand inside his shirt now, stroking, rubbing, pinching. "Is this premature?"
"No," Fraser groaned.
"Good," Ray said, and undid more buttons.
Fraser had hang-ups, too. It was nuts. It was a revelation. Ray snuggled down in the chair with him and kissed him, tasting that gorgeous mouth that was his. His for now, and maybe longer.
Fraser liked him. Cared about him. Wanted him. He could taste it on Fraser's lips, could feel it in every tremble of Fraser's body. Fraser had been holding back for his sake.
It was amazing. Almost as amazing as the feel of Fraser's body under his, the sweet ache that was starting in his groin and spreading outward.
"You want to go into the bedroom?"
Fraser's answer was another wordless groan, but he didn't resist when Ray got up off him and pulled him to his feet. He didn't let go of Ray's hand, either. Ray pulled him into the bedroom and set to work on his clothes. He wasn't in the mood for a slow strip tease this time -- he wanted Fraser naked, and as soon as possible.
The shirt was almost off already -- all he had to do was push it off those broad shoulders and down Fraser's arms. There were marks on Fraser's chest. Small ones, but he remembered how they'd got there. Ray paused to kiss the little bruise by the collarbone, then trailed his tongue down to the scrape near the right nipple. Yeah, that was from his teeth. He was going to have to be more careful this time.
Fraser was tugging at him, and it took a moment to realize he was trying to take off the holster. Right. Clothing. Ray unclipped the holster and dropped in on the ground, then let Fraser pull his shirt over his head. Fraser's hands went immediately to his fly, which said Fraser had the same idea he did.
In a flurry of shoving and tugging they got out of two pairs of jeans, two sets of socks and shoes and underwear. Then they were gloriously naked and Fraser was in his arms with the bed only three steps away.
Ray lifted his hands to Fraser's hair and ran his fingers through the tamed curls, mussing them. He wanted to lay claim to every single body part, from the ends of Fraser's hair to the bottoms of his feet. He wanted Fraser to belong to him, the way he so deeply belonged to Fraser.
"Ray." Fraser's eyes were so dark the blue looked completely gray. "Ray, I love you."
The words send a little shiver down his spine. He wasn't used to them, yet. It was all too new. "Yeah, me too," he whispered.
Fraser's arms tightened around him. "You're sure?"
Like Fraser could have doubts, too. "Oh, yeah."
"Thank you," Fraser said, which was a goofy thing to be saying now, of all times. But then Fraser kissed him and he forgot why.
"Bed," Ray managed, and they stumbled to it together, never letting go. But then somehow Fraser -- was he always like this? - - got him flat on his back and started doing that licking thing. Tasting his neck, the hollow of his throat, his left shoulder.
The world narrowed down to the wet rasp of that tongue and the sound of Fraser's breathing, almost as ragged as Ray's own. He felt cool where Fraser's tongue had just been, and hot everywhere else. He could die now -- crazy thought, but he couldn't stop it -- die now, and never regret it.
The tongue found his chest, found his nipples, sending electric jolts shooting through him. It meandered downward, further downward . . . oh, yeah.
Fraser wasn't just licking this time. Fraser took his cock -- oh, geez, the whole thing, all the way to the root -- into his mouth, and Ray's body convulsed, out of his control.
"Ray --" Sensation abandoned him, heat was replaced by cool air. "I'm sorry. Did I do that wrong?"
"No. It's good." He wanted it back. He had to have it back. "It's perfect. Fraser . . . please."
Fraser's mouth took him slowly this time, sliding down, engulfing him. It was perfect. It was exquisite torture. He wanted it to go on forever, but it was too strong. He was never going to last, and he wanted . . . he knew exactly what he wanted.
"Fraser --" The hot mouth abandoned him again, and he almost regretted it. Almost, but not quite.
"I'm sorry, Ray," Fraser said, lifting his head to meet Ray's eyes. "I'm obviously still learning."
"Fraser, shut up," Ray said. But Fraser's face fell, and he realized that hadn't come out right. "Look, you do not need lessons, okay? Trust me on that. You're great. I just want something else."
"Oh. I see." But Fraser was still looking a little lost.
"I want you to . . ." No, this was Fraser he was talking to. He ought to watch his language. "I want you inside me."
Fraser's chin came up and his eyes went wide. "Are you sure?"
"Hey, you think I don't know what I want?"
Fraser's eyes dropped and his cheeks went pink. There was something going on there, something Ray didn't quite get. He'd thought that this was what Fraser wanted, too -- after all, he'd done that thing with his tongue last night, hadn't he? "Ray, you don't have to do this."
"Never said I had to. Just wanted to. But if it doesn't turn your crank, that's okay."
Fraser looked at him, but the color in his cheeks didn't fade. "You really want to."
He got it, then. Fraser did want it. But Fraser was worried about him again. "Yeah."
"Won't it hurt?"
"Hurts so good. Never heard of that?"
Fraser went a deeper shade of pink, which meant he did get it. But then, he ought to -- he was the one who liked teeth. "If it's really what you want . . ."
"I do." And to prove it, Fraser kissed him, kissed him and pulled him close. It was intoxicating, just like before. If he didn't watch it, he was going to lose his head all over again.
"Hang on a sec," Ray said, and squirmed free to root in his nightstand drawer. He had the stuff, he knew he did. There. He pulled out one plastic wrapper and a tube of lubricant and placed them on the bed next to Fraser. "Supplies," he explained, because Fraser was looking at them with obvious curiosity.
"You know how to use them?"
"I believe so."
He was so utterly earnest, Ray couldn't help chuckling. "Good." Then, as Fraser bent to kiss his side: "Just, um, go slow."
Fraser didn't reach for the lube, though, and for a moment Ray thought he was going to have to spell it out. But then Fraser shifted against him and the tongue made its lazy way down to his hipbone.
He knew what he wanted, then. And Fraser knew, too, he was sure of it. The tongue kept moving, found his balls and gave them a thorough exploration. And then . . . yes . . . moved downward.
A tingle went up Ray's spine, and he couldn't help gasping. It felt so good in an entirely different way. He never thought he'd be so grateful for Fraser's habit of putting his tongue just about anywhere. Okay, he'd thought it. He just hadn't known it would feel so good.
Too soon and not nearly soon enough, Fraser's hand joined his tongue. Oh, yeah, he knew what he was doing. Or else he was a damn quick study. Fraser's mouth left him for a moment, and Ray heard the pop of the tube opening. Then he was being touched again, a cool, slippery finger was pressing against him. Pressing into him. Filling him.
"Is that all right?" Fraser asked. Like he couldn't tell.
"It's good. It's good. Fraser . . . hurry."
"I thought you told me to go slow."
How to tell him he was on the edge already, when Fraser wasn't even touching his cock? How to say he needed this, more than he'd ever needed anything? "There's such a thing as too slow, okay?"
The finger moved inside him, pulling, stretching. A second joined it. Yes, that was two. But Fraser had big hands.
"I'll hurt you."
"I don't care." Ray found the plastic wrapper on the bed beside him and ripped it open with his teeth. Fraser was ready, thank God, and Fraser let him put the condom on him without further protest. Ray grabbed a pillow and shoved it under his hips. It would probably be easier to roll over, but he couldn't help it: he wanted to see Fraser's face.
Fraser found his mouth and kissed him, so hard Ray forgot to breathe. And then Fraser was between his legs, pressing against him.
It hurt, but not as much as he'd expected, given Fraser's size and his own -- admit it -- impatience. But then, Fraser wasn't pushing very hard. Damn it. Not nearly hard enough. Ray hooked his ankles around Fraser's legs and pulled him close. Hard. Yes.
Fraser's eyes shot open. "Ray!"
"Damn it, Fraser, fuck me."
Fraser gulped, but he didn't say a word about bad language. He just bent down to find Ray's mouth and started to move.
It was heat and power, everywhere. It was better than anything he'd ever felt before. Ray reached down to touch his own cock, timing his strokes to Fraser's thrusts. It was a perfect rhythm, like dancing, and he wanted it to last forever. But he couldn't help himself. Fraser had managed to find an angle that . . . oh, geez. Oh, God. He was over the edge. He was falling. The sweet rush was coming, and Fraser was still moving, Fraser was holding tight, Fraser was pulsing inside him.
It wasn't supposed to be perfect, he thought with the one part of him that was still able to think. Not the first time. Not the second. But then, he'd never made love to someone like Fraser before.
Maybe the person who invented that rule hadn't, either.
Fraser collapsed onto the bed next to Ray, half over Ray, not wanting to crush him, but too exhausted-sated-full to position himself properly. He still couldn't believe what had just happened. That Ray had honestly wanted . . . that.
It was making him think the strangest things. Making him wonder whether it were possible he'd been reading Ray wrong, all this time. Making him want to try doing the same thing again, only reversing their positions. And he hadn't even known he wanted that.
Fraser propped himself up on one elbow next to Ray so he could see Ray's face. Ray's eyes were closed, but his expression was beautiful. But then, everything about Ray was beautiful. Fraser reached his other hand out to touch Ray's chest. He could feel Ray's heartbeat, starting to slow now beneath his hand. He stroked downward, trying to memorize every line of the lean body, the whipcord muscles. He remembered feeling this way about Victoria, that every inch of her was perfect. But with Victoria, he'd always felt the darkness underneath, too, and all he could feel in Ray was light. Blinding light.
Ray's eyes came open, looking right at him. Ray's hand came up, and a knuckle brushed his lips. "You okay?" Ray asked.
Fraser nodded. He was okay. Far better than okay. "I'm just looking at you."
Ray dropped his hand back onto the mattress and half-smiled, suddenly self-conscious. "Do I have something in my teeth?"
Fraser smiled. He couldn't help it. "No, Ray. You're beautiful."
Ray's smile brightened, like the sun coming through the clouds. "So you decided you're qualified to judge, after all?"
It was a complicated question, one that went deep. "Do you mean as a woman?"
Ray shook his head in exaggerated disgust, but he was still half- smiling. "I told you, I'm not looking for a woman. I like you the way you are."
It was foolish semantics to ask, but Fraser couldn't help himself. "Are you saying that when you look at me, you no longer think of the picture?"
Ray's face wrinkled in confusion. "Picture? What picture? What are you talking about, Fraser?"
"The one of me dressed as a woman. The one that started you thinking about me . . . this way."
To his utter astonishment, Ray tipped his head back and laughed. "Oh, that's a good one. How'd you figure that? You been reading tea leaves again or something?"
"Well, I . . ." He suddenly didn't understand Ray at all. "I'm sorry. I'm not sure I follow you."
"You really think . . . ? Fraser, you ever think of getting your head examined? And I don't mean for the bump." Ray propped himself up and kissed him, and Fraser didn't protest, even if he still didn't understand. "Look, this thing I got for you goes way back. Way before I ever found that picture. Heck, the only reason I got all hot for her was she was the only girl I'd wanted to look at in months. I was too busy daydreaming about you."
Fraser's head reeled. Ray had wanted him. Him, not some distorted image of him. Fraser didn't know why that mattered so much, but it did. "I'm afraid I was jealous of her," he confessed.
"Fraser, how could you be jealous of her? She's you."
"I thought you could love her, when you couldn't love me."
"Crazy Mountie," Ray said, but it was another term of endearment, because Ray lifted his head and treated Fraser to another long, warm kiss.
"It does appear I was mistaken."
"Oh, yeah." Ray's mouth left his and found its way to his earlobe, where it began teasing and sucking in a most astonishing fashion.
"Ray . . ."
Ray let go his ear and looked at him. "What?"
He had to say it. Had to know. "You won't . . . leave me?"
Ray reached one hand up to touch his face, trailed slender fingers down the side of his cheek. "Long as you want me, I'm yours," he said softly.
Fraser reached for him and pulled him close to just hold him. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I just . . ."
"I know," Ray said against his ear. "It's okay." And Fraser realized suddenly that Ray did understand. About everything that mattered. And Ray loved him. He was sure of that now. He lost himself in the embrace, not moving, just holding Ray, and feeling Ray hold him in return. It was all he wanted. Everything he wanted, and he wanted it to last forever. But then he felt Ray shift against him, and felt a burgeoning hardness against his hip.
Fraser lifted his head. "Ray?"
He didn't really want to protest. He just wanted to make sure this was what Ray wanted. "Aren't you hungry? We did get that pizza . . ."
"Pizza can wait," Ray said, and pulled him back down against the bed. "Pizza can rot if it wants to."
Fraser didn't complain. As far as he was concerned the pizza could wait forever . . . or possibly longer.
He molded his body to Ray's and lost himself in the kiss.