Manna LaDroit

Title: Fortune
Author: Manna La Droit
Pairings: Fraser/Vecchio
Part: The Whole Thing (I can't believe I ate it...)
Rating: NC-17 for m/m sex
Warnings/Notices: I use spoilers for all sorts of episodes, in my universe the series ended with "Flashback," and there's major hot Mountie love ahead.


Racine Street wasn't supposed to get this quiet.

There was always something making noise in this lousy neighborhood: kids shouting at each other, hoods shooting at each other, dogs barking and cats yowling, and the background drone and whoosh of traffic.

For that matter, the building wasn't supposed to be this quiet either. The walls were pretty thick, but the hallways were a giant playground (safer than the streets) until sundown, and then a meeting place for the adults. And, usually, there was someone knocking on Fraser's door, wanting something.

Just his luck, Ray thought, not even a weirdo to nag them while he and Benny just sat there, looking at each other, trying to find something to say that wouldn't make the ceiling fall down on them.

Ray envisioned today's news like a bomb, ticking away in the center of the room. Poor Dief was hiding from them both under the bed, deaf but not a dummy.

Fraser moved, just slightly, on the ratty kitchen chair, making a little creak. Both men froze, and Ray thought Benny would say something. When he didn't, Ray closed his eyes, shutting out the rest of the world along with it. It was a survival trick learned by all sons raised with lots of women in the house.

He'd never needed it with Fraser before.

"Ray." Fraser's voice was actually shaking a little. "We should talk about this."

"You think?!" Ray didn't open his eyes.

It had been a normal day, like a hundred other days...which meant, actually, that it wasn't normal at all. Nothing that involved a Mountie and his deaf wolf and his assortment of damsels and kids and everybody else in distress was normal.

Ray sighed and gave into it. Actually, yes, for him, it was normal.

"She might just have been, er, yanking our chain."

Ray's eyes opened fast at that one.


Fraser's chin came up just slightly. "I have been in Chicago for over three years now, Ray. I have picked up *some* of the local parlance."

Ray considered that. And considered that Fraser might be right. The old crone might just have been yanking their chain.

"She didn't ask for money," Ray announced, killing some of the hope inside himself. "She didn't leave a path back to her so we could give her money later. She didn't do anything."

"Well, she did quite a lot, Ray."

"You don't say?" Ray's tone got the room silent again. He tried to think, tried to strike a compromise between staring helplessly across the room at his friend and closing his eyes...and curling up into a little ball and whimpering until the world stopped messing with his head.

He'd seen the mime first, but, like a fool, he hadn't pulled his gun. Dief had run forward, barking at the smells of fried dough and candy. Some kid had seen all that white fur and launched himself at it, screaming with joy, until Dief and kid and then some other kid and quite a bit of popcorn and cotton candy made this sort of squirming heap in the middle of the street.

All of which wasn't so bad, because the road was cordoned off for the street carnival, this one in support of St. Jude's Home for Young Girls, so the banner said.

Fraser got surrounded by some of those young girls, and Ray ended up buying some raffle tickets, then someone seemed to think Dief was part of the act and starting shouting for a show, which pissed off the real performer -- a guy juggling fire sticks by that time -- and so Fraser and Ray and a chastised Dief stood to one side to watch.

Besides the juggler and the mime, there was a moonwalk bubble, stalls for candy and snacks and soft drinks, a sketch artist, some currently resting break-dancers, a girl doing tricks on skates, and a pretty fortune teller wrapped in scarves and making goo-goo eyes at Fraser.

Ray had sighed. So much for the only worthwhile distraction.

A woman's voice spoke from behind them. "You want your fortune told, Ray?"

Both men turned, Ray's smile up as he prepared to greet a relative. The expression didn't falter in the slightest when he didn't remotely recognize the ancient Italian woman dressed in black from hat to toe. She was probably a cousin on his dad's side, or maybe even a great-aunt.

"Nah," he said. "Just enjoying the sight of people on the street not committing a crime."

The woman sniffed. "It *is* a crime, dressed like that, with cards she bought at the K-Mart. She tempts a curse, and the devil will answer."

"Aw, she's havin' fun," Ray said, hoping Fraser would understand he hadn't introduced him because he didn't know the woman's name.

"Fortune-telling is a traditional part of the carnival," Fraser put in, looking -- Ray noticed -- everywhere but at the pretty girl herself. "I believe it can be traced back to the Roma --"

"Making excuses for fraud, Benton," the women scolded. "It won't do."

"Excuse me. Have we met?"

The woman sniffed again, an unpleasant reminder that she herself smelled rather odd: dust and yeast and beer with cigarette smoke, like a bar that made bread and never got cleaned.

"Breaks my heart," she said finally.


"Love wasted," she said, glaring at them now, as though she'd caught them tying cans to her dog's tail. "Breaks my heart."

Ray had half-checked his wallet...or his gun. Truth to tell, sitting in Fraser's apartment now, listening to how damn quiet it was, he wasn't sure exactly what he'd started to reach for.

"There is always the possibility," Fraser said, his chair squeaking just slightly as he shifted with care, "that we misinterpreted her words."

"She said we're a couple of fags and hiding it, Fraser."

The Mountie frowned and stood up. Ray knew he was going to putter around the kitchen now, fussing over tea. He took to staring at the shabby floor, thinking, not for the first time, that he should get Fraser a rug.

"That's not what she said, Ray."

Vecchio closed his eyes. Benny would recite the whole damn speech from memory now, word for damn word.

"She said we loved each other, that we were wasting it."

"I was there, Fraser," Ray said, but it was a half-hearted attempt.

"She said, 'Love wasted. Breaks my heart. The best thing, the only thing, and most people die choking because they don't have it. You two...' At least, I believe she said 'You two,' as in the number, but I'm uncertain, as she took this opportunity to express her feelings by spitting. It could have been 'You too,' but I don't believe so."

Ray refused to answer during the long pause afforded him.

"'So much love I could drown in it, and what? You chase dream women and weave stories. You'll die alone, both of you, hurting yourselves, each other, everyone around you. Makes my gall rise. I should curse you myself. Goddamned waste.'"

"And then she got on her broom and flew away," Ray muttered.

"We should have been so lucky, Ray. I believe several people in the vicinity were listening attentively at this point, and so must have heard her say..."

Ray covered his ears, but he still heard it anyway.

"...'Sex in this filthy town everywhere you look, shameless lonely people pining for what you got, and you don't even use it. Live and die virgins for all the use you're putting to this gift you should go down on your knees and thank the angels for. Makes me sick."

"And *then* she got on her broom and flew away," Ray said, standing up now, relieved the replay was over.

"She got into a taxi, Ray, but your point is taken."

"I ain't making a point, Fraser. I'm just saying she's a crazy old hag and we should just forget about the whole thing."


"I don't wanna hear an Inuit story!"

Fraser blinked. "How did you know I --"

"Three years, Benny! Three years of Inuit stories! I know!"

"It's...extremely pertinent."

"Nothing about a caribou is pertinent, Fraser."

"She looked at my back, Ray."


"When she talked about how we hurt ourselves, loving the wrong people, she was looking right at my back...or rather, through me, around to my back."

"So she was looking at your chest."

"She was looking right at it, Ray."

"The bullet? My bullet?"

"Well, I believe it's mine now, Ray."

"Don't joke about it!"

"And she mentioned telling stories and dream women, a fairly accurate description of our attempts at romance, Ray."

"It's just vague stuff, Benny, stuff that you can take a thousand ways." The kettle on the stove began to whine.

"She knew our names, knew know, that we're closer --"

"We ain't that close!"

"But she seems to feel we should be."

"What are you suggesting?" Ray's voice rose high enough to blend into the kettle's whistle. Fraser shook his head, turned off the fire and poured the water into two cups.

"I'm not suggesting anything, Ray. I'm simply trying to understand an event in my life that currently...well, throws me."

He handed a cup of tea to Ray, who took it with a scowl but didn't ask for coffee instead. He was nursing a strong suspicion that Benny was trying to wean him off coffee, but a complete confidence in the man's inability to succeed kept him quiet.

"Look, Benny, there's a thousand different ways she could know our names." Ray sipped at the tea. Not too bad. "For all we know, she's Welsh's sister and the guys at the station are...uh...yanking our chain."

Fraser frowned at him, rubbed his eyebrow with his thumb, and then set down his mug before going to his father's trunk and fetching out one of his journals. Ray watched him quietly, still sipping, and spared a moment for thinking about those little books and what they meant to his friend.

His own father had left him a house and all the people inside it. Those responsibilities spoke in his father's voice every day, softened by the love he enjoyed, jabbing every now and then with Frannie's fits or his mother's reproachful eyes. He hadn't seen his father's actual ghost in a while, but he knew the old man would be there the next time he would be least welcome.

It was odd, but...familiar, this habit of Fraser's to read through those handwritten pages to hear the best parts of his father's life, or at least, the parts worth writing about. Not for the first time, he wondered what his old man would have written down if he'd gone in for journals. The bets he lost? The people he owned money to? The bottles of whiskey he remembered most fondly? His mother eating cheesecake with a knife and fork? That time Ray had thrown his considerable childhood weight into a punch at Alfred Resprizzo after he'd snapped Frannie's bra strap?

Ray shook off the mood, taking the journal Fraser was now holding out to him and following his finger down to the line the Mountie evidently wanted him to read.

*I wonder at a couple like that, sheltering each other against the ice storm to the very last. Every time I close my eyes I see them, twined together in death, holding on so hard they must have thought that embrace would bind them all the way to heaven. I can't help but feel ashamed, thinking of Caroline. I feel sometimes I might as well live and die a virgin for all the use I'm putting to this gift I should go down on my knees and thank the angels for. I looked down at them and wondered if they shared their final breaths together, and I wanted to hold my family and tell them what they meant to me. They'll be sleeping now, six hundred and eight-four miles away from me, due south.*

It took Ray a minute to get his mouth working right.

"Don't suppose you've been showing this around, huh?"

"No, Ray."

"Then we're dealing with someone who got in here, and then got her to use this against us."

"Or we're dealing with someone --"

Ray closed the journal with a slap and set it down on the table. "No way, Fraser."

"Ray --"

"I don't wanna hear your ideas about how she's the genuine article, Fraser! We know now she's not just some nut off the street, she's part of something and we need to figure out what it is."

But Fraser shook his head. "You're still overlooking something, Ray."

"Yeah? What?"


"What about him?" Ray looked over at the bed. He could see the tip of a wolf tail.

"Dief accepted her."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" Ray stomped over to the bed. "Furball, get out here!"

Dief's face peeked out.

"All the way out."

With somewhat hampered dignity, the four-legged member of the team came out from under the bed.

"What do you know about that woman on the street, huh? You keeping something from me?"

Dief whined.

"Don't give me that. What do you know? Huh?" Vecchio wheeled around to glare at Fraser. "What does he know?"

"He doesn't know anything, Ray. He trusts her."


"He doesn't know."

Ray glared at Dief now. "You trust her? Why?"

Dief whined again, then laid down with his reproachful eyes on Ray, begging understanding.

"Why is this my life?" Ray asked the ceiling.

"Ray. Ray."


Fraser's voice was small and quiet, and Ray's stomach rolled over with dread even before he made out the words.

"I think we should consider what she said."


Fraser's voice got smaller and quieter. "If it's true..."

"It ain't true."

Fraser's face didn't alter in the slightest, and yet Ray could only see a wounded puppy in those gray-blue eyes.

"Okay. Sit." Ray set the mug down and waved his arms back at the chairs. Honestly, would it kill the guy to have some real furniture? Fraser sat, back straight, rigid even, and looked at Ray with that same blank-hurting face. Ray settled a chair right in front of him, then twirled it around and straddled it.

"She said we were wasting the way we feel about it, right?"

Fraser nodded.

"But look, here I am." He waved around generally. "It's my day off, and I'm here, spending it with you like I got no place better to be. And I do. You know that, right? I got other choices. It's not by default that I'm sitting on this hard chair in this cold room on a Thursday off with a crazy Mountie and a wolf who trusts old ladies he doesn't know."

Fraser smiled a little.

"You and me, well, I don't know how often stuff like this happens in Canada, but here in Chicago people hooking up and doing stuff like we do, it's special." Ray nodded to himself. "We ain't wasting anything."

Fraser nodded, but looked uncertain. Ray waited.

"Dream women. She said we chase dream women and weave stories."

"So what? You thinking about the Dragon Lady?"

Fraser looked surprised. "I was thinking about Susan Chapin, actually."

Ray's lips thinned out, revealing pain. Perhaps that was what made him ask, "And Victoria?"

But Fraser only nodded gravely. "And Victoria."

"So we been hurt a few times, and sometimes it's come to nothing." Ray shrugged. "Happens."

"You were married."

"I don't want to talk about that."

Fraser opened his mouth, shut it, opened it.

"That means I don't wanna talk about it!"

"I...I think we should anyway, Ray."

"Why? Because you wanna take her place?"

Ray winced. Fraser winced. Maybe even Diefenbaker winced. He did whine and crawl back under the bed.

Ray withstood it all, until Fraser spoke with quiet dignity, "I don't want to take anyone's place."

And then Ray Vecchio collapsed, the air going out of the balloon without so much as a half-hearted raspberry of complaint. Leaning his forehead down on the seat back, he just concentrated on breathing for a while.

Fraser, damn him, just waited.

"From the first, we argued. I told myself it didn't matter, that the good stuff outweighed the bad. We argued the night before we got married. We argued on the honeymoon. But we always made up so nice." Ray sighed and looked up at his friend, irritated that he couldn't explain it better than that. "I ignored every instinct I had, because I loved her. And after I turned myself inside-out trying to make it work, she looks at me one day and says she's had enough, like I've been the one being a huge burden the whole time." Ray shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe that's the way it was to her. When she walked away, she sure did it easy."

"Are your instincts telling you now that our talking like this is a mistake?"

Ray scowled at the chair and thought about lying. "They should be."

Fraser accepted this in silence. Ray looked up, eyes narrowed.

"What about your Mountie instincts, huh? They warn you about typhoons, they should have a handle on this."

"Typhoons happen in tropical zones, Ray. I believe you mean 'blizzards,' and while I have achieved some measure of sensitivity in --"


"My instincts say I shouldn't let you leave until we talk this out."

Ray leaned down again, resting his chin on his hands as they rested in turn on the back of the chair. For several minutes they sat there, silently, both fully aware and somewhat amazed that it wasn't really an uncomfortable silence, just an uncertain one.

Finally, Ray drew out his cell phone and ordered two pizzas. As he was talking, Fraser rose and walked to the window, looking north and thinking about the day he'd first seen this room, back when he'd been assured he could see clear to Canada, if he looked hard enough.

Could he see his way clear to Ray, if he looked hard enough? Did Ray want him to?

What if Ray suggested something sexual? Or what if he suggested it and Ray went along with it? Could he even feel that way about him?

He watched Ray now, reflected in the window as he gave their address and a few choice instructions to the pizza parlor. He was dressed in a dark gray suit, black Italian loafers with dark gray accents, and a dark blue raw silk shirt, open at the collar to show his crucifix. He could see the bulges at Ray's waist and ankle from his gun, and the flap of his badge over his belt.

He traced the long, graceful lines of Ray's bones: his head, his neck, his limbs, his hands. There was nothing feminine in Ray, and yet his brand of masculinity was so different from Fraser's own that it wasn't difficult to imagine that, given encouragement, he could find Ray quite attractive.

Fraser frowned and looked down at himself, still in his brown uniform, jacket off, shirt sleeves rolled up. He knew that Ray believed him to be attractive to women -- he'd had to listen to Ray complain about it often enough to have no doubts on that score. But did Ray feel that Fraser was attractive empirically? He did feel that Fraser was attractive personally?

*Ray has beautiful eyes,* Fraser thought, and it took no great effort to do so. *And as a lover, he would probably be most attentive.* The thought warmed him with affection, but it was not a sensual thought. Nothing...stirred.

*It is that I don't find him sensual, or that I am not used to finding him sensual?*

"Earth to Fraser," Ray said, his tone making it clear it was not for the first time.

"Er, yes, Ray?" Benny turned around.

"You wanna tell me what's going on that Canadian head of yours?"

"Do you find me attractive, Ray?"

Ray grimaced, but didn't look shocked. Fraser felt slightly smug with the suspicion that Ray had already asked himself that question.

"I think the Mona Lisa is beautiful, Benny, but I don't wanna ask her out on a date."

Fraser smiled in delight. "The Mona Lisa?"

"Yeah," Ray snarled at him slightly. "And no Hunchback of Notre Dame comments."

Fraser "tsked" in irritation. "The reference would be completely inappropriate." The man smiled, his blue eyes sparkling slightly. "I would say rather that you are something from a urn by Susan Bergman."

"An urn by who?"

"Susan Bergman, a New Orleans artist. She throws and sculpts pots with figures from mythology and folklore woven around their sides. There's one piece in particular that reminds me of you...a strong, lithe man holding on to the side of a large urn. At first, you think he's clinging there, just trying to hold on. But then it becomes clear that he is, in fact, holding the urn together, keeping it whole."

Ray frowned, not knowing how to take that. Fraser himself didn't know either.

"I know that through sheer accident of birth my features correspond with current fashion, Ray. But would be striking anywhere. You create your own fashion."

Vecchio liked that one, it was obvious, though he turned away slightly, trying to hide his smile. After a moment, he turned back, his eyes sober.

"We got something really good here, Benny. We can't let some wacko ruin what we got making us think things best left alone."

"But if we're wasting --"

"We're not wasting! We're best friends." Ray flopped back down on his chair, then glanced at his watch. The restaurant no longer offered free pizza when it was late, but Fraser knew that once Ray ordered food, his stomach was ready to eat.

"You are my best friend, Ray, the best friend I've ever had."

Ray ducked his head and nodded.

"Is that your way of saying I'm the best friend you ever had?" Fraser pressed.

"When you're not annoying the crap out of me making me say something out loud when you already know what I mean, yes."

"Then can we suppose just for the sake of this discussion, just for a moment, that you believe this woman, completely."

"Just for the sake of this discussion? Okay." Ray frowned in concentration, then in puzzlement. "What about it?"

"Would you agree with her that it was a waste?"

"That we, I'm tired of dancing around it."

Fraser watched Ray struggle to say it, then held up his hand.

"Yes, Ray, that we never."

Ray stood up and paced for a while, looked out the window, came back, sat down, looked at him.

"I don't know."


"And you?" A touch of aggression had returned to Ray's voice.

"I don't know either."

Ray rubbed his hands over his face, then back over his scalp, sighing.

"Then I think you're right."

"About what, Ray?"

"We shouldn't leave here until we get this worked out. Having it just hanging out there, it's no good."

Fraser contemplated the floor a while, then nodded.

"You're right."

They did not speak again until they heard footsteps on the stairs and Dief, smelling pepperoni, barked in relief.

For a while after that, they only talked about the food, Fraser glad that for once he had the money to treat, though in the end Ray insisted on paying half. Dief got his own pizza with meat. He and Ray shared a sausage-and-mushroom.

Almost done with his second slice, Ray started them up again, though slowly. "What does it mean to you, having a girl?"

"Beyond the obvious, you mean?"

"No, including the obvious."

Fraser chewed that one over with the pizza for a while.

"I don't believe I've ever had what you would consider a 'girl,' Ray. Apart from, er, Victoria, I have been able to get close to very few women."

"What does that mean 'been able to?' You got women throwing themselves at you all over town."

Fraser sighed. "Women...I don't know why, Ray, but I've been this way my whole life. Women make me...uncomfortable."

"Yeah, but it's a good kind of uncomfortable, right?" Ray flashed a winning smile, evidently at some memory. "It's part of the excitement."

"I suppose." Fraser regarded his remaining pizza. Despite his awkwardness over the conversation, the food was delicious. He took up the next piece with enjoyment.

"Benny, think about it. You and the Dragon Lady, except, she's not the Dragon Lady. She's resigned from the Mounties to be a missionary, or something. And she stops sharpening her claws on you and lets you in. You telling me it wouldn't be fantastic?"

Fraser blinked several times. "You've exceeded my capacity for imagining, Ray."

"Well, how about that blond woman, the one with the crazy finance? You looked happy when you went to dance with her. You saying if you had worked it out with her it wouldn't have been great?"

Fraser chewed, swallowed. "How about you and Ms St. Laurent? You worked things out with her, and then she was promoted and you didn't see her all the time at work, and then two of you stopped seeing each other altogether."

Ray did his own chewing for a while. "Louise was great, but after the chase, we both got bored."

"Perhaps if the Inspector and I were in a situation where the obstacles between us were overcome, we would also get bored. I have known very few people in my life, Ray, who have been with me for a long period of time. In fact, apart from my grandparents, you are by far the person who has spent the greatest amount of actual time with me."

"Well, I ain't bored yet, I'll grant you that much."

Fraser smiled. "Nor do I feel it would be easy to walk away from you, Ray. Quite the opposite."

They gave each other manly, half-casual smiles: more a quirk than a curl of the lips.

"Perhaps I could best answer your question hypothetically," Fraser said, wiping his lips now on a paper towel. "Having a girl would mean, I believe, the freedom to indulge in sexual intimacy on a frequent basis."

"You got that right," Ray muttered, not interrupting.

"It would also mean having someone to worry about coming home to, in a dangerous situation, someone to worry about me when I'm late."

Ray frowned. "Is that a good thing?"

Benny shook his head. "No."

Ray nodded. "Yeah, when Ange would worry, it basically sucked. I'd feel guilty and she'd get hostile."

"On the other hand, I believe it would also mean that I would have someone to comfort me after a difficult day."

"You needing comforting? Get outta here."

Fraser looked surprised. "That seems an odd thing for you to say, Ray, considering that you comfort me frequently."

Ray blanched slightly. "Me?"

In a passable imitation of his friend, Benny spoke, "Heya, Fraser, let's get something to eat, my treat! That Dragon Lady is one piece of work. Does she realize how hot it feels to stand in the sun all day? What do you say we let furface run on the beach for a while? Maybe he'll finish shedding for the day before we get back to your flophouse."

Ray burst out laughing. "I ain't that bad!"

Fraser smiled fondly, then laughed with him. After a pause, he was about to ask the obvious question when Ray shrugged.

"Yeah, you comfort me too." Vecchio drew himself up stiffly. "Ray, there was nothing you could have done. The trajectory of the falling piano made it inevitable that it would fall on Mrs. McFlenny's poodle. Well, not quite inevitable. If you had the power of levitation, such as that professed by the Maharishi Dickhead, you would have been able to allow the piano to land gently on the sidewalk using the power of your mind." He stopped while Fraser giggled. "Ray, there was once a caribou who loved to fingerpaint --"



"I knew you liked my stories."

Ray rolled his eyes, then shrugged and duck his head for a bite of pizza before mumbling around the dough and sauce, "Sometimes."

"I believe the best thing about it, however, would not be the sexual intimacy or the comforting, but..."

Ray waited.

"The relief."

Ray blinked.

"The what?"

Fraser shrugged and rubbed his thumb over his eyebrow. "An unmarried man seems incomplete to the world, and perhaps, inevitably, to himself. I cannot help thinking of Buck Frobisher, the way he seems to see himself as having failed to find a wife, the way he says 'old bachelor' as though it were a mark against him."

"So you'd feel relieved about finally finding someone, finally getting married?" Ray watched Fraser nod uncertainly. "What about having kids?"

Benny sighed and looked at the empty pizza box. "No, that wouldn't be a relief. I know I'm supposed to want children..."

"The guy who makes the Puffin Face?"

Fraser looked up into Ray's eyes, and saw that the statement was not of disbelief, but of understanding.

"Yes, to other people's children."

Ray rubbed his hands over his paper towel, though they looked quite clean. "All these years with Maria's kids in the house, it's made me less eager to have my own. I keep thinking about being a father, if...if I'd be like Pop."

"You would never be like your father, Ray."

Ray shook his head. "That ain't the real part of it. It's not coming home some night, leaving a widow and three kids."

"Yes." Ray looked startled at the loud affirmation, but Fraser continued at the same volume. "Yes, that's it exactly."

The smiles they shared now were somewhat sad.

"There were times," Ray confessed, "not often, but sometimes, when I'd think about him dying, and I thought it would be...a relief. But it wasn't. It wasn't anything like a relief."


Fraser stood up and cleared the table. Ray threw away Dief's box, then watched him go out the window and down to the street. Jerome was sitting on the curb, and Dief went to him for some general fussing-over. Benny joined Ray at the window and they watched for a while.

Gently, Ray put an arm around Benny's shoulder and squeezed. Fraser leaned into him just a bit.

"The relief doesn't last long, Benny. You get married thinking you're accomplishing something, then you wake up the next morning and realize you've started on a road you'll spend the rest of your life walking down. Ange and me are divorced, but she's still a part of my life. What happened with us will always be there."

"Perhaps the best thing would just be having someone love me, Ray." He leaned just a bit more heavily to underscore the point that he was already loved.

Ray patted him on the shoulder, then lifted his arm away. "Right." They stood beside each other easily.

"What would it mean to you, Ray?"

"Having a girl?"

Fraser nodded.

Ray considered it. "Lots of sex, like you said. Nice and sweet and without all that bargaining beforehand."

Fraser snorted softly.

"Having someone to make a life with. Having to balance her and Ma again." Ray's tone reflected dread, and Fraser wondered if Ray had moved out of the house with Angie, or stayed under that roof.

"Having someone tell me I'm right when the rest of the world says I'm wrong. Having someone say...they wanna be with me, that they choose to spend time with me."

Jerome patted Dief's head in farewell, and the wolf began to make his way back up the fire escape.

"So basically, Ray, we do for each other many of the things that we feel a wife would do, except for those things that specifically require a woman, namely: sexual relations and being what society and your family would consider a wife."

"We'd have to lie, you know," Ray said, almost absently. "We couldn't tell people. Ma would have a heart attack, I'd be fired, you'd...what happens to a gay Mountie?"

"Canadian law prohibits discrimination against others based on their sexual orientation, Ray. As for the harm to my career, my sexual preferences would mean little compared to the marks already on my record."

Ray grunted in anger, and Benny felt warmed at the thought that even now Ray resented the treatment towards him by the RCMP. Another thought, however, was far less pleasant.

"It seems clear you would have far more to lose than I, Ray."

Vecchio shrugged. "There'd be compensations. Frannie'd never speak to me again."

Fraser mortified himself by giggling. Dief sniffed at him as he passed through the window on his way to the bed.

Ray flashed a grin. "Tony'd stop borrowing my aftershave, and Maria would never ask me to babysit again."

Fraser's giggles halted. "You don't think she would actually --"

"I dunno." Ray thought a while. "Actually, she's a got a good friend who's gay. She'd probably be okay with it."

"That really isn't what we're talking about, Ray."


"Being gay, or homosexual, has nothing to do with the choice we're considering."

"We ain't considering it!"

Fraser looked at him in astonishment. Ray crumbled slightly.

"We're talking about it. That don't mean we're to the considering stage yet."

"If you say so, Ray."

Ray bit his lip, looked at him. "You mean, you're at the considering stage?"

"Perhaps I simply fail to see the difference between the talking-about-it stage and the considering stage."

Ray turned away and ending up straddling his chair again. Fraser sat down as well.

"Okay, so why doesn't it have anything to do with being gay?"

"If we were homosexual, we would only be worrying about whether we were the right men for each other. As it is, we're both heterosexual --"

"You got that right."

"...but we're, talking about entering into a relationship where we would both be, well, what we are: men."

"Slim difference."

"Hardly, Ray. For instance, there is the extremely grave issue of our being attracted to a woman after our relationship is established. If either of us found the, ah, intimacy presented to be insufficient for our needs --"

"'Either of us' being me, I suppose?" Ray asked with some heat.

"I don't see how that follows."

"You don't seem to need much intimacy, Fraser."

"Ah. Perhaps you believe I spent that time with Victoria playing cards?"

"Point taken."

"As I was saying, if either of us found the intimacy between us insufficient, we would be greatly tempted to find what we were looking for in our usual gender. The relationship would be under a great deal of risk."

"I think you're overlooking the bigger problem here, Fraser."


"Yeah, I mean, you're assuming we could get it on in the first place."

"Ah. Yes. Mona Lisa."

"Yeah, and Quasimodo."



"You didn't know Bergman," Fraser explained.

"Botticelli painted fat women."

"And lovely young men with other-worldly eyes."

Ray paced away, shuffling his feet slightly. He ended up this time sitting on the bed, patting Dief, who reveled unabashedly in the attention.

"So we find each other attractive in the way that guys notice other guys are good-looking," Ray concluded. "Frankly, I don't see it being any different just because we take our clothes off."

"That would be our heterosexuality again, Ray."

Vecchio breathed down through his nose in frustration.

"Then what *are* were talking about here, Fraser?"

"The human mind is infinitely adaptable, Ray. We could learn to find the other attractive in that fashion. If we started slowly, allowed associations to build, in time we might well learn to see each other with very different eyes."

Ray shook his head. "It'd be a crapshoot, and if we screwed it up, the friendship would definitely suffer."

"So we don't do it because it's a risk?"

Ray sighed, looked up at Fraser lounging against the wall, arms crossed. "Not exactly our style, is it?"

Fraser was silent.

"Okay, let's take the supposing to the next level," Ray said. "Let's say we try it and it works. We're in love, having sex, the whole thing. What's gained? What do we get that we don't have now?"

"Besides the obvious?"

"No, let's include the obvious. We get sex. Frequently."

Fraser flushed just slightly. "Yes. Quite frequently."

Ray sniggered. "You animal."

"We would have security," Fraser announced, ignoring him.


"Yes. Neither of us would have to worry about being worried about, or worry about leaving a widow and children. We would be there, in danger together, watching over each other, the first to know if anything were wrong."

Ray thought that one over, obviously liking it. "That would be worth a lot, wouldn't it?"

"Yes." Fraser thought it over as well. "Quite a lot." Then he added, "We would also have the security of not having to look anymore. We would have...found each other."

"Who'd be on top?"

Fraser fought off a choking spell, though it was quite difficult, with Ray looking at him somewhat narrowly.

"I...can only assume we'd have to trade off."

Ray looked mollified, though hardly pleased.

"Perhaps we would never have to enact that"

"We're used to...uh, being inside. If we didn't get it with each other I know for a fact we'd be going elsewhere after a while."

Fraser rubbed his eyebrow, trying to keep his voice even. "Ray...could you? I mean, could you even consider..?"

Ray glared at him, but didn't flinch. "Could you?"

Benny sat down, and they both spent a good long while staring at the floor, unconsciously wrinkling their noses.

"Well," Fraser said at last. "At least we've made it clear what we're talking about. On the one hand, we have the necessity of lying to everyone we know and hiding the relationship even from those closest to us. We have the overwhelming prospect of adjusting to a radically different form of physical intimacy. We have the grave danger of never being able to fully make the adjustment. And on the other side, we have simply the possibility of expanding our present friendship into a romantic relationship where we get to keep an eye on our significant other, perhaps for the rest of our lives."

The silence stretched out again, until Ray mumbled.

"It should be an easy choice."

"Yes. It should be."

Several more minutes passed. It occurred to Fraser that his apartment was almost never this quiet.

"Okay," Ray blurted, making Benny feel decidedly dizzy for a moment. "So we got a choice here that should be easy and isn't. So...what's the big attraction we got for the hard route we're talking about? It ain't getting laid and it ain't love. We got that already, if we want it."

Fraser cleared his throat. "Perhaps it is the combination, Ray."

Vecchio nodded, glancing at him just a bit. "Yeah. It's been a while since either of us had both at the same time."

"I'm not sure that I ever...had both at the same time, Ray."

"Victoria loved you," Ray said, surprising them both. "She just hated you too."

Fraser shook his head. "Every moment that she was touching me, she was planning to hurt me."

Ray slumped, watching over a now-sleeping Dief. "Yeah."

"There are other factors, discuss."

"I think it's safe to say we're at the considering stage now, Fraser."

Fraser felt his heart skip slightly, not knowing whether it were dread or excitement fueling the sensation. "I don't live here. Eventually, I do hope to return home."

"I know." Ray looked at him carefully. "Would you stay here with me anyway, if we were together?"

Fraser searched his unsteady heart.


Ray nodded.

"Would you come with me, Ray, if we were?"

Ray thought a while as well, then nodded again. "Yeah."

"So it would seem that if the time came, we could work something out."


Fraser tried to think things through more clearly. "We would not have to change our living arrangements."

"No, not for a while anyway, but, Fraser, you're getting ahead of things here."

"I am?"

Ray stood up and walked towards him, but did not actually come close.

"The big issue here isn't something we can talk out. I mean, either we're gonna risk everything to see if we can be with each other, or we're not. The rest of it just gets worked out if we need it to."


Ray rolled his eyes.

"Ah, rather, that is to think we should actually put the theory to the test, as it were?"



"Beats next Saturday, don't you think? Or maybe you want to just worry about this for a year or two?"

"There's no need to get snippy, Ray."


The Mountie spread his arms wide. "I have no idea how to proceed, Ray."

"Well, neither do I! You think I've ever done anything remotely like this before?!"

"No." Fraser thought he might actually drown on dry land. "Perhaps we should just forget about this."

"Probably, we should. But we're not going to."

"No, we're not."

The two men looked at each other helplessly.

Ray relented, sagging, and Fraser felt a whoosh of relief through his whole body.

"Okay," Vecchio muttered. "Look, first of all, we shouldn't expect fireworks."

"Yes. No fireworks."

"This is going to awkward and weird at first, and that's okay."

"Yes. Okay."

"I mean, it's awkward when you're a kid with girls, right? That's why kids make up kissing games and pass notes in class, stuff like that."

"Kissing games?" Fraser asked, frowning.

"Don't tell me you don't know what much, Fraser, or I'm gonna cry."

"No! No, actually, I did play kissing games as a child."

Ray raised up his arms in celebration, though the effect was undercut greatly by another roll of green eyes.

"Perhaps we should try that," Fraser suggested.

Ray looked at him. "Try what? Kissing games?"


" the bottle?"

"That would seem somewhat pointless, Ray, as there are only two of us. Unless you'd like Diefenbaker to play."

Ray ignored the last bit, musing, "Well, there's Seven Minutes in Heaven, but that's a little advanced."

Fraser thought a moment, then brightened slightly. "I once played a game that might suit us, Ray, when I was in Alert."


"The girl or boy would have to select their favorite feature on their chosen person, and then kiss it."

Ray made a rather dismayed face.

"The most usual selection would be an elbow, or an ear."

"Yeah, kids." He nodded, looking somewhat intrigued now. "Yeah." He looked at Benny almost shyly. "Yeah, I could do that."

Fraser nodded. "As could I."

They smiled in relief, then stood uncertainly.

"Who goes first?" Ray asked at last.

"We could flip a coin...but, I believe I will go first."

"All right."

Fraser took a steadying breath, feeling dizzy again. When it passed, he nodded, straightened his shoulders, and said, "Your eyes."

"My eyes."

"Yes, I will kiss your eyes."


Fraser took a step towards Ray, then another, and then another to stand right before him. He was not in his Mountie boots, so Ray was actually just a little taller than he.

"They're green and gold," Fraser said. "It's so rare that I get to look at them like this, see them this close...when you're not shouting at me." He smiled and got a grin from Vecchio. He held up his hand, carefully, and lightly trailed a line down Ray's cheek. "Such beautiful eyes. I remember the first time you really looked at me, and I thought I saw something there, something I wanted to connect with. But the rest of you..." Fraser shook his head. "You were so angry." He smiled again, relaxing now from tension he hadn't realized was so great. "It's nice."

Ray's eyebrows lifted in a question.

"It's nice to stand here and tell you that your eyes are beautiful."

Ray closed his eyes and leaned down, just a bit. Fraser took a breath, then leaned up and pressed a soft, dry kiss to one eyelid, then the other. The skin he felt so briefly was gentle and warm, and fluttered under his touch.

When he stepped back, his heart calmed down, and he felt nothing greater than a sense of relief that it was over and he hadn't...hurt anything, or been hurt.

"Not so bad?" Ray asked.

"No." Fraser smiled again. His face was just a little sore. His smiling muscles were evidently out of shape. The thought made him pensive.

Ray read his mood, and offered silently to end things there. Fraser shook his head.

"Your turn," Fraser instructed.

"Your nose."

"My nose?"

"Yeah, your cute, little nose." Ray's words were a dare.

Fraser obligingly turned up his cute, little nose.

Ray kissed the tip of it, softly.

The stood there staring at each other for a time, waiting for the other to pull away.

"Your nape," Fraser said.

"My --" Ray cut himself off, then swallowed, then turned around, presenting the back of his neck.

Fraser looked at the smooth slope of skin, smiling faintly to himself now. This was definitely Ray's most vulnerable spot, accentuated by the severe hairstyle he now sported. He leaned into the curve, breathing in and smelling the remnants of Ray's cologne, traces of damp wool and salt-sweat, and a bit of fabric softener from his shirt collar.

He exhaled, and Ray jump-stepped away from him. Fraser jerked back himself, and then they were looking at each other like rattled rabbits.

"Sorry," Ray blurted. "Sensitive there, kinda."

"Right. Oh course. My apologies."

Ray shook his head and looked uncertain.

"Perhaps we should call that a kiss, Ray."

A few sharp nods, and the detective agreed with him.

"Perhaps we should stop," Fraser offered.

"No. Let me do my turn." Ray looked about as eager as a child in a dentist's chair, but Fraser didn't argue. Ray looked him over, then edged closer, and closer.

"Your mouth," he said, almost aggressively, then eased forward with frightened eyes and placed a butterfly-fleeting kiss over his lips. Immediately, he stood back.

Both of them let out a breath.

"Enough for one night?" Fraser asked, his voice high.

But Ray frowned. "We still don't know. I can't --" He gestured, vague but sharp. "I can't just go home and go to bed when we haven't made up our minds about this."

"Perhaps we should go to bed together."


"My bed is quite comfortable."

Ray turned and regarded the piece of furniture in question.

"It's awful narrow."

"Perhaps that's a good thing."

Ray shot him a look over his shoulder, half-panic, half-hysteria.

"I wanna talk more."

"Certainly." Fraser looked at his watch. "It's only 8:17. We could discuss a number of things."

"Don't be an idiot!"

"No, Ray."

They stood there, Ray looking at the bed, Fraser looking at Ray, for quite a while, both breathing a little harder than usual, neither speaking or moving.

"I want this," Ray muttered.


Vecchio turned, his eyes in shadow. "I think I want to try, Benny."

To his own dismay, Fraser just stared at him.

Ray didn't seem to mind, lost in his own thoughts. "I keep thinking about what it would be like, picking you up at the Consulate, and we get something to eat, and then we come up here and make love, and we're together and everything...sometimes I get so mad at you I just want to *do* something, but there's nothing to do." A strange, almost wicked smile crept across that shadowed face. "This would be something."

"I wouldn't let you hurt me."

With a jerk, Ray stepped forward, face in the light now, eyes stricken. "I would never! Benny!"

Fraser turned away and walked to the window, waiting for his heart to start beating more normally. It would be easier, he thought almost with resentment, if Ray weren't staring at him.

"I...I just meant that it would something to do, something together, to work off that." Ray paced behind him. "Benny, come on, you know I wouldn't. You gotta know that!"

Fraser calmed himself now with a deep breath, then another. But he still spoke to the window.

"Yes, I know it."

He heard Ray pace behind him, then settle. "You know we been friends longer than I was married?" From the direction of Ray's voice, Fraser figured he was standing by his father's trunk. He heard a small squeak. Ray must have sat down.


"When she'd get mad, I mean, when we were really going at it, towards the end, she'd push me, right to the edge, and then she'd do something really vicious, something to test me, like to see how crazy she could wind me up. Her best trick was to compare me to my father." Ray fell quiet for a moment, and Fraser turned around, looking at him and leaning back now against the window.

"One time, I was shouting, waving my arms around, you know. And she says, 'Why don't you take a swing at me?' Just like that, like I would *do* something like that! Me, who never laid a finger on a woman in anger, who never even kidded around about something like that, who never *thought* anything like that! And she just says it to me, like it's something that's a part of who I am, of who we were."

Ray looked up at him, green eyes full of old pain. "I would never hurt you, Benny."

"You could." Fraser tried to get his voice louder than that husky whisper, but it wouldn't cooperate. "You could hurt me more than anyone."

Ray snorted. "The same goes for you, you know."

Fraser started, the idea alien, unwelcome. He hated what it said, what could be true.

"I have hurt you." The confession tasted stale.

Ray shrugged. "I shot you."

"By accident. I chose to leave with her."

"I know. But I know what she meant to you." Ray looked up at him, eyes just slightly pleading or bewildered, Fraser couldn't tell. "Could I mean that to you now?"

"Victoria was escape, the expiation of ten years of guilt, a second chance." Fraser considered his friend. "You would be..."



Ray made a face. "How sexy." His eyes now studied the floor. "Fraser, if this is just us settling because we can't do any better, we should just forget it."

Fraser made himself take his chair, pull it up before Ray, and sit in it. "I can't pretend to feel something I don't feel."

Ray nodded, still looking down. "Then I should go home."

"I don't --"

Ray held up a hand, flicked it, as though he were relaxed. "Don't worry about, Benny." He looked up, and his eyes were river-cooled jade. "It was just a thought, right?"

Distracted, Fraser held out his hand. Somewhat warily, Ray allowed his own to rest on the Mountie's square, dry palm.

"The very first time I noticed the extraordinary beauty of your hands, Ray, was while you were driving that black Mercedes. It's odd, looking back, but even then I could tell it wasn't your usual car."

Ray nodded, obviously trying to reassure Fraser that having their hands together like this meant nothing. "Yeah, part of my cover at the bar, fat lot of good it did."

"You were talking, but your hands were on the wheel, and you couldn't use them to express yourself, as I had noticed was your wont. I admired you for your care in keeping them at the ten and two o'clock positions, and then I realized how long your fingers were, how much care you put into the proper maintenance of your manicure, how pale and smooth the skin was over your delicate-but-strong bones. I thought something at the time of how they were not the hands of a man raised in the Yukon, but rather a city man's hands."

Ray nodded. "Yeah, city man, that's me. I, uh, noticed your hands pretty soon after we met too. I mean, they're obviously used to work, and you got a lot of scars on 'em. I figured...horses."

Fraser nodded, still distracted, and then brought up his other hand, pressing Ray's between his own, and then holding them both still. He closed his eyes, feeling what it felt like to sit there holding Ray's hand.

"I love you, Ray."

"I love you too, Benny." To Fraser's dismay, Ray tugged his hand loose. "That's the important thing, right?"

He opened his eyes to see Ray standing up and looking at his watch. Fraser shot to his own feet, blocking his friend from any further retreat.

"Don't go."

Ray frowned. "You said you weren't going to pretend."

"I'm not." Fraser put his hand now on Ray's shoulder, pressing gently, only a request, and together they both sat back down.

"Look, Benny, I've declared myself here. In fact, that seems to be the major problem." Ray's eyes glinted with wry self-disdain, and Fraser felt a sharp bite of guilt. "So you gotta tell me what's going on with you. It's only fair."

"You declared that getting physical would allow us a channel for the relief of stress," Fraser reminded him, his voice a little prim. "The prospect seemed to excite you."

Ray squirmed. "Something wrong with the idea of being excited about sex?"

"I'm not a sex kind of man, Ray."

Vecchio tried to work his mind around that.

"I mean, I've never..." Fraser bit his lip. "I don't, just for that."

Ray nodded, getting it. "Yeah, I noticed." He sat up straight. "What? You saying I'm just some jerk who goes after it?"

"Well, that is to say --"

"I've never once slept with a woman I didn't care about."

Fraser winced.

"What?" Ray demanded.

"It's just...that...merely to 'care' about someone..."

"What is this, you disapprove of my morals?" Ray's eyes shined with anger. "I sleep around too easily for you, is that it?"

"I have no wish to judge you, Ray."

"Oh really?"

"I only mean to indicate that, by comparison, I..." Fraser's adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed, and Ray watched the movement with dawning comprehension.

"I get it. You're the pure at heart Mr. Chaste and I'm the happy dick of Chicago."

"No!" Fraser shook his head furiously. "No."

"Then what?!"

"You have...considerably more experience...that is, being married...and..."

"Fraser," Ray held up his hands in surrender, eyes closing.


The word actually seemed to echo through the room as Ray stared at him, his hands dropping dead into his lap.

But then, impossibly, Ray's eyes softened not with pity, but with commiseration.

"And you think I'm not?" he asked, voice gentle and just slightly amused. "Hell, I'm terrified."

Fraser's body sunk in on itself in relief, surprising them both.

"Geeze, Benny, this is going against every survival instinct I have, don't you know that?" Ray rubbed a shaking hand back over his scalp. "I mean, maybe I've had more women in my bed than you, but that doesn't exactly mean anything when it comes to you and me. I mean, I never even jerked off with somebody when I was a kid. I can't pretend I don't know the mechanics. I'm a cop. We both seen what can happen when it gets ugly. But I don't even know if I can do it -- touch you like that."

"But you said you wanted it."

Ray shrugged narrowly, obviously feeling a little trapped by their positions. "I want it in the abstract, yeah. It's the up-close-and-personal that's got me worried."

Fraser nodded. "What is the worst thing that could happen?"

"You'll answer that after me?"


"Okay. The worst's a disaster and we feel so awkward about it that it ruins our friendship."

Fraser nodded and made as if to comment.

"Uh uh." Ray pointed a finger at him warningly. "Now you."

"Yes, Ray. My worst thing would be that I would commit myself to this relationship and that you would eventually tire of it and end it."

"Oh." Ray was looking at the floor again. "I hadn't thought of that. I guess you leaving me later would be even worse than you leaving me sooner." Ray brightened. "Hey, you notice we're both most scared of the same thing, there being no more us?"

Fraser considered. "True, Ray."

"Well, that's something."

"We could agree to remain friends no matter what."

"Aw, Benny. The heart don't work that way."

"Indeed." Fraser rubbed his eyebrow.


"Well, Ray, I wonder if perhaps we have already committed ourselves to this path."

"Once it's out there, it's out there, huh, Benny?"

"Er, yes."

Ray thought about it. "Nah, I think we could still gloss it over if we tried."

They sat for several minutes, considering, then Fraser reached down, gently took Ray's left foot in his hands, and removed his shoe.

"Uh, you wanna tell me what you're doing there, Benny?"

"I'm going to massage your feet, Ray."


"I believe you will enjoy...I, er, want to."

"Yeah?" Ray looked at his stockinged foot in Benny's lap, relaxing as the warm hands cradled it carefully, then began a gentle kneading. "Uh, cool." Fraser smiled, though he was still looking down at Ray's foot, a slight pucker of concentration on his forehead. Ray watched the process for a while, feeling his back relax against the wall, his leg grow heavy as it rested over Fraser's knee. Somewhere in there, he must have closed his eyes, for he opened them again when he felt hot breath on his toes.

"Diefenbaker," the masseuse chided, nudging the curious wolf away from Ray's foot with an elbow.

Ray smiled somewhat sleepily. "That feels great, Benny." And it did. He felt almost light-headed with the relief the simple process was giving him, and oddly cherished, pampered. It had been a very long time since anyone had massaged his feet. His other foot was quite jealous, trapped in its Italian leather shoe. "Makes me wish you had four hands."

Fraser smiled, enjoying the absurdity, then raised up his hands, letting them hover. Ray quickly nudged off his remaining shoe and switched feet, the ready-to-be-rubbed toes curling in anticipation.

Ray groaned slightly as Fraser dug in, then watched tolerantly as Dief sniffed his abandoned shoe. Easily, he reached out a hand and rubbed the wolf behind his ears. Dief wined in enjoyment and leaned into Fraser's thigh, as though seeking to share comfort.

Ray paid attention as Fraser got beyond the basics, spreading his toes, pushing firmly into his arch, drawing down over the ankle while his thumbs dug into just the right spot under the ball of his foot. Finally, the Mountie rubbed gently all over, soothing him, then patting, just slightly.

Ray stretched, smiling in gratitude while Fraser looked pleased with himself. Ray set both feet down, slapped his own knees, then beckoned Fraser's foot up.

Fraser looked confused. "Ray?"

"Come on, Benny. Your turn."

Gray-blue eyes blinked at him, as though reciprocation were the last thing he expected.

"You don't have --"

"Shhh. Foot."

Fraser brought up his right leg rather awkwardly. Ray worked off his regulation brown-leather lace-ups, then wiggled his fingers with a smile and dug in. He noticed vaguely that Mr. Perfect's feet were a little smelly, and grinned at this further proof that Fraser was just like the rest of the world. It wasn't an offensive order, really, just a stronger-than-usual combination of Fraser-sweat and leather.

Fraser's feet themselves, however, were nothing like Ray expected. Sure, the guy was kind of tense, keeping the cork in so tight, but the muscles under Ray's hands weren't just stiff. They seemed welded down. Forget boards, there were steel rods under that skin, and pushing into it all made Ray's fingers hurt.

Nevertheless, he dug down deep, reaching some nerves. Fraser jolted at the first couple of contacts, then stifled a groan. Ray sighed.

"You're supposed to enjoy this, you know. I mean, the inspector's not gonna jump in with a yardstick if you make a noise."


Ray snorted, finding a little place in the instep where there was some give. "Forgot you didn't get raised by nuns."

"No...penguins." Fraser giggled, the sound somewhat breathy, and Ray dug in harder. He was starting to feel a break in the ice, and when that first muscle gave, Ray could hear joints in Fraser's back crack. "Ooooh," the Mountie sighed.

It all got much easier after that, even when he got to the second foot. Ray found himself imagining standing in front of that building all day, day after day, and wondered how a pair of feet could stand it. What was wrong with Canadians, anyway? Fraser was a cop, a good cop, and they propped him up in front of the consulate like a toy. Thinking about it for long always got him good and mad.

If he and Benny got together, for real, Ray would someday be able to see his friend back where he belonged, back in the frozen wilderness, helping people. Who knew? Perhaps one day he'd find himself camping out with a bunch of Inuit.

Ugh. It was enough to put him off the whole idea right now.

"Something funny, Ray?" Fraser's sleepy voice asked him.

"Nothing more than usual."


Ray soothed and petted Fraser's foot, as he'd had done for him, then sat there, shaking his hands out a bit. Diefenbaker sniffed at his fingers, shot him a look of sympathy, and then went back to the bed to lay down.

Ray laughed, nudged Benny's foot off his lap, and went to the sink to wash up. After a minute, Fraser joined him, and they ended up doing the few dirty dishes in the sink, Ray washing, Benny drying.

Putting the last mug away, Fraser asked him, "Ice-cream?"

"What?" Ray watched Diefenbaker trot into the kitchen and stand beside the refrigerator expectantly. Fraser frowned at him and shook his head, but his answer for Ray was cordial.

"Would you like some ice-cream? I have strawberry."

"Dief likes strawberry ice-cream now?"

"Dief likes anything bad for him," Fraser sighed.

"Well, we got something in common there, fuzz-face. I'd love some."

Smiling at Ray and scowling at his wolf at the same time, Fraser busied himself with bowls and spoons and perfectly shaped scoops of ice-cream set in a balanced pyramid of three balls in each bowl, one on the floor, two on the table. Grinning, Ray sat.

His cell phone rang before he could quite get the spoon to his mouth.


Fraser sat quietly, not eating his until Ray could join him. Diefenbaker, he noted with disapproval, had no such compunction.

"Hey, Ma," Ray said, and Fraser felt relief. He really didn't want to go out to work with Ray right now. Perhaps it was merely superstition, but something was warning him that if they didn't finish this discussion on a positive note now, they would never have the nerve to bring it up again.

Ray closed the cell phone, and Fraser realized he had heard his friend explain that he wouldn't be home that night. They picked up their spoons without comment from either of them, and Fraser couldn't help smiling as the sweet-cold filled his mouth.

"It was quite a surprise to me as a child," Fraser said after a while, "eating ice-cream outside once, when it was snowing."


"It didn't melt."

Ray nodded expectantly.

"My grandmother was worried about my catching a chill, so she would only let me eat ice-cream when I was sitting right by the stove. It melted quickly. I had quite a challenge licking it up before it ran down over my hands."

"She put it in a cone?"

"Yes, when we had them. I asked for them. I'm not sure why."

"Nice of her. She didn't treat you much."

"She did when she thought it wouldn't distract me from important things."

"Hmm. Was this before or after she caught you trying to feed a book to a walrus?"

"After, actually." Fraser straightened a bit, enjoying the unaccustomed looseness in his body. "How did you know about that? You were outside the chamber when I told that story."

Ray shrugged. "The reporter told me about it. Thought it was hilarious."

"You, or Ms King?"

"Her. I thought it was a damn shame, myself."

"Ah, yes, quite a waste of *The Collected Works of John Locke.*"

"No, I mean a damn shame you didn't get toys. You can read books the rest of your life, but it's hard to play with toys once you start noticing girls."

"Indeed." Fraser dipped some ice-cream onto his spoon and savored it. "Have you ever noticed me, Ray? I mean, before today?"

He shrugged. "You're great-looking, Fraser. I noticed that."

"But not in a personal way."

Ray thought it over. "You remember when you got me out of that car? The Gremlin in Lake Michigan?"

"Vividly, Ray."

"You sat me on the hood of the Riv, and Frannie was going on about keys or something, and you held me there for a minute, all wet and smelling like lake water, and I remember thinking you had warm arms and a great smile."

Fraser stared hard into his ice-cream.

"What?" Ray wanted to know.

"I thought at the time...that you looked adorable. I had a strong desire at the time to bundle you in warm blankets and make you some chicken soup."

Ray laughed, then met Fraser's eyes and laughed harder as the man joined in.

"Hey, this is great! I'm liking this already."

"Isn't it somewhat mushy for you, Ray?"

"Nah. But I'll let you know."

Fraser smiled somewhat uncertainly, and they ate in silence until their spoons scraped the bowls.

Mustering himself, Benny laid his hands on the table. Ray straightened his back, ready for another round.

"Perhaps we should look at this objectively."

Ray grinned. "Pros and cons? Okay. You got some paper?"

Fraser blinked, unprepared for enthusiasm, then fetched a pad and black pen.

"Right," Ray said, taking them from him and setting the pad on the table as Fraser resumed his seat. Ray wrote "Pros" at the top, then "Cons" next to it, then drew a line down the center of the page.

"Pros," he said, writing, "we're already best friends."

Fraser nodded.

"Cons," Ray said next, "it would be bad for our careers if it got generally known, so we'll have to keep it discreet."

Fraser nodded, then met Ray's eyes and realized it was his turn.

"Pros," he said, looking at Ray's pen poised to write. "the thought of physical intimacy is mutually appealing."

Ray grinned as he wrote that down.

"Cons, our lives are very different, and the relationship will require sacrifices on both sides."

Ray wrote and nodded. "Pros, we'll get to stop looking elsewhere and just admit we've found the person we're looking for. Cons, no more women."

" more women."

Ray looked at him, his writing hand still.

"That's a pro?"

Fraser stared hard at the pad, willing the words to appear. "My entire life, Ray, it's never been good. The idea of no longer having to struggle to figure out what I'm going to say -- no more relentless awkwardness, no more dawning awareness of plots and schemes, no more..."

"I get it, Benny." Ray wrote it down. "You've had the worst luck with women of anybody I know."

"Would you miss women very much, Ray?"

Vecchio thought about it. "As much as I'd miss 'em if I got married to a woman again." Ray looked somewhat self-conscious. "I like variety. Used to suggest things with Ange. She never liked 'em."

Fraser screwed his courage to the sticking-place. "What sort of things?"

A Ray-shrug, one shoulder only. "I brought home a blonde wig once; she wouldn't wear it. I suggested we go to a bar and pretend to pick each other up. She thought it was silly. That sort of thing."

Fraser bit his lip, well aware that his legs were trembling under the table.

"So...if I suggested perhaps...getting dressed in my reds and..." Flushed, Fraser found his mouth refused to finish. However, Ray seemed to understand, for his eyes grew wide and glinted.

Without speaking, he turned back to the pad and wrote under "Pros": "Great sex!" Then, under "Cons," he added: "Maybe."

Fraser let out a long, slow, breath, a bit more than a sigh of relief, and managed to nod.

"Pros," he said, "though I know it would not be an easy journey, I do believe that eventually I would get to become an official part of the Vecchio family."

Ray wrote that down with a smile and quite a definitive nod.

"Cons," Fraser thought a moment, "Diefenbaker would feel himself delegated to Omega wolf, and would beg even more shamelessly than he does now."

Ray chuckled but it wrote it down dutifully.

"It's no laughing matter, Ray."

"No, of course, not. Ahem. Pros: Frannie would stop chasing you. Cons: She'd kill me first."

"Pros: I could plan a future with you. Cons: If she did kill you, I'd be vulnerable again."

"Pros: I'd be dead and wouldn't have to worry about it. Cons: I bet you snore."

"Pros: Proving positively that I do not snore. Cons: Diefenbaker does."

"God, now you tell me. Pros: My career would continue to enjoy a high arrest rate. Cons: I have to share all my glory with a GQ Mountie."

"Pros: I would get to hold you all night long, every night."

Ray scribbled that down, then frowned and looked up. "Con?"

Fraser shook his head. "I cannot think of any others."

Ray scratched his nose with the pen. "I'm not sure how objective this list is."

"I don't care. I want to."

Ray looked at him, hiding hope. "What?"

"I want to."

Ray set the pen down with a sigh of satisfaction. "Good."


"So we both want to."

"Yes, Ray."

"So I guess we should." Vecchio's eyes darted to the bed and back. "I guess."

Fraser almost objected, then remembered their earlier plan. They were just going to sleep, right?

"We should kiss...properly"

Ray looked at him in shock. Fraser realized Ray wasn't the one who had spoken. For a wild second, he looked over at Dief. But the wolf was asleep.

"Uh, okay," Ray said, and then stood up.

Fraser stood up too, and for twenty unendurable seconds they stared at each other.

Then Ray lunged, pressed a kiss on his mouth, and retreated.

"There, now we got that out of the way." Ray turned to the closet and took off his jacket.

Fraser did not follow, his left hand finding its way up to his lips, trying to understand what they had felt like.

Ray hung his jacket up carefully, then pulled off his tie. "You got some sweats for me to wear?" he asked.


The detective turned, obviously aware of the note of pain in Fraser's voice. Green eyes regarded him solemnly.

"Sorry, Benny," Ray murmured, then walked carefully forward. They stood before each other again, and now gently, softly, they leaned together, lips touching without moving at first, then gradually fitting together for a proper, if somewhat chaste, kiss. Fraser's tongue-tip peeked out, getting just a taste. Ray was salty-sweet, soothing and exotic at once. He opened his mouth just slightly, and a soft velvet tongue entered him, probing with shy curiosity. Just at the edge of his hearing, he caught a low moan of pleased discovery.

It was easy to bring up his arms and slide his hands over Ray's warm, finely muscled body. It was amazing, really, how well he fit into his arms. The only thing to top it was the feel of Ray's arms around him, so strong, the arms he trusted in every way. He found himself relaxing as he never had in anyone's embrace before. Was this what it had felt like to be loved by his mother, this warm solidarity of understanding? No wonder he had missed her so fiercely.

"I love you, Ray." He whispered the words, nibbling on Ray's ear.

Ray held him tighter in response, then went in for another kiss.

Fraser dimly realized that the entire experience was amazing. There was no fear, no mistrust, no tragedy. There was just Ray, with his sweet kisses and supple body bending back now, yielding without any loss of strength. He smelled Armani cologne and tasted strawberry ice-cream. Those nimble fingers that had rubbed his feet so skillfully trailed up now into his hair, making his scalp tingle, his neck lose its habitual tension. His legs were trembling again, but Ray held him up.

It became necessary to see Ray's face, and when he saw those deeply expressive, beautiful eyes filled with joy, absolutely everything was all right.

He traced Ray's full lips with his fingers. "Thank you."

Ray did not take the opportunity to tease him, breathing only, "More."

More kisses, then, and still more. It was luxury, a feast of sensuality, pressed up against Ray's body, sharing excitement and hunger. To his relief, the sensations were delicious, but not overwhelming. There was no need to get lost in passion. He had no doubts about the man in his arms. They were in his apartment on a day off, about to curl up around each other and go to sleep, kissing without shame, without anger,, that wasn't enough. They were kissing *with* love.

Ray pulled back, gently, smiling, and helped him get his tie and shirt off. They left on Fraser's undershirt, removing his belt, then Ray's belt, and so on, until they were both in their underwear. Ray tweaked his nose, then headed into the bathroom.

Fraser shooed Dief off the bed and made it up with fresh sheets.

"Nice," Ray commented as they passed each other, Ray headed for the kitchen and Benny for the now-empty bathroom. They kissed, and Fraser tasted mint and salt-sweet of Ray. It was a heady combination.

Ray checked Dief's dishes, adding water to one, then turned off the lights, shoved a chair in front of the door, and unloaded his gun and set it on the counter.

Fraser came out, smiled as though he'd won the lottery, and met him at the bed.

"You a leftie or a rightie?" Ray asked.

"I...don't know."

"Good. I'll take the right."

They settled into bed, pressing up against each other with comic noises of delight, half-giggling, half-aroused. They ended up kissing again, taking their time, discovering that their roles in bed were somewhat similar to the rest of their relationship. Ray was a little impatient, even greedy, Fraser methodical but no less passionate.

"Benny," Ray whispered between little touches to his new lover's lips. "What do you look like when you come?"

"I...I don't know. Never did it in front of a...mirror."

"I wanna see."

Fraser groaned. "Yes. Yes, that would be all right."

"Better than all right," Ray muttered, both of them knowing what Fraser had really meant.

Fraser leaned up and pulled off his undershirt, then his boxers. Ray's briefs went next, and they lay next to each other, close on the narrow bed, looking.

Benny's cock was uncut, long and thick, curved up, with smooth, milky-white foreskin and a blushing pink tip glinting in the light from the street.

Ray's was longer but thinner, smooth, and bare, the near-hairless balls a startling contrast to Benny's dark nest.

"Do you sunbathe in the nude?" Fraser asked, surprised at the rich coffee darkness of Ray's genitals.

"Nope. You stick yours in whitewash?"

Fraser laughed, noting with approval that both of them were getting a little fuller and straighter the more than looked at each other.

"On a count of three?" Ray asked.

Fraser nodded. "One.."


"Three," they said together, then carefully reached over and took the other in hand. Fraser gasped at the warm/cool quality of Ray's hand and fingers, while Ray instinctively pushed into Fraser's strong grasp. They both fumbled, unused to pulling back rather than forward.

"Maybe we could lay on our backs and reach over," Ray suggested.

Fraser nodded and they ended up hip-to-hip, arms crossed over each other. Surprisingly, they both best enjoyed a very similar rhythm, and soon were working each other in a smooth tempo. For a moment, Ray closed his eyes, pretending he was touching himself, then slowly began to categorize the differences. Benny's cock was thicker, the hand on him heavier. Benny was making little breathy moans that sounded really different from his own low rumblings.

He opened his eyes next, and found Fraser staring at his own hand working Ray's erection. He stared at Benny just as obviously, not worrying about flower romance, enjoying himself as he had few other times in bed.

*For a first time,* he thought, *this is really killer!*

Fraser began to buck a bit, keeping his eyes open with effort, trying to take it all in. Ray's fingers were skilled, tightening slightly behind the head, tickling his balls with the tips of his fingers on the down-stroke. He paused, running a thumb over Ray's leaking glans, then tightened his grasp, pulling harder.

"Fuck!" Ray screamed, and came. Benny relaxed in triumph, then found the heat from his thighs traveling up and out in a rush, taking him along for an explosion that left him gasping, weak, and happy.

Happiness, in bed. Who would have thought it possible?

Ray was groaning, "Oh, I'm dead. Box me up and ship me back to the motherland."

"Never," Fraser groaned back. "If you die, I'm having you stuffed and mounted." Who was this stranger speaking with his mouth, and why did he like him so much?

Ray laughed. "We'll get to the mounting part later."

Fraser giggled, savoring the slow cooling of his body, the way he didn't care about the semen drying on his body, or about much of anything in the entire world, actually.

But the most delightful thing of all was yet to come, for Ray *snuggled* again him, warm and content, yawning and holding Fraser like some sort of teddy bear, nuzzling his shoulder as he nodded off.

Half-asleep himself, Fraser almost screamed when his other shoulder was nuzzled. Controlling himself, he turned to see Dief standing by the bed, a towel in his mouth, his eyes pleading for praise.

Fraser sighed, taking the bribe with ill grace. Dief ducked down, his ears flattening in submission as the Mountie wiped himself and his lover off.

"Ray," he whispered, "if we don't let Dief up on the bed, he'll beg for the rest of his life."

"Uh...'mega wolf?"


Ray sighed and mumbled something that sounded like, "Foot rub," then went back to sleep.

Fraser threw the towel towards the bathroom and gestured the wolf up. As he lay there with Ray at his side and Dief over their feet, he realized that -- one -- he needed a bigger bed, and that a man could feel emotionally sated, expanded rather than diminished by giving himself to another. The world outside was no less confusing, and would be perhaps even more hostile towards him now than ever before. But in Ray he had both someone to help him with the fight, and something worth protecting. Whatever the world threw at him from this moment, he knew it would be an act of jealousy, provoked by the despair he had known himself before tonight, the envy of all those who did not know the joy of lying here with love and loyalty freely given, freely shared.


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