How You See Me, Part 2


Manna LaDroit


"You drip that on the seats and you're a dead man."

"Understood, Ray."

Vecchio shifted, five napkins between his own meatball sandwich and the leather seat. He sighed, sending a white plume to join the rest of the fog against the broad windscreen. Just sitting here like this, even Fraser felt the cold down to his bones. It was a wonder Ray wasn't complaining of frostbite.

The grimness of their task had silenced his partner, however, and Fraser felt swamped with depression as he watched Ray bite into the Italian bread and chew without enjoyment.

*Officer Monroe. Officer needs assistance,* the radio crackled, its volume higher than usual. *211 in progress, corner of Dupene and Monty.*

Fraser bit into his own sandwich. He never would have thought, growing up, one day he would be so thoroughly spoiled by exceptional Italian food. It was hard not to take Mrs. Vecchio's cooking for granted.

*Copy that, Monroe. Two units on the way.*

"Ray, I have been thinking about what you said."

"Which thing?"

"About directions."

Ray looked at him blankly.

"About not having a choice in your own sexuality, Ray."

Jade eyes widened.

*Unit 214. Code seven.*

Ray's mouth opened and closed.

*Copy your code seven, 214.*


"You'd better have a damn good reason for bringing that back up, Fraser."

"It's not something you wish to discuss further?"

"No, it's not!"


Ray tore into his sandwich and slurped at his coffee.

*Unit 35, do you copy?*

The radio crackled.

*Copy, Dispatch.*

*Unit 35, are you near Domaine?*

*Two blocks from, Dispatch.*

"So did you?"

"Did I what, Ray?"

*Copy, Unit 35. See the man at 3148 Domaine. Possible 415.*

*Copy, Dispatch.*

Another long plume headed for the windscreen.

"Did you have a good reason for bringing it up?"

"I believe so, Ray. I have no wish to upset you, but I did wonder if you had any wish to revisit that choice."

Ray snorted. "You worried I'm turning gay on you, Fraser?"

"Not --"

"It's not enough, you must be thinking, having every woman in the greater Chicago area hitting on you all the time. Now your partner's getting funny feelings."

"Are you, Ray?"

Ray's eyes glinted with hurt and betrayal.

"Because if you are able to consider possibilities, Ray, I was hoping I might be able to assist you."

The glint mercifully disappeared, replaced by confusion, then a sad distance.

"I don't need counseling, Benny. It was a long time ago."

*Unit 210 reporting possible disturbance at Wabash and Clairmont.*

"Formative moments do not lose their power with time, Ray."

*Copy, 210. Do you need assistance?*

"Is that supposed to mean something, Benny?"

*Doesn't look like it, Dispatch. Will keep you apprised.*

"Do you find me attractive, Ray?"

*Copy, 210.*

Ray's gloved right hand turned the radio back to its normal volume as his other hand set the remains of his sandwich down on the napkins covering his lap.

"I find you attractive, Ray. In fact, I find you…" The right word flit from his mind.

"What?" Ray whispered, before he scowled and demanded: "Cute?"

The alarm rattled the frosted windows, and the air cut through Fraser's coat as he flung open the door. Ray was ahead of him, skimming sure-footed over the frozen sidewalk towards the videostore. The front windows were covered with the metal gate, and the front glass doors were closed tight, so Fraser had already changed direction as Ray headed for the back.

A gunshot cracked, and Ray was firing back three times at the muzzleflash as Fraser slammed himself against the wall. He was so cold, he wasn't certain at first that he hadn't been hit.

A man screamed in pain, and a body thumped to the ground. Ray was on the dark shape in two seconds, kicking away the gun, whipping out his cuffs, yelling at Fraser to go call it in.

"You have the right to remain silent. If you give up the right to remain silent…"

The warmth was leached from the Riv as Fraser held the door open and radioed in the arrest and the request for an ambulance. He took the first-aid kit from under the passenger seat and the flashlight from the trunk and returned to the alley, where Ray was sitting on the suspect's twitching legs and holding a handkerchief to the superficial but bloody wound on the man's thigh.

Between them, they bandaged the wound, then Ray watched over their charge while Fraser hefted the light.

After a brief search, Fraser found a small bag and, after donning fresh latex gloves, opened it. Blue and red flashes filled the dark space between the buildings as he peered inside to see, not cash, but two copies of *Die Harder.*


Another hospital, and once again the blessing that neither of them had been injured balanced against the knowledge that Ray had been forced to cause harm.

"It was a clean shot," the doctor was explaining to Vecchio and his lieutenant, who had shown up a few minutes ago. "Right through the muscle. Hit no major artery."

"He ready for questioning?"

"With what's in him, you'll do better in about twelve hours."

Welsh waited for the doctor to go, then narrowed his gaze on them both.

"Nothing but those two tapes?"

"Yes, Leftenant."

Ray nodded, and Fraser realized he was rubbing his thumb over his eyebrow. He pulled the arm down and straightened his back again. The hours in the Riv had put in a kink he had yet to work out.

"The suspect was definitely leaving the establishment when we surprised him, sir."

"So he panicked?"

Ray shrugged. "Hank Martello's gone down once for armed robbery, but even so, two videotapes and breaking into that dive wouldn't put him away for long. I didn't have time to ID as a cop, but that shot of his was awful close for panic fire. Makes no sense, him taking the heat for that when he could have just dropped the bag and run."

"Leftenant, I think we should wait to see what else develops tonight. If Mr. Martello were that concerned over being found with the tapes in his possession, we may discover some cause for his fear."

Welsh frowned. "Like what?"

"If Detective Vecchio and I are correct that these assaults have been motivated by some sort of belief in a reward, perhaps the nature of the crime has simply shifted."

"You're thinking we're going to get a rash of robberies instead of rapes, Constable?"

"Perhaps, sir. Of course, the robbery could just be coincidence."

Welsh's eyes expressed the same thought. Ray said nothing, supporting him with silence. When they were alone, the questions would come.

"It's just that the nature of the theft is so odd…almost as odd as attacking a security guard while on duty."

"Any calls while we've been busy, sir?" Vecchio asked, knowing Welsh would know what kind of call he meant.

"We got one report of sexual assault, but it's a boyfriend and he'd done it before. Five will get you eight she drops the charges again." Welsh looked them over again, then sighed, nodding at the cut on Ray's neck made from the concrete chipped out by the bullet. "You got that cleaned out?"

"Not yet, sir."

"Do it, then the both of you get some sleep and come back here in ten hours. I want a report on everything you've got before three."

"Yes, sir."

"Yes, Leftenant."

They left the hospital with a bandage on Ray's throat and swathed in bright white plumes of breath. It seemed too cold for the light snow that fell, and Fraser's damp gloves stuck slightly to the car door as he opened it and climbed inside.

"I'm too tired to eat, Benny. You want something?"

"I would like to ask a favor."

"Sure." Ray started up the car. The heater roared with frost.

"Come back to my place to sleep in my bed." Fraser cleared his throat. "Er, in my arms."

Ray sort of laughed, hanging his head forward and shaking it slightly, side to side. "Fraser, give it up."

Sharp, bitter disappointment. "You don't, then, find me attractive?"

"I find you to be my best friend, and I'm not messing with that, okay? I get it." He turned then, eyes dark and strained. "I get it, and I appreciate it, but let's not fool around with that stuff. Sure…yeah." Ray ran hand over his head as the heater began to emit air slightly warmed. "I've thought about touching you, all right? It's out there. I've thought about what you'd look like if I kissed you, what it would be like to get you all hot and bothered and know it was me got you that way. But one hand on my ass and I'd probably end up shooting you again."

"I doubt that seriously, Ray."

"Yeah, well, I'm a basket case and don't forget it."

"It's precisely because of your troubles that --"

"And when your Fraser therapy's over, what then, huh, Benny? You think the two of us just go back to being friends?"

"I was thinking we would simply be expanding our friendship, Ray, not abandoning it."

"Fraser…" Ray rolled down the window a crack to combat the window-fog. "Don't you get it? A man can't take this sort of thing as charity -- I doubt a woman could either, come to it. If you really wanted me, that would be something to go on, but this…this is just sort of pathetic. Can't you see that?"

Ray pulled out of the lot then, heading for Fraser's apartment. There was hardly any traffic. The moon had gone down. In a couple of hours, it would be dawn.

"Would it strengthen my offer, then, if you knew that my motives are also selfish, Ray?"

"How you figure that one, Fraser?"

It was still shocking, the difficulty of saying the simple, single word.


Ray waited through several dark blocks.

"You mean, like a revenge thing or something? Proving you don't need her anymore?"

"I loved her, Ray. I was *in love* with her."

"I know, Benny."

"And you know what happened to me. You saw what I…was."

Ray shook his head in anger. "Don't talk about it like that. She tied you in knots."

"I let her. I placed my finger on the knots she made of me and asked her for more. I let her use me. I betrayed you for her."

"You didn't betray me."

"I was leaving with her."

"You were running *to* her, not *from* me, Benny."

"You mortgaged your house."

Ray made the left turn onto Benny's street sharp and hard. "What, you think that was about money? I would have dealt with the money, Fraser."

"If you hadn't shot me, Ray, my life would have been over. I would have become something that wasn't Benton Fraser anymore. I might have been happy, but how could I have known myself well enough to tell? It was a simple accident that kept love from ruining my life and everything I care about. I can never let that happen again."

Ray pulled up before the apartment building and cut the motor. His gaze was accusatory.

"You're saying you're not in love with me."

Fraser accepted the words with a nod, but pressed, "It's more than that. I care about you too much to allow that sort of darkness to return. Becoming involved with you would protect us both from me, don't you see that, Ray?"

"That's not how anyone should look at it, Fraser." Ray rubbed both hands over his head now, fingers cradling that delicate skull. "You deserve better than that, and so do I."

"I do love you, Ray."

Vecchio writhed. "Don't go saying things like that! You know I hate that kind of stuff!"

"Which is why you express your feelings in action," Fraser pointed out, feeling slightly triumphant again. Ray was delightful as a challenge. Did the man know it? "This would give you an avenue of action through which to express your feelings for me more completely."

The car was turning cold again with the motor off. Ray shivered and hugged himself.

"Come upstairs, Ray."

"Therapy for me and safe haven for you. Two friends getting off because they can't get something better, pretending it's more until…what? Until Victoria comes back?"

"Perhaps it will be Susan Chapin instead."

"The hell with you too, Benny."

"And perhaps if they appear in our lives again, we will have healed each other well enough that I can put my past into the past and arrest her for Jolly's murder, and you can ask Agent Chapin to be a part of your life."

Ray shivered again.

"We still deserve more."

"You deserve love on a scale I cannot even imagine," Fraser said sincerely, smiling sadly when Ray snuffled and guffawed. "Tell me that you feel ready to receive it, that if offered that sort of love right now from a beautiful, perfect women you would take it and her to your heart unconditionally, and I will never raise this subject again."

"What about just telling you I'm scared?"

"The thought of hurting our friendship terrifies me as well, Ray."

Ray shivered and laughed, trying to break up the moment. "Let me just sleep on it, okay, Fraser?"

"With me?"

Ray looked at him for the first time in many long minutes. "What?"

"Upstairs. Sleep with me, whatever your decision about the other."


"For the trust of it."

Ray waved a hand, shaking his head. "I already trust you, Fraser."

Benton held himself very still, not even breathing, until Ray turned to him, doubtlessly to say goodnight, and Fraser allowed his eyes to turn sharp, raking up and down Ray's slumped, wiry, sensual body. He let his gaze linger on Ray's lap, then trail to his hands, skim over that delicate curve of skull, and then finally sink heat into a stare straight into the man's terrified green eyes.

Immediately, Fraser made himself go blank, inoffensive, frightened now himself that it had been too much.

Ray was gripping the steering wheel, staring through the white haze of the windscreen, breath uneven, body shaking. It was almost impossible for Fraser to offer no comfort, to sit there so quietly and wait.

With a groan, Ray buried his face in trembling hands.

"What if I still say no in the morning?" The muffled question came at last.

"Throughout every step, this will be your decision. No matter what."

Ray started, fingered the keys in the ignition, slid a sideways glance over at his friend, bit his lips, slumped, pulled out the keys, scrabbled at the door handle, and let in the stabbing air. For a moment, ice particles swirled in and around them, filling the Riv with a tiny snowstorm. By the time the snow had settled to melt on the warm leather, the car was quiet and empty.


"There's no way we're both fitting," Ray pronounced, dressed at last in the RCMP sweats Fraser had produced for him. Ray had long ago stored some extra clothes at Benny's apartment, but they did not include pajamas.

"If you can't sleep, I'll take the bedroll, but I wish that you would try it first, Ray."

Dief grumbled from the floor and was ignored.

Ray glanced over, and Fraser felt surprise at his own level of awareness regarding his worn, comfortable and suddenly very thin and figure-hugging red longjohns. He didn't shiver. The room was warm from the radiator, the windows wet with melted frost.

"At least it doesn't matter which is your side of the bed," Ray said, hedging his way towards the narrow mattress as though it might just have teeth. "There is no side."

Fraser took quiet steps, wanting to lay down first and welcome Ray into the bed with his arms. But Ray looked intimidated enough as it was, so Benny just stood there, smiling slightly and, he hoped, encouragingly.

Ray seemed to steel himself and slid into bed, pulling the covers up to his chin, his face registering surprise.


"The mattress."


"It looks like a bed of nails, but…it's not bad."

Fraser bit his lip. "It's new, actually."


"My back, ah, appreciates it."

Ray nodded, accepting the facts, acknowledging that Benny could tell him the truth.

"May I get in now, Ray?"

Ray shrugged. "It's your bed."

"I'll sleep on the floor, if you prefer."

"Just get in, already, Fraser!"

He was exhausted, and so was Ray. The covers slid back easily, but Fraser's legs got a little tangled as he settled down. He tried to smile through it, but Ray tensed up when Fraser's foot touched his calf, and the man seemed ready to edge his way back out of the bed. Finally, Fraser forced himself still, despite the arm trapped under his side and the crimp in his neck from where the pillow had rolled up.

From inches away, Ray stared at him. Nothing at all was touching between them.

"The bedroll for me, then?" Fraser offered at last.

"I'm not frightened of you, Benny."

"I know."

"Then why do I feel like I'm gonna pass out or something? I mean, we both got our clothes on, pretty much. I slept next to you before, in the Riv, or with you in the room, on stakeouts. What makes it so weird now, huh?"

"Other than the fact that you know I want to make love with you eventually?"

"Benny, I'm thinking…"

"Yes, Ray?"

Ray shook his head, wriggled slightly, and sighed.

"We're gonna have to touch each other some here, Fraser."

"Perhaps you would like to tell me what I can't touch first."

Ray made a face, his eye bright in the streetlights shining through the bare windows. Fraser thought for a moment, then nodded.

"You've told me you don't want to be touched on your, er, backside. How about your lower back?"

Ray shook his head.

"Your upper back?"

Ray shrugged.

"Your shoulders?"

Ray rolled his eyes. "They're fine."

"Your legs?"

"Depends. I don't like feeling trapped."

"Your stomach?"

Another shrug.

"Are your nipples sensitive?"

"Aw, jeeze, Benny!" Ray writhed in discomfort and nearly fell out of the bed.

"Is that a yes or a no?"

"What difference does it make?"

"Quite a bit, actually."

"Look, I just had Ange leave 'em alone, all right?"

"Not really, Ray."


"Ray, I'm going to have to learn your body completely, and you mine, if we're to make any progress."

Ray glared at him with intense discomfort, but his eyes weren't quite steady. Something was creeping through his friend, and Fraser waited as patiently as he could to see if it would be allowed to surface.

"How about your nips, Benny?"

"Sensitive? Very."

Ray's eyes went to where Fraser's nipples would be, as though they could see through the sheet, and suddenly Benny felt awkward and…weird. He rode it out, allowing the color to come up in his skin and then subside. It would have to be that way. Both of them were going to be naked of every last sexual secret if this were going to work. Everything Fraser had read so far on the subject had been adamant about that.

He wondered then if he should show some of his books to Ray. Perhaps it would help Ray's confidence to know that Fraser was up to his shoulders in research. Child abuse, sexual abuse, sexual awareness, *The Joy of Gay Sex,* statistical surveys, home-style therapy and self-help, photographs and diagrams, mantras and shakras, sensual cookbooks, advice for the lovelorn, even things on repressed memories and directed dreaming, should the need arise.

But Ray usually displayed impatience with such things. Perhaps it would be better simply to encourage Ray's trust in Benny as a person and a friend, rather than as a scholar.

The books were to hand, after all, should Ray ever have questions.

"It feels weird," Ray whispered at last. "Too much, you know? I don't like it when women touch them. It's like they're laughing at me, anyway."

Fraser nodded, not understanding all of it. Ray's cultural background had so many odd rules about what was male and what female. But he could appreciate the idea that Ray felt vulnerable.

"That bother you?" Ray asked.

"I have enjoyed the feeling of nipples under my tongue, changing from soft to hard. The…responsiveness had allowed me to share in my partner's pleasure."

To Fraser's surprise, Ray relaxed just slightly with a smile.

"Yeah, I know what you're saying there. You have to be so careful with women, with their breasts, you know? They don't like it when men make too much out of them, but if you don't make enough, watch out!" Ray laughed gently, affectionately, his eyes reviewing private scenes. "I've always found that a lot of looking, then touching, then kissing is the right approach, and watching her get into it, helping her just relax and go with it…sometimes it's my favorite part, you know? Getting them undressed, getting them ready. At a certain point, nature just sort of takes over anyway, and it's as much work for her as it is for you to see she has a good time. But right there at the beginning, learning her, that's all the man's job."

"Then you're more comfortable with touching than with being touched?" Fraser asked, then was again surprised as Ray reacted as though a great revelation had been made.

"Yeah…yeah, I guess so, Benny."

Fraser nodded, and rolled down firmly on his back. Ray went tense again, but Benny made himself comfortable, hogging some of the pillow and quietly flexing the arm now filling with pins and needles.


"Can you lay along me, Ray? Can you touch me if I just lay here?"

A few moments passed in frozen silence, but Ray's breathing didn't change too much. Finally, the sheets rustled and tugged, and Ray's body was close, warm even through the sweats and the longjohns. Ray shifted closer, then closer, and then was touching him all down the length of his body, resting his head lightly on Benny's chest, one arm over his waist, fitting down and -- who would have thought that Ray could snuggle like this? Like a child, really, and the thought squeezed Fraser's heart.

By centimeters, Ray relaxed, his head growing heavy on Fraser's chest. Fraser carefully arranged the covers, then put one hand up over the top of Ray's back, between the shoulder blades. Outside the window, false dawn turned the streetlights gray.

Fraser closed itching eyes and drifted under the warmth of Ray's body. He only knew he had slept because when Ray's phone rang the room was bright with day.

Ray slid from the bed and Fraser felt slightly damp where his body had been.

"Vecchio. Yes, sir. Three, sir? Yes, sir."

He snapped the phone shut and reached for his pants, shucking the sweats somehow in the middle of it all.

"Welsh says they got three reports of video thefts."

"All *Die Harder*?"

Ray shot him a look and nodded. Fraser got up to make coffee.


He turned back, noting that Ray had his pants on under the large RCMP sweatshirt. Except for the beard stubble, he looked about fifteen years old.

"Yes, Ray?"

"If the offer's still open…"

Fraser knew he was smiling. Ray didn't seem to mind.

"I can't make any promises about anything, Benny. 'Cept we can give it a try, okay?"

"Strictly speaking, I can't promise you anything else myself, Ray."

Ray nodded and looked satisfied. Fraser knew it would probably be best to leave it at that, but instead he walked back, leaned in as gently as he could, and kissed the warm, stubble-rough cheek of his best friend.

"You're really adorable in the mornings, Ray."

"Gawd, Benny." Ray shrugged away in slow-motion agony. "If you ever want to get your hands on me, you have *got* to stop saying things like that!"


Detective Ellen Schwab, Chicago PD, stretched out her legs and craned her neck until it popped, then leaned back in the somewhat squeaky wooden chair and waited.

Theresa Darniel and Amber Lambert met each other's eyes, but the move had lost the defiance it possessed three hours ago.

Theresa's mother and step-father and Amber's father were currently being given the details that plainly implicated their daughters in the sexual assault of Valerie Downing, including fingerprints taken from a Coke bottle found near the scene of the assault. The blood on the bottle matched Valerie's type, and DNA tests had been ordered. Schwab knew she had only minutes left before the family lawyers descended like locusts in three-piece suits, but no hint of this reached her face.

The services officer was in the room, supervising their questioning, but considering that the victim was also a child, Schwab was being given some leeway.

She didn't really need a confession right now, anyway.

"It's always a problem," Schwab noted, "when new people come along. They just don't get how things work, and they're always trying to horn in on everything."

Amber nodded, shrugging off Theresa's fidget. "That's why we're always nice to the new girls. They don't get what's going on, most of the time."

Schwab smiled. "Not like someone who's been there since the beginning, right? I bet you two could tell me more about what's going on than anyone."

Amber tossed her hair. "We're not the news service."

Schwab laughed. "Yeah, they tell anybody anything. Not like you at all." Then she was silent, a little knowing smile on her face.

Teresa looked down at the sheds of her Styrofoam cup. It would be harder to say which of the two girls was more surprised at the first tight little sob.


One of the useful things about window blinds, Harding Welsh reflected, was that if you opened them just right, you could see the world without being seen.

That kind of summed things up for cops, he imagined, or how he used to think about cops, anyway.

He really hadn't thought too much of Vecchio when he'd first taken over at the 27th. Flashy and loud, the opposite of what a detective who needed to rely on undercover work should be. Vecchio and his "nose" trick -- like anyone could forget that face-banana after meeting him!

But Welsh hadd been thinking about what the commander had said about Vecchio and Fraser's being "colorful." She was right, but she was wrong, the same way that Welsh had been wrong.

Ray hadn't needed less color before Fraser came along, he'd needed more.

They were talking now, Vecchio and Fraser at Vecchio's desk, probably going over the highlights of their meeting with himself and Commander O'Neill. Fraser was in the brown uniform, Vecchio in something Italian and expensive and tastefully subdued, their heads bent over reports.

Fifteen thefts of that video had been reported, and more reports probably coming in before the day was over.

Vecchio was right. Someone might be flexing their muscle or hiding a crime. Fraser was right. It might be both.

Was he being a jerk, not wanting Vecchio put on some sort of permanent task force? Sure, he didn't like the idea of the 27th losing a valuable officer, but detectives left all the time, and Vecchio's career could use the recognition. He certainly didn't begrudge the man some glamour.

Was it Fraser? Did he dislike the idea of the Mountie's having some sort of official status in his town?

Welsh felt something at that thought, a little niggle that meant he was close, but…

Vecchio laughed at something Fraser was saying. Fraser looked confused.

They were an accident, a happy, lucky accident that shouldn't work, but did. Making it official -- making *them* official would upset the apple cart, turn something that worked like a magic spell into something that could look damn stupid in the spotlight.

How many times had he had to look the other way while Vecchio went off and did God knew what tracking suspects down in sewers or finding evidence that would look like some sort of acid trip when reported on the six o'clock news? He could see it with Dan Rather now: "And then the bullets went 'bing-bang-boom.'"

Here at the 27th, Welsh knew he could protect his men, and that had somehow come to include Fraser. Out there…who knew?

Was this Thatcher's concern as well, he wondered?

They were up now, Vecchio grabbing his coat and Fraser twirling his hat a few times before setting it on his head. Elaine was saying something with her back just slightly arched. Welsh moved to the door.

"Only because you're so useful where you are, Elaine," Vecchio was saying.

"One day I won't be here anymore, and the what will you do?"

"Are you planning to leave the 27th, Elaine?" Fraser asked.

"Like she has any place to go," Vecchio grumped, sweeping out and drawing an apology-smiling Fraser along in his wake.

Elaine sighed, but her audience was gone. Welsh turned back to his desk, fighting off his own sigh, though his was tinged not with romance, but ill-defined dread.


"How many does that make, Fraser?" Ray asked, puddling down on the bench and stretching out his stiff legs.

"Eight, Ray." Fraser sat on the bench and looked over the black lace of branches clumped cloud-like a nearly uniform twenty feet over the brown expanse of the park grounds. It should have been pretty, but with the dark, angry sky threatening hail and the absence of others around them, it seemed merely used and barren.

Fraser felt the sharp ache approaching, and indulged it, longing for virgin snow and blue-tinged mountains, clean air and a sky so tall and broad a man's dreams might let him ascend to heaven some mid-afternoon while the rest of the world wasn't looking. He had come to care for Chicago; it was even Home. But something inside him would always be missing here.

Fraser found his lip half-curling, thinking of the man beside him. Part of him would be missing now if he left as well. It was an odd sensation, knowing he would never be whole again.

But no, he had never been whole before, either. Perhaps that was why he so desperately needed people to fill the gaps inside himself. He had, Fraser admitted, hoarded love all his life. No wonder it terrified him.

It was one of his crucial differences from Ray, who loved not in need, but in generosity. The man overflowed with love as much as he did with anger, with joy, with friendship, with scorn, with everything.

Would it be possible, somehow, to have Ray need him? Could he then, perhaps, give love generously in return?

Ray stirred, and Fraser grabbed frantically at the facts of their case.

"You really think we got a chance of making this work, Benny?"

Fraser tried a smile. "I certainly hope so, Ray."

"We would have to start it up in the middle of this mess, though. And you know, what if it's not muscle or a book in a library? What if it's something else?"

Several stray thoughts converged.

"Ray, what if this is a series of challenges?"

Ray's head came up. "Someone scoping talent, you mean?"

"If by that you're suggesting that someone wishes to evaluate the possibilities of talented individuals for recruitment into some sort of organized criminal behavior, yes, Ray."

Ray thought it over, shivering slightly as the sun ducked behind a black cloud and the temperature dropped.

"If we weren't on this damn special task force, I'd drop below for a while, see what I could find. As things are, even the snitches don't want to get involved."

"All eight stores have reported the same theft, but very different approaches to the break-in. Some had additional thefts, some didn't, some additional damage, some not. That would suggest independent action with similar goals."

"So how does word get out? Who tells everyone that stealing that movie's the thing to do?"

Ray's cell phone rang.

"Vecchio. Yeah, hi, Ellen." He looked over at Fraser. "You don't say?"

Fraser's attention was caught by a young man crossing the park, surprised that he hadn't noticed him approaching. He seemed lost in his own thoughts, sad, unable to see the world around him. Watching him, Fraser ached with the need to pull Ray into his arms, to hold that lean, ever-moving body to his own and assure him everything would be all right.

Whose sexual hang-ups was he trying to conquer, Fraser asked himself, chilled with the suddenness of it? Whose childhood wounds was he seeking to heal?

"Thanks, Ellen. See you at six."

Ray snapped shut and stowed the cell phone.

"A break, Ray?"

"Schwab's girls said they heard someone had set it up so that nobody would get in trouble for sexual assault, as long as they did it in the next couple of days."

"Heard from 'someone'?"

Ray nodded. "The janitor. Schwab's gonna meet us there at six, when he comes on duty for the night shift." Ray clapped his hands together, all energy. "Meanwhile, what say we get some pizza before we go back to your place?"

Fraser blinked. "My place?"

"We're gonna be up all night again. We'd better get some shut-eye before six."

Fraser thought a moment, then smiled. "Your Leftenant's orders?"

Ray shrugged and avoided his eyes before reaching for his cell phone to order a large with everything. He hit a button, then another, and put the phone back to his ear.

The young man had stopped walking, leaning now against a tree with his arms crossed. He wore jeans and a thick jacket, a blue scarf, and a red cap.

"Ma? Yeah…I miss you too, Ma, but this thing's only getting worse…Yeah….Yeah…Look, I'm gonna be staying at Benny's for a while, okay? I'll come by later to get some clothes and stuff…Because I don't know when I'm coming or going and this way I don't have to worry about waking everybody up…Ma…Ma…we'll come by for dinner when we can, okay?"

The young man was sinking into a crouch now, his arms folded over his stomach. Fraser was on his feet several seconds before he quite realized what he was doing.

"Yeah?…Uh, Ma? I gotta go. Fraser's gonna help another stranger…Yeah, yeah. If I make it by the store, okay? Bye."

Ray was behind him then, saying nothing more.

The young man looked up at their approach.


Wariness, resentment.

"I'm Constable Benton Fraser of the RCMP. This is Detective Ray Vecchio of the Chicago Police Department."

"So what?"

Ah. The young man was younger even than he looked. Perhaps fifteen.

"You seemed as though you might be in need of some assistance."

Dark brown eyes looked at him, and Fraser gazed back, waiting.

*I do not want to be here. I want to be alone with Ray.*

Was the shake of his head visible to the others? Had he ruined this opportunity to help because of his own selfishness? It was like with Victoria, all over again.

"I ain't done nothing."

"Nobody's saying you did." Ray's voice. "But the city doesn't just pay me to haul murderers off to jail, you know. Sometimes I get to do normal stuff like ask people if they're okay."

Hurt eyes looked at Ray, then back at Fraser. The wave had passed. It was easier now to nod encouragingly, his attention returning to the matter at hand. Not like with Victoria. Nothing like.

Three hours later, having spent most of the time they were supposed to be getting some sleep in turning over James McBroellin to a social worker, arresting his mother's boyfriend, and seeing to his booking, Fraser found himself in Ray's bedroom, helping him pack suits, pajamas, and toiletries while Mrs. Vecchio bustled about in the kitchen downstairs, filling containers with pasta. Of Francesca there was no sign.

"You know, I never did ask if this was okay with you, Fraser."

"Only because you knew there was no need, Ray. Do you think we should sleep here or at my apartment?"


"We still have two hours before we are to meet Detective Schwab."

Ray zipped his suitcase shut and put it on the floor, then walked to his window, looking out into the late afternoon, as weary as Fraser had ever seen him.

"My old man never did that to me, Benny."

Fraser waited.

"You think there's a chance McBroellin could ever just be all right after this? I mean, all Pop did was be there. Saved me, even, like I said. I can't imagine…How can he ever be normal, be happy? I get so used up looking at wasted lives, Benny."

"Mr. McBroellin has several things on which he can rely for his self-esteem, Ray, including the fact that he sought help."

"And what does a girl gang-raped by her friends have, Benny? And all the rest of them? Huh?" Ray spun around now, his hands half-raised.

"We all have to find whatever we can, and keep going. If we're lucky, it's enough."

"That's not good enough!" Ray's voice and hands were continuing to raise. Giving in to an impulse he had had, it seemed, forever, Benny folded those long, delicate fingers within his own square palms and raised first one, then the other to his lips. When he looked back up, still holding Ray's hands, his friend was shaking and he seemed all eyes.

"You help people every day, Ray. Every day you get up, and the world is a better place because you're in it. That may not be enough for the world, but it's more than enough for one man."

Ray shook his head. "That's you, Benny."

Fraser drew those city-soft hands to his face, smiling into their warmth. "Perhaps it could be both of us."

"God, Benny. I'd like it to be."

Ray sighed, and shocked Fraser by leaning in. It was just to rest his head on his shoulder, but Fraser's knees didn't seem to realize it was anything less than a sexual maneuver. He tried frowning at them, but they ignored him utterly, which, fortunately, made him think of Diefenbaker, and his knees did steady at last.

In any event, it was wonderful to hold Ray against him like this, to give and take comfort equally, to feel needed and useful and selfish all at once.

It was extraordinary, this moment, when Ray's body seemed made up of both flesh and spirit, of possibilities both of pleasure and satisfaction. He could smell, feel, hear, see, and even taste Ray like this, sensing both the molecules of Ray in the air and his own anticipation of more. Delightful. Delectable. And yet this was the friend who nourished him: meat, starch, and sugar.

"What so funny?" Ray grumbled into his shoulder.

"I am amused by my own conceit."

"Hmph. This where I'm supposed to think you're talking about being arrogant?"

"No, Ray."

"Because I do know what that means, you know."

"Understood, Ray."

Ray sighed and sifted. "We can get in a couple hours' sack time if we just do it here."

Fraser nodded and leaned back, sliding off Ray's tie, then his shirt, before kneeling down for his shoes. Ray turned away to take off his pants, then helped his pleasantly surprised friend off with his outer layers as well. Ray smiled at Benny's starched boxers. Benny returned the favor for Ray's black briefs. Both kept their undershirts on.

Ray turned off the light and drew the curtains, creating a warm, dark cupboard. Then he set the alarm for five-fifteen.

Ray's bed was both soft and firm, the sheets smooth and clean, the pillows springy down and satin-lined. Fraser wrapped his arms around Ray's hot, lean body and snuggled in.

"What if we didn't go any farther than this, Benny?"

"If that's what you want, Ray."

"I'm trying to figure out what you want, Fraser. Help me out here."

"I want to love someone without losing myself, Ray. I told you that before."

"Just anyone?" Ray gripped his waist. "And don't be lying to me here, Fraser. I could stand it being just anyone, just happening to be me. I mean, I can figure you were looking for someone and I'm what you found."

"I wasn't looking, Ray. You yourself suggested possibilities to me. I mean, in being yourself."

Ray was silent.

"And you, Ray? Why did you say yes?"

"I only said yes to giving it a try."

"The question remains, Ray. Are just looking for someone whom you know…" But it wasn't true, was it? Ray couldn't trust him not to hurt him, not to betray him. "…who loves you?"

Somehow, Ray heard the real question instead. "What I always thought I wanted looked nothing like you, Benny, but there's nothing about you I want to change, all right? Never, not one second in the last three years have I been anything but glad we met, so just get that look off your face."

"You can't see my face, Ray."

"I know what it looks like right now anyway, don't I? So just cut it out."

Fraser attempted to school his features without creating tension in the rest of his body.

"You still haven't answered my question, Ray."

Vecchio wriggled in his arms slightly, sighing when he found a more comfortable position.

"I just think we deserve a shot, Benny. Okay? Now, can we get some sleep here?"

Greatly daring, Fraser leaned in to place a sheet-soft kiss on Ray's temple, feeling warmed by the man's faint gasp. When he went to pull away, however, Ray followed him, his breath fanning Benny's chin. And then it was simply time to do this.

Gentle to the point of being chaste, dry and firm, the kiss was more a pronouncement than a promise on both their parts. A fingertip traced his jaw, then his ear. He smoothed his own hand over Ray's bare shoulder, palm tickled by the soft hair. Ray's breath into his mouth was flavored with coffee and cilantro. Fraser made sure to keep his hands on Ray's shoulders and his tongue inside his mouth.

And then it was over. Ray kissed his lower lip softly, then turned on his back, this time inviting Fraser to lay along him, and for almost two hours they slept.


Francesca Vecchio finished putting away the dishes and went looking for her mother.

It wasn't much of a search. Tony and Maria had taken the kids to a movie, and Ray was going to be out all night. The chores were done. Her mother would be in the armchair in the front room reading a book or magazine and sipping on a glass of sherry.

It was a magazine tonight, one on Christmas cooking.

"Didn't we miss out on that, Ma?" Francesca asked as she sat down on the sofa with her own glass of Tia Maria. "Or do think you'll start in on the next one?"

Mrs. Vecchio sniffed. "Many things they're calling Christmas food now is just good cold weather meals. I must say, if it's not something young people can just throw into a microwave nowadays, it's 'holiday cooking.'"

She put down the magazine and sipped her sherry. Francesca thought about pouring her mother another glass.

"And what are they all rushing around for, I would like to know? Do they think they're living their lives when they eat TV dinners six nights a week, and have store-cooked pot-roast from the market special on Sundays? Young people don't seem to be happy, but they're so busy making themselves unhappy they don't notice."

"We have a different world now, Ma. People have a lot to worry about."

Mrs. Vecchio flapped a hand. "The world is the same world that was here before any of us, and will still be around long after we're gone. You start worrying about the world, you're never gonna stop."

"But we have to figure things out now you didn't. Or at least, we have to figure them out in public, when they used to be private."

Mrs. Vecchio frowned at her daughter. "You mean…what do you mean?"

"What would you do if I told you I was a lesbian?"

"Santa Maria! No!" Dark eyes stared at her in horror, and Francesca slumped, staring at her feet in disappointment.

"I see."

"Francesca…you…but you…"

Frannie waved her off. "I'm not gay, Ma."

"Do not scare your poor mother --"

"So what are you saying, Ma? Huh?" Frannie put her drink down and crossed her arms. "You're saying you'd disown me if I decided I like women? I ain't had a lot of luck with men, Ma."

Mrs. Vecchio set down her own glass and rubbed her eyes while shaking her head. The magazine somehow stayed put.

"I don't understand what this is, Francesca. Are you testing me?"

"I guess. I want to know if you love me enough that I could change something like that. I want to know if your children have to do something or be something before you love them."

Dark eyes now regarded her sadly.

"I'm just saying, Ma. This is the sort of stuff we have to deal with right now. I got some friends who are lesbians, you know. Not one of 'em doesn't have a huge problem with her family. I'd like to think mine was better than that."

"I suppose…I would be so disappointed for you, bambina."


"That you couldn't find a man."

"But what if I didn't want one? What if I really wanted a woman instead?" Frannie cocked her head in challenge. "Would you really accept me? Would you accept her? Or would you toss me out of the house and call in the priest?"

Mrs. Vecchio bristled. "I do not need a priest to tell me how to behave with my own family!"

"But would you accept my choice, Ma? Huh? Would you trust me enough to believe me when I told you that I wanted to be a lesbian, or Jewish, or Communist, or whatever I wanted?"

Her mother stared, fingers to her lips, shaking her head.

"Because there's not much point in having dreams if you can't have your family there cheering you on, you know?"

"Cara…is there something you want to tell me?"

"Not if you're gonna hate me or pity me for it, Ma. I mean, if you'd rather not know stuff like this about me, or Ray, or Maria, you should say so. Give us a place to know where our feet are, you know?" Francesca stood up and turned to go, only to find her mother standing right in front of her.

"I would never hate my children! How can you say such a thing? You, who have never known what it is to have a child, to hold it inside you, to feed it with your own body, to watch it grow up, to pray for it every day, every minute." Dark eyes filled now with tears. "You say this thing to me, as though I should just tell you, 'Yes, I don't care! I don't care what you are or what happens to you!' Well, I can't do that. I won't."

"I want you to care, Ma! I just don't want you to think there's only one way for your children to live their lives."

"Did I turn from you or Raymondo when you decided to get divorced? Do I say a word while you throw yourself at men, or when Maria treats her husband like a bum or a stranger? Do I ever say anything?"

"Ma --"

"And since when would you or Maria listen, anyway? The only one of you who listens to his mother is Raymondo."

"So what if Ray was gay, Ma? What if he told you he was gonna marry Benton?"

"I should turn you over my knee for saying that!"

Frannie's chin came up. "Is that what you'd tell Ray, Ma? Would you beat it out of him, like Pop used to?"

There was a sudden, horrible silence. Mrs. Vecchio, already pale, turned white as paper and sank bank into her chair.

Slowly, frightened, Frannie put out her hand, but before she could touch one soft, shaking shoulder, her mother began to cry.


"It was lovely to kiss you, Ray."

Vecchio grunted, shifting in his seat, and stared out the windshield.

At least it was warmer here, tucked inside the garage of a safe house on Cardiz Blvd. Ray's unexpected snitch and Michael Ticherly, the high school custodian, both said --each after a bit of persuasion -- that the target crime tonight was bicycle theft. Cardiz fit the neighborhood pattern, and Fraser and Vecchio had both ridden nice, new Schwinns all through the area before heading into the garage.

It was a long-shot, but they needed to know where and when the thief was expecting to report his crime. Schwab and Bronski were in a garage not too far away, with a vintage Hercules and a mint-condition Niko.

"It was a little weird," Ray said finally. "You're a lot more…bulk to sleep with than I'm used to, and I'm not exactly used to sleeping with anyone right now."

"Would you like me to get a bigger bed?"


Fraser nodded, thinking of the expense. Perhaps he should simply try to leave more of the bed for Ray. His mattress was new, after all.

"It wasn't just that, though," Ray said after a while, talking into the darkness of the car inside the greater darkness of the garage. "You don't breathe much in your sleep, and Dief pants. It's like he's breathing up the air you don't need."

"There's no shortage of air in the room, Ray."

"You ever think about how Dief's kinda like you and me put together, him being half wolf and half husky, or malamute, or whatever the rest of him is?"

While Diefenbaker stuck his nose into the front seat briefly, then sniffed and curled up on the backseat again, Fraser summoned up his nerve.

"Which one of us is the wolf, and which one of us is the husky?" he asked at last, his voice lightly imitating his partner's.

Ray laughed, then dropped his voice low. "Actually, Ray, Diefenbaker's canine influences can be easily traced by licking the snow from his left front paw."

Fraser laughed, surprised by how easy it was, but more surprised by how much laughing with Ray made him want to kiss Ray.

"That might be a helpful exercise, actually," Fraser mused aloud.


"Could you 'do' me, but touching me?"

Ray's puzzled look was all gray shadows. "Say that again?"

"Could you assume my role, but through touching?"

Ray gulped.

"I dunno…Benny…this is all kinda weird."

"You should do nothing with which you feel uncomfortable, Ray, of course."

Ray's eyes narrowed, the lashes glistening faintly.

"You want me to do what I want you to do to me, is that it?" Ray's voice had gone dangerous, and this time, Fraser gulped.


Ray's head zoomed down towards Fraser's lap.


Diefenbaker barked, jumping up. Fraser glared back at his wolf, who quieted instantly. When he turned back, Ray was leaning against the driver's side door, his arms crossed: hunched, really.


"Yeah, that's what I thought."

Ray's voice was thick and tough, distant. He gave a half-shrug and seemed to be listening to the quiet requests and responses from the radio.

Fraser quickly considered several options before he realized he was stalling. With a final glare towards the backseat, he set his Stetson on the dash, squared his shoulders, and then bent over Ray's lap, his hands reaching…

His hands being pushed away as Ray's voice, somewhat higher than usual, ordered him to stop, several times.

Fraser sat back, staring into his friend's wide eyes. "Don't you want that, Ray?" he whispered.

Ray's mouth opened, then he scrambled from the car, slamming the door, leaning against the Riv, breathing hard.

Fraser forced himself to sit quietly, but his ears were roaring and his face was hot.

Perhaps this was all just a horrible, horrible idea.

Who was he to think he could help Ray? Who was he to think he could help anyone in loving someone else? Constable Benton Fraser was a walking emotional curse, RCMP. He'd never been able to act in a normal way with love, ever. Not with his father, not with Victoria, not now, with Ray. Ray had made him forget that for a while, with his trust, his open generosity of spirit. But not even Ray could pretend that much.

His fingers had cramped. He was holding his hands too tightly in his lap. He loosened them, and waited, rehearsing his apology.

The driver's door opened, and Ray slid behind the wheel again. In the light from the car's ceiling, Ray's face was pale and blurred.

"I'm sorry."

Fraser blinked, his own apology awkwardly swallowed by surprise.

"I'm sorry, Benny. That was a rotten thing to do."

"We're both scared, Ray."

"I know. I'm sorry. All right?"

"All right…I'm sorry too."

Ray turned to him, and there was the light weight of his hand on his shoulder.

"Shh. Okay? Just don't say anything for a little while, all right?"

Ray edged closer, then a little closer again, and the hand moved off his shoulder, trailed lightly, very lightly, up his neck. There was a sweet, gentle stroke along his jaw, over his lips, up and then down his nose. And now there were two hands stroking his face.

Fraser's eyes fluttered shut. Exquisite.

The touches continued for several minutes, exploring, soothing, treasuring. Fingers ran through his hair, curled around his ears, barely skimmed over his eyelids, danced on his forehead.

"Notice how I'm not spending a lot of time on your nose," Ray said somewhat gruffly. "So, don't be spending a lot of time on mine, okay? I know you gotta go for the percentages, so much time here, so much time here. But the nose --"

"I love your nose, Ray."

"Even Ma don't love my nose, Fraser."

"Your mother loves you. I love you. I'm sure both of us are very fond of your nose."

Ray laughed, and there was a heavy weight -- Ray's head -- resting briefly on his shoulder.

When Ray pulled back, Fraser couldn't take his place quickly enough. There in the dark he used only the very tips of his fingers, marveling at the softness of Ray's skin, the prickle of velvet from Ray's hair, the long, sensual sweep of the often-mentioned nose, the hesitant brush of eyelashes, those full, generous lips that looked in the light like they really knew what they were doing.

But in the end he couldn't help himself. He had to touch Ray's neck, so impossibly long, so smooth and soft down to his collarbone, then up into the barest masculine rasp of stubble under the chin, then down again.

He knew from Ray's tension it was time to stop, and pulled away with great reluctance.

They sat together in silence a while.


"Yes, Ray?"

"Isn't it your turn now?"

Fraser was about to say he'd had his turn, then realized with a tight, wonderful, sinking feeling that Ray meant it was his turn to show how he wanted to be touched.

His mind reeled slightly with the possibilities. If he had ever doubted whether he truly desired Ray physically, the last few moments had put an end to that. In fact, he was half-erect, and more than slightly overwhelmed with the odor of his own arousal. Could Ray smell him, or was that generous nose too dulled by living in Chicago?

"Could you turn slightly, Ray? Away from me?"

From a therapy point of view, this was probably a bad idea, Fraser reflected as Ray awkwardly turned his back to his friend, but in all honestly there was something he had wanted Ray to do to him forever.

When Ray's body had settled, Fraser put his hands on those wide, lovely shoulders and squeezed. The shoulder pads got in the way, but he persevered, finding the tendons drawn as tight as his own.

"Wait, Benny," Ray murmured, then, squirming, shrugged out of his coat, then his jacket, keeping them around his waist for warmth, but exposing his shoulders with nothing more than his thin sweater and the dress shirt beneath.

Greedily, Fraser's hands returned, luxuriating in this freedom to bring Ray pleasure, and physical pleasure at that. No wonder massages were such a cliché in the gay fiction he had read!

A particularly tight bit kept his attention focused on the spot right near the base of Ray's neck. It occurred to Fraser that it would be terribly easy to press his lips to that sweet nape, even to suckle slightly, and suddenly he was sweating. Perhaps this had gone far enough.

"Ohhhhhh," Ray said.

Fraser forced himself not to freeze up.

Had he heard it? Had Ray actually moaned in pleasure?

"God, that feels incredible," Ray whispered. "Oooooh."

Fraser kept his rhythm somehow, closing his eyes now as Ray continued to make little sounds of release. The erection straining against the wool of his brown uniform pants was getting painful, and he felt the coolness of the wet spot he was making in his boxer shorts. This was indecent. He should stop.

The muscles had loosened up enough for him to press harder.

"Ohhhhh, yes! Right…God, Benny."

Fraser dug a little harder.

"Ahh -- ac."

They froze in place, listening together as the side door to the garage rattled again.

Fraser withdrew, willing his erection down, taking up his hat to busy his trembling hands. Ray shrugged into his jacket and coat.

The door opened, letting in a shaft of streetlight, and they saw a tall, bulky man silhouetted briefly before the door closed again. A flashlight shone, then swung wild as Vecchio and Fraser burst from the car. In seconds, the would-be thief was prone on the cold concrete floor.

"Oh dear!" the man shouted as his arms were twisted behind his back.

The team froze in place yet again, and then Vecchio was bringing the flashlight around as Fraser turned the man on his back.

The circle of light revealed a terrified face.



Detective Vecchio's tendency to display his impatience was surpassed only by Inspector Thatcher's determination to emote displeasure over a variety of dissatisfactions. That was not to say that either of them provided company which failed to please. This only meant that extreme care was to be employed whenever situations arose in which direct confrontation with either the detective or the inspector was inevitable.

However, such care should not be allowed to interfere with one's response time.

"We're waiting, Constable," Inspector Thatcher stated.

"Yes, you are," Turnbull realized, then cleared his throat as he rushed through the last of his considerations. He wished he had Constable Fraser's eidetic memory. The instructions, as he had already reported to the assembly, had been complex and hurriedly spoken.

"Where were you when you got the call?" Detective Vecchio asked, ignoring the annoyed look from Inspector Thatcher, the look that almost mesmerized Turnbull as he struggled to grasp gratefully onto the call for a specific detail.

"I was at my desk. It was four thirty-six."

"What did the guy sound like?"

"An adult male, American. He whispered mostly, however."

"Why didn't you request back-up?" Inspector Thatcher broke in, her eyes full of disdain.

"The caller was most specific that I needed to go alone in order to prevent the theft."

"And this didn't seem suspicious to you?" she pressed.

"The whispering?"

The question, as with all his questions, it seemed, caused impatient shifting around the room. Turnbull found himself, most unfortunately, staring into Constable Fraser's distant eyes. The man was obviously willing him to do something. Turnbull was uncomfortably aware that he would give the total of his meager life savings to know what it was.

"His attitude on the phone," Inspector Thatcher explained with tight lips, "did it strike you as suspicious?"

"Yes, very much so."

"And yet you did just what he said."

"He was most insistent," Turnbull tried to explain.

"But why did you decide to obey him?" The inspector's voice was getting rather loud. Turnbull wondered if he shouldn't try to calm her, but then remembered that as his commanding officer, she had every right to be as upset as she liked.

His eyes rested on Detective Vecchio, who was exchanging a look full of unreadable meanings with Constable Fraser. If he had had someone like Detective Vecchio to befriend him here in America, if he had had someone as kind and devoted…

But that was foolishness. Turnbull had never had a friend who wasn't either someone looking for physical protection or someone who wanted to get close to him only to amuse themselves.

"I wanted to help," he said without meaning to. Those green eyes turned to him. Did they perhaps hold a degree of sympathy? The notion was thrilling to contemplate, though it was doubtlessly misguided. "It was only a bicycle, and as I did not know the significance of the crime I was being asked to prevent, I felt my being alone would not prevent me from accomplishing my task."

"So the guy just said he was a concerned citizen, right?" Detective Vecchio asked.


"Works for me," the detective said, putting his hands on his knees and then standing up. The inspector's eyes flashed rage and Constable Fraser's looked surprised.

"I hardly think we've gotten the information we need, Detective," Inspector Thatcher snapped.

Detective Vecchio shrugged. "No, I'm sure you need to know a lot more, but the point for me and Fraser is that whoever's behind this wanted to send us a message. We got that message, so now we need to worry about the whoever, not about the messenger."

Turnbull knew he would be standing guard duty for weeks as it was, so the necessary courage for the question wasn't hard to muster.

"If I may ask, sir. What was the message I delivered?"

"That he knows we're aware of his behavior, and aware of him," Constable Fraser explained. He shrugged into his coat as his partner pulled on his gloves. "Now we have to figure out why he wants us to know what he knows."

"And what is that?" Turnbull asked.

"That he knows," Detective Vecchio said with a smile, though his eyes were hard, as though looking into a dark place. He turned those eyes now on the inspector. "If Turnbull hadn't done what he did, we wouldn't have gotten the message, and I'm thinking we're behind enough as it is."

She stared at the man for a moment, then lifted her chin and set her shoulders back. The light shimmered off the dark brown of her suit, making Turnbull think of a forest in the summertime.

"Of course." She looked at Turnbull and nodded in satisfaction. "That's true. Perhaps it would be best if you wrote out your report now, Constable. Then we can go over it in detail later."

"Of course. Yes. Indeed." Turnbull wasn't sure he had heard properly, but hesitated to have her repeat herself. Had he really avoided punishment? He looked at Detective Vecchio in gratitude, once again envying his fellow Mountie for the man's friendship, then turned from the room to find his desk.

Continue to Part 3

Return to Main Page