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An Admirable Solution

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Part One.

Ray Kowalski looked at his watch again. Still three hours to go—except it had been three hours the last time he looked, and the time before that.

So maybe his watch had stopped. Or maybe time had stopped.

Or maybe he had died right here on this stake-out, and nobody had noticed, not even Fraser.

Fraser had been singing softly for the last two hours, and while that wasn't bad in itself, being as Fraser had a fairly nice voice, all the songs Fraser knew seemed to have to do with people dying horribly at sea. Or horribly in mines. Or horribly while the girls they loved back in Scotland married guys called McPherson, who were inevitably their half-cousins.

Across the broad Atlantic, in Canada's domain
A colonist was working for the lass he longed to gain
Inside his little cabin, he pictured day by day
The image of his sweetheart and with longing he would say...

Ray closed his eyes and leaned back against the headrest, waiting for the McPherson guy to show up, the Canadian colonist to die horribly at sea, and the whole romance to go to hell. To his surprise, this one actually worked out okay, with the chick emigrating to Canada, but Fraser made up for it with the next one, in which everybody died except the narrator.

The seas did roar, the winds did blow
The Green Cove went three times around,
She whistled us a last farewell
And slithered forty fathoms down.

God, this was depressing; even Dief was howling softly in the back seat by the end of it. When Fraser finished, Ray interrupted and offered to sing one of his own. Fraser listened attentively, and then nodded respectfully at the end.

"That's a terrible story, Ray. Did they ever find the crew of the Minnow?"

"Yeah, a couple years later," Ray said with a shrug. "They made a TV movie about it."

"I'd be interested in seeing it." Fraser thought hard for a moment and then cleared his throat: "Here's one you might like..."

"Fraser, stop." He hadn't even realized that he was this close to losing it, but he was this close to losing it. "I can't take any more. If you sing one more song about people dying or losing their true loves to the Scottish, I am going to drive this car into the lake and kill us both. No, wait, I tried that already."

He was sort of hoping that Fraser would get into the arguing spirit, but Fraser just looked abashed. "I'm sorry, Ray. I was merely trying to pass the time."

Ray looked down at his watch—still three hours to go—and then looked down the street at the dark warehouse, where there hadn't been any movement for hours. "The time isn't going to pass, Fraser. We're going to die here. Sing a song about that."

Fraser mostly stifled his grin. "I certainly hope that's not a challenge, Ray."

"No, it is not a challenge, Fraser." Ray slumped down in his seat, bringing his knees up around the steering wheel. "God, I need to get laid," he breathed, and then he heard himself and froze.

He hadn't actually meant to say that out loud. It was true, of course—really staggering in its total trueness—but it wasn't necessarily a truth he felt compelled to announce in the middle of a stake-out. But they'd been sitting in the car for five freakin' hours, and his dick had been torturing him for at least four of those, thrumming insistently in his jeans even though there was nothing even remotely exciting going on.

Ray darted a look across the car to see how Fraser was taking this, but Fraser merely sighed and rubbed his eyebrow. "Yes, well...I know the feeling."

Ray blinked and slowly rolled his head to the side to stare at his partner. Holy crap. Now if Fraser was prepared to talk sex with him...well, that could be a pretty interesting way to spend three hours.

Though it sounded more like they'd be talking about their lack of sex rather than sex. Which made sense, after all; if Ray needed to get laid, Fraser'd turned celibacy into some kind of modern art form.

"Yeah, I bet you do," Ray said softly, not wanting to break the sudden mood of manly confidentiality. "I don't know who gets less sex around here, you or me."

Fraser flashed him a quick, rueful smile. "Oh, that would be me, Ray."

Ray grinned back at him; he liked it when Fraser said things like that. It made a nice change from the normal big dick contest you got into with cops. "Yeah, you think?"

"Oh, almost certainly," Fraser replied, and really, nobody could deadpan like Fraser could. "Barring an unforseen statistical upset."

Ray rubbed his palm over the rough spikes of his hair. "Yeah, well, you're probably right. I need help, but you need, like, a Federal Relief Project."

Fraser tilted his head in wry acknowledgment. "Very kind of you to say."

"Eh, I'm just—you know." Ray reached across the dark car and patted Fraser's arm reassuringly. "I live in the same glass house, Fraser. If you're the pot, I'm the kettle."

"I'd rather be the kettle, if it's all the same to you," Fraser replied.

"Okay, you can be the kettle. Point is that I'm the last person to judge—the sex thing is complicated, believe me I know that."

Which was true, too—sex had always been complicated for him, and it clearly wasn't simple for Fraser, either. He'd watched Fraser practically claw his way up the drapes when women put the moves on him, and guys never got any play either.

Frankly, he was glad to hear Fraser even talking about sex, because sometimes he worried that Fraser'd given up entirely. "Maybe some people find it a breeze," Ray added, fishing a little, "but not me. It's never been easy for me."

"No. Not for me, either." Fraser frowned into the darkness. "To be honest with you, Ray, I'm beginning to suspect that it's injurious to my health."

Ray started to laugh, except something in Fraser's voice said that he wasn't kidding, and Ray was left with a confused half-smile on his face. "Well, yeah," he admitted after a moment. "I mean, yeah, if you're not careful, you can get hurt."

"Very true," Fraser said quietly, but Ray felt weirdly sure that they weren't talking about the same thing.

"So how long has it been for you?" Ray asked, nudging Fraser's leg with his boot.

Fraser stared thoughtfully up at the car's ceiling for a moment. "Mm. Eight months, I suppose," and Ray instantly bolted upright.

"You dog! You total cheating dog—I don't believe you, I can't believe you've been holding out on me!" Ray had to stop himself from reaching across the car and smacking Fraser upside the head. "Sixteen months, over here!" Ray yelled. "Sixteen freaking months—and that's just, that's just twice as long.  My God, now I have to kill myself," he realized. "You get more sex than me!"

He was actually pretty shamed by this, but he was also half putting it on to make Fraser feel better. Except Fraser didn't look like he was feeling better; in fact, Fraser was staring moodily out the passenger side window. Ray could see his unhappy reflection in the glass.

"What was that, around Christmas?" Ray asked, quickly counting backwards. He kept his voice light but his eyes were fixed on Fraser, because Fraser seemed to have lost the spirit of this conversation. "That was before my time, right?"

"Yes," Fraser said with a quick jerk of his head. "Before your time."

Okay, not good, not good; whatever had gone down with Fraser before his time had not been good. "You, uh—want to talk about it?"

The shake of the head Fraser gave was barely perceptible, but Ray got the message loud and clear anyway: No thanks. The atmosphere in the car was tanking fast; maybe there was a reason Fraser didn't talk about sex so much. Maybe Fraser's complications were particularly complicated, and Ray suddenly felt bad that he'd pushed Fraser to talk.

He began to blurt out his own story. "My last—you know," he said and coughed, "was the undercover before this. Undercover's part of the problem for me, because you can't really do much undercover. Because you're not really you, you know?"

It was a rhetorical question, and he was surprised to see Fraser nodding yes, though Fraser still hadn't turned back to meet his eyes. Ray forged onward anyway, addressing his story to the dashboard.

"So my last gig, they had me in there as the boyfriend of this girl, this drug dealer they'd turned. She wore a wire," Ray explained, "and I got to hang around her for a couple of months acting stoned and making sure she didn't get whacked. I had to pretend to be having sex with her, though of course I wasn't really having sex with her, and I couldn't exactly have sex with anybody else under the circumstances."

Fraser finally ventured a look at him. "I understand the difficulty."

"So whatever, that was the deal, but the night before I was supposed to go I kind of freaked out and decided that I really ought to get laid, like—proactively." Ray hesitated for a second, because he could stop right here, and that would be plenty of secrets to share. Except when would they ever talk about sex again? This might be his only chance to get this out and into the open—so he took a deep breath and drove over the cliff. "So I called this friend of mine, Paul—I had this thing with Paulie, sort of a standing arrangement."

To Ray's relief, Fraser didn't bat an eyelash. "Oh?"

"Yeah," Ray said, managing to keep his voice casual. "Him and me, we went way back. It was just, you know, a casual thing, on-again, off-again—"

Fraser looked away again, and Ray felt a stab of panic. Shit, he should have quit while he was ahead: Fraser'd gone with him on the guy thing, but he'd blown it by talking about casual sex.

He knew he ought to cut his losses and shut up, but he found himself babbling to explain. "Look, what you've got to understand is—I mean, by then me and Stella were over—but even when we weren't,"—deeper and deeper, Ray, shut up, shut up—"just, it wasn't like—I've known Paulie just as long, almost as long, he was a friend and—"

Fraser turned back to him and said, "Ray, I understand perfectly."

That brought him up fast, whiplash fast. "You do?"

"Of course. It's important to have friends," Fraser said calmly, and Ray literally felt his eyebrows shoot up into his hairline. What the Royal Canadian fuck did Fraser mean by that?

It took him a second to realize that he was leaning toward Fraser, cocking his head like he was going deaf. "Oh?"

"Absolutely," Fraser said, and there was something eerily scary about his calmness; it was almost like a blankness. "Please go on."

Go on what? Go on where? Ray stared at Fraser, trying to remember what the hell he'd been saying.

"You called your friend Paul," Fraser prompted gently. "With whom you had some sort of standing arrangement."

"Right," Ray said, shaking his head to clear it. "Yeah. And he came over, and that was sixteen months ago."

Fraser nodded like that had been a gripping conclusion. "It's a long time."

"Yeah, and that's where we started. It's a freaking long time, Fraser, and right now I'm feeling every month of it."

Fraser's next question surprised him. "Are you still friendly with him? Your—friend?"

"Yeah. But—no. I mean," Ray rubbed his jaw nervously, listening to the rasp of his beard against his hand, "he's with somebody now. He's in something."

"I see," Fraser murmured. "That's too bad."

"Yeah, it is, actually," Ray admitted, "though it's probably for the best. I'm still not me—I'm Vecchio, and Vecchio doesn't seem to do that sort of thing."

"No, you're right. He doesn't," Fraser agreed, and then he added thoughtfully: "Ray's tastes run fairly strictly towards women."

It was too good an opening not to take, and so Ray took it, silencing the inner voice that said this was a really bad idea. "So what about you?" Ray asked, trying to sound cool, casual, like this was an offhand question. "How do your tastes run, Fraser?"

Fraser laced his fingers together, and stared down at them, and didn't answer the question. And didn't answer the question. And didn't answer the question. Ray glanced at his watch—whoa, two hours and ten minutes to go, time sure flew when you were having fun—and turned his attention back to the warehouse, deciding to let the question sit in the air between them.

It sat between them for what felt like an hour, and when Fraser finally answered, it wasn't the kind of answer he was expecting. Instead, Fraser clutched at his arm, startling him into turning around. Fraser's eyes were midnight blue and dilated at the center. "Keep your eyes on the warehouse," Fraser whispered hoarsely, and then a moment later, he was bent down across the front seat, his head in Ray's lap.

Ray sucked in a surprised breath and forcibly stopped himself from leaping up and probably breaking Fraser's jaw with his knee. Instead, he braced his left hand on the door and clutched the steering wheel tightly with his right—it felt like he was actually holding himself down in the seat, like otherwise he might just fly right out of the car.

Fraser was undoing his zipper, releasing his dick—and goddamn, it felt like his dick was shrinking because yeah, while he was horny all right, he was also pretty freakin' terrified. Because this was Fraser, Mr. Perfect, Mr. Butter Wouldn't Melt In His—ohhh, God, Fraser's hands were on him, fingers curling around his dick and Fraser was rapidly, expertly, bringing him back to full hardness before sucking the head of Ray's dick into his mouth.

Wet. Hot. Ray bucked up, instinctively trying to cram as much of his dick into Fraser's mouth as possible, and Fraser let him, let Ray slide deep into and out of his mouth before stopping him by wrapping his fist around the root. Ray gasped as Fraser squeezed him—so tightly, so much tighter than girls ever did—and then began bobbing his head up and down, rhythmically, till he was tingling and slick and glistening—

Ray forced himself to look up, look away, look at the warehouse. Still dark. Nobody. Around. Oh, holy Mother of Christ—

He screwed his eyes tightly shut and came in three quick pulses, clutching the steering wheel so hard it hurt his hand. Dimly, panting for breath, he heard Fraser sit up and open the car door. He flicked his eyes open and watched Fraser spit out onto the curb.

After a moment, Fraser straightened in his seat and pulled the door shut, and Ray pulled his paper cup of cold coffee out of its holder and extended it to Fraser with a still-trembling hand. Fraser took the cup from him with a look that managed somehow to be both nervous and defiant, like he was daring Ray to say something.

Ray didn't say anything. Just watched Fraser take a deep swig of the cold coffee and roll it around in his mouth a little before swallowing.

He was surprised when Fraser spoke first. "No action at the warehouse, I take it."

Ray breathed out a laugh, then pressed his hand to his eye, covering half his face. "Nope. No action yet," he managed, but there had just been plenty of action right here, oh, you betcha. He was keenly aware that he was heaving for breath, and that his wet, softening dick was hanging out of his pants. He picked up the deli napkin that had been under his cup of coffee—it had a coffee ring on it but was otherwise still clean—and used it to wipe himself off and tuck himself back into his pants.

"So, um." Ray concentrated on adjusting his semi-erect dick so that he didn't have to meet Fraser's eyes. "I owe you. Want me to—turn back your odometer?"

"Turn back my...? Oh. Yes. I see," Fraser said, after a moment. "I've never heard that one before."

Ray raised his head and smiled. "No, it ain't a—whatever, metaphor, whatever. Just you're still at eight months, where I'm now at," Ray raised his arm and glanced at his watch, "six minutes and forty seconds."

Fraser surprised him by laughing out loud—and Fraser wasn't normally a big one for laughing, so for a second Ray felt like the most hilarious person alive, which was nice. "Well," Fraser said, in a kind of low, merry voice that he didn't normally use much, "feel free to bask, Ray."

Grinning stupidly, Ray took his hands off the wheel and did a goofy mime—like a smug little dance—that he thought represented himself basking. "I call that the dance of six minutes and forty-five seconds," he explained to Fraser.

"Clearly that's what it was," Fraser replied gravely.

Ray slid down into the worn leather seat and let himself fall sideways toward Fraser. "Never really been much of a basker, though. I'm more of a gloater." Ray really hoped this was his 'sexy' voice. It had been so long since he'd used it, he'd pretty much forgotten what it sounded like.

Fraser's tongue darted out and wet the corner of his mouth. "Gloating isn't...terribly attractive, Ray," and man, it was ten p.m. and Fraser sure knew where his sexy voice was.

Ray slid closer until they were bicep to bicep, until his leg was lodged hard against Fraser's thigh. "Gloat like a butterfly," Ray murmured. "Sting like a bee."

Fraser's lip twitched. "I really think that's float like a butterfly—"

Ray slid his hand under Fraser's tunic and Fraser fell silent. Ray was weirdly shocked to feel Fraser hard in his hand. Man, Fraser was hard under there, and that just seemed wrong, because Fraser'd been speaking English in complete sentences not a moment ago, which he himself had never been able to do when he was hard. When Ray had blood in his dick he got very "Guh. Uh. Want that," about things, which he thought was maybe God's way of warning horny guys not to operate firearms or heavy machinery. But Fraser—Fraser could probably do surgery with a boner the size of—

"Ray," Fraser breathed—and okay, that at least wasn't a tone you'd want to hear from the guy wielding the scalpel. Ray obligingly tightened his hand on Fraser's dick, eliciting a gasp he wouldn't have heard if he wasn't listening for it. Christ, Fraser was a controlled guy—Ray knew that, he thought he knew that. But maybe he didn't know the half of it.

He also hadn't realized how well hung Fraser was, but his hand was pretty happy with what it was finding in Fraser's pants. Ray glanced down, and saw that both his hand and Fraser's dick were entirely hidden by the scratchy red wool of Fraser's tunic—geez, you could hide a battleship in that tunic. Fraser could've been hard all the time under there—and maybe Fraser was hard all the time, just nobody knew.

The thought made him gasp and rub Fraser harder through the wool—Christ, he was probably getting hotter from this than Fraser was. Fraser had closed his eyes, but he was still breathing pretty normally, whereas Ray personally felt like a turned-on, panting wreck.  He couldn't stop himself from groping, squeezing, stroking.  God, it had been too long, way too long...

Ray shoved his other hand up under the tunic and began to fumble Fraser's weird pants open—buttons, belt, zipper, and what was that, a hook? It was a good thing he was motivated, here, because this was a lot of fuckin' work. But finally he got his hand in there and grasped the hard, hot flesh, his palm cushioned by the velvety-soft skin surrounding it. Fuck, how beautiful—how beautiful to touch a guy like this, and there were people who said that you got close to someone by talking a lot, but personally, he was never so great with the talking. This was how you got close to someone, this was closeness right here. Ray felt his heart pounding right along with the rhythm of the hand jacking Fraser, and impulsively, Ray leaned forward and pressed their mouths together—

—and Fraser twisted his face away and jerked his head back, eyes wide with surprise. Ray felt pretty damned surprised himself, and not a little bit stung. He'd never had anyone back out of a kiss that fast before. Even Stella used to say he was a good kisser, and Stella didn't even like him most of the time. He thought at least that Fraser really liked him.

"I—" Fraser was at least panting now, but Ray didn't know if that was from being excited over the hand job or freaked out over the kiss, because Fraser was still looking pretty fuckin' startled over there. "I'd better—watch the warehouse."

So what was there to say to that? If that was how Fraser wanted to play it, what was there to say? "Okay," Ray said quietly. "Okay," and since it didn't look like his mouth was gonna be occupied with anything better, he slid down, pushed Fraser's tunic out of the way, and bent his head to suck Fraser's dick.

Fraser rewarded him with a loud, shuddering gasp, his stomach muscles clenching hard against Ray's cheek.  So Fraser liked getting sucked off—which really, who would have thought?  Fraser's hand dropped, heavily, on the back of his head, fingers burying themselves in his hair.  Ray closed his eyes and began to suck in earnest.

Ray liked giving head, actually. When he was doing it right, he got into a groove that made him feel like he was underwater, all relaxed and floating, the sound of his own pulse like water rushing in his ears. The feel of Fraser's hand in his hair helped him get right into the zone, because Fraser wasn't grabbing or fucking his face or anything, but caressing him real sweetly. It was like Fraser was comfortable kissing with his fingers but not with his mouth, which was weird. Ray could hear Fraser struggling for breath above him, and it sounded like Fraser was trying to be quiet but not doing it, because he could hear Fraser's moans even from down here, underwater.

"Oh," Fraser breathed finally. "Oh, Ray..." and then the soft-slick cock jerked and spurted, filling his mouth. Ray, deep in the zone, stayed relaxed, swallowed, kept sucking, and as a further reward, Fraser's callused thumb gently began stroking his forehead at the hairline. Ray felt that he could just fall asleep, right here in Fraser's lap, except he was supposed to be working and—okay, even that wasn't really it. It was more like he wasn't sure how Fraser would take it.

When Fraser began to soften, Ray lifted his head and sat up, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. He couldn't think of anything to say that wasn't really stupid, so he kept his mouth shut and just stared out at the warehouse, absently stroking a thumb across the corner of his mouth. He could see, in his peripheral vision, Fraser redoing all his buttons and zippers and then smoothing his tunic down again neatly. You could hide a multitude of sins beneath that uniform, Ray thought; he should have realized that when Fraser'd managed to fit all those files in his pants.

"Ray," Fraser said finally, and when Ray turned to look at him, Fraser was wearing a look that he recognized: it was a 'steel yourself, get your courage in gear' kind of look.  Ray could literally see the resolve solidifying across Fraser's face, and then Fraser put a hand on Ray's arm and leaned forward across the car and kissed him—well, not so much kissed him, but gave him a kiss, which was kind of a different thing. It was a real kiss on the lips and everything but it was quick—warm, sweet pressure and then a hasty retreat. But at least Fraser didn't look quite so shocked this time; in fact Ray thought that Fraser looked vulnerable and strangely young.

"Thank you, Ray," Fraser said softly, sincerely.

"Don't mention it," Ray replied, except that was exactly what he was afraid of—that neither of them would ever mention it again. This whole stake-out could be like an episode of the Outer Limits where the space-time continuum had gotten bent in some million-to-one way that would never, ever happen again, ever.

Already it was kind of hard to believe it had happened. Ray glanced casually across the car. Already they were sinking back into the comfortable familiarity of boredom, of being on stakeout, of sitting in the car together like they always did. But it had happened, all right, and Ray figured he'd find a way to bring it up somehow. Maybe not right away, no—first, he'd show Fraser that he could be cool about it, that he wasn't going be weird. They were partners and friends and nothing else had to change.

"You know," Fraser said, abruptly breaking the silence between them. "I don't believe they're ever going to show up," and Ray let his head fall forward and began to bang it softly against the steering wheel, grinning stupidly to himself.


To Ray's surprise, Fraser brought it up first, two days later.

Lieutenant Welsh, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that teams with much worse case closure rates than theirs should take over the incredibly boring warehouse stakeout, and instead sent them out to investigate what looked like the accidental drowning of a woman which turned out to be neither accidental nor a drowning nor a woman.

Twenty four hours later, they had the perp in custody, the paperwork filed, and Ray was gearing up for Fraser's famous rendition of, "The fatal flaw of the criminal mind, Ray..." except Fraser didn't seem to be in the mood to give speeches about the fatal flaw of the criminal mind. Instead, Fraser looked thoughtful and kind of distracted, and when he finally came back to the planet he scratched the side of his head and said, "So...Ray...would you like to get a pizza?"

Ray was a sucker for pizza, and so it was over a large half-pineapple, half-extra cheese pizza at Mama Carmela's that Fraser suddenly looked up and said, "We've been friends for some time now, haven't we, Ray?"

Ray had, at that moment, brought a slice of pizza halfway to his mouth, but he'd been married for fifteen years and he knew an important relationship-conversation-opener when he heard one, so he put the pizza down. "Yeah, Fraser. We sure have."

Fraser nodded, like Ray was just confirming something he'd already suspected. "And while we haven't always seen eye to eye on things, it's certainly safe to say that we've established a rapport, right?"

"Right," Ray agreed, and joined Fraser in a hearty round of nodding.  "We are just chock full of rapport, you and me."

"Exactly," Fraser replied warmly and picked up his pizza. "We've managed to construct a relationship that isn't simply professional, though of course it is that—"

"Of course," Ray supplied, chorusing. "Professional as all hell."

"—but has also developed into a satisfying social outlet."

"Yeah," Ray said, but he was frowning over the phrase: satisfying social outlet?!

"For me, in any case," Fraser added worriedly, possibly noting his expression. "It's been very satisfying for me indeed. Our friendship," Fraser added; a flush was beginning to spread up from Fraser's collar, but if this conversation was going where Ray now thought it was going, Fraser was doing pretty fucking well. "I haven't managed to develop a rapport with very many people here in Chicago. Unfortunately. As you may have noticed," Fraser added, licking his lip nervously. "This makes the rapport you and I have established all the more precious to me, I don't mind saying."

"Uh-huh," Ray said slowly; he was beginning to think that Fraser was using the word rapport to mean—well, kind of a lot. "Yeah. Our—rapport," Ray said carefully, "is pretty precious to me too, Fraser." He hoped that this was the answer Fraser wanted, the reassurance Fraser seemed to be fishing for. "I don't have—rapport—with too many people, either."

Fraser suddenly relaxed in his chair, and Ray realized that somehow he'd managed to give Fraser whatever opening he needed. "Oh, that can't be true, Ray," Fraser said, but he didn't say it like he was saying it—instead, he was saying it like it was the next move in a chess game or something. "After all, you've lived here most of your life. Surely you have friends."

"Stella got all our friends in the divorce," Ray replied. Fraser was looking kind of skeptical, though, so Ray added, reluctantly, "I'm still tight with a couple of guys from the old neighborhood. Steve from the garage, you met Steve. Dave Strayton who I went to high school with. And Mickey C., my first partner and a great guy, even if he did move to the coast—"

"Your friend, Paul," Fraser interrupted.

Fraser never interrupted.

"My friend, Paul, yeah." Now he knew where Fraser was going, and all he had to do was meet him halfway. "Though I don't see him as much as I used to."

Fraser hmmed and ate his pizza, and Ray understood that now, with the issue finally on the table, the thing was to act as normal as possible. He reached for his Coke and sucked in a mouthful. Fraser took a couple more bites of pizza.

"You know," Fraser said, wiping tomato sauce from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand, "I don't believe you ever told me how you know Paul."

"He was just a guy from around," Ray replied offhandedly, reaching for his own pizza. "We weren't at school together or anything. Sometimes you see somebody and—you just click."

"Yes." Fraser gnawed his lip and stared down at his hands. A moment later he added, softly, "But you and he...clicked...more than once, didn't you?"

Ray answered by slowly nodding. Fraser met his eyes, and they just stared at each other for a long time.

"What did you call it?" Fraser asked, finally.  "A standing arrangement?"

Ray felt his mouth go dry: this was it.  "Yeah."

"It's a clever idea," Fraser said.

Ray shook his head. "Not so much, no. More like you're lucky if you can find some one you can—" and then he backpedaled and dropped his voice to a whisper. "Someone with whom you have rapport."

Now it was Fraser's turn to nod, and then, Fraser started slowly licking his lip in what was really a totally slutty way.

"C'mon," Ray said, standing up abruptly. "Let's get this to go."


Ray'd barely put the pizza box down on the counter before Fraser's hands were on him, pushing him back against the wall of the kitchen, hands slipping first under his jacket, then under his shirt. Hot hands, strong hands, skimming along his rib cage, thumbs stroking over his solar plexus. Ray inhaled and closed his eyes and was just leaning forward for a kiss when Fraser slid down his body, hands stroking Ray all the way down.

Ray's eyes flew open and his heart kicked into double time at the sight of Fraser on his knees—except it wasn't just that, somehow. Something else was making his heart pound, but he couldn't put his finger on what. Ray watched, feeling dazed, as Fraser stroked the erection bulging in Ray's jeans, first with his fingertips, then with his cheek.

He couldn't seem to get enough air into his lungs—he was sucking wildly for it through his nostrils and his mouth. He thought that Fraser was weirdly comfortable giving head on his knees (Ray'd done it, but he'd always felt a little stupid, plus it made his knees hurt.) Fraser unbuttoned Ray's jeans with an easy flick of the wrist (not an easy thing to do backwards, Ray knew), hooked his thumbs into Ray's gray boxers, and tugged the fabric over the top of Ray's cock, which popped free and into Fraser's waiting mouth.

Fraser hummed to himself as he began to suck, and Ray felt the soft, happy vibration all the way up his spine, straight up to the base of his skull. He locked his knees and braced his palms on the wall behind him, then began to rock his hips gently back and forth, wanting to feel it. He couldn't take his eyes off Fraser's face; he was riveted to the sight of his cock going into that perfect, open mouth.

Fraser's mouth was wet and tight with suction, and then got wetter, and tighter, and Ray found himself squeezing his eyes shut and trying desperately not to come—not yet, Christ, please, not—but Fraser's mouth was a force of nature, and Fraser's tongue was doing things that made it impossible for him (he tried to think of baseball, the map of the United States, his mother—nothing!) not to come. When he was right on the edge, Fraser suddenly took his mouth away and brought him off with two quick strokes of his hand.

Ray came hard, still sucking for air between his now-gritted teeth, and melted into a puddle of goo against his own kitchen wall. "Gimme. A second," he managed, because he couldn't move or speak. That was no ordinary blowjob Fraser had there in his arsenal. That was like the Extra, Super-Charged, Blow You Through The Back Wall version—that was the Funny Car of blowjobs, zero to sixty in four seconds, and then blam! out came the parachute. They ought to issue a seatbelt, or a warning, or something

Dimly, he became aware that Fraser's cheek was pressed against his hip. Fraser's breath was hot against his skin, coming hard and fast. Ray supposed he'd better make with the reciprocation before Fraser roasted in his own heat. He dropped a lazy hand onto Fraser's head, caressing the soft, soft hair, and said, "Come over to the sofa—my knees won't stand for linoleum."

Surprisingly, Fraser didn't make any move toward the sofa; instead, he turned his head, buried his face against Ray's thigh, and mumbled something.

"Sorry, what?" Ray asked.

Fraser sighed and tilted his face up. "I said, 'I'm afraid that won't be necessary,'" Fraser said, and then he heaved himself up to his feet, one leg at a time.

Ray saw that Fraser's pants were open and that his hand and belly were splattered with come.  "What, you couldn't wait?"

He realized a moment later that some of that come was his—he'd come all over himself, all over Fraser, and sheesh, all over the floor. Maybe Fraser'd been right about doing this on linoleum.

Fraser shot him a single, sharp look before turning to the sink. "I suppose I got —overexcited," Fraser mumbled as he switched on the tap. The back of his neck was beet red.  "I'm sorry."

Ray supposed he ought to be flattered—after all, Fraser'd gotten so excited sucking his dick that he'd had to reach down and finish himself off.  "It's okay." He shrugged out of his leather jacket, balled it up on the counter, and pulled his t-shirt over his head. "Just, I was kind of looking forward to it," he added.

This brought Fraser's head around quick. "Really?"

"Sure," Ray said. He grabbed a wad of paper towels and wet them to wipe the jism off the floor. "But whatever—we'll save it for next time."

Fraser nodded as he turned his attention back to the sink. "All right. Next time."

"Next time, I go first." Ray squatted to give the linoleum a final swipe. "Which means, you come first, okay?"

"Next time," Fraser repeated, somewhat dreamily—and then he seemed to snap out of it and said, glancing over his shoulder at Ray, "I still maintain that the idea of a 'standing arrangement' is pure genius, Ray."

"Glad you like it," Ray said, rising to his feet.

"I do like it. It makes everything so simple." Fraser turned off the faucet, dried himself off with paper towels, and began carefully buttoning himself up again.

"You know, I got a shower back there," Ray said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. "That's where I'm headed. You're welcome to it."

"Thank you, no," Fraser said, tossing the paper towels in the trash. "I'd better be getting back. Dief will be waiting for me."

"Take the pizza, then," Ray said, nodding his head toward the box.

"Oh, I couldn't," Fraser said.

Ray picked up the box and shoved it at him. "There's two of you and one of me, and I got a whole kitchen here."

Fraser took the box and showed him a glorious smile. "Thank you, Ray."

"Thank you, Fraser."

"I'll see you tomorrow?"

"You betcha."


Two days later, Ray knelt on the floor in front of the sofa and gave Fraser a very long, very sweet blowjob, and he felt pretty smug when Fraser had to nap out for 20 minutes before he was conscious enough to do anything else. Ray used the time productively, washing that morning's dishes and boiling up some hot dogs for them.

The following Friday, a bunch of guys went out to Randy's Pub to celebrate the capture of Amir Muhdalla, better known to the tabloids as the North Side Rapist, and to Ray's surprise, Fraser waylaid him coming out of the men's room and blew him quickly and expertly in a deserted janitor's hallway behind the kitchen. Ray was a bit wobbly at the knees when he returned to the table, but a couple of chicken wings helped straighten him out, gave him some protein.

The next afternoon, Ray jerked Fraser off in the balcony during a Saturday matinee of The Maltese Falcon at the Rialto, and when he dropped Fraser off later that night, Fraser pulled him into the Consulate, shut the door, and slid his hand into Ray's pants. Ray came, shaking, in his arms two minutes later.

Sometimes, lying in bed late at night, Ray stared up at the ceiling and thought about the fact that Fraser sucked cock. Mainly, he thought that it was a really amazingly convenient thing, cause here he was, stuck under cover as a 100 percent heterosexual for God knows how long, and it turned out that the one guy he could plausibly be having sex with was actually interested in having sex with him—so way to go, God! Ray was pretty sure that that was a "way to go, God!" look he was seeing on Fraser's face most days since the stakeout, and he felt pretty damn good about that.

But sometimes Ray also thought about the way Fraser sucked cock, which was—okay, not to sound ungrateful, amazing, because amazing had to be said.  But after amazing, the next word that came to mind was quick. Good and all, but really downright speedy, like he'd left his car at the meter or something. He'd been trying to show Fraser a thing or two by example—trying to take it slow, show Fraser the joys of a good tease—but Fraser still seemed to be in Blow Your Head Off mode, and Ray had to admit that, ok, it was fast, but he'd never come as hard as Fraser was making him come. And to be fair, Fraser's choice of sex venue made speed a key thing.  You could get away with a hell of a lot by hiding under the umbrella of "cop partnership," but it would all be for nothing if they were caught having sex in Randy's Pub.

So sometimes speedy was good. Still, he kind of wished Fraser'd slow the fuck down. Having sex with Fraser was great, but it was still kind of like being punched out by an orgasm. Which was kind of fun, but ow.

As he fell asleep, he decided he would mention it to Fraser.


Fraser listened intently, two fingers nervously stroking his eyebrow, like Ray was asking him to remember the secret code for blowing up a Russian missile silo. This made Ray kind of nervous, too, because he was sure he was babbling and saying it all wrong.

"I mean, don't misunderstand me," Ray said, waving his hands wildly, "I am digging this, I am really digging this, just what's the rush?  Maybe we take the long way home for a change, know what I mean? Go the scenic route."

"Yes," Fraser said, nodding solemnly, like Ray had just told him that, if he was caught by the Russians, he should be sure to cut out his liver and Fedex it to Washington, "I understand, Ray."

"We should, like—make more of a night of it," Ray suggested. "I mean," and he took two steps closer to Fraser, and hooked his index fingers into Fraser's two front belt loops, and showed Fraser his wickedest, most suggestive smile, "we haven't even bothered to get naked yet."

It was really pretty ego-boosting to watch Fraser's mouth drop open like that, to watch Fraser staring at him with such plain and simple longing—a kid plastered to the front of the Gimbels' window at Christmas. "Naked?"

Ray gave a sudden sharp tug on the belt loops, and Fraser took a stumbling step forward and bumped into him. Oh yeah, Fraser was hard and ready for it.

"Naked," Ray confirmed, tugging Fraser in the direction of the bedroom.

And it was weird, but Fraser was awkward in the bedroom—not in a shy way, but in an elbow-in-your-face, rip-your-nipples-off-by-accident sort of way. Ray figured that it was maybe because Fraser's hands were shaking, like he was barely holding himself together.

Fraser flattened him on the bed and started pulling his clothes off; it was like Fraser was starving and Ray was a turkey sandwich wrapped in butcher's paper. "Hey! My arms—" Ray managed, as Fraser ripped off first his overshirt and then his t-shirt, "—don't actually bend like that—"

Fraser wasn't listening; Fraser was on top of him now, hot mouth moving across Ray's chest before fastening, none-too-gently, on Ray's left nipple. Every part of Ray that could be erect, got erect, fast—even his hair felt like it was standing on end. Fraser's tongue was exploring his nipple and the surrounding area really, really thoroughly—so thoroughly that Ray began to pant and squirm underneath him. Fraser moved his mouth on Ray's chest, trailing his tongue across it. Ray hoped he tasted good, and then thought that that was a really weird thing to hope for.

Fraser's lips brushed his belly, and Ray realized a second later that Fraser was murmuring his name over and over...Ray...Ray...Ray... Fraser dragged his rough fingertips down the sensitive skin of Ray's sides, then yanked Ray's jeans down his legs, peeling his underwear down and off.

Ray moaned helplessly as Fraser deep-kissed his thighs, sucking and leaving hot, stinging marks. Fraser seemed to have taken their little talk about the scenic route to heart, nuzzling Ray's pubic hair, massaging his balls with long, firm strokes of his tongue. God. God. Be careful what you wish for—and suddenly Ray realized that he was wishing for something else, and he reached down and grabbed a handful of Fraser's hair and pulled.

Fraser gasped and lifted his head, eyes wide with shock. "C'mere," Ray panted; he'd managed to raise himself up on one elbow so that he could meet Fraser's eyes. "Come here," he insisted, tugging his fistful of hair more gently now, "up here," and Fraser actually listened for a change and moved his body up obediently. When they were nearly nose to nose, Ray changed his grip, cupping the back of Fraser's head and pulling his mouth down, pushing their mouths together.

Fraser kissed him, but kind of dutifully, Ray thought, and then Fraser raised his head. The question, What next? was clear on his excited face.

Ray changed his grip back to a hair-grabbing fist. "Kiss me," he said, and pulled Fraser's mouth back down to his.

This time, Fraser kissed him more intently, putting real energy behind it. This time, when he lifted his head, the question was different. Was that better?

"Kiss me," Ray said savagely, and this time when he forced Fraser's head down he didn't let up. Instead, he held their mouths together, sucking and stroking Fraser's thick, wet tongue with his own. It took Fraser maybe 40 seconds to really get the hang of it, but finally he relaxed and wrapped his arms around Ray and began to make out with him, already.

They made out for a really long time, just because Ray wanted to. This felt like making up for lost time—not just for the weeks they'd been doing it but for the months since they'd either of them had sex with anybody. They kissed until their mouths and chins were wet, and after a while, they rolled around until Ray was half-sprawled on top of Fraser. And then they kissed some more, melting together so much that Ray wasn't sure where Fraser began and he ended.

Finally, Ray lifted his head—his cock was thrumming painfully, he was so turned on. "Okay," Ray said, panting helplessly. "Get me off. Make me come—" but Fraser just screwed his eyes shut and sucked in deep, desperate breaths before shoving Ray to the side, fumbling in the open fly of his pants, and jerking himself off with three loud gasps. Ray himself was so riveted by this—Fraser's fist tight around his cock, the soft pulsing of milky fluid onto Fraser's belly—that he forgot to jerk himself off, and after a few deep breaths Fraser opened his eyes and reached for Ray's erection with his own come-slick hand.

Later, when Ray was on his knees on the floor trying to figure out where Fraser'd flung his underwear, he heard Fraser mumble, "M'sorry."

Ray lifted his head, curious. Fraser was wiping himself down with a towel—he'd gotten pretty messy what with one thing and another. "Sorry for what?"

"For—" Fraser looked away, bit his lip, shrugged. Naked, Ray sat back on his haunches and waited; he knew that you couldn't rush Fraser with stuff like this. Personally, he himself didn't see what Fraser had to be sorry for—for making him come his brains out?

Fraser opened and shut his mouth a couple of times, and then finally said, "I don't want you to think me cold or indifferent, Ray."

That was so ludicrous that Ray burst out laughing. "Yeah, well," Ray said, grinning and scratching the back of his head, "those weren't exactly the words that came to mind, Fraser."

"I've only ever kissed girls," Fraser admitted, like he was forcing the words out. "—Women," he amended instantly.

Ray blew out a low, slow whistle.  "You're kidding!"

Fraser shot him a sharp, irritated look. "Why would I kid about this?"

"You're not..." Ray trailed off and started shaking his head in mute denial, because no, that was nuts, that was crazy nuts. "No, no—you're not telling me I'm the first guy you've had sex with—"

Fraser snorted and rolled his eyes. "Of course I'm not saying that."

"Good. Because no way would I believe you."

Fraser was looking even more irritated now. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"How many guys have you slept with?" Ray asked, raising his eyebrow.

For a second he didn't think Fraser was going to answer the question, but then Fraser sighed and seemed to be counting. "Including you—fourteen."

"Oh my God!" Ray yelled, bringing his palms up to cover his face. "I hate you! You suck!"

"Indeed," Fraser said coolly, as he got up off the bed. "Fourteen times, in fact."

"You suck so hard!"

"I'll try to adjust my technique in future, Ray."

"I don't know why I'm surprised," Ray told the carpet as Fraser headed off toward the bathroom with his towel. "I don't know why I'm surprised!" he yelled after Fraser's retreating back. "It's not an equal playing field, you know! I was married for fifteen whole years, and faithful for most of them! Plus," Ray admitted, dropping back into his normal speaking voice with a sigh, "plus you're better looking than me and everybody on earth wants to sleep with you."

Out of the corner of his eye, Ray spied his underwear half-thrown under the bureau.


Ray didn't see Fraser the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. The fourth day, first thing in the morning, he left a "call me" message with Turnbull at the Consulate, and he knew he was getting desperate when he actually found himself listening to Turnbull explaining that, actually, Constable Fraser hadn't been around much that week, which was really too bad because there were all these arrangements to be made for Jane Stockton, the famous Canadian fashion designer—did he know her? no? oh, too bad, because her menswear designs were simply—

Fraser finally called later that afternoon. "Hey!" Ray said, unable to keep the happiness out of his voice. "Where've you been?"

Fraser didn't answer the question directly. "Are you busy? Can you spare me an hour or so?"

Ray knew he was going to say yes before he even glanced at the clock—quarter past four, nearly quitting time anyway.  "Yeah, Fraser, sure. What's on your mind?"

"Meet me outside of 144 74th Street. Between Halston and Racine, closer to Racine."

Ray scribbed the address down.  "On my way."

He could see Fraser from two blocks away—a bright red beacon in the middle of one of the most depressing neighborhoods in Chicago. Ray felt a kind of anger welling up in him, because this looked just like the street where he'd grown up. All he needed to do was squint and turn the boring egg-shaped cars back into Pontiacs and Lincolns and Oldsmobiles, take the seatbelts out of them, put long links of sausages into the meaty hands of the fat old women standing outside the market. Otherwise, it was all just the same—the blazing heat of summer, everybody hanging out on their stoops, dying from the heat, fanning themselves with supermarket flyers. Women screaming to each other out of open windows, men sitting outside on folding chairs and playing cards or checkers on milk crates. Ray remembered Old Man Wicowski teaching him to play chess one summer, when he was too old to be under his mother's nose all day long but too young to go far on his own.

Man, but those days were crap—or was that Stella talking? Ray pulled up in front of a hydrant and roughly shoved the car into park. He could maybe remember having been happy on a street like this, but that was before he brought Stella home. Stella had gone all scared and her nose had wrinkled up like she smelled something bad. And then she'd turned to look at him and he'd seen pity in her eyes—for the first time, though that wouldn't be the last time, not by a long shot.

Ray got out of the car, slammed the door, and walked over to meet Fraser, who was nearly twitching with anticipation. "Ray," Fraser said warmly, and you know what? Fuck Stella and her pity, because Benton Fraser was looking at him like he shit ice-cream and pissed lemonade. "I'm so glad you could get away."

"No problem, pal," Ray said, following Fraser as he turned and headed toward the battered gray door behind him. "What's the score?"

"I have something to show you." Fraser pushed the door open excitedly and stepped into a narrow, airless hall. "It's just here, one flight up—oh, good morning, Mrs. Rivera," Fraser added quickly, removing his hat and flashing a smile at a short, beak-faced woman who was staring at him through a crack in her apartment door. At Fraser's words, she slammed her door shut, but Fraser didn't seem to be fazed, and instead took the steps practically two at a time. Ray followed, and on the second floor, Fraser quickly moved to a door marked 2D.

Apartment 2D was small, but neat and really clean—the floors looked recently sanded, and the place had just been painted. There wasn't much in the way of furniture—a dinette table and two chairs, a full-sized bed, a colorful area rug, a single bookcase, a couple of lamps. There was a trunk next to the bed currently being used as a nightstand—and it was this that made Ray understand what he was seeing.

"You got an apartment," Ray said.

"Yeah." Fraser was beaming, looking around the place like it was the Ritz. "It's a real find, isn't it, Ray? The place, that is. What do you think?"

Ray looked around thoughtfully, scratching his chin, as he tried to figure out how to answer. Okay, it was a slum, but good things came from slums—he'd come from one, after all. And if anybody could figure out how to negotiate the slums it was Fraser, he had no doubt about that. And the place was clean, and he'd bet it was cheap—if he remembered right, this was an area that the city was putting money into, hoping for development; he bet they'd love having a Mountie renting the place. Fraser would probably bring the neighborhood up a couple of notches just by living there.

Still, Ray hated the place with an irrational passion, though he had no idea why.

"What made you decide to—I mean, why now?" Ray asked finally, answering Fraser's question with a question of his own.

Fraser laughed aloud, and then the laugh turned into a smile, and the smile turned...oh yeah. Fraser stepped real close, and put a hand on his shoulder. "Because of what you said the other night," Fraser replied, and dear God but there was nothing casual about that hand. "About taking our time. About making a night of it..."

"Oh," Ray said, but his entire concentration was focused on Fraser's heavy right hand.

"And I thought that...if I had somewhere. That was mine." Fraser stepped in closer still, until they were breathing the same air. "I thought it would make things easier for us."

Ray leaned in and touched his mouth to Fraser's. A moment later, he felt Fraser's hand grasp his hair, and their kiss grew sloppier, nastier, more about sex. Ray had just knotted his hands in Fraser's red wool jacket when Fraser pushed him away, breathing hard, and said, "I think I'd better make sure the door's locked."

"Yeah," Ray agreed breathlessly. "I think you'd better."


Afterwards, they dozed naked on Fraser's bed. The new sheets were soft—if a little damp and rumpled now—and the late afternoon sunlight slanted into the room through the cracks around the window shades.

Fraser lay sprawled between Ray's legs, head pillowed on Ray's stomach, fast asleep. Ray himself just drowsed, one hand stroking Fraser's hair.

He could feel Fraser slowly coming to consciousness, and then Fraser turned his head and kissed Ray's belly. "....s'wonderful, Ray..." Fraser said sleepily.

Ray smiled up at the ceiling, his eyes drifting closed. "What is?"

"This. Us. Having this sort of arrangement." Fraser dropped another kiss on Ray's belly. "It's an admirable solution to..." and here Fraser yawned, "...a very difficult..."

Ray opened his eyes. The ceiling above him suddenly seemed very white, very starkly white. "I don't know what you mean," Ray said, after a moment.

"I mean, this is wonderful, Ray," Fraser said in a voice like melted chocolate. "I couldn't be happier."

And Ray didn't know why, but somehow this gave him the chills.


 

Part Two.

Ray didn't care that there was a line at the drive-thru window; Patsy's had great food, and he was really dying for a sausage sandwich and a couple of pierogi.

Fraser, however, was twiddling his fingers with barely concealed impatience. But Dief was on his side and wagging his tail in happy anticipation. That wolf knew good kielbasa when he smelled it.

"The food here's really good, Fraser," Ray said, as they inched forward. "Plus I've been wanting it all week."

"Have I complained?" Fraser inquired politely.

"You don't have to, your fingers are doing all your complaining for you." Ray mockingly fluttered his fingers on the wheel. "Think happy thoughts, Fraser," Ray said, taking his foot off the brake and letting the car roll forward as another happy patron was served at the front of the line. "Two days off, and I'm figuring we hole up somewhere. Eat. Mess around. Eat some more."

Fraser was still staring at his fingers, but he'd brightened up a lot. "All right. Your place or mine, as they say?"

"Mine—I've got the television, and it's a great hockey weekend. Ottawa vs. Philadelphia, Montreal vs. Atlanta, and that's just tonight. Tomorrow, it's Calgary against Vancouver, and Edmonton against Chicago—which, and I'm sorry to have to say it, but Chicago is going to kick Edmonton's ass—"

"In your dreams, Ray."

"—because you know, Edmonton's not what they were a couple of years ago—"

"You haven't hit your head again, have you?" Fraser asked worriedly.

"—when they had Gretsky and those guys. It's been a long, hard rebuilding effort for you people—"

"Because, and don't take this the wrong way," Fraser said apologetically, "but you are clumsy like that, aren't you?"

"—and I know it hurts your pride, that whole national pride thing you've got goin'—"

"But perhaps a lack of grace is simply endemic to Chicago. It's certainly evident in the way the Blackhawks are playing."

"—considering your whole country up there is basically a block of ice and a couple of hockey teams—"

"So I'm just worried that you've banged your head somewhere and become delusional. After all, I can't watch over you every hour of the day and night—"

"—so I understand where this kind of below-the-belt defensiveness is coming from, and I pity you, really. So I give up," Ray said, raising his hands in surrender as he let the car roll forward again. "I surrender! Uncle! And I bet you twenty bucks that Chicago slaughters Edmonton tomorrow."

"Deal," Fraser said, and they shook hands quickly.

"In the meantime, let's talk about something else," Ray said. "Something less tense."

"How about religion or politics?"

"How about what I'm gonna do to you later tonight?" Ray said, dropping his voice to what he hoped was a seductive whisper.

Fraser flashed him a quick, wicked smile, and then the smile was gone and Fraser was blinking at him innocently. "You are currently in your right mind, aren't you, Ray?"

"Absolutely I am," Ray said, pulling up another car length. "Besides, I wouldn't throw you out of bed, sane or not."

"Because I wouldn't want to take advantage of an offer like that without being quite sure."

"After all, you're the second-best-looking guy I've slept with," Ray explained.

Score. Fraser tripped over whatever he was going to say and just stared at him. Wow, he'd actually managed to shock Fraser into silence with the idea that he was second-best-looking to anybody.

Feeling pretty smug with himself, Ray settled back to wait for the fall-out.

"Hm!" Fraser crossed his arms and stared at the dashboard; he wasn't yet ready to say anything, but his eyebrows were up around his hairline.

Ray stifled a smile and tapped his fingers on the wheel, waiting for it.

Still Fraser didn't say anything, though it was really fun watching him not talk. Every so often Fraser would open his mouth, then think better of it, snap it shut, and look away.

The car in front of them suddenly zoomed away, and with a rush of excitement, Ray pulled up to the window and ordered two sausage heroes, four orders of pierogis, extra apple sauce, extra sour cream, potato salad, cole slaw, six bottles of Okocim...

"Second?" Fraser demanded, once Ray's head was back in the car. "Why second?"

Ray was ready for him. "You don't dress yourself," he said, waving a hand at Fraser's uniform. "Now I admit," he added, "that technically, genetically, you should win. But you lose points for the clothes. Style's a whole package, Fraser."

"I see," Fraser mused, thoughtfully scratching the back of his neck. "Though I do occasionally dress myself—"

"Yeah, I know. Very Sears catalogue, though you wear it well, I'll give you that."

"But that's not fair," Fraser said, and that was as near to a whine as he'd ever heard out of Fraser. "The Sears catalogue is a great help in the Territories. Boutiques being thin on the ground," he added pointedly.

"Perils of international competition," Ray said with a soft tsk.

"Hm!" Fraser looked away again.

Ray grinned to himself as the heavyset blonde at the restaurant window started passing him large brown paper bags of food. "You'll have to hold these," he said, passing them across the car to Fraser. "I ain't putting them in the back with the dog."

Dief barked, apparently offended, and Ray twisted to look over his shoulder. "You're good, you'll get yours," he told Diefenbaker, and then he looked over at Fraser, who was sitting there with his arms around the bags, and whispered, softly, "You too."

The irritation melted right off Fraser's face.


Ottawa beat Philadelphia bad, 5-2, and Montreal lost to Atlanta 4-3. Ray clicked off the television and threw the remote control onto the coffee table.

Fraser was slumped on the sofa in his white shirt and suspenders. "They should have taken the shot when they had the chance," he said, rubbing his eyes.

"Well, yeah," Ray said, moving closer. "I think they know that now. Still, you've got to hand it to Atlanta."

Fraser sounded tired. "All right, I hand it to Atlanta."

"I mean, they played really well." Ray reached across Fraser's body and put a hand on his warm, hard side. "Which I don't know how they do, being that there's no snow in the south."

But Fraser wasn't listening to him anymore. "Again?" Fraser asked incredulously, smiling into his face. "I'm not sure I can do it again..."

The words suddenly came tumbling out of Ray's mouth. "Why don't you stay?"

"Stay?" Fraser looked curious. "You mean, the night?"

"Yeah. Stay here, sleep with me—maybe we get a second wind in the middle of the night, who knows? Save you the trouble of coming back tomorrow, anyway," Ray added as an extra temptation.

"I have to walk Dief," Fraser replied, and then he leaned in and kissed Ray's mouth—god, Fraser's lips were so sweet. "But it was a nice thought."

Ray felt suddenly, irrationally, pissed off. "Why's it got to be 'a nice thought'? Why don't you just stay—walk the dog and come back."

Fraser was frowning now. "I haven't got any clothes, anything to sleep in—"

"Why would you need anything to sleep in?"

"A toothbrush, surely."

Ray narrowed his eyes. "You've managed other times—when we've been working, when it gets late. In fact, it's kind of funny, Fraser, but I don't think you've slept here once since we started doing it."

Fraser suddenly looked exasperated. "Well, obviously," he said.

Ray just stared at him for a long moment, and then violently mimed incomprehension.

"Well, we ought to be discreet, surely?" Fraser said in a soft, urgent voice. "I mean, granted, we're lucky to have a long-established pattern of frequent socializing as a cover, and the fact that I've occasionally fallen asleep here should allow us the occasional all-night indiscretion, but—"

Fraser's lips were still moving, and Ray could still hear the gentle murmur, but he'd lost track of the words. Cover? Indiscretion? His brain was hurting suddenly, and instinctively he raised his arm and began to rub his head with the heel of his hand.

Fraser's arms had snaked around him, and Fraser was whispering to him almost tenderly. "—wouldn't want to waste it, not when I'm so tired. We'll plan for it, a night when we're both well rested and feeling...athletic." And then Fraser kissed him again, and there was, like, a whole world of stuff in that kiss. Some of the stuff he recognized—passion and apology and intensity.

Some other stuff, he didn't have a clue.


He was fucking Fraser's mouth—deep, deep, so fucking deep—when something in him snapped and let loose a rush of words: fuckmefuckmefuckmefuckme....

Fraser lifted his head, and Ray's glistening cock slipped from between his lips. "What?!"

Christ, what part of 'fuck me' didn't he—? "I— Uh— Fraser—" and Fraser seemed at least to get it through his fat skull that he was on the verge of ferchristsake coming and bent his head down again. One good, downward drag of Fraser's lips on his dick and he was coming, shaking all over and coming, and Fraser was letting him come in his mouth. Thank you God thank you God...

When Ray had pulled himself together a bit and opened his eyes, he found Fraser bending over him, wide-eyed, a shock of dark hair falling onto his forehead. "That was great," Ray said very sincerely.

"I'm glad," Fraser said, and licked his lower lip nervously. "Are you— Were you serious about—?"

He could have pretended that he didn't know what Fraser was talking about, made Fraser say "fuck" aloud. Except Fraser had just swallowed, so Ray wasn't gonna be cruel about it. "About you fucking me? You bet."

Fraser frowned; if he was turned on by the idea, he was doing a pretty good job of concealing it. "Do you...like that?"

Ray gave his head a violent little shake; he had to readjust his attitude a little. Somehow, a serious conversation was happening, even though Ray had post-coital brain damage and Fraser himself was sporting serious wood. Or wait, the wood was maybe getting less serious. "Yeah," Ray said, trying to answer the question seriously even as he stretched out his hand and began to stroke Fraser back to full hardness. "Yeah, I do," Ray said, and then gave Fraser's dick his own special flick of the wrist.

Fraser's eyelids fluttered in a really satisfying way.

"I like it a lot," Ray continued quietly. "I'm guessing you don't?"

"I..." Fraser seemed to be having trouble making his lips move properly. "No... I only...tried it once and I can't say I...much cared for it."

"You do me, then. I care for it."

Fraser's eyes opened. "You're sure?" he asked.

"Sure I'm sure." Ray felt his mouth twisting into a smile, and he began tugging insistently on Fraser's erection. "C'mon, I want you to. I really, really want you t—"

"Keep doing that—" Fraser pulled himself out of Ray's grip, breathing hard, "—and what you want will be irrelevant."

Ray let himself fall back onto the bed, arms and legs just sprawling anywhere. Fraser's eyes went very dark again, like they did whenever he was on the verge of losing control. Ray wet his lips slowly and held Fraser's eyes.

"Why don't you—" Fraser's voice was kind of hoarse, "maybe turn—"

Ray rolled over and onto his knees, spreading his legs and bracing himself on his forearms. His belly was now fluttering wildly in anticipation: this was gonna be good, good, so good. Behind him, he heard Fraser breathing erratically (and okay, maybe he didn't want to take it, but he wasn't nearly so averse to giving it), and looked over his shoulder just in time to watch Fraser carefully spitting into his hand—

"Wait, wait, whoa!" Ray said, getting up on his knees and barking out a laugh of surprise. "Join us in the 20th century, why don'tcha?" Ray reached out, hooked his fingers in the nightstand drawer pull, and blindly managed to find not one, but two tubes of lube—one bright pink, one lime green. He dropped the pink one back into the drawer. "They got products for this, now, you know," he said, twisting around and handing the lime green tube to Fraser. "All you had to do was—"

And his brain caught up with his mouth, and things started cha-chinging into place. "Wait," Ray said, dropping his voice, "was that how the guy did you? Because that's no way to—no wonder you—"

For a second, there was a flash of something bright and hard in Fraser's eyes, and then Fraser's face went carefully polite and blank and Ray felt a ton of adrenaline rush into his system. He was gonna kill the motherfucker, and he was gonna kill Fraser if Fraser didn't fucking talk to him right fucking now. "I want to know what happened."

Fraser managed to put on a pretty gorgeous smile. "Surely, this isn't the time—"

"It's the time, game over, ain't nothing gonna be happening here," Ray said, getting off the bed and hunting for his boxer shorts.

Fraser looked more annoyed than Ray ever remembered seeing him, because normally, Fraser hid his annoyance better than most people. But normally he hid his boner better, too. "Don't you think you're overreacting just a tad?"

"My house, I get to overreact," Ray snapped.

"Fine," Fraser retorted; now, he was off the bed, too, and searching for his clothes. "I'm sorry if my technique fails to be adequate—"

"Technique!" Ray whirled around and was in Fraser's face so fast that Fraser nearly toppled backwards onto the bed. "Don't you bullshit me, Fraser. This isn't about technique. This is about whoever fucked you up the ass and didn't kiss you."

Fraser sighed and then he sat down, shaking his head, at the foot of Ray's bed. "You really have no sense of timing, Ray."

"Fuck timing," Ray retorted. "I want to know the story."

"It wasn't the way you're making it sound," Fraser said wearily.

"Well, how was it then? Or don't I get to know, being that I'm Lucky Number Fourteen—"

"Oh, Ray," Fraser scolded, like he was five years old. "Don't be ridiculous."

"So talk, then. Tell me how it was."

"It was years ago," Fraser said, pushing his fingers through his messy dark hair. "This fellow I met in Yellowknife, in the airport, on my way back to Regina after the midterm holiday, which ought to tell you exactly how long it's—"

Ray was deeply shocked. "You fucked a guy you met in the airport?"

Fraser looked a little guilty, but not nearly guilty enough from what Ray could tell. "My flight was delayed," Fraser explained sheepishly. "He had a room. It was all aboveboard—"

Ray was pacing now, rubbing both his temples, trying to get this through his head. This was Fraser's idea of aboveboard? Some one night stand in an airport hotel?

"—and he was really very nice, very gentle with me. It wasn't some brutal thing; it wasn't brutal at all," Fraser insisted. "Just not much to my liking—or is that some sort of crime?"

"No," Ray answered distractedly. "Not a crime. Just—" Ray stopped, turned around, and tried to say words that made sense. "Why didn't you find yourself some guy at school? You hadda be in the barracks with a zillion—"

But Fraser was already shaking his head.

"Why not?" Ray demanded. "Don't tell me that the guys there didn't do it, 'cause I bet they did."

"Oh, I know they did. In fact, everyone knew precisely who was doing what with whom. The Depot is a fairly small school, Ray," Fraser explained quietly, "and the officers who train there fan out to work in practically every region of Canada. Which means that not only do I know who was seeing whom, but the entire law enforcement hierarchy of Canada knows. Strangely," Fraser added in a flat, ironic voice, "several of these classmates had difficulty obtaining postings after graduation. Don't you find that strange?"

"Yeah," Ray said, feeling defeated. "I guess it's strange."

"All in all, I'll take my chances at the airport," Fraser said frankly. "And now, if I've answered all your questions—"

Ray tilted his chin up. "Were they all like that?" he asked, before he lost his nerve.

"Were what all like what?" Fraser repeated patiently.

"The other thirteen guys. Before me. Were they all in airport hotels and bars and—"

"Several were in airports," Fraser said sharply, "yes."

Ray felt acid in his throat, like maybe he was gonna puke on the carpet. "What about the girls, you kissed the girls you said. How many girls?"

Fraser stood up. "I think we should end this conversation, take a walk, perhaps eat something—"

"No, finish it, get it over with." Ray was twitching helplessly, and when this was over, he was gonna go outside, take a run, maybe go hit the bag at the gym. "I want to know about the girls, how many girls?"

Fraser stood there a moment, then took a deep breath that made his chest visibly rise and fall. "Two."

"Two?" Ray repeated, as staggered by this as he'd been by Fraser's announcement, way back when, of fourteen guys. "Only two girls?"

Fraser was tiredly massaging the bridge of his nose. "That's right."

Ray knew about Victoria Metcalf;  Fraser still had the bullet in his back.  Geez, Fraser hadn't been kidding when he'd said that sex was bad for his health—between the psychotic women and the anonymous guys, he was lucky not to be dead.

"I know about Victoria," Ray said quickly. "Who's the other one?"

Fraser was quiet so long that Ray decided he wasn't gonna answer.  "You owe me," Ray said in a low, dangerous voice—and Fraser flinched so hard that Ray instantly found himself wishing that he hadn't said anything, that he'd just shut the fuck up five or ten minutes ago. Because Fraser looked wounded, like he'd been stabbed or something, and Ray quickly muttered, "Forget it, you don't have to—"

But Fraser was already doggedly gearing up. "Her name was Jenny Buchanan and she was in my class at the Depot," he said. "I lost my virginity to her the third week of basic training, and by the midterm break I was so delusional that I was envisioning scenes of introducing her to my father, wondering whether she'd be able to adapt to the far north. She went home for break, and I decided to fly out to see her, to surprise her," Fraser made a face, "whereupon I promptly discovered precisely how delusional I was. Her fiance wasn't the slightest bit pleased to see me, I'm afraid," Fraser said flatly. "They were already living together on the outskirts of Yellowknife."

Ray didn't have the slightest idea what to do with that—frankly, he really didn't know where to put any of it. It was all so much more complicated than his own sex life. A couple of girls before he settled on Stella, a couple of girls after he and Stella split up. A couple of guys over the years—pals mainly, fuckbuddies, guys he trusted. He only had one experience that was anything like what Fraser was describing, and that was the night he'd picked up a guy at The Brewery and blown him off in the car. But the guy had grabbed him by the hair, muttering "suckit, suckit, suckit" and banging his cock into Ray's mouth so hard that he thought his nose or teeth would break. When he tried to pull off, the guy tried to strangle him, so Ray bit down, bolted upright when he screamed, and socked him one, hard, to the face. The whole thing would have gotten even uglier if Ray hadn't pulled his gun out of his ankle holster and demanded the guy get out of his fucking car. He'd been pretty desperate that night—it had been right after Stella, and he'd needed to do something rash, something risky—but he'd learned a lesson that night: the risk wasn't worth it.

He couldn't imagine a whole life lived like that—being used by women, using anonymous men in turn. He didn't know how Fraser could stand it.

"Okay, so," Ray said, fidgeting, "I gotta go out and hit something now."

"Right," Fraser answered immediately. "I understand."


He went to Goldie's Gym and ran a bunch of laps to warm up before hurling himself—teeth gritted, already sweating—at the bag. He wasn't trying to do anything that required skill or technique, or that would actually accomplish anything in a fight—no, he just wanted to pound out his frustrations and pent-up energies, tire himself out. He needed the bag to take him, outlast him, like it always did.

He needed to be beaten by it.

When Ray finally stumbled away from it, his arms and legs felt like rubber and he thought he might pass out. Sweat was running down his forehead, into his eyes, dripping off his neck and nose. He made his way unsteadily toward the nearest bench, ripping his gloves off as he went. His blood was singing, he was high on adrenaline, on exhaustion, on dopamine or whatever good drugs your body sent you when you beat yourself up like this.

He collapsed onto the vinyl seat, dropping his gloves at his feet. He reached down and brought the hem of his gray t-shirt up to wipe his face with; man, his t-shirt was soaking.

God. God. Felt so good to do this, like dancing, like fucking, like—

Like being with Fraser.

So what the hell was this, jealousy? Dumb to be jealous if Fraser was telling him the truth, because if Fraser's whole sex life was one-night-stands or near to, Fraser'd already had more sex with him than with anybody else in his life. And boy, you could really see how Fraser loved the idea of having a buddy to fuck, a steady thing, a "standing arrangement" or—what had Fraser called it?

An admirable solution. Sure, yeah, Ray could see that; for a guy who'd never gotten laid regular in his whole entire life, this must be the most admirable solution ever.

And wasn't it? It sure fucking was,and maybe that was the problem. It was incredibly efficient to be fucking your partner, the one guy on earth you got a free hall pass to spend time with without it looking funny to anybody. Every cop spent more time with his partner than with anybody else; you spent more time with your partner than you did your wife, if you had a wife, which now he didn't. But even when you had a wife, you felt a certain something about the guy you worked with day-in and day-out— especially if you'd done something life-threatening or death defying, which he and Fraser had done a helluva lot of times, every week practically. You could always tell which cops had survived the bullets or the bomb or the hostage situation or whatever. They had a different look to them; they were quicker on the trigger, more protective of their partners—real defensive. You knew not to fuck with those guys.

But those guys could fuck each other no problem, because everybody understood that a guy and his partner were a sacred thing, not to be messed with. What a guy and his partner did was between them and nobody else's fucking business. Plus Fraser was great looking and fun to hang out with and sexually agile.

Things were perfect. More perfect than perfect. Fraser was happy, he was happy—so what was the problem? That they were too happy?

Yeah. Ray blinked up at the moldering old gym ceiling and knew that, dumb as it sounded, that was actually it. Fraser was happy—and of course Fraser was happy: Ray wasn't going to hurt him or betray him or punch him in the face. He wasn't going to spread any rumors or burn down his house or fuck him without lube at the airport.

He was the obvious choice. He was the only choice, really. "Looking for a sensible and discreet fuck? Why not try your partner? He's a floor wax and a breakfast cereal. Hey, you're stuck with him, why not fuck him?"

He had to face it: Fraser's expectations for this were practically nil. All Fraser wanted was sex on a semi-regular basis with someone who wouldn't beat him up or damage his career—much. And Ray could do that, Ray could be that, sure—but goddamn it, he could be so much more if Fraser would just fuckin' let him.

There had to be some way of making Fraser understand this, how much more this could be. Ray raised his hands and scraped sweat off his face. There had to be some kind of way.


Fraser was gone when Ray got home, which didn't surprise him. But Fraser wasn't answering the door over at 74th Street either, and that was pretty surprising, because it was Saturday and they'd had plans to laze around and fuck and maybe catch a movie later, until the whole plan had gotten derailed around the fucking part. Ray knocked again and then put his ear to the door and listened hard—nah, Fraser wasn't home, because Dief would've spilled the beans on him. Dief never put up with Fraser's sullen fits, and would have howled or yapped or growled or something.

Where would Fraser go at dusk on Saturday night?

He got it right on the first guess, which made him pretty proud of himself:  the pond in Westminster Park. Fraser'd told him once that there were thirty-eight ponds in Chicago, but that he liked this one best because he'd once skated on it with some hockey player, though Ray wasn't sure exactly why or how this had happened.

There was no ice now, though; just giant green trees and the rippling water where some kids were skipping stones. Ray could recognize Fraser anywhere, even from behind and a hundred feet away—something about the set of his shoulders, the way he sat there all by himself on the bench. Other people, when they were sitting alone, took an attitude like they were waiting for somebody, even when they weren't; or else they sent out a vibe like, "Bug off, don't bother me."

But Fraser just looked alone, like alone was normal for him, which Ray guessed it was. Though as Ray came closer, he could see that Fraser wasn't entirely alone—Diefenbaker was playing at the edge of the pond, running into and out of the water, probably trying to catch ducks or something.

Fraser must have sensed him coming because he turned, just as Ray drew near. Fraser brightened when he saw Ray and began to smile—but then it was like he remembered that they'd left off kind of weird, and that there was still tension between them.

"Hi," Fraser said, kind of hesitantly, like he was going to take his cues from Ray.

So Ray cued him. "I'm sorry I wigged out on you," he said, collapsing on the bench beside Fraser, "and I'm sorry I left you horny and hanging."

Fraser slid down a bit on the bench and jammed his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket; he looked really, really relieved. "I—that's all right, Ray. That—it happens."

Despite himself, Ray felt a sharp prickle of resentment: Fraser was papering over this way too quickly. It felt like the last days with Stella, when she'd stopped fighting with him. That was when Ray knew their marriage was really, really over, when she couldn't be bothered to argue and everything was, "All right, Ray," and "That's fine, Ray," and "Whatever you say, Ray." This thing with Fraser was just the opposite—it had never truly started, despite the sex, despite the partnership, despite everything. This wasn't anything real, this thing between them, because Fraser wouldn't fight with him anymore. In fact, Fraser hadn't fought with him since they'd started fucking, and if you couldn't fight with a person, you weren't a friend, you weren't lovers, you weren't anything.

"Fraser," Ray said intensely; he wanted to be nice, but he needed Fraser to understand how strongly he felt about this, "it's just that—this relationship isn't going anywhere."

He was taken aback by Fraser's response. "Oh, thank God, Ray," Fraser replied, visibly exhaling with relief, "I'm so happy to hear that—" and okay, no, that was wrong, trust Fraser to get that wrong, but Fraser wasn't leaving him any room for corrections. Instead, Fraser was drawing one knee up on the bench, and grabbing his arm tightly. Words spilled out of him with quiet, desperate urgency: "—because you can't possibly begin to understand what this means to me. My world is so small, Ray. My world is so very, very small."

"Fraser," Ray said, trying to interrupt.

But Fraser wouldn't be interrupted. "I know they say it's ten percent, Ray, but when you live fifty miles from a town of two hundred and ten of which a full third are women, your options are strikingly limited." Fraser seemed to be pleading with him. "And everyone knows everyone, everyone's bound by family ties and kinship bonds and ancient history, so there's no hope of keeping a relationship quiet unless it's with an outsider, a stranger—"

"Fraser—"

"—maybe an oilworker or someone doing a tour of duty on the fishing barges, but you'd better get it right on the first try, Ray, because a man can get a reputation for that sort of thing."

It had finally sunk in, what Fraser was trying to tell him. "So who cares what people think?" Ray demanded. "I never thought you were one to give a damn about that."

Fraser frowned at this. "It matters, Ray. Where I come from, a man can't survive on his own—oh, you might make it for a little while, a year or more if you're resourceful, but sooner or later a man will need the help of his neighbors, and he can't afford not to get it."

"That's crazy. You're saying that people up there won't help you if you're queer?"

"I'm saying that it shouldn't be anyone's business." Suddenly Fraser was pulling back to his side of the bench. "It's no different than down here. I haven't noticed you making very many announcements about the other side of your sexuality. Yet people certainly know all about Stella, even though you've been divorced for years."

This stung, probably because it was true. "I never lied about it," Ray lied. "Just, nobody ever asked if I was—"

"Bull. Shit," Fraser said in a soft, angry voice, and Ray felt weirdly sick at the sound of Fraser swearing. "I can't believe you'd—" Fraser snapped his mouth shut and turned away to look over the water, arms crossed and tight-lipped. "Chicago's no better," Fraser said finally, practically spitting out the words. "And you're no better. None of you are. The Christmas before you came, I—I had an encounter, which—"

"Don't," Ray blurted. He didn't want to hear about it. He didn't want to know.

"—which ended badly, you might say." Fraser was staring fixedly out over the water. "He was a deeply disturbed individual, and once I'd managed to subdue him, I called the police."

Ray felt his eyebrows shoot up into his hair. "Whoa. You arrested the guy?"

"I thought it was my duty to press charges. The man was a bully.  I determined that I had an obligation not to be intimidated."

Ray knew right then that he had lost—that the argument was over and Fraser'd won it. Fraser was right and he was wrong, and worse yet, he was a liar and a hypocrite and just plain stupid. Because he didn't want Fraser to have pressed charges against the guy, even if it meant taking a psychotic fag basher off the streets. He didn't want anybody to know that Fraser had sex with strangers. He didn't want anybody to know that Fraser had sex with men.

"When Ray—Ray Vecchio—arrived at the station, he sent me away to get cleaned up." Ray winced at this and looked away; in his mind, he was picturing the guy from The Brewery, and he remembered his own swollen lips the next morning, the ring of bruises 'round his throat. "When I returned," Fraser said quietly, "I found that Ray had released the man, and all the paperwork was gone."

Ray felt an unexpected surge of gratitude toward Vecchio; Vecchio, at least, had been thinking, and had managed to push Fraser out of the way of that oncoming train.

Fraser was still talking quietly. "He said, 'You don't want that on your record, Benny.' He said he was just looking out for my best interests—and I can see from your expression that you agree with him. You do, don't you, Ray?"

It took Ray a moment to place the expression on Fraser's face; it was really unfamiliar, something close to cynicism. "Yeah," Ray said; he was done with lying to Fraser. They might have to lie to everybody else, but he wasn't going to lie to Fraser ever again.

Fraser nodded slowly, and then his face softened. "I came to believe it, too. Ray was always looking out for me, and he was more in touch with the darker side of men's feelings and actions than I was. He protected me from them when I let him. That time I let him."

"I would have done the same thing," Ray mumbled to the grass. "I wish I could say different, because that's happened to me, too. We don't do anything, and guys like that—they're still out there."

"Well, not exactly." Fraser's voice had changed, and when Ray glanced over at him, he saw that Fraser was smiling faintly. "Ray had his own ideas about how justice might best be served in this case. Oh, I don't think I was supposed to know," Fraser added with a wave of his hand, his lips twisting wryly, maybe even wickedly, "and I'm glad I didn't know, because I certainly could not have condoned it, but I later became aware that Ray had...talked to some people. I believe that threats were made, and certain, mm, shall we say inconveniences were visited upon that man's person and property. I can't say I'm sorry," Fraser said, turning to Ray with a frank and open expression. "I wish I could. But it relieves me to think that violent behavior like that has been...disincentivized."

Disincentivized? It sounded more like Vecchio'd gotten someone to beat the guy up and trash his place. Go, Vecchio.

"Hey, I'm all for dis— disincense— disinsensitivity," Ray said finally, and when Fraser smiled at him, Ray flashed a grin right back him.

There didn't seem to be anything left to say. They sat there and watched Diefenbaker chasing ducks until dusk fell, and then Fraser surprised him by reaching over and taking his hand. Weird—so fucking weird to be sitting here holding hands with Fraser, but it was kind of nice, too, so long as there was nobody around, nobody watching.


Later, after they'd gone to Fraser's apartment and eaten dinner and dealt with Diefenbaker's various needs, Ray insisted that Fraser fuck him. It seemed important, now—before, it had been only for fun, but now it seemed important that Fraser fuck him. Partly because Fraser'd never fucked anyone's ass before, and Ray felt compelled to claim some sexual turf. Partly it was an apology. Mostly he wanted to tie Fraser to him in some way that words couldn't do.

Ray had brought condoms and lube over from his place, but when push came to shove he left the condoms in his jacket pocket. Which was stupid really, considering that Fraser had actually engaged in some risky behavior, but it was his risk to take and he felt like risking something.

Actually, he felt like risking everything; if he could've figured out some kind of sexual Russian Roulette, where there were five chances for orgasm and one chance of a bullet to the head, he would have done it. Instead, he pulled Fraser into bed with him and shut off the lights and taught him how to fuck in the dark.


 

Part Three.

"Just stand back! I want you to stand back, Fraser. No, I mean it," Ray insisted, and Fraser reluctantly backed up another few steps down the sidewalk, still carrying the wrench. "I'm not kidding—if this thing blows up, it was nice knowing you. Tell my mother I love her."

"I think you're overreacting, Ray," Fraser said, but he put on his plastic goggles. "I don't know why you wanted to rebuild the engine in the first place."

He probably was overreacting, but hey: a stray spark, a loose bolt, anything could happen. It was fun to think so, anyway—more fun than the bummer of the car not starting at all, which was more likely. "Power, Fraser. You can't ever have enough power."

"It was a perfectly good engine, Ray," Fraser muttered.

"Ready?" Ray slid into the driver's seat, leaving the door open, and braced his left foot on the asphalt outside. He slid the key into the ignition and wiped his sweaty palms on his grease-stained jeans. "Set?"

He turned the key, and the engine stuttered loudly like an old drunk having a coughing fit. Ray pumped the gas a couple more times and tried again. Again the car sputtered, sputtered—and finally came to life with a deafening roar that sent adrenaline surging through him. Hoo, this was power, baby, and he put his foot down on the gas just to hear that magnificent engine revving loud.

When he looked up through the windshield he saw Fraser running back toward the car, looking excited. "Get in!" Ray called, drawing his foot into the car and waving Fraser toward the passenger side. "Let's see what she can do!"

Fraser slid in beside him with easy grace, slammed the door, and they were off—and even Fraser had the fucking tact not to talk to him about speed limits or safety, and in fact, Fraser started egging him on a bit once they'd hit the open roads outside of the city.

"Surely, this can't be it, Ray," Fraser said with an amused smile, and Ray pushed down on the gas.

"Is this top speed?" Fraser asked a few minutes later, and when Ray turned to him, ready to defend the Goat's honor with, "Hell, no!", he saw that Fraser was grinning at him madly, hair blowing wildly in the wind from the window. He looked exhilarated.

"You want top speed, I'll show you top speed," Ray yelled over the rush of wind. "Just you wait until the next open straight-away..." and once they'd hit a good patch of deserted road, he nudged it up from 85...to 95...to just over 105 miles per hour. The GTO didn't even seem to be straining for it, so he pushed even harder, hitting 113 before the low, squealing whine made him go all protective of the car and slow down again.

"That was fantastic," Fraser said; he was flushed and breathing hard.

Ray beamed at him; Fraser didn't use words like "fantastic" all that often. "It is, ain't it?"

"It is. God," Fraser said, brushing his hair out of his eyes, "I think you'd love sledding, Ray. It's a very similar sensation, actually—less speed, obviously, but it feels the same because you're exposed to the elements and everything's shaking and—"

"Yeah, I know just what you mean! My first car, when I was a kid—total piece of crap, a '70 Dart—but man, when that car went over fifty, you just thought you were flying. The frame would be shaking and the windows rattling and you knew if you crashed you'd be impaled on a dashboard full of chrome—"

"Try crashing on ice," Fraser suggested. "Or falling off a cliff."

"Sounds terrific—at least you'd feel it," Ray said jealously. "I can be doing 85 in the Chevy and it feels like sitting on my sofa."

"I know. It's not a terribly exciting vehicle."

"Understatement. It's the goddamned suspension."

"I thought the suspension was particularly good on the Chevy?"

"It is," Ray said grudgingly. "Kills the feeling of speed, though." He looked over at Fraser and said, "What about snowmobiling, is that good? I always figured it would be like motorcycling—is it like motorcycling?"

"Very like motorcycling," Fraser said with a straight face. "Motorcycling on snow."

Ray had to bite down on his grin. "Oh, shut up."

"Actually, I like snowmobiling. It just pales in comparison to sledding, if you ask me."

"I did ask you."

"There you go, then. Question answered."

Ray drove the car back to the garage he'd rented on Racine Street—man, how he loved this garage. Twice the size and half the price of the one he'd been renting by his place, big enough for the winch he needed to rebuild the engine, big enough for all his tools and even his bike.

He switched the engine off and said, triumphantly, "Beer's on me, Fraser. I officially declare this project a success."

"Actually," Fraser said, opening the car door, "I believe there's beer upstairs in the refrigerator."

"Okay, but I bought it," Ray pointed out. "So it's still technically on me."

They locked the garage and went around the corner to Fraser's apartment. When they opened the door, Ray made a beeline for the fridge which he had, actually, already stocked with beer, go him. He pulled out two cold bottles and popped the tops off before handing one to Fraser, who took it kind of reluctantly.

"It's only three-thirty in the afternoon," Fraser objected.

"I rebuilt. The engine. On. My. Car," Ray said, saying each word real exaggerated so that even Fraser would understand the fucking significance of this. "That is. Celebratory. Beer. If you don't drink that fuckin' beer, you'll never get another blowjob from me, asshole. I'll break up with you. I'll tell Frannie you've always wanted to date her but couldn't work up the nerve. I'll—"

Fraser quickly brought the golden bottle to his lips and took a deep swig, draining a third of it. Ray toasted the air in front of him, and then tipped his own bottle up. "Has anyone ever told you," Fraser asked, wiping foam from his lips with the back of his hand, "that you can be a real pain in the ass?"

"Yeah," Ray said; he was grinning like a maniac, but he couldn't help himself. "Only a couple thousand times." He slid his beer onto the counter, made fists in Fraser's grease-stained t-shirt, and tugged him close for a sloppy kiss—Fraser tasting of beer was impossible to resist. He slid his tongue into Fraser's mouth, and Fraser tasted like heaven, if heaven tasted like beer, which Ray was sure it did.

"Come to bed with me," Ray murmured against Fraser's soft, wet mouth.

"We should shower first."

"Screw that. Come to bed now."

Fraser gently sucked his lower lip, then murmured: "We'll get grease on the sheets."

And suddenly, Ray was raging inside, and it wasn't about sex, and he wasn't sure what it was about. "Take me snowmobiling," he said.

Fraser's head jerked back. "What?"

"Take me snowmobiling," Ray said, nearly spitting out the words. "Or sledding. Or—"  Take me anywhere, he thought furiously, anywhere there's some speed and some risk, goddamn you.  Take a goddamned risk.

Fraser's beautiful, wet mouth fell open and Ray suddenly couldn't stand the sight of him. He shoved him away—hard—and Fraser stumbled back against the counter, looking utterly shocked. "Ray..."

Ray raised a single, splayed palm at arm's length, unable to get the words out: Touch me now and I'll punch you.

But Fraser knew him well enough to keep his distance; he reached back and braced his hands against the counter behind him, his face a picture of worry. Ray looked away from him, staring instead at the kitchen's white wall and the Chinese restaurant calendar that Fraser'd tacked up. March. Shrimp. Dragon Soup. Think about that.

Finally, he got himself back under control and he let his arm drop, the universal sign for "Approach Ray with caution."

Fraser approached with caution, head tilted to one side. He was looking at Ray like he might suddenly bolt away or climb up the drapes or shriek like a banshee and rip his face off—which, hey, who knew? "I don't actually care about the sheets, Ray," Fraser said almost as one word.

Ray massaged his browbone with the inside of his wrist. "Yeah, I know. I know, Fraser."

"And we can certainly go snowmobiling if you want." Fraser sounded really lost, really insecure, and Ray hated himself for making Fraser sound like that. Fraser should be confidently telling a stupid Inuit story, or being bitchy in that sweetly innocent way he had.  "When it...next snows. I've seen places that rent them, and there are trails that run off the Lincoln Highway, aren't there?"

"Yeah." Fraser's kitchen linoleum was cleaner than his was, that was for sure. "Yeah, I think so..."

Fraser was close to him, now, breathing warm air on his ear. Fraser's arms came around him. Fraser's soft mouth was brushing his cheek. Fraser was kissing his temple, his ear, his neck. "Come on," Fraser murmured against Ray's mouth, "let's go to bed," and then Fraser was kissing Ray's lips and sliding his tongue inside.

Ray groaned and let Fraser push him back toward the bed. When the bed hit his legs, Ray sat down and tugged Fraser down with him, on top of him. Fraser began to hump him roughly, crudely, almost rudely; Ray still couldn't really believe how much Fraser wanted him, his body at least. He tugged Fraser's t-shirt up so that he could run his palms over the warm, smooth skin of Fraser's back, and then they were rolling and worming out of their clothes as they sucked face and fondled each other.

"Ray..." Fraser was on top of him now, scorching hot and bare-ass naked. Ray could feel Fraser's erection hard against his hip, and he moaned and writhed against it—he wanted it now; hell, he wanted it yesterday.

"Ray..." Fraser breathed into his ear, and usually, Fraser wasn't big on talking during sex. It was pretty much the one time he shut up.

Ray sank his fingers into Fraser's hair and tugged his head down so that he could kiss and suck Fraser's face. There was a particular bit he loved, right by the cheekbone—

"Ray..." Fraser pulled away and lifted his head, and there was something else in his eyes besides horniness—something new. "I want you to fuck me."

The pulse in his cock jerked into doubletime; he was so hard it almost hurt. At the same time, something in his chest wrenched the other way—impossible to fuck Fraser, not now, not like this. He hadn't been able to fuck Stella either, early on— not for a long time. Stella's parents had thought that he was the troublemaker but that only went to show how little they knew Stella. Stella was no blushing virgin; she was no-nonsense and totally competent, like she still was. At sixteen, she'd already taken herself to the doctor and gotten the pill, and Ray knew for a fact that she'd slept with two other guys before they started dating—one at sleep-away camp and that asshole Jonathan from school. Ray was pretty sure that he'd only kept her attention by not fucking her until she'd taken off Jonathan's ring and put his on. But there was no chance of that with Fraser.

He'd moved his beer here, and his car here, and he kept forgetting his clothes in Fraser's closet, except he didn't really think he was forgetting. It didn't matter a good goddamn, either, because when push came to shove, he'd spent only two overnights here, one time which was case-related, and once when he was drunk and couldn't drive. Some weird, sick part of him woke up the next morning thinking that that was a plan—drink, drink, drink your way to happiness!—but one look at Fraser's face changed his mind about that.  Fraser hated it when he was drunk.

Right now Fraser's strong, wet tongue was fucking his ear, making Ray squirm and pant beneath him. Then soft lips brushed his ear and Fraser whispered "fuck me" in a very small voice.

Ray's throat closed up. "Can't," he managed.

Wet tongue following the line of his neck to his throat. Soft lips sucking at the pulse point. "Please. I want you to."

He could tell by the tone of Fraser's voice that Fraser wasn't seriously expecting to be turned down; Fraser just thought this was some kind of sex-game—foreplay, a tease. Ray didn't have the words to explain that it wasn't foreplay, that he really wasn't going to be able to bring himself to fuck Fraser, not when the smartest part of his brain was sure that Fraser was offering Ray his ass just to pacify him.

"I can't."

He also didn't know how to explain to Fraser that getting fucked by him had become this hugely significant thing in his head. Normally, he and whatever guy had split the fucking fifty-fifty—but with Fraser, he actually dreamed about getting fucked, and sometimes worse. Sometimes he had dreams where Fraser was doing really kinky stuff to him: tying him up and whipping him and fucking him with dildos, and he didn't even go for that sort of thing. But it was like his subconscious had taken a left turn somewhere, and when Ray woke up—alone—he was often sweating and come-stained and dreaming about things that shocked him.

Fraser was still humming seductively against his throat. "Ray..."

Better shut this down now. "Shut up and fuck me, Fraser."

Fraser went very still, just breathing quietly against Ray's neck. "You don't want to...?"

"No. Not now. Not yet." Ray fisted Fraser's hair, pulled their mouths together, and kissed him as hotly as he could manage, wanting to soften the blow with a little tenderness and a whole lot of promise. "You do me, Fraser. I need you to do me. This is my celebratory fuck, right?" he added, trying to keep it light.

Fraser lifted his head, and hope shone through the worry on his face. "You... Yes. All right. Whatever you want."

"I want you to fuck me through the floor. Lube's on the dresser."

Fraser nodded, heaved himself off the bed, and crossed to the dresser—and Christ, Fraser was so beautiful. Strong shoulders and chest tapering to a soft, white belly; an arrow of darkening hair leading down to a hard cock and strong thighs. Afternoon sun streamed in through the window, making Fraser glow a little.

Ray propped himself up on one elbow to see better, all too conscious of his own body, his skinny arms and legs, the way he was thickening slightly round the middle. Fraser turned to search the dresser top and showed Ray his perfect Mountie ass—and Ray reached down to grab his dick, which was thrumming with lust.

He thought that grabbing himself would calm him down, but he felt really excited, and began jacking himself instead. And when Fraser turned around to look at him, Ray sucked two fingers into his mouth before tilting his hips and pushing them into himself. He convulsed with pleasure, and sucked wildly for breath, squeezing his eyes shut against Fraser's look of shock.

He shoved his fingers deeper, but he couldn't get deep enough, not deep enough, not like this. Behind his eyelids he saw visions that shocked him—Fraser fucking him with a dildo, with a beer bottle, with—

"Ray." Fraser's voice sounded like it was being scraped out of his throat, and when Ray opened his eyes, he saw that Fraser was standing over him, staring down at him, looking aroused and appalled. "Ray, I..." and Ray couldn't stop himself from shoving in again, trying to get deeper, because Christ, Fraser was so fucking beautiful

"Ray. Ray—" and Fraser was on the bed now, grabbing his wrists, pulling his hands away from his body and—yes, this was just like his dream!—sliding into him, holding him down and fucking him. Ray began to sob out his pleasure, so good, good, good, and heard Fraser moaning right along with him. They fucked hard, sweating and groaning, and Fraser was banging his prostate with every stroke. There were stars in his eyes, he was blind, ripped open, dying. Above him, Fraser flexed and strained to fuck him, to caress him. Sweat was rolling down his back. And then Fraser's hips went wild and erratic and Fraser was coming hard, up deep inside of him, and collapsing on top of him.

Ray wrapped his arms around Fraser's sweating back and held on tight, unable to speak, unable even to breathe. He felt Fraser gasping for breath against his neck.

When Fraser finally said something, Ray couldn't get the words to make sense. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Ray couldn't think straight; he was completely used up. "Tell you what?"

Fraser just held on to him, burying his face against Ray's sweat-damp skin.  "You're unhappy. I had no idea you were so unhappy."

It was weird, but it was like his unhappiness was his own personal secret, the thing he was more afraid of people knowing than that he was queer, even. He especially didn't want Fraser to know, and his heart thumped in panic to hear the word spoken aloud.

"I'm happy enough," Ray said defensively. "I'm plenty happy."

Fraser raised his head; he looked like hell. "Plenty happy? Happy enough?"

Ray shoved Fraser off him, to one side, so he could breathe, so he could think. "Happy enough is pretty damn good, Fraser," he blurted. "Nobody's happy all the time. You get homesick, for instance: you get homesick every time you look at an ice cube—"

"I'd rather be here with you," Fraser said quietly.

Ray tucked his arms behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. "So there you go, then. We all got our trade-offs to make—"

"But for how long?" Fraser asked unsteadily. "You're not going to be able to do this for much longer, Ray—"

Ray felt suddenly furious, because it was true: this thing was vast and it was gutwrenching and it was killing him. "Do not tell me what I can and cannot do, Fraser!—"

"—not when you're this unhappy. How long before you can't take any more?"

"—because I am the one with the experience here, and don't you forget it!" Ray rolled on his side so he could yell into Fraser's face. "This was my idea, my brilliant idea, my admirable solution!" Ray shouted, but he was shouting at himself more than Fraser, at the part of himself that was so fucking spineless and weak. "I'm the one who's done this before, who's had an arrangement like this." Except this thing with Fraser was like nothing he'd ever had before. It was as different from his fuckbuddy days with Paulie or John as a puddle was from Lake Michigan. "So this is nothing new, Fraser. It's just the way things are, okay? Deal with it."

Fraser looked red-faced and blotchy and nearly beside himself. "I don't want to lose this," he said, tightening his hand around Ray's arm. "Tell me what I need to do to make it right."

And that was like a fantasy, right there—how many times had Ray fallen asleep while holding an increasingly deranged conversation with an imaginary Fraser in which he laid out a whole list of demands? I want to stay overnight, I wanna move in with... go sledding in the... ice... ice cream... zzzz.

But now, in broad daylight, everything he wanted seemed impossible. What was Fraser supposed to do to make it right, change the fucking world?

"It is what it is, Fraser," Ray said, feeling like he could drown in the affection he had for Fraser; in fact, he was pretty certain he would drown. This was worse than with Stella; this had all the passion and insanity but none of the benefits: no safety or security, none of the social status, not even the tax break. Separate bedrooms, separate rents, separate futures...separation without ever having being married, like a perpetual state of divorce.  He leaned down and kissed Fraser's beautiful soft mouth. "It is what it is."


Drowning, he was flailing his arms but it didn't matter; it was everywhere, heavy on him, crushing him in sea of white. Suicide. Cold water rushing into his eyes, into his mouth, into his lungs; he was trapped in it, blind with it.

He almost didn't hear the muffled voice over the sound of his own panicked thrashing. "Ray! Ray! You all right?"

Ray fought a minute more and then went still; you couldn't win against this any more than you could win against the heavy bag.

"Ray! Are you all right?"

"I'm under 30 feet of snow!" Ray yelled, and the snow magnified his voice a thousand times. "How can that be all right?"

Fraser's voice, when it came back to him, was pragmatic and relieved. "At least you're alive. Start digging!"

So Ray started digging, dog paddling toward the sound of Fraser's voice, or what he thought was Fraser's voice, because there was an echo in here fit to kill you. Ray tunneled up and up and finally broke through the snow over his head, which crashed down around his face. Finally he managed to heave himself up and over the side of the hole he was in, then stumbled to his knees before finding his feet.

It was vast. It was white. It was white in every direction, for miles and miles, and you could barely tell snow from sky. The only spot of color left in the entire world was Fraser, a single drop of red paint on a blank canvas, a smile of pure joy upon on his face. "I'm home, Ray."

This was Fraser's small world?! In his brain, Ray could hear Fraser's voice. "My world is so small, Ray. My world is so very, very small." But now he was seeing it with his own eyes and it wasn't true.

Fraser's world was freakin' huge.


He struggled along some steps behind Fraser, just putting one snowshoed foot in front of the other, certain he was going to fall over any moment. It was the story of his life.

Still, he always managed to come out of things alive, if not always standing. This too would pass. He still wasn't sure how Fraser's finding a body in the reservoir had led to Holloway Muldoon and Ray Vecchio showing up and deciding he wanted his life back, not to mention being thrown out of an airplane and this here death march across the Canadian tundra. But these things just seemed to happen to him. He put one foot in front of the other.

God, the air here was quiet.

"I'm not up to this," Ray mumbled, more to hear himself talk than for any other reason. His breath was a white puff in front of his face, and froze onto his lips. "My idea of health is a cup of coffee without sugar, Fraser. I'm not fit—I mean, I'm fit, I'm city fit, just not snowshoe fit. I'm not fit for this."

"Got...to keep going, Ray," Fraser panted.

Ray glanced over at him and saw that Fraser was working a hell of a lot harder than he was, tugging all their supplies behind him like a pack animal. Fraser's face was strained with exertion, and Ray shut the fuck up and kept trudging.

"Muldoon's rendezvous is...two days from now," Fraser explained to him breathlessly. "If we...take a direct route...we should be able to intercept him."

Holy hell. "Hang on a minute, hang on a minute. Two more days?"

"That's right. So....weight forward, heels up, and away we go," Fraser said, and began to pull away from him, pack and all.

"Fraser!" Ray called, feeling panicked; he was never gonna keep up with him. "Fraser! Where are we going to sleep?"


Sleep turned out not to be a problem; by the time Fraser made camp, Ray was more exhausted than he'd ever been in his entire life, and fell asleep almost immediately.

In his dream, he was already dead, because he had a huge, gaping hole in his chest, like a shotgun blast. Somehow he got lost in the tunnel and he couldn't get to heaven—bright lights seemed to be coming from everywhere, and he wasn't sure where to walk. So he wandered for what seemed like hours, and then he finally he opened a door and found himself in the bullpen. But nobody could see him anymore—not Frannie, not Welsh, nobody, and Ray Vecchio was sitting at his desk, talking on the phone.

And Fraser wasn't there, so Ray went looking for him. He went first to the Consulate, but Fraser wasn't there, and when Ray opened the door to Fraser's office, there was a snowstorm inside, like in one of those snow globes. So he headed over to Racine Street and climbed the steps to Fraser's apartment, but Fraser had already changed the locks.

Ray was halfway to beating the door down when he came awake with a start. Fraser was shaking him, staring into his face with concern. "You all right?" Fraser asked softly.

Ray rubbed sleep out of his eyes. "Yeah."

"It's morning," Fraser said, scraping brittle, icy hair away from Ray's forehead with real tenderness. "And we've got to climb a mountain today."

Ray sighed and looked up at him wearily. "So what else is new?"


"Just relax, Ray."

"I can't."

"Just look above you."

"I can't."

"One hand after the other."

"I can't. Christ, I can't."

"I got you. I got you," but that was a lie, wasn't it? It sure felt like a lie.


Power, baby—now this was real power, this feeling of speed. The wind blew through his hair and shredded his clothes, and he could feel the frame rattling and the windows shaking. If they crashed, he'd be impaled on the dashboard, impaled on ice as sharp as broken glass. Man, he was really flying: it was like that time he'd flipped himself right up over the top of the swing, when he was a kid—

"Ray. Put your legs in the hammock. It's time to go to sleep."

"Yes, Fraser. Anything you say, Fraser, buddy buddy."

The sledding was great here in the frozen north, a real feeling of speed, but now Fraser was slowing him down, gathering him up, pulling him together. A man can't survive on his own—even Fraser knew that, 'cause Fraser'd told him that. Sooner or later a man would need the help of his neighbors, and Fraser's arms were coming 'round him tight—warm, warm, like a steambath. Real neighborly, that was. Like the best of buddies.

Fraser's lips pressed against Ray's face, his frozen face; it felt like his face was gonna crack off into pieces. But Fraser was holding him so, so tightly, and now Fraser was whispering, "Ray, I'm sorry. Ray, I love you. I love you so much," which was a hell of a lot more than neighborly. He really hoped he wasn't hallucinating or delirious—though if this was delirium, he'd stay on this fucking cliff forever.

If he made it through this, he was gonna go to Egypt, or maybe Mars. If he made it through this, he was gonna make Fraser take him sledding and snowmobiling and skiing. If he made it through this, he was gonna make some radical changes to his life—screw the job he'd never wanted, screw the apartment he'd always hated, screw being afraid of everything and everybody.

If he made it through this, he was gonna become the hero of his own fucking life.


It wasn't until after the capture of Muldoon, the official returning of the stolen sub to the Russian Navy, nineteen hours of complete unconsciousness in a sleeping bag in one of Buck Frobisher's tents, and four caribou burgers that Ray was able to get Fraser alone for a second by the campfire and tell him that he wanted to move to the Northwestern Areas.

"What?" Fraser stopped short of thumping his ear with his palm, but he sure looked tempted. "You want to what?"

"I want to live here. Maybe do some more sledding. Really get good with the snowshoes."

Fraser just blinked at him. "And you made this decision when?"

"When I was delirious. On the side of the mountain," Ray told him.

"Oh, well!" Fraser said, and you didn't often get to see Fraser's sarcasm out with its full plumage. "I'm glad you made good use of the time!"

"I'm not kidding here, Fraser!" Ray said dangerously.

"I can see you're not! Still, you do realize you're unhinged, don't you?"

"I am not unhinged! I've never been more hinged in my entire life!"

"But you don't know anything about the Territories, Ray!" Fraser protested heatedly. "You can barely pick Canada out on a map!"

Ray crossed his arms tightly, mainly to stop himself from slugging Fraser. "Hey, I can find Canada: it's the big country right over America. Got those funny-looking islands up top—"

"Oh, that's just perfect," Fraser said and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Hey, I thought you wanted to come back," Ray said defensively. "I never saw a man so nostalgic for moose."

"I do. Or I did." Fraser looked confused. "But you're in Chicago."

"Right.  Now I'm here," Ray said, and waved. "Hiya."

Fraser was already shaking his head. "But you can't, you're not—"

"I'm not gonna make it, is that what you're saying?" Ray picked up a stick and flung it at the fire.

Fraser glanced away, looking both worried and embarrassed. "Ray, you nearly died out there."

"Yeah, I know, Fraser, thanks for the memo. How about next time we trek across the tundra I'm given a little bit of warning and a fucking jacket, Fraser, huh? A little training, a little—whattya call it, what's the word? Training, getting used to it—?"

"Acclimatization."

"Bingo, right. I mean, I'm not stupid or anything, and I'm not as out of shape as all that, but give a guy a break, okay? Drop you in the Gobi desert and see how you'd—" Ray bit off the words and sighed, cause Fraser'd probably do great in the Gobi desert.  Stupid Mountie.

Fraser raised a gloved hand in a gesture that looked a lot like acceptance. "Okay. Granted that this trip would have been a little easier had we had proper supplies and, er—food."

Ray boggled. "A little easier?"

"And I'm well aware that you're smart, and fit, and more than capable of adjusting to the Territories," Fraser conceded. "But why on earth would you want to?"

Ray frowned down at the mess of snow at his feet; the question had kind of thrown him.

But Fraser was off on a roll. "I mean, it's cold, it's isolated, it's physically brutal—though I think it's beautiful," Fraser said, bringing a hand to his chest. "I think it's the most beautiful place in the world, though I've been told some interesting things about the Alps and the Grand Canyon. But don't tell me you fell in love with the scenery, Ray."

"It's not the scenery," Ray mumbled; he was trying to put his finger on exactly what it was. "It's more like...well, the place is full of freaks for one thing."

"And that's an asset?" Fraser asked skeptically.

"Yeah, it is, kind of. I mean, your pal Delbert's a trip—"

"Delmar," Fraser corrected.

"Whatever. Delmar. Buck. That weird chick from the boat—everyone we've met here has been crazy as a loon."

Fraser hmmed thoughtfully and tilted his head to one side. "Well, I take your point, actually. The far north does attract people who are inclined to indulge their eccentricities, so personal foibles tend to be overlooked, unless they're egregious."

Now Ray felt like thumping the side of his head. "English translation?"

"There are a lot of strange people here, Ray. We could be two of them."

"Yeah, but could we, though? I mean, freaks, sure—but what about our kind of freaks?"

Fraser frowned at this. "Well, I wouldn't advertise it—"

Ray shoved his fingers through his hair. "Yeah, right, I'm shocked."

"—but I wouldn't think we'd need to take any particular pains to hide it, either. Fewer than in Chicago, certainly," Fraser said with a faint tinge of pride. "The north has a mostly male population, so nobody would think it strange if we—"

"So why the hell didn't you ever date Delmar?" Ray demanded. "Find yourself some freak of a boyfriend and—"

"Delmar's sexuality is not something I wish to spend any time considering," Fraser said, narrowing his eyes. "And let me again remind you that one's social circle up here is extremely limited. There were five of us in Grade Four that year—myself, Delmar, Innusiq, Marybeth, and Snow Goose Sammy. We called him Snow Goose because—"

"See!" Ray crowed triumphantly. "Freaks everywhere you look! We can live here and be weirdos, Fraser—together, I mean," he amended quickly, "cause I ain't living the next house over. This ain't like Chicago. I can't survive without you here."

And as the words left his mouth, Ray realized that that was it: he wanted to live here because he and Fraser would need each other here. Cause that's what marriage was about, really—the good years with Stella were the early years, when she'd needed him to get her away from her parents, to work and put food on the table while she studied and studied. Those were the hard years, but they were the good ones, too, and Ray would bet that all the years up here with Fraser would be really hard and really good.

Up here, there was no way to make it alone, to have separate houses and paychecks and lives. Up here, everything had to be conserved—wood, water, food, money, heat. There was no room for extras or redundancies, no "separate residences" or even much personal space. Instead, you had to throw your lot in with somebody and work hard just to stay alive, because up here "till death do us part" was a real thing that happened to you and not just a metaphor.

A man can't survive on his own—even Fraser had said so. You might manage for a while, and Fraser had managed for longer than most people, but sooner or later you were gonna need a partner, a lover, a friend—so why not him?

Fraser was looking completely overwhelmed. "Ray, I—yes, of course together, but—"

"Then I want to stay," Ray said firmly.

Fraser opened and closed his mouth several times, and then said, breathlessly: "Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but—dear God, are you sure?"

"I'm sure, Fraser. I think it's beautiful up here. I fell in love with the scenery," Ray said to Fraser and smiled.


Epilogue.

Lieutenant Welsh's meaty finger stabbed the paper. "Here," and Ray signed S. Raymond Kowalski, "and here," and Ray signed again, near the bottom of the page.

Welsh took that sheet away and left him to look over the next one. Ray glanced up at the header—right, okay, pension rollover—and signed again. Next form up was a confidentiality agreement about his undercover gigs, which he signed, and then a formal statement of his Dates of Service, January 3, 1981 to March 31, 1998—seventeen years and change, all in all, plus he got double credit for each of the undercover gigs: two weeks in 1989, two months in 1992, three in 1994, four months with the drug chick in 1996, and now eighteen months with Fraser. Portrait of a marriage in decline, Ray thought glumly, but thank God for it, because it brought his total accumulated retirement credits to twenty-one years and ten months, which meant that he could retire before age 55 on a reduced pension. Ray signed and signed and signed.

Behind his back, he could hear Frannie's heels clicking as she danced her way around Fraser. "So it's really true, then? You're really going?"

Fraser's voice was soft and kind; he was being extra-special nice to her. "Yes, I'm afraid so."

"And Ray, too?" Frannie asked plaintively.

"Yes," Fraser said. "Ray's moving to Canada with me,"—and Christ, it was like some cramped, tight thing inside of him was expanding. He felt liberated. He felt free. "But I'm sure we'll be back to visit," Fraser added.

Frannie sounded really sad. "Can I come to visit you? I've never been to Canada. I've never been anywhere."

"You don't wanna go to Canada, they got worse winters than us," Ray Vecchio said, and Ray felt his fingers tightening hard on the pen. "Any sensible person would be going in the other direction.  South."

Ray's head jerked up. "Never said I was sensible."

He'd thought that maybe Vecchio was mocking him, but Vecchio just leaned back against his desk, looking relaxed and grinning. "Never said you were, Stanley."

Fraser tsked softly at Vecchio. "There's no snow in the summer, Ray. As you should well remember."

"What I remember is the sled ride of death," Vecchio replied, rolling his eyes. "From which I still haven't recovered, Benny, believe you me."

"But what are you guys going to do up there?" Frannie asked, sounding really baffled.

Vecchio shot a long, curious look at him, like he wanted to study him;  Vecchio knew what they were gonna do up there, all right.  Ray lifted his chin and stared at him kind of defiantly, but Vecchio just rolled his eyes as if to say, "Get over yourself."

"We're going on an adventure," Fraser explained to Frannie. "To find the Hand of Franklin."

Vecchio looked over at him again with a raised eyebrow, and this time Ray had to look away or burst out laughing because it was written clear across Vecchio's face that no way was the "Hand of Franklin" the hand that Fraser was actually interested in. Ray stared down at the pile of documents before him and bit the inside of his cheek, hard.

"So—a sled ride of death, then," Vecchio said, skeptically.

Fraser ignored him. "In 1845, Sir John Franklin set off in search of the Northwest Passage with two boats—"

Vecchio began snoring loudly.

"—the Erebus and the Terror. He was last seen navigating Peel Sound on July 26th."

"It's been a century and change, Fraser," Vecchio said. "I'm guessing he's dead."

Ray looked up just in time to catch a first rate Fraser glare, a specimen you could put in a glass case. "Yes, well, we've pretty much decided that, Ray, thank you. But the remains of the expedition have never been found. It's believed that the boat became mired in ice—"

"So—a sled ride of death, then."

"—and the men were forced to blunder their way along the coastline in snowshoes. Until they ran out of food, took to cannibalism, and died," Fraser concluded kind of snippily, with the air of one whose story hasn't been properly appreciated.

Vecchio turned to Ray and shook his hand warmly. "Have a good one, babe. You're outta your freakin' mind." Ray just grinned at him.


They'd dismantled Ray's apartment first, because there was more stuff to go through, and he wouldn't be needing most of it now. The cry went up—garage sale at Ray's place!—though he ended up giving most of his stuff to Frannie, who'd decided to get her own apartment.

"This is cool, Ray," Frannie said, practically hopping up and down as he and Fraser moved his sofa into her new place. "This is so, so cool!"

Frannie spread a white lace thing on his coffeetable and put pink throw pillows on his sofa, which kind of made him uncomfortable, like now even his furniture was gay. Eventually, he had to make the break and stop thinking of it as "his" furniture: that was Frannie's kitchen table with the vase of little roses on top, set with Frannie's moo-print dishes. That was Frannie's roll-top desk all covered with little pots of make-up and jars of nail polish, and Frannie's leather chair with the—uh, stuffed bear on it.

He was better than he thought at letting go of stuff; he figured the divorce had taught him a lot about that. Five years ago, when he and Stella had split, he'd dumped all the check stubs and gas bills and credit card receipts, so he didn't have a whole lot of that crap. Other stuff was harder, the real sentimental stuff—paintings he'd done in high school, souvenir t-shirts from the Clash and Cheap Trick and the third time the Who broke up, little presents from Stella, old pictures of his parents and grandparents, the beer can collection he'd started when he was fourteen.

He gave some of it away, and it felt kind of like dying and willing stuff to people, except you got to stand around and see whether they liked it or not. One of the pictures he'd painted (a stylized version of the tenement where he'd grown up with his parents, done in a lot of dark blues) he got framed and gave to Stella, because that was the part of him he wanted her to remember—the old days, the hard days, when he was her boy from the south side. He drove his car back to his parents, and sent a single box up north—the things he couldn't leave behind.

It wasn't that all much, push come to shove.

Packing clothes, he figured, would be easy—but he turned out to be wrong about that. He'd been making two piles, winter and summer, until Fraser noticed what he was doing and told him to make piles based on inner and outer and then to pick what he liked from the inner. "Most of your outerwear is woefully inadequate," Fraser concluded after inspecting his pile of boots, jackets, and sweaters. "But you'll want to pack your jeans and t-shirts and such. Think Sears catalogue," Fraser added dryly, and when Ray glared at him, Fraser surprised him with a quick, sharp cuff to the head from his blind side.

"Hey!" Ray yelled, hand going to clap the side of his head, outraged.

"I'll give you second best," Fraser retorted, and Ray jumped him. Ultimately, they wrestled for maybe half an hour, going best two out of three, until Ray had to concede that Fraser, what with all that heavy extra subcutaneous fat, could, yeah, probably pin him for as long as he wanted.

But it was great having Fraser fighting with him again.


Ray got the last load of stuff off to Goodwill, handed his keys over to his landlady and retreated to Fraser's place on 74th Street. Fraser was finishing out the week at the Consulate and then planning to take a few weeks off before starting at his new post at Fort McPherson—which Fraser was all excited about because it was below the treeline and right near some protected land or something that Fraser wanted to go hang out in, plus Fraser had some cabin not too far from there.

Though the place apparently needed a little work—like to be built all over again.

That was okay with him; he didn't have anything on his calendar yet, though Fraser insisted that he'd find work when he wanted it. It was Vecchio who'd managed to explain the situation in terms Ray could understand: "Nobody in their right mind wants to be up there, so they're always shorthanded." Which was good, he had hands. Two of them.

Right now, he was mostly using his hands on Fraser, because he felt like he only had a couple days to make up for months and months' worth of wrong. They should have been living here, together, right from the beginning, or at least near the beginning. It would have made everything easier, even Fraser's sponsorship of his application to Canada. But at least they were gonna be living together now, starting here, and that felt right, like a good omen.

The days were long, what with all the errands Ray had to run (change of address cards—check!, talk to loan guys—check!, notify bank officer—check!) but the nights were even longer—unbelievably long now that nobody had to go anywhere, now that they could fuck and nap and fuck and nap again, all night long.

Ray used the time to show Fraser just what "the scenic route" was now that they could really make a night of it.  In particular, he paid a lot more attention to Fraser's ass, because he figured that this was the time to get Fraser used to being touched there, maybe teach him to like it.

Fraser flinched and gasped a little the first time Ray's finger brushed there, but Ray just tilted his head and deepened their kiss. Five minutes later Fraser was moaning into his mouth as Ray massaged and circled the outside of his hole, though Ray didn't put a finger into him until much, much later, when Fraser was relaxed and turned on and practically on the verge of coming. Ray pushed his finger into Fraser just as he slid his fist up to squeeze Fraser's cockhead, tight.  Fraser came almost violently and then just kept coming, pulse after pulse, shiver after shiver.

So he did it again the next night.


Incredible to lie in bed together all night long, arms and legs tangled on the wrinkled, sweaty sheets. It felt like getting away with something, it felt kinkier than anything Ray'd ever done in his life. He felt sorry for Fraser, who had to drag himself out of the warm bed every morning, but there was no taking off from work this week: he had to organize the Consulate for his replacement. And while Fraser was normally Mr. Spoonful of Sugar With The Medicine, he was looking pretty fucking disgruntled—and who could blame him? He had a warm body in his bed for the first time in forever and he couldn't take a day off to enjoy it.

"Four more days," Ray whispered to him at night. And then it was three more days, two more days, Fraser's final day at the Consulate. Ray made sure that he was back at the apartment by late afternoon so that he and Fraser would have enough time to do everything that had to be done before their plane left in the morning, but Fraser didn't show up when he was supposed to.

Ray frowned and fought down a wave of paranoia—he's changed his mind, he's having doubts—and reminded himself that there was no way Fraser could call to explain, even if he wanted to.  Ray had already disconnected his cell phone, and Fraser of course had never had a phone in the first place.

And they'd left Dief in Canada, so they couldn't even send a messenger.

It was twenty past eight when Ray heard Fraser's footstep in the hall, and for a moment, he was absolutely, positively sure that Fraser'd changed his mind, cause that footstep was not what you'd call "eager sounding". Ray sat on one of the apartment's two chairs and crossed his arms, waiting for whatever was gonna walk through the door—but what walked through the door was just Fraser, looking pale and worn out.  Even the uniform looked tired.

"Hey, what happened to you?" Ray asked.

Fraser went over to the fridge, pulled out a carton of milk, and took a long swig before answering the question. "Inspector Thatcher and Constable Turnbull wanted to have a little going away celebration after work," he said, wiping his lips with the back of his hand.

"Okay," Ray said, nodding, "but I don't see where that takes three hours."

"Ah, well, that's because I haven't yet told you that Inspector Thatcher thoughtfully catered the occasion with strawberries and champagne."

"Very nice. I still don't see where—"

"Rather a lot of champagne," Fraser added, and Ray found himself grinning helplessly.

"What, Thatcher? She get herself smashed?"

Fraser came and sat down in the kitchen chair next to him, bringing the carton of milk along with him. "Both of them did," he admitted, rubbing idly at his forehead with his wrist, "and I honestly couldn't tell you which of them was worse. On the one hand, I had to endure a profoundly maudlin speech about how wonderful our working relationship was and how it could have been so much more if only the timing were right. On the other hand," Fraser added, with lips twisting wryly, "Inspector Thatcher was quite drunk as well."

Ray grinned and pointed a finger at him. "You're a funny man."

"It took rather a lot of energy to wrestle each of them into a taxi and send them home," Fraser said, slouching back in his chair, one hand still clutching the milk carton like it was a beer or something. "Turnbull, I think, enjoyed it far too much."

"Poor Turnbull," Ray said.

Fraser loosened his collar. "Poor Turnbull," he agreed. "Though I believe that he simply aspires to fall in love with someone more intelligent than himself, and in this he can hardly fail."

"Lucky him. Meanwhile, you're late, so now we've only got eleven hours. In which time we have to finish packing, eat, catch a couple hours sleep—"

"Right. Right." Fraser was rubbing his eyes tiredly.

"—drop the keys downstairs with Mrs. Olanski and hop a cab for the airport."

Fraser let his hands drop away from his face. "Right, okay. What should we do first?"

"Easy. We should have sex."

"Ray," Fraser chided, but Ray could see he was pleased underneath.

"I'm not kidding, Fraser. You think I'm kidding?"

"Eleven hours, Ray," Fraser reminded him. "The plane takes off at 10:15—"

"Yeah, I know, but—"

"Which means we have to be at the airport by 8:15."

"Give or take, but—"

"Which means that we have to leave here by half past seven at the very latest."

"I get that, Fraser, but really," Ray said with as much sincerity as he could muster up, "a quick fuck would relax me. Get me all set for packing," he added, rubbing his hands together.

"In that case," Fraser waved dismissively toward the bed, "might I suggest masturbation?"

"Aw, that's not the same," Ray protested.

Fraser raised an eyebrow at him. "Should do the trick, though, shouldn't it?"

"Yeah, but it's like Chinese food. You're hungry again an hour later.  C'mon, c'mon," Ray said, scraping his chair back and standing up.

"Ray, I—"

"You got to get that uniform off and packed away, don'tcha?" Ray asked.

"Yes, but..."

Ray extended both hands, palms up, to Fraser—and Fraser took them without hesitation despite all the if, ands, or buts. Fraser squeezed his hands, once, before letting Ray pull him up to his feet, and then even closer until Ray could tilt his head to the side and lean in for a kiss.

"Just a quick one," he whispered once he took his tongue out of Fraser's mouth. "Just a quickie before we—"

But Fraser was kissing him, now, driving him back toward the bed while managing to shuck both his clothes and Ray's at the same time. He'd been stripped rough and and quick by Fraser before, but he'd never seen Fraser be so careless with the uniform—wrenching the jacket off his shoulders and pulling a sleeve inside out before letting it fall to the floor, breaking a lace on his boot as he hurried to yank it off, scrunching the pumpkin pants down his legs and leaving them in a puddle on the floor. Ray figured that maybe the uniform was just gonna get shoved into a dufflebag anyway, or maybe Fraser wasn't planning on wearing it so much now that he was posted up in the Arctic.

Fraser grabbed him and tugged him down to the bed, and then Fraser was on top of him, kissing him, fingers shoved into his hair. Paradise, Ray thought dimly, and opened his mouth for Fraser's tongue. Wet. Wet. Hot—and now Fraser was sliding down his body, pausing to lick and bite a nipple before moving down further and pulling Ray's cock into his mouth. Ray's hips jerked up instinctively as Fraser laved and sucked and then went down deep and throated him, and then again, which was unbelievably fucking fantast—?

Fraser lifted his head and let Ray's cock slip from between his wet lips. A shock of dark hair fell across Fraser's forehead, and his eyes were huge and blue-black and kind of wild. "Fuck me," he said.

"No," Ray said instinctively.  "Not yet."

To his surprise, Fraser reached out and took Ray's cock in his hand, holding it tightly, twisting slightly in a way that was excruciatingly pleasurable. "I want to. I want you to."

Ray gasped up at the ceiling for a second, then managed: "We've never— This isn't the time to—"

Fraser relaxed his fist around Ray's erection, stroked it up and down, and then leaned to lick the head with the soft, thick flat of his tongue. Holy fffffuck—

"Fuck me," Fraser murmured against his cock, and Ray could feel his lips moving oh so softly, oh so sweetly. "I really want you to.  I'm ready.  I'm past ready—"

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong time for this, with only eleven hours to go and— Later they'd have all the time in the world to— Because it wasn't part of the plan for— But fuck, fuck, Fraser was prickteasing him, teasing his fucking prick and driving him crazy with lust.

So he flipped Fraser over and knelt between his splayed legs, tipping his hips up so that he could push one, two lubed fingers into him. Fraser's cock was rock-hard and Fraser reached for it and held it tight in his fist, though Ray wasn't sure if Fraser was trying to get off or to stop himself from coming too soon.

Ray slid his fingers deeper and carefully stroked Fraser's prostate, making Fraser moan and shudder violently. "Hurry...hurry..." Fraser choked out, and man, Fraser's cock was leaking steadily now, leaving a puddle of fluid on Fraser's belly, smears of pre-come on the backs of Fraser's fingers. Christ, but Fraser was beautiful all splayed out like this, and Ray felt shaky as he pulled his fingers out and began to lube up his erection.

"Are you ready?" Ray asked breathlessly, finally; he himself was ready as he'd ever be. "Fraser, are you—"

"Do it," Fraser whispered, and Ray didn't need to be told twice; he tilted Fraser up with one hand, guided himself to Fraser's opening with the other, and pushed in slowly.

Fraser moaned, but it didn't sound like pain to Ray, more like a helpless reaction to the pressure, the resistance. Tight, tight—Fraser was so fucking tight. Ray slid into him slowly but steadily, resisting the urge to just slam in. Instead, he tried to focus on the sound of Fraser's breathing and stopped when Fraser's moans turned into the faster, gasping breaths of someone being stretched open.

"Easy," Ray murmured. "Easy," and eventually Fraser's body relaxed and accepted him, letting him slide all the way in till he was balls deep inside.

Fraser's moans were different now—lower, more erotic, almost pleading. Ray pulled back a little and then thrust forward experimentally, and Fraser let out two short, ragged sounds. "Ohhh. Yesss." Ray pulled back and pushed in again, and then again, and then he had his hands braced on Fraser's smooth hips and he was fucking Fraser hard and rhythmic, best he knew how, and Fraser was sobbing for it: "Yesss. Yesss. God..." and Ray looked down just in time to watch Fraser come all over himself, all over his hand and his belly and his chest. The sight of Fraser all contorted in pleasure like that drove him wild, and he let his head fall back and jerked his cock deep into and out of Fraser's body until he'd tripped his trigger and was coming in the warmth of Fraser's ass.

Later, waking up from where he'd collapsed with his neck stiff and his face hot and probably imprinted with the shape of Fraser's elbow, Ray muttered, "...gotta finish packing...and I'm starving...wanna order Chinese?"

Somewhere above him, he heard Fraser murmur, "Won't you be hungry again in an hour?"

Ray smiled, then turned his head to the side and bit down gently on the nearest piece of Fraser-flesh—an arm, he thought. "Nah," he said. "I think I'll be good for the next fifty years."


Amazing how you could fit thirty-eight years of your life into a single, large dufflebag. His brand new bag sat beside Fraser's worn one on the floor of the apartment, which was empty aside from the bare double mattress, the table and chairs.

Ray turned and stared out the window at 74th Street, where some kids were playing stickball using puddles as first, second, and third base. April in Chicago, Ray thought with a grin, and if he squinted, he could see himself in the skinny blond kid with the glasses and the band-aid on his elbow. That was fun back then, when you had to make your fun out of fire hydrants and cardboard boxes and the pattern of cracks in the sidewalk ("step on a crack / break your mother's back"). Long, hot days waiting for your mother to yell from the window and call you inside; short, cold days when you raced out with a garbage can lid to sled down the big hills by the stockyards. Much more fun than you ever had later, when you were supposed to buy your fun in a store or a club or a bottle.

The door opened and Ray turned; Fraser was back from throwing out the last of the trash. He was wearing jeans and sneakers, a blue shirt and his Mountie hat, and he was already starting to look like someone else, someone both more rugged and more relaxed, someone happier, calmer, more easygoing. That unhealthy, homesick look was already disappearing.

Fraser was going back where he belonged. Where Ray was hoping they both belonged.

"Are you ready?" Fraser was wandering through the apartment and looking around, though god only knew what he thought he was seeing, because the place was emptier than empty. "Is there anything we've forgotten?" Fraser asked, rubbing his chin and cheeks thoughtfully.

"Nope." Ray pulled his jacket off the bed and slid into it. "We're good. I'm ready."

Fraser grinned at him, and then, unexpectedly, strode over to give him a quick but passionate kiss. "Then let's go."

Fraser was humming happily as he picked up his bag, slung it over his shoulder, and straightened his hat, and after a moment, Ray recognized the tune—

Inside his little cabin, he pictured day by day
The image of his sweetheart and with longing he would say...

It was the good one, where the chick ended up emigrating to Canada, and as Ray hoisted his dufflebag onto his shoulders, and followed Fraser down the stairs, he found himself singing.  

THE END