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It’s not that I tune Fraser out, exactly. It’s just that sometimes I’ll ask him a question, and he’ll start telling me some story instead of just giving me an answer. Like why can’t he just get to the point already, right? But it’s not like I’m complaining, not really. Because the way he tells his stories, with his eyes all wide and his hands gesturing all over the place and his mouth moving, it’s okay that I don’t listen to all of it. I can just sit back and watch him instead.

Watching is good. On account of how Fraser’s got this real pretty mouth, and I like watching him say stuff.

And, okay, maybe that does kinda end with me halfway tuning him out, and maybe that’s not really a good thing, because we’re sitting in this diner tonight and he’s telling me this story, and I come this close to missing a real important detail.

“Wait,” I say, sitting up straight. “You just say he spent the night at your place?”

Fraser’s brows draw together, and he nods.

“Vecchio?” I ask, just to clarify. Obviously he’s been talking about Vecchio—he’s telling me about a case they worked together—but something’s niggling at the back of my brain, and I want to figure out what it is.

Another nod from Fraser.

“Where’d he sleep?” I ask—because, okay, here’s the thing. I’ve seen pictures of Fraser’s old apartment, before it burned down. It was a crime scene once, when this bank robber lady shot his wolf, so there were pictures in the case file.

“Er.” Fraser looks shifty all of a sudden. Like he’s at the interview table and I’m playing good cop and he’s trying to figure out whether it’s worth it to lie. “The, er, couch?”

“I’ve seen pictures,” I tell him. “No couch.”

Fraser’s eyes move away, toward the window, and his neck goes kinda pink above his collar. That’s when I get it. Not unrelatedly, that’s when my stomach tries to tie itself in a triple knot, because holy shit, what did I get myself into with this gig?

“So wait, wait, hold up, wait,” I say, more to myself than to him. Then I realize I’m talking kinda loud considering we’re in a public place and this is some seriously personal shit, so I lower my damn voice. “So you and Vecchio, you guys were—”

“Friends,” says Fraser firmly, sliding his eyes back over to meet mine. “Friends, before everything else, always.”

I raise an eyebrow. “And what brand of ‘everything else’ are we talking about, here?”

For a split second he looks seriously scared. Then the scared turns into royally pissed off. Then it turns into resigned. All this happens in less than a second.

And, yeah, I don’t know why Vecchio’s sister says Fraser is hard to read. The guy’s face is an open book, as long as you speak the right language. And right now, that face is saying he wants to tell me the truth, only it’s up to me to give him a little push first.

The push goes like this: “Just so we’re clear, Fraser, I’m not looking to judge you for… I dunno, workplace relations or gay stuff or whatever. It’s my job to be Vecchio these days, right? So I gotta know everything I can about the guy. And this thing—well, it’s not the kinda lowdown I can get from Welsh, you know?”

He nods, very slowly. He does know.

Then I ask, real quiet, “So you guys were like… partners partners? Like boyfriends?”

Fraser barks out a laugh, and that little blush turns into a big blush, making his whole face pink. “Hardly. Hardly that! No, no, no, not that at all.”

Okay, now I’m confused.

But then Fraser keeps talking: “It wasn’t formal enough a situation—not to mention consistent or frequent enough a situation—to merit that sort of terminology. But there were… incidents. Recurring incidents, you might say.”

The triple knot in my stomach turns into a quadruple one. A quintuple one.

“Incidents,” I say. “Huh.”

“Ray,” he says, his forehead going crinkly and worried, “please understand that this information—”

“Gotta be kept quiet,” I say. “No, I get that. I won’t tell anyone.”

He blinks. “Well, that’s not what—that is, thank you, I do appreciate that, of course—but I meant that this information isn’t anything you should feel the need to… Er. That is. I’d hardly expect you to… What happened between Ray Vecchio and myself in our off-hours was strictly off the record, and shouldn’t be construed as part of your undercover work.”

“Yeah, no, no way,” I say. “It’s just good to know everything I can about him. That’s all.”

That’s not all. Obviously that’s not all. But the rest of it is so twisty and turny that I don’t even know how to tell myself what it is, let alone tell Fraser.

“Understood,” says Fraser, looking relieved. So relieved that my stomach starts tying itself up in a whole new way. Like come on, would it really be so bad for him if I had to take Vecchio’s place in that cramped little bed in Fraser’s old place? I’m not that bad looking.

“Okay, okay,” I say, trying to get my brain to focus again. Focus on the undercover gig, not on Fraser’s pretty open-book face. “So, incidents. What kinda incidents are we talking about here?”

Fraser tugs his collar. Clears his throat. He’s still really, really pink. “I… er, that is…”

“Come on, I’m an open-minded guy,” I say, grinning at him. “I know a little somethin’ about somethin’. Just lay it on me. Are we talking, ya know, a couple cop-a-feels on stakeout nights? A little you-show-me-yours in the men’s room? Touchy-feely-lovey-dovey stuff after too many shots?”

“I don’t drink, Ray,” says Fraser stiffly.

“Then what?”

Fraser clears his throat, then clears it again. And still doesn’t answer me.

I roll my eyes. “Come on, buddy. Gimme the basics, at least.”

He eats a French fry. Then another one. I kinda wanna smack him upside the head, make him talk faster, but he’s doing that think-before-you-talk thing, and the fact that he’s embarrassed is kinda my fault anyway, so I make myself be patient. Finally, after seven fries, he sighs and looks at me again. His eyes are, I kid you not, the bluest goddamn blue I’ve ever seen in my life.

“The basic situation,” he says slowly, “was that I was there when he needed me. In whatever capacity he needed me.”

“Meaning…?” I make a keep-talking gesture with one hand.

His eyes dart quickly around the room, but there’s still nobody close enough to hear us. Even our waiter hasn’t made an appearance for a solid ten minutes.

“Meaning that sometimes, after a particularly taxing day, it’s not unheard of for a person to seek comfort in the arms of… of, well, a friend.” He clears his throat. “Or so I’ve come to understand. Ray Vecchio was—is—my dearest friend, and on the occasions that he thought to approach me in search of such comfort, I was more than happy to provide it.”

This sounds seven kinds of suspicious to me. I tell him so: “Meaning he took advantage of you.”

“Hardly,” says Fraser with a laugh. A different laugh, this time. “It was… a mutually beneficial situation.”

“Mutually beneficial,” I repeat. Never in all my dumb life have I heard anyone describe hooking up using words like that. He sounds like a textbook, not like a guy who used to bang his best friend.

Fraser nods.

“Well, uh, okay then,” I say. “Thanks for telling me that stuff. It’s… yeah, it’s useful.”

He smiles, tight-lipped but real. “You’re quite welcome, Ray.”

It’s not till we’re leaving the diner that I figure out that he never really answered my question. The one about what happened, like physically and specifically, between them. Maybe he didn’t want to go there because he isn’t into locker-room talk or whatever, but we’re walking to the car, and I’m thinking about it, and … I mean, was it just making out? Did they feel each other up? Did Vecchio take it up the ass?

Did Fraser take it up the ass?

Because, okay, this might make me a total lech here, but I’m looking at Fraser walking a couple feet in front of me in those tight jeans of his, and I’m imagining Vecchio just coming up behind him and giving his cheeks a squeeze, like a promise about what they’re gonna do later, and in my head Fraser’s grinning all secretive like he’s real into it, and then later he’s stripped down and bent over and—and, so, yeah, that’s what I’m thinking about. To the point where I gotta reach down and adjust a little before I get into the driver’s seat.

The other thing I’m thinking is that Vecchio is maybe the luckiest bastard ever to walk the earth.

- - -

“Okay, so that thing with you and Vecchio, right?”

Fraser looks over at me from his side of the couch. “What thing?”

And maybe I oughtta point out that this is three weeks later. Three weeks since he told me that he and Ray Numero Uno used to get handsy with each other, and now’s the first time I’ve had the balls to bring it up again. Maybe it’s the three beers I had just now. Usually I stop after two, unless it’s a get-drunk-and-cry-about-Stella night, which this night is not.

“The, uh, thing.” I flip the tab on my fourth Heineken. “You know, the thing you said. Incidents. Vecchio sleeping over and all that.”

He pauses, maybe taking in how I’m drinking out of my can instead of looking him in the eye. “Ah, yes. That thing. What about it?”

“Well, uh.”

I pick up the remote and press Mute. Hockey game’s still on, and I’d figured it’d make for some nice background noise, maybe put me in my comfort zone so I can have an easier time kickstarting this weird-ass conversation, but now it’s just distracting. Fraser looks a little surprised, for obvious reasons: usually I’m the one turning the sound up louder, not turning it off.

I lick my lips and drink my beer and try again. “Did Vecchio do stuff like that all the time?”

Fraser blinks. He tilts his head a little bit, and it’s weird; all he’s wearing is a shirt and those suspenders, but he’s suddenly so stiff it’s like he’s still got that red jacket thing on. After a second he goes, “Sleeping at my apartment? Well, actually, if I recall correctly, he only spent the night once.”

“No, not that part. I mean the whole… the whole, ah, incident-related, ah, situation.”

“I see. I told you already, Ray. It happened several times, but hardly frequently enough to—”

“No, no, not with you!” I say, waving my un-beered hand to cut him off. “I mean like… with guys in general. See, I’m asking because I know he had that wife for a bit, and it’s just maybe a little surprising…”

Yeah, because I’ve got room to talk, right? Married to a woman, divorced, started fooling around with guys just to catch up on all the stuff I missed in high school when everyone went all glam and queer and I couldn’t on account of being tethered to the Stella, surprised myself by actually liking dick quite a lot, et cetera.

Heh. Maybe Vecchio and I got more in common than anyone else knows.

“You’re asking if there were any men besides me?” asks Fraser.

I nod. Yeah. That’s what I’m asking. Part of it, anyhow.

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” he says, tugging his ear a little. He does that when he’s thinking, sometimes, but also when he’s nervous. I can’t tell which one this is.

“Whaddyou mean you don’t know?” I ask him.

“Well, Ray, I didn’t ask.”

“Yeah, right, yeah, course you didn’t ask,” I say, because this makes sense. Fraser’s Fraser. He wouldn’t ask. This doesn’t, however, answer the question I’m trying to get at.

I try a different way in.

“How about you? Any other guys for you?”

Fraser ducks his head then. “Not for—that is, I—it’s been…” He takes a deep breath, sits up straight, and looks me right in the eye. “My romantic liaisons have been few and far between, Ray. Would you mind terribly if I refilled my water glass?”

“Knock yourself out,” I answer, and watch as he gets up and practically runs into the kitchen.

Still not sure why he feels like he’s gotta ask every time he wants to run the tap. Politeness or something, which I guess overrules the fact that every time he’s been over here, I tell him to make himself at home.

Or maybe this is how he makes himself at home. This is a guy who lives where he works, after all. Maybe he just never turns off.

The tap runs and then stops, and then Fraser’s back and sitting stiffly on the edge of the far corner of the couch, and asking, “Shall we unmute the game?”

No, we shall damn well not.

“So how’d it start?” I ask. I’ve got my beer balanced on one thigh, and I’ve got my legs triangle-crossed, and I’m slumped down, all comfy. I’m relaxed as hell, which I’m hoping will rub off on Fraser.

“Excuse me?” he says, eyebrows pushing together.

“You and him. If you’re all few-and-far-between about stuff, and you never asked him about other guys, how’d it get going between you two?”

His throat works, and no, me being relaxed isn’t gonna rub off. How the hell do I normally put him at ease? Not by grilling him, that’s for damn sure. And then I realize, oh yeah, this is Fraser.

“Hey, if you don’t wanna tell me, it’s no big deal,” I say, and reach for the remote. “I was just curious. You know. It’s been a hell of a long time since I got any, and I’m a little rusty on how it works. That’s all.”

More to the point, I really wanna know how Vecchio got past all those outer layers of Dudley Do-Right Mountie Man, and into the gooey center. How many licks does it take, et cetera. And yeah, now I’m thinking about licking him, and that’s clearly not a good idea. I reposition my arms over my lap. Strategically.

But the point is, I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen those layers stripped away. Like with that bounty hunter lady. You give him the right look or tell him the right story, and whoosh, there go all his walls, crumbling down like he’s in an earthquake. But I haven’t figured out how to do it myself.

Not for a lack of trying, either. All these nights where we chill out on my couch and watch TV and order a pizza and I go Make yourself at home and You don’t have to keep those boots on and offer him a beer, even though I know he’ll always say no. All these nights, and the guy has yet to relax around me, even a little.

Until now.

Now, maybe it’s how I just said that’s all, or the fact that I made it sound less like I’m prying and more like I’m trying to learn a lesson from him, but he doesn’t look so uncomfortable anymore. Still a little embarrassed—I can tell by how he’s rubbing his neck—but not like he wants me to shut up. That’s good.

“Well,” he says, “I believe the idea first planted itself in Ray’s head during a case that involved a rare bottle of Scotch, the black-market sale of several antiques, and a not-insignificant number of nuns.” He pauses, skimming his tongue over his bottom lip, then catches my eye for half a second before shaking his head. “But that’s neither here nor there. If you’re asking about the moment it became… it became, ah… Well, it was actually a fairly straightforward thing. We were at my apartment one evening, reviewing evidence that we’d hoped would lead us to the whereabouts of a suspect in a case of—well, that’s not important either. We were both exhausted, and we were neither of us in any shape to sleep. And… I honestly can’t say what changed, but one minute it was ‘Hey, Benny, gimme that file’ as I was making him a cup of tea, and the next minute it was… ah, that is, it was…”

Next minute he was laying one on you, I want to say—except I can’t. I can’t say it any more than he can, except probably for real different reasons. Him, because he doesn’t like saying stuff like that out loud, plain and simple.

Me, because he just said Benny.

And sure, he said it in a thick Italian accent that was probably a spot-on echo of Vecchio’s real voice, and normally I’d laugh at that because Fraser’s good at doing voices, but right now I can’t laugh because, well, Benny. Fraser has a nickname. Vecchio gave him a nickname. Fraser is nicknameable.

I really don’t know why that gets under my skin, but it does. Oh, it does.

Benny, for fuck’s sake.

“Ray?” Fraser’s voice is coming from kind of a long ways away. “Ray, are you all right?”

“Sure, Benny, I’m fine,” I say, before I can stop myself.

And it’s a mistake. I can tell right away. His face just closes off, right there in front of me.

“Sorry,” I mutter. “Sorry, Fraser.”

He composes himself. Like visibly pulls himself together, and then keeps going, until Dudley Do-Right is sitting on my couch, not Benton Fraser.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for, Ray,” says Dudley.

“Okay, yeah,” I say, and unmute the game. We watch the rest in silence, and he doesn’t relax again, not even a little.

And I’ll be honest; neither do I. Partly because my dick’s still real interested in that licking idea from before, and I’m spending a bunch of energy on not letting Fraser notice. But partly because—

So here’s the thing, plain and simple. Fraser’s gorgeous. You gotta be blind not to see it. I got stuck with the most gorgeous man ever as my partner. Normally I’d be able to ignore something like that, considering the context, but he’s also smart and nice and brave and—here’s the kicker—he’s even weirder than me. He’s this fucking gorgeous weirdo SuperMountie person, and I’m his goddamn partner, and he slept with his last partner, which means the professional relationship thing isn’t a deal breaker for him.

But on the other hand… he slept with his last partner. And his last partner is the guy that I’m pretending to be. If anything’s gonna happen between Fraser and me—and holy fucking shit-ass hell-bastard ever-loving fucking fuck do I want something to happen between Fraser and me—he can’t be thinking I’m just following in Vecchio’s footsteps. Trying to get into Fraser’s pants because I think it’s part of the job or something.

So, yeah, I’m going about this all wrong. I can’t just figure out what Vecchio did and then do the same thing. I can’t call him Benny or ask to sleep over or start talking in a Godfather voice.

I gotta figure out all by myself how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of Benton Fraser.

- - -

When I’m at the station or on the clock, I keep on being all Vecchio all the time. But when it’s just me and Fraser? I start being as Kowalski as I can be.

Not in the sense of drinking too much and crying over Stella. None of that anymore, thank the little baby Jesus. Just… me being me. When Fraser’s over at my place, I change into sweats. I take Blanche out of her terrarium and let her watch TV with us, from her favorite spot on my lap. I make myself coffee with M&Ms in it, even though Stella used to make fun of me for it and so I don’t really use M&Ms when other people are around anymore, even though, hello, it tastes seventeen times better than regular sugar.

But Fraser doesn’t notice, or he just doesn’t care. Well, that’s not true; he notices Blanche. But only because the first time I took her out, Dief tried to eat her. Gave up when he realized she wasn’t made of marshmallows or whatever, but still. Fraser’s got an eye out now.

And an eye out is not what I’m going for, here. Not at all. Which means it’s time for more drastic measures. Which is what brings us here today.

We make it all the way to the door before Fraser balks. “Are you sure this is really necessary?” he asks, kind of desperately.

I nod. “It’s like I said, I think there’s a thief. Steals cash right out of people’s purses. And we got better odds of catching her if we got two pairs of eyes on her instead of just mine. And if we blend into the crowd”

He takes a moment. “But I thought you said you hadn’t taken a class in a while. How do you know the thief still attends?”

“I say a while, I mean a week.” Liar, liar, pants on fire. “That’s a while for me. Me and the Stella, we used to come to these things three, four times a week if we could.”

This last part, at least, is true. But Fraser’s right about the rest; I haven’t been back to the studio since the divorce. No way Fraser would know that, though, so I watch as he nods, all resigned, taking my lie at face value.

Except the lie holds up for about four minutes, tops, because as soon as we get inside and pay our ten bucks each for the class, Mrs. Loggia looks up from where she’s fiddling with the CD player, sees me, and goes, “Ray! Goodness, it’s been such a long time! Come here, darling, give me a kiss.”

“There’s other teachers; I don’t take her classes very often,” I mutter to Fraser under my breath. I can see him trying to figure out whether or not to believe me, and since I don’t want to give him enough time to decide for sure, I go over to Mrs. Loggia, trusting he’ll follow.

“What’s up, Mrs. L?” I say, and she leans in so we can kiss cheeks. It’s an old-lady thing, and it’s weird, but it’s fine. I’m used to it. “This is my buddy, Fraser. Thought I’d bring him in, take him for a spin, that kinda thing.”

“Fraser,” she repeats, her eyes widening as she focuses on him. Yeah, yeah, we get it, lady. He’s a looker. She leans in, obviously angling for another cheek-kiss. “A pleasure to meet you. A real pleasure.”

“The pleasure is mine, I’m sure,” says Fraser, and extends his hand for a shake. Mrs. L looks a little disappointed about the lack of kissing, but shakes his hand anyway.

We move away as Mrs. L says hi to the next couple that comes in, and Fraser leans over. “Where’s your suspect?” he asks.

“What sus—Oh! She ain’t here yet.”

Fraser nods quietly and watches the people around us. There are eight of them so far—no, ten, because another two are coming in. They’re all couples, just like how it always was. All couples, all the time. Which means if Fraser and me are gonna dance, it’s gotta be with each other. I am an evil genius, that’s what I am.

When the clock says six exactly, Mrs. L claps her hands twice and everyone goes quiet. “All right, class!” she says, keen eyes roving over us. She lingers on Fraser, because of course she does, and I can sense him shifting beside me, from foot to foot. “All right. Plenty of familiar faces here today, but a handful of new ones as well. So we’ll start right from the beginning. Who can tell me the time signature that defines the waltz?”

But before anyone can raise their hand or call out or whatever, a high-pitched voice goes, “Are we too late?”

Everyone in the room turns to look at the door. And my heart sinks like a goddamn stone, because it’s not another couple. The girl who just talked is wearing a tiara. And a sash. She’s got six other girls behind her. For the love of all the—

It’s a bachelorette party.

Just like that, my whole plan is shot to hell.

“Are any of these ladies the thief?” whispers Fraser.

“No,” I say, through gritted teeth. “Guess our thief didn’t show today.”

“Ah! Then we probably still have time to leave before—”

“Shh!” I say, before he can finish. “Class is starting.”

Mrs. L welcomes the bachelorette girls and dives right back in to explaining how waltzing works. Me, I tune her out. I can waltz in my sleep. If we’re being honest here, waltzing bores the crap out of me. Give me a faster dance any day. Salsa, swing, tango, whatever. But Fraser doesn’t dance at all, far as I know, and waltzing is the easiest one to learn if you’re anything like me. So I figured it’d be a good way to get him started.

But now. Heh.

Class goes like it always did. A little sample of music, a little one two three one two three one two three on our own, to get our feet used to the rhythm. A little faster, a little slower, a little turning. Then we partner up. And since it’s not all couples anymore, it’s Fraser and me who have to take turns with the bride-to-be and all her friends.

“You’re good at this,” says this one chick, as I lead her across the floor. I say thank you, and she grins, and if I weren’t so focused on keeping an eye on Fraser, we could probably be having a moment, her and me. Might be I could take her home tonight, have a little fun. Might be I’d like it, and might be that she would, too. Only I’m really not in the mood.

“Ow!” says the bride-to-be, who’s dancing with Fraser.

“Sorry, sorry,” he says, all frantic. He’s probably stepping on her toes.

We switch partners. I whirl another bachelorette-party girl across the floor, and somewhere off to the side of the room, Fraser makes someone else go, “Ow!”

The class is forty-five minutes long. It feels like forty-five hours. At the end of it, Fraser’s wearing his most stony-faced look. The one that looks super polite to anyone who doesn’t know him, but tells me I’m better off not asking what he’s thinking.

I say goodbye to Mrs. L, and we head outside. Fraser strides silently toward the car and plants himself outside the passenger door, waiting for me to unlock it.

I go over to the driver’s side, rest my elbows on the hood, and don’t unlock the car.

“Ray,” he says.

“Fraser, you… you gotta know I’m sorry about that.”

For some reason, this just makes him more pissed off. “Which part? The part where I had to dance with six different women—all of whom had wandering hands, I might add—or the part where you obviously lied about the presence of a thief? And please don’t insult me by insisting you were telling the truth, Ray.”

Yeah, fair enough. I duck my head a little.

“What was this really about?” he demands.

“I just, I thought maybe…”

I just wanted to dance with you. That’s what I want to say.

“I thought you might like dancing,” is what I do say. It’s not the same thing. Not at all. But I’m hoping it’s close enough that he’ll maybe see what I’m going for.

His face softens, just a little. “Unlock my door?” he asks.

This time, I do. I unlock the car, and we get inside. The bachelorette party passes us by as they head for—I look in the rearview—yeah, a limo. I wonder where they’re going next. Some club, maybe. It would explain their outfits and their heels. Fraser watches them, too. He’s real quiet.

And then he says, “I don’t always dislike dancing.”

I look over at him and wait for him to keep going.

He gives me a little smile that’s almost shy. “I find it more enjoyable when I don’t have to lead.”

Well, that throws me for a loop, and no mistake. I was half-expecting a scuffle over who got to lead in class today, before those girls showed up and kept me and Fraser from ever dancing together. I was expecting to insist on leading because it’s harder and I have more experience, and I was expecting Fraser to insist on leading because… well, because he’s Fraser. He’s the Batman and I’m the Robin, whether I like it or not. Leading is what he does.

But there’s something here, buried in what he just said. Something ready to be uncovered, or maybe something he’s wanting to tell me, something maybe nobody else knows, and I know if I push too hard I’ll never figure out what it is. I gotta push just the right amount. So I say, gentle as I can, “Oh yeah?”

He nods. His eyes are far-away. “Ray would always lead, when we… Vecchio, I mean. Ray Vecchio. Obviously.”

“Oh, yeah, obviously,” I say, and maybe it sounds a little bitter, but come on. Come on! I try to let Fraser in on the one thing that I thought was all mine, and it turns out Vecchio got there first?

Vecchio got everywhere first. I hate that guy. I never even met him, but holy mother of everything, I hate his guts. I’m so consumed with hating him, actually, that for a second I don’t even register what Fraser just told me.

Then, I do.

“Wait. You and Vecchio went out dancing?”

He thumbs his eyebrow, still with that faraway look in his eyes. “Not out. Not usually. More often than not, he’d bring music over to my apartment and we’d—Although there was one evening when he took me out for dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant. He wore his best suit, I wore my red dress, and we danced several—Well, to be fair, it was partially because he was watching a man he suspected of being involved with Mafia-related drug-running, but—”

“Hold up, hold up,” I say, interrupting him before he can interrupt himself again. “You just say ‘red dress’?”

Fraser looks at me, with a look that’s almost, almost a smile. “Yes, Ray.”

“You got a red dress?”

“Yes. Well, I had one. I’m afraid it burned to a crisp, along with all the other belongings I was foolish enough to leave here when I—”

“Why’d you have a red dress?”

He licks his lips: the first sign of nervousness that he’s shown since we got into this car. “Well, Ray, for the same reason a person might own any other item of clothing.”

My mind shuffles through a thousand weird, complicated options, before settling on the simplest one: “For… wearing?”

“Just so.” Then he adds, kinda softly, “I had a blue one, too.”

Right then, in the quiet of my car, I understand something big about Fraser. Not that he’s a guy who wears dresses sometimes, although sure, there’s that too, and that’s also kinda big—but that this is how he likes to tell people about himself. He doesn’t like answering questions, which is why he closes up every time I try and grill him about what went down with Vecchio. He likes telling stories instead, and every so often, during one of those stories, he’ll offer up some little detail about himself. Some little thing that you might miss if you’re not paying attention. Like if you’re watching his mouth move instead of listening to what it’s saying.

Come to think of it, that’s how he told me about him and Vecchio in the first place—by slipping a little Ray slept at my apartment that night into a story about solving a case. I’ve spent the past couple months thinking that was a slip-up. That he never meant to tell me. Now, though, I’m thinking it was a hundred percent on purpose.

I’m thinking the thing about the dress was on purpose, too. Sneaky bastard.

“One red and one blue,” I murmur. “You never replaced ’em?”

Fraser shakes his head. Thumbs his eyebrow. “I suppose I simply never made it a priority.”

“Well, tell you what. We’re gonna replace those things right now.” I had no idea I was about to say that—but once it’s said, it feels exactly right.

Especially since me saying that makes Fraser whip his head around and stare at me—and he grins. The kind of grin he wears when he thinks something’s either real brilliant or real out-of-this-world dumb. This, well, this could honestly be either one.

“Ray,” he says, and suddenly there’s all these layers in my name that I never heard before. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Come on. What else is on my plate tonight? Go home, eat something, feed the turtle, jerk off, go to sleep?”

He blushes. Like instantly blushes, right after the part about jerking off. I reach over and cup my hand briefly against the back of his neck—the closest I can get to a buddy-hug without twisting around in my seat. It makes his face goes even redder, which probably means I should stop. So I do.

“Well,” says Fraser slowly, clasping his hands in his lap, “if you really want to. Though you shouldn’t feel obligated, simply because I happened to tell you—And do you know if anything will still be open at this hour?”

I glance at my watch. “It’s only seven.”

“Don’t most shops tend to close at five?”

“Maybe in the middle of nowhere, my friend. But this is the big city. This is America!” I pull my seatbelt across my lap, start the car, and throw him a grin. “We’ll find something.”

- - -

I hated shopping with Stella. Well, okay, that wasn’t always true. When we did the club thing in high school and college, I’d always shop with her, and I’d always have fun doing it. I’d just pick out whatever skimpy black thing had the most sparkles and sequins on it, and it pretty much always worked out. Especially since I could usually sneak into the women’s fitting rooms and watch her try everything on. And, you know, get some Naked Stella time in between. Hey hey.

But when she stopped clubbing and started thinking about law school, the shopping stuff got a lot less fun. Turned out I was way better at club clothes than I was at office clothes. Everything I picked out for Lawyer-To-Be Stella was either far too drab; I’ll come across as old and out of touch, or far too flashy; this is a paralegal position I’m interviewing for, do you even understand what that means?

And by the end? Forget it. She’d just go shopping on her lunch break and not even bother inviting me.

Fraser, on the other hand.

Okay, first of all. Watching Fraser walking into Macy’s is like watching some little kid opening his closet door and finding a fantasy land on the other side. Only instead of snow and a goat-man and whatever else was in that book, it’s clothes. And counters full of perfume and makeup. And shoes. Purses. Coats. All fancy, all displayed like treasure.

Fraser turns around, just kinda spins slowly in place as he takes it all in. “Oh,” he says.

“Tell me about it,” I reply, and lead him over to the directory, which will point us toward the dresses.

When we find the right place, he heads straight for the clearance rack, finds the size 14-16 section, and starts looking. I watch. I think about Stella. I remember shopping with her.

“You know you’re not gonna find anything good in here, right?”

Fraser looks up. “Why not?”

“This is all…” What did Stel always say? “Last season, or damaged. Probably both.”

Fraser goes back to sifting through the dresses. “This is an expensive store, Ray. It would be frivolous to look at the full-priced clothes when there’s a perfectly good chance I might find something on sale. And as you may have noticed, I’m not particularly given to frivolity.”

“Not even when you’re being a girl?” I tease with a grin.

He pauses, just for a second. Just a little enough pause that you might not notice it if you didn’t spend half your life hanging out with the guy.

“You know, Ray,” he says, pulling out an ugly green thing and smoothing his hand down the front. “There’s a common perception that women are, as a gender, more frivolous in their spending than men.”

“Well, yeah,” I say, thinking of the Stella again. That lady could spend three hundred dollars on a pair of shoes. Literally. I saw a receipt once. “Obviously. Why, you gonna tell me I’m wrong?”

“Not necessarily,” he says, putting the ugly green thing back, thank god. “But I might argue that women—again, as a gender, which is obviously not always applicable on a case-by-case basis—are raised from a very young age to conform to a cultural standard of beauty that requires, well, a not-insubstantial financial investment. Not just clothing, but accessories, footwear, and beauty products as well. Not to mention outerwear.”

I open my mouth to tell him about Stella, but then it hits me that he already said the thing about the case-by-case basis. So yeah, he already covered that base. He’s just talking generally.

“Yeah,” I admit, a little reluctantly. “Guess you’re right.” Then I scoot around him, to the other end of the rack, and start digging myself. I pull out a floor-length black number with gold thread making patterns around the waist. “How about this one?”

Fraser looks at it, goes a little pink, and runs a finger along the neckline, from the shoulder all the way down to the low part that’s supposed to make boobs look good. “It’s… a bit immodest,” he says. “I’d feel unduly exposed, I should think.”

I could punch myself. “Oh yeah. Chest hair.”

Fraser looks at me, then quickly looks away again. “That, too.” I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean—but before I can ask, he pulls out a maroon dress with a big skirt. “Oh! This one, perhaps. It’s a lovely color, and the shoulders might actually be wide enough for me.”

I stare at it. It’s not as ugly as the green one. But. “It’s got long sleeves,” I say. And then, “Oh yeah. Arm hair.”

“Women have arm hair too, Ray.”

“Oh yeah,” I say, yet again. “But come on. Don’t you think it looks kinda… grandma?”

“It happens that my grandmother had an excellent sense of fashion,” says Fraser, all huffy, pulling the maroon dress off the rack and hanging it over his arm. Then his face softens a little. “Actually, I used to fit into her dresses—when I was very young, of course. I was taller than her by the time I was twelve. Eleven? More likely eleven. She was a very small woman.”

I’m quiet after that. I had no idea, till now, that this dress-wearing thing was, well… a thing. Little tiny pre-teen Benton Fraser, before all the Mountie stuff and the Dudley Do-Right mask and everything, wearing his grandma’s dresses.

I wonder if Ray Vecchio knows about all that stuff.

I stop going through the rack, and instead just hang back and watch him shop. It should seem weird: this tall, broad-shouldered guy in his sturdy boots and lumberjack shirt and the goddamn Stetson for fuck’s sake, sorting through a rack of dresses with those quick-moving hands. It should seem weird. What’s really weird, though, is that it doesn’t seem weird. Not at all.

Go figure that one.

Finally, with four dresses draped over his left arm, Fraser turns to me and asks if I know where the fitting room is. We find it, and he goes in, and the attendant doesn’t even blink an eye at what he’s bringing in to try on. I come this close to grabbing something off the rack so I can sneak in after him, shut us both into a single room, and watch him change like I used to watch Stella—but I don’t. This isn’t Stella. This is Fraser. The guy who half the time doesn’t even take off the red jacket when he comes over to my place to watch TV.

Yeah, better to let him do this part alone.

I wait for what seems like forever, but eventually he comes out—carrying the maroon dress. The very first one he pulled off the rack. “It fits!” he exclaims.

That’s when the fitting room guy gives him a weird look. Doesn’t say anything, though. Good thing, too, because if he did say something, I’d’ve kicked him right in the head.

“Well, great,” I say. “Greatness. Let’s ring this baby up and make like trees, yeah?”

“Trees?” he asks, eyebrows scrunching together.

“Yeah, you know. Make like a tree and—Never mind. Let’s go.”

We find the register, where the cashier tells us the dress is forty bucks, which, seriously? But whatever. Fraser tries to pay. I don’t let him. “This one’s on me,” I tell him, and give the guy my credit card before he can turn me down.

“Thank you, Ray,” Fraser says as we leave the store. His voice is low. “You didn’t—this has always been my—my personal area of—I—that is…” He clears his throat. “Thank you for all of this. Listening to me ramble on about my wardrobe, taking me here, suggesting this excursion in the first place—let alone paying! Goodness. Please, let me reimburse you.”

“No way in hell,” I say, handing him the bag. “I said I got it, and I meant I got it.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Nah,” I say. “But I wanted to.”

I did, too. He’s always looking out for me. It’s rare, me getting to look out for him in return.

But looking out for him isn’t the only thing I want. The other thing I want is to know whether or not Ray Vecchio ever did this. You know. Ever bought him a dress. I want to ask. I really do. And I can’t decide if me asking would totally ruin this thing we’ve got going. This thing, right here, where Fraser’s kinda looking down, but also kinda glancing up at me through his eyelashes once in a while as we head for the car.

I can’t decide. But I want to know.

Then Fraser takes a deep breath like he’s steeling himself, and he reaches out one arm and he—he loops it through my elbow. Not all the way through. Just far enough that he can hold onto my forearm with his hand. It’s the littlest thing, but it’s… no, it’s not little at all. It’s huge, and it’s breakable, and I just know that if I ask that stupid question—if I talk at all—it’ll go away again. He’ll take his hand away again. Maybe forever.

So I don’t talk. I don’t ask. I just throw him a little grin and keep on walking toward the car, like nothing’s any different than it was a second ago.

It’s not till we get to the car that he says, kinda shy, with his face half shadowed under the brim of his hat, “Would you like me to try it on for you?”

And, okay, I’m just plain speechless. I stand there, keys in my hand, and I gape.

He ducks his head a little and moves toward the passenger side. “It wouldn’t be a full picture, obviously—not that I make much of a woman when I do have all the makings of a full picture—but everything else burned down with the apartment, too. Shoes, those infernal pantyhose, the wig—although it wasn’t actually a very good wig—my makeup—”

“I have makeup,” I say, cutting him off.

Now he’s the one gaping like an idiot. Hah. Hah.

“You… you do?”

I nod. “Starting hitting the clubs a little bit after the divorce went down. Different clubs than the ones I used to go to with Stella—the kinda clubs you need makeup for. Might not be the right kind of makeup for your—for what you wanna—um. But. Yeah, but if you need a shitload of glitter? I’m your guy.”

He blinks at me, then just keeps blinking for a bit. Like he’s seeing me for the first time or something. Then he goes, “Do you have lipstick, Ray?”

Do I have lipstick.

Do I have lipstick.

Benton Fucking Fraser just asked me if—yeah.

Okay, yeah, and now I’m picturing him wearing my favorite lipstick, the black one, and I’m picturing dressing him up in my punk clothes, all denim and black leather, and I’m picturing spiking his hair, piercing his ears, and holy shit he’d be a gorgeous club kid, and whoa, yeah, my dick likes that idea maybe a little too much, gotta stop, gotta stop…

“Yeah,” I tell him. “Yeah, I got lipstick.”

“Would you mind,” he asks, “if I borrowed some?”

Like he even needs to ask. I unlock the car, we get in, and I drive so fucking fast it’s a miracle I don’t get a ticket on the way home.

- - -

He’s holding the tube of black lipstick. He’s holding it. Fraser. Is. Holding. My. Black. Lipstick.

Except now he’s putting it down.

I try not to feel too disappointed.

I sit on my bed and watch as he rummages through the box I usually keep under my bed. It’s got all my club stuff in it: chains, earrings (just magnetic, since I’m still not sure I wanna get pierced for real), sparkly shit, lipstick, eyeliner—

“It’s quite disorganized,” Fraser murmurs, more to himself than to me.

I roll my eyes. Course that’s the first thing he says.

The second thing is, “Ah!” He holds up another lipstick—dark red—and opens it. And frowns. “You don’t have anything a touch lighter, do you?”

I shake my head. “Sorry.”

“No need to apologize.” Now he’s examining an eyeliner pencil. “I appreciate you letting me go through your things.”

Damn right. I’m willing to bet my meager little salary that Vecchio never had makeup Fraser could look through.

“Need me to, ah, help you put any of that stuff on?” I ask, pointing at the pencil he’s holding.

He looks at it, then at me. “I’m quite capable. But thank you.”

I fidget for a second. “You, uh, wanna get changed in here?”

“Would you mind?”

Fraser, taking his clothes off, in my bedroom.

“No, ha, no, I wouldn’t mind.”

Understatement City.

So I leave him to it. I shut the door behind me, and I don’t even try to peek through the crack. I pace. I get myself a beer. I watch the seconds tick by, and I kinda picture him naked for a little bit, but then I talk myself out of it. This is sexy as fuck, sure, but it’s also serious. This dress-wearing thing means something to him. I’m not sure what it means, but it’s definitely something. And he’s sharing it with me.

With me. Out of all the idiots in the world.

That means something, too.

I’m on my second beer by the time the bedroom door opens again. I look up. And there’s Fraser.

The maroon dress, now that he’s wearing it, looks a lot less like a Grandma Dress and a lot more like… I’m not sure. What I do know is that it actually looks good. Not perfect—I mean, it was obviously made for someone with boobs, which he definitely doesn’t have—but good. Like a sexy librarian or something. There’s a thin belt around his waist, and the skirt’s puffy enough that it almost looks like he’s got girl hips. Almost.

He doesn’t have any lipstick on, but there’s definitely some pencil lining his eyes, turning the blue almost electric. His shoes are off, leaving his feet bare and pale against my floor. And there are black studs sparkling on his earlobes.

He is wearing my earrings.

Jesus H. Christ.

“What do you think?” he asks. He’s softened his voice. And it’s not that fake-sounding falsetto thing that drag queens do when they want to get a laugh out of you. Not even close. It’s more like he took his regular voice and kinda adjusted it.

It sounds natural, is what I’m saying. It’s different, sure, but it’s still… well, still Fraser.

“Ray?” he asks, when I don’t answer right away because my mind’s too busy trying to make sense of all this. “I know it isn’t perfect, and of course the hair isn’t right at all, but I thought you’d like to see it, since you were kind enough to purchase it for me, and—”

“You look gorgeous,” I blurt out, before I can stop myself.

“I… I’m sorry?”

Shit. Now he looks scared. More than scared. He looks like he’s ready to turn tail and run for his life. He looks, actually, like he looks whenever Frannie corners him down at the precinct. Me and my stupid-ass mouth.

“No, I mean, um.” I hold my beer can tighter in my hand. I can feel it denting under my thumb. “Um, just, the dress. It looks good. I didn’t think it—I mean I wasn’t sure—but it’s, yeah, good, great. It’s great.”

He looks at me, quiet for a second, and I’m so sure he’s gonna point out that that’s not what I said. He’s gonna say I wasn’t talking about the dress when I said gorgeous, I was talking about him. He’s gonna say that, and he’s gonna be right, which is why I have to change the subject real fast.

“So hey, you do the drag thing, ya know… frequently?”

He blinks. “Drag?”

“Yeah.” I point at the dress. “I dunno what they call it in Canada, but down here, when a guy puts on lady clothes, it’s called drag.”

“I’m well aware.” His eyebrows push together as he sits, all prim, on the edge of my armchair. God, he even moves like a chick. It looks effortless. It’s so weird. “But the term ‘drag’ usually carries with it an implication of a… well, a performative aspect to one’s choice of clothing. Not that every clothing choice isn’t performative to a degree, because it certainly is, but I mean performative in the sense of—well, of courting an audience.”

“Like going to Vegas, putting a fruit-basket hat on your head, and singing ‘Copacabana’?”

“Exactly, yes,” says Fraser, looking pleased.

“And you’re not performing,” I say, because I’m starting to see what he’s getting at. “Not that way, ’cause you don’t have an audience.”

“Not unless I count you, Ray.” He folds his hands in his lap. The fact that his lap is covered in a skirt makes his hands, strangely, look even bigger than normal. His knees are pressed together. His ankles are crossed.

“I sure hope you don’t count me,” I say, trying for a grin. “I’m your buddy, buddy, not some paying customer.”

“Well,” says Fraser, cocking his head a little. “You did pay for the dress.”

I roll my eyes. “Stop using semiotics at me.”

“You mean semantics?”

“I mean whichever,” I say. “Stop it.”

“As you wish, Ray.” He smiles as he says it. The kind of smile where I really wish he’d decided to use my lipstick. Because…

Don’t think about that. Just don’t.

“So, right, you’re not performing, so it’s not drag. Then what is it? Why the dresses?” I realize, then, that I probably shouldn’t have asked. Me asking questions leads to him closing up or changing the subject. Always does. I should’ve just let him talk and listened to whatever came out. “Uh, I mean, it’s just I don’t know too many guys who, ya know, uh, do this kind of thing. So.”

“Nor do I,” he says smoothly. He’s not closing up. Small miracles. “But… Ray, may I tell you a story?”

He doesn’t usually ask. Usually he just starts his stories and you don’t even notice it’s a story until five minutes have gone by and he hasn’t taken a breath yet. Why’s he asking now?

“Well, sure,” I say, trying to sound casual, like this is something he asks me every day, and every day this is my answer.

He scoots back a little on my armchair. Adjusts his posture a little. I can’t take my eyes off him.

“My father,” he begins slowly, “tried to teach me what it meant to be a man.”

“This would be the same father whose killers you first came to Chicago on the trail of?”

“The very same,” he says with a little smile. “Between months-long patrols, when he was home, he would give me lessons. A man is loyal. A man puts his duty above all else. A man respects his prey when he hunts. A man treats his wife just so. My father was quite good at being a man, insofar as he understood what that meant. But he wasn’t very good, I think, at being a person.

He pauses here, probably to make sure I haven’t tuned him out yet. And I haven’t. I’m watching those lips, believe me, but I’m still listening.

“It was my mother who taught me how to be a good person. Not in lesson form, not like my father would have done, but by example. She was kind and generous. She valued friendship, and she valued knowledge. She valued me, not just as a child to be raised, I think, but as a human being.” He pauses here, looking somewhere far past me. Far past this dinky little room, probably. “When she died, I was sent to live with my grandparents. I had a head full of lessons about how to be a man, and a heart full of examples of how to be a woman. You see, I’d only known my father in fits and spurts, but my mother had been the one to raise me while he was gone—which was most of the time. I thought her the better example of how to live one’s life. So after her funeral was over and my father went away again, I told my grandparents that I didn’t want to be a man when I grew up—and I didn’t want to be a boy now. I wanted to be a girl instead.”

I grin at this, because how old was he when his mom died? Six or something?

“What’d they say?” I ask.

“My grandfather rejected the idea without a second thought,” he says. “My grandmother, however, got out her sewing machine and began tailoring her discarded clothing to fit me. Pants. Shirts. Skirts. Dresses. Everything.”

“Really?”

“Really.” He gives me a secretive smile. “I lived as a girl for nearly two months before I grew tired of it.”

“Wait, tired of it?” I ask, confused.

“Yes indeed,” he says. “Being a girl didn’t suit me. The day-to-day details of my life were much the same as they’d have otherwise been—but every time I told someone I was female, it felt like a lie. I don’t like lying, Ray, as you know quite well. So I stopped. Not permanently, of course.”

I frown at him. This isn’t where I thought he was going. “So you’re not—ya know—secretly a woman? Like trans-whatsit. Transsexual? Transgender? One of those? ”

His eyes get real wide for a second, then he busts out laughing. This explosive laugh that I don’t think I ever hear from him before. “It would be transgender,” he says, once he calms down a few seconds later. “And no. No, I don’t think I am, Ray. At least, not in the sense that you mean.”

My brain snags on something. I squint at him. “You don’t think you are.”

There’s a pause. He clears his throat.

“Well,” he says delicately, “I’m not certain that I’m entirely male, either. That is—that is, I believe I’m more male than female, if we’re speaking in binary terms. I don’t mind presenting as male, and I certainly don’t mind that most people see me that way, but… but I’ve kept a few dresses in the back of my closet for most of my life. I wear them once in a while, so that… so that I always have, well, the option. If I want it, or if I need it.”

I look at him.

And Fraser, he just sits there with his jaw set, and he lets me look at him.

“Not entirely male,” I say.

“That’s right.” He’s quiet now. Real, real quiet.

“Soooo,” I say, “then what are you?”

He smiles, a little nervously, and spreads his hands across his maroon skirt. “Constable Benton Fraser,” he says. “Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”

I think about this. It’s easy, really. All this, and he’s still himself. He’s still the same person who’s been my partner since I became Fake Ray Vecchio. I nod to myself and take a swig of my beer, which I almost forgot I was still holding.

He speaks again: “Is that… is this, all of it… is it all right that I told you all of this?”

I stare. I’m not sure I even know the right words to tell him how all right it is. No, I definitely don’t. Words aren’t my thing. Words are Fraser’s thing. Me, I’m all about the showing-not-telling.

I get up off the couch. I set my beer down on the coffee table. I go over to him, and I put my hand on his cheek to keep his face in place, and I lean down and I kiss him. No tongue. Not anything that says I want this to go further, even though I do. Just lips on lips, just enough to answer his question.

And just enough to ask a question of my own, even though I’m pretty sure I know what the answer is. The answer is no, because I’m the wrong Ray. I’m a copycat, not the real thing. And I gotta be okay with that.

He pulls away, just like I knew he would. It takes him a second—small victory!—but he does it. “Ray…”

“I know,” I say quickly. “I’m not Vecchio. I’m not trying to take his place. I’m not, I swear. I just. You told me this big thing about you, and I wanted to… This is my big thing. You don’t have to do anything about it. This thing of mine. I just figured I should tell you. That I like you and I think you’re hot and I been wanting to, uh… So yeah. That’s the thing. Now you know.”

And I stop rambling at him, because now he’s the one staring. Staring up at me, running his tongue over his bottom lip, looking like he just got laser-gunned or something. “Ray,” he says again.

“Yeah, Fraser,” I say, shoving my hands down into the pockets of my jeans.

“I thought,” he begins, then breathes in and out and starts over: “I thought you liked women.”

“Yeah, women are great,” I tell him. “But, ya know, so are guys. It’s not like the two are mutually extensive.”

“Exclusive?”

“Yeah, that one.” I roll my eyes at myself. Words, words. “You know what I mean?”

His eyes, all of a sudden, are kinda darker than I remember them being. “I know all too well what you mean,” says Fraser—and yeah, of course he does, duh. He just me he’s not female, but not entirely male either. He knows all about being somewhere in between.

He stands and comes toward me, and just like that we’re kissing again. Only for real this time, because it’s not just lips on lips; his mouth is opening, and he’s letting me in, and I’m doing the same, and one of his big, warm hands is on my neck, anchoring us together, and we kiss and we kiss and oh, god, he’s actually into it. Which maybe means he could actually be into me.

“Ray.” His hand is still on my neck when he pulls away, his thumb skimming light across my jaw. He’s saying my name like he’s just now figuring out what it means. “Ray, Ray.”

“Fraaaser,” I say, giving him a big, dumb grin.

“You really don’t mind?” he asks, gesturing down at the dress.

Mind?” I say. “Okay, you want me to be honest here, Fraser? I think this is the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in my whole goddamn life, is what I think.”

“Oh,” he says, all soft, as his face goes bright red. “I… that is… thank you.”

I lean in, close enough that my forehead almost touches his. “It’s sexy how you’re wearing my earrings. It’s sexy how good you look in eyeliner. It’s sexy that you wanted to tell me, I mean me, all this secret stuff about you. And it’s real, real sexy how embarrassed you are right now.”

He laughs. “You’d be embarrassed, too, if I started saying those things to you.”

“Wanna bet, buddy?” I say. “Go ahead. Try me.”

Only I don’t wanna give him the chance to try me—mainly because I know he’s right—so instead of letting him talk, I kiss him again. And when he kisses me back, I drop my hand away from his face. I feel down his arm. I touch his hip. I press against that skirt of his, right below the belt, and oh yeah, oh yeah he’s into it. His skirt’s puffy enough that I couldn’t tell until I felt, but whether he’s male or female or something else entirely, he’s definitely got a dick down there—and right now, it’s hard as a rock.

His hips jerk as I touch him through all the cotton, and his whole body goes a little melty, and he bites down on my bottom lip. Not enough to hurt, but definitely enough to surprise me. Fraser’s a biter. Who knew?

As for me, well, I wasn’t hard before, but now I’m getting there fast.

I rub him a little through the dress, until he gets so close to me that my hand won’t fit between us anymore. But I don’t need my hand now. I can feel his dick pressing right up against mine, and his arms are around my waist, and mine around his, and we’re almost dancing, Fraser and me, right here in my living room. All that’s missing is a good beat and some strobe lights and a couple hundred people packed in around us, and this could be one of those nights from before I got the Vecchio gig—dolling myself up in glitz and glitter—finding some nameless prettyguy on the floor—latching onto him and grinding and grinding—both of us getting off right there without anyone the wiser—going home to fuck in private, then waking up alone—

No. No. This won’t be that. It can’t be. This is Fraser. I actually give a shit about Fraser. I give so many shits about Fraser it makes my chest hurt just looking at him.

He bends his head and kisses my neck. Then my shoulder.

“Sit down,” I tell him. He looks up at me, silently asking why. “Over there, in the chair. I got something I wanna do for you”

“You want to—?”

I give him the Look. The one where I tilt my chin down, just enough that I can look up at him. It always worked on Stella; she used to say that was how she knew I meant business. And apparently it works on Fraser too, because he only hesitates a second before he goes and sits down, sweeping his skirt under him all prim and proper.

Once he’s settled, he opens his mouth like maybe he wants to protest or apologize or tell me I don’t have to or something else polite and Canadian—so I move fast. I shove the skirt up to his waist and touch him again, this time with only his shorts in the way. He tips his head back and sighs, louder this time.

They’re white, these shorts of his, and there’s already a pretty big damp spot right in the front, which makes them all clingy and a little see-through. I run my thumb slowly over the wet, feeling the shape of his head underneath, and this time he moans a little, and fuck he’s gorgeous. And it occurs to me that this is a pretty unusual thing, what I’m seeing right here. Erect dick, boxer shorts, hairy guy legs, and a dress around it all. I’m a lucky, lucky man.

I peel the shorts down, and he lifts his hips a little to help me. And there it is. He isn’t cut, which is new. For me, anyway. I’m cut, and all the guys I’ve been with were cut, too, at least as far as I remember. Fraser, though, he’s got this thing going where the head of his dick is halfway hidden under his foreskin. It’s pretty hot, actually.

That’s the first thing I touch. His foreskin. It moves easily, sliding against the head, and he groans deep in his throat as I play around with it, so I guess that must feel pretty good. I grin to myself. I like how Fraser sounds when he’s feeling good.

“Ray,” he whispers, and I look up at him. He’s got this real intense look going on, black-rimmed eyes gazing down at me all wide open. My hand’s still on his dick, still touching all over, still taking in the shape and the size and the feel of him. And he’s looking at that, yeah, but he’s also looking at my face. Back and forth, back and forth, like he can’t decide which one to watch.

So I make it easy for him. Keeping my eyes locked on his the whole time, I lower my head and touch the tip of my tongue to that little slit that’s poking out of his foreskin. I taste him, salty-sweet, and he watches me do it, and his dick jumps and he whimpers, high-pitched and needy and half stifled behind his clenched teeth.

“Yeah?” I say, fisting my hand around his shaft. “More of that?”

He nods. So I bend over and close my lips on the head of his dick—and he comes about two seconds later. His eyelids flutter closed, and he lets out a guttural “Ohhh,” and he shoots right into my mouth, and I swallow and swallow and massage him through the aftershocks. And that’s it. That’s all she wrote.

And it’s not like I’m disappointed or anything. More like just surprised. Guess I thought with all that super-stamina he’s got when he’s running or jumping off buildings or whatever, it would carry over to sex stuff, too. Apparently not.

“Sorry,” he says softly, eyes still closed.

I swipe my tongue across my bottom lip; there’s a little drop of come left there, and I lick it away. Fuck, he tastes good. “Sorry? For what?”

“I wanted,” he says, his rapid breaths cutting his sentences up into short little bursts, “to make it—last longer—than that but—but it’s been—it’s been so long—”

“Yeah, not since the real Vecchio skipped town, right?”

Fraser’s eyes fly open. “No. Ray, no. Ray Vecchio never… that is, neither of us ever…”

Dammit, my stupid mouth! Shouldn’t have brought up Vecchio. But I did, and now he’s clamming up again, which I gotta stop right away. So I spread my hands on his thighs, and I look him in the eye and say, “You don’t gotta tell me. Not if you don’t want to.”

His throat works a little. Then he says, “I’d like to. I really would. It’s just difficult to talk about this sort of thing to someone who wasn’t, well, involved.”

I nod. Yeah, it’s like I thought. Fraser doesn’t dig locker-room talk. So I sit there, running my thumbs back and forth over his bare thighs, and I resist the urge to touch his dick again—or my own dick, for that matter, because it still needs some serious attention—and I wait for him to find the words. He always finds the words eventually. It’s what he does best.

“You see,” he says quietly, after a moment. “Whenever my romantic, ah, incidents with Ray Vecchio occurred, it was understood that I… well, that I would be… female. For the occasion.” His face is bright red now, and I try not to let my face show what I’m thinking, which is basically a giant ball of what the fuck. Fraser clears his throat. “And as there are anatomical differences between men and women, speaking strictly in terms of sex as opposed to gender, of course, there were certain activities in which we—that is—certain acts I performed on him that he did not reciprocate. And vice versa.”

“Meaning he wouldn’t suck you off because, what, he wanted to pretend you were a girl? That’s—Fraser, that’s just—”

“Ray, don’t.” Fraser stands up then—slow enough that I have time to get out of his way. He pulls up his shorts and smooths down his skirt, and I stand up too, kinda wanting to fly to Vegas just so I can punch Vecchio in the nuts. But then Fraser keeps talking: “I didn’t mean to imply that this was a one-sided arrangement. It was a mutually beneficial situation, as I believe I’ve told you before.”

“Oh yeah?” I say, still itching for a fight. “What was in it for you?”

He smiles, all tightly. “The opportunity to explore a part of myself that I’d largely left neglected since I was a very small child. I liked the arrangement we had, Ray, and I’d appreciate it very much if you didn’t think any less of Ray Vecchio for the part he played in it.”

I snort. Fucking Vecchio.

“And,” he adds slowly, “I’d also appreciate it if you didn’t think any less of me for the pleasure I took from his attention.”

It takes me a second to make sense of that—but then, all at once, I get it. Fraser got off on pretending to be a girl. Vecchio didn’t touch his dick, maybe ever for all I know, and Fraser liked that. Oh, shit.

“Wait,” I say, gesturing down at his crotch. “Should I not have…?”

“No!” he says with a laugh. “Goodness, no. What you did for me just now… I enjoyed it very much. Very, very much.” He pulls me in for a kiss, like he wants me to know he means it.

Only I still don’t get it. “So you like getting sucked off, but you were okay with Vecchio not going there? How—”

“Ray,” he says, taking me by the shoulders. “My attraction to Ray Vecchio and my attraction to you are quite, quite different. But they are not, as a wise man said in the very recent past, mutually extensive.”

Exclusive. And don’t make fun of me, you weirdo.”

Fraser’s eyes glint. “I would never.”

“Shut up.”

“I could do that,” he says, thoughtful all of a sudden. “I could shut up. Or, possibly, I could simply find a better use for my mouth.” He glances downward, to where my dick’s making a real obvious bulge in my jeans. “Ray, may I… reciprocate?”

Christ on a bike, that has got to be the weirdest and politest and maybe even hottest way that I’ve ever been offered a blowjob.

“Reciprocate away, my friend,” I say, my voice coming out kinda higher than usual. “Nobody in this room’s about to stop you, that’s for damn suuuu…”

The last word fades into a moan as he cups one strong hand over the front of my jeans. I can practically feel my brain go flying out the window. He starts rubbing, just a little, real slow, and suddenly my knees don’t work so good anymore. Maybe he can tell, because he starts steering me toward the same armchair he was just in. I sit down, letting my legs fall wide open, and Fraser plants himself right between my thighs, leans down, and kisses me.

That face of his. Those bright blue eyes, lined in black. Those lips, still pink from all the kissing we’ve been doing. God. He’s something else, isn’t he.

Fraser undoes my fly button. Starts pulling my zipper down, real careful, which is driving me nuts. I lift my hips up, and he takes the hint and goes faster, unzipping all the way and then pulling my jeans and my shorts off together. Soon it’s just a bundle of clothes tossed onto the couch, and my bare ass on the chair, which I guess isn’t a very clean way to do this. But whatever. I don’t care right now.

I can’t care right now. Because who the fuck cares about clean when they’ve got Benton Fraser kneeling carefully between their thighs, looking flushed and secretive and ready to rumble? Not I, that’s who.

First thing Fraser does, he cups his left hand under my balls and just… rolls his fingers a little. Like a massage. He strokes one finger along the little patch of skin just behind, and I make some weird noise because fuuuck that feels amazing. He strokes a little harder. A little faster.

“Fraser,” I say. It sounds whiny. I can’t care about that either. “Come on, come on, come onnn.”

“Mm,” he says, and wraps his right hand around my dick while that first hand keeps on doing what it’s doing. Stroking the little patch of skin. Then, oh yeah, then comes his mouth. Lowering, lowering, until…

Contact. Oh, god god god, yes.

It’s just a kiss at first. Closed lips on the very tip. And then he lets his mouth open, little by little, and I watch in slow motion as my head disappears into him. Then he looks up at me, his eyes all sparkly as he watches me watch him suck me, and okay, yeah, suddenly I get how he came in two seconds flat. This is, hands down, the hottest thing I have ever seen. I feel like I got no blood left at all in the rest of my body, because it’s all down there, making me swell and swell as he runs his tongue over me.

I do manage to hold it together a little bit longer—long enough for Fraser to take me in deeper, to set a rhythm with his hand and his mouth together, to work some serious magic with that tongue of his—but before I know it, I’m right at the edge, and then I’m over. I’m exploding into Fraser’s mouth, my whole body rigid and my eyes screwing shut and my mouth yelling stuff that probably isn’t even words.

And Fraser, well, he swallows all of it. I can feel his throat working as he does. And when I finally open my eyes, I see him—and feel him—licking me clean, from top to bottom.

“Jesus,” I whisper.

“Mm?” he says, and finally lets me slip out of his mouth. He kisses the inside of my right thigh. Then my left. “Are you all right?”

I laugh, because all right doesn’t even begin to cover it. This is more all right than I ever thought I could be. My body’s boneless and my brain’s all sex-fuzzy and I got Fraser, Fraser, kneeling there between my legs, looking like some X-rated fantasy I never knew I had.

“Jesus,” I manage again. “Fraser, get your ass up here.”

He smiles then, and stands up and leans over just like he did before, bending down to kiss me again. I pull myself together enough to kiss him back with everything I got—and for some reason that gives me enough energy to stand up, find my shorts, and pull them back on.

“Ray, may I use your room to change again?”

“Change?” I say.

He rubs his brow. “It’s only that I’m unsure how safe I would be, walking back to the Consulate looking like this. And on the off-chance that Inspector Thatcher is still there—”

“Okay, first of all,” I say, rounding on him, “you don’t have to ask if you can use my room. My casa is your casa, you got that?”

He blinks at me, but doesn’t answer. Yeah, fine, let’s face it; I’m never gonna win that one.

“Second of all, I’m giving you a ride, duh. Third of all, why you gotta leave so fast?”

“Well,” he says, “we both… that is… we’re finished here, aren’t we?”

“What? What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask, as my hands curl into fists. “What, you thought I just wanted to dress you up and have sex with you and that’s—”

…and that’s exactly what those incidents with Vecchio looked like, probably. And bully for Fraser if he was actually into it, but that kinda friends-with-benefits shit isn’t for me. It takes me a second to calm down—to remind myself that Fraser doesn’t want me being pissed at Vecchio, because Fraser isn’t pissed at Vecchio.

“Okay,” I say. “Okay, okay. No, Fraser. We’re not finished here. Far as I’m concerned, we’re just starting. You change into your guy clothes if you want, or you keep the dress on. I don’t care either way, okay?”

He bites his lower lip, trying and failing to hide a smile.

“What I do care about,” I say, “is two things. First of all, you want spaghetti? I’m starving, and I got more than enough fixings for two people.”

Fraser looks almost stricken. “I… yes, Ray, I’d like that very much. Can I help in any—”

“No, no helping. You just stay here and let me cook for you, is what you can do.” I take a deep breath. Here goes. “Second thing I care about is whether or not you wanna stay over tonight.”

He freezes.

“You don’t have to,” I say quickly. “I just thought maybe—”

“Yes,” he says softly.

“Oh. Uh, okay.” I honestly didn’t think it would be that easy. Me asking, him saying yes.

I put my jeans back on. Fraser watches me do it. The whole time, I’m feeling the denim against my skin and remembering his mouth there. Soft lips, darting tongue. I want it again. I want it again and again until the day we die, and then I want to stick around and be ghosts with him so I can have his mouth on me then, too.

I grab him and kiss him again. I can’t help it. He makes this little noise of surprise, then kisses me back until both of us run out of steam.

“Fraser, you got no idea how long I’ve been wanting to do that,” I say. “All of it. The kissing, the other stuff. You got no idea how long.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Since I told you about my relationship with Ray Vecchio?”

“Since way before that. Since the day I met you, pretty much.”

He blinks. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Well… it’s not the kinda thing you just say to another guy, right? You don’t know if he’s into it, you don’t know if he even swings that way—but then you told me about the Vecchio thing, and—”

“And you realized I might be interested,” he finishes, nodding.

“Well, no. What I realized is that even if I made a move, it might just look like I was trying to be Vecchio. You know. Make the undercover thing more convincing, whatever. By getting in your pants. Like he did.”

“Oh,” he says, and runs a hand down my arm. “Goodness. Ray. I didn’t know.”

“Well, duh you didn’t. ’Cause I never said.” I grin, and catch his hand in mine. “But you and me, we got our own thing going now, right? Leastaways, I want it to be a thing.”

“As do I,” he says, squeezing my hand.

“A totally different thing from your thing with Vecchio.”

He nods. “I’d like that very much.”

I grin. “Okay, so you just sit your pretty little butt down and keep me company while I make you some spaghetti.”

He hesitates, tugging on his ear a little, almost making the earring fall off. “Er. Ray. Would this be an inopportune time to tell you that Ray Vecchio used to make pasta for me, too?”

Fucking shitlaced hell-balls. Of course he did.

“Burgers,” I say, narrowing my eyes. “He ever make you burgers?”

Fraser’s eyes go all glinty and mischievous. “Not once,” he says.

“Then burgers it is,” I say, and kiss him one more time before I get to work.