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The Enemy of my Enemy is my Enemy

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It had started out as an entirely normal day; as normal a day as any day with Fraser could possibly be. They'd kicked off the morning with a minor disagreement about the wet grass Diefenbaker had been bounding through in the park, and how every time he got that way he put sopping paw prints all over the painfully reupholstered back seats. As Ray pointed out to Fraser for perhaps the thirtieth time, finding fabric of the right age was difficult if not impossible; if it wasn't cared for, it fell apart when it was stretched over the fittings, and it had been a work of supererogation between himself and his father that they'd managed to find such a piece of leather, never mind done the work to such a factory standard. Upholstery skills, he'd pointed out, didn't exactly run in the Kowalski bloodline the way they did in Fraser's.

That had turned out to be a mistake: the argument had henceforth transformed from one about Ray's car to something he had a little more difficulty following, but which chiefly it seemed ran to assumptions that Ray made about Fraser based on false stereotypes. It took him almost the entire drive to the station to finish dressing Ray down, Kowalski choosing not to interrupt him, before quite smugly he'd reiterated his assumption with a direct series of questions: Do you or do you not know how to sew? Yes. Do you or do you not make repairs to damaged clothes with a needle and thread? Yes. Does the same apply to the other members of your family? Yes, but you see in the Territories it's quite essential to-- And then Ray had pulled the car into park, and raised his hand, and Fraser had wisely cut his losses.

So that was all just like normal. That was as normal as it came.

The problem was that the world had some sort of rule that funky stuff could only happen to people when their lives were only one degree away from the Mountie. Like--what was that thing? Guilty by association. It was like Fraser, who was the most sensible, honorable, do-right person in the whole universe, was also the center for its chaos, and while not so much as a hair of that chaos would hurt him so long as he wore his stupid hat (and Ray did like to make sure that Fraser was wearing that hat whenever possible; he wasn't stupid, he had his own superstitions and stuck to them), the fact was that it was everyone else who was bound to get caught up in the flak. Fraser was like the center of a tornado, and here was everyone else getting flung around and hit with flying furniture while the Mountie stood pristine and unruffled at the eye of the storm, wondering why everyone else was having such a hard time.

As his partner, Ray got the worst of it. He should have known the very first day. The thing was, everything had been pretty normal - and there was that word again; normal - until then. He'd read Vecchio's case files with a kind of disbelief. Homeless psychics and train hijacking terrorists and Canadian mobsters, exploding cars, alien abductees and a plane crash. Who wrote this stuff? It was like he was reading the synopsis of a borderline ridiculous buddy cop sitcom, rather than legitimate case notes full of Vecchio's scrawly black spider writing and Fraser's neat block print. Half the paperwork was written by Fraser, he noticed, although he'd come to learn that this meant rewritten by Fraser, on account of the fact that Vecchio - and more recently Ray himself - was tempted to leave out the crazier stuff that gave it any context. So how did Fraser get into the all girls school? Oh, he wore drag, oh well then. He'd thought it was all nuts.

But actually, he'd had a couple of weeks to settle in, a couple of weeks where this had seemed like it might be a nice normal job, because he was investigating a homicide and a hit and run and two domestics, and nobody had changed into a wild animal or put a curse on him. All he had to do was raise his head when someone said Vecchio even though it wasn't his name. Not a bad gig, all things considered.

And then Fraser had shown up, and by the time they'd made it back to his desk the Vecchio house was on fire, and just a few hours later he was climbing out of Lake Michigan, surrounded by rubber ducks, blinking water out of his eyes as a crazy lady pointed a gun at his hatless Mountie friend. All hell broke loose after that.

So he was one degree away from Benton Fraser, and the world thought it'd let him know all about it, because there was a number waiting on his desk when he got upstairs that said "Call, urgent", and Ray called it while Fraser fetched him a cup of coffee, running his hand back through his hair absently, scratching his wrist and juggling the phone back into his other hand.

A dark, sinister voice came on the other end of the line.

"Detective Vecchio?"

He bristled, leaning forward. There was something...there was something about that voice that he didn't like, an odd quality to it that said that it was bad news. He couldn't help the spark of defiance that seeped right into his voice.

"I called you, didn't I? I should get to ask the questions."

There was a long, contemplative silence on the other side of the phone. The tension made him want to slam the receiver down and back away, made him want to not come back to it. When the sinister guy spoke again it sounded like he was smiling, but not a nice smile. No, this was a chew the gristle off your bones sort of smile. It made his skin crawl.

"You don't remember me, do you? Tell me, is the Mountie there?" Fraser was just making it back to the desk, wielding coffee. He looked Ray right in the eye and seemed to know instinctively that something was very wrong, the same way he knew when the ice was about to break underneath him. "Let me talk to him," said the man on the phone, and Ray hesitated. He wanted Fraser to handle this. He wanted more than anything to thrust the phone at his friend and try and scratch the crawly voice out of his memory like a bad itch.

"No," he said instead. "I don't think I want to do that."

But Fraser, either through his superhearing or his reading of Ray's nonverbal cues, seemed to know what was necessary. He held his hand out, and Ray - tensing briefly - passed it over. Somehow the relief gave way to fresh terror, because now he couldn't hear the other side of the conversation, and Fraser was very unhelpful in his replies, like he'd been told to only give one word answers. Worse still, Fraser looked pale, and tense, and he kept his eyes on Ray the whole time like he was suddenly afraid that his partner might vanish right from in front of his eyes. If the voice on the phone had given him the heebie-jeebies, seeing Fraser looking scared - genuinely frightened - was something Ray thought he'd never get over.

"Yes," said the Mountie. "Yes." "Understood." "Goodbye."

And Ray wanted to throttle him; wanted to grab him and hit him with the phone, and then yell at the guy on the other end until it made him feel in control again. As soon as the receiver went down, it was back in his hand and he was punching redial, clasping it roughly to his ear and glowering at Fraser as though daring him to say anything about it. Instead of ringing, it clicked and went dead, and Ray threw his end of it back down and opened his mouth to shout at his friend.

Fraser was faster. He put his hand over Ray's mouth and heaved him by the collar out of the seat, scruffing him like he was a newborn kitten. By the time they were five steps away from the desk, Ray knew where they were going, and he cooperated enough that Fraser let him go, scowling at his partner's heels as he followed him into the men's room. There, with two doors between them and the rest of the precinct, a pale, shaking Fraser thrust him against the door of the stall and all but glowered at him. Ray knew better than to think Fraser was mad at him, it was more the kind of glower he got before his friend asked him to pay attention: Don't joke around about this, it said. It's serious. So he tried to stop twitching under Fraser's rough hands, and after a moment where he was sure there were going to bruises dug into his shoulders just from the way he was being held, he relaxed, and Fraser released him again, his expression shifting into something more apologetic.

"I'm sorry," he murmured. "Your desk is probably bugged. In fact, we can't be certain where in the station is safe to talk, Ray. You read all the case notes, so when I tell you that the man on the phone was Carver, that he's escaped from jail, and that he's coming after us, you'll understand the severity of the situation."

Fraser looked frightened and hopeful. Frightened by this guy and hopeful that Ray could understand why. Frightened--god, Carver, Carver. That was the guy who'd almost crushed them to death, or blown them up, who'd drugged Fraser and Dief and... No wonder Fraser looked like he'd just swallowed a poisoned pill. No wonder he'd looked as white as a sheet on the phone. And no wonder Carver had been smirking at him when they'd spoken. He'd known the instant he heard Ray's voice that he wasn't Ray Vecchio, and if he wanted revenge on him - which let's face it wouldn't be any surprise considering how long this guy could supposedly hold a grudge - then everyone's life was in danger; Fraser and himself, Frannie, Vecchio, Welsh, Stella, the guy who brought round the fucking sandwiches... This was bad news.

Honestly it wasn't his fault. Ray had done a lot of insane crap since he'd become Fraser's partner, but in his head all the things he'd read about in those case files still seemed ludicrous. The bit about being tied together and strapped to bombs in a courthouse while the bad guys used the distraction to break into a safe--it was all just insane. One cop, a wolf and a Mountie didn't work cases like that. It wasn't their jurisdiction. It was mad, and life threatening, and a dozen other things he'd shouted at Fraser before he hit him. He wasn't cut out for this.

But here he was anyway. Playing Ray Vecchio to protect the life of some Italian he'd never met, risking his neck for him and for Fraser - but mostly for Fraser - because if something went wrong it wouldn't just be his life that went down the toilet. He'd never live it down if something he did got the real Ray Vecchio killed. He'd never forgive himself for one thing, nevermind what Fraser would think of him, and somehow in all their time together what Fraser thought of him was held in remarkably high esteem. If Stanley got his best friend killed...

So he stepped up, shook his head hard and said "Carver. Yeah. Yeah, I remember that one." His friend looked relieved, even if he didn't untense in the slightest, and Ray had the fleeting realization that it was scaring him to see Fraser looking so nervous. And then Fraser said something that shot pure ice into Ray's already crawling veins:

"I don't think he can be working alone."

*****

They signed out a carpool vehicle from the lot; not Ray's first choice, or his second, but a craggy looking beige Ford that looked like the fact it had wheels was already a miracle. The inside smelled like decay and old pizza, and even Fraser paused and crinkled up his nose as he got into the passenger seat, like he was trying to judge whether the balance of chemicals in the air would cause them irreparable harm. He climbed in, though, and Ray let Dief into the back and sat himself awkwardly in the cramped driver's seat, frowning at the wolf apologetically. The car was a wreck. There was something growing in the speedometer display, obscuring half of the numbers - but that was fine, he didn't think this old car could make it past sixty anyway, so what did it matter? - and the leather casing on the gearstick had worn through, leaving a sharp metal pipe poking through the gap. Ray frowned at it exclusively for almost thirty seconds before he looked back at Fraser, as though he were hoping his friend would change his mind.

"Are you sure we can't take my car?"

"We went over this, Ray. He'll have almost certainly bugged it, and knowing that I'm aware of that fact, bugged any other car you'd have been likely to choose."

"So maybe he bugged this one too."

"You turned up your nose at the idea of using public transport--"

"Sure, because the case notes said something about an out of control bus."

"--So the only remaining option was to take a vehicle that had been signed back into the carpool this morning, and therefore could not have been tampered with. This was the only one available."

"Okay, so tell me again why we didn't rent a hire car?"

"Because, Ray, this isn't an official case, and you were quite adamant that you didn't want to pay for it out of your own wages."

"Yeah, well I've changed my mind." And now Ray was snarling. This was what it had come to, but seriously, taking a hit out of his own wages was worth it if it meant not driving this gross Ford around. "Come on, Fraser. My treat." He even managed to make it sound like it was a treat, he thought, rather than a selfish effort to make sure that neither of them smelled like mildew and rot for the rest of the week.

Diefenbaker couldn't have looked more relieved to get out of the car if he tried. He ran for the nearest patch of grass and rubbed his nose in it, though, which Fraser snarked at in his typical way. "Oh, don't be so dramatic, it didn't smell that bad."

*****

The '97 Riviera was a much better car. Sure, it was sort of ugly, but it had muscle too, and it didn't feel so different from driving the Pontiac. The back seats were clean, the gearstick was in one piece, and Ray was pretty sure most of the numbers on the speedometer served a purpose. He could forgive it being that nasty steel gray color that always seemed to him to be unnecessarily drab, especially when surrounded by the already dreary city surroundings.

Fraser had Ray drive out of the city, believing that Carver would want to start where he'd left off, and sure enough as they pulled the Riv into the scrapyard, there was the husk of a boattail just sitting there in the middle of the lot. Its roof was partially crushed, its maroon paint dull and sunworn. It had no wheels and the rust had gotten into it and under it, and Fraser in the seat beside him went very rigid again, like he kept getting electrocuted at the worst possible moment.

Ray felt a rush of trepidation and uncertainty pulse through him, like he was standing at the bottom of a mountain and knew instinctively that the distant rumble from above him wasn't thunder.

"It's okay," he said, very softly, and reached across to touch his partner's arm. Fraser felt tenser than he looked, and yet even as he touched him it seemed the Mountie was trying to shake it off, making shapes with his mouth that probably meant he was about to insist on bravely approaching the hulk himself. These Ray ignored. "I'll go have a look. You just stay here, I'll be fine."

He closed the car door so gently behind him it didn't close, but he was at the same time terrified that should he be any firmer with it, the sound of the door slamming might set off the avalanche in his head. Just in his head.

He'd forgotten how big the Riv was. Even without its wheels, the '71 Riviera was a broad shouldered beast of a car. It looked narrower in the back, but in fact the back seat was luxurious, more than big enough for two grown adults and a wolf. More than that, the architecture was gorgeous, long sleek lines that made him think of 1950s cast iron fairground horses. He'd driven around Vecchio's enough to be able to appreciate it; beautiful car, not that he thought he'd ever admit it to the guy's face. It went like there was flame shooting out the exhaust.

And then, uh, there was flame shooting out the exhaust.

This one was the wrong color, but that was fine. It was still the right car. This was the car Vecchio and Fraser (and Diefenbaker) had been in when Carver had almost smooshed them into sandwich filling. Kowalski crept forward, looked around the whole thing, hesitated like it was going to bite him, then opened the door. He checked everywhere before he got into the driver's seat, trying to keep his head, but also paralyzed with fear, holding his breath as though afraid it was going to shoot poison gas at him or explode or something.

Instead, the radio came on. It was so unexpected - so unreal in this husk of a car - that it near enough made Ray jump out of his skin, and he saw Fraser jump in sympathy of his fractured nerves through the windscreen of the other Riviera. The husk had none. No windows, no nothing, but a clean bright radio slotted into the old radio slot, the little letters on it showing that it was playing a CD. Obviously, Ray realized, there was some sort of pressure pad in the seat. A pressure pad. Joy oh joy. And what else did pressure pads do? Hell, maybe he was overreacting, but now the radio crackle was blurring into music, and the opening refrain didn't make him feel any better about it. The music, in fact, was making his skin prickle, goosebumps rising on his flesh, a feeling of pure terror pouring into him like he was an empty cup left under a running tap.

Dun dun dunn D-d dun dun --
Dun dun dunn D-d dun dun --

He took in a ragged, frightened breath, his wild eyes flying back up to Fraser's. The instrumental was still running, that piano chiming, and his heartbeat raced in his ears. He could feel his skin burning, but Fraser was out of the car now, coming around to the driver's side and dropping down into a crouch beside the door. He looked dreadfully pale, Ray thought. Of course by then the music was lifting, the base humming, and it opened so jarringly that it made Ray think he'd have a heartattack then and there.

PRESSURE

Fraser actually flinched.

Pushing down on me, pressing down on you--

Fraser looked terrified, and Ray couldn't really blame him, but it didn't bode well. It never did, when Fraser lost his nerve. It was like seeing Santa Clause punch a reindeer--it was just totally out of character for him.

Besides, if Fraser lost his nerve now he was going to be tiny Ray-Bits splattered all over this scrapyard. Tiny, dead Ray-Bits.

That burns a building down, splits a family in two--

Shit, shit, shit. His heart was going to beat out of his chest.

"Could we maybe hurry this along? I get that you're having a nervous breakdown or something, I do, and I love you Frase, but I'm gonna die listening to two guys doin' a duet, and not the kind I like, so would you--what are you doing? Don't get in the car! What are you crazy? No, don't answer that. I already know the answer. Fraser--Fraser!"

Fraser had scrabbled in through the tiny back window of the Buick, and then had fallen horribly silent. At the sound of Ray's panic though he sat up, wrapping an arm around the seat and around Ray to place his hand on his chest, his voice and breath very close to his ear.

--watching some good friends screaming "Let me out!"--

"Don't panic, Ray. I'm right here. The key is to stay very, very still." He pulled away again.

"Yeah well--well I don't do still very good, Fraser. I don't. And panic and me, we are--"

Fraser was back. "Ray."

"--absolutely the best of buddies--"

"Ray."

"--I even take it out for beers and dancing every Friday and--"

"Ray."

"--we burn up the dancefloor like it's 1999--"

"Ray."

"What is it, Fraser?"

"Shut up."

He shut up, still trembling, and Freddie and David shut up for a second too, making little nonsense noises at each other that didn't remotely calm him down. How long had it been? How long was this song, anyway? He could hear Fraser maneuvering himself down onto the floor of the Riviera behind him, and then he said "Ah", so softly that Ray thought he'd misheard it over the whine of the radio:

These are the days it never rains but it pours.

And what was that about brains? Okay, Fraser was getting into the passenger seat now, licking his lips. Some of the paleness seemed to have subsided now, leaving him flushed, which brought him some small comfort--it meant Fraser was giving saving his life everything he had.

"I think I can disarm it," he said, and Ray had never heard six more lovely words in his life. Why then was Fraser looking like a shark was about to eat his arm off?

"What?" he snapped. There was another lull in the music and Fraser was pausing too, but mostly Ray just wanted him to get on with it. He wanted to be out of this car like yesterday. He couldn't even remember why he'd gotten into it in the first place. Dumb.

"I have to get into the footwell."

Well that wasn't so bad. The steering column had been removed for the crushing process, which gave him plenty of room and--

"Headfirst, Ray."

"Oh." He said, and thought about it for half a second, and then said "What are you waiting for, then?" Like it wasn't a big deal.

"You need to spread my weight out as much as you can, Ray. And don't drop me. Any sudden change of pressure might set off the detonator."

Pressure, right. Hah. Fraser reached across him, wrapping his hand around the handle above the door, then did something with his knee on the shoulder of the seat, his hand on the dashboard, and soon enough he was sliding headfirst into the footwell between Ray's legs, and his hands were on Fraser's hips, his partner's legs across his shoulders, spreading his weight out as evenly as he could. This was insane. This was insane.

-higher and higher and higher-

Fuck you, Freddie.

There was nowhere to look, so he buttoned his eyes closed instead, and that was a fucking mistake, because from the grave Mercury was mocking him for his shame - turned away from it all like a blind man - his inability to so much as look at his partner's ass - sat on the fence, but it don't work - and this--this was fucked up, he realized. This was Carver.

It wasn't a coincidence. Carver had known this was going to happen, this specific fucking thing, and he was messing with them, and Fraser didn't even know. Fraser didn't even get it.

Keep coming up with love but it's all slashed and torn - whhhy?

Piece of shit. If he survived this he was going to punch Carver so hard in the teeth they had to extract broken pieces of them from the guy's lungs.

Panting, Ray opened his eyes, blinking back frustration. Fraser kept wriggling, clenching under his fingers as he scrabbled with something under the seat, and Ray had to roll his head back and stare at the mildewed, rotted out old ceiling instead. He was terrified. He was getting hard. David Bowie was fucking crooning in his ear - insanity laughs under pressure we're cracking - and this was hell. The bomb had already gone off and sent him to hell, hadn't it?

Why can't we give love
give love
give love
give love
give love
give love

"Argh!"

He yelled, growled with frustration, wanting more than anything to...to...something. Punch something, kick something, scream. He couldn't take it. Carver! He was going to die fucking humiliated, and when the CSIs came to pick apart this crime scene they'd go "Well it looks like they were performing a sexual act on each other" and they'd have a good laugh about that, the fuckers, because everyone knew crime scene investigation was a sucky job otherwise.

Ray thumped his head against the back of the seat. Fraser, meanwhile, had fallen still.

"I'm okay," he spat, quickly. "Just get me out of here."

He had a lot of faith in Fraser, he did, but he was terrified, and he knew this song, knew they had a minute left if they were lucky, and there was just so much he hadn't said. Things he didn't know how to say. But...well, he'd never said them last time, when he'd been about to drown to death, so what the hell. Keeping his feelings buttoned up inside worked for them. He could die happily knowing Fraser would never know this closely guarded secret.

"Fuck," he murmured instead, under the music. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

God, they were running out of time.

This is our last dance.

"Fraser!"

This is our last dance.

"Oh god, Fraser."

This is ourselves

What the hell, he wasn't going to see his face ever again. What could it hurt? They were both going to die in here.

"Frase," he said quickly. "I love you."

Under pressure

The music played out, his heart kept racing...

And kept racing.

And kept racing.

Nothing happened.

And then Fraser said "Ray." His voice was soft like a pin dropping, but in the silence it sounded like an explosion. He wanted to whimper just at the sound of it.

"Ray," Fraser said again, when he didn't speak.

Slowly he exhaled. "Yeah?"

"It's a dud. It wasn't wired up correctly. Can you help me--?"

A dud. It was a dud. He should have guessed. God, he felt sick, he was almost horrified that he wasn't dead: he'd have to look Fraser in the face again. "Sure," he said woodenly, and he helped push Fraser back over the headrest. When his partner was back in the passenger seat, and he was staring right ahead, he heard his own voice, shaking, say: "Listen, about what I said--"

But when he looked over, Fraser had his head in his hands, and Ray sat up a little straighter, suddenly back to that pulsing fear. He was upset. Fraser was upset. Was it about what he said?

"God," he said. "I didn't mean--"

"No, it's not--" And Fraser shook his head, and he was up out of the car a second later, with Ray following desperately after him.

"Fraser, will you wait up. Fraser--hey, Frase." But it was okay, Fraser was sitting on the crushed hulk of an old chevy, going back to his turtle impersonation with his hands clutching his ears, covering his eyes, and Ray crept closer, carefully perching on the wreck beside him. He didn't know what to do with his hands, particularly after his confession, so he kept them to himself.

"Bugs in the car, huh?" It was a reasonable guess. A better guess than Fraser running away from him, at least.

"Listening to--listening to everything, Ray. Ray, I can't do this."

He'd never heard anything so devastating in his entire life. Fraser was a superhero. He could do anything. He'd raise his fists and fight Goliath one on one if he thought it'd bring the guy to justice. But seeing him like this, practically shattered, flushed from being upside down, hiding away under his hands like he was afraid Ray might recognize what a coward he was and somehow be ashamed by him. This wasn't the Fraser he knew, and it scared him half to death.

Tentatively, Ray slid his arm across Fraser's shoulders. He leant the corner of his chest against his shoulder, and distantly realized that Fraser wasn't wearing his hat. He was never wearing his hat when he was hurting, it was like a rule of the universe, but it meant that he could lean his head in closer without risk of bumping it off.

"Hey," he said, as reassuringly as he could manage. "You beat him before, Fraser."

"Ray beat him," objected Fraser.

Ray Vecchio had beaten him. There was the familiar jealousy, but it was muted right now by the pain and fear of the man beside him. He kept his voice as gentle as he could. "And he's not here. But you've got the next best thing, and I'm not gonna let you down. You just have to trust me."

Fraser uncoiled ever so slowly. His blue eyes caught on Ray's, but even as he hunted for it he didn't see trust in them. He saw concern, worry, a certain...Fraser looked like how he felt, like something about this was breaking his heart, like he was lying to himself and to Ray about something the same way Ray had been lying to himself and to Fraser when he'd said 'I'm not gonna let you down'. He couldn't know that.

But he knew he might try and take on Carver himself, if it meant keeping Fraser safe. That was what it was, wasn't it? Fraser was thinking about ways to get him out of the picture, to protect him from this psycho. Of course he was thinking that, because Ray was thinking it too.

"Hey," he snapped. "I know what you're planning, but quit it, alright? We're partners. For better and also for worse, 'til death do us part, and if one of us is gonna get blown to pieces we both are. You do that for me, Fraser. You try and protect me from this guy I will never forgive you, are we understanding each other?"

Fraser looked like he might hold back agreement. His mouth opened and closed, and his eyes flashed something that in anyone else's expression would have been annoyance, but in Fraser's meant he was really mad, and then he was bowing his head again. "Understood, Ray."

"Good. I'm glad. Now come on, let's get out of here. I've seen enough of this place to last a lifetime."

And then the '71 Riviera blew up.

*****

The CSIs and the paramedics and a whole bunch of unnecessary uniform turned the place into a hive of activity. It took about forty minutes for them to have the whole place locked down, and Ray sat there looking shellshocked while a male nurse sutured a cut above his eyebrow where a piece of Buick shrapnel had hit him in the face.

"You're lucky. An inch lower and you'd have lost that eye." Insensitive bastard. But Ray held still, and as soon as he was free to go he was seeking Fraser out. Sure enough, he found his partner - who had changed into his spare outfit from the back of the Buick - and Diefenbaker, hovering near the wreck of the destroyed car, and when a steel box was brought out of the mess, Fraser was there with gloves on to inspect it, prizing open the lid. Inside was a toy, a little railway carriage, O-Gage, Ray thought, with a number inscribed on the side. The P was for "Passenger", he explained to Ray.

"I'm sorry," said Ray, confiscating the train and breaking the chain of custody. "We gotta take this."

They were almost back in the Riv when Welsh was suddenly there in front of them, looking stormy. This was fun, Ray thought, bitterly. This was just magic. Why didn't the bad guys just stay in jail where they were put?

"I remember this spot like it was yesterday. Here I was taking a nice relaxing walk with twelve members of SWAT and a couple of lawyer types and a little birdie whispers in my ear that he did it. Homicide. Twenty-to-life. Except somehow twenty-to-life is closer to a couple years instead, and see that--that pisses me off. So tell me straight," Welsh said. "Carver?"

"Yes, Sir."

"So I'm gonna spent the next week chasing you guys from explosion to explosion over the greater Chicago area. That what I'm hearing?"

Ray didn't have a smart answer to that, but Fraser jumped in to save him. "We hope to apprehend him with all due diligence, Sir."

All due diligence. That was good. In Ray's head it went a little more like 'Before he kills us and everyone we care about.'

"With all due diligence," Welsh repeated, as though he was giving the words a thorough thinking over. "Make sure you do. Keep in touch, Vecchio. Don't do this one alone. And remember he'll probably see that move coming this time, so be real discreet."

Welsh winked, and threw Ray something, and by the time he was getting into the car he'd realised what it was. A tracker. He showed it to Fraser, wordlessly, and tucked it into his breast pocket.

"Okay," he said, and started the engine. "We've got a train to catch."

*****

Standing on the railway bridge, watching the carriages disappear beneath him, his arms full of Diefenbaker, Ray had an epiphany: He didn't love Fraser at all. He hated him. He hated his stupid Mountie hat and his stupid Mountie coat and his stupid Mountie face. He hated his stupid Mountie sense of humor and his stupid Mountie dancing and his stupid Mountie smugness. But most of all - most of all - he hated his stupid Mountie plans.

Because in real life nothing like this would ever happen. In his life, pre-Fraser, nobody had ever asked him to jump onto a moving train. Why had they never done that? Because it was insane, and unnecessary, and totally reckless, that was why. If something terrible was going to happen, why did they have to be the ones to stop it? Especially since, quite clearly, there wasn't any safe and reasonable way of getting onto a moving train. That should be the end of it. Oh well, we tried. What did you want us to do, leap off a bridge?

But that was exactly what Fraser did, and Ray was rapidly running out of train, and besides, he had an armful of wolf to balance as well as himself when he landed.

This was insane. He was going to die. He didn't have time to think about it. He jumped.

And surprised himself by not dying, and not crushing Diefenbaker flat under him, although he did land with one leg on either side of the coupling. Dief sprang free, and that was just enough of a wobble to knock Ray's legs from under him, and then he was clinging to the coupling, dangling with his feet inches above the ground, every bump of the train along the rails making him feel like he was being shaken by a large, mean dog; one singularly intent on forcing him to let go of the train and fall to his death.

Fraser came, but he almost took too long, and just as the train gave a particularly nasty shudder, a hand came out of nowhere and hauled him up to safety.

And he couldn't help himself; he flung his arms around Fraser and hugged him, and snarled into his ear: "Buddies or not, if you ever make me do that again I'll kill you."

"That sounds fair, Ray," replied Fraser, as though he meant it. Ray knew better. The first opportunity he got he'd have Ray jumping off something, or into something, or onto something. He was Benton Fraser, and dreaming up mad ways to get them both killed was his superpower.

"So we're on the train," he said, shaking it off. "The possibly exploding possibly runaway train. Do you wanna tell me why we'd go and do something like that, Fraser?"

Fraser knew he wasn't supposed to answer that question, so instead he set off back across the couplings with a Mountie Bound (tm) and pulled open the door on the other side. "P-38 is this way, Ray." And then he was gone.

Ray sighed, looking down at Diefenbaker. "After you, buddy." As usual, he could swear the wolf rolled its eyes at him, and then it too jumped the rattling, clunking coupling and disappeared through the open door.

Knowing Fraser he was probably three cars ahead by now, but Ray stared down the railway track through the gap and felt his heart lurch. He wasn't cut out for this Captain America crap. Jumping was for falling. Especially this sort of jumping where the landing platform was moving away from him. His instinct told him that if he jumped, his landing spot would pull away, and he'd be like Wiley Coyote dangling in mid air stupidly before he fell under the train and it rain right over him. It was bullshit, of course, he knew that. When you were going as fast as the train already it couldn't disappear under you like you were trying to walk down the Up escalator.

Tensing and then bouncing on the spot, Ray prepared himself mentally for what he was about to do, flapping his hands about like wings. Crouching Tiger Hidden Badass.

"That's right, I'm Seal. I can fly. I can do this."

He jumped.

And he landed, with his actual feet underneath him, and that was a miracle, that was like learning to walk all over again, because actually landing a jump was cool. He felt like a Mountie. And then his toe hit the instep of the open door and his momentum sent him flying onto his chest in the passenger car, his hands out in front of him to break his fall. So graceful. The passengers applauded.

"Yeah, yeah, you never seen a cop fall on his face before?"

Fraser was in fact three carriages further along the train, in the first class section with the funny doors. He was standing in the narrow hallway with the toy train car in his hand, squinting in through the tiny windows. Diefenbaker was at his feet, sniffing at the gap under one of the doors.

"I think there's something inside," he said, as Ray approached. "Listen." He rattled the toy train at Ray's ear.

"Oh yeah," Ray said. "There's something inside alright."

"But I have no idea how to get it out. I think the roof used to come off, but it's been superglued down, you see?"

"Here," Ray said, reaching out to take it. "Let me have a look."

The second he had it, he slammed it with as much force as he could against the wall, and the plastic broke like egg shell. It made him feel better, and he held it cheerfully out to Fraser.

"Ah," said Fraser. "I hadn't thought of that."

It always made Ray feel better to hear him say that, too, as though if he weren't here Fraser would just be lost without him. Couldn't save the world because he wouldn't smash a toy train, that's just too bad.

"So what's inside?" he asked, as Fraser poked through the wreckage.

What was inside, it turned out, was a man in a black suit, with sunglasses and slicked back hair. He held a little tiny black gun in his outstretched hand, so he wasn't a groom, and Ray's mind automatically made a connection: black suit + sunglasses + gun = mob.

And Fraser sighed, and corrected him. "Or he could be a member of the intelligence services, Ray. In my experience--"

"--There's not much difference, right. So is he on the train?"

"In the third compartment, if I'm not mistaken. Shall we?" He turned to Diefenbaker, who'd been patient throughout this exchange, and looked at him firmly. "Keep out of sight. You shouldn't even be here--I wouldn't have brought you if you hadn't begged to come, and if the conductor sees you, the fine will be coming out of your allowance, not mine."

Fraser lead the way, rolled open the door and held it open for Ray to head inside. He followed a moment later, pulling the door shut behind him. There were three people already in the compartment, and Ray noted them one at a time. Well, he noted the first one and the second two took a little longer. She was lithe and thin and blonde and beautiful, and reminded him a little of Stella, but then a lot of women did. She wore an elegant black suit, and was dabbing at the corner of her mouth with some sort of lovely smelling powder stuff, and as they stepped in past her, big blue eyes drifted up to follow them, batting like butterfly wings on silk. Her perfume wafted up at him. His mind wandered.

"I beg your pardon," said Fraser, breaking him out of his reverie. He was stepping around the next man's suitcase, and the woman blinked up at him as though noticing him for the first time. She paused, then smiled wryly, and looked back toward Ray.

"Hey sugar," she purred. She had a glorious Texan accent. "Why don't you sit here?"

Ray blinked twice, a little shellshocked, glanced up at Fraser and then back again. "You're talking to him, right?" He couldn't believe this. This kind of thing never happened. It was always Fraser who drew people's attention. Fraser and his clean Mountie lines, his honest blue eyes, his too-tight jeans. He licked his lips nervously.

"Oh no, sweetheart." She patted the seat beside her. "Come on over here."

She had to be the bad guy, right? She was up to something, and that was why she'd urged him to sit with her. He was going to end up being some sort of hostage. But what else could he do? There were six seats in the compartment and three were occupied.

He settled down beside her, and Fraser sat down opposite her looking concerned, and she closed her makeup case and reached across to put her hand straight on his thigh. Rigid now, anxious, but still staring at Fraser, he watched as his partner raised an eyebrow. If Ray didn't know better he'd peg that for being his smug look. He tried looking at the woman instead, but she was looking down into his lap, the witch.

"So uh," Ray said. "You come often--I mean you come here, get this train...Often, you know?"

"Every week," she replied, and yes, her hand was wandering higher, and Ray's spine had never been so straight in his life.

"Where uh...do you get off?" He swallowed so hard he hurt his throat, spared a glance for Fraser who was...he had curled his hand into a fist and pressed it to his mouth, and for a second Ray thought he was making a blowjob gesture, and then he realised that no, actually, it was worse. His partner was laughing, smothering his own silent giggles. Which was unfair, because just a couple of hours ago he'd told him he loved him, and then jumped off a bridge onto a moving train for him, and that was just today.

"Oh, sometimes," she said, and there was just the briefest flash of blue as she glanced toward Ray's face. "If I'm really lucky."

"No, I mean--where're you headed?"

"Kingman," she said, and her hand wandered higher still, and Ray let out a shaky exhale.

"Arizona. That's--that's near Vegas, right? We're uh--we're going to LA, aren't we?" He shivered. The knuckles of her fingers were now getting way too intimate for a public train carriage, and he was - as ashamed as he was to admit it - already getting hard. "My friend here, he's an actor. In Canada. Thinks he can make it big."

As though maybe he could deflect her attention for half a second.

Maybe it worked, because her hand retreated down his leg a couple of inches, and her eyes flicked toward Fraser.

"Is that right? You been in anything good?"

"No," replied Fraser, because Fraser couldn't lie.

"Oh, he's being modest. He's a teenage heartthrob, and you know--he does this thing with his mouth, they really like that."

"The thing with my mouth?" Fraser said.

"Yeah, the mouth thing." And then Fraser accidentally did the mouth thing, working his lips with his tongue, maybe running it over his teeth or something, and it always looked really sexy. Forget the hand, Fraser's mouth thing--that was enough to get him hard and straining, and wasn't that real messed up?

"But they're ah--they're all gonna be disappointed."

"Why's that?" asked the woman beside him, and thank god she did, because Ray was finally able to reach out and grab her wrist, hold it off him.

"Because he's my..." God, he had to think of a way to say this that Fraser could follow along with without breaking ranks on him. "We're--you know, like--"

"Partners," finished Fraser, and they locked eyes.

"Yeah. Like partners." Ray couldn't have sounded more relieved if he tried. Partners was exactly the word he was looking for. He licked his lips, and Fraser did the mouth thing again - this time possibly on purpose - and Ray felt a blush rising up his neck.

"I see," said the blonde, and then she was looking him in the face and smiling real prettily, and Ray cursed himself, and Fraser, and the gods of a dozen different pantheons, because it wasn't like he didn't like girls. He really, really liked girls, and she was smoking hot, but they were here to get a job done, not get a job done, no matter how good it'd feel right now.

"My brother's like that. I mean, he's not serious with anyone, but he likes guys, you know. It's him I'm going down to Arizona to see. He's a warden in the park. Well, I say park, and it's not a very nice job out in the desert - he tells me all these horror stories about guys getting lost out there - but--"

She was off, talking away, talking way too much to be a secret agent or a mobster, and Ray glanced up toward Fraser and pretended to keep listening to her as she babbled. One of the other two guys in the compartment had to be their man, although what his purpose was, and why Carver would put him on this train with him was still a complete mystery. What he did know, though, was that the guy opposite him was giving him a really evil eye all of a sudden.

Oh shit.

Fraser was moving even as the gun came up, and he lunged across, snapping his hand around the guy's wrist and throwing it upward so that the gunshot slammed into one of the ceiling lights and rained down sparks. There was a scream, piercing loud in his ear--

It was over in moments. Ray removed his own gun and pointed it at the perp's head, and then he was snarling. "Chicago PD, scumbag." Fraser twisted the gun out of the guy's hand and cuffed him behind his back, and though Ray could swear he'd just had his eardrums exploded, this was what he did, and what he knew, and all was right with the world.

This was the partnership that mattered.

*****

They found three million dollars in his suitcase. Of course, then they had to wait an hour and a half to be picked up from Western Illinois, but the drive back to the city with the new and improved duck brothers, a mobster in the backseat, and Diefenbaker tucked into the footwell, meant they didn't have to talk to each other about the partners thing. The longer he had to think about it, the more Ray thought that maybe he'd been imagining it after all. Fraser did that mouth thing a lot, and besides which they were partners. It wasn't like Fraser understood that the word could mean different things, right?

So he was just being stupid, and he was really, really happy that the guy - mob guy, like he'd said - was sat between them in the back seat of the car, because if it had been Fraser's ass pressed against his thigh like that he'd have been turned on all over again.

"The car's just up here," Ray said, and they pulled left onto the sweeping overpass from which they'd leapt.

And as they drove up across the curving spine of the bridge, the Riviera exploded.

Several cars swerved and squealed to a stop, one of them ground along the guard rail on the opposite side, and Dewey had to turn the wheel sharply to avoid hitting a Toyota that had glanced off the partition and swung wildly toward them, but so far as he could tell every car on the bridge had managed to stop without crashing into another one, and that was some kind of miracle. The Riviera was a ball of flame and smoke and little pieces flung out in every direction by now, though, and Ray, feeling sick, leant against the back of the driver's seat.

"I'm gonna get a kick out of explaining that to the insurance company."

Within moments of stopping, Fraser was out, going from one vehicle to another to make sure that everyone was okay while Huey phoned it in. Ray joined Fraser, taking the opposite side of the road and getting held up when he had to explain eight times to a pair of deaf old ladies that no, there hadn't been anyone in the car. In the end he scowled, handed over his card and gave up, stomping back over to Dewey's car and throwing himself into the back seat with their perp.

"Spit it out," he said. "What's your connection with Carver?"

He knew instantly he'd made a mistake, because the mobster's viciously defensive glare suddenly turned into mirth, his eyes crinkling, and he started laughing then and there.

"Yeah, it's real funny. Funny, funny guy, let's all laugh at the dumb cop. But you do not want to test me, wise guy. Not today. Cause I am having a really, really--" Fraser was tap-tap-tapping on the window, and Ray turned and scowled through the glass at him. "What?"

He did the finger beckoning thing, and Ray let himself be beckoned, scowling at Fraser's blue-jean-clad ass as they walked away from the car, then pinching his own ear and looking desperately away. He watched the car burning, which seemed a lot safer than the alternative.

"What is it, Fraser? Cause I was this close to getting that guy to talk, and you coulda blown it for me."

"He won't talk, Ray."

"Yeah, well maybe if I kick him in the head enough times--"

"He'd take it. He's been in jail recently, Ray. I'd suggest perhaps even as recently as a week ago. There are old scars on his wrists from handcuffs, but his hands are worn and damaged from chemicals and hard work, and I noticed the distinct smell of industrial detergent."

"Maybe he just does the mob's laundry."

"Ray."

"Alright, Fraser, so he was in jail, and he broke out around when Carver broke out--"

"And he's also a member of a Chicago crime family--"

Ray was getting it. "Being sent to Las Vegas to avoid bringing down the heat--"

"And carrying three million with him?"

"As some sorta tribute. He's a cash mule."

"Exactly."

"So he's...he's not got anything to do with Carver, except that he shared the laundry bus outta jail with him?"

"No, that's not quite what I'm saying, Ray," Fraser said, and he lowered his voice slightly. "I told you before that I suspected that Carver couldn't possibly be working alone. Well, what if he isn't? What if, in fact, in return for being included in the escape plans, he agreed to work for the mob."

"To kill us?" Fraser nodded, and Ray scowled. "But if that's true, why send us after the guy on the train? The--the mob guy. What does he get out of it?"

"I don't know yet, Ray. Maybe nothing. Maybe it's just a game, but I doubt it. Carver was nothing if not meticulous. He wanted us to catch that man, or else for him to kill us, and I think the key to this whole case depends on us finding out to which of Chicago's crime families he belongs."

"A Chicago mafioso we've pissed off..." Ray said, looking back at the car, where Diefenbaker was still standing guard over their prisoner. "I don't know, Frase. Might take a while to narrow that one down."

They were both thinking of the same man; a man who had skated on charges just a month previously thanks to some kind of intervention by syndicated crime. The witnesses that had lined up to take him down had disappeared.

Warfield.

*****

Fraser made them both stay at the crime scene for three hours after the fire burned out. He sent forensics back twice to look over the car for clues, then climbed into the burnt out hulk of the Riviera to try and come up with something himself. By then it was almost dark, and Ray was starving hungry, jealous of the wolf who was happily scarfing up whatever treats and tidbits he could beg off the CSIs and paramedics. Oh, how he wished he was cute and fluffy and utterly self-debasing. All he wanted was a cruller, or a lollipop, or...

He shifted on his perch on the edge of the sidewalk, then pulled himself upright, rubbing hard at his numb rear as though he could somehow get some feeling back into it. Fraser was making his way over, and he looked at him a little weirdly the last few steps, then wisely - Ray thought - decided not to say a word. Fraser smelled like ash and burned petrol, Ray thought, and decided not to mention that either.

"How did he even find the car, Fraser? We weren't followed way out here, I'd have noticed."

"I've been puzzling over that problem myself, Ray, and I can only surmise that someone at the previous crime scene must have planted some kind of tracker. That, in turn, allowed Carver the opportunity to plant the bomb, anticipating that we would need to return to the vehicle shortly thereafter. As before, I imagine he was nearby, and remotely--"

Ray was having a thought. It drummed at his head loudly, and he raised his hand up to stop Fraser.

"The only people at that crime scene were forensics and us. Oh, and the paramedics. But none of them were Carver, right, you'd have noticed."

"Yes, Ray, I'd have noticed."

His hands were wandering all over on their own. His right went in little circles, like he was winding the thought in on the end of a rod. "So this backs up the whole--the whole mobbed out thing-a-me-gig. He's got connections now, our man Carver."

Ray glanced at Fraser to make sure he was right, and figured he was by the fact that he didn't get an admonishing look back or anything.

"Whereas before his actions were entirely his own."

"So back up a second. Whoever he's connected with - and we both know who we think that is - he might have people in the precinct? So we can't trust anybody."

"Well that's not necessarily true, Ray. There's Huey and Dewey, Francesca, Elaine, Welsh. You would vouch of course for Assistant State's Attorney Kowalski, and I would say confidently that Mort is unlikely to be involved."

"So only everybody else then, huh? That's reassuring, Fraser, thanks."

"You're welcome, Ray."

The idea that Warfield had people in the CPD at all, nevermind the 2-7, gave him the creeps. Clearly it was affecting Fraser some too, because now he was walking with his head down, picking up speed, and Ray had to hurry to catch up with him. He still wasn't entirely sure where they were going; he had no car, he'd turned down innumerous lifts back to Chicago because Fraser was going over the crime scene again, and now it was getting dark, and cold, and he'd left his coat in the Riviera. He'd really liked that coat.

But he stayed quiet and let Fraser muse, and just tried to keep up as he did his Yukon Walking Marathon thing. In the end he gave up jogging beside him because he had a stitch in his side, and hung back, doubled over himself as he caught his breath.

Fraser walked another two hundred yards, then at last noticed that both Ray and Diefenbaker had parked out on a stretch of wall, doubling back toward them.

"It isn't that much further. Another mile, I think."

"Sure, Frase, another mile. Let me just start my stopwatch."

"You're out of shape."

He had to do a double take, glancing up at Fraser and then barking out a laugh. "Yeah, Fraser, I'm out of shape. I eat pizza and donuts all day and drive around the city and do loads of paperwork, and then at the end of the day I fall flat on my face and sleep--so yeah, I'm out of shape."

Fraser seemed suitably admonished. He chewed on his bottom lip, and Ray stopped looking at the ground to appreciate this particular expression, raising his eyes to look at him.

"Look, I'm just having a rough day, alright? I almost got blown up, I got a Mountie's crotch in my face while some dead rock star and a psychopathic turkey guy had a good laugh at my expense. Then I almost fell under a train, got touched up by a smoking hot woman and almost got shot by a homophobic gangster. So--"

Oh God.

"What is it?"

Fraser looked utterly miserable. He'd thought Diefenbaker could turn it on, but this--

"I'm sorry, Ray. I'm so sorry."

It was the melancholy back from earlier, and it was up there as being one of the most devastating things Ray had ever seen. He felt instantly awful for even bringing it up, and quickly - ignoring the ache in his side - he went to Fraser and hooked his arm across his shoulders and squeezed him.

"Don't--don't be sorry. You don't gotta apologize for this. Look, let's just...let's just get to the motel, huh, and I'll order pizza and we'll chill out in front of the TV or something. Come on."

He couldn't stand to see Fraser like this, but he was beginning to work out why he was feeling as bad as he was. Warfield, Carver, they'd put these people away and they were out again, both of them seeking revenge, putting their lives at risk. Fraser was proud, prouder than he liked to admit, and he believed outright in the law. So seeing justice fail like this was probably a whole other sort of kick in the teeth.

All he knew was that he didn't want to see him keep looking that way, like all the weight of the world's ills was suspended across his shoulders, weighing him down. Warfield was bad news, and Carver was a crazy man, but they didn't reflect badly on Fraser; they weren't his responsibility, or his fault.

They walked awkwardly like that, Ray afraid now he'd made contact to break it in case by doing so he somehow left Fraser alone to his thoughts, but also because if he let go Fraser was going to walk faster and faster again, and he'd lose him to the rapidly falling night. He was also, he admitted to himself a quarter mile later, wonderfully warm, and while he didn't quite cut out dusk's biting chill, it took away at least a smidgen of the discomfort. There were no streetlights this far out, but the road was straight, and as they reached the summit of the next wavy hill a neon motel sign emerged from the thick black trees at the side of the road, smaller at first, but getting bigger by the footstep.

He held onto Fraser until they were stepping under the welcome glow of that sign, and then he swung his arm away and jammed it into his pocket opposite the other one. His wallet was still in there, the Pontiac's keys, the Buick's, handcuffs, badge--good.

So while Fraser went away to instruct Diefenbaker to hide, Ray went into the crappy little office with the peeling wallpaper and booked them a room, prioritizing a TV over a separate bed, and then used the phone at the front desk to order pizza.

He trotted back out into the dark a moment later feeling better than he'd felt all day, jangling the key at Fraser, then regretting it, because there was his partner looking up at the sky with a sort of glazed over expression on his face.

"Hey, Frase? Buddy? You alright?" Ray approached carefully, like he was afraid of accidentally harshing Fraser's weird new vibe.

"The stars are beautiful, aren't they, Ray?"

Okay. Okay, the stars? He was stoned or something, right? Maybe he'd been hit on the head. But when had that happened? Ray had been with him the whole time.

"Fraser?"

He kept staring, so Ray figured he was supposed to say something. He crept forward nervously, gave said sky an apprehensive look. "The stars are pretty cool, yeah."

"You can't see them in the city. Even here--look. There's a whole constellation there, and you can't see a single star."

Oh, he really wasn't ready for this conversation. He really wasn't sure he could handle a Fraser that was homesick as well as one that was wronged by injustice. It was just too much.

"Well you know, Fraser. We can drive out here anytime you like. You don't gotta stay in Chicago." He was trying to sound neutral, but that you don't gotta stay had sounded jarring even to him, and he regretted it even more when Fraser spoke again.

"I guess not."

Ray felt sick again. Today sucked for innumerable reasons, and frankly the sooner it was over the better. For now though, he just reached out and took Fraser's hand in his own, and suddenly Fraser was looking at him in a way that turned the sickness into a sort of rumbly, possessive warmth. He looked at Ray with the utmost companionable trust, affection, and tightened his fingers around Ray's, and a frog leapt up into Ray's throat and sat there trembling. Or would, if frogs trembled; Ray didn't know. But it sure felt like it was trembling.

"You have our room key?" Fraser said, and Ray nodded mutely and handed it over. Hand in hand, Fraser led him down the line of doors to the room which was theirs, turned the key in the lock and gently pulled Ray inside. He held the door open for a moment longer so that Diefenbaker could dash in through the gap, and then closed it, and stood there looking at him in the half light.

"Fraser?" he asked. Soft, and concerned, frightened, but very unlike the 'Fraser?' he'd asked in the parking lot.

"It's alright, Ray."

"I want to talk about this. I want to talk about Warfield, about how it's not your fault, about howfff--"

Fraser's mouth was on his own. It brushed against him, soft, and sweet, tender and gentle, and every thought in Ray's head swept out of it as one, like there was a firesale at the thought mall and they'd all been snapped up in one go. There was only Fraser's mouth, that lovely mouth with that tongue that flashed out and back every day when he was trying not to smile, and now flashed out and back against Ray's lips, against Ray's tongue. He moaned despite himself - because all thoughts had flown, and there was no nagging reminder left to tell him that moaning during a kiss was a great give away of emotions - and then Fraser was taking advantage, pushing into his mouth with that hot, strong tongue, lashing at his own in a way that only had Ray moaning again, like that was the reaction he was aiming for.

Ray's eyes closed, and he brought his free hand up to Fraser's jawbone, nudging back into the kiss, trying to take back space that had been lost thanks to pure surprise, and Fraser's mouth opened invitingly under his own, tongue submitting to Ray's rough probing and sucking, as though he were putting every effort he had into reciprocating. Fraser didn't make a sound, but he kissed beautifully, was kissed beautifully, and when after a moment Ray - terrified of the sound of his own voice now - forced himself to draw back, he was already panting from the effort, seeking out Fraser's eyes, his entire body now a wreck of vibrating nerves.

Fraser lips were swollen from the kiss, his cheeks flushed, but he looked miserable still, like a beaten puppy, and before Ray could stop him he said:

"I'm sorry, Ray. The last thing I wanted was to put you in danger. I want to make it up to you."

The bottom dropped out of his stomach. Make it up to him. Fraser was kissing him like that because he wanted to make it up to him. He felt dirty all of a sudden, like he was taking advantage of a particularly dumb friend because God...God, Fraser had no idea. Fraser didn't know what this meant to him, and he was sorry.

He pulled his hand free and pushed it against Fraser's chest, held him at bay while he tried to get his head around all the feelings. This was so wrong, so impossibly wrong, and so very unfair, because if Fraser had thrown himself at him on any other day, for any other reason, he might have let it slide. He might have embraced it, and maybe regretted it later, but he'd have never have been so immediately, incredibly ashamed of himself as he was now.

"There's nothing to make up, Fraser," he said, his voice rough with emotion. "Look, I just think that today has been weird enough without complicating it, okay? I...I just wanna eat my pizza and go to sleep. And it's not that I don't appreciate it, I do, it's just--you don't get it, okay? I love you, but it's not like that, and I need... I just--okay? So maybe we just carry on and pretend this didn't happen."

He didn't look at Fraser. He could see the bitter disappointment and hurt out of the corner of his eye, and he couldn't stand to look at it head on.

"You take the bed, alright? I'm gonna sit in that chair over there."

Fraser took the bed, though that surprised Ray, he expected him to put up more of a fight. Feeling dreadfully uncomfortable, he set about turning on the TV, and flicked through the thirty dead channels to find the three that worked. There was nothing on but the news, phone porn ads and a television drama in French that he left on out of desperation, after all the last thing he wanted after a day of crimefighting was to sit in front of the news - nothing would make him more depressed - and the porn was obviously right out of the question.

After four minutes of just mindlessly watching, Ray got tired of the tension in the room, and he tried to make conversation.

"What are they talking about, Fraser?"

Fraser cleared his throat. He was still sat right on the end of the bed like he didn't belong there. Diefenbaker was stretched out on the floor by his feet. He must have been thinking about something else, Ray thought, because he listened to the conversation for almost twenty seconds before he spoke.

"The daughter of the woman in the blue dress is missing, and she thinks the man in the bow tie knows where she is. Well now, that's ridiculous. Of course she should call the police."

He was doing better than Ray at pretending nothing had happened, he had to give him that. Ray, though, was still a bundle of nervous energy, the taste of Fraser's mouth, camomile tea and sweetness, still an unbanishable memory. If only he'd wanted it too; if only it wasn't some sort of weird Canadian gesture to try and apologize for something that wasn't even his fault in the first place. So Fraser felt bad that Ray was getting pot shots taken at him--why now? Why not the other thousand times he'd put them in danger? He hadn't got snogs in dark motel rooms when Fraser had gotten them shot at by Russian spies, or pirate ghosts, or...

Actually come to think of it he had gotten a snog that time, but it didn't count because he'd been drowning to death. Sort of took the thrill out of it.

So why now, if not for the fact that this case was getting to him?

The cut above his eye was itching. He wanted to dig out all the stitches with his fingernails.

Fortunately the pizza arrived more or less at that exact moment, and Ray jumped up to get it himself for want of things to keep his body moving, his mind off the itch and the other itch, and on the task of fetching the pizza and carrying it over to the bed. He climbed up near the pillow end and sat cross legged with the pizza on the bed in front of him, keeping his back to the wall and Fraser in full sight.

As expected, he looked dejected, though he was at least hungry enough to thank Ray for the pizza and take out a slice for himself. Diefenbaker whined.

"Hey, I don't make the rules, Dief. You wait till we're done eating same as always."

He was trying to lighten the mood. It wasn't working out. They ate in a sort of French accompanied silence, because Ray didn't understand a word and Fraser seemed to be tuning it all out, but as Ray tried to urge his partner to take a second piece, whatever ceasefire they'd managed to lay down broke, and Fraser looked at him hopelessly.

"How long?"

Ray grimaced. That was exactly the kind of question he'd been hoping to avoid. "Look, Fraser," he said, when he'd finished chewing. "I've been around the block a few times, sure, but I only ever loved one woman my whole life, and I pursued her--man did I pursue her, and it almost killed us both."

He took a deep breath and pushed on. "I'm not going to do that again. For one thing I don't have the energy and for two I got more respect for you than that. You're my partner, and for once in my life I've got a good thing going, emotions just mess stuff up. I won't have it, okay? So you can relax, nothing's gonna be any different. It'll still be you and me and the wolf same as it ever was, until you get bored of me and go back to Canada to police polar bear fashion or whatever."

Fraser shifted uncomfortably. "How long?"

Now it was Ray's turn. He huffed and put down the pizza, "You're gonna think it's dumb."

"Then I'll think it's dumb. Tell me."

"There was this moment on the pier, right when I opened my eyes, and you were looking like...I don't know, worried I guess, and then you were sort of surprised and happy and embarrassed. I figured that might be it for a long time," he sighed. "But I guess I just really liked that moment, you know? Later I realised it was when you were climbing that hill, drenched from head to foot like the rest of us, getting shot at, only this wasn't for some guy you'd only just met who was pretending to be your partner, this was some weirdo off the street--and the good guys came on over the top like the freaking Chicago cavalry--I don't know why. I got real distracted after that, made a boob of myself. All I could think about was you climbing that hill. Dumb, right?"

Fraser was very quiet for a few seconds. Ray thought they felt like minutes; a couple dozen. He considered opening his mouth and making some stupid comment just to break the ice that was rapidly forming in his chest.

"I don't know, Ray. I think love can be like that."

"Yeah--" he answered, anxiously. "Yeah." He needed to turn attention off himself. "You ever feel like that Fraser? You ever love someone--someone it was real dumb for you to love, like you might, I don't know, mess up a real good thing for it?"

He said it so quickly he couldn't stop himself, and his brain caught up as Fraser's face visibly shuttered in front of him, like all the blinds were going snap snap snap over any hope he had of getting him to open up. Fuck. Victoria. God, he hadn't even been there, hadn't met the woman, but he'd read Vecchio's guilty, clipped police reports, seen one awful looking blurred photograph of her in the file. He hadn't had enough of the details to extrapolate the truth: Vecchio's files had avoided anything that might incriminate either himself or Fraser in her escape, or the murder she committed in the process of escaping, so they'd been sparse. Kowalski had gone to Welsh and said "Hey, so what's this all about?" and he'd been told that Fraser loved her, like really loved her. Like in the Shakespearean tragedy way, where everyone ends up dead at the end but the guy giving the soliloquy.

If he'd wanted proof of it, here it was, Fraser looking stoic and a little bit lost, and all because Ray hadn't thought twice before speaking. What was it about today? He'd managed to hit all of Fraser's buttons, the protective one, and the homesick one, and the rejection one--now here he was hitting the hottest buttons of all: that memory of love and betrayal, and the jarring reminder that he really wasn't Ray Vecchio, that he could live in his house and drive his car and jump in front of bullets for his Mountie, but he'd never really be--

He'd never be his partner? No, that wasn't right, they were definitely partners. But he couldn't help but feel hurt that he couldn't connect with Fraser on this level, when it came to love chewing someone up and spitting them out, Ray was the expert. He knew all about that.

But he hadn't been here, and he couldn't talk about Victoria. He couldn't comfort him like he knew Fraser needed comforting, couldn't connect to him. And it was just him. If the real Ray Vecchio were here, it'd be easy for him. He'd know exactly what to say, drop his arm across Fraser's shoulder and call him some cutesy nickname (he had a cutesy nickname for Fraser in his head because they were closer).

"Hey," he said, and tried to at least run his mouth through his brain filter this time. "Look, Fraser, as far as I can tell it Carver's bringing all these issues between us out in the open. Maybe he doesn't know he's doing it, but I really doubt that. I mean, he meant us to catch that guy, which means he meant us to have to try and jump that train, and maybe he even meant us to get stranded out here too. So we can sit here moping while he makes us spill all our secrets or we can just accept it and move on. And and and you know--know each other better, cause what's the harm in that? It's like when I told you I couldn't swim."

Fraser looked up at him uncertainly.

"When I said I couldn't swim, and and you know, you taught me. Bloom, close, kick-em in the head, right? Well that was a big deal for me, Fraser. I'd never told anyone that before, not even Stella, and I mean we went on honeymoon in the Bahamas so it might have come up."

To his relief, Fraser did the mouth thing subconsciously and ducked his head in a nod.

"Alright, so we agree, learning each other's secrets isn't such a bad thing? Even if creep-o-zoid-a-saurus is the one making us spew 'em?"

"It can't hurt, Ray."

Oh, it hurt. It hurt plenty, but that's why they were called secrets. They weren't things you went around telling other people willy nilly.

"So what if we uh--" This was where it got hard. "What if we agree to do it on our own terms? We don't give him the satisfaction."

"Like quid pro quo?"

"I don't know, is that like Canadian Never Have I Ever?"

"I wouldn't know."

"No, I guess you wouldn't. Uh, you know it's...it's your turn, Frase. I answered your question."

There was another gloomy pause, and Ray wondered whether he should have backed off, but eventually Fraser just went "Mmm" and then he shook his head. "I don't think I can talk about Victoria, Ray."

But he'd said her name, that was a victory in itself. He hadn't said her name in a year, which made him think that Fraser probably hadn't mentioned her since it happened, Ray Vecchio or not.

"Well, whatever you want, buddy. I'm listening, see? Not even a little sleepy." And he grabbed the remote for good measure and turned off the television. "All ears."

For once in his life Fraser seemed to be having a hard time thinking of something to say, which was weird because Fraser never had trouble working out what to say. Filling in spaces with inane conversation was yet another of his many varied abilities. But right now, it seemed, words weren't coming to him. He looked at his hands, and the pizza box, and for one awful second Ray thought he might even start eating again just to keep his mouth busy.

And then he said: "I see dead people."

Which was sort of off topic, as far as Ray was concerned, and also completely loopy because come on, they were being serious here.

"Pull the other one, Fraser. I said secrets, not things you're making up."

"Have you ever known me to lie, Ray? I see dead people--or well, one, usually. And sometimes companions of his."

Ray shifted, suddenly very uncomfortable with this conversation. Sure, Fraser didn't lie, but this was more than kookie--this was positively certifiable. He hoped to God he was the first person that Fraser had ever told about this. If it got out, he'd be paying visits to the crazy house for the rest of his days.

"You're serious?"

"As the grave, Ray."

"And this uh--this ghost..."

"My father." Of course it was his father. Who else, right? It wasn't like Fraser could ever be haunted by some creepy little girl in a white dress like a normal person, it absolutely had to be a dead Mountie.

"Yeah, your father. Who is dead. God, Fraser. You know this all sounds nuts, right?" Fraser sat watching him while he collected himself, and then after a moment he said. "So you talk to him? That's nice. Better than my relationship with my dad."

"I suspect it may be related to my many blows to the head I've had over the years, but I can't say I particularly resent it, Ray. You see, I no longer have any living family, and while he and I have had our differences--"

"It's--it's a comfort thing, right. No, I get it. So he's like uh...do you always see him? Like is he here right now, Fraser, cause I need a warning for that sort of thing. I have a--a ghost phobia. A phobia of ghosts. What do you call that?" Other than 'creeped the fuck out.'

"Phasmophobia."

"Yeah, that." He shivered, looking around again like Robert Fraser was about to materialize out of nowhere.

"I don't see him all the time, Ray. Usually only when he has something useful to tell me, or he wants to opine about past glories. He really is quite insufferable sometimes."

"Oh," said Ray, and then covered quickly with: "So that would be--that's a Fraser family trait then?"

Laughter flashed behind Fraser's eyes, but that was usually as good as he got from a ripping dig like that, so he let it go, ducking his head.

"Alright, so you see ghosts. You know, I don't think that I can beat that, Fraser."

"Well you were abducted by aliens, Ray, there's a story in that somewhere."

"Only if they come back for me some day. Come on, Fraser. I'm a normal, everyday sort of guy. I mean apart from the stuff we've already covered. There's nothing I know about me that you don't, no secrets, nothing."

Fraser chewed on his bottom lip briefly, then raised his chin and said: "How about your feelings for Ray Vecchio?"

Ray Vecchio. Well there was a subject he wasn't touching with a ten foot barge pole.

"I dance," he snapped, a little too sharply.

"I know that you dance, Ray." Fraser was cautious. He'd touched a nerve.

"Yeah, well. I dance by myself. I dance when nobody else is looking, like there's someone there beside me, and I can picture it so clearly in my head, you know. Another body against my own in the dark. No dirty business, just dancing."

"I see," Fraser said, seriously, in a voice that said he really didn't understand.

Ray chewed his lip for a moment. This wasn't working out how he wanted it to, but if it saved him from talking about how he really felt where Ray Vecchio was concerned then so be it. He didn't want to discuss that. Ever.

"I guess the secret isn't really the dancing, it's--it's--"

"How lonely you feel."

Ray swallowed, meeting Fraser's eyes.

"I understand loneliness, Ray. I lived in a remote village of less than two dozen people and I felt less lonely there than I do here, among millions. I feel as though happiness is a perpetual state of near-misses, just outside of my reach."

Wow, that was deep. And really, really sad. "God, Fraser. I--I didn't know."

"Yes you did, Ray. Loneliness recognizes loneliness. And you've been my companion. You were here when I thought I might give up Chicago for good. You made it worth it."

Those words made him feel like his chest was about to burst, but his mind chased them up with a desire to kiss Fraser on the mouth, and then quickly it jerked back to the kiss from before, the obligation, the choking of his own guilt. He regretted even thinking about it.

"Hey," he said, after he'd finished inspecting his hands, twirling his bracelet awkwardly. "So uh--we probably have a long day tomorrow, huh?" Talking about feelings. Gross. They complicated everything.

Fraser seemed to recognize that, at least. He leant across and brushed his hand across the back of Ray's, a tentative and friendly gesture, though it made Ray's heart race even in its simplicity. If he tried, he could pretend there was something more there than the bonds of their partnership. He could make himself forget and fold himself into Fraser, accept his benediction as though it were something more, but he'd be repulsed by himself in the morning. This was his own cross to bear, and Fraser wasn't into it--no more than he was willing to offer himself up for Ray's sake, like some sacrificial lamb to the slaughter. If he were anyone else, any more selfish, any less terrified of losing everything...

"You don't have to sleep in the chair, Ray. I'm comfortable anywhere."

That wasn't going to happen, Ray already felt bad enough as it was, he had to make it up to Fraser somehow.

"Nah, I'm good. Besides, the amount of abuse your back takes you oughta get at least one night on a real mattress a year."

Fraser seemed like he might argue the point. Something about how his extra-cutaneous layer of fat protected him from hardboard and astroturf motel carpet. Instead he ducked his face uncertainly, not looking at Ray as he said: "I don't mind sharing."

He should turn that down, Ray thought instantly. Say no, thanks but no thanks, not a good idea. Then again the idea of sleeping in the chair after the day he'd had, the long walk to the motel, was positively unpleasant. It gave him aches just thinking about it. He could catch a little sleep beside Fraser without making a big deal out of it, and maybe that would put to rest this idea that he needed some sort of reciprocation from him. He didn't. He could work through his physical attraction to people without pawing at them, his working relationship with Stella proved that.

And okay, he wouldn't say no to a little pawing...

"Sure," he said. "Sure, it's no big deal. We could do that. I can do that." It's no big deal. Like Fraser would believe a word of it now. He moved over to the right side of the bed, dropped his head on the pillow, and Fraser glanced at him.

"You're certain?"

"What?"

No reply. Ray shifted uncertainly. His head was down and he was staring resolutely up at the ceiling, but now he could feel Fraser's eyes boring holes in the side of his head.

"I usually sleep like this, Fraser."

On top of the blankets with all his clothes on, his back like a steel girder.

But Fraser kept on staring at him, and after several unbearable minutes of that Ray sat up, pulled off his shoes, yanked his shirt off over his head, and stubbornly stuffed himself under the blankets, jeans, socks and all. "You happy?"

Fraser wisely didn't reply to that either, but a moment later he was stripping too, pulling off his jacket and shirt, and the movement and skin made Ray look over despite himself, a gesture he immediately regretted.

He was beautiful; milk white skin, pale, hard nipples. There was that layer of promised fat, yes, but it was thin and even, following contours of muscle, fleshing out bone. Fraser revealing himself like this wasn't normal, but then they were fifty miles out Chicago, fifty miles from the nearest RCMP issue fleece onesie. With his shirt off, Fraser turned away from him to take off his shoes, and Ray watched as his long back stretched out across his spine and ribs. There were bruises there from the day's activities, a raw red scratch that Ray thought was probably from the ragged gap where the wheel column had been pulled out of the Riviera, and the long slender length of him disappeared in an inviting sweep into the back of his jeans, but most notable were none of these things.

Most notable was the deeply unpleasant looking scar low on Fraser's back. The bullet hadn't gone in far before it hit bone, but it was there, too dangerous to pull out, now protected by a thick layer of scar tissue that was raised away from the rest of the skin there. It was round, but Ray was surprised by just how close it was. Maybe horrified was a better word for it. Still, if it had been an inch to the right Fraser would be dead; the bullet would have ripped out through the other side and he'd have bled to death long before he made City Hospital.

He touched it before he could stop himself, questing fingertips sliding across the old wound--not old enough. Even now it was still raw red around the edges, like it hadn't decided if it was fully healed yet. Maybe it would flatten out in a few years, be less hot to the touch.

Fraser had fallen very still. He was barely even breathing, but Ray only noticed it anecdotally, rather than objectively. He wasn't breathing either. He mapped it with his fingertips, and then he said:

"Can you feel that?" He'd forgotten all about how uncomfortable this situation was, or the fact that Fraser was going to sleep next to him.

Slowly he watched as Fraser inhaled, and said: "It tickles."

Okay, so tickles wasn't the description he was expecting. In fact he hadn't even been aware the word existed in Fraser's dictionary. "Seriously?"

"And itches," Fraser added, as though that redeemed him somehow. But he still hadn't moved.

Ray took the hint. He pulled his hand back and moved back onto his side of the bed, and a moment later Fraser was pulling the blankets up across his own chest, his arms over the top of them, and he was looking at Ray again from a pillow away.

"Sorry, I er--"

"You were only curious."

"Shooting a guy in the back."

"It was an accident, Ray."

"Sure. Sure, an accident. You just accidentally shoot your best buddy in the back." Ray was feeling disingenuous toward the real Ray Vecchio right now. After seeing that scar, seeing how close Fraser had come to paraplegia or death, it was a positive miracle if he didn't march on Vegas with an army. "I don't like it, Fraser."

"You don't have to like it, Ray. The truth is, if I hadn't been trying to jump the train, I wouldn't have stepped into the path of Ray's bullet. The fault is entirely my own."

Ray had to wonder if he'd ever told Vecchio that. "You uh--you were trying to jump the train? That's dedication there, Fraser."

He poured admiration into it, which was why when Fraser shuttered up again, blanking like Welsh did if you said 'damage expenses', Ray was left to scowl at the back of his head, then, with a huff, he sank down onto his back. Talking about Victoria was going to be like this the whole time, wasn't it? How was he ever going to get the full story out of Fraser if he kept clamming up?

But Fraser wasn't totally clammed. They lay in silence until Ray was almost certain his partner had fallen asleep the second he'd turned away, and then Fraser said, quite clearly: "I was going with her."

*****

After that admission, sleep hadn't come easily for either of them. Ray kept going over what little he could remember of the Victoria case trying to eek out more clues about Fraser's relationship with her. Why would he risk everything like that? He'd have been written off as an accomplice, a criminal. Vecchio would have been lucky to stay in policing as a desk clerk, but more likely he'd have been dishonorably discharged and spent the next two decades (if he was lucky and didn't get shot dead) scraping up enough to retire as a rent-a-cop. The Vecchios would have lost their house, lost everything, and Fraser's reputation - what was left of it - would have evaporated in a heartbeat. Both of them. Involved in dirty money. And to think, he always seemed like such a stand up guy.

If Fraser would do that, willingly try and run away with a woman who would happily destroy his friends just to take him down, then what sort of guy was he? What sort of friend? Ray had raised him onto a pedestal, but this...this cast him in an entirely new light. Was it love that had ruined him like that? Or was it Victoria and just Victoria? She was manipulative enough, and Fraser...god, Fraser was malleable enough. Honestly some days, like with Warfield, it seemed like he needed protecting from himself.

The number on the digital readout under the television was reading 11.58 the last time he looked, and then the dreams came, dreams of Fraser standing on a bridge shouting "Victoria" and a train racing by underneath. As he leapt, Ray lined up and shot him, and he knew by the way he was lying prone on the roof of the train as it raced away that he was dead.

Dreams of a slow, languid kiss, a mouth that tasted of camomile and pemmican and dried fruit, a strong hand curling in the hair at the back of his neck, another sliding between his legs. He woke to find Fraser lying there with that impossible smirk on his face, beating him off, but that turned out to be a dream too, and when he stirred the clock was reading 6.13, and Fraser was asleep in his own space, his face serene, flat on his back like a cartoon soldier.

Ray wasn't used to waking up quite this early, but since the alternative was wriggling out of bed with a hard on after Fraser woke up, he decided to get it over with, shifting sidewards and then padding in his socks over to the bathroom door. By the time he was through with his very cold shower, and a little more awake thanks to it, Fraser was up and about in the other room. He'd brought in coffee from the dispenser outside, and he glanced up as Ray was drying his hair to smile apologetically at him.

"I borrowed some quarters from your wallet, I hope you don't mind."

"Sure, Fraser. You can take all the quarter you like."

"Oh." And the Mountie brightened, though it was too early for Ray to know quite why. "That's very funny, Ray."

He closed his eyes, eyebrows raised, and rolled them open again to look at him, trying to put across confusion and disbelief, but to no avail. So he was funny this morning. That was better than awkward.

"What are we doing today, Fraser?"

"Well first, Ray, we should drive into the city. I called in to the precinct to ask about the man we arrested yesterday, and they think the FBI will be in before lunch to take him and the three million we confiscated into their custody."

"Sure," Ray groused. "That much money, and the guy's made, managed to escape jail, they're gonna want to bend him over on something." His detective mind was starting to wake up, and sure enough dealing with shitty law enforcement democracy was stronger than any ground beans.

"So we will have to speak with him before he's moved, complicated by the fact that he's already requested a lawyer. However, there seems to be some sort of delay in that respect, something about the attorney being directed to the wrong district--I can't imagine how that happened."

Fraser was good at this when he wanted to be. Ray grinned, picking up his cup of coffee and sipping it. He'd drink Fraser's too before he was ready to go, since Fraser never seemed to drink anything that came out of a machine.

"So we uh--where're we gonna get a car, Fraser?"

"I've already seen to that, Ray. There's a Rent-a-Wreck two kilometers southwest of here, and the owner has kindly seen fit to lend us something appropriate."

"Fraser, I'm not driving another Buick. I am done with Buicks, now and forever. I get in them a-and they blow up, even when they're not meant to. I can't take the emotional--the uh--trauma."

There was a horn blare from outside. Ray, with trepidation, crept over to the window. It was black, good start, and Ray recognized the front end instantly, a Chrysler. TC model, 1989, soft top, heated leather seats, cruise control. He shot a glance at Fraser, then smirked, shaking his head.

"I guess I could drive that."

He forgot all about the second cup of coffee, grabbed his wallet and keys, pulled his shirt on and went out to look the car all over greedily while Fraser closed up. He was rubbing his hands all over the leather ribbing on the steering wheel, bright eyed, when Fraser popped open the back door to let Diefenbaker in, and finally climbed into the low front seat beside him.

"I feel like I'm eighteen again, Fraser."

"If I'm not mistaken, Ray, this model of car wasn't on the road when you were eighteen."

"Sure. Sure, but I mean. Alright--watch this, tell me you don't get it." He reached up, popping the catch on the ceiling above his head and hitting the button. The roof recoiled with a grinding metallic noise and the rumple of aging cloth, and Ray held the button for a few more seconds after it had finished, then raised his hands as though to say "Tada!"

"I still don't get it."

Diefenbaker got it. In the back of the car he was sitting up high in the seat taking note of his surroundings, like he couldn't believe what had just happened. Ray rolled his eyes, then took the car out of park, and as they pulled onto the road, the air ruffling Diefenbaker's fur in the back, Fraser finally seemed to understand. He made that little "Ah" noise, anyway, which sounded like understanding.

And okay, it was really cold. It wasn't much closer to seven, and this was Illinois not Florida, and Ray's hair was still damp from the shower, but it was worth his ears freezing just to see Fraser trying to hide a smile, though, looking for once like he genuinely enjoyed being on four wheels.

They drove with the top down all the way back into Chicago, even though the closer they got to the 2-7 the worse the streets smelled, but the three of them were enjoying the ride so much that he didn't want to stop to put the roof back up. Once they got near the station he parked up in a paid and camera overlooked hotel car park, and they walked the last block in the early morning sunlight. Sure, it cut down on their time with the suspect, but the alternative was Carver bugging their car, and as Ray had pointed out the guy gave him the heebies enough as it was.

Besides, he couldn't be allowed to blow up the Chrysler.

*****

Ray had only really looked at this guy after they'd finished shooting up the train carriage and pinned him down. It wasn't his fault he'd been distracted by that lovely Texan woman, and honestly, frankly, if it had been any other day he would have been all over that. She'd given him her number, though, and told him to call her if he ever changed his mind about being gay. What was funny was that, in a way, Fraser had come between him and getting laid again, albeit in an entirely different way, and if Ray had played his cards right he really could have slunk off to bathroom with her. He'd never done it on a train before, so whatever, it'd have been another thing off his bucket list.

It was just that it wasn't what he wanted. It was enough not what he wanted that his daydreams about it featured not her beautiful plump lips, slaked with no. 6 red lip gloss, but Fraser's, hard and straight and firm, sucking him like a summer storm sucked moisture out of the air.

So he hadn't paid attention to the slippery looking guy with the really ugly mustache, or the guy opposite him with the hairpiece and the shifty mismatched eyes, which was dumb, because both of them should have set off his creeper bad guy vibes. In the end it had been Mustache who had swung up his gun, but Fraser had already pegged him from the get go and was ready to step in. Lucky. If not for Fraser, Ray's flirting would have gotten him killed.

Now Mustache was sitting opposite him looking like one of the old guard Italian mafioso, the ones they'd near swept the deck of when the regime had changed in New York, long before he'd been born. Ray had seen pictures in browned newspaper clippings of guys like this, albeit better groomed. Mustache's mustache was untidy, and his hair was slippery gross with way too much gel. You spike it up, guy, like this! Except his own hair was flat today. Very flat, on account of he'd slept in a motel. You'd think after all the times Fraser had made him jump into Lake Michigan he'd have started carrying hair gel on his person.

He was just done telling Mustache all about it when Fraser interceded.

"Look, I realize that you're under no obligation to speak to us until your lawyer is present, and that's fine. Actually, we have no interest in the money, or your escape from jail, or indeed in the matter of whether or not you were truly involved in the crime for which you were indicted. Our only concern, Mr. Fucci, is in reapprehending Charles Carver before he hurts any of the people we care about."

"Good, honest, Italian people," Ray added, jerking up out of his seat. "Hey, Francesca." He stood up, taking the tray off her and setting it down on the table in front of them, then lifted one of the cups of coffee off it, handing it over to Mustache. "Like my sister here."

"She's your sister?" They were the first words Fucci had said.

"Yeah--yeah, Frannie Vecchio. She got all the looks, but man, I got all the luck. Two sisters. You know what a job I got fighting guys off them?"

"Stow it, Raymondo. I never needed you protecting me from creeps like Zucko in the first place." And she was gone, her lines all said, giving Mustache a flirty little smile and shoulder touch on the way out. Good girl.

They let him stew in silence for a few moments, and then Fraser stepped around the back of the chair. "Come on, Ray. If the FBI find us in here they'll have your badge."

Which was the final raise. It was the "I'm risking everything to catch this guy" raise, and Ray hunkered down in his chair.

"You go," he said. "Guy tried to blow me to pieces, I'll take my chances in here."

Fraser sighed elaborately, then stepped out, pulling the door shut behind him. Ray gave him a few seconds to get into the other room, where he could watch through the mirror from beside Francesca, and then scrubbed his hands back through his hair. He stood up, paced to the door, then to the far corner, and leant against it, arms folded defensively.

"I hate when the Feds come in here. They don't give a shit what's happening to people, real people; it's all about the bigger picture. Of course we get fucked, the cops, but that's nothing. I don't care about me." He raised his chin, scratching his neck. "They'll whisk you off and cut you a deal so in five years time you can step in and say your piece at some flashy RICO, meanwhile my Ma keeps living in a crappy neighborhood, and that shithead Carver..."

Now was time for the silence. Ticking, tocking silence. Leave him on 'Carver', Fraser had said. Let the name resonate. This is only about Carver, and when he realises that he won't mind. Carver had put them on that train, cut off his flight to freedom, and he had every reason to want to set the cops on him.

"Listen, I tell you this, it wasn't me. And you tell the Feds I said nothing."

Fucci was talking. Ray didn't move, he just narrowed his eyes, and when Mustache looked a little more urging, he nodded.

"Cause if Langoustini finds out I talked to the cops - any cops - I'm dead. Dead dead dead. I ain't going out like that over a freak like Carver."

Ray nodded again. He came closer, leant over the table as though it was conspiracy. He had no idea who Langoustini was, and right now he didn't care. He wanted Carver. Fucci looked shifty still, and deathly afraid.

"We get out of jail and we have to hole up, hide for a while. So we--so we stay at this warehouse. Um. It was full of crates of imported toys, and Carver kept taking them to pieces. You know, walkie talkies and dolls and remote control cars. Drove the rest of us crazy. Anyway, that's all I can give you. The address of this place. Maybe he's still there."

*****

Fraser was very quiet in the car. Ray didn't want to guess at why, because maybe all this talk about Victoria and Vecchio had made him miss his partner. If that was the case, he just didn't want to get into it. He was jealous of Vecchio, had been for a long time, and not because he drove around in his green Riviera with a Mountie and a wolf, not just because he went home to his family every night. Sure, maybe it was grass is always greener stuff getting the better of him; Vecchio's life was sort of enviable, it seemed like he could get away with anything, and he was surrounded by people who loved him. Maybe it was just about Fraser. He'd been Vecchio's first, and all Ray Kowalski was was a stand in. Hah, a Stan(d) in.

Still, it made him fidget, the silence, and even though he took them into a drive-thru to get breakfast, Fraser still didn't really brighten up. So he ate in silence, then chewed his lip and fidgeted a bit more, and then said:

"Hey, Fraser?"

No answer.

"I gotta tell you, I'm wondering who this Long Gusty guy is to have that wise guy all freaked out like that." He deliberately garbled the Italian as though he didn't know it, hoping Fraser would correct him.

Instead Fraser said: "Mmm? Oh yes, Ray, I'm sure he is."

He shifted uncomfortably. Was this going to be another one of those moments where it seemed like they were having different conversations? Wait. Was this a ghost thing?"

"Fraser. Hey Fraser. If there's a ghost in the car I'm gonna crash it. I can--I can feel all the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end..."

"Ray, Ray, Ray..."

"I swear to God, Fraser, I will crash this car."

"Ray."

He jerked on the steering wheel, and Diefenbaker fell over in the back.

"Ray, there's no ghost."

Okay, so he was panting, relaxing little by little. No ghost no ghost. No ghosts of dead Mounties in this car.

"Oh," Fraser said. "You'd better pull over."

They pulled over. Ray sat very tensely in the front seat, watching Fraser, who was now looking into the back at something that Ray - looking in the mirror - could quite clearly see wasn't there.

"Yes," Fraser said, to nothing in particular. "Well quite frankly, Dad, given my performance last night he's probably already come to that conclusion. I hardly think anything I do will exacerbate matters at this juncture."

Okay, so what the hell did that mean? "Hey, Fraser? You're gonna have to uh--fill me in on this."

"You're intolerable." Fraser snapped, again at midair, and then he flinched, looking at Ray apologetically. "He thinks you'll question my sanity."

"Sure," Ray said, blandly. "Cause that's new."

Fraser hesitated, and Ray thought he was on the verge of smiling at him, but then his partner was looking into the back seat again. Bob Fraser clearly agitated Fraser in a way that few people could. It was fascinating to watch him like this, animated and emotional, letting all his defenses down.

"He is not going to 'drive me to the nut house'." Fraser snapped. "He's my partner. I would have thought that you of all people would understand what that means."

Honestly, Ray had considered turning around and doing just that, but what was a day with Fraser if it wasn't filled with eccentricities? Fraser was right, they were partners, and that meant he gave him a little more freedom to act crazy than he'd put up with from anyone else.

Fraser was breathing a little unsteadily when he turned back to face the front of the car again.

"That was a short visit," Ray ventured.

"He doesn't usually stay for long. Honestly, Ray, I'm sorry you had to see that."

Ray shook his head, pulling carefully back out into the carriageway. "It's nothing I haven't seen before. So uh...why were you quiet before? What were you thinking about?"

Fraser blinked, like he didn't understand the question, and then he gave the road a faraway look. For a moment, Ray was worried that he might start blanking him again.

"Fucci said that Carver was taking apart electronic toys. Remote controls, two way radios. He was building electronic devices from the parts with which to engage us."

"Sure. Sure, that makes sense. So what's the big deal?"

"Oh, it's nothing. I'm sure it's nothing."

"Fraser, I hate it when you say that. Cause when you say it's nothing it's always actually something. Like I don't know, something will blow up or try and kill us or fall out the sky that shouldn't fall out of the sky. Your sort of nothing is bad luck."

Fraser was looking at his hands. Ray kept driving, pulling left along the lakefront where the warehouses fought for room beside stacks of crates.

"I simply can't help but think that this is probably a trap."

"Well why didn't you say so, Fraser?" Ray said, dryly, dripping sarcasm. "We'll just turn around and get a SWAT team to come and check out this illegally gained tip in case it's another trap where Carver tries to kill us. No point in risking our necks when we know it might be a trap."

"If it helps, Ray, I believe Carver has no intention of killing us."

"So he keeps blowing up our cars for show, then?"

Unexpectedly Fraser said "Yes."

Ray pulled the car up on the concrete loading dock, put it into park and put up the roof. "So... What--why would he do that?"

"Warfield. Warfield let Carver in on the break out in exchange for his making attempts on our lives. Carver has motive, in the loosest sense, and would draw attention away from the other escapees. Warfield would get what he wanted: revenge on us and the Chicago police department, and Carver would get his freedom."

"So why doesn't he just do that? Blow us to bits, get it over with?"

"Because that isn't Carver's modus operandi. He sought revenge upon Ray, but noone was hurt; the only thing he wanted was justice, a fair game. He hadn't left behind the heel of the shoe that was used to convict him, and so he set out to undo that wrong. We caught him fair and square, by no method that Carver himself wasn't practicing, and I believe in some way he respected us for that."

"So he doesn't want to kill us?"

"No, Ray, but he is curious about you. I believe he's trying to find out what kind of man you are."

"Yeah, well, I think he knows way too much about what kind of man I am, Fraser."

"Intriguing, isn't it? I wonder who his sources are."

Ray scowled. He didn't find it intriguing. He found it creepy. And this guy was still making them run around playing his games, blowing up his cars. What did he want? What happened if he got his paws on the GTO?

"I wouldn't be surprised if the next clue led us to the other escapee," Fraser said at last. "Carver is trying to draw attention away from himself."

Fraser was trying to get him to ask questions, so Ray bit. "Why?"

"Why else?" Fraser asked. "He wants to stay free."

*****

"So what do you think, Fraser? Langoustini?"

They were inside the warehouse now. It was stacked high in every direction with crates and crates of toys. For some reason Ray had expected that to be cooler than it was, but in fact it looked just the same as any other warehouse full of crates. Boxes towered in every direction, turning the floor of the warehouse into a maze of wooden walls behind which the entire cast of Gandhi could hide with guns and nobody would ever know.

"I'm not sure who he is matters, Ray."

"Well yeah, Fraser, but you have to wonder, who could freak out a guy like that more than Warfield? I've never even heard of Langoustini."

"Ray," Fraser admonished. He was trying to do the listening thing.

It was just that the listening thing made Ray nervous, and when he was nervous he had to talk. The more nervous, the more talking, unless he was also swallowing huge mouthfuls of water: then, who knew?

"I'm just saying, the only guys bigger and badder than Warfield are in New York and Vegas. If Fucci was taking money to this Langoustini and it doesn't show up, people are gonna wonder where it went."

"His arrest is a matter of public record, Ray."

"Is it? This is the FBI we're talking about."

"If you're implying that they'd destroy the evidence of our arresting Mr. Fucci for the sake of inciting some response from Las Vegas--"

"That's exactly what I'm saying, Fraser. I'm saying the FBI might try and start a mob war just to see what they can shake to the surface. They wouldn't care they were putting Chicago in the middle of it, putting us, all us cops into the line of fire. That's what they do. They come, they seize, they fuck everything up and then they're gone again leaving you to pick up the pieces."

Fraser was quiet again, and Ray let him be, dwelling a little on his gloomy thoughts. Maybe if he retired right now. He didn't want to police an interstate mob war.

But Fraser wasn't quiet because he was thinking about how he was wrong. He was investigating something, and after a moment he crouched down, and Ray inched closer. There was a thin wire pulled across the path ahead of them.

"Explosives?"

"Perhaps."

Ray was tired of explosives. Fraser was following the wire. He disappeared around the edge of the next box, then reemerged, crouching next to the wire and reaching out for it. He was tugging it before Ray could even raise the alarm--which was dumb, because Fraser wasn't going to be deliberately pulling on trip wires if it meant they'd get blown up.

The moment the wire was pulled, Carver's voice spoke from around the next corner.

"Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Pursuing the killers of your father, you found yourself in Chicago, an alien world, a wilderness into which you simply didn't fit. Made liaison to the Chicago Police Department, you were assigned an American partner, Detective First Class Raymond Vecchio. First class, oh yes. Insightful, intelligent. Perhaps a little slow. But oh so easy to lead on."

There was a click. Ray flinched, but it only indicated that Carver had stopped talking. He shot a glance at Fraser.

"I believe this is the part of his plan where he expounds on his superior intelligence. Flemming used the device in his writing when he needed to expedite the process of saving the day."

"James Bond? You're--you're talking about Bond?" He knew all about Bond. So he scowled at the floor for a second longer, trying to make Fraser's Canadian words make sense. Expound and device and expedite. "You're saying it's his 'This is my Evil Plan' speech?"

"I suppose you could call it that, Ray, yes."

"Well why didn't you just say so, Fraser? So is that it?"

"No. Over here, you see?"

Fraser set off another tripwire. Again Carver's voice rang out clearly, enunciated, creepy: "He played me at my own game. I liked that. You see it's no real test of your own intelligence if you find yourself pitted only against the slow and the dull witted. I was ready for Canada's finest, of course, but I underestimated Detective Vecchio; he was more than capable. I was hoping very dearly to see him again, to renew our little game. Have you figured it out yet?"

Yes, Ray thought, they had figured it out. Or Fraser had. Right? They'd sussed out Carver's little plan? He looked hopefully at his partner, but kept his head down, staying quiet as he followed him through the maze of boxes.

"I thought at first," Carver continued, "That I would turn you both to the purpose of finding Detective Vecchio for me; it's quite clear you aren't in contact, which suggests he is deep undercover in some dangerous and perhaps life threatening escapade." Carver said 'escapade' with an AHH in the middle, and it set Ray's teeth on edge. "They say a picture can paint a thousand words, and that its interpretation none the less depends on the observer. I was quite moved by your perspective, Detective."

Ray stopped walking, understanding at once. Ahead of him Fraser glanced back over his shoulder, stopped for a beat, and knitted his eyebrows together before putting his head down and looking for the next wire.

"We must all select our partners very carefully, Detective Kowalski, as on occasion we all may find ourselves getting into bed with the wrong man. I am in just such a predicament myself, as you've perhaps already established. You must also realize by now that not only have you so efficiently garnered this gentleman's ire, but I am fast on the road to doing the same. I am no-one's errand boy."

Kowalski. He'd called him Kowalski. How had he found that out? What if Warfield knew? Ray hurried to catch up with Fraser.

"He really likes the sound of his own voice, huh?"

"It would seem so."

"But uh, uh, I'm lost, Fraser. Because I'm hearing all the words, but they're not in English or something. What's with that?"

"Mr. Carver means to tell us that he is uncomfortable with the way his business relationship with Mr. Warfield has evolved. If I'm not mistaken, he means to offer us some kind of exchange."

"Vecchio?"

"No, Ray. Shh, do you hear that?"

He strained to listen, but "You know I don't have your ears."

"It's coming from that way."

Fraser led the way through the boxes into a clearing. There were no more trip wires, but there was a man in a chair, gagged and tied up with long strands of coiled phone receiver wire like he was the victim of a bad game of domestic bondage. He wore an earpiece headset, and had an Etch-a-Sketch on his lap with the words "I am a mobster" written on it.

Ray stood, scowling, as Fraser went to take the headset, bringing it to his own ear and turning in a small circle, his eyes scanning the distance. Of course, short wave radio. The messages in the maze had been prerecorded, but this was a kid's toy. Carver had to be within range. The foreman's office, suspended above the warehouse floor, probably, and Ray's muscles tensed ready for pursuit. Suddenly Fraser's eyes snapped back to him, and he said "Ray" in that way that meant that he was really sorry, but they were going to have to do something stupid, like let the perp go or jump out of an airplane. He handed over the headset.

Sourly, fearing the worst, Ray put it to his ear, then circled again on the spot because there was a weird noise - a weird whirring noise - and a toy monster truck suddenly wheeled into the clearing. It was quite clearly armed with C4.

"Oh," he said. "That's not good."

"Hello Detective Kowalski," Carver said into his ear.

"Hello scumbag," said Stanley Kowalski. "You changed your mind about turning yourself in?"

"Not at all. Actually I was rather hoping to give you a new acquaintance of mine in my stead; Warfield. I believe you know each other."

"Uh huh, that we do. But we don't have anything on him even if you did. Nothing that can put him away. You gonna give us that too? Out of the kindness of your heart?"

"Oh no, no, no. No, not at all. It will be an exchange of services, as it were."

"Yeah, I bet. We let you get away--"

"And I don't blow you to pieces. You've seen what that kind of explosion can do to a car, now imagine--" The little toy truck rolled another three foot closer to Ray's feet, and he took a wobbly step back. "--What it could do to you."

"Yeah, point taken. But if that's all this was about, you'd be out of here already. Why hang around? What do you want?"

"Footage."

Ray looked around for a video camera. Sure enough hidden between two crates was just such a device, its little red light indicating that it was recording. He shot a glance at Fraser irritably, as though to put across just how much he hated this Carver guy, and how it was all his partner's fault.

"Of what? Cause I gotta warn you I'm not into that Mickey Mouse Club crap. I'm uh-uh--what do you call it when you can't carry a tune, Fraser?"

"Tonedeaf."

"Yeah, that. And I'm not wearing my dancing shoes either. So you're out of luck, pal."

There was silence on the other end of the phone but he could just tell that Carver was laughing at him. At both of them. Whatever he said next--that would be the thing.

"I'd like you to kiss Constable Fraser."

"Oh," Ray said, and swallowed very hard, not breaking his gaze with Fraser even though he very much wanted to. Why did Fraser have to look so knowing? "You uh... You know that's kinda creepy, right? You get off to that?"

"Are you saying you won't do it?"

Ray worked his mouth anxiously. "I didn't say that. I just... It complicates... I don't know."

"I suggest you get used to the idea, Detective. If you want Warfield, then we'll be making a similar exchange in the near future. Consider this the equivalent of putting down a deposit. This way you get the Mountie, and you put away the man who would have him killed; the alternative I'm afraid is a fiery death."

"Fiery death," Ray repeated. "Right." He stared at his feet for a second. "But I still don't get it. What do you get out of it?"

"I imagine you'll find out. Carry on."

"For how long? Hello? Hello?"

Ray stayed tense, glanced between the toy car and Fraser, and then raised his hand to rub at the back of his neck. "This is probably bullshit, Fraser, but..."

"I know. I heard."

"Seriously?"

"Well, I surmised. I heard one side of the conversation, I can see the explosives, the camera. It seems quite obvious what he wants from us."

Fraser had come closer, though Ray was frozen to the spot. He half wanted the explosives to go up just because if they did it might save him from having to do this. The gagged mobster was shouting into his mouth, probably asking if they'd noticed the bomb at all, but Ray wasn't paying him any attention. His eyes were on Fraser's mouth.

"But this is weird, right? I mean. Who sets all this up just to get two guys to make out?" He wanted Fraser to tell him that they didn't have to do it, but instead his partner slid his hands onto his hips, and Ray shivered, his eyes still downturned, crossing as they focused on Fraser's mouth. Fraser licked his teeth, tongue peeking out briefly, and Ray felt himself tense up under Fraser's hands. This was wrong. Why couldn't Fraser just slap him or something? Why did he have to be so damn nice about it, like this wasn't such a big deal?

Once again, it was Fraser who initiated the kiss, who closed the small gap upward and let his soft, pliable mouth slide against Ray's. This time it didn't immediately evolve into a kiss to the death, nor did all of Ray's thoughts evaporate at the sensation. It was a gentle invitation, but not to fiery battle, and Fraser's mouth was only half open when Ray tilted himself up into it, such that he had to ask for more, slipping his tongue past those embracing defenses. He was allowed to slowly explore, making his way at his own pace, slipping his tongue against Fraser's, tasting all the corners of his mouth, and then he was gasping in his first breath in a minute, and Fraser began to reciprocate, pressing his own advantage, exploring past the welcome of Ray's own lips, tangling their tongues together.

He tried not to moan - he was still distantly aware that they were being watched and recorded - but Fraser's hands had slipped under the edge of his shirt, and the pads of his fingers were warm, the hot heart-faces of his palms flattening against his ribs. He exhaled the moan into Fraser's mouth, reached up and grabbed hold of the lapels of his jacket - leather jacket - and pulled the other man a little harder against him, taking the prerogative again, driving his tongue down into Fraser's mouth, withdrawing, thrusting again, doing it until his partner actually whimpered underneath him. Fraser's hands stopped being soft. Instead they clawed at the wings of his back, left scratches behind with blunt nails that made Ray hiss, and in that brief distraction the Mountie took advantage, sucking down on his tongue with the kind of power that would make a Hoover jealous, all fierce suction partnered with incredible physical strength. While Ray was still gasping from that, Fraser bit down on his bottom lip, then shoved his tongue so deeply down Ray's throat he felt he might choke on it. His knees buckled; this wasn't a kiss, it was a competition, and what kind of contest did Fraser enter that he couldn't possibly win. Gurning, maybe?

Ray was leaning into him helplessly, his hands wrapping around the back of Fraser's neck now, holding him close as he tried to slow the kiss down. Unconsciously his hips had started rolling against Fraser's, trying to seek some satisfaction from the fraught, sexual energy that was pouring from the both of them--and oh God, Fraser's were rolling back. Fraser was pressing something back against him, and they both knew it wasn't a gun because Fraser never freaking carried one.

That was what stopped him in the end, panting, his chest about to break from the thumping of his heartbeat against his ribs, like it could go for a few rounds with Mohammed Ali all on its own. Fraser was hard, and pouring more into this kiss than any 'oh we have to kiss for the creeper so he doesn't blow us up' ever deserved. Ray wasn't giving his feelings away, Fraser was, maybe even had been from the moment he'd climbed into the car with him back in the scrapyard. God, Carver was good.

And Ray--Ray had rejected him last night. He'd thought Fraser wanted to do this out of some kind of...pity, when really Fraser hadn't known how to do this any other way. He'd kissed him because he wanted it, and no wonder he'd been in such a downtrodden mood for so long after that. He'd tried to show Ray how he felt.

There was no mistaking it this time.

Even as they broke apart, Ray didn't actually try to lift his mouth from Fraser's. For one thing he was afraid that if he did, Carver would change his mind and blow them up anyway. For another the lingering kisses were just as nice, picking up for a few seconds between efforts to catch their breath, or look at each other, and a few thrilling moments where Fraser dropped his hands to Ray's hips and just pulled them closer. Through his jeans there really was no hiding that erection, and Ray had much the same problem. It was getting more painful by the second.

At last he turned his face away, and Fraser assaulted his ear with his mouth as he tried to form words, blinking down at the disgusted looking mobster who was now sitting quietly and not looking at them.

"We uh--nn-fuck, Fraser."

There was a soft noise of assent, but no help from Fraser. It was like Ray had granted him secret permission--so secret he hadn't even known when he'd done it.

"Fraser--mmnot good at multi...tasking. Pay attention."

Fraser stopped sucking on his ear lobe, but didn't lift his head away from Ray's neck.

"Case," Ray said, breathlessly. He could hear arousal in his own voice, he didn't know how Fraser could stand it. "We're on a case. And don't get me wrong we can do more of this later. I want to do lots more of this later, Fraser. But--uh..." He groaned again, because Fraser's pause had turned into him licking his neck in long laps, working up from his clavicle to his jaw. "Oh yeah." One of his hands pulled up into Fraser's hair, dug in through the thick brown curls. He dug his chin down toward his chest and found Fraser's mouth again, and he was halfway into the second half a minute before he stopped himself, wrenching back, though still not quite able to get out of Fraser's arms, even if he got his partner's nose away from his throat.

"Enough! You're gonna kill me, Fraser." He managed to get his hand flat on Fraser's chest, even if what he really wanted was to drag the other man closer all over again. It didn't help that Fraser was looking at him the same way Diefenbaker looked at pizza. He reckoned he might really like that look, and that mouth, and Fraser's clear oral fixation--one that nakedly rivaled his own.

"Do you really think that's enough, Ray?" Fraser asked. He actually sounded almost petulant.

"Fraser, let me put it this way: Carver asked for a snog. If we carry on any more he's going to get a sex tape, and I don't know about you, buddy, but if I'm gonna film myself doing it it's not going to be for his viewing pleasure or anyone else's."

Fraser licked his lips, looked over at the camera then back at Ray, and finally slid his hands free. A moment later he had his knife out and was cutting the mobster out of the cabling, while Ray anxiously stepped around the toy car laden with explosives.

"I don't like this, Fraser. I don't like him getting away."

It was easier to talk about that than the fact that Fraser had just put his tongue down his throat.

"This is the other guy from the escape? Warfield's?"

The mobster spat out the gag as Fraser cut it loose, glowering up at them. "Iguana's. Dirty fucking fanook cop. And you--I don't even know what you are. You the sixth guy from the Village People?"

Iguana's? The Iguanas? Ray felt that familiar cold dread; the exact kind he'd felt when Fraser had been scuffling with a mob boss in a mall all those months ago. "There were already six guys in the Village People, genius." He snapped back, covering for his sudden anxiety. "Hey Fraser, gimme that gag back I liked him better quiet."

"Fucking Carver. Cheating sneak bastard. Iguana money. When Langoustini gets here he's gonna shred him into such small pieces they won't even make vermicelli."

So Langoustini worked for the Iguanas. Oh good. Cause this case wasn't already everything that was wrong with the world rolled into one. At least that nailed it: Carver was clearly an idiot who didn't know what he'd gotten himself into. He could nail Warfield for them, but this guy Langoustini was bad news; the kind of big pond swimming shark that made Warfield look like fish fry. He should never have interfered with the redistribution of mob money. Well--unless he had something on the Iguanas, but Ray doubted it. The Feds had been trying to nail that family for way too long for them to let something slip to a stranger, especially a non-Italian creepazoid like Carver.

Ray cuffed the mobster, and they walked him out of the warehouse. No sooner had they hit daylight was there an explosion behind them. The whole warehouse rattled, and a big gust of smoke followed them out, and Ray sighed and called it in, scowling at his luck. This was his life. Fraser, mobsters, explosions. It was his life that the whole idea of getting shaken up by a bomb going off just seemed exhausting, and instead he shoved the mobster in the back with Diefenbaker, and leant over the soft top of the Chrysler, eying Fraser.

"You realize what this means, don't you?" Fraser said.

"No, Fraser, it's not a subject for debate."

"Pardon?"

"Which one of us is doing the doing and which one of us is doing the taking. It's not something we've got to discuss. It's obvious."

Fraser looked like he was about to say something else, but then he shifted from one foot to the other and tilted his head over to the one side. "Oh?"

"Yeah." He puffed up his chest.

Fraser coughed. "Well yes, I quite agree, Ray. Frankly I'd have thought you would fight me harder on this."

Oh oh oh, he was going to play it that way, was he? Ray could do that.

"Well I knew you'd feel that strongly about it." There was another crash from inside the warehouse. It was on fire. "I mean it's obvious you'd prefer it that way, Fraser. You give off all these signals."

"I give off signals?"

Ray had won. He grinned languidly over the top of the car. "Sure, Fraser. You give off all these signals like you want it rough. You and the Ice Queen, for instance. Anyone can tell you're just dying to have all that control taken away. You want to be dominated."

But Fraser was on top form. He was playing verbal chess, and he'd thought two moves ahead. His eyes flashed with victory. "And I suppose in your mind, Ray, domination and penetration bear the same hallmarks?"

So Ray shuddered first, swallowed, and then licked his lips, and he looked back up at his smiling partner and felt a swell of joy leaping in his chest. This was sort of surreal, talking with Fraser about fucking at all, nevermind doing it with the understanding that the moment this case was over he was going to be doing a lot more than just talking about it.

"Like I said, you want to be dominated. Get in the car, Fraser." Fraser got in the car.

For just a few seconds Ray looked over the lake and tried to reorganize his thoughts, but it kept coming back to reimaginings of that kiss, and Fraser's erection grinding against his own. He needed to get his head in the game. He needed all his wits about him if they were inadvertently taking on mobsters in Chicago, Vegas and New York all at the same time, because Fraser had dropped him in some lousy situations before, but this one really took the cake.

Another explosion, another crime scene. Another morning wasted waiting for the fire trucks and the CSIs to show up.

He couldn't let himself become distracted.

He got in the car, looked across at Fraser and fuck...he was very distracted.

*****

Interlude

*****

Chicago. If Ray Vecchio could be anywhere in the world right now, Chicago would not be it. It wasn't that he wasn't happy to be here in his own way. It was home, after all; how couldn't he be happy to be home? It was just that he had managed to convince himself he didn't miss it as much as he obviously did.

Las Vegas was great. It was hot and beautiful, and his Adobe style house was cool in the daytime and the kind of warm at night that made sleeping naked on Egyptian cotton bedspreads a luxury. He hadn't realized until he'd stepped into that climate how wonderful it would be to go home in November from an air conditioned casino and step into a house that didn't need the heating turned all the way up just to make hopping in and out of the shower bearable.

But going back to Chicago while still playing the role of Armando Langoustini? That was worse than someone taking the thumbscrews to him. The city had to just be the city; a scummy shithole that didn't hold a candle to the walled mansions and glossy plazas of the desert. Where he walked - which was a rare luxury considering he was keeping a low profile - he wore an expression of permanent disgust, and when they drove past familiar places, hidden from view by blackened windows, he found himself straining for a flash of green from his Riviera or better still a blot of red. They'd moved the consulate, and Benny's place had burned to the ground--that didn't fill him with confidence that all in Chicago was still the same. Worse still a scrappy detour around the old neighborhood had provided him with a view of his family home trussed up with scaffolding, several of the rooms gutted by fire, and clearly in the process of renovation.

What had been done to his life while he'd been gone? Did it even matter? Vegas might be beautiful, but it was also dangerous. Other families had tried to have him killed twice, and one of the Iguanas had suffered what the other had called an 'Episode' and tried to strangle him for being an imposter. The guy had been right, but also high, and it had all blown over since then. He'd killed people too. Tortured them. Ruined their lives. But then he was playing the part of Armando Langoustini, notorious for his cruelty from coast to coast. The moment he played nice was the moment he was the one with vultures eating him in the desert, and as the Feds pointed out he was much too valuable alive.

Which made living tough sometimes. He'd managed to keep away from drink. He had been ordered to keep away from gambling--Armando never gambled. He'd only been through three women, and slept with only two of them--that was a dry year as far as Armando was concerned, but Ray knew the reputation of Vegas, and he was loathe to take anything home from this assignment that he couldn't shake. He'd more than dabbled with drugs though, and while he wasn't into anything that FBI counseling and three weeks detox couldn't cure him of, it still did far more to make him feel less like himself than the torture, the killing and the blackmail all put together.

It was the worst job in the world, but he was the only one who could do it. Hell, he was doing it. Successfully undercover as consigliere to the Iguana crime family. He deserved a fucking Oscar.

When what he'd probably get was a bullet.

So here he was, in Chicago, the worst city in the world for him, and he was having mixed feelings about it. Mixed feelings was generous, actually. He kept expecting Fraser to materialize out of somewhere following an excited Diefenbaker, and he'd have to explain why a Mountie's half wolf was humping his leg to a half dozen guys more than willing to shoot all three of them if they didn't get a good explanation. He missed Fraser more than Chicago in some ways. He missed his family; of course he did. He was missing seeing the kids growing up, his sister had just had a new baby. He missed all of them, and if something happened to his Ma, back in Vegas he'd never know, for fear he might risk blowing his cover to come back. The way he missed Fraser was different, like he was missing a time when life was much simpler--but that was a crock, because with Fraser around nothing had ever been simple.

He rubbed at his jaw, then tapped on the intercom.

"Pull right up to the door. Stay out front, I don't give a shit if someone tries to move you on, you keep the motor running no matter what."

"You expect to be crossed, boss?"

"Three million dollars doesn't just disappear."

He got out of the car. As he stepped into Warfield's restaurant, a passing Chrysler leant on its horn and drove through the deep puddle on the other side of the limousine, pulling away with a squeal from the wet fanbelt. For a second, in the reflection of the restaurant's glossy windows, Ray thought he saw a wolf in the back seat.

*****

Warfield didn't do intimidated. The Iguanas were overreacting, that was all there was to it. So his guy hadn't shown up last night. Seven in the evening. By eight, he was accepting a call from New York--they had a guy flying into Chicago that night, and Warfield was to make him welcome.

He was still cursing about being left to make peace through some low level lackey when Armando Langoustini stepped into his restaurant at seven the next evening. There was no mistaking him, although Warfield had only shaken his hand once, seen him twice. They'd never actually spoken, but Warfield knew him from reputation--who didn't? The man was a killer; he was the Iguana's best negotiator for a reason, and whether Warfield liked it or not, after the year he had...? Yes, he was intimidated. He had his own family, ran his own turf, but you made good with the Iguanas. Langoustini was why. They'd helped him with his problem, he'd helped them with theirs--and then he'd sent them a gift, which wasn't really a gift. No, a gift you would shrug off if it didn't show up.

The three million was a tribute. It was a lot of money, even for Warfield, and it was gone. The Iguanas wouldn't care why, or how; all they wanted was their taxes paid, it didn't matter how Warfield recovered the money. It didn't matter if he bled it from his own veins, so long as it came. And if it didn't? They'd just take what was his instead; his turf forfeit, and his life too.

Here was Langoustini to prove that they meant business, cutting a frightening figure by reputation alone. Thirty thousand dollar suit, eyes like jade daggers - soulless - slick and dark and very Italian.

"Wilson Warfield, I presume? I'm--"

"I know who you are, Mr. Langoustini. Right this way."

"No, I won't be staying long, I have other appointments to keep."

This was the part where Langoustini pressed the point that he was more important, that his time was more valuable. Asshole. The Iguanas ran the family; Langoustini was just a cousin, didn't even share the family name. He was consigliere for them because he was smart, mean, and lethal as a bear trap, but here he was acting like he ran the show.

Since he wouldn't follow, Langoustini had chosen the venue and duration of their discussion. He took all the power in the conversation, and Warfield resented it. He resented him.

"Three million in tribute. That was what you promised the Iguana family. I don't need to tell you how unfortunate it would be if you were to disappoint them."

He opened his mouth to make an explanation, but Langoustini cut him off, his upper lip curling dangerously. "I don't care for your excuses. I leave for Vegas in two days with the money, or you, Mr. Warfield, will be making a much shorter trip."

He left, and he seemed to take all the air with him. When it came back, Warfield got his hand under the nearest table and flipped it, sending the vase and its plates and cutlery flying, vaulting, smashing.

"Son of a bitch. It's that Mountie, isn't it? Three million! You." He pointed one finger at the nearest of his useless lackies. "You call Mikey, get me Carver. I want that Mountie dead, do you hear me? I'm gonna play my own game with that psycho bastard. Either he gets it done or I'll do him. And you too. I'll do the whole fucking lot of you, and the Mountie too. He's personal."

Warfield really didn't like the way his men hesitated. He'd seen that look before. But this time--this time the Mountie wasn't going to undermine him. If it came down to it, he'd put a bullet in his stupid face himself. It was long overdue. No more games.

*****

Charles Carver had agreed to Warfield's meeting only because he understood how this part was to be played out. He'd struck out three times, cost him three million dollars - six, by the time he'd made thorough recompense to the Iguanas - and hadn't so much as made a scratch on that perfect shiny Mountie whom he was supposed to hate so much, whom Warfield loathed. This had been his game so far, but now it was Warfield's turn to bat, and though he loathed such sporting references with a vengeance, it had a certain undeniably poetic quality to it.

Warfield didn't frighten him. His percieved power and his quick temper made him even easier to predict than the usual animals Carver dealt with. He was certainly nothing compared to the Mountie, nor to the surprise that had turned out to be Ray Vecchio.

Who was gone now, he supposed. Where oh where could Ray Vecchio be?

In any event, Warfield thought that he was in charge of the game, and that was fine. What he didn't know could hurt him. It could cost him another three million dollars and if not a trip to jail then certainly a short journey to the bottom of the lake, which so far as Carver had discovered through working with him was exactly where Warfield belonged. Still, what harm would it be if they took each other out, Fraser and Warfield? One or the other of them dead, it didn't matter--either way the weight of expectation would be lifted. He could embrace his freedom.

So his plan adapted to Warfield's plan. It adapted to the fact that there were now four of Warfield's heavies assigned to him at all times, and to the fact that Armando Langoustini was apparently in town in pursuit of his lost money. Warfield was a vain man, proud. Carver convinced him easily of the wisdom of setting the exchange up so that Langoustini would actually witness the execution of the two men who had apprehended Warfield's messenger. He'd assured him that it would prove that he was in fact doing something about the problems on his own turf.

Pride, arrogance; Warfield wasn't bright enough to know where that would lead him, but Carver could see it as though through clairvoyance, the future as crystal to him as cut diamond.

He tapped play on his remote again.

"We uh--nn-fuck, Fraser. Fraser--mmnot good at multi...tasking. Pay attention."

There was really no denying the passion in the two men on screen. Carver hummed thoughtfully, wondering if this really could be the same Mountie, because right now, with his mouth presumably wrapped around Stanley Kowalski's ear, he seemed like an entirely different man. Not the one Carver knew, certainly, and that made this relationship of theirs an uncertain variable. Ray Kowalski was nothing like the man he'd replaced, and while both of them certainly cared for the man in the red suit, this man loved him, and was loved by him.

"Case. We're on a case. And don't get me wrong we can do more of this later. I want to do lots more of this later, Fraser. But--uh..." The Mountie was licking his neck now, making Ray pant, his hand clutching fitfully in his partner's hair, mussing it away from that crinkled and glossy kind of perfect that hadn't budged even when Carver had dragged him down three flights of stairs. Ray murmured something else the tape barely picked up, and then their mouths were on each other again; they couldn't help themselves, even though the danger had passed. Carver had been long gone by this point.

"Enough!" Ray declared, breaking away dramatically. "You're gonna kill me, Fraser."

The poor, dear man was probably right.

*****

End of Interlude

*****

"What do you mean he's gone? He was our guy!"

Welsh was bearing the onslaught very well, considering Ray was positively enraged. All his glow from earlier was forgotten, although in the corner of the mind he was still carrying a candle for his and Fraser's impending happiness. The problem was that the clues to this case seemed to be consistently slipping through their fingers, almost as though the FBI were trying to hide something. When was that ever new? They wanted this for themselves, and why shouldn't they have it? Three cities, at least two mob families? Ray didn't want it.

But he wanted Carver, and he wanted to get Warfield before Warfield got Fraser. The FBI wouldn't care about that. They wouldn't understand that while they were off messing around with Langoustini and the Iguanas, Warfield would be here taking potshots at every flash of red he saw. Even if they did get it they wouldn't care: if Warfield killed a police officer - even a Canadian one - it only meant they could ramp up the charges they listed against him.

He froze at the contact that Fraser made with him, the touch of just the tips of his partner's fingers against the back of his hand, but only for a moment. Fraser was reassuring him. He knew why Ray was so agitated, or perhaps suspected. Although come to think of it knowing Fraser he probably thought Ray was just this mad because his jurisdiction had been compromised.

And sure, he was mad about that too, but this was personal. This was about his Mountie, and--

--When was it ever not?

He forced his shoulders to relax, then lifted both his hands to Fraser's shoulder and leaned on him briefly, right there in Welsh's office. This was normal close, and he didn't have to explain himself to anyone.

"Well Fraser," he said, with mocking cheerfulness. "Looks like our friends at the FBI have taken this thing with Langoustini off our hands, doesn't it?"

That did it. Welsh was glowering over his desk at the pair of them. "Langoustini? The Bookman? He's involved with this?"

"The Feds just took his three million out of the evidence locker, didn't they? Word is he's coming to town to clean things up."

Welsh looked livid. He was probably going to burst a vein. "No. No way, Detective. You keep your nose out of this one. You keep it clean, you hear me? The last thing we want to do is get messed up with the Iguanas. Now you drop this, you and Fraser both. You let Carver blow up as many empty cars as you like. What you don't do is exaggerate an already very serious situation."

"Exacerbate," Fraser interjected.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Exacerbate an already very serious situation. Intentionally or accidentally affect an already grave matter by making it worse than it already is."

Welsh scowled. "What did I say?"

"Exaggerate."

"And what does that mean?"

"Intentionally or accidentally manipulate the meaning of something to make it sound greater or less than it actually is."

Ray and Welsh both stared at Fraser for a moment, then as one shook off the diversion and went back to sharing real words. The non-Canadian type.

"With all due respect, Sir, a threat has been made to the life of both myself and Constable Fraser here. Now aren't I duty bound to investigate? Especially in situations where um--where uh I suspect a crime might be about to take place?"

"Maybe if it were anyone else. Look, I get him," Welsh gestured at Fraser. "He's not from around here, but you've been working these beats your whole life. How is it you haven't heard of the Bookman?"

"Should I have?"

Ray didn't like this. He didn't like it when Welsh put on his real serious face rather than the halfway there version usually saved for other times that Ray and Fraser were in the office with him.

"He's the bookkeeper for the Iguana family. Their consigliere. Their money man. He handles transactions, keeps the money safe, invests it. But he has a real uh--a passion for the dramatic. There's rumors about him that'd age you just to hear them, and the worst thing is--"

He wasn't sure he wanted to hear what the worst thing was, but he was going to hear it anyway.

"He's a cop killer. Multiple. They could never prove he actually did it; nothing sticks to guys like that. But the fact is he doesn't care who or what you are, he'll kill you just the same. Stay away from him, Vecchio. This time I mean it. Go save some stranded kittens or something."

Ray was silent for a few moments, until it seemed like if he mused on it any further Fraser was going to say something about their responsibility as police officers. At that point he jumped right in with a "Come on, Fraser," and led him out of the office.

The first thing Fraser wanted to do, of course, was to look up Langoustini's file. This, bizarrely, required using Canadian intelligence networks, since the FBI were so protective of their information.

Ray hung back out of the way, and when Fraser was done reading they faced each other again over the space between Elaine's desk and Dewey's, where Ray was perched beside a pile of paperwork.

"I can't ask you to be involved with this any further, Ray. There's a very real threat to your life--to our lives."

Oh, he was not having that. He'd known it was coming from the look on Fraser's face, but still. He wasn't that stupid. "How's that any different to any other day, Frase? And besides, if I go and let a mobster kill you having just got two decent kisses out of you, I may as well be dead, y'know?"

"I see. And I suppose I can expect many more such inappropriate adjustments to our working relationship in the future?"

"Supposing we both live through this weekend, I figure that's only fair, don't you?"

"It seems awfully unprofessional, Ray."

"You lick things you find on the ground."

"Point taken."

They stared at each other in silence for a few moments. Ray felt uncomfortable, but Fraser looked like it was getting to him more. He fidgeted in his chair, and Ray bit his tongue and waited. Whatever this was, it was going to be good. Well worth waiting for. And then Fraser said: "Maybe we should eat something while the opportunity has presented itself."

"No," Ray insisted. "What were you going to say?"

Another pause. He was definitely on to something there. This time he fixed Fraser with his hardest glare and waited. It paid off.

"I was thinking about what you said. Concerning just two decent kisses."

Ray could feel his heart skip a couple of beats, then set off like a sprinter away from the starting block.

"Oh yeah?"

"I was weighing the likelihood that we might die tomorrow, or the day after, and how disappointed I would be in myself if I didn't best make use of the short time I had remaining on Earth."

"Oh really?"

"Yes, Ray. And it occurred to me that it really has been a very long day. I think I'd like to go home now,"

"The Consulate?"

"It really wouldn't be appropriate."

Ray broke into a grin--one of the dirtier variety. He was getting it now. "No, I guess it really wouldn't be, huh? Well come on, then. We still have to walk back to the car. Dief--hey, Diefenbaker!"

Fraser was looking at him oddly, making him feel self conscious, and oh--deaf, right. But there was something appraising about that gaze too. It raised all the hairs on the back of his neck, only in a good way. He was taking Fraser home with him. Well, Fraser and Dief. Could he be blamed for finding that utterly thrilling? Especially since everything about Fraser's expression and posture said that they were going there for more than just pizza and an extended nap; when had Casa Kowalski last seen action like that?

Thrumming with physical excitement, Ray set about the place looking for Diefenbaker, whom he found under the table with a half chewed doughnut box and a muzzle covered in sugar. "I guess we all have our vices, huh buddy?" And then they were out in the street, and Ray couldn't keep his eyes off Fraser, who was walking with his usual impossibly placid courage beside him, like he hadn't just proposed they go back to Ray's apartment and spend the night together.

"How do you do that?" he asked, as they reached the car, overwhelmed by his own nerves. The walking had been fine, he'd thrown in extra bounces on the soles of his feet here, there and everywhere, but now he was in the car it made his whole body feel like it was vibrating in a glass box, with only scant millimeters in which to maneuver.

"Do what, Ray?"

"Act like it's just--I don't know. Like you know what you're doing. I don't even know what I'm doing." He hit the button for the roof, though it was already dark out and cold. It wasn't a short ride back to his apartment, and he had a feeling Fraser would warm him right back up in no time.

"Do you not? That's very unsettling, Ray."

"Well I mean--I know know, you know, but I don't know. I mean uh--"

Fraser turned into the backseat, then shot a glance at Ray, and for a second Ray didn't know what he was doing all over again. Fraser was weird. Then he said: "You mean why aren't I nervous?"

"Yes, Fraser." He was feeling exasperated now, driven to the level beyond twitchy where his own anxiousness physically exhausted him.

"I am nervous, Ray. I've never done anything like this before."

"So you don't know what you're doing."

"No. Well see that's not true at all. I have a more than rudimentary understanding of the process. You see--"

"Fraser."

"--among the many books in my grandparents collection there were several of a more, shall we say--"

"Fraser."

"--obscene nature, and being a curious child, both in the nature of seeking out knowledge and--"

"Fraser."

"--in simple terms of self discovery I endeavored to further my blooming education in my own--"

Okay what?

"Wait, wait. Fraser, are you telling me that little you - little innocent nature baby Benton Fraser - had his sexual awakening in a library?"

"I'd really rather not discuss it further in front of my father, Ray."

He gave him his patented look of disbelief: eyes closed, eyebrows raising, slowly opening them again to look at Fraser, who actually blushed.

"It's okay not to know what you're doing sometimes, Fraser. You don't have to be some sort of invulnerable superhero about this sorta thing."

"Are you sure?"

Fraser didn't seem certain, so Ray leant across to reassure him, put his fingers on the underside of Fraser's jaw and leant into the passenger seat to brush their mouths together. He didn't mean to linger, but then Fraser's hand snagged against the stubble of his cheek and his tongue lashed against Ray's bottom lip, and he sighed and let it in, opened up to a smooth, tender kiss into which Fraser seemed to be conveying some sort of gratitude--not that Ray thought he had anything to be grateful for.

His partner pulled back after a moment, rolling his eyes and looking into the back again. "You two can both mind your own business, thank you very much." Despite himself Ray followed Fraser's eyes, though all he saw was Diefenbaker laying flat on the seat with his paw over his nose.

"Hey," he said, catching Dief's attention. "We're pals, aren't we? Wasn't I happy for you when you shacked up with that fly piece of Poodle ass?" Dief whined at him, and Ray broke into a grin. "Yeah well, women can be like that. They break your heart."

He sat back, looking fondly at Fraser once more before he started the engine, and as they pulled out of the parking garage and onto the street, Fraser slid his hand fondly onto his thigh, and left it there for the extent of the journey. Strangely it felt to Ray like all his vibration ceased at that point; like the warmth and heaviness of Fraser's presence soothed the trembling, agitated beast inside his own body. Fraser just had that kind of effect.

*****

"So what do you think?"

"I've been here before, Ray."

"Sure, sure. I uh--"

This disarming the situation thing wasn't working out so great. The apartment was dark: the phosphorescent glow from the old bar neons and the heat lamp over the turtle tank were all the lighting there was - all the lighting Ray usually needed - and yet it didn't seem like nearly enough now that he had company. Actual company. Come to think of it it made his place look like a strip club for hoarders.

"But what do you think?" he asked again, lamely.

"Well as you know, anything is a marked improvement over my own state of domicile."

"You mean it's better than living in a closet in the Canadian Consulate? Well you don't say, Fraser. That really is a surprise."

"It's not a closet, Ray. In fact it has a closet."

"It's a closet within a closet, Fraser."

"Did you bring me here to insult me, Ray?"

Fraser's tone didn't say 'joking', but then it never actually did. It took a moment of actually looking him right in the eye to suss that fact out, and by then Fraser had crossed from the door to Ray's side and wrapped his arms around his waist.

There was that kiss again--that all encompassing, sucking, fantastic kiss, where Fraser showed him all the meticulous skill of his mouth all over again. He was a driving force, blowing his mind this time, all but whisking Ray off his feet, and his apartment really wasn't that big because it seemed to take Fraser mere steps before he was pushing Ray down on his back on the couch and sprawling over him, his fingers crawling into Ray's back pockets underneath him so that his hips rose up off the couch. Oh--oh. This wasn't a kiss at all, this was--fuck. Fraser was grinding against him, swallowing every noise of pleasure and protest Ray could make, making his vision tunnel as he all but sucked every ounce of air out of his lungs. It was the kind of kiss that could make a man black out.

Sure enough his head was still spinning as Fraser ducked back, leaving him prone and helpless as he pulled off his own shirt. There was something incredibly captivating about watching Fraser strip, which was odd because he'd seen him do it enough times before, but there was something about now, about this occasion that really pushed the boat out. Maybe it was the fact that Fraser was stripping from his spare clothes rather than his uniform. Maybe it was the fact that he was straddled across Ray's lap as he did it, towering like some glossy haired god of snow and hard places. More likely it was because this time Fraser was stripping for him; for Ray and Ray alone. That and his lips were bruised from kissing, his blue eyes blackened with lust--Fraser looked incredible.

Suddenly how surreal this all was came right back to him. Ray had raised his hands to touch that expanse of Mountie chest and now he found himself hesitating.

"What is it we're doing, Fraser?"

"Becoming intimate with each other, Ray."

"Well that part I get, but I mean--is this such a good idea? I mean I just came out of a broken marriage, and you...I don't even know what you're deal is. No offense."

"None taken."

"A-and neither of us actually knows how to do...this." There was silence from Fraser on that when Ray had really been hoping he'd disagree. And also sort of not. Mixed feelings. "The guys thing."

"Really, Ray? I imagined that given the amount of time you've been carrying a flame for me..."

"Yeah well...I never really thought of it like that, okay?"

"How did you think of it?"

"Nah--you'd think it sounds dumb."

"I sincerely doubt that, Ray."

Ray hesitated, as though genuinely considering the potential consequences of his admission. Meanwhile Fraser sat up over him with what Ray realized was remarkable patience, considering his partner's eyes kept wandering down to his sternum and snapping back up again. Fraser wanted him. Maybe he wouldn't find it strange.

"I never thought about..." He dropped his voice to a whisper, and blushed as he spoke. "Fucking you, Fraser. When I thought about how I felt it was always like--how amazing your hands were, or how much I liked it when you did one of those Canadian smackdowns on people and they never even realized they'd been disrespected. Sometimes - and I really mean just sometimes - I thought about what it'd be like to be able to touch you and not have you get real uncomfortable with it in five seconds flat. Like it was normal."

"Would you like to do that now, Ray? Touch me?"

It seemed like such an innocuous thing, touching Fraser, at least in the course of the everyday. Now it was loaded, a heavy burden of a something that made Ray tense up despite himself. Touch Fraser. Just like that. He nodded mutely, but only because no words really seemed adequate. The truth was it had never been a sexual desire, that touching. Okay maybe, when Fraser did something particularly cheeky, or looked extra smouldering, but never usually. Mostly he just wanted to touch him more in general, brush snow out of his hair, or lean against him in an interrogation, or touch his face and ask him how he got that old scar on his cheek. He was being invited to do much more than that, and now the floodgates opened on his imagination.

"Change places," he said, and his voice sounded dizzy drunk in his own ears. He couldn't possibly be the one saying those words, he couldn't be the one here right now, in this scenario, about to--he didn't know what he was going to do, but it would start with touching, that much was for sure. He'd work it out as he went along, right? It had worked for him before.

So Fraser helped him up to his feet, and just as he was about to drop back onto the couch Ray grabbed him by the waistband, pulling him up into a frenetic, urgent sort of kiss. Only then did he let Fraser's legs buckle, urging him gently back, clambering neatly over him so that one of his own knees was between Fraser's, the other slotted high against his side, and he could feel every inch of muscle twitch as his partner writhed under his energetic kiss.

He pulled back only when Fraser was breathless, which seemed to take forever, but was more than rewarding, and while he'd left Fraser's lips chapped and raw from his teeth, his impression was that he hadn't left him looking nearly debauched enough.

But it was enough. He could feel Fraser coming to life against him, warming up, melting and hard at once. Sure enough as he grazed his teeth against his jaw, nibbled up to his ear, Fraser groaned and arched that hardness against him, clearly trying to get some purchase on the couch with which to further instigate his rutting. Ray wasn't having any of it. He sat back, brought his hands to Fraser's chest and splayed them wide.

"You're a bad influence on me," he said. "Once upon a time this would already be over. Now thanks to you I've learned to uh--excise a little patience."

"Exercise patience," Fraser corrected, but his voice trembled, and Ray grinned.

"Yeah," and he spread his hands wider, ran his thumbs across Fraser's nipples and made him whimper. "Give it a good work out."

"God, Ray--"

Those were two of the most beautiful words in the English language, it turned out. He muted his smirk down to something a little less shiteating, brow furrowing in concentration. If he could commit to memory this body, those noises, lock away the knowledge of which places made Fraser whimper and croon, then he'd be happy for the rest of his days. Fraser was a block of ice, and he was the guy with the chisel trying to expose the sculpture of the man inside.

Okay so he was getting purple about this, but Fraser moaning was like a religious experience, okay?

His hands smoothed down, fingertips sliding over the bumps of Fraser's ribs, pausing to feel his chest expanding only to shudder through the next exhale. Ray brushed a kiss to the center of Fraser's chest, but it was little more than reassurance, preoccupied as he was with watching Fraser's walls crumble, his face contorting gorgeously under each affectionate touch.

Ray sought out Fraser's fly with both hands, pausing as his partner froze to look for permission, and getting it in the shape of a nod. After that, it was Ray's turn to hesitate, gathering his nerve before undoing the zip and guiding jeans, underwear and all back over Fraser's hips, aided by the lifting of said hips up from the worn couch upholstery.

After that it was just a simple case of reaching in, wrapping his fingers around Fraser's generous member and exposing it. It was a perfect example, Ray thought, although to be fair his appreciation of penises was limited to changing rooms, men's rooms and porn. Fraser had a porn quality cock, and that was hardly surprising given the fact that he was otherwise perfect in every other possible way.

But Fraser wasn't looking. As he cradled and admired it, Fraser was staring up at the ceiling, his lips pressed tight together, his breathing heavy, blushing scarlet.

"Hey Frase. Fraser?"

Fraser licked his lips, but didn't look, didn't answer.

"Fraser, look at me."

Fraser looked. There was something...something a little frightened in those lust glazed eyes.

"You want me to stop? Cause I can stop. Anytime. All you gotta do is say the word."

He shook his head. Ray chewed on his bottom lip, not sure quite what to do.

"Nobody's ever touched you like this, have they?" A headshake. "Not even Victoria?" Another headshake, and Ray instantly imagined them wound together in blankets, the lights off, Victoria pulling Fraser inside her with the slightest of touches. If that was all they'd done he could breathe on Fraser and get him off--everything he did would seem exotic.

"Okay, buddy. It's okay. Hey, look at me." Fraser's eyes had been wandering again. He smoothed one thumb in a circle against the dimple where Fraser's thigh met his groin, and Fraser looked at him. There was more than enough of the neon glow that there was no hiding from this, no hiding from each other, no blankets and blackness with which to conceal their passions.

"Stay with me, okay? I need your backup, Fraser, this is new for me too."

Fraser nodded, and this time he said "Okay, Ray", and that sounded like a victory to him. So holding Fraser's gaze he leant down, inhaled the musk of his partner's arousal and defiantly ignored it, then wrapped his mouth around the head of that perfect arousal, tender and soft as the first touch of his hot tongue made foreskin draw back. Delicate against the oversensitive glans, he did his best to check himself considering he'd never done this before, trying to keep Fraser's gaze even though his partner had quite completely fallen apart at the first touch of Ray's mouth. He was trembling fitfully like he'd been laid out over hot coals, the tendons in his throat straining as he fought to keep his head up, and then as Ray tightened his lips and sucked, Fraser buckled and arched, head tipping back, spine arcing, hips rising toward him of the couch.

Talk about oversensitive. If Fraser kept reacting like that, this wasn't going to last very long at all, and Ray wanted him to last forever. It made perfect sense, though, that Fraser - who apparently never got off - would have the lasting power of a teenager.

He drew his mouth back off him, moving back up over his partner, bringing one of his hands to caress reassuringly at Fraser's temple, winding fingers in his hair. Valiantly Fraser looked him back in the eye, and Ray smiled, warmly; compassionately.

"Welcome back." Fraser's entire torso shivered. The arousal in his eyes was like nothing Ray had ever seen. "You like that, huh?"

He waited. Fraser looked like he wanted to talk and sure enough when he was done making his dumb tongue cooperate, he said: "I like that very much, Ray."

"I figured you might, Fraser." He kissed his partner's mouth. "I figured you might. But for right now you just relax, okay? I'm gonna go easy on you."

"That's probably for the best," Fraser admitted, and Ray couldn't help it, he grinned again, shaking his head to keep from laughing out loud.

"Yeah. Yeah I'm glad you agree."

His other hand had stayed wrapped around the base of Fraser's erection, but now it stroked upward, bare skin on bare skin. Fraser wasn't going to last long enough to worry about the friction chafing him, he was already slick with sweat, his skin a burning inferno, his kissed lips bruised from biting and his eyes glossy, lashes dewed with crocodile tears. If Ray had wanted him debauched, this was Fraser debauched, flushed and whimpering under the simplest ministrations, rising helplessly off the couch with each stroke and groaning with every twist of Ray's wrist.

He'd never have considered, days ago - or even this morning - that anything so perfect could be all his. Life didn't go this way for him. For him, love meant fighting really hard for it, then fighting really hard to try and hold onto it, then fighting really hard to try and get it back. This, with Fraser, was easy; easier than anything had ever been before. Easier than mending a car, or becoming a cop, or giving up on giving up smoking for the thousandth time. He'd never so much as kissed another guy in his life, but here was Fraser, Fraser's dick in his hand, crooning and panting underneath him like they'd both been made to do this; like they'd been missing out by not doing it all along.

Fraser accepted it, accepted him, wanted this, and Ray found it easy to want it too--more than he'd ever wanted anything, to accept this physicality and accept it with a man because Fraser meant more to him than just gender. Fraser was really just a part of him, an extension of himself, that if he was taken away it would be like losing an arm, or like...an internal organ, and not one of the ones you could live without like the spleen or something. It'd be like losing his heart...or maybe his brain. Yeah, Fraser was his brain, that made a lot of sense.

Right now the man who was all his common sense and savvy survival skills rolled into one was trembling like a leaf in a breeze, his hands knotted into fists at his sides where they'd remained throughout the experience. Ray leant into him, pressed against Fraser's hip and rocked gently against him, keeping his head at just enough distance that he could continue looking Fraser in the eye as he worked on him.

It wouldn't be long now, not when he was like this.

"You can touch me," he said softly. "Put your hands on my hand."

Fraser obeyed, but it was like a death grip, one hand around his wrist, the other palm flat against the top of Ray's knuckles. Ray had never seen him so aroused, not for any reason; not out of passion, or anger, or hatred. The pure emotional power in him poured out of every cell of Fraser's body, existed in his hands and his face and his every trembling breath, and Ray had the pleasure of knowing he'd brought it out of him. Sure, it was like drawing blood out of a stone, but there was nothing more satisfying.

Now Fraser was curling forward, breaking their gaze to stare into the space between their bodies. He seemed riveted by Ray's hand moving over him, and Ray pulled back a little further to give him a more light, so that Fraser could see the darkening of his arousal, see the precome oozing over and between Ray's fingers. His leg - the one not pinned by Ray's weight - had ratcheted higher on its own, and now it wrapped across Ray's back, impossibly high under his shoulder blades, so that Fraser could pull against him as he thrust upward.

With a little more room, and without the need to hold his own weight up, and now Fraser's as well, Ray might have used both hands at this point; they were coming to the end and they both knew it. Fraser's panting and supine writhing had reached a frenzy.

"Oh-oh God. Ray, Ray. Ray."

Beautiful. He was beautiful.

"I'm going to--"

And all his.

"Going to...going to..."

All his.

"Oh--Oh..."

Fraser's back came clean off the couch, and he seemed to levitate in place under him, pale and pink, damp with sweat, the only competition with the violence of his orgasm how stunning he looked doing it. Ray felt the hot splash of come as it splattered his shirt, felt it spill over and over his fingertips as Fraser rose up, cried out, back arching, neck straining, his expression far away from anything familiar, completely vulnerable.

Fraser sank back into the couch cushions as though all the strings had been cut in his body, those magnificent muscles at last completely spent where years of pursuing criminals had never worn them out. He lay there shaking and flushed, and then slowly - as Ray watched - his closed eyes peeled open, dark lashes shuttered low, storm blue darkened almost to black from arousal. Ray kept stroking until Fraser's cock began to soften in his hand, and then he carefully uncoiled his fingers, meaning to reach for the throw on the back of the couch but being caught out by the sudden tightness of Fraser's grip.

"What is it, Fraser?"

And now it was Ray's turn to lick his lips and anxiously work his mouth, because Fraser pulled his hand up, wrapped his mouth around Ray's thumb and sucked. That was unfair. Positively un-fucking-fair. It was unfair, and it didn't stop there, because Fraser withdrew, leant in and sucked away his own come from the cusp of Ray's palm, slid his long, incredible tongue out and lapped the seed from the cracks and creases of his hand. As if that wasn't more than enough to break him, Fraser then took three of his four fingers into his mouth at once, suckling at them in earnest, lathing his tongue in between them, working the tip into the web between each digit, and then working up and down, bobbing his head, until Ray was certain his knees were going to go out from underneath him just from watching.

His partner knew what he was doing to him--he could see it right there in Fraser's eyes. When Ray was finally allowed to take his hand back, Fraser seemed to have gotten his second wind, and he wrapped his own hand around the back of Ray's neck and pulled him down for a salty post-orgasmic kiss, all languid and cuddly, tasting of sex and need. Fraser pressed that fantastic tongue into every corner of Ray's mouth, and only when Ray was breathless did he draw back, leaving him panting.

Oh, he could see what Fraser was doing there. Still, he couldn't find it in him to complain, not as his partner expertly rolled them over on the couch.

"Hey--h-hey, you don't gotta do that. I'm good. I can be..." Fraser was kissing his throat, his breatsbone, skip a bit, nudging up his shirt and sucking on his belly as he thumbed open Ray's fly. He groaned helplessly: "Goooood," and then he was arching under Fraser's hands, helping his partner shuck his pants down a few inches, rumbling helplessly into a full throated moan as Fraser took him four inches back into his mouth. Hot tongue, hot hot breath, hot hot hot. Hot and wet and sucking tight around him, tongue thick and hard sliding against the full length of his shaft.

"Fraser--"

Unlike Ray, Fraser didn't seem to be in any mood to hold back. His mouth was incredible, muscle and suction, dragging him down and lipping wetly at him so that his cock bobbed almost free before Fraser was on it again, swirling his tongue, almost scraping his blunt white teeth against sensitive skin. If there was an Olympic gold medal in blowjobs, Fraser would win it by a mile. Which was incredible considering he'd never given one before.

Fraser had never given a blowjob before.

"Fuuuuuuck..."

If this was what he could do with no practice, what could he be capable of with a few timecards stamped? Ray raised his trembling hands and dug them into Fraser's sweat soaked hair. It was curly--curlier when Ray pulled it through his fingers and dug his nails into Fraser's scalp. He had to resist the urge to drive upward, even if he was sure Fraser wouldn't complain, because Fraser didn't know--Fraser had no idea what he was doing. Fraser was digging the artful, malicious point of his tongue into the tip of Ray's penis, making him cry out, and he didn't have the slightest clue what that felt like, what it was doing to Ray.

Or maybe he did, because as he drew back a moment later his eyes flicked open and met Ray's along the length of his body, and Ray felt himself shudder at the emotion in them; the desire. He had no idea how he must look, but it must have been something, because Fraser was staring at him as he bobbed his head, rapt with fascination, and Ray couldn't tear his eyes away, couldn't break that gaze even as Fraser suckled on the head of his erection and slid his hand down between Ray's legs to capture his balls, rolling them into the palm of his hand.

He fought the urge to twist back, to writhe and buck as he came as Fraser had. Instead Ray doubled forward, digging deep to find the strength he could to keep that eye contact. He held on tight to Fraser's head as though it would help, but the only thing holding on ensured was that Fraser's lips were still around him as he spasmed, spilling his orgasm into that wonderful mouth.

Ray groaned as Fraser swallowed, and then amazingly swallowed again, throat working around the head of his erection to milk the last of it out. Then Fraser pulled up as though the death grip in his hair was nothing, sliding into the gap between Ray and the couch and throwing his arm across him, drowning him in a kiss so passionate that Ray forgot all about his own erection softening between his legs, his own jeans, and Fraser's, halfway down their respective thighs. Instead it was all he could do to hold on tight and kiss back, keep kissing, lose himself in that mouth...

*****

He woke feeling glorious, satisfied from deep, fitless sleep; the sleep of post-orgasmic haze. Fraser was still tucked in beside him, his buttocks bare to the air. Ray, too, dressed almost head to toe but for his cock peeled out of its wrappings like a Christmas gift peeked into too early. Fraser, asleep in the crook of his neck, looked incredible, his hair mussed, his lips still red from sucking and kissing. He was dreaming, his eyelids fluttering but never opening, and occasionally his knee would twitch across Ray's thighs--that was probably what had woken him up.

But it was a little past dawn. The sun was up - so it was surprising Fraser was still asleep as it was - and there was light coming in through the shuttered windows that hadn't been there before, casting the reality of day on last night's dalliances. Ray had thought he might maybe want to take it back, but actually it felt pretty damn good. Every minute of it.

Diefenbaker was in the armchair opposite, and as though he'd sensed that Ray was awake, he lifted his head and stared at him judgmentally.

"What?" Ray mouthed. "He's happy, isn't he?"

Diefenbaker rolled his eyes.

Beside him the sleeping Fraser stirred, and Ray shifted back so that he could actually find his partner's eyes, watch him open them for the first time since the previous night.

"Hi," he said, softly.

Soft blue, leaden from sleep, blinked up at him, and miraculously Fraser stayed human, not a hint of the Mountie robot slipping in. "G'morning."

"You sleep okay?"

"Mmm," said Fraser, and rubbed his cheek against Ray's chest, then heaved himself up a little higher.

Wow. He'd actually made Fraser incoherent. That was really amazingly sexy. God only knew what he'd be like if they'd actually fucked. Speechless probably wouldn't even come close.

"Yeah?" Ray asked, grinning sleepily. "That good?"

"Mmm." Fraser said again, this time with much more conviction, and began to kiss sloppily at Ray's throat, his jaw, his ear, making him shiver. That was nice. That was really nice. And Fraser's hand was wandering, moving up his thigh now, groping--

"H-hey, Fraser, not that I'm not--oh..."

Would it be so bad to accept it? Let Fraser have his way with him all over again? Yes, Ray. Yes, it would be very bad. They had work to do. W. O. R. K. Work. Fraser's hand stroking him firmly. God, he was incorrigible. Why hadn't any of Vecchio's files included a warning for what a beast in the sack his partner was going to be?

He shoved at Fraser's hand, tried to evacuate and ended up rolling awkwardly onto the floor with a thump. There, dazed, he stared up at the ceiling as Fraser leant over the side of the couch to look down at him.

He looked worried. Deeply concerned. Dejected, even.

"Did I do something wrong?"

Okay so this was a tipping point, provided Ray's exhausted mind. If he said the wrong thing right now that would be the end to all morning sex ever, right? That sounded awful. He didn't want that!

"No, Frase. No, you're doing everything very, very right. It's just today--right now? I mean..."

"You're not ready?"

"Fuck no. I mean--yes, I'm ready. I just think we should maybe kick Warfield's ass and catch our man Carver before we get carried away, y'know?"

Fraser licked his lips, looking contemplative, and Ray couldn't help but remember the sight of them wrapped wide around him, the feeling of Fraser's mouth as he sucked all the moisture clean out of his body. He mirrored the movement, and Fraser blushed, and Ray found the strength to pull himself back into his pants, even if it was a futile gesture. There was no way he wasn't taking a shower and changing into another outfit; not since two days, three explosions, and Fraser's explosive orgasm had taken their inevitable toll.

"Alright," he said. "I'm gonna go shower. You uh--you do whatever you do. Your spare clothes are in the bag in the closet." It was not strange that he had a spare set of Fraser sized clothes in his closet. He had spares at the Consulate himself; it was a mutual thing, saved them having to make two stops if (when) they both ended up drenched in lake water.

"Can I come?" Fraser asked from the couch, as Ray got his feet under him, looking up so prettily he felt he might crack right then and there.

"No. No, Fraser, I just think..." Oh, he really wanted to. Wanted to more than he could stand, especially when Fraser turned begging into sad like a kicked puppy. "Are you always like this?"

"Pardon?"

"Like uh--uh. No off switch."

Fraser shook his head, like he didn't know what Ray meant.

"Nevermind. I uh--shower, right."

Ray left Fraser where he was, grabbed a change of clothes and disappeared into the bathroom. Several minutes and a burst of ice cold water later and he was dressed and clean, his hair freshly spiked but still damp, emerging to the welcoming smell of coffee and no sign of either Fraser or Diefenbaker. He understood several minutes later when Fraser reappeared, Dief trotting across to sit by Ray's feet and beg Smarties.

"You gotta catch it, got it? Let's try again."

"You shouldn't feed him chocolate, Ray."

"A little bit won't hurt. Here--" He flicked another Smartie into the air, and Dief let it hit the ground, bounce, and then followed it with his nose. "Useless mutt." And now it was his turn--Smartie in the air, and he caught it in his mouth, making a victorious gesture at the bemused wolf. "Yeah alright, I'm a show off. You take Smarties, Frase?"

His partner shook his head, but kept his attention fixed on Ray as he counted treats into his coffee cup.

"You do that every time?"

"Only at home," Ray answered. "I don't like to be judged."

"I see," Fraser acknowledged, though Ray didn't think he really did see. It wasn't even like Ray knew why he did half the things he did, and this was one of them; only ever the first coffee of the day, and only ever when he was at home.

"So uh...you should--um."

"Oh yes," said Fraser, and disappeared into the bathroom.

*****

The real problem with working this case, as it turned out, was that without their witnesses, their major evidence confiscated by the FBI, there wasn't really a place to start. Fraser had the remains of the toy train with him, but between a few broken bits of plastic and some burned out bomb components, there were no hints or clues as to where they should be looking next.

"We don't have anything, Fraser."

"We know where the money came from, Ray; where it was going."

"Which we've been explicitly ordered to leave alone under pain of death."

"But we could speak to Warfield--"

Ray ground his teeth. He didn't want to argue with Fraser about this, especially after last night, but Warfield was bad news, and him getting into his Mountie head that he wanted to go and interrogate the guy was even badder news.

"Do I gotta remind you that the last time we went down to Warfield's place he threatened to kill all of us? I'm not going in there again without a SWAT team, Fraser, and neither are you."

"Although, Ray, if we--"

He cut him off. "I don't wanna hear it, Frase. This is how it's going to be. If what happened last night means anything to you..." Now it was Ray's time to cut himself off halfway, and he ducked his head in self admonishment, and not just because he'd raised the topic in the bull pen of all places. "Fuck."

"No, you're quite right."

"No, no. No, I'm not right, Fraser. It's not right. If we start with that sorta thing right now it's gonna get real messy with the obligations and the guilt. I'm not gonna hold your feelings to ransom. That's not how our partnership works, and if we disagree on some uh--some professional thing, then that's it. We disagree professionally, we don't take it home with us, and we don't uh...what?"

Fraser's mouth had pulled away at one corner into what Ray recognised to be a smile.

"What did I say?"

"Home."

He did say home. Home like the two of them. Home like his cramped little bachelor's pad. Home with Fraser. "Hey, don't get any high ideas, alright."

"Oh no, Ray. I wouldn't dream of it."

"Okay good," Ray said, still keeping his lips pressed tightly together. He held the expression for a second, then broke into a grin, shook his head. "Just don't go near Warfield, okay? Carver's not the kind of guy to leave us hanging. He has a plan. When he's ready he'll let us in on it--until then we've just gotta sit tight."

Francesca swung herself up onto the opposite side of his desk, and dropped a lumpy brown paper envelope into Ray's IN tray.

"Hi Fraser."

"Francesca." Man, Fraser was blushing again, glancing sidewards at Ray. Apparently even a good lay couldn't get Fraser to chill out around women.

Ray sat forward, placed his hand deliberately on Fraser's thigh where his partner was sat on his side of the table, and grinned almost maliciously at his fake sister. "Don't I get a hullo? I'm right here."

"Yeah whatever." Francesca dropped a hand on Fraser's shoulder. "You're looking good today, Fraser. Did you do something with your hair or...new moisturizer, something?"

Ray squeezed Fraser's thigh, not that Francesca was paying any attention to that sort of thing. He knew why Fraser looked so good. A fantastic orgasm could do that to a guy--especially one who didn't clean out his whistle nearly as often as he should. Fraser might be clean but he smelled of sex, and his skin glowed with a confidence and vitality that was absolutely insolvant. Catnip for horny chicks--and apparently for Ray too. "Can't a guy just look good for himself without you pawing all over him?"

"Well I'm sorry Mr. Men's Rights," Francesca barked, rounding on Ray since it seemed Fraser was determined to cross his eyes and blush and not much else. "You know I happen to find it attractive when men go to the effort with their appearance, but I guess you wouldn't know about that, would you?"

Okay so maybe his own power of just-had-amazing sex wasn't as full beam as Fraser's. Why wasn't that a surprise?

"Oh burn," Ray growled back. "Seriously, I think you singed an eyebrow."

"Yeah well--you know what I mean, don't you? Tell him, Fraser."

Fraser coughed, and met Ray's eyes, and he straightened up defiantly even though he had an inkling of what was coming next. "I happen to find Ray quite attractive, Francesca."

"See, exactly what I was--" She stopped, blinked at Fraser. "What?"

"I think he's a very attractive man."

Ray broke into a grin, looked triumphantly back at Francesca. "The all knowing Mountie has spoken. I guess that means I win this round, huh?"

She stormed away, and Ray pulled his hand off Fraser's leg and reached up to take the envelope from his inbox, emptying the contents of it out on the tabletop absently. There was a chink of metal on wood, and sure enough there was another toy sitting on the desk. Ray plucked it up and turned it over, examining it.

"That's not weird at all."

He threw it to Fraser, who caught it in both hands, then examined it for clean half a minute.

"Well?"

"It's a crane car, Ray. A SPR48 Workrane, to be exact."

"Right. But what does that mean? What's it for?"

"It lifts large crates, containers, even other trains on and off the rails, and facilitates the laying of new track, and the removal and repair of old."

"Okay, but does it tell us where Carver's gonna be?"

"On its own, no, but perhaps accompanied by the remains of the previous train we can make an educated guess."

Ray chewed his lip for a second, thinking over the conundrum. It was amazing how quickly it came to him with a little bit of Fraser's not at all condescending help.

"A--a scrapyard. Like the other one only for trains." He nodded to himself. "Right. But where would there be one of those? It'd have to be close, right?

"There are over forty active train yards in Chicago alone, Ray."

"I see what you're saying. Fraser."

"And what is that?" Pretending innocence. Fraser was so good at that.

"You're saying we should ask Francesca to phone around and find out which of these places has this exact crane."

"An excellent idea--

"With one small problem?"

Ray looked away across the room at Fraser's provocation, and the problem became clear. Francesca was glowering at both of them like she desperately wanted them to spontaneously combust.

"I see what you mean. You want I should go make peace with her?"

Fraser arched an eyebrow at him. "Unless you'd rather call around the trainyards yourself, Ray?"

"I'd rather cut my own cheeks off with a straight razor. Alright, I'll do it. But you owe me."

It was only when Fraser looked right at him and licked his lips that he figured the full potential behind such extortion.

Halfway across the room Detective Huey saved his life.

"Hey. I know a guy who knows a guy, but you're gonna owe me."

Ray sideeyed him suspiciously, hoping to hell he wouldn't owe Huey the way Fraser owed him. "What do you want?"

"The GTO. I have a big date."

Ray felt a flare of anger rise in his chest, protective anger. Borrow the GTO? Drive it? What if Huey got lucky in the backseat? He'd never get that image out of his head.

"No, absolutely not."

He took two steps away from the desk, and then grimaced, turning back. It was this or apologize to Francesca, or phone round the train yards himself, and he didn't want any part of any of that either.

"Alright, what have you got?"

"Keys first."

"No way."

Huey folded his arms and looked petulant, and Ray scowled at him for a few seconds longer before giving up, tossing his keys onto the desk. "No funny business, not a scratch on her, or Welsh finds out about that thing with the peanut butter."

A post it with an address on it was thrust into Ray's hand. "That's your guy."

Ray gave his keys one last soulful look, then stomped his way back over to his desk. "C'mon Fraser, we got a lead. And you do owe me."

*****

Huey's lead, it turned out, was an expensive family home in North West Chicago. The lady of the house, a harried looking woman with a child in each arm, answered the door. Sh gave them the dirtiest look Ray had ever seen a woman give a man - worse than any of Stella's by miles - when they told her they'd come to speak to her husband, then gave them directions through the house to the double garage. Fraser led the way, as ever, Ray trotting along behind him, as they descended into warm dryness and familiar noise. What was that?

As Fraser stepped out of the way, the room came into view. There were shelves stacked high with dusty boxes, bright overhead lights, two computers, but the most incredible thing was the table: eighteen feet long and ten wide, a meticulous diorama of locomotive Chicago, complete with dozens of tiny trains all whirring about.

"Toy trains?" Ray asked.

"Model trains, Ray," admonished Fraser.

"Toy trains, Fraser. Where's Eisenhower?"

As if on cue a man in a conductor's hat appeared in the middle of the table.

"Your friend is quite right, these are model trains. But I'm not offended. We modelists are always taking such abuse from laymen."

Ray bristled, but Fraser put a hand on his elbow, and he fell quiet beside him. Not still. He kept twitching like he wanted to punch the guy in the face--which he absolutely did. If he stared hard enough he could imagine it collapsing in under his fist.

"Mr. Eisenhower, we're here because a friend of ours said you might be able to help us."

"You're him, aren't you? The Mountie from Forbes magazine. Oh, oh that's really exciting! Look, you have to see this. Come, come." The man beckoned them closer, and Ray let Fraser steer him forward into the bright lights, where they were instructed to watch a little train running along the longest of the outer tracks.

As it came toward the switch, there was another train thundering toward them in the other direction, this one marked with hazardous materials symbols up and down its carriages. Sure enought they missed each other by inches, and then the little train stopped, all its little doors fell open, and tiny plastic painted Mounties on tiny plastic painted horses rode down the ramps. It probably wasn't strictly accurate, Ray thought - for example it didn't include the part where his predecessor jumped onto the train with a wolf, or the bad guy shot his accomplices and made off in the caboose - but what could you do?

"Exactly as I remember it," sweettalked Fraser.

"Listen," Ray said, in his no nonsense 'we're here to do policework' voice. "We're looking for a crane, and we were told you were the guy who'd know where to find it."

"A Badger SPR48 Workrane, to be specific."

Eisenhower frowned at them for a moment longer, then chewed on his thumb and said "I think I know the one you're talking about," and then he disappeared under the table again. Ray scowled, leaning over the model railway, investigating it while Fraser followed their source over to his computers. It didn't look like such a big deal. Little trains, little cars, little trees. Seemed like a dumb thing for a grown man to like doing, but what did he know? Eisenhower's wife was still with him, and they had kids even if he did have a stupid hobby. Some people worked even despite all the annoying stuff, huh?

While Fraser distracted Eisenhower, Ray touched everything, knocked over some of those little trees, accidentally got his bracelet tangled in a fake power line, and deliberately picked up one of the little trains to look it over. It probably cost more than his salary for a month--wasn't that depressing? He made sure to put it back down by the time Fraser was done, rather than be caught red handed, and slithered over to join them.

"We know where we're going?"

"It's off 47th. You can't miss it," said Eisenhower cheerfully. "There's a roadbridge overlooks most of it. Railfans go down there sometimes to spot."

Ray had to fight not to make some awful remark about vomit, and let Fraser thank Eisenhower before following his partner back into the house, then out onto the street. As they got back into the Chrysler he said: "Promise me you're never gonna collect toy trains, cause I couldn't take it Fraser. If it were that or the log thing I'd pick the log thing every time."

"Objection noted," said Fraser. "Although it was a rather stunning reproduction. The attention to detail with the livery alone--"

"Fraser."

"Yes, Ray?"

"This is not my joking face. Do I look like I'm joking?" He tried to look as serious as he could, but lost it when Fraser leant over and brushed a kiss against his mouth. "Alright, you win."

"What do I win?"

Ray fidgeted again. This thing where he kept getting turned on by innocuous things Fraser said was going to become a habit, wasn't it?

*****

The railroad yard was quiet. Quiet but busy, in the way that people moving heavy machinery in the distance was busy. Sparse threads of grass had been largely abused into dust, all the nutrients washed out through the cracks in the sun-drenched earth. Seventeen rails lined up across the yard, stacked with train cars; some unloaded, some empty. The hulks of empty carcasses of carriages made inviting hiding places for gunmen, and here the grass was grown up higher, and ugly graffiti sprawled across the rusted, ruined metal.

Ray pulled the car in past the guard house, drove across three lines of rail and slotted it in beside the other parked cars. They got out, and while Fraser went to speak to the yard's security guard, Ray hung back watching the shunting of the latest arrival to the yard, twenty cars stacked high with goods, grain, milk, potatoes. A guy hung off the side of the train near the front beckoning toward the locomotive, and Ray had a sudden flash of feeling insignificant beside the great thundering machine of life.

Fortunately Fraser came back to stir him from his reverie.

"It's this way, Ray." Fraser lead them in, waiting until the diesel train finished shunting past them before guiding Ray across the rails one at a time. They made it to the third from the end, then set off along the rails past all those empty, brightly colored carriages. This rail seemed to be empty, and it seemed to go on almost forever, but at last the crane car was there in front of them, sitting on the tracks in yellow with all its bright, reflective maintenance livery.

"Okay, so we're here. Now what?"

That was always the problem with asking Fraser questions, of course. Usually the moment you tried, he just went ahead and did something incredibly stupid, and this time was no exception. In this case he heaved himself up onto the traincar, mounted the cab and began to clamber out along the crane arm, springing across the steel lattice like an athlete or a circus performer or something. Ray rolled his eyes and checked his watch.

"Any clues up there, Fraser?"

"If by clues," Fraser called back down, "You mean seven heavily armed men, then yes, Ray."

"Seven?"

"It would appear that Mr. Warfield is not content to allow Mr. Carver's scheme to proceed without employing some variety of failsafe."

"So those guys are there to shoot holes in us and Carver?"

"Yes, Ray."

"But... Something's not adding up here."

"It would appear that Mr. Carver is aware that he's being set up."

That was why it wasn't sitting right with Ray. He'd figured Fraser would clear it up for him sooner or later. "So he's double crossing the double crossers?"

"It may not be as simple as that," Fraser slid down, landing beside him. "But I imagine we'll find out."

They sat there for almost ten minutes waiting for something to happen, but just as Ray was getting restless, along came another remote control car, trundling down between the tracks. Fraser pointed it out, and sure enough a few seconds later Ray could hear the sound of its tiny electric motor too, even under the general thunderous racket of the trainyard. Ray watched it coming closer, overwrought with trepidation. What if this one, too, carried a whole lot of explosives? Instead it was laden with a pair of two-way radios, one of which Fraser passed to Ray while he brought the other up to ear level.

"Good afternoon, Detective. Constable."

Ray thumbed the speak button. It felt like he was eight years old again. "Warfield's onto you, huh, scumbag?"

"Oh yes. But it's all simply a part of my design, as you'll realise in time. You see, Mr. Warfield intends to make an example of you. His exchange today is designed to do just that; to oversee your deaths and include them in his tribute to the Iguanas."

That was news to Ray. They were making a mob exchange? Here? He glanced warily at Fraser. They'd been told to stay out of this, but here they were right back in it again, and maybe they should have bought SWAT after all, but how do you make that kind of judgement call? This had just been a lead--now it was a show down, and neither of them were prepared.

"Right. So how's this going to go down? What do you want?"

"The money, Mr. Kowalski."

Warfield's money, right? "The FBI have the money." No, the new money. There had to be new money involved, and if it was really another three million, Warfield would want to make sure it got given to the right person this time. He'd put it straight into Iguana hands.

"No," explained Carver. "Warfield has collected a further three million of his own funds. The Iguanas must be paid, and Mr. Armando Langoustini is here in person to ensure that it reaches them. You will steal this money for me, right from under Warfield's nose."

Nailed it. Oh, how he hated when he was right.

"I'm afraid we can't do that," said Fraser, and Ray punched him in the arm.

"Why not?" he hissed, urgently.

"Because it would be theft, Ray."

"It's not his money in the first place. He got it by--by murder and mayhem and all that mob stuff."

"It's still theft," Fraser objected again. "And we'd be aiding and abetting an escaped convict."

Fortunately Carver intervened. "If you do not recover the suitcase, there is a box car packed with migrants being sold into modern slavery by the mob somewhere in the yard; it is laced with C-4. I will detonate it should Langoustini leave with the tribute."

Ray twitched. "See, Fraser? Lives are at risk."

There was silence from his partner for a few moments, and then Fraser said "What would you like us to do?"

"Warfield won't be comfortable acting until he believes you are both dead. Only then will he signal for the car to be brought around with the money for the exchange. Under the guise of your lives having been recently extinguished, you will then abscond with the suitcase, leaving it where I instruct you to do so."

It sounded like an awful plan, Ray thought. One that might well end up with them both full of bullet holes.

"How are we supposed to avoid the snipers?"

"You're not. In fact, if you don't draw them away from the car once it has arrived, you're almost certain to be shot by Warfield's security."

"That's what I thought," growled Ray. "I hate this plan."

"That's the spirit, Detective Kowalski. The train car laden with explosives is marked with a white X on the roof. To survive the explosion you must be inside with the doors closed. The heat will be intense, but brief; after that you must move quickly through the trapdoor cut in the floor of the box car to avoid being discovered.

"Good luck."

The crackling stopped, and Ray sighed, glancing across at Fraser. This was an awful plan. Pretend to get blown up, bait snipers, steal money from the mob--and then there were all the trains. There was not one part of it he cared for. But they had to do it; they had no choice. There were innocent lives at stake.

"I don't like this, Fraser."

"The part where we get shot at?"

"All of it, but especially that bit now that you mention it, yeah. Isn't this about the time we come up with our own plan B?"

"That would imply there was a plan A."

"Well do we have a plan A, Fraser?"

Fraser didn't reply. He gestured for Ray to follow, and Ray followed, scowling at every train they passed. Fraser seemed to know exactly where he was going, even though he'd only been up on the crane for a few seconds. Ray didn't like trains. It was decided. This whole train thing, he was over it. Which was a big deal because as a kid he'd enjoyed riding the L. That was done, though, over with, his mild love affair concluded.

When they reached the big red box car with the white X painted on the roof, Fraser heaved open the big doors and climbed up into the open space. He stood there for a moment blinking down at his partner, then dropped an arm toward him.

Ray didn't move. He stared up at Fraser for a long time, and then rolled his shoulders, looking up and down the track.

"How can we trust what this guy even says, Fraser?"

"I don't see what choice we have."

"Well it looks like a big steel coffin to me."

Ray raised his arm up, and Fraser clasped his hand, heaved him up onto the lip, and pulled him in. As Ray stepped in past the threshold, Fraser dragged the massive door shut. Ray expected the box car to be completely dark inside, but instead there were ribbons of light where the carriage was ventilated.

Suddenly Fraser's arms were around him, warm and reassuring, looping around his waist, Fraser's mouth was crushing against his own, Fraser's warmth was seeping into his body. Ray groaned in complaint, but only hesitated for a second before rocking forward against Fraser, hip to hip, kissing back, taking his comfort for exactly what it was; exactly why it was being given to him. This was reassurance in its purest form, and Ray wasn't sure, but he thought maybe Fraser might need it too. They were about to be in an explosion, this might be a trap, these may be their last few seconds together, and Fraser wanted to spend them in his arms.

And Ray wanted to spend them in Fraser's.

Didn't fill him with confidence that they were going to survive the explosion, but he'd rather die being kissed like this than yelling at Fraser about it.

The explosion was preceded by an electrical whipcrack, and then there was a deafening crash, a whip of heat, and all at once the air seemed to be drawn at high speed out of the room--or maybe that was Fraser shoving his tongue down his throat. Either way, it felt like suffocating underwater all over again, and for a second or two longer Ray was content to just do the buddy breathing thing, digging his nails into Fraser's hips and heaving himself closer, grinding his mouth possessively against his partner's.

When the kiss broke, the box car was hot and airless, flames licking up the sides. But they weren't dead, and that really was something. He had to give it to Carver, this plan of his might work after all.

"Did the earth just move or was that just me?"

Ouch, he shouldn't have said a word. The air was really hot, actually, and it would be really nice to get out of there. Fortunately Fraser was taking the initiative, cracking open the trapdoor and urging Ray through it before following him out. They crawled out under the wheels and flames, and stayed low until they were under the next train.

"Now what?"

"We should put some distance between us and the explosion."

Ray stayed low, following Fraser as he led the way through the maze of trains, over buffers and through box cars, underneath the great turning wheels. The sound of distant movement had ceased, all work put on hold now that there had been an explosion, but the only thing that meant was that they didn't have to dodge moving traffic on top of everything else.

Fraser paused to listen often, and then at last he said "Warfield's here," and jumped up onto the nearest carriage, climbing up onto the top. Several guns went off, bullets whizzing past overhead, and Fraser rolled to the ground at Ray's feet like he was jumping out of some sort of action movie.

"That should draw their attention."

"And their fire. Good one, Fraser. See, this is the part of the plan I don't like--the people shooting at us part."

"This way."

"Yeah, sure. When every way leads toward death why not this way?" But he was following, keeping his head down, even though he was fumbling in his pocket for his glasses just in case. He might end up having to shoot back any second now.

He didn't know quite how Fraser did it, but they emerged on the parked car almost out of nowhere. Warfield was waiting there, his phone in his hand, yelling at someone on the other end. Ray slid his glasses onto his nose and took his gun out of his shoulder holster, clicking off the safety.

"What do you mean Carver's gone? You said he'd be there. You don't find that weasely scumsucker and kill him then I'm going to end you instead. You find him and you kill him, and if that Mountie leaves this yard alive I'll be sending you to explain it to the Iguanas personally. You're gonna wish I killed you quick, you little cocksucker."

Fraser made a face, which Ray thought was probably related to Warfield's language. He'd always been particularly offensive to Fraser in his manner alone, like he'd perfected the art of being an asshole without ever swearing, but right now Warfield was clearly on his last nerve, and that made him more dangerous than ever. Fraser found Warfield rude and abrasive, and Ray didn't particularly like him much either.

He hadn't spotted them yet, and Ray tapped Fraser on the arm for him to stay and crept along the back of the car out of sight. He might even be able to do it, get the suitcase out of the car without attracting any attention...

"Mr. Warfield," said Fraser, clear as a bell, and Ray's blood ran cold.

"Constable Fraser. I see rumors of your demise have been greatly exaggerated."

Warfield was lining his gun up. He was so close that even through the smutty, blacked out windows Ray could practically see down the sights. What was Fraser thinking? Why had he done that?

"I really must advise you against shooting me, Mr. Warfield. You see the man you've been collaborating with, Mr. Charles Carver, is in fact--"

But Warfield had learned his lesson the last time. He raised his gun half an inch higher, his wrist tensed, ready to fire.

"I'm going to enjoy this," Carver goaded

This was not good. Not remotely good. Ray abandoned his pursuit of the suitcase and scrabbled to get a foothold on the wheel rim. He launched himself up onto the roof, found a foothold, leapt--and then there was a gunshot, and falling, and he hit the ground with Warfield, the shot ringing in his ears, all the breath knocked out of him. Warfield was struggling away, and Ray shoved up his gunhand and shot at the other man once, twice, three times; maybe winged the bastard--Warfield fled.

He dropped the gun.

Over Fraser's shoulder was an old man in a Mountie uniform. He looked sort of sad, Ray thought. Old, and sad, and maybe a little bit dead.

"You did good, son," said the old man.

"Ray. Ray, stop struggling."

Fraser was heavy on top of him all at once, the weight on his chest unbearable. He could hardly breathe. It hurt. He looked up pleadingly. Fraser was crushing him. Couldn't he see how much it hurt? And wasn't he supposed to be chasing Warfield, anyway?

"You go," Ray gurgled. "The old guy will look after me. You go get your man."

"Ray. Ray." Fraser's hands came down on his shoulder, squeezing hard, pinning him down. "What are you talking about? What old guy?"

"You've been shot," said the old man, and placed his hand on Fraser's shoulder in turn, still looking Ray in the eye. "Just try and stay still."

Fraser glanced up at the man behind him. "He can see you?"

Benton Fraser's dead Mountie father nodded. "He's dying."

"No. No, he can't. Ray. Ray." Fraser was white as a sheet. Animated. Terrified. Ray tasted blood on his mouth, but his lips quirked into a grin anyway. This was all just so familiar. Apart from the ghost, and the actual dying.

"You called me Ray."

"It's okay. You're going to be okay."

"He's dying, son."

Fraser was trying to convince himself. Somehow that was even scarier. Fraser's mouth brushed against his own, carrying away blood, and Ray closed his eyes for a moment. Tired. Tired and cold. Fraser was murmuring nearby, raising his voice, and Ray squinted up at him, tensing. Warfield was back, pointing a gun down at his partner, and he felt a stab of pure panic. Where was his gun? Why couldn't the dead Mountie save them? He was helpless, couldn't move, couldn't fight back, couldn't protect Fraser when his partner needed him most. Warfield looked insane, fierce, like violence incarnate. It was all over. God, he didn't want to watch Fraser die. Not like this.

"Carver took your money," he growled weakly, when Warfield snapped about the missing suitcase. Of course it was missing. Carver had wanted it this way, wanted the distraction, wanted Ray or Fraser to end up showing off how much they loved each other--wasn't that what he'd said? And now they were going to end up dead, and Warfield would be killed by the mob, and everything would settle in place, with not a spot of blood on Carver's hands.

It felt like the words took every last vestige of effort he had left. "If you go now, you might catch him. Haha."

"You tell him," egged on the ghost, and glanced hopelessly at Ray again.

His chest ached. He was getting colder and colder, and he clutched at the air with questing, bloodied fingers. Fraser wrapped a hand around them and squeezed. This was it. It was over. They'd lost--they'd actually lost. They were going to die here, together, but at least they knew this time how they felt about each other. At least they'd been able to share that intimacy even once.

He closed his eyes as tight as he could.

There was a loud bang. Fraser squeezed his hand harder. Something heavy and warm fell on the floor beside him. This was how it was always going to end, right? No wonder Stella had left him. It was a violent life, a violent job, and this was always going to be the way out at the end of the day. Who wanted to wait around for the inevitable to happen? A bullet and then it was over. He waited for it, didn't want to think any harder on it, because Fraser was lying dead beside him and he didn't want to live. Not any more.

"Ray, open your eyes. Look at me."

His eyes opened. Fraser was looming very close, brushing his cheek with his trembling, bloodied hand. Fraser was squeezing his fingers. Fraser was there - right there, with his father standing sentinel behind him. The body beside him was Warfield's. Warfield lying dead.

"Look," said the ghost, and gestured toward the overpass. Up there, near the railing overlooking the yard, he could see a man in a black and white suit being escorted back into a parked limousine. Langoustini?

He dropped his head back helplessly, let Fraser stroke him and kiss him, drifted...drifted in and out of consciousness. Were those sirens? Could Fraser tell how far away they were? Would they get here in time?

"I love you, Ray."

The darkness yawed, unconsciousness swept the rest of the way over him.

*****

Lights flashed by. He could hear Fraser's voice. Cold, it was so cold.

*****

Dark, electric hum, flashing light, bare chest, sensation of movement.

*****

He stood in the darkness with Robert Fraser. There were distant voices in the shadows all around them, but Ray couldn't make out what any of them were saying. A spot of light enticed him from the end of what seemed to be a hallway.

"Am I dead?"

"If that's what you want," said Bob Fraser.

Ray scuffed his heel against the ground irritably. "Not really," he said. "There's uh--there's a whole lot of things I still gotta do. I want to um. I want to ride an elephant and uh...swim with sharks and--maybe not the sharks, that sounds pretty dumb, but I want to..."

"You're everything he has."

His heart sank. Fraser was everything he had; he hadn't ever stopped to think that maybe Ray was all Fraser had too.

"How do I get back?"

*****

The lights exploded around him.

*****

He was in the Riviera. It exploded around him.

*****

He was in a train car kissing Fraser. It exploded around him.

*****

Bright light shining down at him, people looming, something cold, enveloping sleep.

*****

Drowsy, Fraser's fingers wound tightly around his, umming sleepily for him to turn off the bedside lamp, his head throbbing.

*****

Fraser was asleep on his bed, spooned against him, his head on the pillow beside Ray's and his breath gusting in Ray's ear. His arm was slung loose across Ray's stomach. He'd never looked so peaceful.

Robert Fraser glanced at him from his place beside the window. He looked like he was standing guard. Diefenbaker was curled up by his feet.

The nurse came in to take his temperature, mark down his vitals, and she smiled at Ray before she left. It was dark, so Ray slept again, warm and content in Fraser's arms.

*****

The first few days weren't wonderful. The analgesia was particularly welcome, but Fraser's company eclipsed everything else; was better than any morphine.

He woke to Fraser's voice murmuring into the hospital silence of squeaking floors and low voices late the next morning. His partner was sitting in the chair with his eyes on the window, and in the reflection Ray thought he saw him looking more unguarded than he ever had, his expression softened, his eyes closed, the corners of his lips turned down.

"I'm not sure who she was to me, really. By the end of that night I felt like we'd known each other our entire lives, but thinking back on it now I know I was naive, that I was taking advantage of the opportunity to have a warm body close to my own after so long feeling unworthy of such a thing.

"You have to understand, Ray, desire to me has often felt like something selfish; a pursuit of pleasure at someone else's expense. I want nothing less than everything, and yet living as I do, doing what I do, I can't hope to provide it; any commitment I might make wholeheartedly would only be rejected out of necessity. The harsh realities of my life go unreflected upon beneath the distracting seduction of red serge and leather polish; I dazzle, through much effort but no intention of my own.

"Perhaps that's why I clung to the idea of Inspector Thatcher for as long as I did--I hoped the fact that she wore the uniform meant she understood, and certainly she reflected to me that she was a woman underneath those clothes, and I a man. I hoped she understood then, but she and I...we come from different worlds. As do we, Ray, but it's different. We work together every day. I feel closer to you... I feel like we understand each other. In fact some days I suspect I know you better than I know myself. And I try to reciprocate--I do. I know that I don't reveal as much of myself to you as I could. Certainly not as much as I revealed to Victoria.

"She destroyed me. I exposed myself to her. I gave myself to her. It was I daresay it not unlike a marriage, albeit compressed into mere days. Love and sex and betrayal, love and sex and betrayal. Putting her in jail was like carving a wound into my own body; I found myself regretting the very act of doing my duty, and yet I never hesitated. I swore I wouldn't make the same mistake again. She soothed my wounds, then scratched them open. In some ways she prove to me that she had never been what I believed her to be, that I had been small and foolish and so easily manipulated.

"But she offered redemption and I took it in an instant. That was all it took: her eyes, an offered hand, and maybe there was a gun and I was too blinded by the mask of her forgiveness to see it. Maybe it was just the last thing she had to take from me, the last morsel of my own self respect, because I ran for her--I ran; I would always run. I was sick with it. Some nights I wake up and I still am, and I know now like I knew then that I could never so naively expose myself for the sake of love ever again, not for all my dreams or passion or want for family.

"I let her in, and she showed me how beautiful it could be, and then she wrecked every part of it. I am shattered, Ray. An embittered divorcee of a length of mere days. A broken man. But I love you. I've known that for so long now, been so afraid of myself--"

Fraser's voice broke, and Ray could see that he was crying. He fell quiet, and Ray watched him for a few moments. He had a choice: acknowledge he'd heard all this, comfort Fraser honestly and without reservation, or pretend he'd just woken, that he hadn't heard his partner lay everything out on the line the way he just had.

He couldn't do that. Fraser was barely even scratching the surface of his issues--that bit about even Thatcher not getting that he was a man and not some plastic Mountie Ken doll, for example, and the part about how Fraser just wanted to settle down, but didn't think women really got what settling down with him meant. God, the thing about divorce. Ray knew all about that. He knew that if how Fraser felt about Victoria and how Ray felt about Stella had anything in common... Hell, Ray would jump a train for Stella in a heartbeat if there were even half a chance she might take him back. Yeah, even if she was pointing a gun at him at the time.

"Love can make anyone dumb, Fraser. Nobody said it has to make sense. It can make you the best person you can be, sure, but it can bring out the worst in you too. And that's okay, Frase--that's how we know it's real."

Fraser had raised his eyes to look at his reflection in the glass, but now he bit his lip and turned, and God--Fraser with his face all wet with tears like that, it almost broke his heart.

"Come on over here," Ray said, softly, and Fraser came, sank down into the seat that was angled almost right up against the side of his bed. Fraser lowered his head down onto the pillow beside him when Ray reached out with the arm on his good side. He didn't quite have the coordination to stroke the tears away - not with the arm half under him as it was - but he could wind his fingers in Fraser's hair and pull the other man's face against his own, pressing his cheek against Fraser's warm, wet skin. "I love you, Fraser. I took a bullet for you, didn't I?"

Fraser huffed against him, hot breath and so, so wet, and then he was just sobbing, and Ray crooned soothingly, raking his nails against the back of his partner's neck, rubbing his fingertips through his hair.

"I love you," he repeated. "Just you let it out, buddy, okay? I'm not going anywhere."

"You almost died," Fraser was mumbling into his neck. "You almost died, Ray."

"Yeah well--takes more than a bullet to kill me."

That just made Fraser shudder and sob a little harder, and Ray spun his eyes up toward the ceiling and petted Fraser's hair some more. He'd almost died. He hadn't known it had been that bad, and okay so he couldn't move, but that was morphine for you. It felt like all his limbs were made of lead, and all this emotion and crying was draining him quickly. Maybe he really had almost died. How many days had Fraser been sitting here beside his bed, or sleeping on it?

How long had Fraser been fighting down all these different kinds of grief and fear for the sake of appearing strong? Ray had been asleep, but Fraser--Fraser had been riding through that whole emotional rollercoaster the whole time. Hell, he deserved to have a good cry.

Ray petted him for a little longer, didn't know how long it was, really, but the moment he felt Fraser start to let up he nudged his chin against him, bumped him back slightly. "Hey Fraser?"

Fraser gained an inch.

"What happened to Carver? Did we get him?"

Fraser smiled, stroked at Ray's cheek. soothingly. He could feel the overgrown bristles there. Days of growth. "You remember that tracker Lieutenant Welsh gave you?" Fraser asked.

Ray nodded.

"The moment the explosion was called in, he knew it was us. Welsh called in favors in three precincts--every unit. They closed the entire yard down. By the time Diefenbaker pinned down Carver he had backup. They intercepted the money and saved the hostages."

"Langoustini?"

"Escaped. But he... Ray, do you remember what happened?"

"It's foggy."

Fraser smiled, pressed a wet, teary kiss to Ray's face, then rubbed his cheek against the already damp pillow. "Langoustini shot Warfield."

"Why?"

"I don't suppose we'll ever know. Perhaps that was the plan all along. Maybe he was simply too volatile, too unpredictable. Warfield did misplace the money--again."

"There are rules, too. Killing cops--"

"Yes, Ray."

Ray grinned, weakly. "Had my ass saved my a mobster. Never gonna live that down."

Fraser kissed him again. Ray made a soft sort of 'Mmm' sound, and then it was Fraser's turn to pet him as he dozed off. Life was pretty crazy, but he'd survived almost dying - again - there had to be something in that.

*****

The brown paper envelope on top of the pile of junk mail and bills on Ray's doorstep was undoubtedly from Carver. The postmark denoted that it had been sent from Chicago on the day of his arrest, and there was an odd sort of rattle-inside-a-rattle that Ray recognized from his trips down to Blockbuster. It was a video tape.

After Fraser had helped him onto the couch, Ray opened up the envelope and tipped the contents into his lap. Sure enough a black tape fell out, plastic, oblong, with white spools. There were no markings or labels on the case itself, but there was a handwritten letter.

'For the attention of Detective Raymond Vecchio and/or Constable Benton Fraser
I include the copy of the recording we made together at the warehouse.
I had no intention of keeping it, but if you are reading this then you are alive and I am with any luck very far away and much richer. I hope that this tape comes to you as more than a memento of a dead friend, a chance mistook. If not you have my deepest condolences. If so, remember that life is short, and love is fleeting.
Best wishes.
Your friend,
Charles Carver.'

Ray crumpled the paper up and threw it onto the couch beside him. It would probably be useful for the trial or something. The tape though; he held that to him until Fraser came back with his coffee. There was a sugary sheen on the surface--he'd remembered to put in the smarties.

"Thanks. Hey, you think...you think I could have a shower and a shave? You um...you'll have to come with me this time. I just want to get the smell of hospital off."

"I can do that, Ray." Fraser answered, and kissed him, and it was all going to be alright.

*****

He'd been in the hospital for a month recovering. Now he was at home, with Fraser looking after him, it felt like every day he was twice as strong as the day before. He'd still been ordered not to use his left arm for anything, certainly not to raise it above hip level, and Fraser was indispensable as a result, helping him out around the apartment, settling in, taking up all the space.

Ray relished the company; he hadn't spent this much time alone in his apartment since he could remember, and had Fraser not been there the emptiness of it would have done him in. Now, though, as the days passed, it began to feel more and more like the home that Fraser had promised to him.

Most of Fraser's clothing had migrated into his closet, there were Mountie hair products in the bathroom and actual cooking was being done in the little kitchen. Diefenbaker had a dog bed set up under the kitchen table, which had chairs and place settings, the bed had been swept under for the first time in three years, and all of the little things that had been broken and gone unmended were now either as good as new or replaced. It was like having a wife again, except this time there were no arguments, accusations, or smashed dinnerware.

Fraser had almost insisted on sleeping on the couch, but Ray had beaten him down, and they shared his bed instead. They shared it too with Diefenbaker most mornings, which Ray secretly liked more than he admitted.

In the evening, Fraser would help him shower, then sit him on the closed toilet seat and chat to him as he shaved him with his straight razor. He'd never been so clean shaven since he'd been a teenager, or really a intimate with anyone as it now seemed he was with Fraser. Stella had never had to bathe him, or shave him, never sat and talked with him for hours, watched sports with him, changed his dressings, helped him into and out of bed...

It might have only been a couple of weeks, and they might have been close already, but it changed everything. It changed their partnership immensely.

No, they were in a relationship now. Which was terrifying. Being in a relationship implied that they might at any point stop being in one, and after the way Stella had left him, the emptiness and the pain and self hatred that had come of it, it inspired a sort of fear in him that he couldn't wholly settle with. Fraser made him feel safe, though, and that was very different to his relationship with Stella, where pursuing her had been a fear of losing her until they'd tied the knot, and a fear of losing her from the end of their honeymoon thereafter.

He couldn't live through another relationship like that. Not like that.

Tonight, in the middle of their evening rituals, Ray laid his hand on Fraser's wrist.

"I don't want to lose you. I know that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, Fraser, and I--I don't do these feelings things so good. But I'm not Ray Vecchio. I uh--I answer to his name, I get his phonecalls, I track down psychos who want him dead, but s-sometimes I think, y'know, that I'm getting in too deep. That I don't know who I am if I'm not Ray Vecchio. Which is dumb. But if he comes back--

"This is his life, Frase. You're his life, you know? Not me. I guess I'm just jealous cause he's got it pretty good, and I hate him for that. He's got you, and a great family, and his ex-wife doesn't hate his guts..."

"I don't think Stella hates you, Ray. Quite the opposite, actually."

"Yeah I know, she still loves me, she just can't be with me. Go figure that one out."

"And Ray's ex-wife had so little faith in him after their divorce that she inculpated him with Internal Affairs."

"Inculpated?"

"Yes."

"Stella never did that."

"No."

Ray chewed his lip for a moment, until Fraser brought the razor back to his cheek, and then he stayed his wrist again.

"But I'm still sorta--uh. Sorta uh..." He couldn't say it.

"Jealous," Fraser provided.

"Well that too."

"Then?"

Ray held his breath for several seconds, then blurted "Terrified."

Fraser leant up and kissed him, which while it was very agreeable didn't really do much to assuage his fear. And that meant it was pretty hardcore fear; the good stuff. When he didn't kiss back with quite enough feeling, Fraser drew back - miraculously shaving foam free - and looked at him--looked him right in the eye.

"I love you, Ray. Even if you weren't my partner, that would still be true."

"But Vecchio--"

"Was my partner, but never my lover, Ray."

Ray had to chew over that one for a minute, to reflect on what Fraser had told him about Victoria - which was more or less why he'd been stewing over Ray Vecchio at all, all these weeks - and then finally he dipped his head, somewhat but not wholly subdued.

"I tried... I tried so hard to make it work with Stella."

"I know," Fraser said, and he stilled Ray's mouth with his finger, scraped off the last of his bristles, and dabbed away what was left of the shaving cream with a warm towel.

"I mean I woulda done anything, Fraser. Anything to make it work. Anything just to be near her. We didn't even have to kiss, or touch, or dance. If I coulda just been close enough for her to hate on me for a little longer, at least it'd be something."

"I know," Fraser said again, and he meant that he knew because he'd been there too. That was how he felt about Victoria; Ray could tell. He reached up and touched his partner's cheek. It was already smooth, still damp and cool from the shower.

"I don't wanna get hurt again."

"Neither do I, Ray."

They sat together like that for a little longer, in silence, and then he patted Fraser's shoulder with his good hand. "Enough talk. Help me up, buddy. It's time for bed."

Fraser helped him up, and once he was on his feet, Ray was able to make the way through to the other room on his own. The bullet had hit him in the chest on the left hand side, broken a rib as it glanced off it at close range and miraculously gone through and through. He'd bled into his abdomen, and one of his lungs had collapsed in the hospital, but as usual it had been a miracle he'd survived. A degree of difference in any direction and the bullet would have killed him or paralyzed him, wasn't he lucky?

Yeah, he thought, as he stepped into the bedroom to Fraser stripping off his bathtowel. He was really incredibly lucky.

Fraser was reaching for that red wool thing he wore to bed. Ray stopped him, sliding a hand onto his partner's elbow as he stepped up behind him. His own towel pooled on the floor, and Fraser went rigid, until recognition convinced him to soften back against him.

"Ray. You were shot."

"Then you gotta go gentle on me. You think you can do that, Fraser?"

"Ray--" Fraser turned carefully in Ray's arms. "I don't think..."

Ray cut him off. "I want you to make love to me. I want...I want to do something that neither of us can take back. I want to make it real."

"It is real," Fraser admonished.

Now it was Ray's turn to lean down and close the topic with a kiss, sliding his mouth against Fraser's, crushing their noses together. He didn't hold back the way Fraser had, leaving the kiss at mouth on mouth, but plunged his tongue against Fraser's parted lips, dived into the wet heat of his mouth, sucked on his tongue and clacked teeth against teeth. It didn't take much to make Fraser moan, and with that Ray knew he had him. Fraser wanted this.

After such a wait, Ray couldn't blame him. He'd thought about it every day of his incapacitation. He wondered whether Fraser had thought about it too, laying in bed beside him, standing in the shower with him. Oh, they'd touched, but Fraser had admonished him more than often enough to put an end to it before it went too far. He'd known Fraser was afraid of his injuries, of course, but it didn't make it easier to be rejected like that. And now--

Now he had a green light, and Fraser was stepping into him so that Ray almost straddled his thigh. Fraser was grinding up against him, holding nothing back. Fraser was sucking all of the air out of his lungs and tipping him gently to the side, laying him down so gently on his back that it felt as though he were being laid out on a cloud rather than his own old, lumpy mattress.

With Fraser folded over his left leg, Ray was free to raise his right a few inches without worrying exceptionally about pulling on the scarring forming on his left hand side. Fraser had probably taken that into account, and was kissing him still, plowing back into his mouth the way that Ray had first assaulted his, tongue lashing against his tongue, only to plunge in and out with the same rhythm with which Fraser was thrusting against his hip.

"Uhn--Fwa...sahn--mmph..." He dug his fingers into Fraser's hair and tugged him back roughly. "Frase--ah. Fraser. Some of us gotta breathe."

"Yes Ray," Fraser said, and kissed him again. Ray moaned uselessly, helpless, and gave up. There was no fighting him. Fraser was absolutely amazing; he had so much to give, and he was so willing, so earnest, so full of passion that there was nothing to do but stand on the beach and be overwhelmed by the tsunami of it. It was seemingly limitless, and if this was what he'd let himself in for, what he could look forward to - not just today but forever - then Ray didn't have anything to worry about, possible return of Vecchio or not.

With no layers separating them, there was nothing to keep Ray from acknowledging Fraser's growing erection nudging against him. Each rock of Fraser's hips was skin sliding against skin, and that was all he wanted. God knew he could get off like this no problem, but Fraser's hand was sliding down to grasp his cock, and he whimpered into his partner's mouth and bucked against him, ignoring the twinge of pain in his side when he did. The pleasure was more than enough that he could get past it.

But oh, he was going to suffocate in this kiss without ever getting what he wanted. Fraser had no staying power, and--he got his hand against Fraser's chest, pushed against him.

"Slow down. I like quick, I'm all for quick, but I wanna see you, and I want you--"

"Inside," Fraser supplied.

"Yeah. Do you know how?"

"No. Do you?"

"Not a clue. But I reckon if we can pilot a submarine we can do this, what do you say?"

Fraser was chewing his lip, looking unsure, but Ray kneaded his shoulder reassuringly. "In the drawer, okay?"

It didn't take long for Fraser to slide off him and fetch the lube. Ray rolled up onto his good side, and when Fraser settled down awkwardly he did his best to shimmy closer without hurting himself, nudging up against Fraser, and carefully draping his left leg across Fraser's thigh. He linked his arm around him, and Fraser did the same, the tensing of the muscles in his arms against Ray's sides the only indicator he had that Fraser was messing with the tube.

He was trembling, Ray realized: doing anything but looking him straight in the eye despite their closeness and trembling; he could feel the vibration as it came through him.

"You can do this," he murmured, reassuringly. "You're supposed to be the one reassuring me, Fraser."

Fraser made a soft sound of uncertainty. Ray wriggled forward, pressing his nose against the other man's. It was all he could offer, lying on his good arm more or less incapacitated it. "It's alright. Just uh--you know, you know?"

He wasn't ready for this, but he wanted it, so as Fraser's shaking, slippery hands spread his cheeks, and one finger teased against his puckered entrance, Ray grit his teeth and tried to let the whole thing wash over him, tried to just remember that he desperately wanted this, as often and as much as possible. Maybe when he wasn't healing up from the jumping in front of a bullet for Fraser, he'd get to return the favor, but for now it was his turn.

Suck it up, Ray.

He sucked it up, and Fraser pushed a slick finger inside, and there weren't any fireworks or rainbows or whatever. There was just a finger, albeit his very best buddy's finger, pressed inside of him, discomforting but not uncomfortable.

"That's uh. That's okay. Maybe if you uh...move it in and out a bit?"

Fraser did that. It didn't feel like much, but Ray crinkled his brow and tried to get something out of it. It wasn't bad, per se. It was just weird.

"Fraser. Fraser. Put another--I uh. Put another one in. I think maybe if you--"

Like with the thrusting, Fraser didn't hesitate. He rushed right into it, pushing a second finger into him at once, and Ray groaned, twisting away. The fingers followed, sucked in, and Ray shuddered and sank back again, thrust against that hand, finally really feeling something. Maybe just pain, but it was a nice pain. Really...actually sort of nice. Maybe this could work. Fraser was thrusting with his fingers again, but Ray was moving with him now rather than laying rigid, and by the time he recovered some of his focus he was drenched with sweat, panting hotly against Fraser's shoulder, his cock hard and tender, leaking against Fraser's bare belly.

"Another?" Fraser asked, delicately, his mouth close to Ray's ear. There was tangible lust in his voice, so heavy it might as well have pooled out of his mouth and formed a collar around Ray's throat to cut off his breathing, smother his response.

His moan of agreement was throttled. "Y-yes. Careful."

Fraser was a careful as Fraser could be - glacial, even - but it was still remarkably painful, and this time not the good kind. He curled up slightly tighter in Fraser's arms, and his partner held him tight, held him through his trembling and sweating, the tensing of his muscles in response to the intrusion.

"F--Nngh. Fraser--Just, fuck..."

If anything, Ray falling apart seemed to have settled Fraser down. Now he had a job to do, Fraser seemed in control, but also thoroughly enraptured, and he ducked back to find Ray's eyes before he leant in for a kiss, Ray thought he saw unbridled desire in his blue gaze; wild, jagged peaks of desire, like all the thrilling danger of the wilderness lurked in Fraser's passion.

"Are you--" Fraser began, as he broke the kiss.

"Yes," Ray spat, interrupting. Fraser was pulling his fingers out reluctantly, slowly, and it was excruciating. It left him feeling more empty than two years of divorce had ever managed to achieve. "Just fucking--" He was panting, trying to stay coherent for Fraser's sake. "Fuck, just do it. Do it."

"How--"

Ray grimaced, and ignoring the slight pull in his side, the fact that his injury would probably ache later from the punishment, he groped between them, wrapping his questing fingers around Fraser's erection.

"I don't want to have to spell this out for you, Fraser. Bend me, shake me, anyway you want me, just--just do it. Can you just do it already?"

When he looked up, this time Fraser's eyes met his own, and Ray couldn't help his swelling feeling of relief at the understanding there. This was Fraser of the strictly vanilla variety, but he looked like he might actually be getting it, and sure enough Ray was left just trying to help as Fraser readjusted them both, turning him over on his back first and pulling down one of the pillows to angle his hips. That was thoughtful of him. Not that Ray really had any idea why Fraser would do something like that until he was half bent over himself with Fraser between his legs, his shoulders against the back of Ray's calves, and his cock - that beautiful, perfect cock he'd admired so often, particularly over the last few weeks - nudging where his fingers had been only moments before.

"Yessss."

It felt like it should be too big. The head of it, certainly, even coated in a new layer of lube - though Ray didn't know when Fraser had found the time to do that - was wider than Fraser's three fingers, a solid mass of flesh coated steel that had to be jammed forward with some force just to breach the tight ring of muscle. Ray swore. Fraser fell still. They froze there like that, the two of them together, Ray lying agitated and aching, hot and needy and afraid, and Fraser perched over him, a force of Canadian nature, beautiful like a god, like Apollo, his curly hair wildly disheveled, sticking to his forehead above his eyes, his cheeks dark pink from exertion.

It was like that moment last time, or the first time really, when he'd watched Fraser come: how beautiful and unfamiliar he was, how unreal that beauty was, like it was a thing of awe and worship, unfit for unworthy eyes such as his own.

And yet that look was all his. Fraser wasn't going anywhere, wasn't about to surrender it to anyone else, and all he could endure for was that he could get well soon, reciprocate this feeling, bend Fraser out on the bed and fuck him until he was hot and sweating and crooning with pleasure with every thrust. That was a Fraser he longed to see, and it could only happen when he was thoroughly healed, fighting fit again rather than fretting over his healing injury.

He was going to wish he had more time off he could take. Well that or he was going to have to find a way to lock the door to the supply closet. Because seeing Fraser like this just once wasn't going to be anywhere near enough. And the feeling of being filled with him, each fantastic twitch of movement which was so painful and so good... He longed for friction, for movement, but at the same time he was afraid. It was going to hurt too.

But at least Fraser wasn't moving yet. He seemed to understand that Ray needed a recovery period, and it let them look right at each other, speaking volumes without saying a word. When Ray was ready, Fraser knew it by the slightest incline of his head. They communicated like the partners they were. The first thrusts were gentle, experimental and probing, like Fraser was getting used to the sensation almost as much as Ray was. Maybe he was. Maybe this was painful for Fraser too.

No, he realized, a moment later, as Fraser bloodied his bottom lip biting down on it, he was struggling not to come. No wonder. Fraser came to a breathless stop.

"How many?" Ray asked, softly.

"Huh?" It was the most incoherent Fraser had ever been, to be perfectly honest, so he didn't mind having to ask the question again.

"How many do you think, before you blow?" Fraser blushed and shook his head. "A dozen?" He considered for a moment, then nodded. "A dozen it is. A dozen is good, Fraser. Just--okay, get me off. You can move a little. Then when I say go you just let loose, got it? Think you can handle that, buddy?"

Fraser nodded mutely, and Ray let his head fall back, relaxing.

"Alright. Like last time, okay? Touch me."

There was just a quick little nod from Fraser. Ray held his breath, let it out in a shaky huff as Fraser's hand plunged into the space between them. Ray gripped Fraser's hip in turn, holding tight as his partner's long, rough fingers wrapped around him. There were callouses and scars on them: from guitar playing, clinging to rooftops and ropes and leather straps, exposure to extreme cold. That variety of textures meant that his hand felt incredible, and Fraser stroked with featherlight touches and rougher ones, varied his efforts, squeezed tighter around him and dragged the full weight of his fist toward the head.

Fraser reduced his touch to just his finger and thumb, and Ray hissed, arching his hips toward Fraser's hand. His hiss transformed into a whimper as the angle invited Fraser's erection to dip deeper into him, and sure enough that was all the urging Fraser needed to begin to move again, agonizingly slowly this time. Each rock of Fraser's hips was like being swallowed up, chewed and spat out, so slow and languishing that it felt like every thrust was going to make his brain explode behind his eyes.

"A-ah... Fraser."

His partner's breath was hot against his neck, and to be fair, while Ray wished he could see his face, he understood how boneless Fraser must feel, overcome by the friction, trying to keep it together just enough to keep moving.

It was glorious though, to have his partner's weight so close against him, to have Fraser inside and around him, suffocating in the best possible way. This--oh, he could get used to this. He could really get used to this. Having Fraser in his embrace, the pleasure gently spiraling higher in each swirling roll. Fraser was falling apart in panting moans and the slip of a sweaty body against his own. They were both so hot now that the space between them was a furnace.

"Yes, Fraser. Yes--just ah... Faster, please."

Fraser obeyed, moving his hand faster, stroking wantonly, meeting Ray's urgency with his own speed. His thrusts stayed steady, but Ray could feel that Fraser was closer now. He twisted up under him, keened a syllabic sound until he had to breathe just to stay conscious, and dug his nails deeper into Fraser's hip. Go, go, go!

But Fraser didn't hear him, and Ray had to snarl "Do it!" before Fraser even began to let loose.

All that wilderness sprang free like a fanbelt snapping. Fraser unleashed himself - or maybe Ray had unleashed him? - and then he was being pounded into the bed with abandon, the friction burning like the force of his shaft piercing muscle was igniting rocket fuel inside. Fraser's hand squeezed around him tight.

The tip of Fraser's erection was knocking against his prostate now. Ray could only guess what that feeling was, that pure explosion of ecstasy that made his body spasm with electric energy, clamping around Fraser's erection at the summit of each thrust.

"Yes, yes--oh, oh."

Now it was Ray's turn to make all the noise. Fraser wasn't saying a word, but he was groaning and grunting in Ray's ear, channeling all of his effort, instead, into each thrust. That was all Ray could ask for.

Against all odds, it was Ray that came first, harder than he thought he ever had into the space between them. Fraser kept moving into him, still squeezing roughly at his cock as Ray's body returned the favor, clinging, tightening around the intrusion. Even as he spilled the last Fraser broke, filled him with pressure and heat, drew out and thrust in with helpless broken rhythm twice more, and then fell trembling over him.

Fraser's face was wet, tucked in against his neck, and as their breathing slowed Fraser kept shaking, crying softly.

"Fraser--hey Fraser." Nothing. Fraser kept on trying to mute his sounds, and Ray untensed his right hand from Fraser's hip and reached up, stroking his fingers through Fraser's hair instead. "Frase. Benton."

Fraser raised his head. His cheeks were wet, his eyes were sparkling with tears, like sunlight reflecting through shallow tropical water.

"Hey. It was pretty, huh?"

They understood each other. Fraser smiled and leant into his hand. Ray smiled, and kneaded his palm against Fraser's tearsoaked cheek. It didn't take much.

"Lie next to me, okay?"

Fraser only hesitated for a moment, and then he was pulling out, leaving Ray sore and wet and fucked out. Gloriously overcome. Fraser curled up close against him, nuzzling closer, an arm slung across his chest, and Ray pulled him closer for a dry but salty kiss, tasting the tears on Fraser's mouth. He was exhausted--no, they both were. Spent and drained, tangled about each other's bodies, and if his injuries ached from the activity Ray didn't notice, didn't care, watching Fraser' dark lashes droop against his hot cheeks.

"You did good," he murmured, and kissed him again. "Real good."

He stroked Fraser's cheek once more, but he was already asleep, his breathing low and steady, humming softly into Ray's neck. It was real pretty, Ray thought contently, and in the doorway he noticed Robert Fraser stepping into view, nodding at him, and he slept too.

*****

Epilogue

*****

"Champagne, Sir?"

Armando Langoustini raised his head only half an inch from the travel pillow before settling back in his seat again, looking up at the gorgeous young air hostess that was leaning over him. She was dazzling, but then this plane was flying right into Vegas, and she was serving in first class; competition for a flight like this was probably fierce.

He accepted the glass with a smile, and set it down to be ignored on the rest beside him. Even if they wouldn't be landing for a couple of hours, Ray needed his head clear. Anything short of absolute focus might get him killed, even here, twenty thousand feet up. Okay, so maybe that was a bit paranoid of him, but there was definitely no FBI backup at here if something did go wrong. He was immensely vulnerable if someone did pick this moment to have a go.

But for once what was he going to do about it? Life was going to suck for him the next couple of weeks. He'd be in the dog house after Warfield's mistake had cost them three million, but his death would open up Iguana schemes in Chicago, and that would eventually make everyone happy. Armando would have to concede any personal interests, of course, to balance the books, but Ray--the cop in Ray was distraught over the way things had turned out.

Warfield might have been a mob asshole, but he'd been a mob asshole Chicago knew. Now there'd be a division of assets, turf wars, bodies washing up in the river as ambitious lower level guys tried to fill the gap themselves without recognizing that the big predators had to come in and take their pieces first. There'd be blood, and the cop in him hated that.

Still, it had been worth it. He'd been up on the bridge watching, the limousine warm and waiting beside him, and he'd seen his first flash of Fraser for months as his former partner climbed into that train carriage, pulling his partner up with him. The guy was blonde, dressed in a half length, sand colored duster jacket and jeans, wore big black glasses. Seconds later the carriage had been engulfed in flames, and Ray had felt a rush of sick terror, a sort of shell shock that reached down into his chest and stabbed him a thousand times in the heart. His legs had felt weak, but he'd stood there and watched because he was Armando Langoustini, watched as he thought his friend burned.

And then Fraser had appeared above the train cars like the second coming of Jesus Christ, and a hail of gunshots flew at him, and Ray had grinned so wide it made the other three men with him nervous.

"He's gonna blow it," he told them. "Watch."

They watched, like Langoustini was sharing with them some amazing lesson in mob superiority. Down below Warfield was waiting anxiously by his car, his gun in his hand. His men were prowling up and down on top of the trains trying to find the Mountie, converging on his last known location. Sure enough Fraser and his new partner emerged behind Warfield. The partner went for the money, while Fraser...

Ray's blood ran cold.

Down below them, Fraser's new partner sprang across the car like a mountain lion, jumping on top of Warfield. The gun went off, muffled by the close bodies and then there were several echoing shots that bounced cleanly around the vast train yard. It could have been three or thirty. Warfield disappeared into the train cars, and Fraser closed on his downed partner; the man who had just been shot saving his life.

Charles Carver, the miserable slime of a bastard, crept out of the shadows, unnoticed, and slunk off with the money. That ended it for Warfield. It was over right then and there. Twice he'd lost the Iguana's money. He gestured to his left, and was handed a rifle, just in time to catch the return of Warfield, pointing his gun at Fraser frantically and looking in the back seat of the car for his money. Which was gone, of course.

He lined up the shot, Warfield lined up his, and Ray put a bullet right through the man's chest.

And then it was over. Two faces had turned up to him, but Ray hadn't looked through the scope at the man who had replaced him for fear that it would haunt him to the grave. Instead he'd handed the gun back to his man, who would dispose of it, and the driver of the limousine had held the door open for him. The cops were on their way, a plume of black smoke was still churning upward over central Chicago, and Armando Langoustini was going home.

Ray kicked up his heels and sank back into his seat. His gaze swam toward the Mojave desert opening up beneath the 787's wings, and he let his mind wander. They'd been holding hands, Fraser and his new partner, when Warfield had come back to shoot them, and when Ray had turned back briefly before getting into the car, he'd imagined he'd seen Fraser lean in and kiss the stricken man.

Maybe he'd dreamt it.

*****

Fin.