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Finishing Touches

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It wasn’t too late yet—he could still leave. Ray looked around the deserted hallway and considered going back to his car. But he had come all this way and now he was already here— Ray ruffled his hair. This was ridiculous. His colleagues would die laughing should they ever find out.

“Excuse me?” A friendly voice inquired behind him. Ray jerked slightly with surprise.

“Are you here for the drawing course?” The woman looked Ray over. “You don’t look as if you wanted to participate in Mrs. Fletcher’s embroidery class which had to be cancelled.” She said with a teasing smile.

Ray grinned back. “Nah, uh, I am here for the drawing course. I mean, I was. I think I’ll just—“ Ray shrugged casually and motioned toward the exit.

“No, no don’t be silly. You’re just in time. Come, I’ll show you the way.” She smiled again and Ray steeled himself. He had wanted to come here, after all.

“I’m Jenny Jones, by the way. I’m what they call the teacher.” She confessed in a conspiratorial whisper and grinned a little and Ray took an immediate liking to her. She was a little older than him, not by much though.

She didn’t look like those art students from university—though, to be fair, Ray had no idea what a painter or a drawing artist should look like. He supposed he had expected something a bit flashier. Jenny Jones looked like the nice girl next door, like someone Fraser might know from his book club, what with the freckles on her face, dancing green eyes and brunette hair that reached past her shoulders in soft waves. If Ray had to describe her with one word he'd have said organic.

“Ray Vecchio. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands shortly before they reached a door leading to one of the classrooms. Jenny opened the door and motioned for Ray to precede her.

Desks were arranged in a semicircle and all but two were occupied. Mostly by women. Ray winced; he had expected that this was going to be a housewife thing. There were only two other men there, one pretty old and the other one easily ten years younger than Ray. But everyone smiled friendly at him and some even raised their hand in greeting so Ray grinned and waved his hand in a short hello.

He took one of the free desks and Jenny moved into the spot left clear in the circle of tables.

“Well, it seems as if we’re complete. Welcome to my drawing course. My name is Jennifer Jones and I’ll be your instructor for the next 12 weeks. Don’t worry if you’re rather new to the art of drawing, that’s what we’re here for after all. I’ll show you the basics and how to use a wide variety of tools for a broad spectrum of effects. You’ll see, by the time we’re finished there is no motif left that intimidates you.”

There were a few titters at Jenny’s obvious optimism which made Ray instantly feel better. He had no idea what had possessed him to take up drawing. It wasn’t as if he had a whole closet full of filled sketchbooks at home or anything. He just thought it might be ideal to unwind, to take his mind off things for a while. Stella had always demanded that he found himself a hobby. Boy, she would be pissed off should she find out that Ray was finally doing what she had told him to do years ago.

“Any questions?”

People glanced at each other until finally one of the younger women raised her hand shyly.

“Yes?”

“My name is Anna Parker. I only brought pencils with me—do I need to bring anything else next time?” The question was met with approval from the other participants.

“We’ll do a little bit of everything today but I’ve brought everything we’ll need. After that you can all choose your favorite method and I’ll see that everyone gets the necessary equipment for the duration of this course. Anything else?”

“Do we get to draw naked people?” A woman Ray’s age asked cheerfully.

Jenny smiled. “Yes, we will do nudes. But it will be a few weeks before we get to that. We’ll have four weeks to cover the basics: forms, proportions, distances, shading and so on and after that we’ll move to nudes for a few weeks and once you feel confident with that we’ll move to the last part which is portrait-drawing. If there aren’t any more questions I’d say we get started.”

She presented everyone with different types of paper, different types of pencils, charcoal and even India ink with drawing pens. The first task sounded rather easy. Jenny placed a few simple objects on a table in the middle, an unadorned water glass, a plain tin can, a porcelain cup with a handle—all easy forms, circles and ellipses.

All they had to do was figure out with what kind of drawing tool they felt comfortable. Ray tried one line with the drawing pen and decided that this wasn’t going to be his friend. The fickleness of the stupid ink pot alone was killing him, spilling ink in fat blotches on the otherwise pristine white sheet; he was too impatient for this kind of thing.

The pencils, he could do. Felt like old times when he had been doodling in class instead of listening to the teachers. But when Ray tried the charcoal he knew it was love. He did a quick sketch of the water glass and enjoyed the smooth flow of the charcoal over the paper. The contrast of pitch black on ivory white looked strangely appealing.

He made another sketch of the tin can and even managed a passable imitation of the ridges that went around the middle of the can. Jenny came over and watched the movement of his hand.

“You have the right grip for coal drawings. I dare say you two will become good friends. Your strokes are very bold, really good for a quick sketch.”

“Anyone can draw a tin can,” Ray muttered slightly embarrassed but Jenny just smiled and said “We’ll see,” before she moved to the maternal woman at the desk next to Ray.

A few couldn’t decide which tool to settle on but Jenny assured them that they would find out over time and that they could just switch whenever they felt like it.

Most chose the pencil as weapon of choice. Only the old guy actually picked the drawing pen with the ink. Well, Ray figured if you’ve managed to live as long as that one had you could afford to be patient— even though it might be a bit optimistic. He could drop dead between the time it took to dip the pen in the ink and put it on the paper.

For the next two hours, Jenny explained how to break every object down into simple geometric forms and they practiced it with a few more sketches. It was a different way of looking at things if you were always trying to see the simple forms behind it. It was fun, kinda relaxed to look at everything in this over-simplified manner.

At the end of class Jenny handed each of them a sketchbook to fill with as many drawings as they liked and Ray got a small package of charcoal to take home with him, too. Ray felt pretty good about this. He had feared that sitting still for hours would be tedious and that he would be vibrating to get moving again. Instead, he felt pretty relaxed; he’d been so focused on what his hands were doing, he simply hadn’t noticed his body’s usual restlessness.

Yeah, spending his Saturday morning that way wasn’t the worst he could do with his weekend.

Ray didn’t get much sketching done during the week what with the crazy smuggling ring with the flowers and – no, Ray did not care what kind of flowers they were, monkscaps or something similar stupid... if he had an interest in horticulture he would’ve asked Fraser.

But, apparently, those were some rather vicious flowers – and Ray wondered for the umpteenth time what the poor bastards reading his reports made of all this. He was pretty sure that no one except for him ever had to write down ‘assault weapon: purple plant’ in his report.

“Ah, it’s a flower, Ray. Aconitum Napellus— also more commonly known as monkshood or wolfsbane or even—“

See? Had he wanted a botany lecture all he had to do was give Fraser the chance to open his pretty mouth. His mouth. All he had to do was give Fraser the chance to open his mouth.

Anyway, poisonous flowers and just as vicious florists with hedge trimmers were not a good mix. So Ray didn’t get to do any sketching. Even though these huge purple flowers would have probably made one hell of a motif.

But Fraser had insisted that everything went into evidence lock-up. Pity, really, but Fraser had almost jumped out of his skin when Ray had tried to touch one—talk about back-stabbing plants, judging by Fraser’s reaction these could kill by touch. Pretty neat… if you were looking for the perfect murder weapon, that is.

Still, Ray felt a little bad that not one single page in his sketchbook had been filled by the time next Saturday rolled around.

Getting the proportions and the angles right wasn’t as easy as Ray had thought. Fraser would’ve probably aced it with his freaky mathematical vision. But Ray thought that he wasn’t doing too bad—at least not compared to the woman with the badly done dye-job next to him. Ray guessed that she was drawing a desk but it could just as well be a piece of paper being held by four sticks. Yeah, it was kinda comforting to realize that his way of seeing reality wasn’t so far off the mark. At least his drawing could be clearly identified as one of a chair.

It only got more difficult when they came to architecture. Trying to copy the house shown in the photo onto a piece of paper, Ray had to concede that you had to look differently at something in order to draw it.

It wasn’t enough to identify the object as a house or to start from a box with a triangle on top. You really had to see the whole thing, where did the lines end or where would they meet, how much further inside were the windows or was the door more of an elevation compared to the rest of the façade?

Drawing seemed to be much more about looking than about making a line on paper. That was also the reason why Ray didn’t really get very far with his house; he had to start over and over again, always realizing that he had overlooked something before. The more details he noticed the more there were to take in.

He had started with the roof, thinking it would be easier to just follow the lines down, but the result had looked stunted. You couldn’t start with the roof, instead you had to draw the foundation first and Ray put up the walls afterwards, carefully gauging the length of his lines, and he marked the spots where the windows should be.

Ray wheeled around suddenly when he finally noticed someone standing right behind him—he had been so engrossed in the process that he hadn’t noticed before. Jenny jumped at Ray’s unexpected movement.

“Sorry,” Ray mumbled. Some things you just couldn’t shake; being a cop never really left you.

“No, I should apologize. I didn’t want to startle you. But you were working pretty intently over here so I thought, maybe I could help you. Watching you, however, I see that you realized one of the essential truths about drawing. It’s not simply copying lines and points in the right distances to each other, hm?”

Ray shook his head and looked at the bit of house on his paper. “No… it really isn’t. Funny, I never noticed that before.”

She smiled indulgently. “Why did you want to learn how to draw?”

Ray shrugged awkwardly. “Just something to keep my hands busy, I guess.” And dangerous thoughts at bay, Ray thought but didn’t utter.

She nodded thoughtfully and glided away to observe the work of the young guy who always managed to make everything look right out of a comic. It was weird but Ray had to admit that the effect was pretty cool.

He was almost sad when class was over. Over the course of the next week, Ray promised himself that he would practice some more. Jenny had advised them all to practice looking at everything as if at a possible motif—promising that practice made everything easier. She also recommended not thinking twice about sketching the same thing multiple times.

And practice, Ray did. Whenever his eyes started to wander, each time his glance wanted to stray, every time his hands itched to reach for something, he practiced looking at things. The basketball basket over the doorway became a circle with a cone underneath, the uninteresting case folder turned into an equally unremarkable rectangle, and the coke can he bought from the vending machine turned into nothing more than a cylinder.

It soothed his impulsive urges. It just didn’t keep long. There was always a flash of red, a glimpse of a tall figure negotiating the hallways with perfect accuracy and without ever bumping into anyone, or a smooth baritone to call him out of his geometrical musings.

Substituting one way of looking at things for another might not have been the brightest idea Ray’s ever had but it worked for him.

He couldn’t even pinpoint when he had started looking at Fraser like that.

Maybe he had always looked at Fraser like that but it had taken him all this time to notice, because there had been Stella for so long and after her all he had been able to feel was pain, so blinding that nothing else registered on his screen?

But then, inexplicably, really, one day Ray had looked at Fraser across his desk and felt a smile tugging at his lips. That was when the thought holy shit, when the fuck did I fall for him? hit him. Falling in love with Fraser was a bit like the high you got from a designer drug – and yeah, Ray wasn’t proud of himself for knowing this for a fact either but he had done a lot of shit in his youth and not much to be proud of.

Anyway, being with Fraser was a lot like being on E. The constant rush, from adrenaline, from giddiness (which always came after they survived another improbable situation), from feeling good about yourself, and you did a lot of stuff you would never believe do-able under normal (aka sober) circumstances.

Yeah, and there was the happiness thing. E got you high on happiness and after that first hit you needed to taste it again so badly that you would do anything for it.

Falling in love with Fraser was like that. No, strike that, being in love with Fraser was like that. Falling in love with him was like gulping down a drink that had been spiced with E without your knowledge and only after it hit your bloodstream did you finally notice that something was carrying you away like a cannonball. You knew you were probably about to crash and burn in the most glorious way but you just didn’t care and there was nothing you could do about it anyway.

Being in love with Fraser was realizing that Ray was happy when he was with him, that it didn’t feel as lonely as long as he could be sitting next to Fraser, that he needed Fraser to be happy, that he was actually one of the best people Ray had ever met, that he wanted to be the one to make Fraser smile and laugh – and a whole lot of other, less polite, noises. And once he was alone again he got this craving – a real hum in his blood whispering to him – that he needed to have this feeling again, needed to be close to Fraser again.

And the whole scenario started again from the beginning ‘cause like a good druggie Ray couldn’t stay away. Not for long.

This was also why Ray had been hurting like hell lately. He was nothing more than a druggie on detoxification.

Because lately, Ray had felt as if he and Fraser were drifting further and further apart. One day they were fine and the next there was this huge gap between them, a rift Ray couldn’t bridge because he didn’t know how. It hurt like a bitch. Ray had felt good about their duet, as if it had come to mean something—to both of them.

He had no idea what he might have done to cause a reaction like that. Fraser wasn’t all there lately and Ray wanted nothing better than to strip him of all his armor, to get down underneath that uniform and just see what was going on there. When had it gotten so damn hard to speak to his best friend?

Think: Square. How many squares do you see in this room? The computer screen sitting on Frannie’s desk, the little post-it note on his report that accused him of forgetting his signature, hmm, the drawers of the filing cabinet… Dewey’s lunchbox—and what self-respecting man used lunchboxes anyway? Not very many things for a room as big and cluttered as the squad room.

Maybe he should look for unshapely things? Dewey’s head, Lt. Welsh’s bologna sandwich after another bout of chewing out Ray’s fellow detectives, Francesca’s skirt – could a line be counted as a geometrical form? – the bashed in nose of the guy sitting in front of Johnson’s desk, the thing that might have been a plant at one point on top of the filing cabinet.

Ray released a breath and swung back in his office chair, the lazy tilt of his chair snapped back to an upright position and Ray surveyed his open cases. Unbelievable, how the number of Ray’s freak cases decreased with every minute Fraser stayed away from the precinct.

Fraser had some high level meeting to attend: Polishing silver at the consulate for the upcoming banquet of the beef marketing board. Ray hadn’t really listened, so he wasn’t entirely sure if it indeed was the beef marketing board; it could be the Canadian prime minister for all he cared. All that mattered was that Fraser was spending only the barest amount of time with Ray at the station because he was just that good at cleaning a spoon with a cloth.

They should put that in their job description at Mountie school: You’re really talented and completely wasted on this bunch of airheads? You’re overly ambitious and you pack a mean punch? Why then you better prepare to bring a shine to spotty old silverware for the remainder of your prime.

Bottom line: Ray was Fraser-less for most of the week. There were good things and bad things to that. Ray missed Fraser. Missed him like an amputated limb, like a snooze button when the alarm rang before it was even light out, like a smile in a room full of hostile faces, like a safety blanket—okay, the safety blanket was probably a stupid comparison, ‘cause ‘safe’ was one thing Fraser just couldn’t do.

What Ray didn’t miss was searching for topics to talk about, or kicking himself for thinking about Fraser like that or all the times his heart skipped a beat because Fraser did something, like, breathe, or something. Fraser’s absence gave Ray the needed space to draw some more at least. To be fair, Fraser probably wouldn’t laugh at him if he knew about Ray’s newest occupation but… this was private.

Ray grinned self-deprecatingly. How ironic that his dirty little secret should be something as unoriginal and innocent as charcoal drawings.

At home, he found a comfortable spot on the couch and opened his sketchbook. The only question that remained was what to draw? Ray tapped impatiently with a piece of charcoal against the ring binding of his drawing block; he jiggled his leg; he scanned the room; he drummed an uneven rhythm on his thigh.

Just start already.

The first item in front of him was the empty coffee mug, a left-over from this morning, balanced on top of today’s newspaper; a milk-brown coffee stain adorned the sports page.

Ray shrugged. Why not draw another cup? Practice made perfect, right?

His hand flowed in a smooth line over the paper, the friction of the coal against the paper hardly there at all and all thoughts were left behind in the simple act of tracing with his hand what his eyes were seeing.

Gently, Ray’s fingers smudged the lines, creating a sense of plasticity. The soft black of the coal spread outwards, adding shadows to the otherwise flat-looking cup. Ray had always liked touching things with his hands, tracing the texture of something, memorizing its feel, creating stuff with his own fingers.

Drawing felt kinda personal when you thought about it. It was an invasion into—something—the core of the object maybe. Like you got something out of it that only you could see or maybe something that was there all along but that only you could show to the world.

Ray surveyed his handiwork. It really didn’t look all that bad. Maybe he should have taken up drawing instead of smoking as a teenager – might have kept him from quite a few other mistakes as well. Had Fraser started drawing as a child? To be that good at it you had to start really young, right? But there couldn’t have been much to draw, what with all the ice and the frozen wasteland. But maybe Fraser had been lonely eno—get drawing again, dammit. Less thinking, more drawing.

Ray sighed and turned the page in his sketchbook.

So Ray drew. For hours. Everything he could think of and anything at all that caught his eye in his apartment. When his eyes turned too tired to focus he went to bed. This was good.

Fraser was hardly at the station all week and Ray knew, because Fraser had told him, that it was only because of this stupid meeting at the consulate and that Fraser really regretted not being able to be of more assistance. Only, Ray felt that Fraser might not be telling the whole truth. That maybe Fraser was secretly a little relieved that he couldn’t spend more time with Ray.

So Ray drew some more. But on day three he fell asleep over his sketchbook and woke up just barely in time to make it to work at all. He arrived with more stubble than usual on his jaw and still a bit bleary-eyed, but at least he was on time.

After two cups of coffee Ray even felt a bit like a human being again. Okay, he still had this crick in his neck from falling asleep on the couch but apart from that it was alright. At noon Fraser called. He sounded hesitant and Ray felt a wave of bitterness well up when he heard Fraser ask him if they should have lunch together in a voice that made it perfectly clear that Fraser didn’t feel as if he was quite sure that was even such a good idea.

Ray was craving his company bad enough to say yes no matter what so there was no sense in pretending otherwise. And Ray felt in equal amounts better for being able to see Fraser and worse for feeling that Fraser didn’t really share this joy. He honestly didn’t get it. He was trying so hard to keep his fingers to himself and there was no chance that Fraser could know what was really going on beneath the surface so Ray didn’t see why Fraser should act all withdrawn and polite around him.

But when they met for lunch at Fraser’s favorite deli Fraser’s eyes lit up at Ray’s sight and Ray felt immediately better. Fraser stepped right up into Ray’s personal space like he had always done and for a second everything was back to normal. Ray held his breath and did his utmost not to let it register.

It only took a second though before Fraser’s face sobered and he took a little step back, hardly noticeable if you weren’t looking for it but it was there and Ray swallowed his disappointment. Maybe he just wasn’t that good at hiding. It was okay, he told himself again, he got it. It hurt but he knew that things would never be the same should Fraser find out. All he had to do was keep on pretending – and doing a better job of it.

So Ray plastered a grin on his lips and started rambling about the latest case and mocking Fraser for spending his day cleaning (and Ray was not thinking about Fraser and a feather duster in the same sentence, thank you very much) and it almost felt normal.

Fraser kept sneaking glances back at Ray while they were eating and Ray tried very hard not to look too long at Fraser.

“Ray, I—“ Fraser started with a frown and Ray felt a tidal wave of panic wash through his gut, making him clench. This sounded a lot like ‘we need to talk’ and nothing good ever came of it. Ray had the divorce papers to prove it.

“Hey, what was the name of that purple flower again?” Ray blithered, grasping at the next best topic he could think of. “You know, those were really very beautiful and, uh, aren’t those the ones that make your pupils dilated?”

“Ray—ah, do you mean perhaps Belladonna—“

“Huh? Oh, sure. Come to think of it, right, there was this movie with—“

“Ray—“

“It wasn’t all that great but the flower poison thing was pretty cool and—“

“Ray—“

“How come so many flowers are really assassins in disguise? I mean, gimme a break—“

“RAY!”

Okay, there was no way to make the Mountie let it go.

“What?”

“You have – something – on your hand.” Fraser looked seriously puzzled and Ray had a very short moment of perverse pleasure to pose a riddle to the man who had an answer for everything. Until what Fraser said registered in his brain.

“Huh?” Ray turned his hand around and saw a smudge of black coal adorning the edge of his hand. Ray felt himself turning red and he cricked his neck, smoothing the side of his hand against his jeans to rid himself of the stain.

“It’s nothing,” Ray muttered, not meeting Fraser’s eye.

“I see,” Fraser replied after a heartbeat’s hesitation. Had Ray looked at Fraser’s face he might have seen the disappointment at his dismissal but he was still busy hiding his hand so he didn’t notice.

There was an awkward silence and Ray winced at the lack of noise but before he could think of something to say Fraser had already stood up and straightened his serge.

“I should head back to the consulate now. Inspector Thatcher is surely awaiting my return.”

“Yeah, sure,” Ray mumbled and rose to his feet as well.

There had to be a way to go back to the way things were, he was sure of it. But as long as he couldn’t figure it out drawing was a welcome distraction.

He did feel a bit nervous though, when Jennifer broke the news to the class that they were going to start with nudes the next Saturday.

Ray went home thinking about it and he wasn’t sure if that was really going to be such a cool thing. The women in his course seemed to be all over it but Ray felt it was kinda, well, wrong, really. It seemed invasive to draw someone when the model had nothing to keep herself from being exposed.

He looked through his drawings and had to concede that he, all of the course participants actually, had really improved over the span of a few weeks. But drawing people seemed to be a bit more demanding than drawing a house or a street or a still life. On Sunday, his curiosity got the better of him. He fished in his bedside drawer for one of his porn mags and leafed through it.

It felt stupid to copy a centerfold onto a piece of paper with the help of charcoal. In fact, it was probably the most inappropriate thing ever done with a porn mag, but at least it featured naked women and he didn’t have to apologize if the tits looked funny in his drawing or if he got her legs all wrong.

It was a disaster. Ray did countless drawings of the blonde in the picture but nothing looked really lifelike. He supposed that this kind of picture wasn’t exactly done to show the soul of a person. He grinned wryly. No self-respecting man used porn as drawing material – not unless you considered ‘drawing’ another word for jerking off.

His porn mag had not seen this much action for ages – at least not his female version – as it was getting this week. Funny, how you could spend your nights looking at lewd pictures of naked ladies and not have a single wank. It was all a matter of perspective.

It actually helped with his wanking problem; the problem being that the object of his fantasies was his best friend. Because looking at female porn stars was as far away as you could get from Benton Fraser.

Ray felt more or less prepared for his first nude session when the next Saturday rolled around. At least, he was fairly confident that his result wouldn’t look so offending that the model would feel the need to hit him over the head with his drawing for insulting her figure.

He felt a little less prepared when Jennifer introduced their model. Make that a lot less prepared.

“Okay class, I know that this is the session you have all been waiting for,” Jennifer smiled slyly at the expectant crowd and earned quite a few grins and dirty chuckles. Ray thought it was a bit disconcerting to see a couple of middle-aged women raring to go the moment someone uttered the word ‘nude’.

“Drawing people is different from the drawing you have been doing so far. It will take some getting used to since you have to apply the same rules you have learned so far. Remember to break everything down into geometrical shapes; it will make the human body a much easier object to draw. Also, don’t forget your lessons about distance and vanishing lines since it is just as important when you consider the human body as it is when you consider a building.”

People looked slightly disbelieving at this and Ray figured that most of them just wanted to see some naked flesh, drawing be damned. Ray had no idea how you could volunteer as a sitter for these kinds of things. He knew that he couldn’t stand being stared at like that for any amount of time. You had to be really composed for this stuff. He would just feel self-conscious halfway through. And Ray wasn’t even shy or anything.

He snapped out of his musings when Jennifer went to the door to the backroom and let their model know that everyone was ready.

She opened the door and beckoned to the person inside the next room.

Ray couldn’t help his mouth from dropping open when he saw who was following her. A guy; blonde, nicely built, and with a friendly face. How could he have expected a female sitter? This was an almost all female class; he should have guessed that the model would be male.

It just—somehow it hadn’t occurred to him.

“This is Sven. He was so kind to be the sitter for your nude sessions. Sven, if you could just stand in the spot at the front—thank you. I’d like to start with a standing pose. So please, whenever you’re ready.”

Sven smiled and nodded. He moved to the spot left clear by the tables and started to undress. Ray watched with round eyes. This felt like a peepshow only that he seemed to be the only one to realize that. Everyone else looked a lot more relaxed, some with a teasing smile but no one seemed to find this unusual except for him.

Once Sven was completely naked he moved his left hand to cover his bits and then he simply seemed to freeze in place.

Ray snapped his mouth shut.

“Remember to begin with simple shapes. Do a quick sketch of his pose in rough forms so that you can go from a mere idea to a detailed drawing. You can even do a small sketch in the corner so that you know what forms you are considering when you draw.”

He could do this. Ray considered the man in front of him and cast his mind back to his porn star drawings.

His hand closed around the piece of coal and with one final breath he touched his fingers to the paper in front of him. With every line his hand added, the man in front of him turned more and more into just another set of forms and shapes. This wasn’t so hard.

Instead of trying for one final, perfect drawing Ray went for numerous smaller sketches. Getting a feel for it and trying to find out if he could make the body on his paper talk. When he changed the line of the neck it seemed to be shy, when he changed the position of the hands it seemed to defy him, and when he changed the line of the spine it seemed to draw back.

Ray didn’t think that he caught the actual person in his drawings. He had a few passable imitations of a naked man standing around somewhere but that was it. There was no way to tell anything about Sven just by looking at his pictures.

Ray rubbed a hand over his eyes, realizing too late that he was smudging coal all over his skin. He sighed in disgust and started to rub at his cheeks with his other hand.

“What’s wrong?” Jennifer’s sudden appearance didn’t startle him as badly as it had that first time. Even though Ray guessed that her intrusion wasn’t all that sudden, she had probably been standing behind him for much longer. It was unnerving to know that something could hold his attention so completely that he didn’t even notice someone sneaking up on him.

“It’s,” Ray sighed again, “it looks all wrong.”

Jenny cocked her head and considered his sketch book with narrowed eyes. “How do you mean?”

Ray shrugged. “Dunno, kinda flat maybe. I know the proportions are right and everything, it just—“ Ray motioned at Sven standing in front of them, “it just doesn’t look like him. Could be anyone.”

Jenny smiled.

“You’re being a bit hard on yourself, Ray Vecchio. Your accuracy is really astounding. You seem to have a very keen eye for details.” She paused and looked thoughtful. “Or maybe just a good understanding of body language. You’ll see it’s going to be easier next week.”

Ray hoped that she was right.

At least Fraser was a lot more present at the station this week. This did mean that Ray was indeed in dire need to practice his geometrical vision but at least he didn’t have to worry whether Fraser was staying away just because he didn’t want to spend time with Ray.

Ray was waiting in Fraser’s shoebox of an office to take him to lunch when a phone call came in. Ray could already see his lunch hour going down the drain.

“Constable Benton Fraser speaking,” Fraser announced to the caller and Ray had a short trip into fantasy land imagining what that voice might sound like in the darkness of a bedroom.

Fraser started smiling and nodded into the receiver. “Of course I remember.”

A frown appeared on Fraser’s face. “I see.”

Some more nodding followed and Ray was already impatiently tapping his foot against the floor.

“Ah, I— oh dear.” Fraser rubbed a hand over his eyebrow and Ray saw his lunch hour further away than ever.

“No, certainly –yes—you’re welcome. I’ll be there—Bye.” Fraser smiled again and placed the receiver back into the cradle.

“So?” Ray asked, his whole body tensed for action.

“Ah, a friend asked me a favor. You might remember the incident at my book club—“

Ray saw a long, convoluted story approaching about a geeky woman and her problem with the translation of a fascinating text about Arctic cockroaches that was – for reasons that did not need exploring at this juncture – written in Hebrew and hers was kinda rusty but Fraser spoke it in at least three dialects – and did Hebrew even have dialects? – whatever. Point taken. Ray took a look at his watch and counted the remaining minutes of his lunch hour.

“We have to help her now?” Ray asked with a sigh.

Fraser shook his head. “Ah, no Ray. There is no collision with our work schedule, I assure you.”

“Greatness. Let’s go have lunch, alright? I’m starving.”

“Certainly,” Fraser grinned a little at him and something in Ray’s gut did a little boogie-woogie at the sight.

Lunch with Fraser turned out to be the best thing in a long, long time. Fraser seemed a little distracted but at least he didn’t spend all of their lunch hour trying to remain a polite distance away from Ray. Things felt like always and something in Ray eased a little.

Ray got a little more practice out of his porn mag – he had actually considered telling Fraser about his newest hobby just to share the joke with him. Even though he wasn’t sure if Fraser even got the joke in using a porn mag as a nude model substitute. Ray found it hilarious anyway.

He even thought that he had gotten better at it. Ray wasn’t sure how much soul he could put into the let-me-suck-your-dick look of the brunette chick on page 13 but at least she looked human in his drawings, like a real person with a past and maybe a few hopes and ambitions that went beyond where the next cock was coming from or going into.

He considered the model on page 13 again and compared it with his drawing. Okay, he might have given her more personality than she actually possessed. Maybe he could do Sven some justice this Saturday. Hell, he’d give the guy more than a bit of personality; he’d give him a history.

Yeah, Ray was really looking forward to this particular challenge come Saturday morning.

Although he guessed that his enthusiasm wasn’t exactly for the same reason all the women seemed to be wiggling around in their seats.

Jennifer came to the front with an apologetic face.

“Hello everyone, I have some sad news. Sven came down with something and won’t be able to sit for us this week.”

The announcement was met with a series of crestfallen groans and Ray tried to smother his grin at this display of female disappointment.

“However,” Jenny continued brightly, “a dear friend of mine has thankfully agreed to step in. I’m sure you will find him just as suitable a model.” She almost smirked at that and Ray’s eyes narrowed. If he didn’t know better he’d say that whoever this substitute was, he was an even bigger looker than the last guy.

The women started tittering and Ray rolled his eyes. Yeah, yeah, alright. Enough already, he got it. Bring on the naked guys. Jesus, women were damn harpies. This whole drawing course thing was just an excuse to ogle some poor man in the altogether.

Jenny went back to the little backdoor and opened it a few inches to let the new model know that everyone was waiting.

Ray figured it didn’t much matter which guy they drew. It wasn’t about the guy himself, after all. They were supposed to get the male body right.

He was busy fiddling with his pieces of coal when Jenny and the model stepped into the circle of desks. Ray looked up automatically and promptly dropped the charcoal he had been holding. It hit the floor and broke in two.

Ray scrambled underneath his desk to pick the pieces up again and hit his head on the way back up.

Fraser winced in sympathy but Jenny obviously hadn’t realized that something was amiss and was still giving instructions.

“… if you could sit down on the pillow Ben, there is a blanket to cover yourself. Thank you,” Jennifer was saying and Ray stared at his partner in utter incomprehension.

Fraser had the same caribou-in-the-snowmobile-lights look going and was standing frozen in place in front of the circle of desks, staring back at Ray with similar disbelief.

Ray wanted to say something, something intelligent, ‘hi’ maybe. But before he could find enough brain cells, Jenny was talking to Fraser again.

“So, Ben, whenever you’re ready.”

Fraser nodded, still looking a little dumbfounded and his movement looked jerky to Ray. Nervous, he thought. Hell, Ray knew he would be nervous if his work partner – his male, cop partner - was sitting there watching him undress.

Fraser’s fingers went to the buttons of his shirt, smoothly opening one after the other and Ray knew that he himself must look comical what with the impossibly wide eyes and his hands gripping the table top, but there wasn’t a single thing to be done about it.

Fraser smoothed his shirt back over his shoulders and his fingers closed over the hem of his t-shirt to pull it over his head. Ray stared at Fraser’s collarbone with an intensity he had never before in his life devoted to anything. Come on, he couldn’t just—just sit there and watch six hundred forty-nine thousand, two hundred eighty-five point three fantasies unfold. It just wasn’t humanly possible.

This was so wrong. Fraser didn’t strip in front of people and the lady next to Ray had better close her yap in the next three seconds – what did people think staring at Fraser like that? He was human, not a piece of meat to be drooled over.

Dammit! And now Ray had been so busy staring at Fraser’s delectable collarbone that he had missed the high point – make that the actual point – of the strip. But Fraser had already settled down and covered his privates with the thin blanket and now Ray would never know if his fantasies were accurate or not and—okay, he might have some contradictory issues here. But his staring wasn’t the same as the other harpies here were doing. At least he knew the man inside the amazing body. And wanted him all the more for it.

“Ray, is everything alright?”

Jesus! Ray jumped a mile in his skin. Jesus! How long had everyone been drawing? God, he was losing it, it was official now.

“Nah, fine. Just—fine.”

Jenny looked at Ray’s empty paper and nodded hesitantly.

“If you’re sure.”

“Yeah, sure. I’m sure. I’m good.” He considered the piece of charcoal between his fingers and dared another look at Fraser. He didn’t appear to be bothered to be watched like that. He was simply sitting there, covered modestly by the blanket, a composed expression on his face, and Ray guessed that it was probably only his own presence that made Fraser uncomfortable. Ouch.

Ray raised his fingers to his paper and hesitated before he drew a line. Think geometrical. Break it down into simple forms. His glance wandered back to Fraser and his hand shook slightly. Fraser probably thought he was deranged for not even starting to draw, maybe he thought that Ray had now lost the last bit of his brain.

He swallowed and tried to start again. Ray closed his eyes for a moment and remembered his sketch of Sven. Okay, count to three. One-two-three. Ray gave Fraser a fleeting once-over and sketched it on his paper. Not much there so far; just a few ellipses, hinting at the arms; a rectangle that broadens at the top, for Fraser’s broad chest, a circle on top, to show where the head was supposed to go.

Ray swallowed dryly. No way was he able to draw Fraser the way he had drawn Sven. He might draw simple forms on his paper but it was so much more than that. This was Fraser they were talking about here!

Okay, now for the body underneath it. Connect the parts to get a neck, a shoulder, a hip. Ray studied the line of Fraser’s neck and contemplated his drawing. He put his coal against the paper and followed the line down. God, this felt like touching Fraser. This was Fraser’s neck! The soft flow of the shoulders was added by Ray’s hands gently stroking over the paper and he looked again and again at Fraser sitting in front of him, saw the shoulder that he really wanted to touch with his fingertips but instead he continued with the safe touch of coal to paper.

“Okay, thank you, Ben. You can get dressed now if you want. I’ll just go over the progress with the rest but you’re free to go. Thank you again for your assistance.”

Ray jerked in his seat. How could time be over already? He had hardly started. He’d had countless sketches of Sven after the last session and now he didn’t even have anything below the shoulder? And Fraser was already standing up, fastening the blanket around his hips and moving toward the backroom.

This was so not how Ray had seen it go down. He’d thought they could talk, leave together, something. Fuck.

Jenny was still talking, telling them – who knew what – when Ray saw Fraser emerge dressed from the backroom and vanish through the exit with one final wave in their general direction. Roughly a minute later Jennifer dismissed them and Ray cursed, he hadn’t gotten a thing what she had told them and Fraser was nowhere to be found when Ray gathered his stuff and raced outside.

That probably meant that Fraser didn’t want to be found. First of all, he could have waited for Ray. Secondly, he was nowhere to be seen and with just a minute head start and one main street Fraser would still be in Ray’s line of vision – if he hadn’t opted for the smaller alleys or a shortcut over the grass of the park so as not to be found immediately.

Ray sighed. Greatness.

He left it up to Fraser to call him over the rest of the weekend but Ray’s phone stayed silent. On Monday, Ray tried calling Fraser – he could still turn this into a work related call, simply asking if Fraser was coming over to liaise. But after three consecutive and excruciatingly annoying conversations with Turnbull, Ray deduced that Fraser wasn’t coming to the station anytime soon.

Ray could see the gap between them widening, going from a crack in the pavement to the Grand Canyon all in the matter of one miserable Saturday morning.

He got it. Fraser was embarrassed. Fine, he’d probably die of mortification if their positions were reversed and—huh… positions and reversed with Fraser in the same sentence didn’t even sound half bad—nuh-uh, back on track; there wasn’t cause for Fraser to feel that way. Ray thought it was rather brave of him. Especially going through with it after seeing Ray there.

The next day, Ray was ready to bash some heads in, so it kind of stopped him in his tracks when he ran into Fraser in front of the station around lunch time. Maybe Fraser really wasn’t trying to avoid Ray, maybe Ray was just paranoid.

Fraser looked surprised, too, to run headfirst into Ray like that but he took it remarkably well.

Now that the Mountie was right in front of him it seemed a little stupid to confront him about his undressing in front of all and sundry on Saturday.

“Uh, hi Frase.”

“Hello Ray, I—“

“Do you want to have lunch?” they both intoned simultaneously.

Ray grinned and Fraser smiled back.

“I could go for some Indian. What about you?”

“Yes, Indian sounds like a good idea.”

They walked right next to each other the familiar route to their favorite Indian restaurant and Ray considered if it was better or worse to talk about last Saturday. Fraser seemed awfully tense. Was it really worth starting a conversation that was bound to be awkward because of a onetime occurrence? After all, Fraser didn’t really try to force the subject on Ray so who was he to make Fraser talk about his exhibitionistic tendencies—and Ray was safely stepping away from this topic right now, thank you very much.

They ordered their food and Fraser held a long, boring monologue about his morning at the consulate almost as if he was afraid what Ray might come up with given half the chance.

The waiter brought their order and Ray contemplated his chicken tikka masala. Sadly, it didn’t have any answers for him either.

“So…” Ray said and Fraser swallowed hastily and resumed a conversation Ray was pretty sure they hadn’t even been having to continue a second before.

“Did the report on the cause of death come back?”

“Uh, you mean the Taylor case? The guy that just suffocated on dry land with no strangle-marks to show for it?” And had Ray missed a conversation they were having or what?

“Yes, did Mort confirm asphyxiation as cause of death?”

“Yeah, he did. But there was no extraneous cause involved. Apparently, the guy suffocated on nothing but air. Weird, huh?”

“Hm.”

Ray’s gaze snapped to Fraser’s eyes, his brows were drawn together in a thoughtful line.

Hm what? Talk to me, buddy.”

“It’s just—well, considering our case from last week I am inclined to believe that there might be some connection—“

Last week? Wait a second. Last week was the—

“The monksbane thing?!” Ray exclaimed, clicking his fingers.

“Monkshood, yes, exactly my thought. You see, Aconitum Napellus is very poisonous. The poison belongs to the Alkaloid toxins and causes dizziness, headaches and vomiting. And if consumed in larger quantities it can lead to paralysis and convulsions that lead to blood circuit failure and in the end—“

“The victim suffocates,” Ray finished for him.

“Yes, I’m afraid so. The connection seems too probable to be a coincidence.”

Ray drummed with his fingers on the table.

“But we closed the case last week, we got the perp.”

“Maybe we overlooked something. Perhaps the culprit had an accomplice.”

“Could be,” Ray conceded.

They cut their lunch short to reopen their old case and it wasn’t before Ray was back home and out of the shower, that he realized that Fraser had successfully distracted him from asking anything even remotely related to last Saturday. Sneaky Canadian.

However, the next days were busy and there was no apparent connection between their purple flower case and their latest homicide slash suicide-by-holding-of-breath so Ray simply had more than enough on his plate.

It wasn’t before Friday night that Ray thought again about Fraser’s appearance at his drawing course last week. He got out his half finished drawing of Fraser and settled onto his couch with a beer.

It probably didn’t really matter since Sven was going to be back tomorrow and Fraser in all probability didn’t do this thing regularly. Of course, what did Ray know? Maybe Fraser had been a sitter for other drawing courses on all of his free weekends. But somehow Ray couldn’t see Fraser getting a kick out of exposing himself like that.

It was strange. He had seen Fraser naked and they hadn’t talked about it. Not once.

Ray fingered one of his charcoal pieces and smoothed the drawing of Fraser out over his coffee table. Tentatively, Ray continued the lines, conjuring the image of Fraser in his mind from the shy glances he had managed last weekend. With every added detail Ray realized how much he hadn’t dared to notice.

Had his nipples been small and dark? Had they been drawn tight in the chill of the room? Did Fraser have a trail of hair leading down from his navel? How had those leg muscles looked? Had they betrayed some hidden tension? And what about his feet? Had he sat cross-legged or had he held them parallel?

He had been so afraid to look, so afraid that he might like what he saw too much to refrain from touching, but now he was sad about all the little things he still didn’t know. And never would. He should have stared for all he was worth, he should have taken it all in for as long as he could.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Ray sighed, shoving the still very much unfinished drawing back into his sketchbook.

He was less enthusiastic about his class the next morning and when Jenny announced that she had some good news, Ray already knew what she was going to say. Blahdiblah, Sven is better now, blahdiblah, has returned for today’s session, blahdiblah.

“As I said, I have some good news for you.” She waited expectantly and the participants obliged her with curious looks. “Ben has agreed to continue sitting for us since Sven is still ill.” There were many cheers and even a few catcalls at this proclamation. Jenny figured the class didn’t need to be told that she really had to coax him to help her out again or that it had taken every appeal to his better nature to get him to agree.

Ray was surprised at the strong surge of happiness and excitement that coursed through him at this revelation. This time he was prepared to see Benton Fraser in all his naked glory. Why was Fraser doing this again if it had made him so damn uncomfortable last week? And since he knew Ray would be here again?

This time Ray was going to get some answers. This was also the moment Ray realized about the mattress on the floor. Uh-oh. Surreptitiously, Ray rubbed his suddenly damp palm over his thigh. Oh God, Frase.

Watching him. Naked. Lying down. Phew… not something Ray wanted to contemplate in polite company.

Fraser came into the room and there was a moment where Ray caught Fraser’s eyes. Calm. Serious. Daring. And Ray wanted to shrug and ask ‘what?’ After all, he wasn’t the one that had freaked out last week and run away. Ray could deal with this without any problems. Fraser’s fingers went to his buttons. Ray swallowed.

Okay, maybe without any problems had been a bit of an overstatement.

Smooth, so smooth Ray’s fingers itched to touch it, white skin was exposed – acres of it. Muscles stretched underneath with every movement, as those fingers danced over Fraser’s body, popping open buttons and revealing glorious nakedness beneath.

Fraser stood at a slight angle to Ray and the moment Fraser bent to push his boxer shorts down was also the moment Ray thanked fate, his lucky stars, a few lucky stars that didn’t belong to him for good measure, and the fact that he had indeed lived to see this day.

Ray’s gut was vibrating with crackling electricity, giving him something like a queasy feeling from time to time and Ray thought maybe he should be glad that he wasn’t hyperventilating in the face of Fraser’s perfectly bite-able ass. Jesus, just the thought of sinking his teeth into the muscular flesh, tasting it with his lips and tongue—Ray pressed his lips into a tight line to keep from groaning.

He’d swear he had no idea where this animalism was coming from. He wasn’t usually thinking about biting – or licking – people there.

Fraser lowered himself onto the mattress and snuck again this thin excuse of a blanket over his groin. Ray’s heart was still going ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk in his chest so he didn’t even mind the blanket. Much.

This was the epitome of every wet dream he had ever had. Oh God, who’d have thought that, at some point in his life, Ray would have to spend two hours with a raging hard-on staring at the naked form of one Benton Fraser, RCMP?

Fraser had his eyes closed which supplied Ray with some seriously necessary breathing room. Fraser’s dark hair cast shadows over his face and Ray was mesmerized by the tenderness portrayed on the relaxed face. The gentle rise and fall of Fraser’s chest was a sight Ray could watch for the rest of his life. The small, round nipples were of a dark rose color and Ray had the sudden primal urge to bite them, make them harden and darken. It was a bit disconcerting that Fraser called to something in Ray that wasn’t even civilized but just raw, savage feeling.

His gaze travelled further, following the jut of the hip bone where the blanket was covering the last of Fraser’s privacy. Oh Lord, he had no idea how he was supposed to look into his mirror again. Fraser didn’t deserve this – and especially not from his friend or partner. This was all going to hell with a startup and a header.

“Ray, are you going to start drawing at all?” Jenny’s voice inquired gently and Ray cringed.

“Uh, yeah, I’m on it.”

Ray could see a blush spread over Fraser’s cheeks even though his face didn’t betray anything else. Great, now Fraser thought that Ray found it weird or disgusting or something. When in all honesty all Ray wanted was to touch him.

Ray let out a deep breath and picked up his charcoal. Touch him, he would. A touch no one had to know about, a private one, just Ray’s fingers on paper.

And Ray started to draw. Feverishly and single-mindedly. The touch of the coal just like a touch of his fingers, broad and demanding at times and then gentle, almost whispering at others. Going over Fraser’s shoulder again and again, spending extra attention on the just so visible muscles of his abdomen, letting his fingers travel the length of Fraser’s legs. Ray never wanted to stop.

His fingers reached out, smudging the coal and adding shadows and dimension to Fraser’s body. It felt a helluva lot like a real touch, almost too private, too intruding to be touching Fraser like that. Ray’s thumb rubbed softly over Fraser’s chest, adding a soft hue of coal while his eyes took in the real Fraser, lying right in front of him. Desire zapped through him with such suddenness that Ray’s breath left him in a toneless gasp.

“Oh.” Jenny’s surprised exclamation clued Ray in that there were still other people present in the room.

“This is very good, Ray.” Jenny continued in an almost whisper and Ray turned to see the awe on her face. “I’m—I’m surprised to see such depth in a drawing after such a short amount of time.”

Ray blushed and hoped that Fraser had fallen asleep or something.

“Yes, I think we should continue with this pose next week. Okay then,” she squeezed Ray’s shoulder and announced the end of the class for the day.

Fraser opened his eyes and found Ray still staring at him. Fraser’s look seemed to come from very far away — similar to one from someone just awoken. And it took Ray a second to realize why. The look was unguarded, open and usually Fraser never looked like that.

Ray tried to smile in an effort to overcome his own stupefaction but Jenny addressed Fraser ‘Ben’ and Fraser’s look changed to a polite smile and he sat up.

Jenny was still comparing their efforts, gently offering them advice on how to improve their drawings, pointing out mistakes they had made in judging the distance or something but Ray wasn’t listening. He was busy gathering his stuff together.

The moment Fraser stepped out of the backroom Ray was ready. Fraser waved again and left the room and Ray gave a hasty explanation to Jenny, successfully interrupting her mid-talk, and rushed after him.

Fraser didn’t even have the time to leave the building yet.

“Frase!” Ray called out and had the once in a lifetime opportunity to see Fraser flinch with surprise.

“Ah, Ray.” And how did he do it that it still sounded like ‘fancy meeting you here’?

Fraser’s face was again that carefully blank mask and Ray had a sudden feeling of vertigo as he approached the rift between them. He needed something and quick before he couldn’t even make Fraser hear him over the distance keeping them apart.

“I—I’ve been drawing for almost two months now,” he blurted.

Fraser tried to erase his eyebrow with his knuckle again. “I see.”

Ray gnashed his teeth in anger. “No, no you don’t.” He stabbed his pinky and his index finger at Fraser. “I didn’t tell you on purpose, okay? I thought it’s embarrassing.”

“Ah.” Fraser didn’t really look illuminated. “I assure you there is nothing embarrassing about the fine art of drawing.”

Gee! Ray prayed for patience.

“I’m sorry for not telling you, alright? I was being stupid. I knew you wouldn’t laugh at me.”

Fraser’s face finally took on some real emotion. There was a little smile on his lips now.

“Thank you, Ray. And you are right; I don’t think there is any cause to ridicule you for this very worthwhile hobby. As you well know, I wouldn’t make fun of you even if your chosen past-time was a little more peculiar.”

“I know.” They smiled at each other for a second. “As I said, just me being dumb as usual. What do you say, we go get some lunch?”

“Gladly.”

They fell into step next to each other and Ray felt the rift between them mending a tiny bit again.

Ray opted for sandwiches and took them back to his apartment ‘cause no way was he letting Fraser get away with not talking for something as stupid as being in a public place. But Ray was – what was the word for it? – accommodating, right, so Ray was accommodating so he didn’t make the Mountie speak about his habit of undressing in front of total strangers while eating at a public diner in an equally public shopping mall.

And Fraser didn’t seem in any hurry to talk about his recent hobby at all and it was driving Ray nuts! Last week he had all but run away and this week he was trying to act as if there was nothing strange about undressing in front of Ray – as if he were doing it all the time… and please, could Fraser be doing this all the time? No, Ray’s heart would probably not survive it. But it’d be a sweet death.

This was so wrong. On the one hand Ray was running his mouth, telling Fraser how he had never been much into drawing except for a few dirty cartoons in his school time, and on the other hand he was swallowing all these questions, like, does your ass feel as good as it looks like? And that was so not buddies and Ray would apologize for it, if he could just tell Fraser about his fixation and – hey, maybe Fraser would even tell him that it was completely normal, happened to everyone?

‘Ah Ray, there is really no need to be embarrassed. It happened to all the people who have known me. I assure you, developing sexual fantasies about me is completely normal even for heterosexual males.’

Ray grinned wryly at his own inner dialogue; sometimes he made Fraser say the most outrageous things just to entertain himself.

‘And what about being so in love with you? That happens to everyone, too? ‘cause this is not about the uniform Frase, ya know? This is about you, stubborn, dutiful, zealous, strong, caring, lonely, brave son of a bitch!’

Ray was glad that they had arrived at his place so that parking the car, getting out, fumbling the door open and climbing the stairs provided him with an excuse to interrupt his own chatter. He didn’t think that he could have faked talking over his own thoughts.

He snuck a glance over at Fraser, ascending the stairs right next to him. It had never been about the male thing – Ray was a hot-blooded male, he had done his fair share of looking at other guys. It didn’t bother him; people had thought him queer all his life and one more thing didn’t really matter. Besides, he was just too old for this. At 36 he just didn’t need to get freaked out for wanting a piece of a guy’s ass. What was the difference? Stella had sometimes put her fingers there – what? They had been young and it had been daring and dirty and – BAM – damn hot. So what was the big deal if it wasn't a girl doing it now? Especially when the guy in question looked like Fraser?

No fault with that. And it wasn’t even the partner thing. Sure, bad stuff to fall for your partner but it happened. And Fraser and he had been living in each other’s back pocket anyway. He couldn’t be any more scared for Fraser’s life as he already was on a daily basis, so no, sex and love wouldn’t break their duet. Except for… well… you needed two people for this and Ray knew that he was pretty alone with his wants here.

And this was it. This was the real reason Ray’d rather shoot himself in the mouth before telling Fraser: he just could not lose his best friend. Anything else, Ray could give up but not this. And not for something as stupid as a romantic relationship that only existed in Ray’s head anyway.

The buddy-breathing – the Buddy-Breathing with capital letters – was the same thing. It had never been about the partnership, it had been about the friendship and that you couldn’t be friends with someone if you weren’t equals. And you couldn’t be partners with Fraser if you weren’t his friend as well. It had always been like that with Fraser. Ray couldn’t do just partners with the guy. So throwing their partnership away would have meant throwing their friendship away and that was the one thing neither of them had been able to face in the end.

As long as they were in it together they could face anything.

“Ah, did you forget your keys Ray?” Fraser inquired uncertainly, still standing rooted in front of Ray’s closed apartment door.

“Uh, I got them. Just— just a second.” Jesus, he was beginning to display the attention span of a goldfish. Probably the reason why he always talked first and thought later or jumped in headfirst and asked questions afterwards. He just couldn’t handle it the other way round.

Once inside, Ray got plates and glasses and they settled down for lunch. Fraser was back on track with their latest case but Ray was still stuck on the fact that he had seen Fraser naked and that his partner didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by it. Or just good at hiding it.

“You ever done this before?”

“Prepare a poison?” Fraser asked confused.

“No, heh,” Ray huffed out a laugh, maybe his own question was the more dangerous of the two. “Undressed in front of people,” Ray finished.

“Well, certainly Ray.”

Ray’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You have?”

“Of course, it is hardly advisable to enter a sweat lodge dressed and I had to surrender my clothing or at least part of it in the line of duty more than once. I—“

Damn it all to hell. Fraser was doing this — this prevaricating thing again!

“No, dammit. Not undressing, like, undressing. I meant the thing you did at the drawing course!”

“Undressing, you mean?”

Gnah!! And now Fraser was just being obtuse on purpose. Ha! That was a Fraser word, ‘obtuse’, which was kinda funny since Fraser always knew the right word for everything but he did this shit all the time, acting as if he didn’t get it. Fraser wasn’t dumb; Fraser just liked to be obnoxious.

“YES, yes, yes. Did you before – PRIOR – to last week feel the need to get rid of your clothes – UNDRESS – in front of a room full of dressed people for the only – SOLE — purpose to get gawked at?”

Fraser sighed.

“I knew you wouldn’t take it well.”

Take it—now wait!

“Me? I have absolutely no problem with it. I am a-okay with you undressing, get it? I am perfectly alright with you getting naked—“ Ray should really stop talking. Someday he would shovel his own grave with mere words alone, he knew it.

Fraser raised his eyebrows doubtfully.

“Hey, you were the one so damn uncomfortable that I saw you naked last week that you hightailed it outta there and ignored me for two days.”

Fraser’s eyebrows drew together to form a stern line.

“I assure you, I most certainly did not ignore y—“

“You let Turnbull answer the phone, Fraser!” Ray accused and Fraser had the good grace to look abashed.

“Ah. I apologize for that. I simply thought it better to let things,” he rubbed his eyebrow, “settle a little instead of provoking a confrontation.”

He—huh—that didn’t make any sense.

“Huh?”

Fraser turned his tea cup around in his hands and Ray’s eyes took on a panicked look. Nervous. Jesus, Fraser was nervous about this. We’re all going to die any minute.

Fraser sighed unhappily into his cup before he licked his lips and continued.

“I am well aware that I have crossed… certain lines… lately and I realized that my sudden appearance at your class last week only exacerbated the situation. And judging from your behavior it wasn’t something you could easily deal with wherefore I considered it the best cause of action to give you some space and ignore the proverbial elephant in the room. The fact that you did not want to discuss the matter over the course of the week further confirmed that my judgment had been correct.”

Ray sat there with his jaw dropping open a little further with every uttered sentence.

“I—you—that’s stupid, Fraser.”

Fraser looked up with an angry glint in his eyes. “Oh, is it. Really? Then please explain why it is of such importance to you that we need to discuss whether or not I undressed in front of you if it isn’t because you feel that such an event between the two of us would lead to insecurities about your masculinity—“

Ray couldn’t help it. He started laughing. That effectively stopped Fraser’s rant. He didn’t look the least bit pacified, though.

Okay, he got it. He knew that he had reacted badly to the whole buddy-breathing incident – even though for completely different reasons than Fraser thought – and he understood that Fraser might feel as if he had crossed some boundaries with that as far as Ray was concerned.

But to say that it would make Ray feel uncomfortable to see a guy he knew undress that was just—that was just dumb. What did Fraser take him for? Some redneck, beefed-up, macho guy who needed a stamp to assure himself that he was heterosexual? Ray had no issues with his masculinity.

Ray had never gotten the locker-room insecurities of some guys.

“Buddy, I am not uncomfortable to see another guy in the nude.” Might make Ray’s pants uncomfortably tight when it was Fraser who undressed but that wasn’t the question here.

Fraser looked taken aback.

“You’re not?”

Ray grinned easily. “Nuh-uh. Sorry to disappoint you.”

Fraser gave his eyebrow another flick. “Excuse me Ray, but I do remember your shell-shocked expression and that you didn’t even want to start drawing – and I am sorry if it was such an inconvenience to you. I did try to dissuade Jennifer from further using me as a sitter but she wouldn’t take no for an—“

“Fraser! Dammit, listen to me! It wasn’t about you—well, yes, it was. But not for the reason you think. Work with me here, how would you have looked if you had been in my place?” And the stuff of all your midnight fantasies was just unfolding in front of you, Ray thought but wisely didn’t say. Sometimes even he could contain himself.

“You caught me off-guard, is all. Alright?”

Fraser still looked doubtful. “Then why is it so important to you?”

Because I don’t want other people looking at you like that. Because you look vulnerable like that and it messes with my head. Because you’re brave and exposed and open then and it does funny things to my heart.

“Because I didn’t know and I—I felt bad for not telling you about the drawing and I… I think it’s a very brave thing,” Ray finished mumbling.

Fraser’s eyes softened and Ray had to look away.

“Ray, I did try to tell you. Remember the phone call that came in when we were already late for lunch?”

Ray’s eyes widened with recognition and he nodded.

“Well, that was Jennifer reminding me that I had offered my assistance should she ever need help with one of her projects – of course, at the time I made that offer I couldn’t know that we were talking about posing naked for her drawing course. But I couldn’t take the offer back when she asked.”

“So what? You just did it? Just like that?”

Fraser’s forehead creased in confusion. “Essentially, yes. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the human body or that nakedness is anything to be ashamed of. I am sorry if this attitude makes you uncom—“

Ray scrambled half-way across the table and clamped his hand over Fraser’s mouth. “Do not finish that sentence. Okay? I ain’t gonna say it again: I am not uncomfortable. Get it?”

Fraser nodded, wide-eyed, and only now did Ray realize how very close they were. Fraser’s lips were pressed warmly against Ray’s palm, the moist condensation of his breath ghosting against Ray’s skin. He could count every lash of Fraser’s stunning blue eyes and Ray only barely managed not to lick his own lips in response. He couldn’t keep from catching his bottom lip with his teeth, though, and for a second there Fraser’s surprised look gave way to something else.

They kept staring at each other and time had probably started racing because it felt as if Fraser was breathing kinda hard against Ray’s hand and that man could outrun a bullet without running out of air so it just wasn’t possible.

“Uhm,” Ray mumbled and carefully withdrew his hand and took a step back again. Fraser was sitting in his chair like a statue with a thoughtful expression on his face. That damnable tongue snuck out to taste – wet his lips, Ray. Fraser is not tasting what the salt on your hand tastes like, it’s simply one of his nervous tics no matter what you want to think.

“So, uh, we’re clear on this?” Ray tried to sound tougher but it just came out sounding a little gruff.

“Very much so, Ray.” Fraser’s voice was weird and Ray was getting a headache from all this second-guessing.

“Good,” Ray said in as firm a voice as he could muster and dropped back into his seat.

There was a moment’s pause but Ray couldn’t keep the question from escaping.

“You’re gonna continue sitting, right? For the course, I mean.”

“Yes, that is, only if it doesn’t make you—“ Ray threw him a warning look and Fraser changed tack mid-sentence, “if you’re really alright with it. I wouldn’t want to make our partnership awkward because of this—“

“Neither do I,” Ray interrupted and cringed at his own vehemence.

“Because I am sure that Jennifer would be able to find someone else for the next sessions if I said that I couldn’t continue sitting for her—“

“Nah, that’s stupid Fraser. You’re a great model—uh, well, you know what I mean. And I—I still need to finish that drawing.”

“Ah, right you are,” Fraser answered but he looked pleased all the same.

They gathered the empty plates and the paper and put everything in the kitchen.

“Could I—I mean, would you mind showing it to me? Your drawing I mean.” Fraser was biting his lip and Ray felt another wave of panic churn his gut.

“I—it’s not very good, Fraser. I don’t think it’s such a—“

“No, of course. I understand. I wasn’t trying to impose.”

Ray sighed a little, damn, he didn’t want Fraser to feel bad about this.

“I could—once it’s finished, okay? I’ll show you once it’s finished?”

Fraser had a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“I’d like that.”

God, being in love with this man was the most exhausting thing Ray had ever done. He took in Fraser’s happy eyes and answered Fraser with a soft smile of his own. It didn’t matter, he couldn’t help it anyway. Not when Fraser was looking at him like that.

Once the kitchen was clean again, Fraser took a look at his watch.

“Oh dear. I should return to the consulate. I promised Diefenbaker to take him for a run.”

“Would you, uh, would you like to come back for dinner afterwards? Bring Dief, too?” Ray felt his face heat and hoped it wasn’t noticeable. It had been ages since they had met for dinner – at least as long as it wasn’t work related. He didn’t know why, maybe he had stopped asking, afraid to give too much away and somehow Fraser himself had never asked for whatever reasons he had had.

Ray’s heart did a hurdle jump at Fraser’s smile. He would never live to see retirement at this rate.

“I’d like that. And I’m sure Diefenbaker would appreciate it as well.”

“Greatness.”

It felt a bit like walking on eggshells this seeing-Fraser-naked business. Ray knew he was trying to act as cool as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth just in case Fraser got the idea that Ray might be lying about the whole not being uncomfortable thing – which he wasn’t. Seeing Fraser naked wasn’t making him uncomfortable, the uncomfortable part was all his brain’s doing. And this was the other thing Fraser absolutely could not know, not ever, that Ray liked what he saw. More than liked, craved it like a junkie his next fix.

It seemed to pay off, too. At least that was what Ray thought, sitting next to Fraser on the couch that night, so close their shoulders were almost touching. Because Ray felt that with every protest of ‘Fraser, it wasn’t weird’ and every confirmation that ‘yes, honestly, I get stranger things for free with my breakfast cereals’ Fraser took a little step closer. So Ray protested a lot and could just about keep his mouth shut when it came to the other side – the confession side – about how much he actually loved seeing Fraser so unprotected and defenseless and how turned on it was getting Ray to think of touching Fraser when all he was really touching was a piece of paper.

Belatedly, Ray figured that it was kinda queer for a guy to spend every breath protesting that it was the most ordinary thing to see his best buddy naked. Who did that?

The most you could hope for was that both acknowledged that it wasn’t a big deal and then no one breathed another word about the incident – which got later named with capital letters as ‘The Incident’ whenever any of them would think of it. But Fraser had never grasped that there was just shit normal guys didn’t do, like sharing air mouth-to-mouth.

Ray still felt an ache in his groin when he thought of it. It had felt like a kiss. Ray remembered – boy, did Ray ever remember – how loud he had heard his heart beating in the quiet of the water and it had hurt, feeling that there wasn’t enough air left. Fraser shaking him had made no sense at the time and Ray had wanted to snap at him, afraid that Fraser was going to make him let go of the last ounce of air. And then Fraser’s lips had inexplicably come closer and Ray thought he was probably already delirious – especially when they had touched his own.

But Ray couldn’t enjoy it, not even in delirium, because he couldn’t relax his lips, he needed to keep the last hairbreadth of air inside. So he had pressed his lips into a tight line and marveled at the fact that his delirious hallucination should be such a shitty one, where he couldn’t even enjoy a real kiss before he died.

And then Fraser’s tongue had been there, somehow a different wet from the water all around – and hot – and Ray had all but swallowed half the lake in his surprise. Only, the water never came because Fraser had sealed their mouths together and there wasn’t any tongue anymore but there was air, God, sweet air was rushing down Ray’s severely abused lungs and suddenly the pain was lessening and it didn’t feel as if a brick wall was sitting on Ray’s chest anymore.

Fraser had drawn back and looked at Ray and then everything had seemed back to normal. Just that Ray had wanted to croak ‘Fraser, normal guys do not do this’ – and he had said that, more or less, but Fraser had just looked at him as if Ray was the mental institution patient and said ‘standard procedure’.

Ray could still imitate him with this fake annoying sing-song voice to go along with it, ‘standard procedure’, sure. Wasn’t as if it had been Ray’s wish for months to feel those lips, no, of course not. It was standard procedure, nothing special. Did Ray really think that Fraser might have enjoyed it, too? That was just sick.

“Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray—“

“Huh, yeah, WHAT?” Jesus, he was just as bad as that guy from the hospital TV show. The one who always cocked his head and then drifted off into some weird ass dream fantasy and never realized that time was going on without him and then wondered where everyone had gone to when he returned from Lala-land.

“You don’t have to answer me, of course. I was merely curious.”

“Fraser, I have no idea what you asked me.”

“Oh. I was just inquiring why you have taken up drawing. You told me it had never interested you before.”

See, that was another weird thing about Fraser. Him and Fraser, they hadn’t really been talking all that much lately. Ray had been careful not to let anything slip and Fraser had just—withdrawn into that polite cocoon of his and now, after Ray had seen him naked twice, Fraser was a real chatterbox again.

Asking questions, and smiling those little smiles, and being Fraser again – not just some Mountie with whom Ray worked. It didn’t make any sense but then again very little actually made sense when it came to Fraser. Maybe Fraser thought it was some kind of bonding thing?

Yeah, maybe that was some Inuit rites of passage, like, you see your buddy naked and therefore you can share all your little secrets with each other because you’re now some kind of blood brother.

Then again, probably not.

“Uh, the drawing…” Sometimes Ray was really glad that he wasn’t new to undercover work. He got by with a little help from a few half-truths, a couple of outrageous lies, a lot of bluffing, and tiny details that were the God’s honest truth. Time to roll up his sleeves and get to work again.

“Stella used to say—“ and ‘Stella’ was Ray’s shield. As long as her name was on his lips no one was getting any funny ideas about Ray’s romantic interest. No one would think that the guy still mooning over his ex-wife had the hots for his partner. Fraser didn’t seem to like the topic very much; Stella’s name rebuffed him a little every time. It was as if Fraser took an extra step back each time her name fell from Ray’s lips. Ray figured that Fraser thought it a very sorry state of affairs and disappointing to boot that Ray couldn’t grow up, leave his past behind him.

Unbeknownst to everyone, Ray had. It had snuck up on him – just like the Fraser-love thing – one day he had simply woken up, gone through his day, and gone to bed again without thinking about Stella once. Only when he saw her at the station the next day had he noticed and he had drunk himself into a stupor that night, sad and mostly in shock that the pain was just not there anymore.

But as he said, Stella made a terrific shield. And she would always be his Gold Coast girl. He just wasn’t trying to win her back anymore.

“Well, she wanted me to pick up a hobby. See, because I can never sit still and my hands are always fiddling with something, and my legs are jiggling, and you know, I’m always on the move, just about ready to go – BLAM – kick ‘em in the heads?” Ray looked over at Fraser to see that he understood. There was no way that Fraser didn’t know that about him. It had driven quite a few high school teachers insane.

Fraser rubbed his eyebrow. “I always thought your kinetic nature invigorating.”

“It’s called restless. And it isn’t invigorating; it’s annoying the snot out of people.”

Fraser tossed his head with an unhappy curl to his lips. “Excessive energy then. And I never heard anyone complain about your energetic behavior.”

“Jittery, Fraser. And there are people at the station who won’t sit next to me at official things because I make them nervous.”

“Very well, vibrant then. I assure you, your quicksilver nature has always been a thing of great fascination to me and not the least bit of a bother. Although it might help to envision a few calming exercises should you find yourself in a situation where prolonged sitting is required.”

Ray grinned at Fraser. “Aha. See?”

“I didn’t mean this in a negative way.” Fraser looked like he was pouting. On Ray’s behalf. Be still little ticker, Ray admonished his heart. But it was kinda cute.

“Anyway, you know what I mean. And there was this ad in the newspaper going on about this drawing course. And I thought to myself, why not? I didn’t have any great plans for my weekends anyway.”

“Mhm, I understand. And why now?”

“Gee, what is this? Twenty questions?”

“I’m sorry, Ray. I didn’t mean to intrude. It was just a question, a method with which people express an interest in others.“

“Yeah, yeah. Sorry. I was just,” he sighed, “the restlessness was getting worse lately. I thought about picking up dancing, moving those bones around a little. But I wanted something I could do on my own, ya know?”

Fraser nodded sagely. “I understand.”

They were quiet for a while and Ray finally noticed that the room was almost dark because neither of them had bothered to switch on the lights. There was some program on TV but Ray had no idea what they had started to watch; he had been so busy feeling the warmth coming off of Fraser that he hadn’t really looked at the screen.

“What was it like? Posing naked in front of everyone?” Ray asked quietly.

“I wasn’t overly distressed by it, I have to admit. My old apartment had its bathroom in the hallway so my neighbors saw me quite often clad in nothing but a towel.”

Why couldn’t Ray have been one of his neighbors? He’d have put up with a shitty apartment if he could have lived in the same building as Fraser… and have the same benefit of watching him return from the shower. Okay, probably not. But still, might have been nice.

“It was more the undressing itself that felt a little disconcerting.”

“So it didn’t bother you that everyone was ogling you?”

“Ray, I understand that you all had to watch me quite keenly to make the best drawing you could possibly produce. I know that none of you have been, as you so deftly put it, ogling me.”

Maybe Fraser was a monk after all.

“Fraser, those were a lot of bored middle-aged ladies who either aren’t married or married to some boring old guy with a pot-belly fully developed. They were out for some naked flesh, not for some higher plain of mental-whatsit.”

“You certainly don’t have a very high opinion of your fellow classmates.”

No, Ray thought, because I know me. And I was being the well-behaved one.

“You don’t think it’s anything sexual, posing nude for strangers?”

Fraser looked taken aback. “Do you?”

What?

“What?”

“You seem very sure of this point so I asked if you think it’s something sexual.”

Why couldn’t he just keep his mouth shut, just once?

“Uh, not the thing itself. Just, some people are really dirty minded and don’t see the –uh— higher, the artistic, the— what do you call this thing behind a nude artwork?”

“Ah, do you mean ‘value’?” Fraser asked with a tug at his collar.

“Yeah, value. Exactly.”

Fraser was looking at him very seriously. Ray heard the unspoken question ‘some people like you, you mean?’ ring loud and clear in the quiet of his room. But Fraser still wasn’t saying anything and Ray was getting nervous, he was always blabbing too much when he was nervous and he knew it, but it didn’t mean he could help it, never had.

“Me, I’m all over the artistic purpose. I mean, I signed up before I even knew we were going to do nudes. Hey, I even copied the centerfold of a porn mag for practice purposes, heh, just think about it—” Somehow, putting it out there like that didn’t really make it sound like such a great joke. And he had just admitted to Fraser that he had porn mags. Oh God. And that he had thought of porn and drawing in the same sentence.

“I see,” Fraser said but he sounded very much puzzled by this revelation. Yeah, he probably felt like being hit with a brick. Shit, Kowalski. Open mouth, enter foot. “That is, ah, very dedicated Ray.”

“Forget I said anything,” Ray cringed.

“No, no. I completely understand, Ray.”

God, please don’t.

“I can understand the need to practice before applying one’s craft to a living object. Although it does sound as if you have given the sexual nature of nude drawings an awful lot of consideration—“

“Fraser, I said forget it!” There was a slightly hysterical edge to his voice but if the noose got any tighter Ray would also be a victim of suffocation on dry land. His cause of death: voluntary suffocation due to mortification.

“Understood.” Fraser hesitated. “There is really nothing wrong with appreciating human sexuality—“

“I said enough!”

“Ah, as you wish.”

Ray had expected Fraser to sound miffed, like he sometimes did when Ray cut him off. This time it sounded more amused and Ray had no doubt who Fraser was silently laughing at. Give a guy a break.

“It’s a pity that those violet flowers had to be poisonous. Would have been great for drawing. There should’ve been a way to make them harmless,” Ray offered as a new subject for conversation. After all, they still had an unsolved case on their hands. And Fraser seemed to get all excited whenever poison was involved.

Fraser started next to him. “What did you just say, Ray?”

Ray’s sigh was longsuffering. “I said,” he stressed, “the purple flowers would have made a great motif if they could have been made harmless.”

“Ray, that’s it.” Fraser was beaming and Ray felt all the more confused.

“Where was Mr. Taylor found?”

“Uh, somewhere in Chinatown,” Ray supplied, wondering why it mattered.

“Monskhood is often used in traditional Chinese medicine. They use an elaborate procedure with ginger in a detoxification method after which monkshood can be used quite safely. “

“What? You’re saying it was an accident?” Ray asked doubtfully.

Fraser rubbed his eyebrow again, more of a shadow in the near dark than an actual gesture.

“Not necessarily. But Mr. Taylor might not have known about his impending fate. He might have been used to a treatment with monkshood. The poisoning might still have been deliberate.”

Fraser was on a roll. Going over the what-for's and the when's and how's in an ever longer growing list of stuff they should be checking out. Ray only knew that it was cozy, sitting there in the near dark with Fraser pressed close to him, listening to Fraser’s voice wash over him, and that his eyes were getting heavy and really, this was damn comfortable.

Ray jerked awake again and tried to place his when and where. It only felt as if he had been asleep for a couple of minutes but there was the first yellowish light behind the row of buildings on the other side of the road so it must have been sometime shortly before dawn. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had slept so well.

Ray looked around and found himself alone.

Disappointment gave way to a closer look which revealed that someone had put a blanket over him, had in fact tucked him in. Fraser.

A slow smile spread over Ray’s face. Of course, the Super-Mountie had also cleaned up after himself. There were no used glasses or plates to be seen in the vicinity of Ray’s living room. Ray snuggled further under the blanket. His couch was great, he was good, Fraser had tucked him in, yeah, he could just sleep like this for a couple of hours more.

His sleep wasn’t very long lasting. Ray’s plan for Sunday had involved maybe spending the afternoon with Fraser and Dief at the park or even being dragged to some culturally significant museum or whatnot. Instead, Mrs. Kaczorowski started banging on his door around half past eight. Ray hated when she did that. She was an elderly widow who lived on the floor above Ray’s apartment and at some point she must evidently have decided that Ray was a technician or at least a repairman. So whenever her toaster was on strike or her vacuum cleaner had died trying to dislodge the massive amount of cat hair stuck in its pipe she knocked on Ray’s door and demanded he fix it.

Ray had tried explaining to her that it would be easier to buy a new one instead of keeping fixing these antiques – not to say better for Ray’s nerves – but she had wanted to hear nothing of it. So Ray had to fix her ancient stuff time and again.

This time it was her dishwasher that had let her down but at least Ray managed to put her off until after breakfast. Mrs. Kaczorowski usually treated the failure of her electric appliances with all the importance of a national crisis and it took quite a few promises before she was willing to surrender Ray, so that he could at least grab a shower and a slice of toast before he battled the demon that had possessed her dishwasher.

Ray rubbed the shampoo into his hair and wondered why he even bothered making plans for his weekends. A cup of coffee and a quick toast, however, helped to reconcile him with the world to a certain extent.

And there went Ray’s Sunday afternoon. Stuck to the cheap linoleum floor, soaked to the bones, with his shirt still clinging wetly to his skin because one of the old hoses spontaneously succumbed to fatigue before Ray had a chance to close the correct valve, and grimy after all the stuff he had to pull out of the strainer.

Ray couldn’t help a surge of satisfaction when the blasted thing rattled back to life to resume its work after he was finished. Mrs. Kaczorowski was more than a little thankful but Ray managed to weasel out of staying for dinner as a reward for his help. Ray had nothing against free dinner, just that dinner with old people was less fun and more work and it was his day off after all. So, thanks but no thanks.

Ray was actually looking forward to seeing Fraser on Monday. It was really weird – or it would have been for anyone but them, Ray concluded – that things between them should be easier now. He didn’t even know why things had started to go stale before but after seeing Fraser naked and Fraser having his Inuit-bonding-ritual – or whatever the hell Fraser wanted to call it – he seemed a lot more relaxed in Ray’s company, which in turn made Ray easier to be around.

Ray wasn’t second-guessing his own behavior as badly when Fraser was relaxed and Fraser instead of a pod in a uniform. Who could blame him? If your best buddy turned from smiling to neutrally polite in all of a heartbeat you’d be asking yourself ‘hey, what the hell did I just do’ as well. And it was even worse if you had a list as long as your arm to tell you just what exactly you did do wrong: stare too long, smile too much, wink too outrageously, stand too close – Ray had the longest arm in the history of human anatomy.

But Fraser arrived around noon and – wow— Fraser was smiling. For a second there Ray’s heart stuttered before it resumed its healthy regular pattern. When was the last time Fraser had arrived at the station smiling?

“What’s up?”

“Ah, Ray,” and Fraser was still smiling. “If you are inquiring about the state of your hair, I can assure you that it is as perky as ever.”

Perky? Oh Lord, other people simply had toast for breakfast and waited with the Prozac till after lunch.

“Uh, did anything special happen?” Ray asked cautiously. You never knew if you wanted to know the answer to this one.

“Special? In what sense?” Fraser was immediately alert.

“In the sense of—forget it.” Ray swallowed a sigh. Who was he to begrudge a guy that lived in his office a nice start in the morning? And how did those two facts even go together?

“Understood. Shall we continue our investigation in Chinatown then?”

“Might as well,” Ray mumbled. He hated Chinatown. Fraser was hard enough to understand when he wasn’t talking in Cantonese and Ray always felt as if the Chinese waiters were making fun of his hair. And it smelled funny.

Ray parked the car near the entrance to Chinatown and a few seconds later they were enveloped by a babble of noises that might have been a conversation or a reiteration of a food menu. Ray could go for some Peking Duck in case anyone wanted to know.

Two alleys further and the food stalls started to permeate the streets. The smell assaulted them with enough force to knock the wind out of someone with more sensitive olfactory nerves.

“Ugh, Fraser, this smells funny.”

Fraser actually started sniffing and Ray wrinkled his nose in disgust. Who would voluntarily inhale more of this stink?

“Ah, it’s ho see and, mhmh yes, faat choi. Delicacies, Ray. Dried oysters and black moss.”

Moss. Figured Fraser would know it.

“I don’t care what it’s called I just wanna get away from it.”

“As you wish,” Fraser answered warmly.

Ray couldn’t be sure but he would bet money that Fraser was getting a kick out of dragging Ray through disgusting situations. He was probably having the time of his life at the moment even though he would never admit it. Fraser had a mean streak a mile wide and a dry humor you didn’t see coming until it hit you… and yeah, Ray loved those things about Fraser, too.

“We’re almost there.”

They had agreed to start in the corner where most of the traditional medicine shops were located and to take a look around there, see who even had monkshood stashed. And maybe see if any of them had seen their dead guy at a time when he had been less dead.

After three shops Ray gave up and let Fraser handle the interrogation. At least people spoke the same language he did. Asking after ‘monkshood’ earned Ray nothing but bland stares. He had the inkling that the shopkeepers knew very well what he was asking after but saw no reason to provide the required information to someone with hair as funny-looking as Ray’s—and hello, they weren’t in China, they were in America and there was nothing wrong with Ray’s hair.

Fraser was always asking about something that sounded like fuzi or something so Ray tried that at the next shop and - surprise, surprise - the shopkeeper took one shocked look up at Ray’s hair and back at his face before nodding. Yeah, you better watch out for the guy with the experimental hair, he can fuzi with the best of them.

“Fraser, we got one,” he called before they followed the knobby little old lady into her, uh, shop. In Ray’s world this wasn’t a shop, much less a doctor’s office. It was, well, storage maybe. It looked like the weird shop from the movie Gremlins.

Fraser was explaining something in rapidly following syllables with lots of long vowels in them and Ray simply nodded along. The little woman was looking scandalized and was shaking her head vehemently. Ray didn’t have to speak Chinese to know that, whatever Fraser was asking her, she didn’t do it. Wasn’t this a great place to live? No one ever did anything.

“Ray, Mrs. Zhao says that they only have the detoxified preparation stored. Apparently they do have customers requiring this treatment but none fitting our description of Mr. Taylor. She has kindly offered to show us what kind of fuzi they are using.”

Fraser sniffed at a couple of roots and asked a few things in Cantonese before moving on to something that appeared to be used for tea. Right, he remembered Fraser telling him that the concoction was to be drunk. The little Chinese woman explained some more and Fraser nodded in understanding.

Tchayng?” Fraser asked – or at least that was what it sounded like to Ray, knowing Fraser it was probably more something along the lines of ‘may I?’ or ‘please?’.

Fraser took a little porcelain cup from her hands and sniffed cautiously at it. When he raised it to his lips Ray stepped hastily forward and snatched the cup out of his hand. “Are you insane? You are not going to drink this, Fraser. What if it’s poisoned? ” Ray all but yelled and Fraser blinked a few times in surprise before a small smile formed on his lips.

“Ray,” he chided gently and took the cup back from Ray’s grasp. “I assure you it is perfectly safe. I examined the preparation process as well as the finished concoction and the smell of this tea is—“

“Fraser, I don’t care what this tea smells like. You are not drinking this. You do not, I repeat, you do not have to taste everything that crosses your path. We have a lab for this sort of shit. They do stuff like that for us so that you don’t have to poison yourself.”

Fraser had that stubborn look on his face that told Ray they were not about to waste even one minute to get this ‘completely harmless’ and probably backstabbing son of a tea to the lab.

“Do you trust me?”

Ray swallowed. Fraser was playing hardball. This wasn’t fair. Apprehensively, Ray looked at the little innocent-looking cup of tea. He could feel the hairs on his arms stand on end but there was no way he would step back from this question.

“Yeah,” Ray answered in a tight voice that came out more of a whisper. The last thing he saw was Fraser’s answering smile and Fraser’s hand about to raise the cup to his lips a second time before Ray reached out, took the cup and started drinking from it.

It tasted vile, ugh. He scrunched his eyes closed and swallowed another mouthful. This was disgusting. Great, disgusting tastes on top of funny smells; just what he had signed up for today.

“Ray…” Fraser’s voice was warm and low.

Gently, Fraser’s hand took the cup away from Ray’s lips before he had even finished half of it. “Don’t, Ray. Aconite is used to heal yang deficiency.” Fraser’s voice sounded throaty. “It’s supposed to expel cold; you might feel overly warm if you imbibe too much.” Ray surrendered his cup and opened his eyes again.

He felt fine. Oh, good. He probably wasn’t about to die any minute. The relief made Ray feel light-headed. The look on Fraser’s face was so damn personal that Ray wanted to pull him aside so that the little old lady wouldn’t see it. Gee, no one had told Ray how happy it would make Fraser if someone drank poison for him. Freak.

“I feel fine.” He wasn’t sure if he was telling himself or Fraser.

“I’m glad,” Fraser answered with a smile in his voice.

M goi,” Fraser said with a bow to the old woman and Ray just shook his head. He would bet money that Fraser had just thanked the little witch for trying to poison them. The old woman looked at Ray and showed her mostly toothless smile. Ray grinned back savagely. He’d done it, hadn’t he? He’d drunk the stuff; what more did she want?

After five more shops Ray couldn’t see anymore tea. He was also pretty sure that his sense of smell would never be the same again. Perversely, he still had a craving for Peking Duck. For one day of potentially life-threatening situations they didn’t have much to go on. The only thing they knew was that none of the shops they had visited had known a man that fit Taylor’s description and as far as Fraser could tell, none of them had unprocessed monkshood stored.

Ray arrived back at his apartment that night with a craving for toothpaste he hadn’t experienced in this intensity ever before in his life. Not even after the big hangover from ’97 when Ray had almost lost an eye in a bar brawl – hey, he had said there wasn’t much in his youth to be proud of, so sue him.

After rinsing his mouth for what felt like the better part of an hour Ray felt decidedly better. He would feel even better if he didn’t have to go back to Chinatown the next day. His life sucked.

There was surprisingly forceful knocking coming from his door and Ray opened it, half expecting another crisis. He was met with a face full of violent pink and had to take a step back to make out what exactly it was he was seeing. Flowers. A whole pot of them. Okay, this probably meant it was more of a plant than a bouquet but who cared about the difference anyway.

Behind the pot Ray could make out the grey-white hair of Mrs. Kaczorowski.

“Uh, hi,” Ray said, staring dumbfounded at the vibrantly colored blossoms.

“These are for you, my dear. My dishwasher works as diligently as an illegal immigrant.” Ray cringed at the statement. Jesus, and people called him insensitive. Having Polish roots made Mrs. Kaczorowski believe that she had carte blanche when it came to the topic of immigration – which it didn’t, but arguing with old people was a lot like arguing with Fraser; not very good for Ray’s nerves.

“Good to hear it.”

The elderly woman wasted no time to thrust her load onto Ray’s person.

“Your apartment needs a woman’s touch, young man. I always say that appearances are everything. You’ll see how much a little bit of color will make a whole new place of your home. Now, I brought these back from one of my travels years ago and I have been growing them myself ever since. You just find them a nice spot somewhere in the sun – and do not water them too much. They are very delicate,” Mrs. Kaczorowski explained sternly and Ray nodded glumly.

Great, prissy flowers. Just what he needed in his life. He owned a turtle because he had been looking for a pet with, uhm, minimum requirements.

“Jeez thanks, I don’t know what to say,” Ray rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand.

“You don’t have to say anything, just enjoy.” Sarcasm, Ray figured, was wasted on old people.

Ray considered putting them in the bathroom where they would wither at frightening speed just to spite her. But the flowers were really beautiful, so Ray figured he might just as well enjoy them in the time it took them to die. He sighed and placed them on his coffee table. The color was really something else, a vibrant, pinkish-red with streaks of white in between and in stark contrast to the thick, dark green of the succulent leaves.

Had the last drawing class really only been two days ago, Ray wondered. He went to the kitchen counter where he had last seen his sketchbook and took it with him back to the couch. Ray opened it and was caught off-guard by his last drawing of Fraser.

There had been so much going on what with their latest case and everything… Ray’s fingers stroked gently over the finely grained paper. It wasn’t so much Fraser’s body that sent fireflies soaring in Ray’s stomach, all hot and jittery, but the expression on his face. How could Fraser look like that when he was naked in a room full of strangers who were all watching him like a hawk?

Maybe Fraser really was that comfortable in his skin. Ray couldn’t see why Fraser shouldn’t be, with a body like that Ray would probably be prancing around butt naked all the time. Ray knew he himself wasn’t bad looking or anything but women usually didn’t fall all over themselves trying to get to him so he wasn’t exactly in the same league as Fraser.

Maybe Fraser was just in that far away place, like when he had played dead, whenever he posed for the drawing class? That would make sense – and it would also explain why Fraser’s look had seemed to come from so very far away.

To see that unguarded expression on Fraser’s face just once again, directed at himself, that would be – yeah, okay, it wouldn’t be enough but it would be something real. Ray’s eyes wandered again over Fraser’s face in his drawing.

Hesitantly, Ray closed his eyes. He tried to envision Fraser the way he had looked at him after he had drunk the tea, full of some unnamed emotion Ray couldn’t place. Proud, maybe. And so damn happy. But there had been this touch of something in it, gentle and fragile all at the same time.

He opened his eyes again and turned to a fresh page in his sketchbook and began to draw. It wasn’t easy, drawing from memory, but Ray had a lifetime practice of looking and it paid off. This probably wasn’t very healthy as far as his sanity was concerned. As if Ray wasn’t obsessed enough already, now he had to draw Fraser in his spare time, too. And draw him he did, like a man possessed. All the expressions Ray never got to see on Fraser’s face, all the poses he would never be able to watch him in, all the little things Ray had forever fantasized about.

He took his first drawing where Fraser had posed lying on the mattress and studied the lines. In the new drawing, Fraser’s head was tipped back and the long line of his neck exposed. Fraser’s lips were parted slightly and Ray’s index and middle finger smoothed a dark flush over Fraser’s cheeks and chest.

Ray hesitated when he came to Fraser’s groin. In for a penny in for a pound, he was already going to burn for this. Ray hadn’t listened very closely when Fraser had told him of this Dante guy and the different circles of hell but he was pretty sure that having pornographic thoughts about your best friend were pretty far down.

But wasn’t it better to get rid of his fantasies like this and then be the best buddy he could be during the day when Fraser was around?

At about one in the morning, Ray was too tired to hold the coal. He yawned and stretched. Catching a glimpse of his recent drawings he felt a hot wave of embarrassment wash over him. He couldn’t believe that he had the nerve to draw Fraser like that. Flustered, Ray shoved the few pages underneath his other drawings. He belonged committed, that much was for sure.

Ray went to bed and pulled the blanket over his head, steadfastly ignoring the multitude of images of Fraser he had in his head now.

The next day their merry-go-round through Chinatown continued. Ray was a little on edge – okay, he was a lot on edge – but he couldn’t get the infernal drawings out of his head and he could still see the coal dusting his fingers where he had smoothed them over Fraser’s body – well, obviously not the real Fraser’s body ‘cause then his hands wouldn’t be smudged with coal but—yeah, he knew he was driving himself nuts.

So he was constantly stepping too close and looking at Fraser’s mouth instead of at his eyes and sometimes he forgot that he was supposed to look for other things than Fraser’s ass. He tried his best to keep it under wraps but it wasn’t more than twenty minutes before he was again leaning over Fraser’s shoulder, watching what Fraser had pointed out to him, almost close enough to climb into the damn uniform.

Ray finally noticed and took a step back, a nice big one. A distance normal people would consider polite. And Ray cricked his neck and hoped that Fraser wasn’t going to clock him any time soon.

But just a second later Fraser’s hand was on his shoulder and he held something out to Ray, stepping closer to let him get a better look, and suddenly they were standing just as close as before. Ray raised his eyes to Fraser’s in a quick check that it hadn’t been Ray’s body that had shuffled closer without his knowledge.

Fraser met his gaze levelly and then he smiled a little before he explained to Ray what exactly he had sniffed or tasted or licked or whatever disgusting thing Fraser had done for fun to some unsuspecting object.

It was—well, weird mostly. Ray knew that, a few weeks ago Fraser would have kept his distance after Ray had gotten too close. He remembered loads of times when he had noticed that he was almost inhaling Fraser, he was standing so close, so he had taken a step back and then Fraser had looked at him all tense and then polite-Fraser had taken over.

Maybe this was Fraser trying to tell him that nothing had changed because of the nude posing thing. It was kinda nice to know that Fraser wasn’t freaking out because Ray acted as if he had never heard the words ‘privacy sphere’ before.

Ray tried to concentrate on the case. It shouldn't have been so difficult to find someone who knew the victim and yet no one seemed to have seen him before - one might just believe that his body was never found in Chinatown the way people were busy shaking their heads when they saw his picture. It was worse than in a labyrinth here and people didn't trust the police. Everyone who didn't live here was a foreigner to them, and just like all good children had learned, you didn't talk to strange people. Without Fraser's freaking language skills they wouldn't even have been able to enter some of the shops.

He waited outside until Fraser was finished with his latest interrogation. The “EL“ was rattling past and Ray sighed. He loved his city, he really did, but days like this really made it hard.

"Ray! I might have found a lead."

"Yeah, did you lick anything?" One of his drawings suddenly swam to the surface of his mind and Ray felt the tips of his ears heat.

"No," Fraser said slowly, looking oddly at Ray's flushed face. "I merely inquired where the most likely source for unprocessed monkshood might be found and Mr. Chow provided me with a few street names."

"What are we waiting for then? Pitter patter, let's get at 'er." Without waiting Ray continued down the street.

"Ah, Ray!"

"What? Time's a-wasting."

"Be that as it may, but it's in the other direction."

"Oh."

Fraser frowned and stepped close to Ray. He looked at Ray with a thoughtful expression and for a second Ray thought that the game was up.

"You didn't sleep well." Fraser mused in a low voice that Ray could feel trickling warmly down his spine. He could come up with at least a million fantasies in which Fraser knew a lot of things to do beside sleeping. He swallowed nervously. At one point Ray might forget about his looking-not touching policy and things would not end well.

"I-I just stayed up a little too long," Ray muttered in a scratchy voice.

"I see." Fraser said. Fraser really liked being right a bit too much. Ray opened his mouth to make a smart comment – or at least, he told himself that it would've been smart – when Fraser took a small step back and took a deep breath.

"There is a small alley a few blocks from here. According to Mr. Chow most of the flower shops there sell monkshood underneath the counter. It's not illegal to sell, as you might know. But the cautious treatment monkshood requires and the numerous accidents in which the victim came to harm or even died make it a product most more reputable merchants would stay away from."

This was at least safe ground again. He had no idea if it was just his wishful thinking that Fraser appeared to be so close all the time or if Fraser really was trying to prove his ability to look beyond their classroom encounter. Fraser seemed to be all business, at least. Ray hated this, thinking all the time. As if he was living inside of his own head. It wasn't that he didn't think things through— hell, in some situations he was the only one doing any thinking because Fraser was already trying to come up with the next possibility to get them killed. But Ray liked to think on his feet. Actions came so much easier and were much more rewarding. No one ever earned anything by sitting around.

But there just wasn't anything he could do about the thing he had for Fraser. Sometimes he wanted to taste every inch of that skin and find out just what exactly Fraser smelled like underneath all the wool and leather. Those were the days when all he could think of was Fraser naked and sweaty. Sometimes, however, all Ray could think of was kissing him, until Fraser was drunk from it; kissing him so long that there was no trace of sadness in those blue eyes anymore. Those days were a lot harder.

Fraser started walking in the direction of this alley and Ray fell into step beside him. The alley was winding along, filled with shops that selled flowers, roots, herbs, and spices. It was nice compared to the seafood and fish stink that permeated most of the streets here. Ray thought he probably smelled like some kind of herbal cold medicine by now but it was hard to distinguish between himself and the air around him. His nose would never recover from this case.

Right around the point where Ray was sure his feet were about to fall off and that he couldn't stand hearing the word fuzi one more time, they were finished. Fraser looked at the list of names and businesses that bought monkshood with a satisfied smile. Not that Ray wasn't happy about any kind of progress, but he was rather glad that their shift was about done for the day. His intentions of checking any more shops were Arctic they were so far below zero.

They walked back to the car that Ray had parked at the corner of Cermark and Wentworth Avenue. Ray fell into the driver's seat with a sigh of relief. He sniffed cautiously and wrinkled his nose. "I stink," he complained disgustedly.

Fraser looked surprised and leaned over until his nose almost touched the soft skin of Ray's throat. And then… Fraser inhaled. His hot breath ghosted warm and moist over Ray's skin as Fraser exhaled again. "You smell faintly of ginger and of incense, if that's what you mean by stink," Fraser offered.

Ray couldn't answer. He was afraid that his mouth would attach itself to the nearest part of Fraser it could reach should he give it free reign. The skin Fraser had breathed on was tingling and Ray imagined he could feel the heat radiating off Fraser. Fraser moved back to his side of the car.

"Does it really bother you so much?" Fraser asked curiously.

"No," Ray's voice came out a little tight. Please smell me some more, tell me what brand of shampoo I use and where I bought my shirt. Ray jiggled the bracelet on his arm and started to drum a beat in accord to the song coming from the radio. "Nothing a shower won't fix," he said quickly and adjusted the volume of the radio a little higher so as not having to talk. Fraser just smiled a little and watched the streets go by.

Ray was still jittery when he arrived back at his place. Fraser just had a way of getting under his skin and if he let him then Ray would spend the rest of the evening replaying scenes from their day together, making dreams out of shadows, imagining things that had never been real. Ray sighed in misery.

Drawing was rapidly turning from a hobby to a method of stress relief. He was sprawled over the couch, sketchbook in hand, and stared unseeing around the room. The vivid pink of the flowers distracted him, though. He sat upright and looked at them. They had something graceful about them, defiant in their proud colors, but the petals looked fragile all the same. Ray flicked to a new page in his sketchbook and began to draw. It was immeasurably calming; there was no space for thinking about Fraser's body heat against his back or the way Fraser's breath had felt against his neck.

Ray had no delusions, though. His attraction to Fraser was getting worse.

Ray's days were also getting worse. The next one definitely took the pot when it came to being the most embarrassing of his life. Or maybe Fraser's...okay, looking back it was kinda funny.

They checked up on the shops who used monkshood in its lethal form. Most of them were therapeutic, but some seemed to have a very creative take on the therapy issue. Ray stumbled into a shop that smelled so strongly of incense that it made him feel woozy before he was even fully inside. The room was cluttered with a lot of odd objects Ray hadn't seen in the other shops. Fraser started asking questions and the tiny old lady listening to him broke suddenly into peals of laughter that sounded as if they were coming from a young girl. She answered his questions in a rapid rise and fall of syllables and Fraser— Fraser blushed! Ray almost forgot to breathe for a second. There came the customary eyebrow rub and Ray's eyes widened.

"What did she say?"

"Ah, it's nothing."

"The hell it isn't."

Ray turned to the slender shop owner and asked her with the only Chinese he had learned: "Fuzi?"

The old lady chuckled delightedly and shook her head. She grabbed him by the hand and dragged him over to one of the showcases and pointed at something on the second level. It was a figure of two male bodies right in the middle of... penetration. Oh.

Ray stumbled backwards and collided with Fraser. It was a juggling act for a second until no one was in danger of falling over someone or something. Fraser said goodbye— at least that was what Ray thought he had done – and they stumbled outside.

"What the fuck was that?" Ray exclaimed, more unsettled by the haunting quality of the topic of male on male action than by the shop itself.

"It's," Fraser loosened his collar, "Monkshood has been used as an anesthetic— in small doses, of course, due to its high toxicity."

"That's not what the old lady said to me," Ray challenged.

Fraser tried not to look directly at Ray when he answered. "There are a few myths that it, ah, enhances, well, penetration." Fraser cleared his throat and Ray was left staring at his partner.

"You're kidding, right?" Ray asked incredulously.

"I didn't think this usage was very likely when I first came across a passing reference. It seems to be in use, though, if I understood her correctly." Fraser still wasn't meeting Ray's eyes. In his head, Ray replayed the moment inside of the shop and Fraser's reaction.

Oh.

So, the old lady had thought that him and Fraser came by to... Ray cricked his neck and danced a few steps up along the sidewalk. No wonder Fraser had been embarrassed.

"Uh, come on, let's go back to my place and—" for a second Ray had the horrible feeling that Fraser would think he meant something untoward or whatever Fraser called acts of the sexual nature. Ray almost bit his own tongue in his haste to clarify. "Grab something to eat— so we can have a look at our notes."

Ray's palms were slightly sweaty when he was finished and Fraser was looking at him with a small smile on the lips. "Good idea, Ray."

They entered Ray's apartment and Ray went into the kitchen to grab a couple of plates for their takeout. He turned around to place them on the table and was caught by the sight of Fraser smelling the flowers on his coffee table. The contrast between the vibrant pink and Fraser's dark hair was striking. Fraser was strong and built and everything and yet, he looked oddly gentle with the flutter of flower petals against his skin. Ray swallowed dryly. He was beautiful. Ray's fingers clenched around the plates in his hands to keep from reaching out and pulling Fraser close for a kiss. Ray could feel the thought burning on his lips.

Fraser noticed Ray looking and smiled at him. He straightened and pointed at the flowers on the table. "A very beautiful specimen, Ray. It's an Adenium Obesum, more commonly known as a desert rose." Fraser smiled happily and Ray was mesmerized by the peacefulness of his expression.

"Are there any polar desert roses?" Ray asked but his voice came out more a murmur.

Fraser looked surprised. "No, there are hardly any forms of fauna out on the ice. Much less flowers."

Ray nodded. "I knew that." But Fraser didn't get it. Fraser was his very own polar desert rose. Just as proud, dignified, and beautiful in a savage landscape. Just as lonely.

..oh god, now he was starting to form bad prose in his head. Ray shook himself. "Lunch is ready."

But the thought didn't leave him for the rest of the week. Whenever his eyes caught a flicker of pink Ray had the image ins his head of Fraser softly stroking the petals. It would look amazing to see one of the blossoms placed against Fraser's creamy skin. The idea held Ray's brain hostage – in a way, it would be like touching Fraser.

On Saturday morning, Ray tried to ignore the flower pot on the table. He had already closed the door behind him when he entered his apartment again and broke one of the blossoms off. He spun the stem between his fingers and pulled the door shut behind him.

At the drawing class, Ray felt ten times of stupid. He placed the flower on the edge of his table and hoped that no one took any notice of it. What had he been thinking? He hadn't been, that was exactly his problem. Ray didn't have anymore time to revel in his own stupidity because Jenny brought Fraser into the room again. Fraser smiled softly at Ray before he took his spot in the center of the desks and started undressing.

Ray couldn't stop staring. He gripped the coal tightly between his fingers. Jenny started to welcome everyone when her eyes hit upon Ray's table. She stopped mid-word and came closer.

"Ray, what a fabulous idea. Yes, I can see what this little touch would bring to the drawing."

Ray followed her gaze and hit upon the cursed pink flower. "Uh, it's— it's nothing. I—"

"Don't be shy. Go on, an artist should always follow his feelings."

Ray had his own theory where following your feelings got you but he refrained from telling her so. He looked into the circle of expectant faces and cursed softly under his breath. There was no going back now.

He stood up and twiddled the flower between his fingers. It wasn't more than a few steps to the spot where Fraser was lying but it felt like an eternity. Ray saw Fraser's curious gaze as he dropped to his knees in front of him. Ray lowered his eyes and reached out to place the flower against the soft-looking skin of Fraser's ribcage. His fingers brushed softly against Fraser's skin and Ray released a shaky breath. He flicked his eyes up involuntarily and found Fraser looking at him with recognition in his eyes. Ray felt himself go red and tried to smile, shake it off, as if this gesture didn't mean that he had been thinking about Fraser's naked skin since Fraser had found the flowers at his place days ago.

Ray returned to his seat on legs that felt like Jell-o. The effect of the flower against Fraser's light skin was breath-taking. Ray thought that Fraser was the more fragile of the two and then he chided himself for thinking such bullshit.

Jennifer was delighted and continued to wax poetic about the contrast between the flower and the hard lines of the male body and Ray tried to drone her out with all his might. As if watching Fraser like this wasn't already hard enough, no, you needed the porn description to go along with it. The effect was striking, though. Ray knew long before he was finished that this was his best work so far. He had drawn Fraser so often by now that his form seemed to come easier to the paper now. Or maybe Ray had just gotten better at this. The result, however, was an almost completely finished drawing, all that was left was the detailed shading.

When the lesson was over, Ray didn't even try to follow Fraser when he left the room. What could he possibly say? There wasn't a thing to explain his weird stunt with the flower – nothing that didn't sound as if he were not, indeed, a poet on the inside at least. And Ray really didn't want to continue with the 'inner artist' wish-wash Jennifer had started. He took his sweet time gathering his stuff together and breathed a sigh of relief. He had all the time in the world, Monday was light-years away still. More than enough time to make Fraser forget about it, maybe a purse snatcher would help Ray to distract Fraser at work.

Monday must have been waiting around the corner, for no sooner had Ray exited the building than his eyes hit upon Fraser, leaning against the low stone wall in front of the park. Fraser looked just as good dressed as he did naked, Ray concluded with a sigh, while he closed the distance between them. The frayed sweater was almost gleaming under the bright sky and the rough boots and tight jeans were a look only Fraser could pull of looking this good. God, he wanted to peel every item off. Slowly. No. Immediately.

"Hey Fraser, you've waited." If in doubt, always state the obvious. It worked for Fraser most of the time and he was the master of the delaying tactics.

"Of course," Fraser smiled.

They made it all of two blocks before the subject finally passed Fraser's lips. "The flower was a very beautiful addition."

Ray made a non-commital sound. No one said he had to dig his own grave, nuh-uh.

Fraser, stubborn Mountie that he was, pressed on regardless.

"It was very thoughtful, Ray. You seem to give your drawings a lot of consideration."

Ray looked at his partner, watching for signs that said "you're a whacko" or "stop with the gay shit, thank you kindly" but Fraser didn't sound freaked out. He didn't even sound all that surprised. It appeared to be an honest question – probably for purely artistic value. Sometimes it was good that Fraser wasn't from this planet.

"Yeah, I ended up drawing one of the blossoms and thought it would—" he had almost said "look even better on you" but he caught himself at the last moment. "Uh, make a nice contrast. Too bad I didn't use colors for it."

"I'm sure it's a well done piece of art despite the lack of colors." Fraser said with such conviction that Ray glowed with pride at the praise before he reminded himself forcefully that Fraser didn't even know any of his drawings and had no idea what he was talking about. So Ray settled for a simple 'thanks'.

"What do you like the most about drawing?"

Fraser's question caught him off-guard. He hadn't exactly thought about this. His mouth had no trouble answering for him, though. Ray figured it was the only thing that had gotten him through high school. "I love that it's something to do with my hands, and it's, you know, just me? There are millions of pictures but not one exactly like mine."

Fraser nodded in understanding and Ray warmed to his topic. "It's personal; my own eyes, my own fingers that do the drawing— it's, yeah, it's almost like I'm touching—" Ray froze in mid-sentence, remembering what kind of drawings they had done so far... and who had been the model. The tips of Fraser's ears went the tiniest bit red and Ray felt as if he had swallowed his whole foot, it was lodged so deep inside of his mouth. "Uhm, I mean, symbolically or somet'ing." Ray rubbed over the back of his neck. 'Symbolically' wouldn't get him out of these situations forever.

"Ah," Fraser replied cryptically and for once, Ray rather didn't want to know what the hell that was supposed to mean.

"So..." Ray trailed off, unsure of what to say next when sudden inspiration struck him. "You glad that it's over now?"

"Over?" Fraser asked, surprised.

"Yeah, being the sitter for us?"

"Ah," Fraser rubbed his thumb over his eyebrow, "didn't I tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"I'll continue sitting for your portrait sessions. Jenny asked me if I wouldn't mind and I saw no reason to deny her this favor."

"Huh, no, that's cool. I just, I didn't know, 's all." Ray nodded decisively. Yeah, portraits had to be easier than spending the whole morning in the same room as a naked Benton Fraser.

Fraser looked a little relieved at Ray's easy acceptance.

Ray drove Fraser back to the consulate for whatever ridiculous task the Ice Queen had prepared for his friend – on a Saturday?! Didn't they have, dunno, human rights or something in Canada? Fraser assured him he didn't mind, and who knew, maybe he really didn't. Ray, for once, went home for a real weekend. No work, no annoying neighbors, no watering nancy flowers, and no thinking. Ray had pizza and cable TV; more you did not need for a weekend as God had intended it.

On Saturday evening, Ray thought he might have been watching a bit too much television. He had flicked through the channels and had ended up with an old classic from the 80's, Big Trouble in Little China, and right when Kurt Russell found the ladies in the ridiculous getup in that hopelessly artificial-looking dungeon, something hit Ray.

"Gracie Law... Gracie Law... now where have I heard that name before?" Ray wondered out loud but the turtle didn't supply him with an answer. The name didn't sound quite right, though. Lawless? Lawe? Yeah, Lawe. That was it, Grace Lawe. Now, wait— that was the name of one of their poisonous florists from last week's case. Right, now he remembered briefly puzzling about her address after booking her, but he had dismissed it then— what was it to him where a young woman that dealt with deadly toxic plants – flowers— whatever, lived? As long as it wasn't right next to his place.

Ray scrambled through the notes thrown everywhere over the surface of the coffee table. Sure enough, the address belonged to a street in Chinatown. "Coincidence? I don't think so." Ray crowed triumphantly but the turtle was again abysmally bad company when it came to celebrating.

As badly as Ray itched to hear Fraser's "good work, Ray" he also respected his free Sunday way too much to call him up now. If Fraser got hold of this information, he would want to drag Ray all over town again tomorrow, on their free day, when they had no business working. Ray settled back on the couch and got comfortable. For all of five minutes.

Oh, what the hell. Wasn't as if Ray had any big plans for the next day.

Yep, he had it bad. He had vaguely thought he had put the masochistic shit behind him with Stella, but obviously it was a latent trait of his personality. Ray shrugged and reached for the phone.

"Canadian consulate, Constable Benton Fraser speaking."

Ray didn't even bother with introductions. "It's Saturday night and you ain't working. What's wrong with just saying 'hello', huh? "

"Hello, Ray," Fraser answered warmly and Ray knew exactly which look went along with it. The secretly pleased smile, where the eyes crinkled and gave him away and that damnable crooked tooth could be seen just at the corner, where Fraser's lip would pull in an indulgent half-smile. God, Ray did not just get hard because of an imagined smile.

"There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Ray teased, albeit a bit breathlessly.

"Not at all." Ray heard the rustling of fabric and his eyes widened in shock.

"Oh shit, did I wake you? I hadn't thought of the time and I—"

"Ray!" Fraser interrupted in a voice that meant this hadn't been the first time he had said Ray's name. "You didn't wake me. Although I was already in bed when you called. But, well, my office doesn't offer a wide variety of comfortable seating possibilities, wherefore it is more a question of practicality than sleepiness."

Ray sat there with his mouth hanging open. Fraser was lying in bed. Fraser was probably out of uniform, hell, probably out of most of his clothes. Suddenly, the question "what are you wearing" seemed all Ray could think of.

Don't say it, don't say it, don't say it— "Are you wearing the red overall then?" Ray cursed himself. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

There was a second of silence and Ray could see Fraser rubbing his eyebrow in confusion.

"Do you mean the long johns? No, I, ah, am simply in boxer shorts and an undershirt, it's really rather warm here tonight. Is it important?"

Oh god. Fraser in even less clothes than he had thought possible. Talking to him. In bed.

He was having a phone sex conversation with Fraser and the Mountie probably didn't even know it. Probably not much sense in asking the clothes question as a prelude to dirty talk when you lived in a climate where you needed at least three layers of clothing to keep from freezing the important bits off.

"Nah, just— came to my mind. Uh, what do you do when the consulate closes down?" Ray asked in sudden puzzlement. "There's got to be something to do, right? Do you have another TV stashed away in your office?"

There was a millisecond hesitation which probably meant that Fraser didn't really like the answer he was about to give.

"No, I'm afraid there's not much in the form of entertainment values. I read, mostly." Ray heard more rustling and the sound of pages being flicked over.

"Just now I started a fascinating book about the Arctic voyage of the Karluk, one of the flagships of Vilhjalmur Stefansson," Fraser went into story-mode and even though Ray had never told him, it was this voice that had a magnetic power over Ray. It was the voice with which Fraser had told the story of the Robert Mackenzie and that had made Ray agree to go along with the crazy pirate stuff.

Now, Ray relaxed deeper against the couch cushions and closed his eyes, imagining Fraser's eyes, full of emotion, and the way his lips formed around the words.

"I'm sorry, this can hardly be interesting to you." Fraser admitted and Ray heard the touch of embarrassment that he had let himself get carried away like that.

"No, no, I wanna hear. What happened to the Karluk?" It had been ages since they had just talked. And Fraser hadn't told any of his crazy-assed stories in forever; hearing one now, Ray realized that he had missed the pointless caribou stories. It just wasn't Fraser without them.

"In 1913 three ships were bound to explore the Parry Archipelago; one of them was the Karluk. It got stuck in the ice in August and Stefansson left the ship and its crew. The ship was crushed by the ice and sank, leaving Captain Robert Bartlett and 24 men stranded on the ice. A group of men tried to reach Herald Island, but all of them perished. The rest tried to reach Wrangel Island but not all of them survived the journey. Bartlett knew that they needed help, so he and one Inuit companion began the rescue mission. He travelled 700 miles over the ice until he reached Siberia and found help there. Bartlett came back for his crew and it is due to his bravery that the remaining 11 survivors were rescued."

Fraser's voice had the power to create vivid pictures and it took Ray a second to respond after he was finished.

"700 miles? That's— wow, blows my mind. All the way over the ice?"

"Yes, it was a dangerous journey. The trip to Wrangel Island was only 80 miles and proved fatal for a good number of crew members."

"You ever travel so far over the ice?" Ray felt his eyes getting heavy but he didn't want Fraser to stop talking.

"Not uninterrupted, no. Underestimating the climate up North is life-threatening and it takes careful consideration to be sufficiently prepared for a journey of this magnitude."

"But you want to," Ray stated, stifling a yawn.

Fraser was surprised. "I— yes, I have thought of following the trail of the Arctic explorers. But as I said, a journey like this is not done as a flight of fancy. It needs detailed preparations."

"You're the boss of the properly prepared, Fraser." Ray grinned but the yawn broke free this time.

Fraser chuckled. "We should get some sleep, Ray."

"Yeah," Ray admitted. "Good night, Frase."

"Good night."

Ray hung up and dragged his tired body into the bathroom, his mind playing with images of Fraser as an Arctic explorer. Only when he stumbled into bed did he realize that he hadn't even told Fraser about his discovery. Ray yawned; it didn't matter. Monday, they could check it out on Monday.

That night, Ray dreamt of snow fields.

On Monday, Ray didn't wait for Fraser to show at the station. He drove to the consulate after checking in at work and found Turnbull standing guard outside. He grinned at him; someone probably saved them all by putting Turnbull in a consulate and making him do something as lame as standing guard – after all, how much damage could you do while standing completely still? Ray shook his head and went inside. His eyes followed up the huge ladder that was placed directly in the middle of the foyer, to find Fraser standing balanced on the top step to change a light bulb in the old chandelier. Ray did a double-take when he realized that Fraser was without his tunic, in only his henley and suspenders.

"Uh, hi," Ray called and Fraser looked down and smiled at him. "Good morning Ray. I was expecting to meet you later at the station."

"Yeah, well, something came up. One of our florists has connections to Chinatown."

"I see. I'll be right down."

Fraser climbed down the steps and motioned for Ray to follow him into his office. Fraser went behind his desk to collect his serge and Ray crouched down to greet Dief.

"Sorry, buddy, no doughnuts." This announcement was met with a disappointed lupine whimper and Ray grinned. He stood up again and almost collided with Fraser's chest. Ray realized that Fraser had stepped forward to shrug into his tunic and now they were both standing almost chest to chest in the small aisle next to Fraser's desk.

The henley looked soft, which surprised Ray, and Fraser had a little tan line around the collar, right where his serge would begin. Ray's eyes traveled upwards until his eyes met Fraser's. His look was unreadable; it was almost as if Fraser was holding his breath. Ray felt panic and arousal and adrenaline pump through him; the kind of moment you sometimes saw in movies when everything seemed to freeze for a second before it exploded into action. Fraser ran his tongue over his lower lip and Ray's gut gave a jolt, strong enough to jerk Ray out of his trance-like state. He stumbled a step back and rubbed his hand over his face. Fraser did a little neck crack of his own before he finally completed dressing.

Ray took a few steps backs, bringing more distance between them. Jesus, he needed to get a grip on himself. Otherwise, he could just sign up for a transfer right on the spot. Fraser was his buddy and romantically off-limits. Fraser's off-limits, Fraser is off-limits, Kowalski get that in your thick skull, Fraser is out of bounds. It ran like a bad jingle through his head that was otherwise completely blank, no words, nothing else to say.

Thankfully, Fraser gave him an out. "You were saying something about a connection to Chinatown?" Fraser's voice sounded... odd. As if it cost him to say that, and Ray crossed both his fingers and his toes that Fraser wasn't about to lose patience with him— not now, not when Ray was trying so hard. And it was working, dammit! He had been good at concentrating on work and being buddies. He could do this— if Fraser just gave him a chance, Ray could stop with the crazy shit. He really could. He would try harder.

"Ray?" It was Fraser's patent voice of trying not to spook someone skittish, or someone about to lose it, and Ray felt sick for a moment, afraid that his face was giving it all away and— stop it! He scolded himself. This was worse than having a crush on the captain of the lacrosse team in high school. Then, Ray hadn't even really acknowledged it because he had tried to become more than friends with Stella. So the whole crush thing hadn't been so bad—except when the guy talked to Ray and then Ray went all dork on him and all his cool guy ambitions went flying out the window.

This was worse. Because there was no girl to distract him. And this time, this wasn't the half-hearted crush, born out of teenage curiosity and excessive hormones. This was the real thing, and it was frighteningly big. Being in love was easy when you're a kid, you're high on emotions and the consequences be damned. Hell, five months sounded like an awfully long time when you were 15, but Ray knew better now. And Ray had been scared to screw it up back then as well. This was a hundred times worse.

"Uh, yeah, the— the young woman, Grace Lawe— her address belongs to a street in Chinatown. It might be nothing but my gut tells me no way."

"That's good work." Fraser smiled at him and Ray relaxed a little. This was known territory. This was work.

"Thanks."

Finding the address was a bit of a struggle, but by now Ray was pretty familiar with Chinatown and its little back alleys, however scary that thought was. Ray was a little disappointed when they found the correct building. He had expected an instant clue or something. It was nothing more than a crooked-looking apartment building. No secret hideout, no flower shop, no doctor's office. Duh, what did you expect Kowalski?

"Ray, we don't have a permit," Fraser admonished in his reasonable tone.

Ray took a look at the door lock. "We ain't gonna need one here." He tried the doorknob and added a little twist about half-way through. The door opened. Fraser looked suitably impressed and Ray grinned at him.

"I'd know that kind of lock anywhere. When I was a kid, I had a best friend who lived in a bit of a run-down neighborhood. They had the same locks, easy to pick and with the right method— you didn't even need to."

"I see."

Ray had expected Fraser to give him a lecture about safety and bending the rules, but maybe Fraser knew a thing or two about bad neighborhoods and what kind of good a proper lock would do ya (nothing, except that people then really wanted to get inside to see what you needed the lock for) .

They snooped around the apartment, but as far as Ray could tell, there was nothing out of the ordinary. It looked like the typical flat of a young woman. Couple of tasteful decorations, a few pictures, a good number of books, and plants that had started to wither with no one to take care of them. Fraser looked through the next room – probably the kitchen – and Ray studied the pictures. There were a few of Grace and her friends, at the waterfront, lounging on the grass, and a few that seemed to have been taken somewhere in Chinatown.

There was one picture taken in one of the alleys with some kind of shop in the background; the picture was a little off-kilter and Ray didn't recognize the other two people in it. But they were definitely not on the wanted list or anything. Ray followed the trail of pictures to the fold-out couch in the corner.

"Fraser! You gotta look at this!"

Fraser was right next to him in an instant, eyes focused on the picture Ray was pointing at. He wasn't a hundred percent sure, but the man in the picture looked a lot like—

"That's Taylor," Fraser murmured. Exactly what Ray had been thinking.

"He was her boyfriend?"

"It could be." Fraser agreed, taking in the two people embracing for the picture.

"Why would she kill him?"

Fraser rubbed over his eyebrow. "I don't see how she could have done it. She was already in custody when Mr. Taylor was found. The effect of the poison from monksbane is acute, if consumed orally; a person would die over the next couple of minutes, not days afterwards."

"Hm," Fraser said.

"Hm," Ray agreed.

They left the apartment and Ray went to brief Welsh.

Over the next two days, Ray tried to schedule a meeting with Ms. Lawe. However, prison did not seem to have increased her social skills and she refused to cooperate.

Ray slammed the receiver onto the cradle. "Damn! Who does she think she is?" In Ray's book this meant that she knew something, or she was behind it after all.

It felt like a dead-end and Ray wasn't good at sitting still. Fraser was detained at the consulate on Friday, but Ray had to do something. So he ventured back into the maze of Chinatown on his own. He went through the streets of shops they had already investigated, and had planned on going back to the flower market, but he must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

"Uh-oh." Ray turned in a circle and tried to find out where he was. He didn't recognize anything. Swallowing a little nervously, Ray continued down the street. He took a right turn at the next intersection. Daylight seemed to come through a thick curtain, dousing the street in a strangely grey light. The street wound on and Ray took another right, figuring that he would come back to one of the bigger streets at some point.

Another 20 minutes later and Ray began to feel really uneasy. He leaned against a fence in front of a tiny building and surveyed the street— wait! He knew this street! He pushed away from the iron gate and wheeled around wildly. No, he— he hadn't been here before. But he knew this street. Where the fuck had he seen this street? There was the broken lantern hanging underneath the balcony to the left side and there was the blue-ish sign declaring a shop— a shop! That was it. It was the fucking street from the photo in Grace's apartment, showing her, a Chinese woman and a younger Chinese man.

Ray walked the last few steps to the shop and tried to make out the sign. There was no English writing and Ray's Chinese was still pretty much non-existent. He tried the door, but it was locked. He looked at the sign on the door and even he could read that the time on it said that it was already closed for the weekend. He was onto something, he was sure of it. Ray craned his neck to make out what was in the front room of the shop. The glass was dusty and light wasn't the best, but Ray would swear that this was another freaky herb shop.

Okay, okay, they had to check this out next week. Ray tried to recall how he had gotten here, but he had always walked right so he should be able to find it again. He looked past the shop and found another alley going off to the left of the shop, leading around it. Ray sighed and followed the trail. After walking for another two intersections, Ray realized where he was. This was around the corner of Grace's apartment. He remembered the disgusting stink from the guy who sold dried squid or octopus or whatever it had been and the peeling, yellow paint from the building at the end of the street.

A few minutes later, Ray blinked against the afternoon sun as he fell onto one of the main streets just a couple of blocks away from the spot where he had parked the GTO.

Ray couldn't wait to tell Fraser, so instead of waiting for him after class the next day he drove by the consulate to get him. Fraser looked stunned for a second to find Ray knocking insistently on the cherry wood door of the consulate on Saturday morning. Surprise gave way to pleasure, though, and Ray forgot to say anything for a second. Ray could think of nothing else but this blinding smile.

"Ray, do you want a coffee?"

Ray's heart committed itself just that little bit more. What kind of guy found his partner beating down the door on a Saturday morning, and instead of asking why he was there, offered coffee? Yeah, a Canadian. Right, Ray had to remember that.

Ray couldn't help the little moan of pleasure escaping at the thought of coffee. His blanket hadn't wanted to release him this morning so he didn't have time for coffee so far. It just wasn't a Saturday morning without coffee. Come to think of it, it wasn't morning without coffee, plain and simple.

At Ray's needy articulation Fraser's face went blank, nobody home anymore. Ray cursed himself. Great, way to go and scare the guy off. Ray hadn't even produced one actual word yet.

"Coffee would be perfect," Ray offered a little chagrined, and Fraser came back to life.

"I'll be right back," Fraser said and made a gesture that looked to Ray as if he was supposed to wait on the threshold. What the— "Hey, mind if I come inside?" Ray asked, only half-joking. Fraser snapped back around. "Ah, yes. Certainly. Please, come in."

Maybe Fraser needed a coffee himself, Ray mused.

Sitting in the kitchen and sipping the actually quite delicious consulate coffee, Ray filled Fraser in. When he was finished, Fraser was looking at him with an expression Ray could only describe as 'overjoyed', big, sparkling eyes, wide grin, and a bit of a manic expression in that look. Uh-oh. Ray knew that look. It meant that Ray had offered something that proved one of Fraser's theories right.

"Ray, that's it! The kind of break-through we needed. I am sure—"

" Woah! I didn't say I was right so far. Just that I think the shop fits the kind of thing we're looking for."

Fraser was nodding impatiently along. "Yes, I am well aware of this. However, I think I have a hunch, too, in that your hunch is correct."

Ray looked nonplussed for a second before he looked at Fraser with a lopsided smile. "You're telling me that you think you have a hunch that mine is correct?"

Fraser beamed at him. "Yes."

"You are unhinged," Ray said in the sort of voice one used to say things like 'the earth is round' or 'we have four seasons’.

"That may well be, but I still think we should follow your hunch."

At least, they agreed on this point.

They bundled into the car and Ray drove them to class. Entering the building together, Ray noticed the difference. There was no transition period between before and after. So far, he had come in alone and then the naked-Fraser had appeared for the duration of the course. And afterwards, Fraser was outside again and just the same Fraser Ray worked with. Now, the Fraser posing for them was the same one Ray worked with.

Ray's leg started to jiggle. This was a bad idea. Bad. Ray had a hard enough time keeping his fantasy and his work apart, what was he supposed to do when both merged into one?

Fraser didn't have similar concerns it seemed. Duh, Fraser also didn't have the problem of being Ray's partner and wanting to be his partner.

Ray picked a desk a little to the side and got settled. Jenny moved a chair for Fraser into the empty spot between the desks and Fraser nodded his thanks and sat down.

Ray took a deep breath. This was better than the nude drawing sessions. He could handle just looking at Fraser—he was always looking at Fraser, he worked with the guy every day.

Okay… secretly, he wanted to see Fraser naked again. No sense in denying that. But it was better for them if he didn’t and Ray knew that, too.

A few minutes later everyone was ready and Jenny addressed the class. She said something about finishing with nudes and another thing about the detailed work of portraits, but Ray couldn’t focus on her, he was busy watching Fraser.

Who was just sitting there, almost relaxed, and listening attentively to what Jenny was saying. Ray didn’t get it; Fraser was usually so buttoned up and uncomfortable under female scrutiny. But Fraser didn’t look tense. Maybe it had something to do with him expecting to be stared at, maybe it was different this way. He’d have to ask him later.

“So, Ben, I thought we could do different poses over the next few weeks. So why don’t you angle your head a little to the left, just where Ray is sitting, pick a point and focus on it—I know it’s hard to keep still for such a long time—and then we can start. How does that sound?”

Everyone murmured their assent and Fraser nodded. He turned his head to his left—and looked straight at Ray. Ray’s heart jumped into his throat all of a sudden. The hint of a smile was playing on Fraser’s lips, blue eyes sparkling with a challenge, and Ray raised his chin minutely, causing Fraser’s lip to twitch.

Ray was very aware of the sound of his heartbeat and of Fraser’s eyes on him, even when he wasn’t looking at him because he was concentrating on what his hands were doing. And every time he looked up again, Fraser’s eyes met his, that distracting half-smile still frozen in place. Ray was so flustered he had difficulty getting the lines right.

His neck was prickling and he knew that he was probably looking flushed as well. Dark hair, dark brows, and dark lashes. Faint lines around the eyes, eyes that were of a timeless blue. Smooth skin, so smooth Ray couldn’t even make out any stubble. And the lips… Ray couldn’t even draw them without flicking his eyes up every second. God, perfectly kissable. Full and soft and—Ray wanted to kiss that maddening smile off of them, find that crooked tooth with his tongue and—Ray felt heat rising in his cheeks and stared hard at his drawing.

“Very good, Ray,” Jenny intoned behind him and Ray jumped in his seat. “Jesus!”

“You need to focus a little more on the eyes,” she added gently and Ray swallowed. Yeah, he knew that. But he had to look right into Fraser’s eyes for longer than one second to manage that and he hadn’t had the guts so far.

Jenny drifted on to the next person and Ray closed his fingers tightly around the charcoal and looked up, meeting Fraser’s gaze. It was the strangest game of chicken Ray had ever played. He looked straight into Fraser’s eyes and Fraser didn’t look away; if anything, the smile got a little more pronounced and Ray’s heart hammered away in his chest as if it never intended to reach 50. Fraser could be playful?

So Ray kept staring and Fraser kept looking back at him and Ray’s hand hovered uselessly over the paper.

“Thank you all, I think we’ll have to stop here.” Jenny announced and Ray turned his head automatically in the direction of the voice—realizing the moment his eyes focused on Jenny that he was the first to break eye contact. Damn!

He looked back at Fraser and the Mountie had the nerve to look smug. In a fit of childish pique, Ray threw his piece of charcoal at him. Fraser caught it deftly and Ray had to grin in spite of himself. Jenny looked confused in their direction for a second before she went on with the dismissal of the class.

Ray concentrated on gathering his stuff together so as not to look at Fraser. He shuffled a little awkwardly away from his desk and glimpsed Fraser taking a step closer. He steeled himself and looked up at his friend.

Fraser looked—like he was having fun. His cheeks were the tiniest bit pink and his eyes looked all crinkly and soft and—Ray relaxed. Okay, they were weird. But maybe that was okay, too. He laughed a little breathlessly and after a second, Fraser joined in.

“Would you like to accompany Diefenbaker and myself to the park this afternoon?” Fraser asked, still smiling.

“Yeah,” Ray smiled back, and if his smile looked a little wistful then Fraser didn’t have to know why.

The wind was cold and the sky looked enormous, and Fraser looked perfect in his leather jacket and his jeans. Ray threw a stick for Dief who bounded after it, completely ignoring the fact that he wasn’t a lap dog. Ray grinned.

Fraser’s fingers brushed his own as they were walking and Ray winced and took a little step to the side, giving Fraser a little more room. Lately, it seemed as if he didn't have any control about this proximity thing anymore. He constantly ended up too close, until they were almost touching or brushing against each other, and most of the time Ray couldn't even remember shuffling closer. It just happened, somehow, that he and Fraser ended up almost on top of each other.

“Ray, you have a bit of coal—wait, let me—“ Fraser said and reached out to take Ray’s hand. Fraser’s hand was warm despite the chill. Gently but firmly, Fraser’s fingers rubbed the side of Ray’s hand, removing the faint coat of charcoal on Ray’s skin.

“There,” Fraser said, pleased when the last trace of grayish dust had vanished from Ray’s hand. Ray swallowed nervously. “Thanks,” he croaked.

The contact lasted for another second and then Fraser released Ray’s hand again and resumed walking. Ray’s hand was tingling where Fraser had—caressed it?

Ray thought about this touch long after he had returned home and gone to bed. He snuck his hand inside of his boxers and when he curled his fingers around his aching dick, he bit softly into the edge of his free hand, right into the fleshy party where he could still feel Fraser’s fingers.

He pushed his hand harder into his mouth to muffle his groans and when he came, he bit down so hard, the teeth marks could still be seen an hour later.

God, Fraser… you have no idea what you do to me, Ray thought slightly despairingly. Maybe trying harder simply wasn’t enough, after all—no, he couldn’t think that. They could get past this.

Ray turned around and pulled the blanket tighter around him, trying to tune out the loneliness that was creeping into bed beside him. He was fine, dammit.

Ray was a little more on even footing when Monday rolled around. Work was a welcome distraction and Ray really wanted to get back to Chinatown to check out the shop from the photo.

“Vecchio!” Ray flinched. Welsh looking for him first thing in the morning was never a good sign.

Ray ambled over to Welsh's office. "Lieutenant?"

"You had the Boger case, right?"

"Yeah, why?"

"He's ready to name his contacts. So I want you to handle the interrogation."

"But Huey and Dewey took over when it turned out to be related to the assault they were investigating," Ray protested.

"Yes, and it's still their investigation. But you brought him in, you know his story— so it's gotta be you to see if he's telling the truth."

"But I'm right in the middle of—"

"The Taylor case? Detective, I thought that had turned out to be a suicide?" Welsh said it in a tone that sounded a lot like 'do keep a lid on the weirdness'.

"It was, until Fraser found a connection to the case with the flowers and—"

"Detective, save it. You handle this interrogation and then you can go investigating suicides to your heart's content. Clear?"

Ray sighed. "Crystal, Sir."

"Good, good, 'cause I'd hate to tell IA that the detective responsible for the capture was busy sniffing flowers, thinking they strangled a guy." Welsh muttered something about always having to explain this freakshow of a department.

Ray showed him a grim smile. It wasn't his fault Fraser always attracted the weird cases.

And there went Ray's chance of finding out if his hunch had been correct. At around noon, he called Fraser to let him know that he wouldn't be able to get away today.

Back at home, Ray pulled out his drawings and looked through his latest work. He studied Fraser's half-finished drawing for a long time. It wasn't a bad drawing, but there was something missing, something so vital that the man he had drawn could have been a completely different person altogether. He frowned. Drawing a face was really more personal than drawing a naked body, who'd have figured?

It would be great if he had the chance to finish his drawings. Maybe Fraser would be willing to— nah, what was Ray thinking? They were not continuing this dangerous game in the safety of his own four walls, with no one to keep an eye on Ray's behavior and the bedroom just a few feet away.

Wistfully, Ray's fingers stroked over Fraser's face in the drawing. Somehow this drawing thing had made everything worse. But who could have predicted that Fraser would turn up as model? Now, Ray really was thinking about Fraser all the time. And if it wasn't the real one, then it was the one he had drawn. He needed more work… and wishing that was almost disgusting.

Ray had a little trouble finding the street with the shop again when they finally managed to get back to Chinatown. He knew it was around the corner from Grace's apartment, but that didn't mean squat when all the alleys around it looked the same.

"Maybe it would be helpful to remember distinguishing landmarks," Fraser offered a step behind Ray.

Ray gnashed his teeth. "Fraser, there weren't any landmarks to distinguish. The shop was the only thing that stood out."

"What about anomalies in the pavement? Changes in color, for example. Did you perhaps notice any particular changes in the architecture? A distinct—"

Ray wheeled around, "Listen," he ended up almost in Fraser's face he was so close. Fraser's eyes had widened the tiniest bit at Ray's outburst and Ray was so close that he couldn't even take in Fraser's face as a whole. Ray felt the familiar anger coursing through him and smelled the wool of Fraser's serge and those accursed lips were just a few inches away from Ray's. A wave of shame washed over Ray, making him feel hot with embarrassment. He could see Fraser and him fucking the anger out of their systems, the way the rage would fuel the passion, every snarl adding to the arousal and every grip a little on the painful side. It would be spectacular. Ray was all over the angry fucking. And it would be so much easier to get along with Fraser.

"Uh," what had he wanted to say? He had no idea. And he was still standing almost on Fraser's toes, their chests almost pressed together.

"I believe you wanted to tell me that I should keep my advice to myself," Fraser said in a tight voice.

"Exactly!" Ray tried to call the anger back but all he could feel was humiliation. He tried to take a step back without calling too much attention to it and reached out to stab his finger at Fraser's chest— he snatched his hand back at the last moment. Touching Fraser now was probably not a very smart idea. "You always do this!" Ray tried to sound angry. "And no, there was nothing special about the pavement or the architecture and forgive me that I didn't have my octant with me—"

"Sextant, it's a— it's a sextant," Fraser said in a kinda nervous voice, a little breathless, a bit of a dare and Ray almost gave Fraser credit for pushing him in the face of his odd behavior.

He stepped right back into Fraser's personal space, or whatever the few inches in front of somebody's lips were called – kiss space maybe, and no, no thinking about kissing – and snarled right into Fraser's tense face.

"Maybe if there had been any seals it would have been easier to remember the damn way! You been in that street? No, you have not. So you let me do my thing and find the shop or I'll—" angry images of shoving his tongue down Fraser's throat just to shut him up swam to the forefront of Ray's mind. "I'll— pop you in the head," Ray finished without much heat.

Uncomfortably, Ray stepped back and shrugged a little awkwardly.

Fraser cracked his neck and pulled at his collar. "Understood."

Ray winced, he was fucking things up in a major way. He turned around and moved further along the street, he heard more than saw Fraser falling into step with him again. At the next turn, Ray realized where he was. The shop was just around the corner, over the courtyard and then right.

He was correct. Ray sighed a little with relief.

They entered the shop. It was almost dark inside, compared to the bright fall sun outside. The old Chinese woman from the photo stood behind a little wooden counter.

Fraser went to her and did his fuzi thing again while Ray looked around. It didn't scream crime scene and it also didn't look more sinister than the other shops had looked; they were all pretty creepy in Ray's opinion.

The woman came to the front and led the way to a small room to the left. It looked like a massage room or something, at least there were mats on the floor— but Chinese sat on these things, right? Or was that the Japanese? Or were they the ones to sleep on the mats on the floor?

The smell of herbs filled the whole room, not even unpleasant, Ray conceded. In the corner was a table with all kinds of dried roots and leaves and there was a little tray with stuff to prepare tea on it. The porcelain looked really fragile and old and Fraser's hand around the cup looked oddly giant-like.

Fraser smelled the tea, eyes closed and a concentrated expression on his face, before nodding and handing her the cup back. He asked some more questions and the woman showed him a small cupboard with a rusty old lock on it. She pulled out an old-fashioned key and opened it. Inside, Ray could see the already familiar purple flower and ginger roots. Fraser examined everything and came over to Ray.

"Everything here is prepared according to protocol. The flower itself is kept locked inside of the cupboard and the concoction she showed to me was also harmless. It could be possible that they prepared a poison; they do have the necessary equipment and fresh flowers stocked, but there's no proof."

Ray nodded. He hadn't really expected that they would find a fresh batch of poison just sitting on a tea tray, waiting for them to pick up the crazy druggist.

Fraser asked her another thing and she nodded and showed him an old-fashioned ledger. Ray looked a little around the room but shuffled closer to the exit after the third dead animal in various stages of conservation had greeted him. This was disgusting.

Fraser made a disappointed "Hm" sound and said his goodbyes.

"No entry for one Mr. Taylor, huh?" Ray asked knowingly.

"I'm afraid not. And I was so sure..." Fraser trailed off, lost in thought.

"Yeah, me, too."

It was another dead-end. They could hardly arrest the old lady for knowing a woman who smuggled poison, especially if said woman had already been in custody at the time of the murder.

There was a story somewhere. Ray's gut had never let him down and he just felt that there was some connection between Grace Lawe, this shop, and the murder. Why would she want her boyfriend dead? Or maybe it was revenge and someone else wanted to get to her? Without talking to her, Ray didn't see how they could find out about it.

They went back to checking files. Ray hated this part, he wanted to go out and do something instead of pushing paper around. But Fraser made all these important noises, like, "hm"' and "ah", so Ray figured it was their best shot at the moment.

Only, there wasn't anything in the files. Neither the shop nor the owner appeared in any of Ms. Lawe's files. She hadn't lived there, she hadn't worked there and they weren't listed in her address book or anywhere else that would explain the photo in Grace's apartment.

The shop itself seemed to be clean, although there weren't many records about shops in that area of the city. Chinatown wasn't exactly a part of Chicago, it had its own rules and its own justice system and police usually stayed away from it. There wasn't much they could do about it anyway. There was enough organized crime to investigate in Chicago without having to learn a foreign language.

There was also nothing about Mr. Taylor and Ms. Grace. They definitely hadn't been married and nothing about Mr. Taylor even hinted about connections to Chinatown. Fraser leafed through the victim's datebook but there wasn't a single entry for "doctor" or "fuzi" or anything else that would fit the bill. Taylor had, however, scribbled symbols on a few of the pages and some seemed to be recurring throughout the book.

Fraser said he'd check if he could decipher them given some time. Ray sighed and went home to his couch on Friday, feeling rather frustrated.

The drawing class the next day was the only good thing about this week. And, yeah, it had a lot to do with being able to watch Fraser unguarded. It was like getting a breather after having to check himself every second for most of his week. For the few hours that the course lasted, Ray could watch Fraser without having to apologize for it, or even holding himself back.

And Fraser seemed a lot more open during those sessions than he did at any other time. Ray didn't know if that was because of this separation, that Fraser was the goldfish inside of the bowl and everyone else was on the other side of the glass, or if it had something to do with the meditative quality of sitting still for such a long time— hey, maybe it was the same when Fraser stood guard?

Ray never had the patience to actually watch Fraser imitating a statue but maybe he should, just to check. Somehow, Ray couldn't picture Fraser looking so relaxed when he had guard duty. Maybe it was the duty thing?

He ran a hand through his hair and leaned back into the couch. He had started this drawing course to stop spending so much time thinking about Fraser and now he was thinking about him all the more. Just... differently?

He had always thought about kissing Fraser, or Fraser going back to Canada, or Fraser naked, or Fraser hooking up with someone else. Now, he thought about Fraser, what he wanted and thought and what he liked, what he, maybe, was afraid of. What he hated, or wished for, or kept to himself.

The other way had been simpler. Way to go, Kowalski. Make everything more complicated with your brilliant ideas, why don't cha?

On Saturday, Ray picked up Fraser again on his way to class. Having done it last week, it felt stupid not to. Fraser seemed to appreciate it, too. Ray smiled. God, he was turning into a sap if he tried to make Fraser happy by picking him up instead of letting him take the bus.

Watching Fraser under these circumstances was different – in a good way. It meant Ray could stare, look as hard as his eyes allowed, show interest.

"Ah, I see we're almost sitting the same as last week. Great! Now, Melanie if you could switch seats with Sandra we would have the same order," Jenny interrupted Ray's thoughts. The two women exchanged places and Jenny nodded pleased.

"Good. Ben, I'd like you to look in the other direction today, that way everyone has to draw the opposite angle to last week."

"Of course." Fraser turned around and looked in Sandra's direction – the poor woman blushed and started fiddling with her pencils. Ray relaxed incrementally. Watching Fraser while Fraser couldn't watch Ray watching him was a hell of a lot less complicated. Seeing him in profile also allowed Ray to focus on details, the shape of Fraser's ear, the faint lines of laughter around the eyes, the arch of his brow, without getting distracted by those lips and eyes— God, Ray couldn't stop looking. He would have been happy not to make one single line on his paper if that meant that he could watch Fraser without even the slightest interruption.

But this time, Ray concentrated on what he was doing. No one was going to sneak up on him or inquire why he wasn't drawing this time. He flung himself into his drawing with the same energy he did everything else. It was like trying to pry into Fraser's secrets, wondering where little scars came from or if he had ever worn his hair shorter or longer than this. And Fraser couldn't do a damn thing to stop him, Ray could muse all he liked.

The longer he looked, the heavier his heart became. What was he doing here? And what good would it do anyone? Nothing, that's what. Fraser didn't have many friends in Chicago, Ray should be the one person Fraser could always count on. And Fraser honored honesty. He studied the relaxed features of Fraser's face some more. Fraser had a whole different weird-o-meter than the rest... maybe Fraser would understand? If Ray told him. And Ray could promise that he wouldn't be trying to cop a feel or look at him funny or do anything untoward and Fraser would be okay with that.

Ray's heart started racing just thinking about it. And what if Fraser wasn't okay with it? What if Fraser deemed it prudent – the word sounding like an insult in Ray's own head – to relieve Ray of the burden of his unrequited love by removing himself from the picture? No way could he tell his best friend that he wanted to be more than that.

Ray was a little subdued for the rest of the day. What was better, truth or silence? People always wanted the truth when in reality all they wanted to hear was the stuff they liked. People preferred silence if the truth was something they didn't want to hear. But no one breathed truth like Fraser did, he used it like air – and not like something you had accidentally swallowed and wanted to spit out now... Ray still owed Fraser some air, maybe he should repay it some time.

And Fraser wasn't big on the silence thing. Fraser had a word for everything.

It was just the crazy business with the drawing that made Ray see things in a funny way, Ray tried to tell himself. Maybe looking too close wasn't such a good idea after all. All this looking at Fraser had evidently gone to his head. How else could he possibly believe to get away with telling Fraser he was a little bit queer for him?

So Ray kept his mouth shut. He even managed remarkably well until two days later when Fraser came over to unwind, grab a movie, have dinner. Fraser was carrying a pizza box and Dief helped him by not letting it out of his sight – just in case the pizza decided to make a run for it.

Ray ruffled Dief's fur and brushed a few things aside on the coffee table to make some room. It was comfortable and after all the hours stuck behind his desk, Ray could really use some comfort time.

They zapped through the channels until Fraser made a pleased sound when Ray hit upon an old black-and-white movie. Ray sighed inwardly. If God had wanted them to watch black-and-white movies he wouldn't have bothered giving humanity the necessary equipment to make them in color. He was feeling generous, though – and maybe Fraser would make some more of those noises – so Ray pretended to be interested, too.

Halfway through the movie, Ray put his feet on top of the coffee table and wiggled his toes. Perfect. He nudged the stack of old magazines a little to the side to have more room and before he had shoved them completely aside the top few started to slide off.

Ray snapped forwards, trying to catch them, but the slick slide of glossy magazines went right through his fingers. He bent a little lower and grabbed the first one off the floor. Suddenly, there was another hand next to Ray's and it reached for the rest of the magazines. Ray's eyes followed up the arm that belonged to that hand and came face to face with Fraser.

Fraser looked equally surprised. A warm puff of air exploded against Ray's lips as Fraser exhaled. Ray's eyes were drawn to Fraser's slightly parted lips – soft, warm, enticing – and his mouth engaged itself without his consent.

"I—want— can I—" – kiss you – Ray cleared his throat hastily, "...draw you?" Ray took a shuddering breath. Fraser's eyes widened a tiny bit. "Yes, of course." Fraser's answer came without hesitation.

They were still sitting frozen right in the middle of picking up the magazines, but neither moved. "Now?" Fraser asked uncertainly.

"No— I— tomorrow, maybe?" Ray asked, his heart hammering in his chest. He had almost— God, he couldn't even think it. He had almost asked Fraser if he could kiss him.

"That would be possible." Fraser ran his tongue over his bottom lip before he rubbed a knuckle over his eyebrow. "That reminds me, I should be going, Ray. Thank you for your hospitality." Fraser was already standing up, adding some distance between them.

"Uh, the movie isn't even over yet, Fraser." Ray answered in a puzzled tone.

"Yes, very unfortunate. However, the day tomorrow will be egregiously exhausting, so I hope you'll forgive my bad manners."

"Bad manners, pft! I don't care about that. You sure, you're alright?" Ray asked quizzically.

"Yes, no reason for concern, I assure you."

Ray watched Fraser leave with a sinking feeling in his gut. Maybe this had been it, the one time too often.

Outside, Fraser adjusted himself in his jeans and braced himself for the walk home. The cold outside the savior of his composure.

When Fraser came over to the station the next afternoon Ray was again trying to get Ms. Lawe to agree to a meeting.

"What do you mean ‘she doesn't want to’? She got cable TV and coffee brought directly to her cell in the morning, too?"

Ray's snark obviously met someone of a less humorous nature, if Ray holding the receiver away from his ear with a wince was any indication.

Ray noticed Fraser hovering at his desk and motioned for him to sit down.

"Yeah," Ray sighed.

Fraser motioned toward the phone and then to himself. Ray shrugged. Wasn't as if Fraser could make this conversation any more complicated... seldom as that happened.

"Hang on, the Constable would like to talk to you." Ray handed the receiver over to Fraser.

"This is Constable Benton Fraser speaking— yes, of course I can explain my role in all of this. I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father and— I see, no I am well aware that the day isn't getting any younger—"

Ray hid his grin behind his coffee mug.

"If you could kindly inform Ms. Grace that a man named Rick Taylor has died? We have reason to believe that said man was romantically involved with her. If she has any questions she is welcome to contact Detective Vecchio. Thank you kindly."

Fraser hung up. "I believe Ms. Lawe will be wanting to talk to us within the hour."

Ray stared at Fraser. "How do you do it?"

"I simply deduced from Ms. Grace's reaction to your calls that she probably hadn't been informed of Mr. Taylor's death so far – no surprise, considering the privacy of their relationship. I understood that you wanted to tell her this bit of information in person to judge her reaction, but after her continued refusal to talk to us I had hoped it would change her mind."

Ray just shook his head. Maybe he should have simply faxed a picture of Fraser; she probably would have agreed to talk to him no matter what the reason.

But Fraser was right; Ms. Lawe called them not fifteen minutes later and requested a meeting.

The trip to prison didn't prove very fruitful, though. The one thing of which they could be sure was that Grace hadn't killed her lover. Yes, she had been furious with him because he had wanted her to get out of this business, wanted her to become an honest woman with an ordinary day job. No, she hadn't wanted to talk about him because she had figured he had offered to testify on her behalf – or against her.

But they had known that she couldn't be the killer before they had met. Sometimes, a simple clue – like the time of death – really was all you needed.

As to the question who might have killed her boyfriend then, Ms. Lawe was all out of ideas. She didn't know anything about his life, his friends, his family. When they asked her about the shop she reared back as if hit. "No way! Mrs. Wong loved him! She wouldn't have hurt him. I brought him to her because he had this medical problem and she had been treating him ever since. Why should she kill him?"

Good question. Ray didn't have an answer either.

There was only one thing to do, go back to that shop in Chinatown and hope that the old lady remembered Mr. Taylor, now that they knew that Ms. Lawe had introduced him under a different name.

"It was a joke, okay?" Grace had explained a little testily. "When we met he did this silly impression of Casablanca and— well—" she started sniffing. Fraser handed her a handkerchief. "Thanks. It fit, okay? And I was wearing blue and he laughed and said his name was Rick so I— I—"

"You introduced him as Blaine," Ray finished, feeling tired all of a sudden.

"Yes," she sobbed quietly.

"Thank you, Miss. We're very sorry for your loss. We'll find his killer." Fraser said in his most sympathetic voice.

She nodded shakily and they left.

Chinatown. Again.

This was developing a haunting quality.

The shop looked the same as it had the first time around. Cluttered, smelling enchantingly, and slightly oppressive in its atmosphere. Did Ray mention the dead animals in various stages of conservation?

And, lookee-look, the name Rick Blaine rang a few bells with dear old Mrs. Wong. She looked suspiciously from Ray to Fraser and back, but she showed them the dates of his appointments. Fraser checked Taylor's datebook and came up with a weird symbol of a few lines that looked like a portal or a doorway or something to Ray.

"The character for flower, simplified of course," Fraser murmured, delighted. Ray felt the familiar prickle of anticipation running down his back. They were on to something. The woman continued speaking to Fraser when Ray saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Someone was in the adjacent room.

He took a step to the side to sneak a peek into the next room – the man from the picture! A sudden suspicion gripped Ray's insides and propelled him forward. He had a hunch.

The man looked up and jerked, obviously startled. Ray advanced into the room. It was similar to the room with the cabinet and the tea tray. Only that this one looked like the personal quarters of someone. Ray took in the assortment of roots and leaves on the side table, the various glass discs and tubes. It was a lab – or whatever mystical mumbo-jumbo name they had for this kind of thing in the traditional Chinese medicine.

Uncertainly, the man bowed in greeting and Ray nodded back. A moment later, Ray felt Fraser's presence slightly behind him.

"I just got a few questions," Ray told the guy. His face remained blank and Ray wondered if he was going to pretend that he didn't speak English. The guy was more intelligent than Ray gave him credit for, though, because he answered in slightly accented English: "Of course, what can I do for you?" But his eyes never left Fraser who was looking around, picking up things, sniffing at stuff.

"Do you know a woman named Grace Lawe?"

The look that was suddenly fixed on Ray was carrying such an— intensity—that Ray almost took a step back. That man knew Ms. Lawe, no question about it.

"She's innocent! You got no right to convict her! She was just influenced by—"

"Whoa, easy there," Ray tried to placate the suddenly agitated young man. Ray narrowed his eyes and tried to assess the situation. Their suspect was twitchy, overly much even for an unexpected interrogation. Something was...

The young man in question took an aborted step forward, involuntarily, and Ray turned to look at what had distracted him so completely. He saw Fraser lifting a small glass vial and raising it to his lips. The young man's lip twitched and there was sweat beading on his upper lip. Ray whirled around. "Fraser! Don't!" Ray tried to close the distance, shove the little glass tube away. Suddenly, everything happened at once. Fraser looked up, distracted by Ray's panicked shout, little drops splashed over the rim of the vial, Ray could see them hitting Fraser's face as if in slow motion, saw Fraser blink when his skin registered the contact. Ray was almost at Fraser's side. The guy shoved Ray, who stumbled into the table in front of him, and careened past, fleeing the stifling darkness of the small room.

Ray half-turned on instinct, already ready to chase the guy when his fear turned him back around to examine Fraser, who was trying to steady the rattling contents on the table.

After everything was under control, Fraser wiped the spray drops away from his face. "Ray, I believe we found the murder weapon."

Ray turned ashen. "Frase," Ray almost whispered, his voice giving out. "What— What can I do? Tell me, what can I do to help? Dammit, tell me!" Ray gripped Fraser's tunic and shook him.

"It's alright, Ray. I'm not in danger."

It took a moment for that thought to register in Ray's brain. "Do not fuck with me, Fraser—"

"Language, Ray. I assure you—"

"Do not do the polite thing and act the hero, I—"

Fraser's hands closed around Ray's wrists and he pulled his hands away from his tunic, his grip strong and firm. "I'm alright, Ray."

Ray checked Fraser's eyes but there was nothing but calm in them. He felt his pulse slow and took a deep breath. "But the poison?"

Fraser shook his head. "What I found wasn't poisonous. I was just trying to coax a reaction out of the young man in question, showing that we knew what to look for – I believe I must have come very close to something he didn't want us to see, though."

Ray gnashed his teeth, "I oughtta pop you one," Ray more snarled than said. Panic only gradually receded back to where it had come from.

Together they turned to follow their suspect.

They split up outside of the shop and Ray raced along the street, trying to catch a glimpse of their fugitive. Why had Dief chosen that day to follow Francesca home? Couldn't he have visited that damn poodle some other time?

Chinatown was a maze, Ray learned. And he was the mouse in it looking for the cheese but he had no idea what the right direction was. And there were no electric shocks to guide him. Exhausted, Ray gave up after half an hour of futile running around. He met Fraser back at the shop, equally empty-handed. They entered the shop again and Fraser tried to get some information from Mrs. Wong – unsurprisingly, she wasn't very forthcoming now that it seemed that her son was involved in the murder of one of her clients.

Ray took another look around the room. What had been back by the table with the glass tubes and stuff that they weren't supposed to find?

Lots of stuff Ray hadn't seen outside of his chemistry class in high school – except for that narcotics bust 6 years ago, but that had been bad news, so Ray rather didn't want to think about it – then a smaller table with a big ass mirror on it and a small bookcase next to it, hm. Ray took a step back and surveyed the scene. He angled his head to the side. Something was wrong with the mirror, the frame was way too thick. Ray moved closer, tracing the heavy metal frame with his fingers. This thing went into the wall! Why would someone – anyone, really – need a mirror that was set into the wall?

Ray fingered around the edges some more until his fingers scratched something pointy. Ray pulled his hand away as if stung, but looking at his fingers he realized that he hadn't been hurt. He groped around for the small metal— catch, yeah, that was it. Like a hook or something. Ray pressed it. A click could be heard and Ray felt the frame of the mirror move the tiniest bit.

He pulled and the whole front of the mirror moved like a door to a cabinet. Ray's eyes went round.

"Fraser!" He hollered. But he needn't have bothered. Fraser had already stepped inside of the room.

Together they looked at what could only be termed a shrine. A shrine dedicated to Grace Lawe. How creepy!

"Indeed," Fraser agreed and Ray realized that he must've spoken out loud.

Pictures, flowers, pieces of fabric, bits of written notes... anything that Grace could have touched, or owned, or forgotten at the shop at some point.

"The guy's a stalker! A complete nutcase!" Ray said, feeling creeped out just looking at this thing.

"That could serve as a possible motive," Fraser said very matter-of-fact.

"Ya think?" Ray rolled his eyes.

On the way to the car, Ray couldn't keep his frustration in any longer. "We're never going to catch him, Fraser. We had him and he got away."

"On the contrary, Ray. He will be back."

"Here? Why should he? He's not stupid."

"I agree, however, a mind frame this fixated on something won't be able to leave his personal memorabilia behind. I feel reasonably confident that he will come back for a token, something of exceptional value to him. This is his connection to Grace; he won't give that up."

Ray thought about it for a moment. Fraser was probably right.

Ugh, Ray hated stakeouts.

It took a bit of time to prepare everything. Ray had to abandon the idea of using his GTO because the alley simply wasn't wide enough. After looking around a bit, Fraser discovered an empty building on the opposite side. It wasn't terribly close but from the second floor the view of the street was reasonably good and they had a clear view of the entrance to the shop.

They got the okay from Welsh and took the first watch until the end of their shift. Sitting at a window watching a street might be interesting for a while, but really, how much excitement could you wring out of a street after four hours of solid looking at it? Same people, same boring shit, and guess what— same street. Ray had stopped playing 'I Spy Something' an hour ago because Fraser always picked something red and in Chinatown there was always something red so it only amused Fraser. Entertainment factor – way below zero.

Sitting here with Fraser was killing him. There simply wasn't anything else of interest to look at and Ray had already looked for every geometrical form he could think of.

This was torture. Ray bounced his leg a little but it didn't help long. Annoyed, Ray drummed his fingers on the window frame. He jiggled his other leg and trailed his fingers along the back of his chair. He was still bored.

Fraser watched him out of the corner of his eye and suppressed a smile. "You could bring your sketchbook next time. We could trade watching the street."

Ray knew that this wasn't a good idea— but why wasn't it again? He couldn't remember. Being allowed to watch Fraser undisturbed was total greatness – especially compared to watching that stupid street. "Yeah, I could do that."

They were quiet for a while.

"How could you be so calm, you know, when you sat for the class?" Ray asked finally, when the silence got too heavy.

Fraser thumbed his eyebrow. "I haven't given it much thought, really. If I had to come up with an answer off the top of my head—"

"Which you have to," Ray grinned and Fraser showed him a wry smile. "I assumed as much. In that case, I'd say it's because I knew why everybody was looking at me."

"Hm...but you do know why Frannie watches you— uh, you do, right?" Ray scratched the back of his head.

Fraser looked mildly annoyed. "Just because I prefer not to act on her obvious interest does not mean I'm blind to it."

"Didn't think so," Ray mumbled.

"Thank you," Fraser sighed softly. "Maybe it's simply that I know the purpose behind the looking is something that has nothing to do with me. It could be another man – or woman – sitting for the portrait, it could even be a bowl of fruit, and everyone would still be looking the same way."

Ray thought about this for a while. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Is it the same when you stand guard?"

Fraser looked surprised. "That's quite a good observation, Ray."

"I have my moments." That cheeky grin broke out on Ray's face again.

"So I see. It's similar, I suppose. There is a very soothing quality to keeping still for a prolonged period of time. You might feel consciously aware of your thought processes in the beginning, but the longer you sit, the quieter it becomes inside of your mind. The process is very close to meditation."

"Okay, so it wasn't unnerving or anything?"

Fraser looked long and hard at Ray. Finally, he turned back to the window. "No, it wasn't unnerving."

Ray thought he heard a 'but' in this, but before he could ask Huey and Dewey arrived to take over the night shift.

The next day, Ray remembered why it wasn't a good idea to draw Fraser in private. They had settled down and when Ray had started to get jittery, Fraser had offered to watch the street while Ray drew. And suddenly, it was completely quiet. The only sound came from the piece of coal, softly scratching over the paper. There was nothing else, only Fraser and him in the whole world.

It was intimate in a way Ray couldn't have foreseen. So far, there had always been other people present, Jenny talking, or someone asking a question, so that Ray had never really been alone with Fraser and his fixation. This time, there was nothing between them. Ray felt himself heat with embarrassment. He was naked. Ray was sure that his longing was plain to see, that his desire to touch showed in every line he drew, that his intentions were obvious in the way his eyes lingered on Fraser's face.

But Fraser wasn't looking back, he was busy watching the street. Ray was safe, he had to remember that. But the quiet continued and Ray felt like the guy from this horror story, the one that was driven mad by the beating of the heart from the guy he killed, the heart he had hidden underneath the floorboards. Yeah, "The Traitorous Heart" or something – and Ray's heart was for sure. Betraying him to his best friend or his soon-to-be-not-even-a-friend-anymore if things continued like this. No— "The Tell-Tale Heart", that was the name of that story Ray had read as a child. But this didn't make it any better, tell-tale, traitorous, the bottom line was one and the same.

With every second of silence Ray felt the truth rising up. Slowly, winding its way up through his gut, crawling up his spine, slithering into his lungs and from there it was only a short elevator ride to his throat and once it was there, there was nothing to keep it from spilling out of his mouth. Truth, truth... what good did it do? The truth only hurt. Ray didn't want to hear the truth. He could live well without the "thanks, but no thanks" speech, really.

Ray cleared his throat. Oh God, don't say anything. Let Fraser talk, he was the guy with a story for every occasion.

"Tell me something, Fraser," Ray said quietly, checking every word for hidden meanings.

"Yes?"

"No, I mean, just tell me something, anything."

"Ah," Fraser looked thoughtful for a moment. It was spectacular watching Fraser sit completely still for Ray's drawing, not moving a muscle. "Did I ever tell you about the man named—"

"No! Something about you. Something you can tell saying ‘I did’ – and it's gotta have emotions in it."

"Emotions?" Fraser asked as if he had never heard such a strange idea before. The only thing keeping him from rubbing his eyebrow was probably his training as a living statue.

Ray flashed Fraser a quick grin. "Yeah, you know, embarrassment, joy, hate, sadness—ring any bells?"

Fraser was completely silent and Ray almost thought that Fraser wouldn't tell him anything, after all.

Quietly, words began tumbling out. "I suppose I have been embarrassed quite often, more so since I came to Chicago. I remember asking after a ‘Detective Armani’ when I was looking for Ray Vecchio. At that time, I didn't see the joke."

Ray snorted with laughter. "You didn't? No kidding?"

"Ah, no, Ray." Fraser smiled a little sheepishly.

"So what was your most embarrassing moment?"

"When I was thirteen years old, I asked my grandmother how you knew that you loved someone."

Fraser's voice was soft and Ray held his breath. The expression on Fraser's face was a bittersweet mixture between wistfulness and chagrin and Ray desperately wanted to catch it on paper, to remember at all times that Fraser had let him see this. Furiously, his hand flew over the paper as Fraser continued.

"My grandmother said if you wanted someone to be happy, even more than you wanted happiness for yourself. Innusiq had told me that June would only be happy once she could leaveTuktoyaktuk and see the world. I just knew that I wanted her to be happy so I tried to help her. Of course, I was thirteen and didn't have the necessary financial means to buy a plane ticket or any other means of transport. Instead, I found a trucker who would be leaving for Alaska in a few days time. I prepared a pack and a map and came up with a plan how she could sneak away and onto the truck."

Ray was listening mesmerized. His hand never stopped drawing for a second.

Fraser smiled a little embarrassed and flicked a glance at Ray. "When I presented my plan to her she started to cry and ran away, accusing me of trying to get rid of her. Innusiq was mad at me and asked me why I made his sister cry. When I told him, he broke down laughing. He called me an idiot and told me that if you loved someone, you didn't let them go. Or if you did, you went with them." Fraser's smile turned a little dark around the edges but it was only for a second before his face relaxed again in this half-amused, half-exasperated smile. "I apologized profusely to June afterwards and she hit me, I had a bruise on my arm for days. She was exceptionally strong for a girl her age." Fraser shook with quiet laughter, amusement shining in his eyes as he looked at Ray.

Ray smiled back, his heart in his throat. Feeling a little fragile, a little lost, feeling protective over a boy that had become a man a long time ago and without any help from Ray.

"Now you tell me something," Fraser said, his voice serious.

Ray felt a moment of panic until a glance at the watch showed that their shift was almost over. "Time's almost up. Let's save it for tomorrow. Give me time to think of something." Ray grinned a little and hoped that Fraser couldn't see the words dying to get out.

"Alright," Fraser agreed.

Ray blamed it on the darkness that he told the story he did the day afterwards. They had the night-shift for a change and as darkness crept up all around them, filling all the corners of the mostly empty room, Ray told a story he hadn't intended. Maybe there was something about darkness that made you want to put it all out there. Maybe you were just hoping that, if you left it in the dark long enough, the light would come and claim it at some point, ridding you of all responsibility.

"How long is that guy going to stay away, you think?"

Fraser considered for a second before he answered, "I would assume for as long as possible. I think he knows how dangerous and foolish it would be to come back."

"Could be a week then, huh?"

"It might be, yes."

"Total greatness! I'm gonna die of boredom. Not the way I envisioned myself to go."

"You could tell me a story to pass the time, you still owe me one."

Fraser's face was hard to make out in the darkness; maybe that was the reason Ray told the story of the Beauty and the Prince who turned out to be nothing but a cop with bad hours, experimental hair, and rumpled clothes. Maybe that was better than a frog. Maybe it was worse. You had to ask Stella to know for sure and Ray never had the guts to do so.

"Stella and me, we were friends a long time before we were lovers."

Ray heard a startled intake of breath. Oh yeah, Fraser was listening to this alright.

“I know, most guys don’t talk with their girlfriends. But Stella, she was my buddy. And when—“ Ray sighed, “at some point, I guess we just wanted different things. And when things got stale I—I couldn’t talk to her anymore. There was too much pain and we were too close and—“ Ray made a frustrated hand gesture that was probably meant to convey his inability to find the right words.

“I understand.” Fraser’s tone was stiff.

“No, I mean—it’s just,” Ray rubbed the back of his neck. “That’s why it hurt so bad. Couldn’t go back to being friends, right? ‘s not that simple.”

“Yes, of course, you’re right, Ray.” Fraser sounded as if he was telling himself this, persuading himself of the truth of what Ray had said. And Fraser had better believe him. This was as close as Ray could get away with telling Fraser that there wasn’t anybody else in the picture anymore.

Ray took a deep breath. But he had to tell the whole story, had to finish what he started. “Seeing her at work afterwards just about killed me ‘cause it reminded me every time that we weren’t friends anymore, that I couldn’t just talk to her. I was always the ex-husband talking to her, and I wasn’t handling being the ex so well. You shouldn’t have to work together after moving to splits-ville.”

“No, certainly. You’re right, I hadn’t thought of that.”

Was he speaking Martian or what? Fraser didn’t seem to get what Ray was trying to say.

“Not your problem to think about, Frase. I just— I should’ve seen that it stopped being about love a long time ago, should’ve figured that what I was missing was the friendship we’d had, you know? It—it just hurt so bad that I didn’t see it.”

Fraser looked steamrolled. Yeah, Ray knew how that felt.

“But I did. After a while anyway.” Because then you came, Ray thought with a touch of wonder.

“I know,” Fraser replied.

“You do? I was so sure you were thinking I was still torn up about the Stella.”

Fraser cleared his throat. “No, I—lately, ah, that is, I understood that you were handling your divorce with remarkable aplomb.” Fraser was rubbing furiously at his eyebrow, as if he was trying to erase it.

“Aplomb,” Ray repeated quietly, laughing a little.

Fraser blinked rapidly for a moment before looking at the window again. “Thank you for telling me, Ray.”

“You okay, Frase?” Ray asked carefully.

“Yes, of course, Ray.” Fraser cracked his neck and threw Ray a smile.

For once, Fraser seemed to be all out of words and Ray didn’t have any more stories to tell. But the silence wasn’t uncomfortable; it fit the darkness around them. Ray couldn’t wait for sunrise. He wanted to see Fraser’s face again.

A day later, Ray realized that his drawing course was almost over. Fraser was already sitting on his customary chair right in the middle of the room, the desks arranged around him, when it hit Ray that this was Fraser’s last session. Next week would be the very last time Ray would be sitting in this class room.

It was a weird feeling. Over the weeks, Ray had come to rely on these weekly meetings where he could watch Fraser. Maybe he could ask Fraser if he would consider sitting some more – just for Ray. Nah, that was—that was crazy, right? Fraser would think he’d lost it.

Ray tried to concentrate on the movements of his hand but he couldn’t stop thinking about it. This was the last time. Unless—unless… Ray felt a fluttering in his gut.

Maybe this was it. The moment where it all ended. He owed Fraser the truth. One last drawing and then—then Ray would tell him. He swallowed the sudden wave of nausea. He looked at Fraser’s face and found Fraser looking at him, a focused expression on his face. When he realized that Ray was looking at him, he smiled a little.

Yeah, Ray needed to do this. They could get past this. But not saying it at all, that was driving Ray insane. And if Fraser ever found out and Ray hadn’t told him, he would probably never forgive Ray.

Okay, Ray tried to take a steady breath, one last drawing.

After class, Ray steeled himself. Fraser was waiting for him outside.

“Are you up for getting something to eat with me?” Ray asked. Step one.

“Lunch would be appreciated.” Fraser smiled and Ray tried to pull this off as casually as he could, walking back to the car, squinting at the blue sky above them. “I didn’t, uh, got to finish my last drawing, so…” Ray trailed off, trying to come up with the right words that wouldn’t make him sound like a complete idiot.

“Would you like to finish it? I could, I mean, if you want to, I could sit for you again.”

A smile pulled on Ray’s lips. Trust the Mountie to do the polite thing.

“Yeah, that would be great. One last time,” Ray tried to calm his nerves without much success.

“A form of closure, you mean?” Fraser asked slowly.

“Closure? Yeah, sure.” The more Ray thought about it the more sense it made. Closure. Funny that Fraser should find the perfect word for it. Right, this would be the end of Ray’s craziness. He’d tell Fraser – his heart jumped a little at the thought – and Fraser would tell him that he was flattered but that he didn’t feel the same way and Ray could be the bigger man and say ‘no harm done, buddy’ and promise Fraser that nothing had changed and then Ray could go back to being Fraser’s buddy.

Get it out of his system. Then he could go back to being normal.

“That’s a good idea, Ray.”

They picked up Dief at the consulate and had lunch at the small diner around the corner from Ray’s apartment. After Fraser had settled down on Ray’s beat-up couch, Ray put the folder with his drawings and the package of coals on the table and gathered his sketchbook and a piece of coal in his hands. Time to get this show on the road.

Ray felt sick. This whole drawing thing was a load of bullshit; Ray couldn’t draw Fraser anymore than he could win a gold medal in the pool, he was way too nervous to concentrate on what he was doing.

Feverishly, Ray hoped that something would come to him—anything, that he could tell Fraser. How did you tell your best friend something like that? Despite Ray’s best efforts to buy some time, the drawing progressed continuously. At some point, even Ray had to concede that there wasn’t much he could add.

Ray swallowed. His hands were all clammy. Ray rubbed them against his jeans as surreptitiously as he could. He needed more time.

“Uh, I’ll just—I’ll work some more on the shadows. You could, uh, you want a tea or anything?” Lame, God, he was so lame.

“Thank you kindly, Ray. I’m fine. You said I could take a look at your work once it’s finished,” Fraser gestured towards the folder filled with Ray’s drawings that was lying on the coffee table.

He had said that Fraser could look once he was finished. Fraser probably wouldn’t be angry if the drawings weren’t up to his standards. At the very least it would give Ray a bit more time to come up with a master plan. Any kind of plan, really.

“Sure, knock yourself out.” It didn’t matter anymore what Fraser might be able to learn from the drawings. Ray would put it all on the line. Because Fraser needed honesty like other people needed air.

Ray smudged a little over the lines in his drawing, not really seeing what he was doing. He needed something to tell Fraser. He couldn’t just say ‘you know how I’m just a little in love with you? Yeah? Don’t worry about it’. Ray felt hysterical laughter bubble up inside of him.

Fraser’s startled gasp pulled him out of his musings.

“These are very good, Ray,” Fraser murmured, staring transfixed at the drawing in his hands.

“You think so?” Ray asked distracted, feeling all kinds of sick, nervous, scared, and about to throw up.

“Yes, although…” Fraser’s lips stretched into a crooked smile, “you might have been a bit generous with certain… proportions.”

There was something odd in Fraser’s voice, like a catch or something. Confused, Ray held out his hand and wiggled his fingers. “Which have ya got?”

Fraser looked straight at Ray before he handed him the picture.

The drawing showed… Fraser… naked… on Ray’s very own kitchen chair… fingers curled around an erection…

All color drained from Ray’s face.

“Shit!" Ray looked wildly around the room. "Fraser, this isn’t what you think—“ Ray’s bloodless lips intoned but he couldn’t hear the words coming out. All he could hear was a panicked chant of ohpleasenonononono. “It’s just— I got these— these thoughts… about you,” Ray stuttered, watching helplessly as his friendship with Fraser went down the drain.

“And I—it’s more than—“ Ray sighed and ran a hand through his hair in a distressed gesture. “We’re friends, right? And I—kind of think more of you than just a friend,” Ray took a nervous breath, “I mean not that ‘just friends’ is anything to sneeze at—‘just friends’ is greatness and I—“

“RAY!” Fraser must have been saying it for a while now. He looked exasperated but there was still a smile on his face and in none of Ray’s scenarios had Fraser ever smiled when he had told him. Well, not in the realistic ones anyway.

“I know. And I understand.”

Ray wanted to cry.

“No, Fraser, you don’t. This is not standard procedure, okay? This is not normal, buddy-like at all, okay? What I—“ Ray faltered nervously for a second before he found enough steam to keep going, “What I feel for you is—hell, I wanna do all kinds of things to you that ain't polite, Fraser. You hear me? I—that’s not buddies.”

“I assure you, Ray, I do understand.” Fraser’s smile was gentle. “I think I've known from the second session I’ve sat for your class.”

“The—the second session?” Ray stuttered confused, feeling as if his whole world had tilted on its axis, tumbling him into some kind of parallel universe.

Fraser relaxed a little more into the couch and Ray wanted to laugh because Ray had never been less relaxed and how could Fraser just sit there on his couch after he had seen what kind of pictures Ray had drawn of him.

“I felt that you had been distancing yourself for a while and I had come to the conclusion that this was your way of letting me know that my affections were unwanted—“

“You—you’re affections?” Ray stumbled over the words. Could he sound any more like a brain-damaged person? Fraser had affections? For him?

Fraser looked up at Ray again and smiled a tiny, glowing smile. “Yes, Ray. My affections for you. And I tried to accommodate your discomfort by keeping our relationship as professional as I could.”

So that was why— Ray felt a landslide of realizations coming his way.

“However, after your – very wordy and repetitive, I might add – protests that my having sat as a model for your class did not make you uncomfortable, I suspected that your distance to me had a different cause.” Fraser’s smile deepened a little. “You were really very expressive in your attempt to assuage my fear that my nakedness had embarrassed your masculinity.”

Ray was gaping wordlessly at Fraser. The second session? That had been almost two months ago!

“After I allowed myself to watch you, I found reason after reason to believe that you were indeed similarly inclined and indeed trying to hold yourself back. Very much like I had been trying to do.”

Fraser had seen right through him. Fraser had known. “Fraser—“ Ray’s voice broke at the end. Two syllables but a world of emotion behind them, too much to put into real words.

The smile on Fraser’s lips turned wistful. “I had tried to let you know, but when you,” Fraser looked at his hands folded in his lap and sighed – a small, unhappy sound, carefully disguised, “when you told me that you didn’t want to risk our friendship, that our working relationship was too important to risk for something as fleeting as romance—“

Ray felt light-headed from all the different emotions waging war inside of him. Fraser had said ‘romance’ – had even been the first to put it into words – and yet, Fraser seemed to be saying no and when had Ray ever said anything like that to Fraser?

“Fraser, I—“

“No, it’s alright Ray. I understand completely. I even admire your steadfastness in this point,” Fraser smiled a little self-deprecatingly. “I don’t think I could have reached that decision on my own volition. I have always been hopelessly hot-blooded when it came to matters of the heart,” Fraser said very softly and Ray saw that shimmer of a dark shadow around Fraser’s eyes again.

“I—Jesus, Fraser, I never—“ Why did Fraser think he put work first? Why did he even think Ray could?

“I have to admit that it took me a while to see the wisdom behind that decision. As I said, I think it’s a very sensible solution. Very admirable.”

“Fraser, listen!” Ray almost shouted. It didn’t come out as loud as he had intended, though. His voice sounded hoarse, scratchy with unexpressed emotions and Ray had to clear his throat twice before he could even produce another word. “I never said—“

Rrrrrrrrring – rrrrrrrrrrrrring – rrrrrrrrrrrring

The monotonous sound of Ray’s mobile cut him off. Frustrated, Ray snarled and stalked with more force than necessary over to the kitchen table where he had discarded his jacket.

Ray pulled out his mobile and snapped “What?” at the unsuspecting caller.

Ray’s face was the picture of frustration. “We’ll be there in fifteen.”

He turned around and looked at Fraser. There were a million things he wanted to say and not one involved the word ‘Chinatown’ but that was life for you, you never got to choose.

“Mrs. Wong’s son has been seen approaching the alley. Huey and Dewey are covering the front. We’re supposed to cover the back. He’s not going to get away this time.”

Fraser nodded and stood. Dief sprang to attention from underneath the kitchen table and Ray shrugged into his jacket.

At the door, Ray turned to Fraser. “We still need to talk. Let’s get this job over and done with and then I gotta say my piece.”

“Ray, you don’t have to say anything—“ Fraser started to say, but Ray cut him off.

“You bet I have. Later,” Ray did a whole body gesture towards the door and they headed out. Ray flattened the accelerator and the GTO roared to life.

They arrived in the street running along the back of the shop, almost to the second, 15 minutes later. Ray called Huey to get an update on the situation.

Half a minute later, Ray snapped his mobile shut again. “We’re in deep trouble. The guy isn’t stupid. Huey and Dewey went in but before they could even identify themselves the guy had thrown something and caught Dewey right in the chest. Huey said it was some kinda stink that caused nasty blisters, must be itching like hell. But he’s otherwise unharmed. And it bought the Chinese guy enough time to get away.” Ray sighed. Nothing in his life could ever be simple.

“The guy bolted the door to his little sanctuary and Huey has no idea if he’s still in there. If he isn’t, he hasn’t left it through the front door ‘cause Huey’s still stationed in front of it. He called someone to take care of the lock, but they’re not here yet. Any ideas?”

Fraser had listened carefully and was looking around the almost deserted street with an assessing eye. “I don’t think our suspect left himself without any chance of escape. This means there must either be another door, leading into another part of the house, or the room must be equipped with an exit that leads out to the street.”

“Fraser, I don’t remember seeing anymore doors in that room. Sure it was cluttered, but a door? Kinda hard to miss.”

Fraser’s gaze locked itself to the metal lid leading down to the sewers.

“Oh, you got to be kidding me!” Ray groaned revolted.

“No, I am not proposing that he left through the sewers,” Fraser said with a small smile and Ray breathed a sigh of relief.

“I was merely thinking there might have been a door leading to a cellar.”

“Like a trapdoor?”

“Possibly. Old houses, especially in an area like Chinatown, often possessed a maze-like tunnel system.”

“You think there might be a second exit.”

“Yes,” Fraser admitted. “It’s a shot in the dark but at the moment I think it’s our best bet.”

Ray nodded. “Okay, so how do we know where the other exit might be? Could be anywhere.”

“Not at all, you see, the sewers run parallel to Wentworth Avenue, enclosing this alley to the east which only leaves—“

“Do I wanna know why you have the frikkin’ map of the Chicago sewers memorized?” Ray asked incredulous.

“Ah,” Fraser flicked a thumb over his eyebrow. “You’d probably prefer not to.”

“Okay, alright. So where do we look for this rabbit hole?”

Fraser studied the area for a moment before he set off to the north of the building. “I read an interesting article about the Chicago Tunnel Company a while ago. They built a narrow railway system underneath the city of Chicago in 1899. And even though the tunnels suffered some serious flooding over the years, they are still in use.”

Ray was jogging along, trying to keep up with Fraser. He shrugged. “Uh, thanks for the history lesson Frase. And I wanna know this why?”

Fraser looked back at Ray with a teasing smile on his lips. “A lot of shops were connected to that tunnel system. Quite a number didn’t even know it until the water seeped in when the tunnel was flooded. And if I remember the map correctly, the nearest entrance around here should be just around the corner underneath the building from that telecommunication company.”

“Fraser, you’re brilliant.”

“Thank you, Ray.”

Ray was still cackling gleefully every time he thought of the moment their suspect crashed out of the building only to run smack into them less than five minutes after Ray and Fraser had taken up position.

While Ray Mirandized the guy, Fraser picked up the small metal box the guy had dropped in his haste to get away from Dief. Inside was a honey-blond lock. Exactly the same color as Grace Lawe’s hair.

Ray called Huey to let them know that they got their man and then got a blue-and-white to pick up the young Mr. Wong.

"Let's get outta here," Ray offered and Fraser nodded.

Back in the car, the memory of what had happened between Fraser and him finally crashed into Ray. He sneaked a glance over while driving. Fraser had affections for him. That meant he wanted to kiss Ray, right? Or even more than kiss.

"Ray! It's red."

Ray stepped onto the brakes a little harder than necessary. "I know, I know," Ray said but he didn't sound as casual as he would have liked.

Why did Fraser think that Ray wanted to remain just friends and partners? When the fuck did they have this particular conversation? Ray hadn't been drunk lately – and even if he had, chances were good that he would have molested Fraser rather than proposed staying professional.

The driveway in front of Ray's apartment came into view faster than Ray had expected. He pulled into his parking space and killed the engine. It had been presumptuous to take Fraser back with him without asking, but he couldn't have asked, so here they were.

Ray turned around in his seat, about to ask "come up and talk" when he saw Fraser's face. Inviting lips, petal soft, the dark brows pulled down in confusion above deep blue eyes. Ray opened his mouth to say his line but instead of asking, Ray closed the distance and pressed his mouth to Fraser's. Ray slipped his tongue inside, slick, wet— oh God. Hot. Hot. Hot. Ray feasted on Fraser's lips. More— he needed more.

Fraser broke away, gasping for breath. "Ray, you wanted to keep this professional," Fraser panted, confused and aroused at the same time. Ray shivered.

"No," Ray closed the distance again and pulled Fraser's mouth close again. "Hell, no," Ray murmured before he claimed Fraser's lips. "I'm going crazy here," Ray mumbled.

"That's— hardly sensible," Fraser groaned against Ray's lips.

"Fuck sensible," Ray snarled and threaded his fingers in Fraser's hair.

Fraser moaned, like he was breaking apart, and Ray felt hot and cold all over.

"Come home with me, come upstairs?" Ray gasped, brushing his lips against Fraser's.

"Yes, I— yes," Fraser murmured, blindly following Ray's lips until he could taste them again.

Ray pulled Fraser even closer, hands scrabbling on the wool of his serge. "Let's— let's get out of here," Ray panted breathlessly.

Fraser nodded mutely.

The way up to Ray's apartment took ages but Ray couldn't stop touching Fraser and Fraser seemed to have a similar problem. Dief produced a sound that was half snort and half whine and Ray jerked and shook himself a little, a shrug like a fighter getting ready for the next round.

Jesus, yeah, sorry mutt.” Ray’s fingers left Fraser’s hand for a moment to search for his keys. Shaking, and Fraser must have noticed it too, that Ray’s hands weren’t steady when he pushed the key into the lock to open the door. But Fraser didn’t say anything, just continued to look dazed.

With a definite whine this time, Dief pushed past Ray to hide in the kitchen. Ray grinned. “Smart wolf, I owe ya a doughnut. Promise.”

Ray turned around and found Fraser looking at him as if he had never seen him before, a look of such profound longing on his face that it halted Ray’s initial urge to just pounce on the guy.

Deliberately, Ray stepped closer until they were almost touching. He reached out and traced a warm line over the back of Fraser’s hand. Fraser took in a startled breath and Ray smiled; a short, fierce flash on his handsome face.

Ray’s hand trailed up Fraser’s arm, as if he was following a line no one but him could see. His fingertip skimmed softly over the tender skin right above the collar of Fraser’s serge. His hand came to rest on the first button of the tunic.

Ray looked up from the resting place of his fingers and met Fraser’s gaze. Fraser looked terrified. Ray smiled gently.

“Is that alright?” Ray asked quietly.

Fraser nodded jerkily. “Yes, oh God, yes.”

Ray grinned cheekily. Carefully, Ray unbuckled the Sam Browne. He had dreamt of undressing Fraser, had spent nights doing it. He pulled at the velcro straps keeping the serge together. Ray watched the folds of fabric gaping open, revealing the henley beneath it.

Ray’s fingers sneaked inside and Fraser shivered ever so slightly. Reverently, Ray pushed the tunic off Fraser’s shoulders. He turned around and hung it carefully on the back of the door. When he was facing Fraser again, he saw Fraser swallowing hard.

Ray’s fingers stretched the suspenders taut over Fraser’s shirt.

Mmh,” the sound never left Fraser’s lips. Ray smirked and pulled the suspenders down. Warm hands found their way underneath the henley, discovering equally warm skin.

“Ray,” Fraser breathed his name.

“I know,” Ray murmured, fingers memorizing every inch. Testing the texture, smoothing over Fraser’s back, lightly skimming down his front until the waistband of the jodhpurs stopped him.

He pulled on the shirt, pulling it over Fraser’s head and Ray couldn’t stop staring. Weeks, he’d spent weeks watching this body, the rise and fall of Fraser’s chest, imagining how his skin would feel. Carefully, Ray placed his hand on Fraser’s chest, splaying his fingers wide. Fraser’s heart was racing. His skin was warm.

Frase,” Ray whispered against Fraser’s skin, bent down to press his lips to Fraser’s chest.

A moan was torn from Fraser’s throat and suddenly warm hands, big hands, were reaching for Ray’s sweater, crumpling the soft material between strong fingers before wrestling it over Ray’s head. Ray was laughing quietly when he surfaced again underneath the fabric.

Eagerly, almost clumsily, Fraser went for Ray’s t-shirt next. And then they were both standing half-naked in front of each other, breathing a little heavily.

“Boots,” Ray croaked.

Fraser’s scary efficiency came to the front again in the speed with which he got off his boots.

Fraser straightened again, looking flushed and nervous, but for once Ray wasn’t nervous. Ray had spent hours imagining this; his body already seemed to know every curve of Fraser’s body – his fingers had even followed every line of it, for weeks, in the safe confines of his sketchbook.

With a saucy grin, Ray placed his hand on Fraser’s chest again and took a determined step forward. Fraser let himself be pushed back. And another step. And one more. Until they were right inside of Ray’s bedroom, until Fraser’s knees hit the edge of the bed.

The sun was already setting, bathing Fraser’s shoulder in a fiery orange glow, Fraser’s whole right side was gleaming golden in the evening light and Ray felt his heart jump in his chest.

Suddenly desperate for contact, needing the confirmation that Fraser was touchable, that Ray could feel him right underneath his fingers, Ray lunged forward and slung his arms around Fraser again, pressing him close, going at him with lips and tongue, his chest rubbing against Fraser’s.

Ray, Ray, Ray.” Fraser was murmuring between kisses, arms wrapped tightly around Ray— and this was something Ray hadn’t been prepared for, to ever be engulfed in a Fraser embrace. Ray inhaled deeply, smelling shampoo and neatsfoot oil and a bit of leather.

Fraser overbalanced, tumbling them both onto the bed. And close wasn’t close enough anymore. Ray was covering every inch of Fraser’s body he could reach with his own. His hands closed around Fraser’s shoulders, delighted by the way his fingers had to stretch around the flesh – real and solid – and with his weight, he pressed Fraser further into the mattress.

"I've thought about touching you," Ray breathed heatedly against Fraser's collarbone. "Every time I did a drawing of you, I imagined I was touching you," Ray murmured, ghosting his fingers over Fraser's naked chest.

And Fraser was moaning, small, little gasps in between Ray’s name and Ray had to kiss him again, steal his name right off Fraser’s tongue, the friction of skin on skin almost unbearable in its realness.

“Fraser—I need—naked,” Ray gasped against Fraser’s lips, his hips rubbing against Fraser’s groin in an involuntary undulation.

“Yes, oh, please,” Fraser murmured, fingers still buried in Ray’s hair and Ray groaned. He had wanted this – maybe too much – and if he wasn’t careful it would all be over in a matter of seconds.

Ray pulled his mouth away, pressing his face close against Fraser’s cheek, panting into his ear and trying to slow the rapid beating of his heart.

“Fraser, Jesus,” Ray muttered, trying to catch his breath.

Reluctantly, Ray pulled away. Fraser’s face was flushed, the blue eyes dark, his lips the tiniest bit wet. Mesmerized, Ray reached out and trailed a finger along Fraser’s bottom lip. Fraser exhaled a shuddering breath, warm moisture condensing on Ray’s skin. Before Ray could lift his finger away, Fraser’s tongue flicked out, tasting Ray.

Ray moaned brokenly. “You have—you have no idea, Frase…” Ray pressed a sweet, off-kilter kiss to the corner of Fraser’s mouth.

Ray finally pulled away and bent down to unfasten Fraser’s pants. God, how often had he thought about getting Fraser out of these pants? Ray peeled them off, but before he could set to work on Fraser’s boxers, a pair of hands on his own fly stopped him.

Ray followed those hands and looked into Fraser’s heated gaze. “Now you.” Fraser’s voice was so low it sent a shiver down Ray’s spine. Ray grinned wickedly and shrugged out of his jeans, pulling his boxer briefs off along with them. Ray didn't even have time to throw his clothes to the floor before Fraser's fingers reached for him again. God, Fraser's body was hot, burning up from the inside, and all that heat was now pressed flush against Ray's naked body.

Fraser's hot tongue in his mouth, hot hands keeping him pinned down, hot legs trapping his own to either side and— oh yeah, hot erection hidden in those boxers. Ray groaned into the kiss, letting Fraser take whatever he wanted from him. His hands scrabbled for purchase, gripping the waistband of Fraser's boxers and pushing, pushing them down as far as his hands could reach.

And then Fraser finally got with the program and helped getting rid of the cursed fabric.

"Oh god," Ray groaned as Fraser's cock brushed against his and Fraser's hip picked up the rhythm easily—and who would've thought that the Mountie could dance after all?

Fraser's tongue painted a hot trail along Ray's throat and Ray heard him whispering, "Ray. Ray. Ray," his name, over and over again like a prayer or a curse and Ray wanted to give him whatever it was he was asking for.

"Yeah, Frase, me. You got me," breathless and half crazy with finally getting what he had wanted forever and Fraser was still moving against him and making those needy noises and maybe Ray was about to fall apart into a million pieces – bye bye Kowalski, it's been real – but Ray just couldn't care because this was Fraser and he had never wanted anything as much as he wanted this man, right now, any way he could have him.

And Ray hadn't realized - had been so far gone - that he hadn't heard how he was saying "please" over and over until Fraser whispered hotly in his ear, murmuring "show me how" and it should have been illegal that Fraser embarrassed should be so freaking hot.

Ray looked at Fraser and met those blue eyes, aroused and helpless and all for him, not holding anything back, and Ray swallowed and licked suddenly dry lips before he reached for Fraser's hand and wrapped it around his aching cock. Fraser's grip was tight and Ray bucked into his fist, moaning but still not looking away and Fraser was biting his lip and he moved his hand again, pulling Ray's hip off the bed with another wave of sharp pleasure and Ray just rolled with it.

Gasping Fraser's name, Ray pulled him close, stretching up to meet his lips and Fraser's hand twisted a little and Ray groaned into the kiss, wet, wet everywhere and Fraser's tongue everywhere and Ray had never felt more lost than in this very moment, never more lost and painfully in love and yet never more clear of anything than right now, here with Fraser.

"Fuck," Ray moaned, pushing his hip up, into the circle of Fraser's fist and Ray felt himself shake, completely falling apart and maybe he would shatter beyond the point of no return but Ray would give all of that and more.

"Please, Ray," Fraser was panting hotly against his throat and Ray was amazed that Fraser should ask Ray for something when it was so painfully obvious that Ray was his for the taking, that there was absolutely nothing Ray could deny him. And still, Fraser was murmuring please and yes and so beautiful into Ray's skin and Ray pushed hard into Fraser's hand, teeth gnashing, his hands curling tight around Fraser's upper arms.

"Ah! Fraser!" and Ray came, seeing nothing but white. The pleasure so acute it might have been pain but Ray didn't care, Ray was just along for the ride. Coming his brains out as if this was his last chance in life— and maybe it was, his heart was hammering fast enough to just give up any moment. But there was Fraser, holding him close, murmuring into his hair, arms stroking over his chest, his arms, his stomach.

"Ray," and there was an urgency in Fraser's voice that Ray had never heard before, had maybe dreamt about, maybe a bit too often to be called sane.

Ray opened his eyes again and found Fraser pressed close, erection insistently pushing against Ray's hip, and Fraser's face lost in a sea of want and need.

But Ray was still pinned half-underneath one very solid Mountie and Fraser seemed to have his own program going. Ray had to grin a little at that because Fraser never went for the things he wanted, but using Ray's body seemed fair game and Ray felt as if he should list that as one of his talents in the future: able to make Fraser lose it – and how hot was that?

Ray's hands roamed over Fraser's chest, clever fingers found his nipples and Ray pinched them, glorying in Fraser's startled moan and the way his face went slack. Ray did it again, straining his neck to catch the little nub between his lips. He flicked his tongue out, lazily sucking it into his mouth, only to release it again to the cold air a moment later. Fraser's choked-off sob was probably the hottest thing Ray had ever heard.

The muscles in Fraser's arm were shaking and Ray bit down lightly on the tender flesh again, nudging it with his tongue. "Oh. Oh god," Fraser moaned, arms almost buckling under his own weight and Ray pushed, shoving Fraser onto his back to have more room.

Ray tangled his own legs with Fraser's and lavished some more attention on Fraser's nipples. Maybe all that wool was making them hyper-sensitive, yeah, maybe Fraser was in a slightly aroused state all day. Ray swallowed. He hoped he would have more time than this once to test that theory. The need to make the most of this, of claiming Fraser, of imprinting his touch was almost too much to bear.

Ray took a quick breath in and released it as slowly as he could. His hand crept down, stroking over the length of Fraser's erection before his fingers closed around it.

"Ah—" Fraser's hips snapped up and Ray watched the flush spread over Fraser's chest. Beautiful.

Transfixed, Ray watched his hand moving on Fraser's cock. It didn't take more than a few pulls before Fraser's thigh started to quiver. "Ray— I— please—"

Reluctantly, Ray released his prize, drawing a whimper from Fraser. Ray lifted his hand to his lips and put two fingers into his mouth, wetting them down. Ray pulled them out again, now glistening with moisture. Slowly, Ray reached between Fraser's legs, spreading spit over Fraser's hole.

Fraser gasped, muscles drawing tight, and Ray bent down to taste one of his nipples again. "Shh, I got you," Ray murmured. Ray pushed in. Giving Fraser time to adjust to the unfamiliar intrusion.

Fraser's ragged breathing was loud in the room. Ray continued to draw lazy circles on Fraser's chest with his tongue. When his fingers were all the way inside, Ray stretched them slowly, spreading them. Fraser groaned and pushed back a little.

"Yeah, god, you're so hot Fraser. Wanted to be inside of you... forever..." Ray murmured, a touch of wonder in his voice.

Slowly, Ray withdrew his fingers before pushing them back in. Fraser's hip picked up the movement, rolling up to meet him and Ray pushed in harder than intended— "Yes," Fraser moaned, biting his lip and Ray saw a drop of clear fluid welling up at the tip of Fraser's cock. Carefully, he lowered his head, sneaking his tongue out to lap it up.

"Ray!" Fraser's fingers were gripping him as if he didn't know whether to pull him close or keep him away and Ray gave Fraser's cock another experimental flick of his tongue. "Oh god," Fraser whispered, pushing harder back onto Ray's fingers.

Ray opened his mouth a little wider, letting the head slip in, his tongue brushing against the underside. Fraser was reduced to wordless noises, begging with his body for what his lips had no words.

Daring, Ray pressed a third finger against Fraser's entrance and heard a startled "Oh" before warm fluid flooded his mouth, Fraser's whole body quivering underneath him and gripping his fingers like a vise.

Fraser was panting heavily, limbs still jerking now and again with aftershocks and Ray looked stunned. He had done this. He'd undone Fraser. Tenderly, Ray reached up to smooth his fingers through Fraser's hair, moving closer to him and rubbing his leg lazily up and down against Fraser's. Ray's hand settled over Fraser's heart.

"You okay?" Ray asked quietly, feeling foolish for asking such a dumb question after the guy had just blown a fuse and yet he needed to know.

Fraser chuckled breathlessly. Blue eyes opened slowly and gazed warmly at Ray. "Yes," a simple word but spoken with such reverence that Ray felt a smile tugging at his lips.

Ray settled down beside Fraser again, drawing patterns over Fraser's skin. The room was almost dark now, it was mainly filled with the artificial light coming in from the street.

"What made you change your mind?" Fraser asked quietly after a while. "About us."

Ray was shaking his head. "Didn't change nothing. Why'd you think I didn't want this?"

Fraser rubbed his eyebrow. "I don't understand, Ray. The analogy of your relationship with Ms. Kowalski was quite clear. You learned the hard way that work and love should be kept apart."

"Analo-whatsit?" Ray asked incredulous. "Fraser, I wasn't making a comparison. I was trying to tell you that Stella and me were done. Have been for a while."

"Oh." Fraser sounded crestfallen.

"Yeah, oh." Ray agreed dryly. They were quiet for a moment.

"So... love, huh?" Ray asked, wincing at his bad style. He held his breath. He was sure his heart had stopped beating.

"Yes," Fraser took a deep breath and made himself say the rest of the sentence, "only if you want to, though. We don't have to—"

"I want," Ray cut him off before Fraser had to finish that sentence. "Jesus, Fraser..." Ray ruffled his hair in a nervous gesture. "I— I mean, I've probably been in love with you forever. I— I want, Fraser."

"Mmrph—" Ray protested when Fraser invaded his mouth the quick and dirty way, taking no prisoners. Fraser probably didn't have a permit for that tongue, either.

Ray relaxed against Fraser's body, pulling him even closer. This was greatness.

The next morning, Ray woke up to an empty bed. Dread made his stomach turn. It was Sunday, there was no reason why Fraser should have left. God, had he fucked it up already? Ray sat upright and clenched his fingers in the blanket. What now?

Someone cleared his throat.

Ray's gaze flew to the doorway where he found Fraser leaning against the doorframe, a small smile on his lips and a cup in his hands.

"Good morning. Are you already awake enough for a coffee?" Fraser asked, a hint of awkwardness in his voice.

"Yeah, I'm— I'm up," Ray couldn't even put his relief into words.

Fraser pushed away from the door and came over to the bed. He held out his hand and Ray took the offered cup. "Took you long enough, it's after 10," Fraser chided.

"After—! Fraser, it's Sunday! You can be lucky I even got a pulse at this time."

Fraser smoothed his thumb over his eyebrow. "I see. My mistake then." But Ray heard the laughter underneath and reached out to smack Fraser on the arm. But Fraser was quicker and caught his hand mid-movement. He pulled on it, drawing Ray closer and pressed his lips to Ray's. Just a chaste kiss. Not even with tongue. Ray thought it was one of the best kisses he had ever gotten. Fraser was still onboard with this new partner thing.

Ray placed his coffee on the bedside table and hauled Fraser right back down into bed with him. If Ray had anything to say in this, Fraser wouldn't make it back out of bed for the rest of the day.

Monday was— Ray was afraid that Monday was going to be tricky. It was one thing to fool around over a weekend, but how did you take it with you into real life? So when Fraser was about to open the door to leave Ray's apartment early on Monday morning, Ray, impulsively, pushed the door closed again. He crowded Fraser against the wall and kissed him for all he was worth. Tasting Fraser, drawing his tongue into his mouth, fingers clawing at every bit of Fraser he could reach.

After a frantic minute, Ray gentled the kiss. His long fingers cupped Fraser's face and his tongue stroked Fraser's in a languid slide before he pulled back, bestowing one last lingering kiss on Fraser's lips.

"Time to face the music," Ray murmured. Fraser was licking his lips with a far-away look. Ray bit the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning. He could do this to Fraser. Hell, he could kiss Fraser. Just like that. Fraser cleared his throat. "Right you are, Ray."

Ray got Welsh to call the Ice Queen to ensure Fraser's presence at the interrogation this morning. Just in case Mr. Wong decided to unlearn his English language skills all of a sudden.

Ray took a sip of his coffee before he flung a collection of pictures at Mr. Wong. The young man looked at the photos of Taylor, lying dead on the cobblestones somewhere in Chinatown. Ray expected him to flinch, even recoil in the face of the body. Instead, a strange, satisfied gleam entered Wong's eyes. Almost fondly, he stroked with his fingers over the dead form in the photos.

Ray flicked a glance up at Fraser and saw that he had noticed the strange reaction, too.

"Why did you kill him?" Ray cut to the chase.

Wong smiled at him. "Can the police even prove that it was me?" He spoke softly. He had a remarkably nice voice. Ray felt a rude exclamation rising up, but Fraser was quicker.

"I believe, if we looked inside this very beautiful amulet that you are wearing around your neck, we would find a small, very concentrated dose of Aconitine."

Wong's smile turned into an ugly grimace. "He deserved it," he spat with such vehemence that Fraser raised his eyebrows in surprise. "It's his fault that Grace is in prison now. He tipped the police off— you would never have caught her, never. But he—" Wong was shaking with disgust, "he didn't understand her brilliance. He wanted her to become his little housewife. I would never have made her change her ways. I honor her work. I love her unconditionally— not like this— this fraud. He didn't love her-not the way I do."

Ray felt seriously creeped out. Fraser looked a lot more composed than himself.

"I see. Is that why you poisoned him?"

"Yes!" the triumph in Wong's voice was unmistakable. "I wouldn't have hurt him— oh, I hated him. But she, my beautiful, my wonderful Grace, she wouldn't have wanted him hurt. But when he hurt her—he put her in prison, my poor love, I needed to punish him. I couldn't let him get away with it. Grace must want him gone too, now. And she will finally understand that only I really loved her."

Freak, he actually looked as if he believed what he was saying. Ray felt a shiver running down his spine. This guy was crazy, completely cuckoo.

"Where did you get the poison from, huh? You got your mother to give you the key?"

Wong flashed angry eyes at Ray. "My mother is a very dignified woman, and was for all of her good qualities foolishly fond of that American. Grace herself provided me with the poison."

"She knew you were going to poison her boyfriend?" Ray spat.

"He wasn't her boyfriend!" Wong erupted. "He didn't love her. She didn't know anything about him, because he didn't let her. He must have influenced her, she wasn't—"

"Spare me the bullshit! Why did she give you the flowers?"

"She needed a space to store them because her buyer wasn't ready yet. I offered to keep them safe. I only needed very little, one blossom was almost enough. She didn't know I had broken one off. I like to think that she wanted me to have the poison even though she didn't know it at that time." Wong looked fondly at that memory and Ray shuddered. Creep.

"How did you administer the poison to Mr. Taylor?" Fraser asked.

Wong's eyes lit up at his own brilliance. "When I learned that Grace had been arrested, I told my mother that he wanted to cancel his appointment with her. She believed me, thinking he was torn up with grief— ha! The hypocrite! It was his fault, he had planned it, he didn't want me to have her, he—"

"Enough already! Then what?"

Wong breathed heavily before he had himself under enough control again to continue.

"I called him and told him that my mother was going out of town but that she had prepared everything so that I could follow through with his treatment instead of her. He never suspected anything," Wong sounded ridiculously proud of this fact. "He thought I liked him. Because I was always nice to him when Grace brought him over. But I didn't like him, I hated him. I was only doing it for Grace. I would do anything for her. I told him to come later than the appointed time because I had something else to do before. So he came when my mother had already retired for the night."

Ray felt like someone watching an accident. You knew what was about to happen and yet you couldn't look away.

"I prepared everything the way he was used to. But I used my own Aconitine. I had made it myself, from the flower Grace gave me—"

"From the one you stole, you mean," Ray interrupted and was met by an enraged look from Wong. "She gave it to me. She wanted me to have it. And I made him drink it, he lapped it up eagerly and then I watched him convulse." Wong's face was the picture of pleasure. "He made choked-off noises and started to vomit. He grappled for my hands to get me to help him. I laughed. I watched him gasp for breath, completely useless. It didn't take more than a few minutes. And then he was quiet, finally. He couldn't speak her name anymore, couldn't sully it. I wrapped him in a blanket and carried him outside. I dumped him behind that fast food restaurant, right next to the trash where he belonged. He won't be hurting Grace anymore."

Ray felt sick. Fraser had a serious expression on his face.

"I think that is all we needed to know," Fraser said quietly.

Together they left the room. Outside, Ray released a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding. "We should let Grace know." Fraser nodded.

"Ms. Lawe? We found the killer," Fraser said into the receiver. And Ray flinched slightly. This was not going to be a pretty meeting.

Half an hour later, they were sitting in the visiting area of the female ward. Grace looked close to tears when she saw them.

Ray settled down on one of the brutally orange plastic chairs and Fraser followed suit half a second later.

"Miss, does the name 'Liu Wong' mean anything to you?"

Grace looked confused. "Liu? Of course— but what has he got do to with anything?"

Ray cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I'm afraid he is the one who killed Mr. Taylor."

Grace looked as if Ray was talking another language. "You must be mistaken," she said without a doubt in her voice.

"I'm afraid my partner is telling the truth," Fraser explained.

“Liu couldn’t have hurt a fly, he is such a shy and gentle man—“

“Are you aware that Mr. Wong is in love with you?” Fraser asked as gently as he could.

“In—? I mean, I love him like a brother. You could say that we grew up together. Of course I knew that.”

“No, uhm, in love, like, romantically,” Ray had to force himself to say it. Being loved by that creep was not something he’d wish on anyone.

“Romantically—? Detective, you can’t be serious.”

Ray sighed. “I wish I were. See, Wong is kinda smitten with you in a really bad way. We’re talking collecting stuff with a connection to you, like notes, pieces of fabric, things like that. He’s obsessed with you.”

Grace stared at him wide-eyed. “That—you’re wrong. That’s not possible,” the young woman stammered.

Slowly, Fraser extended his hand and pushed the little metal box over to her. Her mouth opened in a shocked ‘o’.

“That belonged to Rick,” she exclaimed, all the color draining from her face. With shaking fingers, she opened the box and curled her fingers around the lock of hair. “Rick said I was his lucky charm, so one night I cut off a strand of my hair and bound it with a red ribbon. He’d carried it around ever since.”

“Liu Wong came back to get this box, he had it with him when we arrested him,” Fraser explained quietly. Grace’s eyes filled with tears.

“And why—did he say why—“ The tears spilled finally over and Ray winced in sympathy.

“It was jealousy, mostly. And Liu blamed Rick for your arrest. He said Rick was the one who delivered the necessary information to the police.”

Grace smiled through her tears, weak laughter escaped between her lips. “I believe he was the one to rat us out, yes. He always threatened that he would if I didn’t stop. I never took him seriously, it was a dare. But I always believed that he would be the one to get me arrested if I ever got caught,” her brittle smile extended into a fond grin. “And look where I am now.”

She shook her head, sending teardrops flying in a prismatic sparkle.

Ray looked in confusion at Fraser. Some people had a funny definition of love. And he had thought his was strange. Fraser was smiling slightly, a little sadly, and maybe he understood something about strange love definitions that Ray didn’t.

“We need to take the box back for evidence. But we could get it released into your possession after the trial,” Ray offered.

“Yes, I’d like that,” Grace sniffed a little but she seemed much more composed now. Maybe something about this ending appealed to her. After all, Casablanca didn’t have a happy end either. Maybe that was the way true romance was supposed to work in her world.

They left the prison ward in silence. Back at the station, they settled down for Ray’s favorite work: reports. Paper work left enough capacity for Ray to do some serious thinking.

He wanted Fraser. As in wanted wanted. He itched to touch him, peel him out of that uniform, and hear him again – without all the clever words, reduced to single words and syllables.

Ray felt a shiver down his neck at the thought. He concentrated on the paper in front of him. Time of the crime. Location of the crime. God, he knew what Fraser tasted like! He flicked a glance at the Mountie and felt his face heat.

“Ray?” Fraser inquired at Ray’s red-faced state before his gaze turned suspicious. Mischievously, a small smile crept onto his lips. “Ah,” Fraser licked his lips and ducked his head, suddenly completely engrossed in their case notes.

Ray grinned. At least Fraser wasn’t as innocent as he had everyone believe. Case number. Sequence of Events. Ray’s fingers smoothed over the paper, trying to put it into a less crumbled state. He felt someone watching his hands but when he looked up, Fraser was still pouring over the notes.

He shouldn’t be thinking about sex every time he looked at Fraser. That was – what was the word for it? – single-minded? No, that wasn't it. The word when you reduced someone else to nothing more than sex. Whatever. Ray wasn’t just in it for the sex… even though Fraser nervous and just a bit uncertain was one hell of a turn-on.

Ray hadn’t given it much thought, how much experience Fraser could’ve had. But thinking about it now, he came to the conclusion that the answer was probably: not much. And in case of getting down with a guy probably: not at all. God, and even that was hot. Being the only one who had touched Fraser there…

Ray looked at his report and winced as he took in the senseless swirls and shapes he had filled into the allotted spaces. Focus, Kowalski.

Shouldn’t he rather be thinking about taking Fraser out for a nice dinner or something? Show him that Ray wanted him on a personal level as much as he wanted him in the sack? Yeah, Fraser would surely appreciate that.

Maybe they could pick up a movie afterwards. After all, no one had said that Fraser would spend the night at his place again. And maybe this had been kinda fast for Fraser to begin with. Not that he seemed to have minded much, but still, Fraser deserved some romance. Ray could keep his dick in his pants for a few hours – hell, he’d waited ages for Stella.

Ray wasn’t big on the dating game but Fraser deserved the whole package, so he would go along with it and do the romantic thing for him. Arresting Officer. Date of Arrest.

Ray could swear that he felt Fraser’s eyes on him, but try as he might, he couldn’t catch him at it. And Ray was trying not to look too much because then his romantic plans dissolved into nothingness and flashes of oh my god, I sucked his cock popped into his head at random intervals completely derailing his train of thought.

Ray stapled the last page and sighed. Finally, all done.

They ambled out to the parking lot. "Hey, where's the wolf? Ray asked looking around.

"Ah, he opted to stay with Francesca tonight." Fraser pulled at his collar and Ray guessed that the wilderness duo probably had an argument. He grinned and shook his head.

Ray unlocked the door and hesitated before sliding into the driver’s seat. Fraser was sitting very stiff in the seat next to him. Ray took a deep breath. He felt almost as nervous as if he was asking someone out for the first time... and not after they had already had sex.

“Uh, so, I was thinking, you wanna go have dinner with me?”

“Yes,” Fraser said, sounding very tense.

Ray looked over at him with a puzzled frown on his face. “Okay, so, I know this nice restaurant over by Lakeshore Drive. They do great pasta. If you like,“ Ray trailed off.

Fraser bit his lip. "That's a very nice offer..." Fraser answered politely.

"Frase, it's okay. We don't have to go for a fancy dinner if you don't want to." Ray smiled.

Fraser looked mighty relieved. "Thank you, Ray."

"Freak," Ray smiled affectionately. "So what did you have in mind for dinner?"

"I thought— what would you think about getting something to take back to your apartment?" Fraser sounded really excited about this prospect. Ray had to laugh. He should've gone for a Mountie sooner, he could do easy.

"Pasta to go it is."

Fraser was very quiet and tense on the ride to Ray's apartment and Ray worried that Fraser might be nervous about this, that Ray might molest him the minute they entered the apartment or something.

"Hey, it's alright. Relax, Fraser," Ray said softly. Fraser nodded jerkily before he took a deep breath and released it again.

"You're right. I'll try," Fraser said with a smile.

They entered the apartment and Ray placed the food on the kitchen counter. Suddenly, Fraser's body was almost pressed against Ray's back.

"Fr—" Ray didn't get any further before warm hands engulfed him in an embrace, pulling him flush against Fraser's chest. Ray's breath left him on a gasp. Warm, satin lips mouthed at his neck, trailing a wet path down his throat. Ray grabbed the counter for support and moaned quietly.

"Is that— is that alright?" Fraser murmured against the tender skin behind Ray's ear.

"Jesus, yes," Ray let his head fall back to rest on Fraser's shoulders and without wasting a second, Fraser's lips descended on his, hungry and hot. Ray moaned into the kiss while Fraser's hands sneaked underneath Ray's clothes, caressing his stomach, his chest, pinching a nipple to make Ray gasp.

"You can tell me to stop," Fraser whispered breathlessly into his hair and Ray shook his head frantically. "Go for it," Ray panted and that was apparently the invitation Fraser had needed.

Big hands went to work on Ray's jeans, unbuttoning them before stealing inside, cupping Ray's erection through his boxer briefs.

"Oh God!" Ray pushed into Fraser's hand as he felt those lips against his throat again. Fraser pulled the fabric away, freeing Ray's cock to greet the cool air and Ray gasped helplessly. A warm tongue trailed the shell of his ear and Fraser's fingers closed gently around his erection. Ray held onto the kitchen counter for dear life.

Hair was tickling the side of his face and Ray realized that Fraser was watching what his hand was doing, watching how Ray's cock pushed through the circle of his fist again and again and Ray moaned brokenly, hips hitching up without Ray's doing.

"Ray," Fraser moaned quietly into Ray's ear and Ray felt precome beading; Fraser's thumb smeared it over the tip and Ray cried out again.

"I've been thinking about tasting you," Fraser whispered hotly and Ray moaned, imagining Fraser sitting opposite of him and thinking about sucking him off. "Can I— I want to try," Fraser murmured, his hand never stopped moving on Ray's dick and Ray tried talking but his throat was dry. "Yeah," he croaked, nodding urgently.

Without wasting time, Fraser dropped to his knees and turned Ray around. The edge of the counter pressed into the small of his back but the dull pain was welcome, a reminder that this was indeed happening. He had spent a lifetime on imagining Fraser sucking his cock but in almost all fantasies Fraser had been slow and careful, getting a feel for it.

In reality, Fraser was hungry for it. Obviously, he had spent a good deal of time imagining it, too. Fraser devoured him, just opened his mouth wide and took him in as far as he could. The tongue stroked along the underside, pressing it to the roof of Fraser's mouth and Ray fingers closed again on the counter behind him strong enough to turn his knuckles white.

"Jesus," Ray gasped. But this was nothing because then Fraser really started to suck. Achingly sweet, as if Ray really were a candy to be savored and that tongue was everywhere; Fraser must have possessed 3 feet of it or else Ray had no idea where Fraser was getting all this tongue from.

Fraser made a happy sound and swirled his tongue around again and Ray's hip snapped forward. But Fraser was prepared for it, one hand already closed tightly around the base of Ray's cock and Ray was going nowhere and he groaned, looking down and saw Fraser on his knees in front of him, the red of the uniform a bright red spot in Ray's vision, and Fraser had his eyes blissfully closed, lips stretched around his cock.

"Fraser... oh god, Fraser," Ray chanted and suddenly he could understand the appeal of repeating a name, turned out once he started he couldn't stop. He was shaking with the urge to hold on but Fraser was really trying to test everything and when Ray felt the sharp hint of a crooked tooth he came with a shout. He could hear Fraser swallowing, felt the tightening of Fraser's lips and suddenly his arms couldn't support him anymore. Ray slid down to the kitchen floor, shaking.

Fraser was licking his lips thoughtfully, the lips that were now a little red and abused-looking, with a small trail of spit leading down to his chin and Ray couldn't wait anymore.

Fraser had tasted him. Fraser had swallowed it to the last drop. And Fraser could now find Ray by taste, too. Fraser could suck cock blindfolded and he would still be able to tell which one had been Ray's. Ray shivered at the thought. He needed to taste it, find himself in Fraser's mouth, know for a fact that Fraser had just sucked him off. Ray toppled Fraser over, tongue sliding slickly between Fraser's lips and Fraser groaned, arms coming up to pull Ray close. Ray's tongue couldn't stop, he explored every inch of Fraser's mouth only to come back for more. Fraser had tasted him.

Fraser was rubbing up against him and Ray tried to find a way to get into those pants, but lying half on top of Fraser wasn't really assisting with that endeavor, but he couldn't stop kissing him and Fraser wasn't giving him an inch anyway. So Ray settled for pressing his hand against the bulge in Fraser's pants, rubbing in time to Fraser's thrusts and Fraser was starting to pant but he still offered his lips for Ray's kisses, the tongue reaching out to meet him. Ray pressed his hand harder against Fraser's erection and Fraser produced a choked-off sound, head falling back against the floor again and Ray felt his whole body heave with the force of his climax.

Fraser was panting like right after a sprint and it took him a moment to produce actual words again. "Oh, Ray," it was whispered with such sweet longing that Ray closed the distance again to press a soft kiss onto his lips, pushing his tongue inside slowly, a lazy rhythm, and Fraser's arms came around him again, pulling him close. Ray let himself be pulled, resting his head in the crook between Fraser's chin and shoulder, listening to his heartbeat.

Ray felt the delicious tiredness move sluggishly through his limbs. He laughed softly. So Fraser didn't much care about the grand romantic gestures either, it seemed. They seemed to have the same skin-craving hands-on approach to things.

"Do you want your pasta hot or cold? I could heat it up in the microwave." Ray sniggered, laughter rising up from the kitchen floor.

Fraser freed his hand to smooth over his eyebrow. "I— I'm—" Fraser began apologetically.

Ray cut him off with another deep kiss. "Perfect. Don't worry, stop thinking so much." The frown on Fraser's face eased.

"Hell, I was thinking about sex with you the whole day and I was worrying you would get me wrong if I simply jumped you the moment we were somewhere private. So trust me, I was all for it."

"It was very distracting," Fraser admitted.

"You're telling me?" Ray asked, amused. "You were watching my fingers throughout the paperwork session, right?"

Fraser's cheeks turned the tiniest bit pink. "Yes," he said in a low voice.

Ray grinned. "God, I love you." Another smile broke out on his face. Sex could do that to you.

Fraser looked as if all breath had left him from one moment to the next. "And I you," his voice was hoarse.

"I know." Ray smoothed his fingers over Fraser's cheeks before he leaned down for another kiss.

"Okay, up. My back is too old to fall asleep on the kitchen floor."

"Ah, yes, of course."

"Hey—wait a second! That's why Dief left with Francesca, right? He could smell it on you, or on me. Right?"

Fraser cleared his throat. "I'm afraid wolves have a very keen understanding of mating signals."

Ray was chortling with laughter so that it was hard to tuck himself into his pants again.

So that was what living with Fraser was like. Tea-flavored kisses, lectures about germ infestations waiting to happen if a towel was left on the floor, and feverish love-making on the kitchen floor.

Or the bed. Or the couch. Or anywhere that seemed convenient - and to Fraser, there weren't many places that couldn't be abused in one way or another.

Ray had thought that living with Fraser would be like one anecdote after another. But as it turned out, Fraser could be a pretty quiet guy. Fraser didn't need to fill a silence and he was remarkably good with telling Ray what he wanted without using words. Sure, Ray had almost suffered spontaneous combustion when they had come home two days later and Fraser had pressed Ray against the wall and murmured I want you into the corner of Ray's mouth, whispering I want your fingers inside of me. I want you inside of me.

But it wasn't any hotter than Fraser pushing his plate away after dinner to come over to where Ray was sitting and just reach down to unbutton Ray's pants, all easy as you please, to jerk Ray off slow and teasing until Ray was begging him for it.

On Friday, Ray came out of the shower to find Fraser on the couch studying Ray's drawing of him with the flower on the chest.

"The flower was a beautiful idea," Fraser murmured, looking up at Ray.

Ray flopped down next to him. "I still can't imagine how you could stand it, being watched by us all. Sure, you said it wasn't unnerving but somehow I don't see it."

Fraser was eerily quiet. Then he cleared his throat.

"Frase?"

"Ah, I might have not been entirely truthful in that respect."

"Oh-ho, the Mountie told a lie," Ray crowed excitedly. "Quick, hand me a red marker. The world is about to come to an end."

Fraser frowned at Ray. "Honestly, this is no cause for ridicule."

Ray waved him aside. "Come on, spit it out. What was the dirty little secret you left out?"

Fraser pulled at the collar of his button-down shirt and fixed his gaze on the drawing between his fingers. "It wasn't so much the looking in itself than your gaze in particular," Fraser explained in a soft voice.

"Aww, Jesus, I'm sorry I made you uncomfortable. I did think it would embarrass the hell outta you."

Fraser flicked his thumb over his eyebrow. "Well, uncomfortable isn't exactly the word I would use." Fraser fell quiet again and Ray waited him out. "It was distracting to the point of being ridiculous, but feeling your gaze on me, so very focused, so intense, it was— it was terribly arousing."

Ray's eyebrows flew up. "Come again? It was a turn-on that I was staring at you?"

"Yes," Fraser's voice was rough. "I had to rely on quite the number of meditative exercises to keep my body's reaction to it under control."

"No way! Fraser only you would find it arousing if someone stared at you for hours."

Fraser bit his lip. He looked at Ray with an assessing eye. "I'd like to draw you some time."

"You— uh, I don't know about this."

"Are you scared I might be right?" Fraser asked with half a smile playing on his lips.

Ray spluttered. "No," Ray stressed. "Fine, you can draw me."

Fraser looked delighted. "I'll make it worth your while."

The heat in Fraser's voice was almost scorching. Yeah, alright, Fraser could draw him all he liked.

The next day, Ray sat in his drawing course for the last time. He was sad to see it go, after all he had much to thank it for. It was a nice conclusion, this sitting together and talking about their experiences, who had liked to draw which the most and why, telling the others what they had learned over the weeks.

Jennifer offered to let everyone work some more on their favorite drawing so that she could offer some last advice.

The class was almost over when she came to Ray's desk.

"So, Ray Vecchio. Did you find what you came here for?" She smiled at Ray and Ray stopped working on the shading in his drawing.

"Yeah," he grinned at her, feeling loads lighter than just a week ago.

"What did you learn with this course?" She asked, actually curious.

Ray's gaze drifted out of the window to the park outside, where he could just make out a dash of white and a blur of red in the far distance.

"That looking a little more closely isn't such a bad thing," Ray answered softly.

Jenny looked a little puzzled, but she seemed to sense that Ray wasn't talking about the drawing per se. "I'm glad," she said with a smile.

After class, Ray strolled outside and was greeted by Fraser and Dief. The smile on Fraser's face was so happy that Ray felt the burning need to kiss him. Instead, he brushed his fingers against Fraser's hand and leaned down to ruffle Dief's fur.

"How was it?" Fraser asked.

"Nice. Very rewarding," Ray said with a meaningful look. Fraser's smile turned shyly pleased and Ray smiled fondly.

They made their way over the grass together, Dief bounding happily around their feet.

Ray knew that it wouldn't always be this easy. There would come times when he would like nothing better than to kick Fraser in the head or when Fraser wouldn't be able to look past the towel on the floor.

But Ray was looking forward to this, too. Because it was real and it was easier now that they were on the same page again. Plus, Ray still had a theory about angry fucking he'd like to test.

"Ray, what is that grin for?" Fraser asked, a little apprehensive, looking over at him.

Ray laughed. "Nothing, buddy. Everything's absolutely alright. But remember to say "bite me" the next time I've managed to piss you off."

"Bite me? I'm not sure I understand."

Ray slung his arm over Fraser's back. "Patience my friend, you'll see."

Ray's laughter could be heard all the way through the park.

EPILOGUE

"Okay, where do you want me?"

"Let's choose something comfortable for you. Why don't you settle down on the bed and I'll use one of the chairs?"

Ray hadn't told Fraser this, but he was actually a bit nervous about this drawing thing. He nodded and began to undress. Once naked, he found a spot on the bed and tried not to feel like a moron.

Fraser had taken a spot in front of the bed. The sketchbook was open on his knees. Fraser watched him quietly before his hand moved quietly over the paper. The quiet was really very, well, very quiet. Ray scratched his chest which felt suddenly itchy and hot.

"Please keep still," Fraser admonished with a smile.

"Sorry," Ray mumbled. The quiet continued.

Ray's leg started to feel jittery so Ray changed position.

"Ray," Fraser warned.

"I know, I know," Ray muttered and tried to freeze in position.

Fraser was staring at his chest, his hand unmoving. Why was Fraser staring at his chest? What was he looking at? Ray was sure that Fraser's gaze was burning a hole into his nipple. What was so special about his nipple anyway? Ray tried to look down but he couldn't see from this angle and he wasn't supposed to move his head.

Fraser still wasn't drawing. He looked thoughtful.

Ray looked down. There wasn't much to see. His nipple looked perfectly ordinary.

"Ray," Fraser's murmur carried a hint of laughter. Ray snapped his head back into position.

The only sound disrupting the quiet was the coal on paper, just a soft "swish" sound. Fraser's gaze travelled lower and Ray twitched. Fraser's lips curled into a smug smile.

Ray managed to keep completely still for about 5 minutes. The quiet was driving him insane.

"Hey Frase, remember that case with the crazy driver and the gun-smuggling thing?" Ray didn't really wanna talk about this, not really, but he needed something to fill the silence.

"Ray, please be quiet. You're very animated when you talk. It disrupts the drawing."

Ray sighed.

Fraser was again staring fixedly at Ray's limp dick. Ray blushed. He was nervous. Without meaning to, his hand crept in front of him, shielding him from Fraser's inquisitive stare.

Fraser sighed but couldn't quite keep a small smile from curving his lips. "Ray, would you like me to help you to keep still?" There was something in Fraser's voice Ray couldn't quite place. Something dirty, like a promise. Oh, Ray could think of quite a few things that would help him relax. His grin widened.

"Sure, every help is appreciated." Ray gestured along his body, conveying 'all yours'. Fraser nodded and stood up. Fraser left the room.

Confused, Ray stared at Fraser's retreating form.

A moment later, Fraser reappeared, carrying a small leather pouch. Easy as you please, Fraser pulled Ray's handcuffs out. Ray's eyes went wide.

Fraser knelt down on the bed and closed one of the handcuffs over Ray's wrist before he threaded the other part through the headboard.

"Fraser!" Ray's voice was a little higher than usual.

"Relax. This will help." Fraser said with an amused smile and closed the other half around Ray's other wrist.

Ray pulled on the chain experimentally, there wasn't much leeway. His hands stayed stretched above his head. His mouth went dry.

"Are you okay?" Fraser asked, all playfulness gone. Ready to release Ray the moment he uttered any discomfort.

Ray thought about it. He was good. Fraser wouldn't hurt him. "I'm good." Fraser nodded and resumed his spot on the chair.

Ray had thought he had felt naked before, but that had been nothing compared to now. Now, he couldn't even angle his body away from Fraser's gaze. The only thing he could do was move his legs and if he pulled them up, that only meant that he opened himself up to Fraser in a whole different way.

A flush spread down all the way to Ray's chest. Fraser was looking at him. Perfectly silent. Perfectly still. The handcuffs rattled the tiniest bit. Ray couldn't move away from this gaze.

Fraser's gaze travelled down the length of Ray's body before his fingers followed the same line. A gasp escaped Ray's lips. It was as if he knew where Fraser was touching him, or would be touching him if he wasn't doing it on paper.

Nervously, Ray moved his legs around a little but spreading them slightly only reminded him of the fact how very naked he was. He felt his face heat. Fraser was watching him like a hawk. Ray opened his mouth but no sound came out. No talking, Fraser had said no talking.

God, this wasn't as easy as Ray might have thought. Fraser's gaze lingered on Ray's groin and now Ray couldn't even get an angle to see what Fraser was looking at. All he could see was Fraser looking at him. He shivered. It felt as if he could feel Fraser's gaze on his skin, could feel the blue eyes feasting on Ray's nakedness.

Fraser licked his lips and Ray groaned. Fraser's eyes flicked up to meet Ray's. A smile was teasing Fraser's lips, a hint of a predator showing through, and Ray felt the rapid rise and fall of his chest as his breath was beginning to come in pants.

He tried to even his breathing, closing his eyes for a second and breathing as evenly as he could. His whole body was tingling.

He was getting hard. A wave of shame washed over him, exquisite in its acuteness. Ray gasped wordlessly. Fraser was watching him from his spot at the foot of the bed. His hand was moving in fluid arcs over the paper. Ray's cock was throbbing and there was nothing he could do about it; he couldn't hide it from Fraser.

He felt Fraser's gaze on him, focusing on his erection, and Ray swallowed around a dry throat. Almost involuntarily, Ray moved his hips. Softly, and he hoped not too noticeably, but he couldn't keep still anymore.

Ray's tongue flicked out to wet his lips. "Fraser." His voice was shaking.

"I'll just add the finishing touches," Fraser murmured hoarsely, his own voice far from steady.

Ray closed his eyes against another wave of arousal. He didn't know if it was the shame of getting turned on by it, the nakedness of the situation, or the intensity of Fraser's look that was rolling in a wave through his blood but it made breathing kind of difficult. He nodded.

Ray spread his legs a little but it offered no friction for his neglected erection. "Please," he whispered.

The sketchbook clattered to the floor and the next second, Fraser was there, covering him from head to toe. Deliciously dressed against the stark nakedness of Ray's skin. Ray gasped. It made him feel even more vulnerable. Fraser's tongue was rubbing against his own and Ray was arching up, pressing his cock against the rough denim of Fraser's jeans.

"Fuck me," Ray moaned softly against Fraser's lips.

Fraser took a shaking breath and nodded. He untangled himself from Ray and started undressing, hands going to the buttons on his shirt.

Frantic, Ray shook his head. "No, I can't— don't make me wait," Ray gasped. Fraser's eyes turned a shade darker. He covered Ray again, pressing Ray's wrists against the mattress and the handcuffs tinkled softly. Ray groaned. "Now, now, now, please, you gotta—"

Fraser slipped his tongue inside, effectively silencing Ray. He pulled back a little. "Shhh," he kissed Ray again, slowly, drawing it out. Ray was trembling softly underneath him.

Fraser reached to the side and opened the bottle of lube. Ray spread his legs, inviting Fraser's fingers inside. There was no hesitation on Ray's part, he wanted this – hell, he needed this – he had never wanted anything as much as Fraser's fingers inside of him. Fraser groaned when he realized that his intrusion wasn't met with any resistance.

Ray moved back against the fingers, panting for air. "Please, please fuck me," Ray whispered and Fraser nodded shakily, withdrawing his fingers and fumbling with his fly for a second. He slicked himself up, grappling with the lube for a second before he simply threw the bottle to the floor. He pushed between Ray's legs and Ray hooked his legs behind the small of his back and pulled.

Fraser was panting heavily.

"Oh God," Ray moaned when Fraser was all the way inside of him. Fraser braced himself against the bed and pushed, moving inside of Ray, leaving Ray gasping for breath.

"Ray, Ray," Fraser moaned, pressing in hard and Ray pushed back against him as best as he could.

Fraser's jeans were scraping against Ray's thighs and his shirt was rubbing maddeningly against Ray's sensitive nipples but somehow that only made it all the more arousing. It enhanced Ray's naked state, Ray couldn't remember ever feeling this naked in all of his life. "Fraser," he gasped, rolling his hips in counterpoint to Fraser's thrusts.

"So beautiful... Perfect... Need you..." Every word accentuated by a thrust of his hips and Ray was straining against his bound hands to rise up and meet him.

"Touch me— you gotta touch me," Ray rasped, Fraser's grip on his hip hard enough to bruise but he was loving every second of it.

Fraser uncoiled his hand from its spot on the mattress and curled it around Ray's leaking cock.

"Oh God," Ray choked.

Fraser pumped his hand again, in time to his thrusts and Ray arched up, shooting between them, Fraser's name on his lips.

Fraser groaned, all control slipping, thrusting into Ray hard, and fast, and perfect and Ray tightened his muscles. "Ray," Fraser cried out, shaking with his release.

Ray came back to himself again when Fraser released the handcuffs. Gently, Fraser brought Ray's arms down, rubbing the circulation back into them and kissing his fingers.

"Thank you," Fraser whispered. Ray put his arms around Fraser and pulled him close against him. Never, Ray had never thought, that Fraser would ever want to touch him like that. Ray hadn't thought that Fraser could love him like that. He flexed the muscles in his ass, feeling the wetness of Fraser's come, and a tender soreness that was throbbing gently. Ray hoped that he would be feeling Fraser like that for a long time.

Reverently, Ray smoothed his fingers over Fraser's body, over his arm, down his chest and along his back. He didn't think he would ever get used to the simple freedom of being allowed to touch Fraser like that.

Pulling Fraser closer, Ray thought that being naked with someone meant much more than just shedding a few clothes. Fraser had stripped him bare and Ray was terrified. Or maybe Fraser had only helped Ray to lay himself bare for Fraser.

Suddenly it was the most important thing to have Fraser out of his clothes. Ray sat up and reached for Fraser's shirt. Fraser began to smile, a tiny smile, really, but he looked incredibly happy.

He pushed the first button through the buttonhole. And then the second. And the next one, until Fraser's chest was bared to Ray's hungry eyes. Fraser leaned up a bit so that Ray could push the fabric off his shoulders. He settled back down and Ray started on the jeans. A few moments later, Fraser was completely naked.

As if Fraser was a drawing waiting to happen, Ray followed the lines of Fraser's body with his hands. His fingertips found every scar and every old bruise. Ray lowered his head to lick a soft trail along Fraser's ribcage, pressing gentle, open-mouthed kisses to his collarbone. Ray moved up until his lips reached Fraser's jaw. He looked up and found Fraser watching him, eyes full again of this fragile thing Ray hadn't been able to place that time back in Chinatown.

Maybe it was alright to be naked with Fraser. Because Fraser was just as naked with him.

Ray closed the distance between them to press his lips to Fraser's again. It was a gentle kiss – almost like an afterthought. Or a last word. Like a finishing touch to an already finished drawing.


The End