It was the suit that did it.
Fraser had owned suits before he joined the force, of course, for church and other occasions. That had been a long time ago, however. And this suit was different.
He bought it just after his return to Chicago, while he was still in a haze of grief. Price was not important to him. He was, at any rate, unfamiliar with comparison shopping of items that were not tools or fishing equipment. The salesman, a friendly middle-aged man with the crepey wrinkles of a lifelong smoker around his mouth and eyes, was named Stanley.
The name made Fraser's chest ache just a little bit more.
Stanley assured him that the suit was appropriate. Moreover, it was "splendid", "very subtle", and it appeared that Fraser "fill[ed] it out magnificently". It was the suit for a lifetime.
*Whose* lifetime, Stanley did not say.
Later, he would remember Welsh eyeing him appraisingly at the funeral, but at the time, Fraser did not quite notice. He was preoccupied, to say the least, determined to give his eulogy without a quaver and express his condolences to the loved ones as sincerely and sensitively as possible.
His chest was hollow. He could *feel* that, feel his heart beating in the empty space, rumbling uneasily as a caged bird. Perhaps he had no heart any longer; perhaps what he felt was the remembered motion of a pulse.
He stood at the podium and the assembled mourners blurred before him. His suit was, he told himself, a piece of armor, defense against uncontrollable grief and guilt. A bandage, well-tailored and blank, over a heartless man.
Afterwards, Stella hugged him for long moment, her manicured nails digging into the fine worsted wool of his suit jacket, gin and spearmint sharp on her breath when she kissed his cheek.
"Thank you," she said. Fraser could not reply.
He allotted himself a week of mourning. Less was unimaginable, but any more would have been self-indulgent and messy. In that time, he did not shave, nor did he stir from the room he had rented his afternoon back. Dief was quiet, always within reach but usually dozing.
Dogs were well-acquainted with sorrow. Fraser envied Dief that, because he did not know what to do with himself. Surely he should be more upset, should be feeling much more than this numb hollowness. He was no stranger to sorrow, yet its weight confused him. This was guilt, he told himself, and pure, unadulterated sorrow, but those names meant little when he could not feel them.
He had thought Frobisher's death, nearly three years ago now, had been the nadir. Murder, however, could be solved. He and Vecchio had done that.
An accident contained no such seed of resolution. The death of an idol was shattering, but the death of a partner was nothing other than this: cold, heavy, hollow.
He did not sleep, but when his eyes closed, his vision filled with northern light. That endless silvered glare lowered itself like a nesting bird over the black water as Ray sank below, screaming. Black light filled his mouth, pressed him further and further, ever downward.
One stumble over treacherous ice and Ray had fallen out of Fraser's reach. Fraser could have, should have, done something.
On Monday morning, Fraser presented himself at the precinct house. He wore the suit again; it had become more than armor, something like skin, black and blank. The uniform had once been his armor, at once severe and cheery, perfectly pressed and anonymous.
Now black wool replaced red serge.
Welsh squeezed his shoulder and ushered Fraser into his office, closing the door behind them.
"My condolences," Welsh said, just as he had at the funeral. "How you holding up?"
Fraser nodded once and fibbed. Lied, to be precise; lied through his teeth. "I am eager to get back to work."
"Good!" Welsh said, far too brightly, but Fraser understood that he, too, was off-balance and uncertain of how to proceed. "Just what we like to hear."
"I shall be putting in for that transfer," Fraser said. "Ottawa, or perhaps St. John's." Somewhere cold, where he knew no one. He was alone now, fully so. Frobisher's last case was closed, the file on Muldoon on its way to the records facility in Edmonton. Fraser had no one to speak to any longer. "I think it's best."
Welsh's face creased, his eyes disappearing, as he looked down at his hands on the blotter. "About that --"
"With Kowalski's, ah --" Welsh looked around, his gaze never quite settling anywhere near Fraser. "With his accident, we're left with a -- a gap, you could say. A --"
"Lacuna?" Fraser asked.
*Gap* was putting the situation mildly, after all. This was no gap. This was sheared-off rock, cutting ice, and a sinking, screaming body.
Welsh leaned to the side, yanking open his file drawer, never quite looking at Fraser. He muttered to himself as he thumbed through the files. The office was bright, the afternoon sun emerging from mid-morning clouds, and Fraser closed his eyes for a moment, savoring the warmth.
"-- here it is," Welsh said, straightening up, an overstuffed folder gripped in both hands.
Behind him, the sunlight strengthened, momentarily blinding. Then, silhouetted on the windowsill, Ray leaned, arms crossed loosely over his chest. Not as Fraser had last seen him, terrified, drowning, bundled in his parka, but as he had usually appeared, loose gray t-shirt and shoulder holster.
"Always the packrat, huh?" Ray asked.
Fraser blinked rapidly. Ray was still there. "Hello."
Welsh coughed. "Hi, there. Look, Fraser, I don't know how to put this, so I'm just going to come out and say it."
"All right," Fraser said, squinting at Ray. It *was* Ray, his hair spiky and unruly, his grin narrow and wolfish. "What do you want?"
"I got restless, you know? Bored. So I thought I'd check up on you," Ray said.
Welsh smoothed his palm over the top of the file folder. "Without Kowalski, we've got something of a Vecchio problem."
"I'm just fine," Fraser told Ray.
Ray laughed and shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck. "Yeah, you're a regular poster for mental health there, Fraser. What's with the suit? Exploring your options in the funeral industry?"
"Glad to hear it," Welsh said slowly.
Fraser was used to people looking at him oddly. Buck Frobisher used to get a rant going, demanding Fraser's attention, and those around Fraser gradually learned to humor him. He appreciated that enormously, far more than he was able to express. People really were very good at heart, infinitely patient.
He smiled at Welsh now. "I'm sorry, I don't think I understand."
"That's a first," Ray said. "Hey, can you really see me? You're not doing some Eskimo mojo, are you? Because if you can see me, that's a little freaky. Good freaky, though, because I've got no one to talk to around here."
"Vecchio," Welsh said, "is still, as far as we know, out in Sin City. So we were thinking, see --"
"Of course I can see," Fraser said.
"That's a kick in the balls," Ray said, sliding off the windowsill and edging around Welsh's desk, rubbing his palms restlessly up and down his thighs. "Wait a second. You can *see* me. No one can see me. You're talking to me. Who else can you see, huh?"
"No one." Fraser tugged up the knees of his trousers, just like Vecchio used to do, and tried not to look at Welsh.
Ray's head bobbed. "You know, I tried writing you a note, but I didn't know what to say. Plus, it's pretty hard to hold a pen for very long. You gotta concentrate really hard."
"-- so you've already got the suit. We're halfway there," Welsh finished and Fraser belatedly realized he had missed something very important.
But the most important thing was that *Ray* was here. Spectral, certainly, but Ray, twitching and wandering around the small office, poking at Welsh's snapshots and grinning at Fraser when their eyes met.
"I'm sorry?" Fraser said.
"Don't be," Ray said. "I just wasn't used to walking on ice. And you can't say you didn't warn me."
Fraser had warned him. He had told Ray about the forty-two different types of late-spring refreeze, about soft ice and bosom ice, and Ray had nodded distractedly. He'd said something about wanting to see the breasts and Fraser had sworn to himself to keep a closer eye on Ray when they were outside.
"Excellent," Welsh said. "Frannie's got some vouchers for you. Buy a couple suits, just like that, and we're back in business." Welsh stood up and shook Fraser's hand. "Welcome back, Detective Vecchio. Your badge and gun."
"Fucking *hell*, that's rich!" Ray burst out laughing and clapped Fraser's shoulder. Caught between the two men, one living, one ghostly, Fraser felt his balance quaver and a heat rush up from the center of him. It suffused his skin and licked, flame-like, at his eyes, and he had to sit down very quickly.
"Oh," Fraser said. The impossibility of it all crept over him.
Ray continued laughing. He did not release Fraser's shoulder; his touch was light as a cloud of gnats. "You? Being me? Or, *fine*. Knowing you, you're going to get technical about it, so it's you being me being --"
"Being Vecchio," Fraser said. The words tasted foreign on the back of his tongue.
Welsh winked at him. "Came up with it myself, in fact." He finally released Fraser's hand and opened the office door. "Now. Meet your Mountie."
At first, all Fraser could see was a smear of red topped by the double-double light coffee color of the Stetson. Ray was circling the figure, head cocked, poking at it and chuckling.
"Fraser, it's you!" Ray said, then tipped back his head. "Little shorter, though."
A rumbly clearing of the throat and Fraser felt his posture fix itself, his shoulders square, and his eyes clear.
"Hello, son," Bob Fraser said.
"You have a *dad*?" Ray asked. "I mean, yeah, Frobisher's partner, but -- I always thought you were born fully-formed up in the fortress of solitude or something. Baby Moses bobbing down the ice floe."
"No," Fraser said.
"Oh, yes," his father said, plucking once at the lanyard to straighten it. "Out of retirement and there's really nothing quite like the feel of red serge, is there?"
"Kinky," Ray said.
"This is gonna work," Welsh said. He looked exceedingly pleased with himself, his smile as wide as Santa's on a Christmas card.
"I --" Fraser said.
"Aren't you going to hug him?" Ray asked. "Or isn't he that kind of dad?"
"I'll shake hands," Fraser told him.
His father and Welsh exchanged glances, but Fraser was back on his feet, shaking his father's hand and smiling. The heat that had been prickling at him, needles and awls beneath the skin, flushed brighter, then receded, leaving him with hot cheeks and a thumping heart.
Ray was peeking, Kilroy-like, over Bob Fraser's shoulder. "You didn't shake my hand."
"I couldn't help but observe, while I was waiting, that an alert's coming over the scanner," Bob Fraser told Welsh. "A circus train went off the tracks just before the main station."
"Hey, cool!" Ray said.
"A *circus*?" Welsh said doubtfully.
Fraser nodded in time with his father. "It could get messy."
"Go," Welsh said and sighed as he sat down.
"Rampaging elephants, pissed-off lions, and thousands of disappointed kiddies," Ray said, shrugging on his brown windbreaker and heading for the door. "Just the kind of excitement I need."
Fraser followed him, his father bringing up the rear. "You're not here for vengeance?"
That was the only explanation. Frobisher had required vengeance on Muldoon and Ray must have been here to punish Fraser for the fall.
"No," Bob Fraser said. "I can't say I harbor anything but good will toward you, Ben."
"Nah," Ray said, pushing open the door and taking the steps two at a time. "I told you. It's really fucking *boring* in the afterlife, Fraser. You'd probably like it, though. Real quiet, lots of time to catch up on your reading."
"No messages or anything like that?"
Ray scowled. "What do I look like, Fed Ex? I just told you. Bored. Got to thinking about you and here I am."
"Just good to be working with you, son," Bob Fraser said. He paused at the end of the block and looked up and down the street. "You know, if I had a sextant, I --"
"The station is this way," Fraser said, tugging at his father's sleeve. "Follow me."
"As senior officer, I really must insist --"
"You're a liaison officer," Fraser said. "As the *actual* member of the Chicago Police Department, *I* must insist --" He stopped when he heard the absurdity. He was Vecchio. But he had no idea what that could possibly mean.
"Oh, man," Ray said. "This is gonna be *good*."
"I think I know how to find a railroad station," Bob Fraser said.
Ray leaned against a parking meter, grinning at them and rubbing his temple. "You know, Fraser, people change."
"Well, of course," Fraser said. "That's really not the point."
His father glared at him, mouth set just like his grandfather's used to do, and he drew himself up.
"Humor the old man, Fraser." Ray pushed off from the meter. "*My* dad never took me to the circus."
"Fine," Fraser said. "After you."
His father nodded, his expression relaxing fractionally. "Thank you."
"But you're both wrong," Ray said, laughter in his voice. "It's this way."
There was a single rampaging elephant, an overly amorous contortionist, and, thanks to Bob Fraser's keen eye, a ton of heroin being smuggled in the hay bales that fed the contra-dancing ponies.
"No hay's that well-packed," he had said and Fraser knew at once he was right.
When Fraser drew out Vecchio's gun to make the arrest, the badge held high in his other hand, he hesitated. He knew what to say, of course -- sometimes, he had thought in the past, he was better acquainted with citizens' Constitutional rights than the real police officers -- but the words came slowly, haltingly, from his lips.
His father did not notice. He was too busy holding the male acrobat in a headlock. Ray was squatting in front of a crying toddler, making silly faces.
People change, Fraser reminded himself, and recited the Miranda warning.
Armani, serge, specter. While Fraser had long preferred deductive reasoning, perhaps what this situation called for was induction. He needed to colligate his facts by means of overarching concepts, rather than working upward from his observations.
So the general phenomena remained the same -- a suit, a uniform, and a ghost -- while the particular instances had shifted position.
He needed to reread Whewell, but for the time being, he knew the task at hand required adjustment to new facts. He was someone slightly different now. He was a cop, Vecchio, American.
Buck Frobisher had never *glowed* quite like Ray glowed. He seemed edged with a delicate line of sunset-light and it made him stand out from his surroundings. When they returned to Fraser's room later that night, well into Tuesday morning, Ray carried the dusky glow with him.
Diefenbaker lifted his head from his paws and yapped softly at Ray.
"Good wolf," Ray said and dropped into the only chair in the room. He eyed Fraser, who stood in the doorway, Armani jacket in his hands. Without it on his body, he was not quite certain who he was. "What? Jeez, Fraser, get with the program."
"I assure you, I'm with the, ah. Program," Fraser said and hung up the jacket. "I confess, however, that I'm slightly out --"
"Got any food?" Ray stood up and leaned over the half-sized fridge tucked next to the sink.
"Ravenous," Ray said over his shoulder.
The Inuit of eastern Canada and Greenland greeted ghosts with a simple offer: take as you wilt. Most ghosts linger around the living because they are hungry. Fraser could have slapped himself for forgetting such a simple fact.
A ghost is the congealed will of the departed, singing in the ear of the living until it gets what it wants, pure breath and spirit.
"What?" Ray asked, chewing on the end of a venison sausage. "You're out of what? Milk?"
"Out of step," Fraser said and sat down on the edge of the bed. Diefenbaker padded over and rested his head on Fraser's thigh. "I'm not Ray Vecchio, Ray. I'm not even you. I --"
"You're doing swell," Ray said, crossing the room. He pointed at the jacket hanging alone in the closet, a black raven with closed wings, perched over Fraser's dungarees and folded sweaters. "Your costume's way better than mine ever was, for one thing. And you flash that badge like nobody's business. I thought that lion tamer was gonna piss his pants."
Fraser smiled politely as he swallowed and tried to sort out his thoughts. His feelings.
They didn't have names, however, and how could he possibly catalogue without names? Thoughts and feelings had to have names. Otherwise, they were amorphous, textural things, pressing on his chest and flapping against his eyes.
When Ray sat next to him on the bed, elbowing Fraser in the ribs before taking another enormous bite out of the sausage, nothing moved. Ray was here -- visible, certainly audible -- but absent. He made no impression on the bed, his touch was a faint whisper of wind against Fraser's side.
"Your dad's cool," Ray said. He never could stand a silence, awkward *or* comfortable. "A lot like you."
"He's pretending to be me," Fraser pointed out. "So the similarities are no doubt intentional."
Shrugging, Ray wiped his mouth. "You're gonna be fine, Fraser."
"Of course I am."
Ray tossed the half-eaten sausage at the wall. Dief tracked it with his eyes but stayed where he was. His fur pricked up, however, when Ray jumped to his feet and started pacing. "See? You're doing it again. I say something, you, like, contradict it but not. You agree, but it's a contradiction all the same. Fucking *annoying*."
"Sure you are," Ray said. He snorted twice, as if to emphasize his derision.
"I am, Ray." Fraser looked at his hands, at Dief's watchful blue eyes, and finally, effortfully, back at Ray. "I never should have --"
He should not have taken Ray to the North. He certainly should never have allowed Ray to track with him. According to the great Canadian writer Farley Mowat, the ice was a mysterious, near-sentient force, and one could not venture onto it without a good understanding of just what it was capable of.
Ray waved his hand behind him as he paced. "Fraser, don't tell me you're going all guilt-ridden and wanting to make amends, okay? That's for drunks and guys in chick flicks. Pussies."
"I mean it," Fraser said. Ray's back was turned, so he allowed himself the slightest flinch at the crudity of the language. "I'm not -- I'm not a pussy."
This was the most curious feeling. Unnamable, nearly indescribable. He was not hot inside, nor quite hollow. His chest was a skin tent now, supported by vaults of ribs, his heart thumping unevenly. When he opened his eyes, Ray stood before him, ghost-hands on Fraser's shoulders, eyes nearly as blue as Dief's staring at him.
"That's what I'm trying to say," Ray said. Very quietly, especially considering the source. Nearly whispering. "All I'm trying to say."
"So you do have a message?" Fraser asked.
Ray grinned. "Sure, if you want to put it that way."
There was no way it could be possible that Fraser could feel Ray's breath on his face just then. All the same, he *did* feel it.
Just a brush, a whisper of something larger. He inhaled, tasting Ray -- spearmint gum, onion pierogies, and cheap alcohol but, curiously, no trace of the sausage -- feeling the breath travel backwards, into himself, through his lungs, holding still as it unfurled within. Pennants and branching vines of warmth within him, borrowed from Ray, shared between them.
His hands were on Ray's narrow hips. He could *feel* Ray, see and hear and taste him, and Ray's shirt was soft to the touch, very well-laundered, and he was missing a belt loop to his jeans on the left side.
"You're not here," Fraser said stubbornly. "You can't be. You're --"
"Where am I, then?" Ray asked, and he was right. If not here, then where?
Fraser was not himself, not any longer. Ray was not here, Vecchio had vanished underground, his father was wearing the uniform again. All the puzzle pieces had been thrown up in the air. When they rained down, they were different. Rejigged, new edges, new possibilities.
Fraser drew another deep breath, full of Ray, and allowed the warmth to spread, soothing and calm, throughout him. Something new, something different, could happen now.
"I'm glad you're here." Fraser craned up, unused to being the shorter one here, and pressed his mouth to the base of Ray's throat. The ghost of a pulse jumped there like the last salmon up his namesake river and his fingers tightened on Ray's waistband. "Very glad."
"Like I said," Ray breathed. His eyes widened at Fraser's touch. "Never any kind of boring around *here*."
He was kissing Ray Kowalski. *This* feeling had several names, lovely ones both dulcet and serene: friend, trust, love. Surprise, and peerless. Alien, but fast becoming correct.
"Fraser?" Ray asked a little later, lying on his side, one motorcycle boot upended on the floor, his holster gone and t-shirt rucked up.
"Two things. One, do that again --" Ray's back arched as Fraser brushed his fingertips down the center of his chest. "Yeah. And, two, you sure you want to do this?"
Fraser chuckled, drawing his palm over the curve of Ray's ribs, learning the finely-wrought structure of his bones, memorizing the changes in texture from taut throat to spongy nipple to chamois-soft spread of belly below the navel.
Ray nudged against Fraser's hand. His voice was strained. "Not doing it because you're sorry?"
"I am sorry," Fraser said. "But this is something else entirely."
"Good. Do that again -- *Yeah*. And again?"
The phone rang. Fraser had forgotten he even had a phone, the shrill tones jerking him out of sleep. He had to displace Ray's ghost, draped over his chest, and knuckle his eyes and cough before he answered. "Vecchio."
"Good morning!" Bob Fraser said.
"Morning?" Fraser squinted over Ray's knobby shoulder. Ray seemed to grow more solid with each passing moment. The shades were drawn, but even so, it still appeared to be quite dark outside.
"The sun's set to rise in forty-two minutes and if I'm not mistaken, crime never sleeps. Nor does the city."
It might have indeed been the suit's fault originally.
People were, however, good at heart. Fraser had to believe that. He could not exempt himself from that proposition.