Her hair was not wild and thick. Tied back in a dark pony tail, it sharpened the angles of her face, deepened the hollows of her cheeks. She moved slowly in her gray prison uniform and picked up the phone on the other side of the thick glass. He was sitting, but she didn't, so he stood.
"What do you want?" she asked dully, no greeting, no small talk. She met his eyes, but then seemed to look through him. Her skin was paler than before. He could see small veins at her temples.
Fraser cleared his throat, feeling the cold plastic against his ear. "We've filed your appeal."
A muscle twitched in her jaw, but she only paused and said expressionlessly, "Great. Thanks for your help."
He realized he did not know her well enough to know if she was being sarcastic or serious.
"I have to finish my assignment in the kitchen," she sighed, looking down at the scratched wooden table. He realized she would not sit down.
"Don't hang up, please, Victoria, don't."
She didn't hang up, but she continued looking down. Her grip on the phone at her ear loosened. The slump of her shoulders, her paleness, alarmed him.
"Are you -- are you all right? Do you -- need -- anything?" He said in a rush, afraid she would hang up.
She looked up sharply. "Do I need anything?" She smiled bitterly. "Are you joking? You know what I need."
"Please just try to hold on, Victoria. I am doing. . ." he inhaled sharply, then paused. "All that I can," he finished in a whisper.
"Your best?" She repeated. Her momentary bitter smile was eclipsed by feral need before she brought her features under control.
"I swear to you that I am," he answered.
"No." Her voice dropped to a harsh whisper. "I am not all right. Yes, there is one thing I need above all, you know that -- and neither of us can make that happen in here."
"There must be some way--" he breathed.
"Shut up," she hissed with a glare, and leaned closer towards the glass. It took all of his will power not to back away. "Just keep your mouth shut. That's all I need, on top of everything else: everyone knowing." She paused, her glare softening briefly into frustrated helplessness, then hardening into steely determination. The line clicked as she hung up.
He pressed his forehead against the glass, watching her go. The hum of the fluorescent lights and dim noise of the other prisoners and guards came to him through the otherwise impervious glass. When he closed his eyes, he felt it conduct the chill air of the prison into his own cold flesh. He was hungry, so very hungry, and alone, terrified of what hunger would drive him to do.
* * *
The second to last time he actually spoke with her before she came to Chicago, she looked wan but wary. It wasn't just the fluorescent lighting that made her features harsher.
She picked up the phone. "What?" she demanded bluntly.
"Does it look like I'm all right?" she snapped.
"I'm just trying to--"
"Don't. You've done enough."
He inhaled sharply with frustration, met her narrowed gaze, refused to look away. "I've done enough. Yes, certainly. But what have you done to me?" he reproached her quietly.
"I didn't mean for that to happen," she growled, closer to the glass, eyes cold. "You, on the other hand --" She gestured at the guards and other inmates talking through thick glass and phones. "--you chose to put me here. You had the chance not to."
She leaned closer to the glass, an expression of troubled care in her pursed lips, her dry eyes, and fine flaring nostrils. "We should be together, Ben. You need --"
She stopped, closing her eyes as Fraser pressed his forehead against the glass separating them. He was inches away from her face, yet she was as untouchable as the moon.
"I'm. . . I've been reading a lot," he said. "But there's so much I want to ask--"
"Don't talk about that, not here," she sighed heavily. She opened her eyes briefly and pressed her forehead on the other side of the glass, mirroring his. "If only you hadn't --"
“Step back from the glass,” the prison guard snarled at her.
They both stepped back.
"I didn't think it would turn out this way," he interrupted miserably.
"Yeah." She sighed, closing her eyes again.
He inhaled deeply, but only the faintest trace of her scent came to him, more a dimly remembered dream than that of someone present on the other side of the glass.
"Victoria," he whispered. "I never meant--I didn't think they'd--"
"But they did," she interrupted bitterly. “And now I'm in here, and you're out there. . ."
"You must," his voice trembled, "do all that you can to obey the rules."
She abruptly opened her eyes, which flashed angrily, and stepped further back from the glass. Her lips whitened where she pressed them together.
"You think I don't know that?" she gritted out.
"No, I just--"
"I understand all about 'good behavior,' Ben," she snapped, looking away from him. "I'm caged like an animal, and I'm supposed to be on my best behavior? What about them?"
She tossed her head just slightly, and he saw a tiny remnant of the wild, determined creature he’d tracked to a crag in the lee side of the mountain as the blizzard set in.
"They're in control, here," he said mournfully. He felt as cold as the glass between them, and yet it didn’t bother him. Which bothered him.
"Don't you forget it," she muttered, eyes flashing angrily. "You're not safe among them, either." Her smile was bitter. "You're not one of them anymore."
"I never was."
Her chin lifted, hurt, defiant, dismissive. "You were enough of one of them, to put me in here."
For that he had no answer. She dropped the phone into the cradle with a clatter, somberly held his gaze a moment longer, then turned swiftly and walked to the guard, not looking back.
* * *
Three times after that, he came to see her during visiting hours. All three times she came to the anteroom where the prisoners waited for their turn to see visitors, and looked through the layers of glass at him. The anteroom was as far as she came. Every time, when she saw Fraser, she shook her head at the guard. He could faintly hear her through the din of all the other people around them. Even if he hadn't, his sharp eyes read her lips:
No. I don't want to talk to him. I don't want to see him.
She said it while looking directly at him through the anteroom and visiting room windows. The layers of glass somehow did not distort her beauty. Perhaps he saw her not just with his eyes, but with his memory. With his blood.
* * *
The last time he spoke to her was after her last appeal was denied. When she sat down at the window and picked up the phone, she looked healthier, robust. The harsh lines he'd seen in her features were softened. Her lips were redder, the tiny veins at her temple gone. She sat down and picked up the phone.
"What do you want, Ben?" she said coolly into the handset, acknowledging his shock at the change in her appearance with a slight smugness.
"Victoria, you -- you look --"
She smiled enigmatically, but it didn't reach her eyes, and she said nothing.
"How have you -- in here --"
She shrugged, too casually. Unwelcome visions of her with other inmates rose in his mind's eye. His heart sank and his mouth gaped for a moment.
"Y-you--" he finally stuttered. "It's too danger--"
"I wouldn't have to if you hadn't put me in here!" She jumped up, phone against her ear, and glared at him menacingly through the glass. There was nothing warm about her now except her color. "What am I supposed to do for the next ten years? This is survival!"
Her lips thinned into a determined line, and she shook her head dismissively. As she was about to take the phone from her ear, he spoke urgently.
"Wait! Victoria, I, I need --"
"You should have thought of that before." She shook her head again and her lip lifted in the slightest sneer. "Don't come back. There's no point. I'm in here. You're out there. Visiting won't change that. Nothing will."
"But how will I. . ." he whispered desperately, sensing years of quiet solitude ahead, too afraid and isolated to seek out others like him.
"That's your problem," she muttered.
With that, she dropped the phone into the cradle, turned her back to him, and signaled the guard as she walked away. Fraser continued to stare after her, shock stealing breath and words from his throat. Even more disturbing, he thought for a moment that he saw his father's reflection, over his shoulder, in the window. When Victoria left the anteroom with the guard, Fraser turned. There was no sign of his father, or his pitying expression. He attributed it uneasily to his new physical abilities. . . or stress.
* * *
Diefenbaker entered his life after he first met Victoria and everything changed, but Fraser found he could not compel Dief. Perhaps it was his nature -- half domesticated, half wild -- that prevented it. Yet another of the many unknowns in Fraser's life now. Dief's willing companionship and their almost egalitarian relationship was his mainstay for some time prior to coming to Chicago, although he knew that the primacy of a friendship with an animal over other humans would likely be regarded as some sort of failing by RCMP psychologists.
Sometimes he felt keenly his isolation from other people. But there had always seemed to be some strange, ephemeral barrier between him and others. He would have liked to blame it on the change in him since meeting Victoria, but he had to admit that his entire life he'd always felt some sort of obstacle in communicating. He hadn't exactly stopped trying, but after Victoria -- and especially after Dief came into his life -- he certainly wasn’t making his best effort. Friendship with Dief came to mean more than any other relationship in his life. . . that is, until he came to Chicago and met Ray and the Vecchio family, who opened their home and lives to him. And then. . . Ray, the other Ray, the imposter Ray.
When the Rays became as important as Dief was Fraser found himself caught, once again, between the desire to open up and reveal his true self, and the fear that doing so was not only ill-advised but dangerous. With both men he found himself listening more than talking and when necessary, talking more about them than about himself.
Ray Vecchio seemed not to notice very much. Fraser thought it made sense that a man so overwhelmed by other family members' voices and personalities might find quiet time spent with a private friend relaxing. While he found the Vecchios warm and welcoming, being around them for too long was sometime quite suffocating before he could rationalize it away.
The other Ray, however -- Ray Kowalski -- lived alone, had no large family, and his parents were in Arizona. He, like Ray Vecchio, was divorced. Unlike Ray Vecchio, Ray Kowalski came home to an empty apartment rather than a home full of family. Unlike Ray Vecchio, Ray Kowalski had plenty of time alone with himself. In fact, his life was much more like Fraser's than Ray Vecchio's had been. For some bizarre reason, a sympathy Fraser rarely felt for himself swelled in him for Ray Kowalski. He sensed that Ray didn't mean to talk or think aloud, he was just so used to his solitary life that he sometimes did so automatically.
He sensed, too, that Ray was waiting patiently for him to begin to disclose even a fraction of what Ray had already disclosed about himself -- though Ray would never push. But what could Fraser disclose, other than the biggest thing, the secret he could never disclose?
Rather than share personal details like Ray had, he told Inuit stories. He felt Ray waiting for stories about his past. It made him nervous. It also made him excited and hopeful.
He told himself to get a grip.
* * *
He'd immersed himself in reading and research after Victoria told him not to visit again. The yearning for her wasn't merely emotional. It was a very real, physical thing, blood calling to blood. But she hadn't explained all that much in the first place, and he sensed that she would withhold information to maintain a position of power over him. Was it ever thus with fledglings? Two hundred years of fiction seemed to say so.
But then she would always have power over him.
His initial self-loathing at the thought of harming other humans -- of which he was still one, he insisted to himself -- was tempered only by his efforts to, literally, serve and protect. Not only where he was stationed, but anywhere. Everywhere.
Books and research didn't bear as much fruit as experimentation, however. He tried to take just a little blood from multiple animals, letting them live. He preferred rabbits. They would first freeze, still as stone, as if Fraser and Dief weren't there -- a common enough response to danger, and the most frequently forgotten "F" (of fight, flight, or freeze). But then Fraser would begin to call to them.
The rabbits would slowly approach, making one hop and then two, until they were close enough to touch. When he picked them up, they went limp, but their noses continued to quiver and their whiskers to twitch. He held them and stroked them and took only a little, then let them go. They seemed not to remember being held and bitten moments after he put them back on the ground, and merely twitched their whiskers and noses a few more times before hopping off again. It was nothing like elk or moose or caribou, but it sustained him well enough.
Unfortunately, letting them live had unforeseen consequences which he supposed, had he remained in one particular area and continued to do this, could have impacted the entire ecosystem. Fraser wasn't sure if his bite imparted something insidious to his prey, the way that tick bites transmitted borreliosis and babesiosis. . . but the surviving rabbits, foxes, and badgers from which he'd fed subsequently produced litters of young born dead or which died shortly after birth. He reluctantly concluded that feeding on them and letting them live was more harmful than drinking them to their deaths. He was a predator, whether he liked it or not -- top of the food chain, of all food chains. He might as well act like one, abhorrent though it might be.
Experimenting with humans was also dangerous -- not only from risk of exposing himself, but at risk of harming those with whom he experimented. (In his thoughts, it was always "with," not "on.") First there was the possibility that compulsion might not entirely wipe their memories of the event (or that, due to his largely animal-based diet, his power to compel was not strong enough to do so). Second, the luxuriant taste -- the deep and utter satisfaction he felt, as if every individual cell of his body had partaken (perhaps they had?) -- was dangerously addictive, so desperately wonderful that he almost couldn't stop himself. It was one thing to give Dief the carcass of a rabbit or badger -- but the possibility of taking human life (and leaving behind a body) was entirely different. He supposed Victoria must have done so, but he hadn’t thought to ask when newly-turned (not that they had the privacy for such discussions, anyway). And she no longer answered his letters.
He did learn enough to be glad that his first feeding had been human blood. Feeding off of animals was a choice rather than a necessity. Had his very first feeding been animal, he would have ended up a carouche -- the lowest class or caste of vampire, according to the literature, unable to feed on anything but animals thereafter. Fraser supposed every creature had its natural niche, the importance of which might not be initially obvious to the outside observer. But when it came to himself, to his "condition," that seemed unlikely. Could there even be a niche for what he was? Yet it had happened "naturally," had it not? Perhaps the abomination he'd become was a necessary part of some ecosystem, somewhere. (Where? He had not yet found reliable references to the origins of his condition or mention of preferred habitats.)
He told himself that the animals he drained, he could have hunted for himself and Dief anyway, were he not what he now was. A rabbit or two were sufficient for the two of them. They never wasted anything -- Dief got all the leftovers. He was never sleeker. . . although while Fraser learned the proper technique with animals, Dief began his slide towards laziness and convenience food, which fully manifested after they came to Chicago.
Fraser cautiously moved up the mammalian scale from rodentia and vivverids, to ungulates and the rare human. He almost never treated himself to the latter two. Though he discovered that the Canadian propensity to drink excessively often obviated the need for compulsion and mesmerization, it was too tempting -- and he didn't need an entire deer or caribou, although they were better able to withstand him drinking without killing than small mammals.
In Chicago -- more densely populated and more crowded, paved, and urban than Toronto in many ways -- it would have been easy enough to avail himself of the legion of drunk or tipsy bar patrons night after night. Yet even if he had allowed himself (he didn't), it was far more soothing and relaxing to stop in any of Chicago's many parks at night, and call creatures to him. Again, it was most often rabbits.
Diefenbaker seemed to think raccoons would be better, but Fraser didn't like the way the raccoons fed from overflowing garbage cans left behind by picnickers in the city's parks. Rabbits didn't seem to be as heavily parasitized, either. While he didn't know whether that would affect him or not, it seemed prudent to avoid it. Fortunately, although the family butcher was becoming a thing of the past, it was still possible to get blood from them. He was forced to conclude, however, that the far preferable taste of blood from a living animal was nature's way of encouraging the consumption of live prey. The butcher's blood was difficult to swallow, perhaps because it was already long dead. He tried warming it, but that didn't help much.
* * *
Then, on his vacation back home, he'd gotten Ray Vecchio’s call, warning him Ray couldn’t pick him up from the airport when he returned to Chicago. So he didn’t expect it. He also did not expect to find a new Ray, a Ray Vecchio stand-in at the 27th.
All that day when they met and tried to figure out who was the copycat performance arsonist, Fraser tried not to look at the new Ray's hands as he drove. That the imposter Ray took a bullet for him that day -- even if he was wearing a vest -- utterly floored Fraser. He wondered at the man's motivation, but later concluded Ray was simply an outstanding example of law enforcement.
As partners they were forced to become much better acquainted. Though thrown together by circumstance, he felt warmth developing between him and this new Ray.
The sweetness of Ray's smile, on the rare occasions a truly genuine one lit his face, was beguiling. His scent was a lovely melange: a blend of herbal, woodsy soap with Ray’s slightly musky, warm skin-scent buried under layers of clean cotton lacking the chemical odor of fabric softener. The metallic, chemical scents of gun, handcuffs, gun oil occasionally peppered Ray’s scent and, even more rarely, the sulfurous hint of blowback. Ray seemed to favor layers: T-shirts under long-sleeved shirts under leather jacket. . . or sleeveless T's under short-sleeved shirts under jackets. It subtly concentrated and amplified his scent.
No, Fraser told himself.
They’d had moments of intimate conversation, personal disclosures from which Fraser hastily retreated lest he be expected to reciprocate. Yet the more formal he became, the more he felt a certain inquisitiveness from Ray, unspoken but an almost tangible presence. That Ray didn't express it was more curious -- and troubling. He watched Fraser when he thought Fraser wasn't looking. Fraser could feel Ray hold back his questions like leashed dogs straining forward.
He’d learned to disclose only the essentials, though that was merely an extension of his previous natural reticence. By comparison, Kowalski, the new Ray Vecchio, was an open book: all of his emotions were worn on his sleeve and he was always willing to -- seemed to need to -- talk about what was bothering him. If Fraser weren’t so guarded, he would probably have admitted many things to Ray. But he was guarded and he couldn’t.
Fraser sometimes found himself standing too near Ray, inhaling too deeply of Ray's scent, looking at the delicate veins in Ray's temples that throbbed when he was angry or frustrated or very tired, that looked so much like the veins of --
That was all it took to make him step back from Ray's personal space.
He felt Ray's silent curiosity at those times. Yet, for all Ray's apparent volatility and volubility, he never questioned Fraser's abrupt withdrawal. He felt Ray notice it, time and again -- felt Ray swallow his questions, bide his time, wait for the right moment. Fraser used verbosity and obfuscation to keep the right moment at bay.
* * *
He couldn't help himself, though. He tried to ferret it out, without incriminating himself.
"Chainsaw," he said as Ray drove.
"Massacre," Ray replied.
"What kind of question is that?" Ray shot him a slightly defensive glance.
He smoothly prevaricated, if only to assure himself that he hadn't meant anything untoward. Moments later, Ray railed against lascivious acts while watching a couple kissing on the street.
"I didn't realize you were so prudish," Fraser said, surprised.
"Me? Hey, that's not it -- I'll try anything. That's not the point."
He let Ray continue talking, his mind seizing for a moment on the statement “I’ll try anything.” But the delightful, distracting scent of Ray's herbal soap and the warm, cottony smell of his skin and clothes didn't prevent Fraser's finely tuned senses from noticing a threat in the rear view mirror, and acting accordingly.
So began another day of police work. The fact that it involved Ray's ex-wife Stella and presented an opportunity to learn more about Ray's inner life was merely an interesting coincidence. All that he learned without intending to, Fraser filed away, quickly amending the information with personal vows not to misuse the knowledge. Eventually, though, he admitted to himself that he wasn't storing information about Ray for purely altruistic reasons. Fortunately, Ray's preoccupation with Stella was recent enough and raw enough that Fraser resolved to merely listen and be Ray’s friend.
Ray had taken a bullet for Fraser the day they met. In brief moments of pure freedom, when consciousness relinquished its grasp but sleep hadn't yet taken hold, Fraser's long-unsatisfied yearnings embellished that event with ridiculously romantic overtones and meanings. But deep down he knew it was simply Ray being Ray -- the Ray who'd received three citations for bravery.
He envied Ray's inability to mask his emotions but remained composed even as Ray's trusting openness tugged at his heart. Fraser felt keenly the void Ray talked around, the loneliness of wanting and not having. Ray didn't squelch his volatile emotions in order to maintain a cool, cultivated exterior. He just let them break through and got them off his chest.
Fraser told himself he was merely helping Ray. Secretly, though, he admitted to himself that he aided Ray's pursuit of Stella in order to keep his growing fascination with Ray's inner life. . . hypothetical.
* * *
Ray's had months of their duet in the smoothest partnership he's ever had -- months of Fraser setting them up and Ray knocking them down, an enviable solve rate, and Welsh off his back for paperwork, which Fraser seems to love filling out succinctly and perfectly. It's also been months of Ray quietly investigating, figuring stuff out. Now Ray faces himself in his bathroom mirror.
“Yeah, practice shit before a Very Big Talk so I can spit it out when we get to it,” Ray mutters. He takes a deep breath.
“'You bastard, all this time you've been cheating! Damn it, I risk my neck, literally. . . and you skate through it all, barely getting dirty, let alone injured!'” His outrage is genuine, even if it is practice. “No, wait. Not what I wanted to say," Ray sighs. All his undercover work has taught him to sell it to himself first, at home, in his mirror.
“I want to say, 'Why is it always a fucking competition with you? Why you gotta be better than me at, well, everything? What'd I ever do to you? Or is it some weird perfectionist thing?'
"Damn, that's not it," he growls. “I mean, yeah, I wanna say that. But there are other things I wanna say more. Like, 'You bastard, all this time you been acting like you can't die -- an' I find out you really can’t die! But I can.'”
He spikes his hair with some new hair gel that smells like a combination of grain alcohol and breath mints.
“Now I just gotta do it for real.”
He grabs his jacket and sets his jaw, determined to confront Fraser.
* * *
About twenty minutes later, Fraser opens the Consulate door to Ray's insistent knocking.
"Ray! I wasn't expec-- oh, that's all right. Come in, come in. . . it's nice, it's, ah, nice to see you."
They go into the parlor of the Consulate, where Ray sinks down onto the couch. Fraser remains standing, not trusting himself to sit too near. Ray is safest, better off, across a table from him -- or with a police console between them in the front seat. . . any kind of obstacle or barrier, really.
"Nice to see you, too, Fraser. Hey, Dief." Ray slides his fingers easily into the thick fur at the back of Dief's neck. Dief presses approvingly against his legs. Ray takes a deep breath as if steeling himself. Dief leans into him for a second before slinking away to curl up in a dark corner of the room, watching them.
Ray half-scowls. "Fraser, I got something to ask you.”
"Oh. Well. All right. Ask away." Fraser smooths down his eyebrow with his thumb, not at all as comfortable as his words seem.
"No, no, wait. I got somethin' to ask, yeah -- but I got somethin' to say, too."
"Oh." Fraser says cautiously. "Well – I'm listening." He steels himself for something difficult.
Ray steadily stares up at Fraser. "You can't die."
"I can't die?" Fraser repeats numbly.
"It's a statement, not a question! What the hell, after you hear squad cars rolling up to us from miles away, an’ all Orsini's corruption, suddenly you can’t hear?" Ray sputters, throwing up his hands.
"That's uncalled for," Fraser replies, prim and frosty. He steps back.
"No, see, what's uncalled for is the fact you can't die. You run around Chicago, dragging me into all kindsa--"
"In point of fact, Ray," Fraser interrupts, his cool detachment gone. "I don't drag you into -- I don't run around Chicago any more than you do. We have a job to do."
"One you’re not even getting paid to do!" Ray snaps, sinking deeper into the couch. "Anyway, that's not even the worst part. The worst part, the worst part is. . ." He trails off, looking up. He seems to be searching Fraser's expression in the semi-darkness.
"The worst part --?" Fraser mutters, dreading the answer.
"The worst part is, you can't die. An' I can. An' through all the shit we get into, all the shit that could happen to us, you know you can't die but I can, and you drag me into life and death situations all the time, anyway. What's up with that, Fraser? Why would you do that?" Ray’s voice has become dispirited, but that doesn't seem to be what he was aiming for. “Ah, shit,” Ray growls.
Fraser is horrified. "No, no, Ray -- I would never endanger you that way,” he says earnestly. “How could you think that? I'm no different from you." He must make Ray understand. He can save Ray, whatever happens -– he can save Ray, that's the one good thing about –-
"You are, you're tons different. And I know you can't die."
Fraser is silent for an uncomfortably long moment. Ray crosses his arms over his chest stubbornly and says nothing. Finally Fraser breaks the silence.
"Everything dies. Some things just live longer than others." His voice is neutral, expressionless.
"Is that so? Then, how long d’you expect to live?"
There's another long pause. "My natural life span," Fraser replies uneasily.
Ray laughs, half amused, half bitter. "Sure, Frase. Nice dodge. If your life was natural, you'd live your natural life span, sure. But there's nothing natural about your life. . . is there?"
More silence. Fraser is chastened and feels stupid. He should have expected Ray to figure it out. He is, after all, a keen detective. If Ray already knows, perhaps admitting it can’t do additional harm.
"If my life were natural,” Fraser begins carefully, “I'd never have made it this far, Ray. I wouldn't have made it to Chicago, let alone stayed."
Ray puts up a dismissive hand. "Don't try an’ make me feel sorry for you. At some point, this was a choice."
Fraser is quiet a moment. When he speaks his voice is flat. "That's what you think it was? A choice?"
"Sure. You had a choice to stay or go. To be a, well, normal cop, or not. You had a choice not to drag your mortal buddy into deadly situations."
Mortal. Ray really knows. The realization is a bizarre relief, a burden lifted – yet also crushing, a huge new weight slowly settling on Fraser. Ray sighs slightly impatiently at Fraser's extended silence. Fraser musters an indignant tone.
"Staying wasn't really a choice. I was unwanted in Canada after finding my father’s killers. And I could never have acted normal because I am ‘a freak,’ as you so frequently remind me.”
“Listen, Serpico, I’m pretty sure your powers of persuasion are unnatural,” Ray points out stubbornly. “You can get anyone to confess. And when you can’t talk them down from their emotional train wrecks, you can just overpower them -- and you usually do.”
“This is the work we do,” Fraser argues. “We're supposed to get into dangerous situations. It's our duty to get into them and try to turn them around."
"It's a lot easier to step in front of bullets if you think you can't die."
"You stepped in front of a bullet the day we met," Fraser points out.
"I was wearing a vest!" Ray throws up his hands.
"I don't think that I can't die," Fraser says slowly, thinking, Fortunately, few people know how to kill my kind.
"I don't care,” Ray grits out. “You most likely don’t think about the fact that you can't die, ‘cause it's second nature to you now. You got that luxury. But I just put it together, and I know you can't die -- not the way I can!"
"Why would you say that?"
"Because I saw you sucking the blood out of a rabbit last night when you were walking Dief.” Ray triumphantly stabs his index finger at Fraser. “That's why."
The silence that greets that statement marks a moment from which there is no going back, and no going forward. It stretches, lengthens, expands to fill the space between them, until, until--
"You’re quite the detective, aren't you?" Fraser's voice is cool, ironic, slightly patronizing.
Ray jumps up from the sofa. “Fraser, you really make me wanna punch you, sometimes. You bet your fucking ass ‘I’m quite the detective’." He scowls at Fraser.
Fraser's silence is loud, heavy. Ray's hands clench into fists. Whatever happens, even if Ray hits him, Fraser knows he will not retaliate. A blow from him would pack the power of – well, it would be monstrous. If he hadn't been living in fear of this moment, he’d be even more angry and defensive. Not a good mental state for his kind. He can't let himself feel cornered -- he must not lose control.
For some reason, maybe because Fraser's face is half in shadow, Ray glances warily around the room, and Fraser follows Ray’s gaze. Dief's eyes gleam in the shadows, watching them intently. Ray steps slightly away from Fraser, perhaps to diminish any physical threat he might seem to present.
"It wasn't a choice, Ray," Fraser finally says heavily, wearily. "I was tracking her. I followed her up the lee side of the mountain as the blizzard set in around us. She was starving, exhausted. She needed to feed." He pauses.
“Her. . .? She?” Ray repeats very quietly, clearly not expecting this.
"But she didn't, not right away. I was kind to her, I was trying to save her –- save us both -- not knowing she was effectively bullet and blizzard proof. I think -- I think she didn't want to, to. . ." He trails off, voice shaking on the last stuttered words.
Ray shifts his weight restlessly, clearly wanting to speak, but holding his tongue.
Fraser clears his throat. "She’d been on the run, unable to feed. She was half-starved."
He feels the air change, the warmth grow, even at a distance of a few feet, as a flush rises from Ray's collar to his cheeks. Ray remains silent, but his body tenses. Fraser feels all his senses lock on to Ray, and he fights the instinctual perception of Ray as prey. Ray is not prey. Ray is a beloved friend, one who has proven his friendship again and again without asking for much in return. Their time together – working, not working – has been Fraser’s sustenance.
Ray takes a deep breath, opens his mouth, then shuts it, then opens it again. “I figured,” he ventures cautiously, “maybe some Eski-- Inuit thing. A ritual. Or some wild beastman that maybe attacked you. Not. . . her.”
"Victoria bit me, and she drank my blood, and I grew weaker than I already was. And then she began to speak, and her fingers were so cold, I put them in my mouth not knowing she had nicked them with her fangs. I didn’t know they were bleeding and that I was taking her blood into me. . ."
He trails off. Ray stands very still. He swallows nervously.
“When we were coming down from the mountain, I was weak and I lost my footing and fell a great distance. I broke my neck -- I must have died instantly. She was there when I woke up, staring at me with an expression I'd never seen before.” Fraser smiles, but he can feel it is a strange and bitter smile. “And I was hungry. So very, very hungry.”
"Jeez, Frase. . . I-I didn't, there's nothing in the. . . the report. . ." Ray trails off.
“You read it?” Fraser murmurs. “Of course you did.”
“I had to know who I was partnering up with.”
Fraser is sympathetic. “Naturally. Of course there isn't anything about that in the report," he continues sadly, keenly aware of a weight lifted but leaving a new burden. "No one knew any of that, not the RCMP, not the Alaskan authorities, not Ray Vecchio, not Lieutenant Welsh. No one knew. Until now."
Ray gulps. "Why, ah, why tell me?"
"Well. You’ve already figured it out. And you asked.” Fraser’s attempt at a casual shrug is anything but.
“. . .Yeah.”
“You're the one accusing me of being unable to die, aren't you?"
Ray sighs. His fists loosen. "Yeah. Yeah, I am."
Fraser takes a step back from Ray, his every sense sharply attuned to Ray's posture, his body language, his increasing heart rate, his subtly changed scent, the adrenaline beginning to course through Ray's blood. Ray takes a step towards Fraser, matching Fraser's move away, maintaining their distance.
“So, you're not gay, then?” he says.
The non sequitur is confusing and, to Fraser's ears, Ray sounds disappointed. He's been so focused on Ray's physiology that his reaction to Ray's disappointment is delayed.
“I'm not -– what?”
“I got a – well, I thought -– maybe -– the weirdness was some Canadian version of. . .” Ray's voice has become rough.
Fraser takes another step back. “I can't -– I don't. . .”
“With men,” Ray says for him, and steps back, giving Fraser more space. He turns away. “Okay, got it. Is it. . . is it like with birds? I mean,” he turns back to Fraser, not meeting his gaze. “I seen this PBS nature show, and they talked about birds imprinting on humans. And Victoria was female, so--”
A bitter chuckle escapes Fraser at Ray's willing acceptance of disappointment. It reminds him of himself.
“No, that has nothing to do with it.” Fraser clears his throat. “I can never -– you're human, Ray. Mortal. I could. . . I might permanently damage you. Arousal, what the state of, uh, need does to. . . my kind.”
Ray is silent for a moment, but his weight shifts on his feet again, slightly closer to Fraser.
“Besides,” Fraser adds cautiously. “I thought -– you -– with Stella -–”
“Yeah,” Ray interrupts, and now his voice is bitter, too. “Everyone does. Truth is, I don't know what the truth is. I been. . . I worked Vice a short time, an' we busted bath houses, and me and Stel' were separated at the time. . . look, you know I've dated a couple women I arrested. . .” He trails off.
“I think I understand,” Fraser says, surprised and disappointed and yet sympathetic. “If you arrested someone in a bath house, you already knew his orientation. You didn't have to ask. You didn't have to risk anything.”
Ray sighs and turns away. “Something like that, yeah. God. I swear I didn't use the badge as leverage, it wasn't a power thing, it wasn't like the cops--” Ray rolls his shoulder uneasily, “--who shake down hustlers for free blowjobs with their badge, I swear. But this guy I arrested -- it was like an aphrodisiac to him. The badge, the cuffs, my gun. I must have looked at him a certain way, or -– I don't know, he picked up on me or something. . .”
Guilt is evident in Ray's voice. He flops down onto the couch again, and Fraser senses his sudden weakness, the draining of energy from Ray's body.
“Oh, Ray,” Fraser sighs.
Ray clears his throat. “You must think I'm a real piece of work. Anyway, Stel’ an’ I got back together, but somehow she knew.” Ray’s voice is flat and toneless. “She just knew, and somehow she knew it was a guy, too.” He flicks his gaze guiltily in Fraser's direction, but doesn't look at him.
“Look, I can't explain. I mean, I can. But it's never going to sound right, and I don't expect you to understand. I'm not like you, I'm not a . . . monk. An' then after we split up, I slept with everybody who would have me, and let me tell you, that was a short list 'cause desperation is like a sex-repellent. It's like they can smell it on you.” Light falls from the foyer onto Ray's arm as he throws it over his eyes.
Fraser smiles faintly. “They can.”
“What?” comes Ray's voice, muffled under his arm and coat sleeve.
Fraser clears his throat. “You actually can smell desperation. At least, I can.”
“Aw, shit. Really? You must smell it on me all the time.”
Fraser shakes his head. “Sometimes. Not all the time. And. . .”
Silence falls between them.
“And?” comes Ray's soft prompt.
“And curiosity,” Fraser finally allows. “I could feel you wanting to know more, learn more about me. I went to great lengths to avoid your curiosity.”
“You could smell my curiosity?” Ray sits up and looks accusingly at Fraser. “Why didn't you say anything?”
Fraser frowns. “Why would I?” He sounds more tense than he meant to. “I’m in constant fear of being discovered, I'm a stranger in a strange land, I hold onto what little I have and ask for no more –”
Ray shakes his head, looking at the floor.
“Wow. That's how I felt. That's why I didn't push -- I could feel you pull back. I may not -– may not be a, a vampire, but . . .”
Now that the word is between them, in the open, Fraser releases a breath he didn't realize he was holding.
“I felt you pull away sometimes,” Ray says shyly. “Not physically. . . your feelings, your. . . you. And I didn't want to lose what we have.” He pauses. “Had,” he adds quietly, and his shoulders sag.
“Have,” Fraser says before he can stop himself. “What we have.”
Ray's head snaps up and his eyes lock on Fraser's, though he can't possibly see Fraser's eyes in the shadows where Fraser sits.
“What we have?” Ray asks, and the edge of hope that creeps into his tone softens Fraser's resolve.
“Ray.” He must make one thing utterly clear. “I would never – never – have let anything happen to you. It isn't all bad – there are some perks to my, uh, 'condition.'”
“Yeah? I mean, besides needing to drink blood all the time.”
Fraser corrects him before he realizes. “We don't need to drink blood all the time,” he says frostily, but then stops. He starts again, cautious but insistent. “I only need it once every day or so.”
“Only criminals, so far,” Fraser allows.
“You're the one who's dated them,” Fraser deadpans.
“I’m not the only one, Fraser,” Ray quickly retorts. Then he sighs. “I’m sorry, that was mean.”
“No,” Fraser muses. “I suppose it’s true.” He changes the subject back. “Anyway, usually I feed on small mammals. Rabbits. Squirrels.”
Ray holds up a hand. “Please tell me no rats.”
“Once, only, when I was desperate and injured. A rat walked up to me.”
Ray laughs. “Yeah, we got some bold as brass rats, here. I can totally see that.” He pauses. “Hope it wasn't rabid.”
Fraser shakes his head dismissively. “That isn't contagious to . . .my kind.”
“Fraser,” Ray murmurs. “You don't have to keep saying 'my kind'. No one's here but us. Just say ‘vampire.'”
“I've trained myself not to say – that. It's for my own protection, really.”
“Yeah, okay.” Ray's voice is inquisitive. “Really? You can't get rabies?”
“To my knowledge, I can't get any human or animal disease. We're remarkably resistant. Our problem is one of metabolism and energy.”
"But. . . I shouldn't be able to sneak up on you, should I?"
“I--” Fraser pauses. “No, you shouldn’t. I must have been very tired and hungry. Distracted.” It suddenly occurs to Fraser that if Ray could sneak up on him, perhaps others can. He files that worrisome thought away for future consideration.
Ray continues. “But you eat. . . food. I mean, I've eaten with you. We've shared meals,” he adds, ducking his head.
“As long as I have some kind of fresh, uh, blood every twenty four to forty eight hours, I can eat and digest food normally.”
“Huh. So – that's some perk. Never catching a cold! That'd be great. What else?”
“I heal very quickly. If I get enough blood on a semi-regular basis.”
“You're not, like, starving yourself, are you? I mean, shouldn't you be. . . I guess, isn't human, uh, blood, the best for you to drink?”
Fraser sighs, rubbing his eyes. “Yes, it is." He doesn't explain that human blood is an addictive substance, that he could easily take too much if he lets himself drink. "Then there is the question of consent. Typically, I don't get, uh, consent. Which is. . . unethical. But then, asking ahead of time would be a dangerous practice to indulge --”
“What, you wanna reveal your secret to the world?" Ray bursts out. "I mean, there must be people who would just hate you for what you are, without even learning anything about it.” He hesitates, then adds quietly. “Not me, but, I mean, people can be. . . pretty judgmental.”
“Yes, they can,” Fraser agrees sadly.
“People can be pretty judgmental of themselves, too,” Ray murmurs. His eyes search Fraser's shadowed face.
“I don't actively pursue, uh, human blood. Sometimes, the opportunity presents itself. But mostly it's rabbits. Or squirrels. They're quite friendly, here. They often come right up to you in parks.”
“Yeah, lookin' for a handout,” Ray agrees. “Lotta people feed them; they’re used to us.” He looks back at Fraser. “Are there other 'perks'?”
“Oh, yes,” Fraser replies, realizing he got off track. “That was what I meant to tell you – I'd never let you come to harm, Ray, you must believe me. But, should anything happen, I was always prepared to heal you.”
“What?” Ray's snaps to attention.
“I can heal you with my blood.”
“But wouldn't that turn me into a v-- one of you?” Ray gulps.
“No,” Fraser assures him quickly. “No, you'd have to die with my blood in your system, and then drink someone else's blood shortly after you came back to life. Simply drinking our blood, or having it externally applied, won't turn you into one of us.”
“So how does this healing work?” Ray asks, sounding genuinely curious.
“It depends. You can drink it, yes, but I could cut myself and dab some of my blood on your wound, assuming it wasn't a grievous wound, and your wound would heal.”
“I like 'grievous' better. It's more. . . honest. 'Life-threatening' sounds like something you'd hear in a hospital or on the news. It's . . .I dunno, the cleaned up version of 'grievous'.”
"Sun doesn't bother you," Ray says, more a statement than a question. "You're out in daylight with me, all the time. You don't burn or anything."
"No, it doesn't bother me. To the best I've been able to determine, that is a creation of Victorian vampire fiction. Even the old folklore and myths don't mention it. Although I do draw strength from moonlight."
“Well, Frase,” Ray says, and stands. “This is -– this has been -– I'm glad I figured it out. I thought I was going crazy or something. I knew something was up with you. But I couldn't put my finger on it.” He jams his hands in his pockets, but Fraser can hear him cracking his knuckles nervously.
“I'm sure I was more worried about it,” Fraser says.
“I doubt that,” Ray replies, with a hollow laugh. “I thought -– well, I thought -– anyway, it was something else.” He shrugs and sighs. “It doesn't matter what I thought.”
“Something else?” Fraser can't help himself. He's already revealed the worst.
“Hey, look,” Ray says somewhat defensively. “I just thought it was another reason why someone would be so. . .” He trails off.
“So. . .?”
“Closeted, okay? I thought we were alike that way, is all I'm saying. So, okay, we're not. It's okay, you got the whole v-- your issues, an’ I got mine.”
Ray clears his throat impatiently. “You know what I mean. So, okay, it's a coffin for you – not a closet.”
“I do live in a glorified broom closet,” Fraser muses.
“Oh. Yeah, I guess you do, but – anyway, now we both know where we stand.” Ray shrugs, disappointment edging his voice.
“I don't need to sleep in a coffin, Ray.”
“I know you don't, it's just. . . a figure of speech. A simile. No, a metaphor. A – look, you know what I mean.”
Fraser rises to his feet, but steps no closer to Ray. His throat works, trying to get the words out. “Ray, I--”
“Fraser--” Ray takes a couple steps toward him, then stops, hesitating. “Look, I get it, your thing isn't my thing. It doesn't bother me -– your thing -– if mine doesn't bother you.” He squints. “I mean, you seem like that kind of thing wouldn't bother you. That's why I came over here tonight. . .”
“But -– but --" Fraser takes a deep breath. “It is my thing. Your thing, it is. Ray, I’m in a coffin in a closet, if you will. If I needed a coffin at all.” He takes another step toward Ray, his feet like lead.
“A coffin in a closet?” The edge of hope in Ray's voice sharpens.
Ray closes the distance between them, and Fraser stands mute before him. He feels Ray's rapid, suddenly shaky exhalations wafting to his face, a faint hint of cinnamon gum, wooden toothpicks, underlaid by coffee and the beer Ray drank prior to coming over.
“You're saying --" Ray's hands come out of his pockets and clench and unclench at his sides.
“I'm saying --”
“Fraser –- really? I mean, are you saying what I think you are? How could you let me get all that out and, and –-"
“I had to get the worst part out of the way first,” Fraser says defensively.
“God, why didn't you say so?” Ray's voice is harsh with relief. “I thought I was alone in this. You give me enough rope to hang myself, then you tell me this off the wall shit -– not that I don't believe you; I know you tell the truth, even though you fib and avoid an’ --” Ray's hands rise, uncertain, and then grab Fraser's upper arms, squeezing hard. “You could've just told me. A long, long time ago. Either one -- or both!”
“I'm so sorry, Ray,” Fraser apologizes, his heart going out to Ray. “Secrecy has become second nature to me. If it wasn't before, it certainly became so after-–"
Ray flings his arms around Fraser. “Shut up, Fraser, I get it, I'm not your type, whatever -– I'm just glad to know I'm not crazy and it was what I thought it was. At least, partly.”
And he holds Fraser, just like that, his embrace tightening fiercely, until Fraser's arms come up and steal around Ray of their own volition. Ray murmurs into Fraser's shoulder, beside his neck.
“Fraser, we been through a lot. An' even though we were thrown together under these weird circumstances, with me undercover – you can tell me anything. Anything. I'm always telling you everything, and, and -– well, I'm there for you. I don't get, I mean, all the blood stuff – but I can listen, an’ I talk too much anyway. We're partners. We're-–” he gulps, “-– friends. I'm here for you. Whatever it is.”
It feels so good to relax into Ray's arms, and to squeeze him back. He feels so alive, his heart thumping a beautiful, intoxicating rhythm. Ray's scent is in his nostrils and Fraser holds Ray, their hug tightening. Ray's body gives off such wonderful warmth and affection and it just slips out of Fraser in a relieved whisper. “But you are my type.”
Fraser feels twinges of hunger creep into his veins. Suddenly the sinking feeling kicks in, too late. He shouldn't have let Ray embrace him. He shouldn't have hugged him back. His canines tingle. All he can hear is Ray's blood and heart, pumping, pumping. Ray's body slowly stiffens against him.
“I'm -– I am your type?” he whispers.
His lips are close, so close, to Fraser's ear; his scent envelops Fraser, whose fangs descend as he's pressed against Ray.
“Ray,” Fraser says thickly. “Let go of me. Please.” He squirms in Ray's grasp, and Ray releases him, but doesn't step back.
“You--” Ray's eyes are huge, pupils dilated. “Fraser, God damn it -– damn it to hell, you should’ve told me-–”
Ever the risk taker, Ray's lips brush Fraser's, once, and then their mouths are locked together, Ray's wet and warm and needful. Fraser quivers -– with desire, with hunger, the sound of Ray's blood rushing in his ears. The red miasma begins to descend and Fraser feels the heat rise to his eyes, Ray's desire suddenly sharp in his nostrils.
“No!” He shoves Ray violently away from him. He doesn't realize, in his hunger and blood thirst, how strong he is. Ray shoots across the room and lands with a thud on the couch, which bangs into the wall behind it.
“What the -– wait -– Fraser, didn't you just say -–”
“I'm hungry, Ray, I'm starving!” Fraser shouts. “I don't have very good control when I -– get away from me!”
“But I just finally got close to you.” Ray's hurt tone breaks through Fraser's agonizing hunger.
“I'll eat you,” he snarls, and his eyes feel blazing hot. “Not in a fun way,” he adds nastily, imbuing every word with as much predatory viciousness as he can.
“Go, Ray, please go,” Fraser pleads through the fog of Ray's rhythmic heartbeat. “I don't want to hurt you.”
“But I thought -– don't you want me?”
It is agony, absolute agony, to feel the warmth coming from Ray, to hear the confusion and hurt in his voice, to smell his blood and his body scent intermingled with fear now.
“I want you,” Fraser mutters, low and guttural. “In every. Possible. Way.” He pauses. “But I will hurt you. Like this, I will hurt you. I don't want to, but I will. My control is not -– what it should be.”
“I want you to lose control,” Ray says, dazed, fearful, that awful edge of hope still in his voice.
“Not like this you don't. I’m no saint or monk when it comes to this: I’m an animal. A predator. You do not want me to lose control over -– over the beast in me. I don't want to lose control, either.” He softens his tone slightly. “But I will, Ray. I will. If you don't go.”
Ray pulls himself up from the too-soft couch. He stands, but backs away from Fraser to the door. "Fraser--"
“Ray. Will you please go?” Fraser urges helplessly, heat blazing around his eyes, his voice thick with hunger, with thirst, with need. “You must go,” he says. “You must, for your own safety. Please.”
“When can I come back?”
“We'll see each other tomorr-- just go, Ray!” Fraser finally roars, his voice the howl of a predator cornering its prey.
“Call you later,” Ray yelps –- and flees.
* * *
The minute he hears the front door close, Fraser spins toward Dief.
“You're coming, I take it?”
Dief jumps off the wingback and trots to the back door of the consulate.
“Oh, God,” Fraser moans through clenched teeth, following Dief, pausing only briefly to grab his pea coat.
His fangs pierce his bottom lip. He licks the blood away, feels the lip heal, and slices his own tongue on his fangs, hoping the pain will cut through the blood lust. He and Dief run, Fraser’s coat open –- he hadn't bothered to fasten it; he doesn't need to –- through the bitter wind and cold of Chicago.
There is a park, a large one, not quite four blocks away. They’re there in what seems like an instant. There are a couple of rabbits. Dief is not hungry, but he is an agile hunter, more agile than Fraser in his hunger-blind desperation. It is more sport for Dief than anything else; they’ve hunted together many times before.
Dief snaps up one rabbit and Fraser dashes to him, snatching it out of Dief's jaws and sinking his fangs into the fur under the rabbit's chin. Dief is already off, having caught the other rabbit. Fraser drinks his fill of the rabbit in his grasp, until its heart slows and stops. He drops it, rushing blindly to Diefenbaker, whose rabbit still struggles to run away, its heartbeat a staccato rhythm in Fraser's brain. He dimly hears the squeal of brakes, but reaches hungrily for the second rabbit. When he takes it, Dief circles back to get the drained rabbit as Fraser drinks the second one.
He hears footsteps behind him, and whirls to find Ray, hollow-eyed, watching him, mouth and coat open.
Ray shuts his mouth for a moment. Then, “This enough for you?” he asks harshly.
Feeling the heat around his eyes, Fraser shakes his head mournfully, fur in his mouth.
“I can't be near you right now.”
“I think you can. There's a wino bum not fifty feet away. But you ate the rabbits, not him. Get in the car, Fraser. We'll find you what you need.”
“You can. Get in this car or, now that I know you can't die, I'll shoot you and drag you to the car.”
“Fraser, I'm trying to help you. You should never get too hungry. It'll lead to -– this.”
“I'm afraid,” Fraser admits. “I'm afraid I'll hurt you or – someone else. I'm hungry, Ray. So very hungry.”
“Yeah, and look at you: you haven't spilled a drop or made a mess. I'll get you what you need. Just get in the damn car.”
Fraser stumbles into Ray's GTO and Ray shuts the door after him, running around to the driver's side of the car and opening it. He pulls the seat forward to let the wolf in.
“Dief!” Ray yells, and Dief comes running, the carcass of a rabbit in his mouth. Fraser knows Dief is thinking: Why waste it?
“Uh-uh. In the trunk, not the back seat,” Ray declares. He dashes to the trunk, opens it, and Dief flings the rabbit in. Ram slams the trunk shut. “Get in,” he says, and Dief does. Ray pushes the driver's seat back, jumps in, and slams the car into gear. Dief pushes his nose over the front seat to sniff Ray's ear and lick Fraser's face.
Ray glances back. “Is he one, too?”
"No," Fraser mumbles. "He's just the lucky recipient of my. . . leftovers. Where are we going?” Fraser's voice is muffled by the licks of his half-wolf friend.
“There was a game tonight. Bulls lost. Win or lose, there are always hookers along certain streets.”
“Don't argue, Fraser. We'll pay them. Trust me, they've been paid to do a lot worse. This won't faze them.”
“Ray, I can't afford--”
“I can. Fraser, look: I'm putting it together, and now I think I know why you've been more. . . vulnerable lately. Plus, you should treat yourself. You live in a closet, you sleep on the floor-–”
“I have a cot,” Fraser says defensively.
“You should at least eat right for your, uh, condition. Okay? End of story. You're going to eat what you need to, right now.”
Fraser can't argue. “All right,” he sighs.
They are there in less than ten minutes even without the cherry, Ray ready to wave his badge around if any uniformed officers stop them for speeding.
The girls are spread out along a three block stretch. There are four of them. Ray lowers his window and drives slowly down the street past each of them, and they step off the curb into the street to talk to Ray through the open window.
“Hey, sugar, wanna date? Oh, shit, is that a German shepherd? I don't do dogs.” The first one backs away.
Ray rolls down the street to the next girl.
“Whoa. No freebies. It's double the price for two of you -- no two-for-one deals, and extra for the dog.” Fraser starts to tell her Diefenbaker is a wolf, but Ray punches him in the arm and he shuts up. The woman peers suspiciously at Fraser. “You're cops, too. Hypocrites.” She shakes her head and struts away.
Ray drives on.
“If he wants to watch,” the next woman tells them, gesturing at Fraser, “you both pay. If it's gonna be both of you at the same time, you gotta come back to my place and it's triple. An' I ain't doin' nothin' with that dog.”
Ray glances at Fraser who can barely meet the woman's eyes but shakes his head. Ray drives further along. “Don't be like that!” the woman yells after the GTO.
The fourth and last girl seems game. “Who do I do, and who's gonna watch? Hey, cute dog! He okay? He's not gonna, like, bite me or nothin', is he?”
She shivers a little as she looks into the car. Her midriff is bared by the short, faux fur jacket she wears. The fur trim on her boots matches her jacket. She smiles cheerfully.
“No, he don't bite, he's fine. We're not freaks or anything,” Ray tells her.
“Sure, you're not,” she shrugs. “Kinda tight fit in there, to do both of you.”
“You're not doing both of us,” Ray assures her.
He gets out of the driver's side and she gets in, then scooches to the middle. Ray gets in and shuts the door. She's sandwiched tightly between him and Fraser. She twists sideways to look at Fraser.
“Hey handsome!” she says. Then, “So who do I do, and who's gonna watch? Hi, puppy,” she says to Dief, turning to pet him when he pokes his nose at her from the back seat. He pushes approvingly against her hand. “Nice dog!”
Fraser speaks for the first time since they drove past the first girl, looking away from her “He's actually -–”
“Fra-- ‘Frank,’" Ray interrupts, "Shut up. Listen,” he tells the girl. “You don't have to 'do' anyone.”
She eyes him dubiously, then shrugs and twists again so she's sitting straight, facing forward between them. She slides a hand down Ray's thigh and puts her other on Fraser's. Fraser looks out the window.
“Yeah, it's not quite like that,” Ray explains. “My friend 'Frank' here just wants. . . what do you want, Fraser?”
“Wrist,” Fraser mutters, dragging his eyes back into the car, but not daring himself to look at her neck.
She shrugs again and slips her hand under Fraser's pea coat. “It's all in the wrist,” she agrees, smiling. “You gotta unzip, baby.”
Ray shifts uncomfortably beside her.
“What's your name?” Fraser asks quietly, still looking down, not meeting her eyes.
“Delilah,” she tells him.
Fraser slides his hand over hers, and looks her in the eye for the first time.
“Delilah, this won't hurt a bit,” he says, his voice gentle, soothing.
“Okay,” she agrees, suddenly calm, slowed, docile. Her up-for-anything brightness gone, her hand stills on Ray's thigh.
Fraser draws her hand up to his mouth and presses his lips against her knuckles as if she's a princess. She smiles dreamily. Then he turns her hand over and sniffs at her wrist. Ray watches as the veins rise around Fraser's eyes, and his eyes go dark. Fraser's lips part and Ray sees the fangs flash for a millisecond before they sink into her wrist. She gasps when they pierce her skin, but doesn't resist.
Fraser drinks, eyes shut tightly, swallowing hard around each mouthful.
From the back seat, Ray hears a faint whine from Dief. He doesn't know what it means, but Dief is curled up, not agitated, and Fraser doesn't stop. Ray looks away. Watching is almost too intimate. He shifts in his seat, edging away from the girl. Looking out the window, Ray spots one of the girls a block away approaching another car.
“Do I need to stop you?” he asks numbly.
Fraser mumbles around her wrist. “I can stop myself.”
Just in case, Ray looks back at what Fraser is doing. There's a slight smacking sound as Fraser pulls his mouth off her wrist. Ray shifts uncomfortably again. Fraser's nostrils flare and his sidelong glance at Ray feels like a searchlight. Ray's cheeks flush hot.
Fraser expertly nicks the index finger of his other hand with a fang. When a drop of blood forms at the fingertip, he dabs his blood on the holes in her wrist. They slowly close up until there's nothing there but her wrist and some quickly drying blood. He turns her hand over gently and once again kisses the back of her hand, looking her directly in the eye.
“Thank you kindly for letting me. . . kiss your hand and wrist. Tonight, you will buy some iron pills at the drugstore and take them every day for the next two weeks. In a couple of hours you will buy a small bottle of orange juice, and you'll drink it as you eat a double hamburger. You will not remember this conversation, you'll just buy the iron supplements, drink the orange juice and eat the double hamburger because you need them tonight. All right?”
“All right,” she dutifully replies, smiling faintly.
“You can go now,” Fraser says softly. He looks away, and somehow her body is once again alive with movement.
Ray digs in his pocket. His eyes meet Fraser's as they both lean forward and she turns to pet Dief, who is now standing and poking his nose over the front seats.
“What a good puppy,” Delilah coos to him.
Ray mouths, How much? Fraser's eyes, back to normal, look tired and resigned. He shrugs, eyebrows lifting, as clueless as Ray. Ray takes two twenty dollar bills from his wallet.
“Here you go,” he says, thrusting them at Delilah.
“Hey, thanks guys!”
Ray opens his door and lets her out, shoving his wallet back in his pocket. She smiles at them through the window when he closes the door.
“See ya next time!” she says cheerfully, and blows them a kiss before strutting back up onto the sidewalk by the viaduct.
Ray pulls away from the curb and they drive in silence for a moment before Ray speaks.
“Is she going to remember any of that?”
“She'll remember what I told her to remember,” Fraser replies softly. “That I – kissed – her wrist for ten minutes. That she needs the orange juice and the double hamburger and the iron pills.”
“Why the orange juice?”
“Iron absorption is aided by vitamin C.”
The light turns green, and Ray drives on.
“Do you need. . . more?” he finally asks.
“I probably shouldn't,” Fraser says quietly, looking out the window.
Dief makes a noise in the back seat. Ray looks at him in the rear view mirror.
“Since when do you converse with him?” Fraser asks irritably.
“Since he's your best friend besides me, and he has an opinion,” Ray retorts. “If he thinks you need more, maybe you need more. Has he –- have you -– were you like this all the time you've had Dief?”
“Yes,” Fraser says grudgingly.
“Well, then, I guess he might know a thing or two about it. It's hard to be objective about yourself.”
Fraser shakes his head, a bitter smile on his lips, that doesn't reach his eyes. “Yes, it certainly is.”
“Look, should I -– would you –- would it be better from a guy? Because there's places we can go for -–”
“It doesn't matter,” Fraser says. His sidelong glance at Ray is wary and concerned. “But if you insist on giving forty dollars to every person, you're going to run out of money fairly quickly.”
“Well, I wasn't sure how much to pay her. It's not like I do this all the time,” Ray points out.
“True enough,” Fraser agrees. “I'm not really sure how much -– how much it’s worth. They don't pay people to donate blood anymore; it incentivized the selling of blood by individuals who were the least desirable donors from an infectious disease perspective. So I'm really not sure how much a pint of blood is actually worth.”
“I think we just need to pay them for their time, Fraser. Time spent with you is time they didn't spend with another paying client.”
“Oh.” Fraser swallows. “I hadn't considered that.”
“Well, there are other factors. They're not exactly doing the nasty with you, so they should charge less for this. Then again, it is a little weird, so--”
“A little weird?”
“Okay,” Ray smiles. “A lot weird, but mostly harmless. Right?”
Fraser thinks about it. “I guess so.”
“I mean, you're not doing them any permanent damage, ‘specially if you're going to remind them to eat right and take iron pills. You heal them after you drink from them. At most, they're down a pint, and they might get drunk easier because of it. Hey,” he suddenly changes his tone. “You haven't used any of that mind control on me, have you?”
“Certainly not,” Fraser retorts indignantly. “How could you think that I would?”
“I dunno, I can be a pain in the ass sometimes. Maybe I was at some point, and I pissed you off, and you made me be nicer and less of a pain in the ass. It could happen.”
“It could,” Fraser smiles. “But it hasn't. I would never do that lightly to anyone I loved.”
“Well, damn. That's too bad,” Ray says slyly.
For the first time the entire strange evening, Fraser laughs.
“Fine,” he agrees. “I won't deny I've been sorely tempted, but, no. It would be unethical.”
“I can dream, can't I?” Ray says, and they both laugh.
“You can't be serious,” Fraser says.
“No, I just mean, you could have asked me when you mind-melded me, and I would've told you, and all this would be behind us.”
“Never mind. Star Trek re-runs, when I was a kid.”
“Ah. To boldly go. . .”
“Where only one man has gone before. Full disclosure? All we did was give each other head. I got HIV tested after, I was so freaked out. I'm negative.”
“It wouldn't matter if you were positive,” Fraser points out.
“Wow, that's true. Must be nice to live without fear of social disease.”
“Yes, and you can see how much I've done with it,” Fraser replies dryly.
“That's just 'cause you're choosy.”
“That's one way of looking at it.”
Ray looks at him curiously. “What other way is there?”
“Well,” Fraser starts to tick them off on his fingers. “Shy. Prudish. Lacking self-confidence. Isolated. Weird.”
“Handsome. Superhero. Super smart. Able to leap tall buildings, dodge bullets, catch flying knives, and attract both sexes.”
Fraser feels heat in his face, but not around his eyes. “I don't know how to respond to that.”
“It's true, you know it. Moving on.”
“Moving on to. . .?”
“You care if the next one is male or female?”
“Ray, I'd really prefer not to prey on disenfranchised sex workers. They're in no position to refuse.”
“Okay, what about consenting adults?”
Fraser frowns. “I can't reveal myself in order to get informed consent.”
“Sure you can. Just whammy the memory of the informed consent out of them.”
“But then they didn't consent!”
“Sure they did, they just don't remember they did.”
Fraser's expression is dubious.
“Okay, there's another alternative,” Ray persists.
“I really haven't considered all my options, Ray,” Fraser confesses, shaking his head. “Just talking about it openly is. . .” He trails off.
“Is. . .?” Ray prompts.
“Is strange, and yet a miracle, and it feels fragile and wrong somehow.” Fraser hesitates. “Though the freedom to do so is. . . wonderful.”
Ray doesn't reply, but he nods and drives on. They are silent for a moment, each waiting for the other to speak.
“I didn't finish what I was saying,” Ray says after a few minutes.
“All right,” Fraser replies cautiously. “About. . .
“Which is. . .?”
Fraser is taken aback. “You?”
“Yeah, why not?”
“Well, I don't want to hurt you, for one.”
“But you wouldn't. You’d get me eating better than I have for years, with the iron, and the juice and the – well, maybe not the hamburgers. I eat a lotta them anyway.”
“But I could hurt you.”
“Nah, you wouldn't.”
“How,” Fraser says, exasperated, “can you possibly know that?”
“Because you didn't hurt that girl. And you could've eaten that homeless guy. And you say you're all out of control, but you never are. And because. . .”
“Because. . .?”
“Because I want to. I wanna help,” Ray admits, and when he blushes, Fraser feels the heat coming off him.
“We're. . . friends. Why wouldn't I want to feed you? Plus. . . it's kind of, I don't know.”
“Don't make me say it.”
“All right,” Fraser says, truly baffled.
After a few minutes of increasingly tense silence, Ray relents. “Fine! It's. . . hot. There, I said it.”
“I fear that I'm disgusting when I'm like that.”
“You fear that you're disgusting when you're hot and hungry and your mouth is on someone?”
“Well, when you put it that way. . .”
Ray laughs. “Seriously, Fraser. If I were to hold you tight, lick your neck, and put my mouth on it. . . would you be disgusted?”
Fraser blushes. “Not at all.”
“I rest my case.”
Fraser is silent for a moment, then admits it. “I'm afraid.”
“I don't want to hurt you.”
“You said that. You won't.”
“I don't know my own strength.”
“I think you do. You might get a little outta hand, sometimes, but I think you know it pretty well.”
“I--” Fraser begins.
“Look,” Ray interrupts, “I get it. Not tonight, probably not tomorrow, maybe not ever, right? We only just figured this out and started talking about it. It hasn't even sunk in yet.” Ray clears his throat. “But I been watching you pretty close for a long time. And a lotta shit is starting to fall into place, Fraser. A lot. Things are starting to make sense -- like your whole superhero thing.
“But I'm thinking about that time you hurt your back, and me being able to sneak up on you. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that wouldn't happen if you were eating right –- eating what you really need. Human blood, right?”
Fraser's reply is grudging. “Probably not.”
“Okay then. And you don't want any of this non-informed consent, or the whammied-after-the-consent thing. But rabbits and squirrels can't be enough, or you'd bounce right back from injuries, wouldn't you?”
“I suppose,” Fraser admits.
“So, okay. If we're friends, why can't we do what we want? I'm offering, and I know all this already, so it's for sure informed consent. You won't have to whammy me after. And you won't hurt me – you won't even hurt bums or hookers. Not that they deserve to be hurt more than me or anyone else –- but if you won't hurt those people, complete strangers, then I'm sure you won't hurt me. Even if you get a little outta control, I'm pretty sure he --” Ray cocks a thumb at Dief in the back seat. “–- won't let that happen. Right?”
Fraser exhales slowly, contingencies falling one by one to a logical conclusion. “Um. Yes. Right.”
They drive in silence for a few more minutes.
“It isn't that I don't want to,” Fraser begins.
“Oh, I get that,” Ray replies easily.
“I want to very much,” Fraser adds quietly.
“Yeah, well, I wanted to hear that very much,” Ray says with a slight smile. He reaches out, not looking at Fraser, and gropes for Fraser's hand.
“I can't quite let myself. Yet. It's. . . very intimate.”
“Is it more intimate than anything else you imagined doing?” Ray asks, squeezing Fraser's hand. “With me?” He sounds a bit nervous.
“I'm not sure,” Fraser replies. “In a way it very much is. In another way, it isn't, quite.”
“Does it depend on . . .where you drink from?”
Fraser hesitates, considering. “Yes, I think so.”
“So where are all the places you can drink from?”
“Well, the wrist, obviously. The inner elbow. The neck. . . that's the fastest, easiest. Also one of the most visible, though.”
“And. . .?”
“What do you mean?” Fraser asks nervously.
“There must be other spots. Easy to drink from--?”
“There are. . .” Fraser trails off.
Ray squeezes his hand. “Tell me the other spots, Fraser.”
Fraser inhales deeply, bracing himself. “The. . . back of the knee. The axilla – the armpit. The. . . femoral vein, where the thigh meets the pelvis.” His voice has dropped to a whisper.
“Sounds sexy,” Ray breathes.
“Yes,” Fraser agrees. He considers for a moment. “You can be quite devious, Ray, as I'm sure you well know.”
Ray grins, still not looking at Fraser. “I just wanted you to consider all your options.”
“I am now, believe me.”
They pull up at Ray's apartment building. "I thought we were going back to the Consulate," Fraser says slowly.
Ray squeezes his hand before letting go to turn the car off and take his keys out of the ignition. "Your room is too small. And the cot isn't big enough."
As if on autopilot, Fraser gets out and puts the seat forward for Dief, who barks at him as he jumps out. "Shh," Fraser admonishes him.
"What'd he say?" Ray asks as Fraser slams the car door shut.
"Nothing," Fraser says, but his cheeks are red.
Fraser follows Ray into his building, holding the door open for Dief. He's done this many times, but this time feels different. His cheeks are still hot but he feels numb, uncertain at the turn things have taken, unwillingly hopeful. Up the stairs they go, Ray unlocking his front door and letting Fraser and Dief in before him. He shuts the door and turns the locks, then takes off his jacket and throws it on the couch as he passes into the kitchen. Dief trots into the living room and hops up on the chair, turning three times before curling up. Ray opens the fridge and stands there, looking inside.
It's so typical, so customary, for Ray to do this, for Dief to do what he just did, that Fraser just stands in the living room speechless. It's all so. . . normal.
"Fraser, what are you doing?" Ray looks over his shoulder after selecting a beer. He turns back and hunts in a drawer for a bottle opener.
"Nothing," Fraser says, realizing that is exactly true, and he doesn't know why.
"Want a beer? Water?"
"No, thank you."
"Want to get right to it, huh?"
"No, that's not what I--"
"It's okay," Ray says, coming out of the kitchen into the living room. "You're probably still hungry."
Fraser sighs. "Well, Delilah, ah, took the edge off."
"Okay, give me a minute, I'll help you out with that," Ray says, flopping down on the couch and taking a sip of his beer.
"You're being remarkably calm about all this," Fraser says, sitting slowly.
"Am I? Maybe." Ray picks up the remote and turns the TV on. "Let me check the sports scores." He pauses, muting the TV, which is on a commercial. "Listen," he says, half turning to Fraser. "Nothing's changed, except we know more about each other. Right?"
"Right," Fraser agrees slowly. "I suppose you could look at it that way."
"I do." Ray shrugs, turning back to the TV and taking another sip of his beer. "So it's not that big of a deal. I mean, it is. . . but it isn't. Y'know?"
"No, I. . . I'm sorry, that seems like a contradiction," Fraser shakes his head. "Either it is, or it is not, a 'big deal.'"
"It is, ‘cause I didn't know it before. It isn't, ‘cause I suspected it. Make sense?"
"I suppose." Fraser nods.
"Anyways, it wouldn't be the first weird thing we've done."
"Fraser, a lot of the stuff we get into is wildly bizarre." Ray takes another sip of beer. "A performance arsonist. A murder by an Inukshuk. A chess guy with a plate in his head who, it turns out, actually was an international spy. A dead guy in a wall. . . a ghost ship full of criminals, a mini submarine." He smiles, eyes going distant as he thinks back. "It has been pretty strange."
"Well," Fraser scrapes an eyebrow with his thumbnail. "I assure you, that hasn't been intentional."
"'Course not. And we roll with it," Ray chuckles. "What else are we gonna do?"
Fraser smiles faintly. "Indeed."
Ray stands up, stretching. He puts his beer down on the coffee table. "So let's do this, huh?"
Fraser looks up at him and feels his cheeks get hot all over again. "Well, I don't think we--"
"Come on," Ray nods towards the bedroom. "Let's top you up."
Fraser stands awkwardly, his hat in his hands. "We, we don't have to -- in the bedroom."
"The couch isn't big enough for both of us to lay down."
"Ah. Well--" Fraser sets his hat on the coffee table.
"Fraser," Ray grabs him by both shoulders. "Relax. It will be okay." He throws his arms around Fraser in a hug, and Fraser helplessly hugs him back. "Come on," Ray says, pulling back but grabbing Fraser's wrist and tugging him along.
Fraser has only been in Ray's bedroom a couple of times when looking for something. "Sorry about the mess," Ray sighs, taking off his shoulder holster and gun. He checks the safety on the gun and sets it on his dresser with the holster. "'Least the bed’s made."
Fraser stands between the dresser and bed, trying to look anywhere else. Ray sits on the bed and takes off his shoes, then lays down and scoots over to make room for Fraser. He pats the bed next to him. Fraser takes a halting step.
"You going to wear your fire engine outfit for this?" Ray murmurs. His eyes gleam, the spikes of his hair quiver, and Fraser's breath is caught in his throat.
"No," Fraser replies softly, ripping open the velcro of the jacket and taking off his lanyard, then his Sam Browne, unbuttoning all the buttons and taking it off. He hangs it on a hook on the back of Ray's bedroom door. He looks down at his boots.
"I'll help," Ray says, sitting up and scooting to the edge of the bed.
He bends over and starts unlacing one boot, while Fraser does the other. Pretty soon they're loose enough to get his feet out, though Fraser nearly trips doing so. Nervousness silences him.
Ray lays back on the bed, beckoning Fraser. "Okay, Benton buddy. It's time."
Fraser lays down awkwardly next to Ray and they both look up at the ceiling of Ray's bedroom. "Here," Ray finally says. He rolls on his side and settles his arm across Fraser's chest. "Start with this."
Fraser gulps. "I'm, ah -- thank you," he mumbles. He takes Ray's hand gently and turns it so that the inner wrist is towards his mouth. "Ray, this is--" he falls silent, not having words.
"Fraser," Ray says softly. "You gave me breath when I needed it. I can give you some blood."
"Thank you," Fraser whispers as his eyes go dark and his fangs drop. He brings Ray's wrist to his lips and then opens his mouth.
Ray doesn’t move at the gentle bite -- just two quick nicks and then Fraser's lips are sealed against his wrist. He remains strangely calm as Fraser's lips work against his wrist. It’s quiet except for the faint sounds of Fraser’s hungry sucking and swallowing, and Ray closes his eyes.
"Fraser," Ray says thickly.
"Mmm," Fraser murmurs, his voice vibrating against Ray’s wrist.
"I feel. . . this feels good," Ray sighs. "I'm glad I can do this for you." He smiles to himself, eyes closed.
Fraser removes his mouth for a moment. "It's. . . Thank you, Ray." His lips press to Ray's wrist again and he takes more blood, but slower now.
"Yeah, feels good," Ray says sleepily.
Fraser finally pulls his mouth away and then nicks his own thumb, rubbing his blood over the two fang marks in Ray's wrist, then slowly licking it clean with his tongue as the holes close. He rests Ray's hand on his chest, and Ray yawns and opens his eyes. He moves closer to Fraser. They eye each other.
"Better?" Ray asks gruffly.
"Much," Fraser nods. "I. . ."
Before he can finish, Ray kisses him. It's gentle and slow and thorough, with just a touch of Ray's tongue, and it takes their breath away. Fraser kisses Ray back and pulls him into a tight hug. When their lips part, their cheeks slide together, five o'clock shadow rough on each other's jaws. Ray's leg slides across Fraser's thighs possessively, and Fraser puts his hand on it.
"Ray," Fraser murmurs.
"Stay," Ray says into his neck. "Just stay. Sleep here with me."
"All right," Fraser sighs gratefully. "I will."
Ray breathes into Fraser's neck. They relax fully against each other, drowsy and content.