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The Best Policy

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"Vecchio!" Lieutenant Welsh called across the room, cutting through the noise like the bellowing of a bull moose. "My office. Bring the constable with you."

"Right, that means I'm not in trouble," Ray said as they headed towards Welsh's office. "If I were in trouble, he wouldn't have asked for you to come along."

"That's assuming we're not both in trouble," Fraser said. He could recall several instances of collateral property damage during the last week, any of which Welsh could have objected to.

"Didn't think of that," Ray said. "Well, let's find out." He opened the door to Welsh's office.

"Gentlemen, I have a case for you." Welsh leaned back in his chair, waiting until he had their full attention. "A man has accused some sort of psychic of somehow making his wife divorce him. Apparently the psychic foretold that she would leave him, and now she's left. The husband thinks something's not right."

"What, she's gone as in totally missing?" Ray said. "As in possibly kidnapped?"

"I...don't believe she's gone in that way, no."

"Right, so she left him. Tough luck. Where's the crime here?" Ray asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Let's just say that the husband's father is, well, higher up in the hierarchy than either of us. He wants us to investigate the psychic. Apparently the husband believes that the wife was somehow...magically influenced to leave." Welsh looked pained.

Fraser leaned forward. "Are you telling me, sir, that our actual task is to satisfy the high official, in a diplomatic way?"

"You could put it that way, Constable."

Ray threw his hands up. "Why do we always have to get the wacky cases?"

Welsh gave them each a measured look. "You tell me, Detective. You tell me."

***

"Look, she just started acting strange," Malcolm Wells said. He was in his early forties, dressed in a dark gray suit and tie and apparently just home from his work.

"Strange in what way?" Ray asked, poised with pen and paper, the picture of an attentive detective.

"Well, first she started telling me about all kinds of things that psychic had told her. I thought it was a phase of some kind." He waved a hand dismissively. "Like, a couple of years ago she was going through this aerobics phase, always in front of a video doing weird exercises. You know, women stuff."

"Uh-huh? Like, what kind of things was she saying?" Ray said in a neutral voice, but on his writing pad he was drawing a crude but rather funny caricature of the man in front of them. Fraser moved away to stop the smile that was curling up the corners of his mouth.

"Oh, I don't remember exactly. About her energies and auras or something. I didn't start to listen until she told me that we were fated not to be with each other, and then it wasn't long until she left. She left me, and now she won't talk to me!"

"Look, believe me, I know what that's like, but—" Ray held out his hand to forestall the man's reply. "No, I'm not just saying that, I'm divorced myself. But! Nobody can stop her from leaving you if that's what she wants to do."

"But what if that—that witch did something to her! Hypnotized her or something. I demand that you look into this! She could be a menace to society." Mr Wells was red in the face by now.

"Mr Wells, please calm down," Fraser said, trying to sound as soothing as he could. "We will certainly do our best to look into the matter."

Once outside, Ray muttered, "My theory is she left him because he's a jerk, not because she was hypnotized."

"That's certainly possible." We both got into the GTO, and Ray pulled out smoothly into traffic.

"Son, have you seen my hat?" came a voice from the back seat.

"What?" Fraser said, turning.

"Huh?" said Ray, darting a glance at Fraser before looking back at the road.

"Oh, nothing," Fraser said. "Dief was just complaining about having to stay in the car."

Dief growled in protest, since he had said no such thing. Fraser's father, who was in full uniform except for his missing hat, said again, "Have you seen my hat? I really feel quite bare without it."

Fraser shook his head.

"I tried to borrow your spare one, but I suppose it was too corporeal. Didn't work."

Fraser narrowed his eyes at him, trying to convey that he would appreciate having his uniform to himself, thank you, and besides, this was quite the wrong time for a chat.

"No need to get upset. I wouldn't have harmed it."

Fraser mouthed, Please go away.

"Can't read lips, son. Although there have certainly been times when I wished I could. Did I ever tell you about..."

Ray broke in unwittingly. "You finished back there? Let's get this over with and go visit that psychic chick."

"Right you are," Fraser said, turning forward.

"Psychic?" Fraser's father asked from the back seat, but Fraser resolutely didn't turn around. "Interesting. Maybe she'll talk to me—unlike some people."

Fraser gritted his teeth and turned the low rock music on the radio up. Ray glanced at him in surprise.

***

The psychic's office had dark wall hangings with silver embroidery and muted lamps. A stick of incense filled the air with its heavy scent, and Fraser twitched his nose in dislike, resigning himself to the low-level headache that would probably result from the smell. He tended to be over-sensitive in such matters. Diefenbaker, too, shook his head, but stayed, apparently preferring this to being cooped up in the car.

Melissa Madison had long, henna-colored hair and a blouse that matched her wall hangings. "Can I help you gentlemen?" she asked as they came in, setting aside some papers and smiling at Dief, who preened under her gaze and came up to be petted.

"Yeah, sure," Ray said. "I'm Ray Vecchio, CPD, and this is my partner Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

She raised her eyebrows at the latter, but said nothing. Ray continued, "We're here for an on-going investigation, but don't worry, you're not a suspect or anything. We just want to ask some questions."

She nodded. "Go ahead."

"Is Amanda Wells a client of yours?"

"She was, but not any longer. I really can't discuss any of my clients' business with you, though—I consider myself bound by confidentiality."

"We understand that," I said. "Perhaps you might tell us something about what it is, in general, that you do."

"Of course," she said, straightening up as if for a performance. "I do fortune-telling, usually by tarot cards or palm reading, and I also hold séances when people want to get in contact with someone who has passed away."

"What, you can talk to ghosts?" Ray asked.

"Oh, this is interesting," Fraser's father said, appearing again. He walked up to Ms. Madison, raising his hand to his head as if to take his hat off, and then lowering it with an annoyed expression.

"I'd take my hat off for you if I had one, young lady. I'm Sergeant Robert Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Pleased to meet you."

Ms. Madison gave no immediate response. She was talking to Ray about the methods whereby one could contact the spirit world.

"So, like, if there was a ghost in here, you'd sense it?" Ray asked, leaning forward with apparent interest. Fraser felt a slight irritation at the attention he was showing her, even as he chided himself for it. He really had no claim to Ray's attentions.

"Oh yes," she said. "I'm quite attuned to the spirit world."

"Hello?" said Fraser's father, and when there was no response, he waved his hand in front of her face. "Can you see me? No?"

Well, so much for her affinity for the spirit world. Fraser stifled a giggle, and managed to turn it into a cough instead. His father sat down on the desk and dangled his legs. "Well, I suppose it was too much to ask for some company. Besides you, I mean."

Fraser glanced at him and sighed. It really wasn't pleasant to be unable to talk back. Ray, meanwhile, had been talking with Ms. Madison, and he stood up, apparently feeling that he'd gotten all he could from the conversation.

"Thanks for your help," he said, and flashed her one of those brilliant smiles that always made Fraser's heart stutter when it was directed at him.

"Yes, thank you kindly," Fraser said belatedly, and beckoned to Diefenbaker.

As Ray swung out onto the street, Fraser's father said from the backseat, "Well, I don't suppose she put a spell on the wife."

"Why are you taking such an interest in the case?" Fraser said without thinking.

"Me?" Ray said. "I'm not. I just want to get this done with and go back to the real cases. The ones that aren't about sucking up to some suit higher up the ladder. What makes you think I'm taking an interest in it, anyway?"

"Ah, well," Fraser said, stalling. "You seemed to be very interested in what Ms. Madison had to say."

"What, you are jealous or something?" Ray flashed him a grin, and Fraser had a moment of wondering if Ray was flirting with him or if it was just his imagination. "It's just my way of getting people to talk, you know that."

"Careful there, son. You don't want to interfere with your partner's love life. Buck and I once—well."

"I wasn't—" Fraser began, then subsided, flushing.

Ray was silent for a moment, then said, "Drop you off at the Consulate?"

"If you would, yes." Fraser said, and then held his tongue. There were too many things here that didn't bear revealing.

To distract himself, he thought over the day's happenings. That psychic—well, considering her lack of reaction to his father, she was either bluffing about her talents, or she was deluded.

Of course, Fraser thought with a chill running down his back, there was also the possibility that he himself was deranged. Ms Madison was a professional, after all—perhaps she had her own reasons for ignoring his father.

***

Both Turnbull and Inspector Thatcher had gone home, so he and Diefenbaker had the Consulate to themselves. His father was nowhere around, either, which was a relief.

Fraser had been to the farmer's market a few days ago and stocked up on local produce, and now he was chopping fresh squashes, aubergines, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes into a large pot with a certain sense of peace.

Dief jumped up with his paws on the edge of the table to sniff at the food, then dropped down again and yawned. Fraser smiled at him fondly.

"Yes, I'm aware that you don't consider vegetables food," Fraser said. "But humans are omnivores, not carnivores."

Dief huffed.

"Oh, I do like meat. But when one has access to such a wealth of locally-grown vegetables, it only makes sense to take advantage of it." Fraser finished the aubergine and began on the tomatoes. Dief sniffed disdainfully at his kibbles and then curled up on his mat in the corner.

"I assure you that there is indeed meat in kibbles. I'll show you the package so you can read for yourself, if you like." But Fraser relented and opened the fridge to toss Dief a piece of ham, which he caught in mid-air with a quick snap of his jaws.

"Come on, son, that wolf can't really read." His father's voice shattered his good mood.

"A reading wolf is no more improbable than a talking ghost," Fraser said, returning to his chopping. Even the ripe red tomatoes couldn't keep him from feeling cross, though, and he continued, "Dad, can't you choose better times for talking to me? I can't exactly hold a conversation with you when someone else is there."

His father's face grew stubborn. "Some people would be grateful to see their father at all."

"Well, I am grateful," Fraser said and put down the knife on the cutting board with perhaps more force than necessary. "But don't you see how it makes me look when I'm talking to thin air? It's a wonder Ray doesn't think I'm insane." He wished he could be sure Ray didn't actually think that.

"So you're more worried about the good opinion of the Yank than you are about me?"

"For goodness' sake, Dad, are you trying to make me choose between the two of you? All I'm asking is that you stop appearing out of nowhere and talking to me when I'm in public. Is that so much to ask? You're quite welcome to visit when I'm alone."

His father's face went stony. "Well, I can't say I feel particularly welcome now. Goodbye, son." He swept out through the closed door. Fraser got the feeling that he would have slammed it if he hadn't been hampered by his incorporeality.

Fraser sighed and muttered, "Well, that's done it."

He put the rest of the vegetables in the pot together with some olive oil and spices, and left them to simmer themselves into a stew. Then he sat down at the table again, put his head down on his hands, and sighed.

***

Later that evening, Fraser put down his book, despairing of finding any sort of distraction in reading. He'd also tried mending some clothes, which occupied his hands, but left his thoughts free to wander.

Well, it was no good. He tried to make sense of the tangled threads of his guilt. Firstly, there was his father. Fraser ought not to have behaved in such a way towards him. Granted, his father had the gift of irritating him beyond all measure, but still, he was dead, and he was Fraser's father. Worse, he had seemed hurt beneath the annoyance.

Fraser would have to apologize, and he determined to do it at the earliest opportunity.

Next, there was Ray. There were certainly enough feelings there to make it a minefield of emotions, but guilt? He refused to feel guilty over honest physical desire—that was nothing to be ashamed of. Neither was affection. No, he forced himself to tell the truth, at least to himself: it wasn't just affection. He was in love.

The guilt, he decided, came with not trusting Ray with his secrets. He'd never told Ray about his father's ghost, and there were countless other things Ray didn't know about him. How could he profess himself to be in love if he didn't trust Ray?

There was a thump beside him on the cot as Dief jumped up. Fraser felt the warm solid press of Dief's flank against his leg, and reached out a hand to stroke his hand over Dief's thick fur and scratch behind his ears. Dief wasn't ordinarily much for physical affection, but he had a certain ability to sense Fraser's frame of mind and act accordingly.

"Thank you, my friend," Fraser murmured. He let his mind drift as his fingers played with Dief's soft ears, and finally decided that he would see if his father was in his office. Perhaps he could make amends with him.

Fraser rose, leaving Dief to stretch out full length on the cot with a contented sigh. There was no reply when he knocked on the closet door, but he opened it anyway. His father wasn't there, but there was a good fire burning. Out of habit, Fraser checked that the burning firewood was not about to fall out onto the wooden floor, then wondered if a ghostly cabin could burn down.

His father's desk was covered in stacks of paper, along with a kerosene lamp, a kettle, an empty mug, and an Inuit soapstone sculpture of a seal that was being used as a paperweight. One pile of papers seemed to be bureaucratic in nature, and Fraser browsed it out of curiosity: requisition forms, taxation documents, even an RCMP B-24 form. He wondered why his father needed such things in the afterlife. There was also an open journal and a pen left on the desk, as if his father had left it there to continue writing later. It looked just like his father's old journals, the ones Fraser himself had inherited.

Fraser glanced at the text. Perhaps he shouldn't, but it was hard to not to, when it was lying open like that.

...Benton still doesn't understand. Good Lord, but it's frustrating—I just can't control it. I've tried, but it feels like some erratic magnet that pulls me in for a while and then away. Being dead wouldn't be so bad otherwise (I can't feel my old backache any longer, after all), but to be pulled willy-nilly all over this city when I least expect it?

Did this ever happen to Caroline? There were a few times after she died when I thought I felt something, but there's no way to know. I wonder if I'll ever see her again.

Fraser stopped reading with a sense of having trespassed on something private. He drew the chair some distance away so that he wouldn't be tempted to read the journal again, and sat down. He'd had no idea—he'd only seen his own side of the matter, and hadn't considered what his father's would be like.

There was a stamping outside the door, and his father appeared in his cold-weather gear. He closed the door quickly behind him, but not before a gust of cold wind sneaked in.

"Good evening, son." Robert Fraser said shortly. He put a dead showshoe hare by the stove as he took his boots and fur parka off.

"Good evening, dad," Fraser replied, wondering how he was to broach the subject. But there was no need.

His father's mouth tightened as he glanced down on the desk. "Did you read that?"

"I glanced at it, before I realized it was your private journal. I apologize."

Fraser wondered if his father's temper would flare up at this, but he only nodded stiffly, and Fraser continued. "Why didn't you explain? You should've told me that it wasn't your own choice to appear like that."

Robert Fraser only harrumphed and turned his back on his son to begin skinning the hare. Fraser took a deep breath, trying not to let this stir up his own temper again. He wondered whether his father had, on some level, left that journal for him to find. Perhaps that was easier than admitting to such helplessness aloud.

"I apologize if I was unwelcoming before," Fraser said. His father only grunted in reply, still busy with the hare.

"Well, I'll be off then," Fraser said, noting that his father certainly hadn't acknowledged that he might have had any part in the quarrel. Neither had he offered to be more careful in speaking to him when there were others around.

He was just about to open the closet door when his father called, "There'll be stew in about an hour, son. You're welcome to come back, if you like."

"Thank you," Fraser said. There were worse peace offerings than a pot of stew.

***

Fraser settled down to read again, now with a lighter mind, and he had just got into his book when there was a knock on his door.

Fraser startled.

The knock came again. "You there?" said Ray's voice, muffled by the door, and Fraser put aside the book. "Come in."

"Sorry for coming by this late. Uh, did I leave a couple of case files lying around?" Ray closed the door and leaned on it. The light from Fraser's reading lamp made shadows on his face.

Fraser looked at him, and answered a beat too late. "No, it's fine. I believe your files are on the desk. Would you like some tea?"

"Sure." Ray took his jacket off and threw it on the desk, and they went to the kitchen. Fraser put tea water on to boil, and Ray spun a chair around to sit on it backwards, propping his chin on his hands against the back of the chair. Fraser tried not to look at Ray's spread legs.

"Weird case today, huh?" Ray asked.

"More so than usual, you mean?"

Ray laughed. "Point. Anyway, I guess we've got to go talk to the wife tomorrow, and get her point of view."

"Yes. I hope we can get her to explain things to her husband. Honesty is always the best policy." Oh, he was one to talk of honesty.

But Ray nodded. "Yeah."

They fell silent again. He felt Ray's eyes on him as he prepared tea, but that was probably his own nervousness speaking. Not that Ray usually made him nervous, but Fraser had resolved that today was the day he would say something. Not necessarily everything, but at least there would be one secret less standing between them.

Making a tray with two mugs and the steaming teapot, Fraser headed back to his room. Ray held the door open for him, and they sat down on opposite sides of the desk.

"Here are your files," Fraser said, to stall for time.

"Thanks." Ray tucked them under his jacket, then took a sip from his mug. "Ow, hot," he said, and stuck his tongue out. Fraser got the urge to blow on it, but refrained.

"I'm sorry."

"'S my own fault. I knew it was hot." Ray sucked in air between his teeth to cool his tongue.

"Ray, I..." Fraser took a deep breath. He found himself wishing that Ray had come upon a conversation between him and his father by accident, so that he wouldn't have had to take the initiative. No, that was cowardice.

"Yeah?"

"I have something to tell you."

Ray grew tense, his burned tongue forgotten. "What?"

"Well..." Fraser found himself unable to say it directly, and tried a circuitous route. "The woman we met today, the psychic. She had—well, professed herself to have—a certain talent in, in seeing ghosts."

Ray nodded, motioning for him to go on.

"Do you believe in that sort of thing? Or do you think she's, well, crazy?"

Ray looked at him with narrowed eyes. "Are you saying that you see ghosts?"

Oh, dear. Well, this was where he was headed, after all. With a certain sense of relief, he said, "Yes, Ray."

"Huh. Like, what kind of ghosts?"

"Well, it's really only one ghost. My father's ghost."

"Your father's ghost. The one you came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of?" Ray waved his hand. "Uh, that sentence got away from me."

"Yes, Ray. I only had one father."

Ray snorted. "So you're wondering if I think you're a nutcase? Nah. I mean, you're a freak, but that's nothing new." He smiled with a warmth that Fraser hoped he didn't just imagine.

"Thank you," Fraser said softly.

"So, is he around a lot? Did anyone else ever see him?" Ray looked around. "Uh, he's not here now, right?"

"Buck Frobisher saw him once. My father's old partner. And no, he's not here now." Fraser rubbed absently at his eyebrow. "Although he does have a tendency to turn up at the most inopportune moments."

Ray fixed him with his figuring-out-a-clue expression. "So is that why you sort of look out into space sometimes? And say stuff that's out of place?"

Fraser sighed. "Is it that noticeable?"

"Well, I'm not sure anyone else has noticed. I mean, I spend a lot of time with you."

"That's true. And yes, it's very hard not to talk back at him. In fact, I've had words with him today about this very thing."

"That's got to be really annoying," Ray said.

"Believe me, it is."

Ray looked at him thoughtfully. "So, you got any other secrets you're hiding from me?"

Fraser opened his mouth, then closed it again. "I suppose every person has parts of themselves that they keep private."

Oh, he was a coward.

But Ray was already backpedaling. "Nah, forget I said anything. It's not like I have the right to know all your secrets."

Oh, but you do, Ray. Now or never. Fraser steeled himself and managed to say, "I'm in love with you."

He said it rather quickly and not as loudly as he meant to, and Ray was already going on. "I mean, I know I'm an open book, but that doesn't mean—what did you say?"

He stared at Fraser, who wished the floor would open up and swallow him entirely.

"You mean that?" Ray asked.

"I would hardly say such a thing if I didn't mean it," Fraser said, his face hot.

"You know that I...I mean..." Ray trailed off, then muttered, "Oh, damn it." He stood up, reached across the desk to grab Fraser around the neck and plant a kiss on his lips.

Fraser licked his lips, trying to recapture the brief taste. "Does this mean that you..."

"Uh, yeah. Come on, you really think I'm here because I needed my case files? I could've asked you to bring them along tomorrow. Nah. I'm here because I wanted to see you." Ray smiled, looking almost shy.

Fraser drew courage from this, and reached out to touch Ray's hand and hold it in his. Such a simple gesture, but it was one he couldn't have made before this. Ray's hand was warm and solid, his knuckles prominent, and the skin on his palm was callused.

"Hey. Can I kiss you again?" Ray said, leaning forward hesitantly.

The desk was in the way, and Fraser went around it. The kiss was tentative at first, but when Fraser turned his head, Ray made a small sound and pressed into him. It felt like the key turning in a lock—Fraser relaxed into Ray, opened himself to Ray's tongue and his hands and his body.

They broke the kiss, standing close enough to breathe each other's air.

"Uh, do you want to...come over to my place?"

Fraser hesitated, and Ray added, "I mean, we don't have to. We could stay here. Or I could just go home, and we could, um, take it slow. I mean—"

Fraser hastened to reassure him. "No, it's not that I don't want to. But my father invited me in to have some stew. We had bit of a disagreement earlier, and I don't want to disappoint him."

"Invited you where?"

"Ah, in the closet."

"Your dad's in the closet?"

"It's not a closet precisely. At least, not on the inside." Fraser had an idea, but he wasn't sure it would work. "Perhaps you could come with me."

"To see your dad?"

"Well, we can try."

Fraser went to the closet and opened it, hearing the faint strains of Stan Rogers. "Dad?"

The music stopped. "Yes? The stew is ready, if you want some."

"Can I bring Ray along?"

"The Yank? I suppose so."

"Would it work? I mean, would he see you?"

"Well, we can try. Buck saw me. And there was that funeral director just after I first came back—scared the living lights out of him, I should say."

"Perhaps if you invite him in?"

"I'm not a vampire, Fraser," Ray said from behind him.

Fraser suppressed a smile. "I should hope not." He put his hand on Ray's shoulder, out of some vague idea that physical contact with him would help Ray see his father.

"All right," his father said and looked at Ray. "You're welcome to enter, if you like."

Ray's mouth opened, and he glanced at Fraser. "What is that? That's your closet?"

"It's my office, son. Pleased to meet you. I'm Sergeant Robert Fraser, RCMP."

"Detective Ray..." He hesitated, then said, "Ray Kowalski, CPD." Ray stretched out his hand, but it passed right through Robert's ghostly one. "I figure I might as well give my real name."

"I've noticed that you're different from the first Yank, yes. And this seems to work. Come in, then." Fraser's father stepped to the side and gestured in invitation.

Fraser realized that he still had his hand on Ray's shoulder, and removed it quickly. "Ah, thank you."

They both went in to sit at his father's table. "Uh, how come I can sit on this chair, but I couldn't shake your hand?"

"Best not to think too much about these things, son." Fraser's father turned to fetch the stew from the stove.

Ray raised his eyebrows at Fraser and mouthed "Son?" Fraser shrugged.

Strangely, the stew turned out to be tangible and was quite tasty. The vegetable stew had been a couple of hours ago, and Fraser couldn't resist such a home-like meal as this. "Ah, snowshoe hare. Nothing quite like it."

"Snowshoe hare?" Ray looked dubiously at his plate. "Really?"

Fraser nudged his leg under the table, and Ray took the hint and had another bite. "It's good."

Fraser's father beamed. "I've always had a hand with cooking game. Your mother used to say so, too, Benton."

Fraser's leg was still touching Ray's, and he remembered very well what they had been doing a mere ten minutes ago. He tried not to think about the way Ray's body had felt up against his. Hopefully his father couldn't read his thoughts.

"So, uh, what do you do here?" Ray asked.

"Well, I work on my memoirs," Fraser's father said modestly. "And there's always paperwork, of course."

"When you're dead?" Ray looked incredulous.

"Of course. You'll never escape it."

***

When they left the log cabin, Fraser's father held him back, while Ray went out into the Consulate.

"It was good to meet your partner, son." His father clapped him on the back, or tried to. Fraser suddenly felt sure that his father knew, or suspected, what his real relationship with Ray was, but he was just as sure that his father would never speak of it directly. There was a certain sense of relief in that.

"Thank you, Dad."

"One can never overestimate the importance of having a good partner, you know."

"I know," Fraser said softly.

"Well, then. Goodnight, son." His father closed the door behind him.

"That was weird," Ray said. "Talk about meeting the parents. Is your mom going to turn up, too?"

"I don't think so—I've never seen her. Well, not since I was six."

Ray looked at him quickly. "Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to joke about it." He squeezed Fraser's hand.

"It's all right. It was a long time ago." Fraser kept hold of Ray's hand, interlacing Ray's fingers with his, and then brought Ray's hand up to kiss it.

"So, uh." Ray raked his free hand through his hair. "Do you want to come over to my place? I mean—I don't exactly feel comfortable with, you know, when your dad's in the next room."

"Yes, Ray, I want to. Very much so."

***

Fraser returned to the Consulate early the next morning to take Diefenbaker out before work began. As they ran together through the nearby park, Fraser couldn't stop smiling. It had been a late night, but he was full of energy. The sun shone on the city of Chicago. The green leaves rustled in the wind, and he was happier than he had been for a long time.

Dief looked up at him, his tongue lolling out as he ran.

Fraser snorted. "Well, thank you. I'm not sure I'd put it that way, though."

Dief's reply made him laugh out loud.

Not even working on the Consular budget could dim his mood, but when he walked into the 27th precinct in the afternoon, he found himself slightly nervous. Ray hadn't said anything this morning, only mumbled something incomprehensible as Fraser reluctantly left the sleep-warm bed. He'd left a note on Ray's kitchen table to explain his departure.

Fraser saw Ray before Ray saw him, and he stopped in the doorway to look, surrounded by the bustle and activity of the room. Ray was tidying his desk, humming something tunelessly. He was clean-shaven, and the corners of his mouth were turned up in an inward smile.

Then he looked up, right at Fraser, and the smile bloomed into something that struck Fraser right in the heart. He had to look down, so that he wouldn't walk right up to Ray and kiss him in front of everyone in the station.

Dief gave a small whuffle.

"Yes, I suppose I am," Fraser said. He took a deep breath and walked up to Ray.

"Hi," Ray said in a carefully casual tone.

"Hi," Fraser replied. They stood looking at each other, smiling like loons, and then Ray said, "So, do you want to go interview Alice Wells?"

"That sounds good."

***

"Yes? Can I help you?" a woman said, standing up from behind her desk at the library.

"We're looking for an Alice Wells," Fraser said. "Do you know if she's here?"

"That's me," the woman said. She was short and round and had dark hair in a bob-cut, and was obviously cataloging books. Fraser felt sympathetic towards her at once.

Ray flashed his badge. "Can we ask you a few questions? Your husband, Malcolm Wells, asked us to check on you."

Her face darkened. "So he's sending the police on me now, is that it?"

"Not at all. I think he's simply worried," Fraser said, trying to smooth things over. Dief went up to her and waved his tail, probably trying to help.

"Well, I don't see how this is police business. He can go and..." She stopped and bit her lip, and absently petted Dief. "Look, I left him, okay? That's not a crime."

"'Course not. But he think you might've been, uh," Ray paused, looking a bit embarrassed, "magically influenced."

"So this is about Melissa?" she exclaimed, then paused. "Melissa is a psychic, and I went to her for tarot readings, but Malcolm probably told you that already. Anyway, those tarot cards just told me what I already knew. And that's the last I'm going to say about that."

She looked stubborn, and Fraser suspected they weren't going to get anything more out of her. "You can tell Malcolm that intimidation is not going to work."

It seemed their interview was over. Fraser tipped his hat to her. "Well, in that case, good afternoon. And I'm sorry for any inconvenience we might have caused."

They were just about to enter the car again when Dief nudged Fraser's leg. He looked down to see Dief holding a piece of paper in his mouth. Fraser took it.

Last night was great. See you on Friday? I'll take you out to my favorite Indian restaurant. Hugs and kisses, Melissa. There was a heart drawn beside the signature.

"What is that?" Ray said, coming around to read it over Fraser's shoulder.

"It appears to be a note," Fraser said. "Dief, where did you find this?"

Dief looked smug. "I believe he was investigating Alice's desk," Fraser said, frowning at Dief. "He can be quite surreptitious when he wants to be.

"Melissa. Melissa Madison? Alice is dating the psychic chick?"

"It appears so."

"So, um. Can that wolf read?"

Dief woofed.

"He's actually better at Inuktitut syllabics, although he has a rudimentary knowledge of English writing as well. However," and Fraser raised the piece of paper to his nose, "I believe this paper has been in close contact with chocolate, and the smell attracted him."

"Right." Ray stared suspiciously at Dief.

"This really doesn't belong to you," Fraser said to Dief. "Besides which, you know that chocolate is poisonous for canines."

Dief turned his backside to them, indicating that if they weren't grateful for his help, they could just go and...well, his language was quite crude.

"I suppose we should return this," Fraser said, and headed back in.

"Sure. And I guess we know what happened now, anyway."

Alice Wells looked up in surprise when they entered again. "I'm sorry, I believe my wolf took something that belongs to you," Fraser said and handed her the note.

She took it, and then folded her arms across her chest, looking defensive. "Are you going to tell Malcolm about this?"

"No, we won't," Fraser said. "As you said, this is your private business."

Ray added, "But maybe you should know that Malcolm thinks your girlfriend is a menace to society and goes around enchanting people."

Alice sighed, putting her head in her hands. "Look, you don't know how hard he is to talk to. If he knew...Oh, what am I saying. I'm not going to tell the whole story of my marriage to two total strangers, okay?"

Dief gave a little woof.

"Fine, two strangers and a dog." Alice said.

Dief woofed again.

"He's half wolf, actually. But that's not important," Fraser said. "What is important...well, I hope you won't be offended if I offer you some advice. In fact, I have recently taken this advice myself in a matter which is, if not similar to your own problem, then at least a matter of the heart."

Ray made a circular motion with his hand, urging him to go on.

"Ah, yes. Difficult as it can be, I have found that honesty is almost always the best policy. The truth will out in some form or another, and it's best to say whatever needs saying yourself, instead of waiting for events to force your hand."

Fraser stopped, because he really was lecturing now. But she was frowning thoughtfully. "I hadn't considered the consequences for Melissa. I don't want to do this to her."

She stood up straight. "Fine, I'll tell him the truth, okay? Not that I think he's going to be any less upset when he finds out I'm dating a woman. But at least he'll stop spreading rumors about Melissa enchanting people."

They took their leave of Alice Wells, wishing her good luck, and left the library for the second time.

"Well, that's one less case on our desk," Ray said, glancing at his watch, which stood at five minutes to five—close enough to the end of our working day as made no difference. "So, um. Do you want to get something to eat?"

"Perhaps we could, ah, order take-out? In your apartment?"

Ray grinned. "That sounds great."

***

Dief sneaked down the alley, stopping to investigate some interesting smells by a dumpster. His packmates would never have let him go off on his own if they hadn't been so distracted by mating. But they had gone into Ray's den with hardly a glance at him, and Dief was nothing if not opportunistic. It wasn't fair that they should have all the fun, and there was a bitch down the street that he wanted to check out.

When Dief finished eating the remains of the burger and french fries, he looked up to see the one who was there-but-not-there, the one who was tied somehow to alpha-Ben.

"Well, hello there," Dief read on his lips. "Am I reduced to haunting Benton's wolf now?"

Dief resented the "reduced". "They're in Ray's den. I had better things to do."

"And they just let you go off?" Like he thought Dief should be on a leash or something. Ha, fat chance.

"They're fucking," Dief said succinctly.

There-but-not-there looked pained. "I'm going to pretend that I didn't understand that. Some things you just don't want to know."

"Too late for that," Dief said, and set off to find that bitch.