Fraser is dead. Fraser is so dead, and if he doesn’t get back in the next five minutes he’s going to be deader than dead. Ray does not care if that means breaking every vow he ever took.
He’s in the downstairs bathroom, the quietest fucking room in the house and he can still hear the kids shrieking and Frannie and Maria yelling, and God knows who else. Ray scrubs and scrubs at his hands. He just got done hosing down the boys upstairs which did some good but not nearly enough. Ray is going to kill Fraser and get away with it. They’ll give him a fucking medal.
Who’s idea was is to let the kids wrap their own presents? “They’re old enough to do it themselves, Ray,” Ray mimics to himself in the mirror. “They understand to be careful with the scissors. Did I mention I gave them glitter too?”
So. Very. Dead.
“You alive in there?” Vecchio knocks on the door. Ray’s twitches in the direction of the door and shuts off the water. His hands still sparkle. So does the faucet. So does the doorknob.
“Is Fraser back yet?” Because after telling their kid to go have a wrapping presents party with their sort-of-cousins, Frase got out of there like a bat out a hell, claiming the noise was getting to Dief. And while Ray subscribed to the theory that Dief was only selectively deaf, when Ray asked, Diefenbaker was more than willing to keep on supervising in the kitchen.
“Yeah, he just walked back in. Brought a stray.” Vecchio’s leaning against the wall when he opens the door. He’s grinning too, but Ray raises his finger to warn him off. Fortunately, somewhere between him stealing Stella and Ray stealing Ben, Vecchio’s learned when to back off, and he just raises his hands in front of him. “Hey, a least you got off better than Frannie,” he says.
Frannie was Ray’s hero. She’d waded into the kids’ room like a champ and disarmed her spawn without thinking twice about it. Of course, then she’d asked where the glitter’d come from.
“Ah, Ray! And Ray!” says Fraser when Ray stalks into the foyer with Vecchio trailing. Fraser’s shucking off his coat and pointing out the hooks by the door to the big black man he brought in from the cold. But that’s the least of Ray’s problems right now. Hell, it’s not even a problem.
“You!” By the way Fraser freezes mid-shuck, Ray knows he’s caught on that all is not right in Casa Kowalski. Never let it be said that Fraser was slow.
“Yes Ray?” No matter how hard he tried to convince you of it.
“Did you or did you not give Abby a small bottle of glitter?” he asks in his best interrogation I-m-going-to-kick-you-in-the-head-if-you-lie voice. Even Dief takes a step back at that tone of voice, ducking behind Fraser’s legs.
Fraser doesn’t answer at first, and Ray can see him calculating the odds and trying to figure out what was so wrong about giving their seven year-old glitter. Then Fraser catches sight of Ray’s hands.
“Oh dear, is right.”
“What happened?” Fraser’s already wincing.
“Antonia thought it would be just fabulous to spread the Christmas cheer all over the rest of the kids.”
“Be careful when you go in there, Benny,” adds Vecchio. “Frannie’s on the warpath.”
“Fraser!” Ray can’t help the grin as the blood drains from Fraser’s face when Frannie comes storming in holding an incriminatingly empty vial.
“Hello, Francesca,” says Fraser gamely. “May I introduce my new friend, Murray?” He gestures hopefully at the poor guy who’s watching them all with a faintly bemused smile on his face.
“No. Sorry,” Frannie says to the guy, then turns her steely gaze back on Fraser. “No.”
“Right.” Fraser looks at Ray and does a hand motion thing. “Ray, would you?” Ray nods immediately because, hell, if Frannie’s mad at Fraser then she can give him what-for for the both of them. So he pulls Fraser close and gives him a kiss on the cheek as he goes by.
“You owe me,” he says.
And takes more than a little pleasure from the glittery handprint he leaves on Fraser’s arm.
“So, Murray is it? I’m Ray,” says Vecchio, offering his hand. “This is my madhouse, you’ve walked into, but any friend of Fraser’s is welcome.”
“Thank you,” says Murray in a deep, clear voice. “Although I must confess that I only met Benton Fraser tonight.” He looks between the two of them calmly, but still as if he’s waiting for them to confirm he’s okay to be there.
Ray chuckles because no holiday is complete without Fraser bringing home a stray. In fact they’ve kept one of them. “Well, you got a lifelong friend now,” he tells Murray. “I’m Ray, too. Kowalski. He’s Vecchio, saves on confusion. Sorry about not shaking hands, but I’m contagious.” He wiggles his sparkling fingers.
Murray seems to take them in stride. “It is a pleasure to meet you, and I thank you again for the invitation to join you for dinner.”
“Well, Fraser probably made it sound like a nice quiet get together.”
“He did say there would be quite a number of people present.”
“We can at least offer you beer,” says Ray. Murray opts for juice, and Vecchio says they got that too.
The noise in the kitchen has dimmed a little — Ray has no idea what Frannie did with Fraser, but the absence of screeching nearby probably means he got drafted to help hose down the girls.
“Ma!” Vecchio yells when they get to the kitchen.
“Raymundo! Where is Stella?” Ma asks as soon as she sees him. She’s by the stove stirring something that smells divine in the pot. Ray heads for the fridge, ducking past Maria who’s got her youngest—and least glittery—on her hip and is telling Tony how to cut tomatoes while he tells her that he knows how to cut tomatoes.
“I told you Ma, she’s out with some of her old friends tonight. She wanted a break from all this noise,” says Vecchio. “Maria! Would you shut up and let the man help you out?”
“You shut up, Ray, if you want to eat at my table.”
“It’s my table, you know.”
“Not when I’m cooking for you,” says Maria.
“Both of you!” says Ma, and Ray gets the hell out of there with a beer and a pitcher of juice before someone drags him into it. He nods for Murray to follow him into the dinning room where the table’s been set, flecks of glitter lighting up the edges of the tablecloth. God, they’re going to be cleaning glitter out of the ears for the next year.
“You have kids?” he asks.
Murray smiles, a small reserved little thing, and nods his head slowly. “A son. He has grown into a fine man.”
“He ever spill glitter everywhere?” Ray pours Murray his juice and cracks open a beer for himself.
“No. But he did once pick out every orange fruit from the storage bins and throw them into the fields behind our house because he claimed they were the wrong color.”
“Oh yeah?” Ray grins. Murray’s kind of stiff and reserved, but Ray’s more or less used to that. He also wears his hat inside, which the little Fraser-voice in the back of Ray’s head tells him is both impolite and strange. “Where you from?”
“I currently am employed in Colorado.” Murray sips his juice.
Funny way of talking too. Ray’s not getting any bad vibes though, not really, just weird ones. No wonder Fraser invited him along. “Where did you meet Fraser?”
“I was admiring the very fine sculpture of a man and a woman dressed in the manner of traditional Americana on Michigan Avenue.”
Ray has no idea what he’s talking about, but it sounds like something Fraser would like.
“Gah!” Vecchio appears from the kitchen behind Ray, making him jump in his seat, which is the only reason Vecchio’s able to snatch Ray’s beer. “Gah!” he says after taking a swig. “I can’t believe Ma got you this stuff.”
“She loves me.”
“She loves Benny.” Vecchio gestures toward Murray with Ray’s beer as he sits down. “Hey. He give you the third degree yet? We’re both cops,” he gets straight to the point. “Did Fraser tell you that?” Vecchio’s always been the one to go straight for the jugular with Fraser’s strays. Late one night after he and Fraser made it official, Vecchio had pulled Ray aside and threatened him to within an inch of his life. But then Vecchio'd explained about Victoria so Ray doesn’t mind too much.
“So’s Fraser,” adds Ray, leaning back in his chair, not bothering to clarify that Fraser’s the only one of them who’s still a cop. Vecchio’s got his mobster face on, that suave cool that’s two parts charm and one part don’t-fuck-with-me steel. Everybody’s friend till you cross him.
“Then it is fortunate, I am not a criminal.”
“Good.” Vecchio doesn’t crack a smile. Ray admires for a minute the fact Vecchio can still bring it after ten years of retirement. “So what do you do?” The frost melts and it’s happy families again.
“I consult for the Air Force,” says Murray.
“I take it you’re not visiting family? Your son?”
“No.” Murray looks away. “I have not heard from my son in some time. I thought I would travel this holiday.”
“That’s rough,” says Ray, but he doesn’t pry. That’s not the stuff you pry about with near strangers, no matter how weird. He doesn’t have time anyway because Ma comes in then with a serving bowl of vegetables in each hand.
“We have another guest?” she says when she sees Murray. “Ray! Why didn’t you tell me?”
Ray’s not clear which of them she’s talking to so he lets Vecchio field the explanations — Ma’s used to strays too. She took in both Fraser and Ray. Meanwhile, Ray takes the serving bowls and sets them on the table, interrupting them to ask, “How close are we to dinner?” He doesn’t get much of an answer; Ma just tells him to go get Fraser and Frannie, but no, Ray’s not going up there if you paid him a million dollars. It sounds like a herd of shrieking elephants up there.
He ends up next to Murray who’s watching everything very calmly but who doesn’t take his eyes off the yelling. Ray pegs him for someone who’s seen a little action, ready for anything, and maybe that explains some of the weirdness. Mostly it makes Ray feel sad for him. He’s spent his own share of holidays on his own — the two after Stella left and before Fraser come to mind. The biting loneliness and the endless array of beer bottles hadn’t done him no good, and even the first Christmas with the Vecchios when Vecchio was still under had been like looking from the outside in.
“You are of course very welcome,” Ma eventually gets around to telling Murray. “Any friend of Benton’s is welcome. You like roast beef?”
Murray doesn’t nod so much as incline his head, and then Ma’s off, asking about his family and why he’s in Chicago, barely giving the man time to answer before bustling on to the next question. Maria and Tony appear with more platters in the middle of it all and Ray almost misses Murray say, “It has been a difficult year of many transitions. My friends whom I usually spend the holiday with are scattered now.”
“Oh, that’s a shame,” says Ma. “Things will be better next year when they settle down.” She pats Murray’s arm. “I remember the first Christmas after Raymundo came back to us, and where was he? In Florida!” Her hand goes to her chest at the remembered pain, and Vecchio rolls his eyes.
“Ma, I’d been shot. Traveling was hell, I told you this.”
“That’s no excuse not to see your mother! And you!” She rounds on Ray before he can wipe the smile off his face. “You and Benton didn’t come either!”
“We didn’t know we were invited!” says Ray, like he does every time it comes up which is every year.
“Your mother called me! You didn’t go home to her either.” Ma shakes her finger at him. “She was heartbroken.”
“She was not heartbroken,” says Ray mildly. Introducing Ma to his mother had been Fraser’s worst idea ever.
“Heartbroken.” Ma shakes her finger again, but a smile is slipping out the corners of her mouth. From upstairs the herd of elephants starts clattering down the stairs.
“Why were you and Benton Fraser unable to come home that year?” asks Murray.
“They were off on their pre-getting-together honeymoon,” says Vecchio quickly.
“We were on an adventure, Ray,” says Fraser walking in looking like a shimmering wet rat. Well he would if it were possible for him to look less than perfect. He has Abby in his arms, significantly less glittery but now Fraser sparkles everywhere too, and somehow it doesn’t look bad on him.
Frannie follows with the other three, her two and Maria’s middle child who looks like she’d rather have run off with her older siblings rather than get in trouble with Frannie, and Ray snags her before she runs off to let the ground swallow her or something. The next ten minutes are chaos as he and Frannie get the kids’ butts in chairs and Maria and Tony finish setting out food for the horde. Vecchio and Maria start yelling at each other about salad dressing and Ma gets herself worked up about drinks. Ray listens with half a ear while Abby tells him all about the water fight and how pretty the bathroom looks now, and somewhere in there Maria’s oldest two show up and start bossing everyone around, including Ray.
By the time he finds his spot next to Fraser, the sound has reached airport levels and Ray kind of wishes they were back in Inuvik eating elk blubber next to a toasty fire. A nudge at his knee from Dief has him looking down. “You too, buddy?” he asks before slipping him a slice of roast beef.
“I, too was overwhelmed the first time I came for dinner,” Fraser’s telling Murray on his other side who looks subtly ruffled now, which Ray has a feeling means he feeling pretty damn whelmed. “I was unaccustomed to the noise.”
“Big city confused the hell out of him the first year,” puts in Vecchio. “He still refuses to play by city rules.”
“Expecting the worst of people is hardly productive, Ray,” says Fraser disapprovingly, but Vecchio’s just winding him up.
“Assuming the best can also lead to trouble,” Murray says unexpectedly, “but I have seen the benefits of choosing to appeal to a stranger’s humanity.”
“Amazing, right?” says Ray. “Especially when you get a sweet talker like Fraser here.”
“I’m hardly a sweet talker, Ray,” Fraser tries to protest, faltering when Ray raises his brows at him because he knows for a fact that Fraser’s got a silver tongue and more ways of avoiding the truth than he can shake a stick at. “Most people genuinely want to do the right thing.”
“Because you sweet talk them.”
“I merely point out the moral choices.”
“Because you sweet talk them.”
“I appeal to their better natures.”
“Because you sweet talk them.” This time Ray raises his fork until Fraser caves.
“Well, perhaps a little,” Fraser concedes.
Vecchio laughs and even Murray cracks one of his tiny smiles. Ray grabs Fraser’s hand and leans in to whisper, “You can sweet talk me anytime,” which makes Fraser go for his collar and blush.
“Oh please, you two, there’s children present,” says Frannie, rolling her eyes at them. Like she hadn’t made a fool out of herself over Fraser for years, regardless of who was present or not, a fact Maria doesn’t let go unsaid and Vecchio demands they stop because he already has enough trauma dealing with Kowalski winning that fight.
It’s noisy and loud as only dinner at the Vecchios can be. Murray holds up through it all, chatting with Fraser mostly until Vecchio starts with the “there was this one case” stories and then he and Ray are off out Frasering each other and Ray totally wins with the pirates and gold, though Fraser and Vecchio getting stuck in the bank vault and nearly drowning is a pretty good one too. Murray has a couple of stories of his own — obviously sanitized — and he tells a couple jokes that only Fraser laughs at. Ray’s not certain, but he thinks something in Murray loosens up after a while. Maybe part of that not being with his kid or his friends for the holidays thing that had him following a sweet talking stranger into a mad house.
Finally, once the kids make a break for it, still glittering like fairies, and coffee’s wound down to clearing dishes, Fraser and Ray walk Murray to the door.
“Thank you for inviting me to dinner, Benton Fraser,” says Murray after he’s put on his jacket.
“Of course. I understand how difficult it can be to be away from your people and your homeland when others are celebrating.”
“Hope you get to talk to your son soon,” adds Ray, really hoping that whatever is keeping them apart isn’t more than distance.
“As do I.” With a final formal little nod, Murray walks into the snowy night, as mysteriously as he appeared.
Ray looks at Fraser who’s grinning for some reason after he shuts the door. “Weird guy,” he comments mildly because after all these years, Murray was barely a blip on Ray’s weird-o-meter.
“Yes. That went much better than I expected.” Fraser’s only half talking to Ray. Ray’s about to go and find Abby and make sure she hasn’t gotten into any more trouble tonight when Fraser adds, “And I don’t believe he was a “guy”,” airquotes clear in his voice. “Well,” Fraser corrects himself, “Probably male, but not human.”
Ray stops. Turns around. “Come again?”
Fraser is, of course, completely serious. And Ray, God help him, listens to the explanation of scents and impressions of raised tattoos through hats and African countries and lack of accents and syntax and what was probably a mindboglingly boring research talk with interesting-to-Fraser ramifications for dating the pyramids. Yeah, he’s not sure how that one got in there. It doesn’t make much sense, but when does it ever? On the other hand, Fraser’s rarely wrong, and who is Ray to dispute this little mystery he’s solved?
“Fraser,” he interrupts when they get to the stairs.
Ray leans in and kisses this guy he loves, aliens and all. “You have glitter in your hair.”